A Ghost-Calling at the Polk Farmhouse, and An Unexpected Arrival

Outside the Polk House
A long dirt-and-gravel driveway-- now mostly dirt-- stretches up between shaggy beeches and oak saplings to curve before a relatively clear meadow, in the middle of which stands an old, old farmhouse. The house stands foursquare on its fieldstone foundation, with a wide and welcoming porch and a shingled roof. Neatly trimmed rhododendron bushes flank the porch steps, and the front door is painted red, which contrasts nicely with the white clapboarding and green trim (the paint is aged, but not actually peeling yet). The rippled glass of the square wooden-frame windows shines with cleanliness. The great age of the house is clear in its lines, which are no longer quite even, and in the ever-so-slight sway of its roof. Yet it is also clear that the house is still alive and still lived-in. Behind the house you can see the roof of a red barn visible over the gentle swell of a hill, and the faint cackle of chickens is audible.
On the wide but slightly warped steps of the front porch, someone has set out a few simple dishes containing bread and some kind of stew, a mug of some liquid, a bowl of cheese and fruit, and two tall candles in lopsided wooden candlesticks.

Simon tags along behind Sunshine. The Healer seems her usual unflappable self, while Simon is literally bouncing with every step.

About 16, if you had to guess and had your guessing shoes on, this young man is wiry, neither tall nor short for his age, and the color of bittersweet chocolate. His hair is tightly curled and rather very short, no more than a centimeter of soft 'wool' covering his scalp. His eyes are even darker than his skin, verging on black.
Simon is dressed in simple denim jeans, a woven shirt (short-sleeved), and a leather vest that looks like it might have been handed down from before the Long Night. He wears sandals on his feet, when he bothers wearing shoes at all.

Julen is limping slightly more than she was the last time Miklos saw her, as she heads down the driveway. She nods gravely to both Sunshine and Simon.

This is Julen. She's in her late 50s, it seems, and looks to be someone who's spent that life well and happily, with lines creasing her face, and laugh lines crinkled about her eyes. Her hair is dark, with considerable amounts of salt mixed in, and it's short. Her eyes are grey-green, and her face is handsome, not pretty. She's a little too stubborn and square faced for most people to call her that. She's not thin, but she's also not stout, and when she lifts things, her muscles show in the strain. She's about 5'9", and limps when she gets tired.
She's a woman who commands, if not attention, at least the eye. She's not excessively tall, although she occasionally appears to be so, nor is she excessively riveting, but there's something about her, a strange grace to strong hands, an odd light in her eyes. There's an energy in her step and a purpose to her movements, certainly, and somehow, she just draws the eye even when she's not trying to.
She wears rough linen pants, dyed dark blue, and a softly multicolored fine linen shirt. Sandals are on her feet, and she tends to carry a staff around, mostly for hiking places with.

Sunshine nods serenely to Julen. Behind her, Simon tries not to look like he's staring at the limping woman. In a voice pitched for his ears only, Sunshine apparently explains something of Julen's existence to the young man, as the naked curiosity in his eyes is slowly tempered with respect.

Rex trots into view, his bare torso sheened lightly with sweat in the heat of the late summer afternoon.

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.

Julen leans on her staff, near the rhododendron, and looks around curiously.

Miklos, after setting his bag down on the porch and speaking to the older couple there in a low voice, goes down the steps lightly and perhaps a little nervously, to stand near to Simon. He smiles at Simon with all the nervous brilliance of a violin student before an important recital.

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.

Simon hovers near Sunshine, watching everyone with wide eyes. He obviously doesn't get off the Farm often enough. Seeing Rex, he nudges Sunshine, pointing to the Kin. Miklos gets a flashing grin and a murmured, "You'll do great, Miki," from Simon. Sunshine just gives the pale young man a gentle smile.

The older couple on the porch watch the boy move away with interested, if vaguely skeptical expressions on their well-weathered dark faces. Mr. Polk eyes the growing crowd a little suspiciously and mutters something to Mrs. Polk. She bats at his shoulder and shakes her head, apparently rebuking him, and the two of them step off the porch to survey the goings-on from a safe distance.

Julen inclines her head in a nod to the Polks.

A pair of voices come up the long driveway, gently audible for some minutes before Justin and Bryce appear. The wizard shuts up promptly and waves at Bryce to hush him, as the two of them come towards the house.

There's something of the air of a gentleman scholar about this fellow, despite the obvious fact that he's been on the road for some time. He's not much over average height, although he's sturdy and long-legged. He has the kind of broad build that will all too easily run to fat, but currently his wandering life keeps him trim. His features are handsome in a pleasant and gentle kind of way; a knockout, he is not. Long, dark and wavy brown hair is worn loose, its length reaching a few inches past his shoulders. A short, neatly trimmed beard is the same dark color, and makes him look older than he probably actually is. His eyes are a considerably lighter brown, almost honey-colored, and he wears spectacles: delicately filigreed gold-wire frames with slim lenses, so obviously expensive that it's a wonder he still has them. The classic signs of a scribe show themselves on his large and dexterous hands: ink stains, and a callus on the ring finger of his right hand.
He's dressed in clothes that are plain and tough, meant to wear well on the road. Loose gray trousers, a long brown vest with many pockets, and a billowy-sleeved shirt left undyed. His boots are smooth reddish-brown leather, laced tightly, and like his glasses, obviously very high quality. A tightly woven gray hooded cloak is worn over all when it's raining or cold.
Carried or resting against his foot is a big black nylon rucksack just brimming with pockets, and stuffed quite full. He also either carries or has close to hand a staff, as tall as he is, carved out of dark red wood with an interesting lumpy texture, like driftwood.

This young man has a definite Native American cast to his features. Black, sharply defined eyebrows and high cheekbones frame eyes the brown-black color of richly brewed coffee. A prominent, straight nose set above expressive lips complete his dark-skinned face. Those lips are often quirked into a smile of one variety or another, and his eyes regard the world around him with unending curiosity. He's also frequently brushing his thick black hair out of his eyes. It's straight, from those Native American genes, and is just long enough to get in the way without being long enough to tie back. Fortunately for him, he often wears a brown broad-brimmed round-topped hat to help keep it at bay.
He's not especially tall, about five and a half feet, but with the way he carries himself, he doesn't give the impression of being short. His build is the wiry one of youth, and that of someone who is in shape from exercise that comes from doing physical work. His physique is often hidden by baggy clothes and a brightly-colored woven poncho straight out of an old Western. His pants are a dusty gold-grey color and have a great many pockets on them. Tall green hiking boots are on his feet. A tooled leather gunbelt hangs from his hips, though the pistol in it is an automatic instead of a six-shooter.

From afar, Bryce notes that he's still without his hat and poncho. Should update my desc, actually.

Rex settles down to a stroll as he approaches Simon and Sunshine's position. He aims a bright smile at both Simon and Miki.

You paged Bryce with 'Thank you!'.

Sunshine also gives the Polks a smile. Glancing at Simon, she gives the young man a gentle pat on the shoulder and then leaves him to go over to the older couple. With quiet, gentle words, she tells them that the pale young man, as odd as he may seem, has her recommendation.

Simon beams at Rex, succeeding, after a moment, in focusing on the Kin's face, rather than his torso. The dark young man licks his lips nervously as he watches his guide head towards the older townsfolk.

Mr. Polk shoots Sunshine a wry smile. "Well, it ain't like he can make it much worse, can he? It's uppity right now. Broke Shayla's favorite casserole dish from Grandmama yesterday." He lays an arm across his wife's shoulders and gives her a little squeeze.

Bryce does indeed hush up when Justin tells him to, and gets a subdued expression when he notices Miklos and Simon and Rex. He glances at each of them and then tries to find something else to look at.

Julen shifts slightly on her staff, smiling just a touch at, perhaps, Simon.

Miki squares his shoulders, shakes back a few inevitable strands of hair, and goes up to his bag on the steps. He reaches into it and draws out two large, flexible objects which chime and flash yellow in the sun; several rows of four-petaled brass bells which have been sewn to strips of cloth or leather. He settles these comfortably around his hands, takes a deep breath, and steps up onto the porch.

Sunshine's warm smile touches both Polks. "Did he, now? That's unfortunate. Grandmama's casserole dish will not be easily replaced." Her eyes flicker over to the porch to watch Miklos.

Simon bounces slightly in place, watching Miklos now. In an undertone, he asks Rex, "How come he looks nervous? He does this all the time, right?"

Rex nods to Simon and replies in a similar voice, "Didn't he say he usually works with his brother? Mebbe he ain't used to doin' stuff alone?"

Justin, approaching, watches Miklos with a professional interest. He doesn't speak, though he does offer a quick smile and nod to folks.

Julen drifts closer to Rex. "He may do it all the time, but he seems shy. And even I, who have done what I do for so long, am nervous when beginning something."

Bryce's gaze reluctantly resettles on Miklos, since he seems to be the center of the action. His unease fades quickly into curiosity as he watches.

"No, it won't," says Mrs. Polk, dabbing at a stray tear with her wrist. "Though Charles thinks he may be able to glue some of it so I can at least use it for servin'. I just hope this boy can do what he says he can. We've put up with enough over the last thirty years. I'm just sorry your folk couldn't do more."

Simon is, for the moment, too fascinated by Miki to notice the two oddballs who scared him the other day. Julen's words elicit a respectful look and a thoughtful blink before the youth goes back to watching the icily beautiful young man at work.

"So are we," Sunshine reassures Mrs. Polk gently. "I may know someone who can help you replace at least the function of your casserole, even if he cannot fix the original. Not immediately, though. Certainly not until we know if this lad can do what he claims..."

"Yes'm," Rex says to Julen respectfully. "I suppose magic is always a bit dodgy. That's what Mama used to say."

A raven gargles harshly from somewhere near the barn, appearing after a moment as a black patch perched on the roofcrest.

A raven. Raven-sized; raven-colored.

Justin's mouth quirks, in response to Rex's comment. He still doesn't say anything, though.

Julen agrees, "It tends to be unpredictable. In any of its manifestations."

Bryce looks briefly to Justin when Rex comments on magic, to see what his friend's response might be, but he just smirks and shakes his head and keeps quiet.

With a last shake to the bells, as if to be sure of them, Miki opens the door of the house and vanishes inside. However, he leaves the door ajar, and the rhythmic metallic clashing of the little bells echoes out from the house, growing fainter as Miki apparently moves into more distant rooms.

Simon bounces lightly on the balls of his feet, as if trying to see through the sliver of the door opening. "I've never seen anyone do magic before," he claims, almost breathless. Apparently what the Circle does for major Holy Days doesn't register as magic to this youth.

Sunshine looks up at the sound of the raven's call.

Julen looks torn. After a moment, she drifts toward the door.

As the youth disappears inside, the raven glides smoothly down from the roofcrest to perch at the edge of the gutter. Clutching the rim with its black talons, it swings itself nearly upside down, in an apparent effort to peer inside the open door.

Mrs. Polk looks hopefully at Sunshine, and turns her attention, with her husband, to the sound of the bells.

Rex smiles at Simon's comment. "I ain't ever seen anyone try to chase a ghost before."

Justin glances back at Bryce with a slight grin. He turns his attention back to the house, watching raptly. The hanging raven gets a smile out of him, too.

Justin pages: Can I sense anything going on in there, spirit-wise, or generically magic-wise?

Simon glances at Rex, then admits in a low voice, "Miki showed me some of how he does it. The ghost stuff, I mean. He said it's more calling than chasing." He bounces a little closer to the door, curiosity apparent.

You paged Justin with 'how sensitive are you to spirits? I mean, the place IS haunted, so you might be able to sense that. But the magic really isn't mage-magic, so as to whether you could sense it... um, probably not, at this stage. I'll let you know when you can.'

Rex follows Simon in moving closer and finally belies his calm appearance by craning his neck to peer inside.

Justin pages: Is cool. :) I can sense general 'magic stuff happening now'. Heh, no problem!

Miki reappears on the porch, carefully leaving the front door just ajar. He steps down the front steps and pulls the bells from his hands, stowing them back in the bag, and pulls out a box of matches. He carefully lights the candles which are sitting on the porch steps, rearranges the bowls of food just so, and stands facing the house. With a deep breath, he tosses his hair back and calls out, "In this place there is no rest for you."

"Glonk," says the raven. An editorial comment, or an agreement, or possibly both.

Julen stops drifting towards the house and merely watches intently.

Julen pages: Oh, heck. Julen's got the whole range of sensing gifts and all that going. Sense the Unnatural, Sense Corrupter, Pulse of the Invisible, all that rot.

You paged Julen with 'Well, there's no corruptor, but, um, I don't know what the other gifts do.'.

Sunshine watches the raven, her expression vaguely puzzled, then she shakes her head slightly and takes her leave of the Polks. She drifts towards Rex and Simon.

The latter is completely absorbed in watching Miki, still bouncing slightly. One of Simon's hands steals towards Rex, to give the more experienced youth's hand a quick squeeze.

Rex grips Simon's hand and smiles at Miki's emergence from the house.

From afar, Julen | Pulse of the Invisible: A Garou using this gift may see and interact with unmanifested spirits. Sense the Unnatural: This gift allows the Garou to sense any unnatural presence (such as magic, spirits, the Wyrm, ghosts, etc.). Julen's just using it as sort of observation. No interacting involved.

You paged Julen with 'Okay, there's definitely a spirit in that house (Miki's got its attention right now). And the unnatural gift is only just starting to twinge.'

From afar, Julen nods. I'll get a synopsis from you later. I just wanted to establish she was seeing it more than one way.

The Polks stand together in the shade of one of the near beech trees, watching the windows and doors of the house.

Miki continues, the accent of his voice appearing a little more strongly in the very formal, ritualized cadence of the words. "This roof does not shelter you. This hearth will not warm you. This pot will not feed you. This door will not protect you. This house is no longer yours."

There is a somewhat abstracted look to Julen, now, as she watches intently.

Simon murmurs to Rex, "When he showed me how he did it, he sang. It was real pretty, but I didn't understand the words at all."

Sunshine smiles fondly at the oblivious Simon, then taps Rex gently on the shoulder.

Rex nods, bending his head down to hear Simon, and then snaps his attention to Sunshine. "Yes'm?" he says in a low voice.

A small calico cat, rumpled and soft-furred, comes wandering across the meadow. Social little thing, apparently, she makes her way directly to the small crowd, stopping on the outskirts, where she sits down, licks her paw twice, and then places her feet neatly together with her tail wrapped over them, attentive and curious.

"Please keep an eye on Simon for me, Rex," Sunshine says quietly. Simon, catching his name, looks up and makes a face at Sunshine. The Healer favors him with another fond smile. "I'll be back later, but I have things to do now. I know I can trust you to be smart, Simon." Famous last words.

The raven, still hanging nearly vertical from the gutter, cocks its head curiously at the cat.

"Out here I have set food for you," Miki goes on, "Out here there is wine poured for you. Out here there is fire to warm you. Out here there is a path for you." He stops, takes a deep breath, and puts one hand inside his jacket, pulling out a little silver flute. With no further preamble, he sets it to his lips and starts to play. The tune is quite short, only four lines long, and minor, but it is also, clearly and inexplicably, a dance.

Rex nods and smiles to Sunshine. "Yes'm. Be glad to, ma'am."

You paged Justin with 'Okay, with the beginning of the music, your magic sense goes off strongly.'

You paged Julen with 'Your sense the unnatural perks up at the music, btw.'

Bryce's attention is distracted from the exorcism by the raven, who gets several moments of curious attention, before he's distracted again by the arrival of the cat. He blinks as he recognizes the cat and gives a small, tentative wave in that direction.

Simon wrinkles his nose, making a face at the absolutely true suggestion that he doesn't have as much sense as Gaia gave a curious cat. "I will, Miz Sunshine," he promises before turning his attention back to Miki's ritual.

Julen frowns, just faintly, at the music.

Justin murmurs something very quietly to himself, shifting his weight to lean on his staff. His gaze hasn't left Miklos, and when the beautiful boy plays the music, he straightens up abruptly, his eyes going unfocused.

Sunshine leaves without any apparent backward glance, heading back up the road towards town.

The cat blinks slowly at Bryce, but like any good theater-goer, she gives no sign of recognition which might be disruptive to the performance. At Miki's speech, the boy promptly receives her full attention.

Bryce fidgets a bit, looking more and more distracted. Eventually, he excuses himself quietly and wanders off into the trees away from the crowd, moving urgently.

The flute song is pretty, in a rather East-European sort of way, and cheerful despite the fact that the melody is minor. Each time it repeats, however, Miki speeds it up a very infinitesimal amount, and although whatever magic in the music does not seem to be directed at the audience, tension builds in the melody. Anyone who is easily affected by such things might find their feet twitching.

Simon's feet twitch, though whether it's linked to the music, or just an extension of his earlier bouncing is not at all clear. He squeezes Rex's hand again. "Do you think we'll be able to see anything when the ghost comes out? I've never seen a ghost. Have you?" His voice is quiet, but eager.

Rex is, in fact, one of those sorts of people, apparently. He settles for tapping his foot in time with it. "I haven't seen a ghost before, no. We might see somethin' though. At least, maybe, the door openin' or somethin'."

The Sentinel's feet do not twitch, but her staff begins subtly swaying.

The cat flicks an ear. Apparently that's as much response as her dignity will permit her to give the music. She does seem very interested, though.

Justin, apparently without realizing it, is tapping his long inkstained fingers on his staff in time with Miki's music. He still looks unfocused in a very intent sort of way, as if he was trying to read while not wearing his glasses.

The raven watches the cat intently, as though stalking it.

The music continues to build. Miki sways a little, his eyes locked on the sliver of shadow that is all he can see through the front door.

Simon bounces, in time with the music. He cranes his neck, trying to see the doorslit. "This is awfully suspenseful. It's different from when he showed me, somehow." The young man manages to keep his voice down, though it's clearly an effort.

Julen isn't really frowning, now, just concentrating intently.

From inside the house, there is a crash that rattles the windows and something like a shrieking cackle jars the ears of the listeners. The door slams open with a BANG and a shape that seems grey, then seems like light, then seems like shadow, but is none of these at all, roars out of the opening. Its passage blows the candles out and knocks one over. It circles around Miklos twice, and the wind suddenly kicks up with a rush over the open meadow. A few leaves are wrenched from trees, the raven is nearly toppled from her perch, and then the sudden wind cycles upward into the sky and westward.

The raven squawks in alarm, wings kicking up a small hurricane of their own as she struggles to regain her balance.

Simon squeaks, highly undignified, when the door bangs open, squeezing Rex's hand and ducking reflexively when the wind leaves the porch.

The cat's head jerks back, her eyes narrowing, and her ears flattening almost to her skull. Her mouth comes open just a fraction of an inch.

Rex steps in front of Simon, presenting the house -- and departing ghost -- with his broad back, although he still cranes his neck to watch. Of course, the only way to do this and not utterly occlude Simon's view is to step quite close to the other boy.

Julen does not start; she merely watches the wind intently.

Justin braces against the wind, grinning widely and rather maniacally. He does not say "whoo", but everything about his body language suggests that he wants to.

Miki lets the flute and the flutesong drop, wiping the back of one hand across his forehead. He smiles, looking after the ghost.

Simon doesn't seem to object at all to Rex's closeness, though most of his attention follows the wind. After a moment, he changes his focus, looking towards Miki.

Miki puts the flute away inside his jacket, then looks over at Simon. He smiles. "That is a ghost calling," he says simply, looking, to tell the truth, rather pleased with himself.

Rex steps back from Simon just a bit, turning to face Miki more squarely. "That's damned impressive. Do they all do that when they leave?"

The sound of a voice moaning, "oooOOOOOOoooohhhhh!!!" in a stereotypically ghostly way echoes from inside the house. The raven walks nonchalantly along the edge of the roof, studiously ignoring everybody.

Simon grins broadly at Miki. "Yeah," he echoes Rex, without letting go of the Kin's hand. "That was wild." He stops in mid-sentence at the sound from within the house.

The Polks peer around from behind the tree, looking relatively pleased, and then stare at the house, appalled by the moaning sound.

Slowly, the cat's ears return to upright. Her mouth closes. She shakes herself vigorously, and licks her shoulder twice, almost curtly. Then she, too, stops and stares at the still-moaning house.

Miki says, "Well, they are not all quite that, um, dramatic--" and then whips his head around to stare at the house.

From afar, Julen presumes there's nothing magical left in the house, da?
You paged Julen with 'nothing. :)'

The moaning repeats, if possible even *more* dramatically. It is followed by the distinct sound of rattling chains. The raven makes a big show of hopping to the edge of the roof and peering inside again.

Frowning, Miki goes up onto the porch and peers into the house. "I sense nothing here," he says uncertainly.

Julen says, after a moment, "I do not either. I think this might be something else." She does not actually look at the raven.

As the exorcist reaches the doorway, a very loud "Boo!" is heard. It seems to have come from the air directly in front of his face.

Miki waves his hand through the air in front of his face, cautiously. "I hear it," he says. "But I see nothing! And I do not sense anything at all."

The cat has apparently concluded that this is all still part of the performance. Her attitude of renewed, inquisitive attention lacks only popcorn.

Julen looks now, up at the raven. Then back at Miki. "There is nothing there," she affirms.

Rex catches Julen's look and breaks into a grin.

The white-haired boy frowns, apparently a little unnerved by this prank. "There must be *something* there," he points out. "To make the noise. Something that is not a ghost." He reaches inside his shirt again for the flute.

The house says, "GET. OUT." in a rough, hoarse voice. "I MEAN IT. SHOO." The voice sounds suspiciously like Miki's own. If Miki had a bad cold.

Simon glances at Rex, then at Miki, then at Julen, then at Rex, then at Miki, then at the raven. He blinks at the voice, still holding onto Rex's hand. "What's talking, Rex?"

Julen looks back up at the raven. "How long you want to keep going with this?" She sounds amused.

Rex squeezes Simon's hand reassuringly. "Niska, man," he says, pointing up at the bird.

Simon blinks, staring openly at the raven. "Niska? The bird? But... I mean, I heard that some ravens could talk, but..."

Miki, quite rattled by this, puts the flute back into his pocket and says, "Who are you talking to?" to Julen.

"She's a shifter," Rex whispers to Simon. "She can be human too."

The sound of girlish laughter rings out, this time very clearly originating from the raven.

Simon's eyes widen, like saucers against his dark face. "Really?!? That's so keen. I didn't know there were bird shifters."

Julen points upward with her staff. "Meet Niska. She's got more energy than most of us, and an occasionally impish sense of humor. I rather enjoy her."

Miki walks to the edge of the porch and peers upwards at the raven. "Um. Pleased to meet you," he says a little doubtfully. "I am, um, Majlath Miklos."

The bird raises her shaggy black head and emits a sound like fingernails being drawn down the teeth of a large metal comb. "Niska," she then says, fixing Miklos with one black button eye. "That was a hoot." Her voice is a girl's voice, but slightly hoarse, like whiskey.

Simon shivers at that sound, though he seems more fascinated than frightened, at least by this new denizen of his world. Rex's hand is still held captive, though.

Miki says, a little too demurely, "I am pleased that the... performance was interesting to you."

She Herds Cats licks her nose. That seems to be all she has to say, for the moment.

The bird laughs. "Heh! Yeah! Nice to see one of the buggers doing what it's *told* for a change," Niska says. "Maybe you can do something about all the stupid Roaring Brook deaders that nobody else can seem to get rid of."

"Roaring Brook?" asks Miki. "Is that near here?"

Along a dirt road turned by late afternoon's alchemical light to gold, far in the distance but coming closer, a man's figure can be made out, pale-haired and clad in red and black.

Simon nods, though he wasn't the one addressed. He's bouncing again, edging slowly closer to the porch.

Julen tells Niska, calmly, "This was by way of an audition, actually."

"Yeah," say the bird in response to Miki's query. "Well, except for you guys who have to walk, I guess."

"It ain't that far," Rex protests. "Just up the road a bit. Well, okay, the end of the north road, but still."

Miki looks over at Simon and smiles at him, but as he does so he glances towards the driveway and he stops, all motion in him completely arrested as he sees the person coming up the path. He stares for a long moment, then leaps off the porch and dashes towards the distant figure. "Anderja!"

Julen narrows her eyes into the distance.

So pale as to appear almost otherworldly, this man cuts his shape upon the world like the moon upon the sky, fair skin, white hair, gray eyes that seem as colorless as water when the light catches them just so. His hair hangs in a heavy sheet just to his collar, falling into his face at times, neither blond nor the color of great age but the pristine white of wind-touched waves. The sharp planes and angles of his face render it austere, but he is anything but lifeless: his cheeks flush, his pale eyes sparkle, his smallest motion seems to leave tracks upon the air.
He is dressed in soft fabrics that cling and drape, an open-collared shirt the color of wine, wide-legged pants of opalescent black, well-made black boots of deerskin suede. His lean body moves with grace and controlled energy, his long, articulate hands speaking for him as often as his voice, which is deep, resonant, and touched with an elusive accent.

She Herds Cats stands up, back arched, and is just starting to stretch when Miki goes bolting off into the distance. She sits down again, rather abruptly.

Simon, caught in the brilliance of Miki's smile, turns to watch the young man's flight.

Rex racks his head around to watch Miki run. Probably no one notices that he's watching the boy rather than the object of the boy's attention, and that he's watching particular parts of Miki's anatomy.

Simon might notice, but he's doing much the same.

Julen relaxes faintly, and leans on her staff.

From a lane along the road, farther from the Polks' house than Anderja, Sunshine reappears. She glances at the brothers as she passes them, then heads purposefully towards the group next to the Polks' porch.

Niska, faintly annoyed at no longer being the center of attention, gurgles quietly to herself.

The figure in red stops as Miki bolts toward him. Seen together, there can be no doubt of their relation, white haired and ghost-complexioned. But the new arrival is nearly a head taller than the boy who has run to meet him, his shoulders broader, his features - so far as they can be seen at this distance - sharp. He makes no move toward his brother, and although he speaks, he is too far away for anyone but Miklos to hear.

Miki runs eagerly down the driveway, his gaze clearly fixed on his brother's face. About fifteen feet from him, however, Miki skids to a sudden stop, his whole posture suddenly frozen into guilt.

Anderja pages: He just says, "Hello, Miki."

You paged Anderja with 'Miki replies uncertainly, "Anderja..."'.

Simon can't help but notice Sunshine, and he makes a face at her approach. Still holding Rex's hand, he tries to ignore the Healer.

From afar, Anderja gives Miklos a small, cold smile. "Will you introduce me to your friends?"

You paged Anderja with 'Miki says, "Um, of course..."'.

Rex turns to watch the brothers' reunion, definitely keeping hold of Simon's hand.

Julen breaks off watching the brothers; she shakes her head faintly, and drifts toward the Polks. "Congratulations on getting your house back," she murmurs.

The taller man makes a small gesture toward the group, and Miklos turns, leading the way back to the others.

Sunshine slows, resignation the clearest expression on her face. She waits on the edge of the group for Miklos to finish his introductions.

Miki leads his brother towards the group. Upon reaching it, he says formally and expressionlessly, "This is my elder brother, Majlath de Holtsapadtbolyh Anderja."

"Gesundheit," quoth the raven.

The Polks nod and smile at Julen. "Thanks," Mr. Polk says. "It's a mighty relief, I'll tell you." His wife adds, eyeing the house a bit nervously, "I wonder what that... crash... was though."

Simon's eyes don't know quite where to linger: on the devastatingly beautiful younger brother, or the elegant and graceful older brother. He keeps quiet, perhaps for fear of disrupting whatever keeps Sunshine from dragging him away.

Sunshine drifts towards the Polks. "Everything went as well as could be expected, I hope?"

Julen says, "I imagine so. Once met a ghost in a graveyard. Wasn't much fun." She adds, "Pardon," and breaks off talking with the Polks to give the newcomer a long look. "Ah. You are come sooner than expected, then. I am Constance Juliana Brown, but call me Julen. I am often known also as the Fire in the Dusk. Welcome."

Rex stares at Anderja, then looks at Miki's face. His brow creases slightly.

Anderja bows at the waist to the group as a whole. It is perhaps an illusion of his formality that his very posture seems ironic. "I am pleased to meet you," he says quietly. "I trust this afternoon's endeavor was enjoyed by all?" No, it's no illusion. There's an edge in his words like a knife.

Simon shivers, squeezing Rex's hand tightly. The older brother's elegance suddenly holds much less fascination for the youth, and his glance flickers to the younger.

Sunshine looks away from the Polks, a rare frown marring her serenity. She makes a quiet excuse to the townsfolk and makes her way quietly towards her ward.

Miklos glances towards his friends-- one very brief, expressionless look-- and then looks down at his feet.

There's a pause, from Julen. Then, "Rather, yes. Wholeheartedly."

Rex frowns a bit more. It's as if his scowl is rolling downhill, gathering size and thunder as it goes.

The raven cocks a wary black eye at the pair.

The cat is washing. She notices nothing.

"We're going now, Simon," says the quiet Healer. Her eyes rest on the knife-edged young man as she puts a hand on Simon's free shoulder. "Lady guide you, Anderja," she says, pronouncing the foreign name with precision. There's a little more warmth in her eyes as she adds, "And Lady bless you, Miklos. Rex, thank you."

Simon reluctantly lets go of Rex's hand, and allows himself to be steered towards the road.

Anderja smiles at Julen, but there is no warmth in the expression. Rather, a trace of anger flickers in those pale eyes, but it is all too clear that the anger is not for her. "I'm delighted to hear it, madam." To Sunshine he says, "And you, good lady. It is time for us to go, as well, I'm afraid."

Miki turns a little to watch Simon go, under the cover of some of his loosened hair.
At Anderja's words Miki starts and looks up at the much taller man. "Anderja? But, but, they've been letting me stay at the Farm... with them..."

Rex nods to Sunshine. "Anytime, ma'am." He refocuses on Anderja, then back on Miki.

Sunshine's glance lingers on Anderja. "Tread carefully, young man," she says quietly as she leads Simon past the brothers. "Even youngsters may find friends you do not know about."

Simon tries to catch Miki's eyes as he's herded past, but Sunshine doesn't allow him to linger long enough.

Julen regards Anderja. "Yes," she says, eventually, "Delighted." Her grip on her staff has tightened, infinitesimally. "Where will you go?"

"Ah?" Anderja says, the single syllable containing a world of meaning. "I had come to tell you that I had found a place for us to stay, not far from here. But of course....perhaps you /should/ stay here. With them." His clear eyes hold Miki's steadily. The statement is far too gentle to be a challenge.

Miki stares up at Anderja, then drops his gaze. "I... would rather stay with you," he says in a very low voice.

Julen's eyebrow goes up. But this is not her family, and she does not move, either forward or backward. "You are," she says, speaking blithely for the Farm, "Welcome to come back, when you wish."

The raven makes a clicking *tcha!* sound that is apparently the vocal equivalent of rolling her eyes. "Will you two just *say* whatever the dark it is you're *saying*, fer cryin' out loud? You!" she clucks to the newcomer. "What's got *your* undies in the Umbra? And you, you Miki person -- does he *always* treat you like a fledgling?"

Rex casts a "Yeah! What you said!" look up at Niska, then looks back to Anderja.

Anderja lifts his hand, fingertips lifting Miki's chin until their eyes meet again. "I am very glad you survived," he says softly. "Please do not ever do something so foolish again. If you wish to be free of me, little brother, there are safer ways to begin." As though he is caught in a golden bubble outside of time, he seems utterly unaware of Julen or Niska, or anyone but Miklos.

The cat finishes washing.

Julen's head raises, slightly.

"It was not-- I would never wish such a thing! Never!" Miklos protests, his eyes filling with tears. "I, I... *You* do magic without me all the time! It is not safe! This was such a small thing..." He lets the incoherent explanations trail off, perhaps because his voice is threatening to tremble.

Rex's big hands ball into fists, but he remains where he stands.

"Be free of-- ?" the raven repeats. "Now what the hell does *that* mean?"

Anderja gently brushes the tears from Miki's eyes with his thumb. "That is a different matter, Miki. Which I think you know. Come. You have had a....long day."

She Herds Cats lifts her head to stare, not at the white-haired brothers, but at the bird. Her fur lifts almost imperceptibly, and she sinks into a hunting crouch, moving slowly forward.

Nothing about Julen is perceptibly tenser than when Anderja first arrived, but her eyes watch him, closely.

Miki nods, still looking at Anderja. "I have to get my things. They are here," he says mechanically, not moving.

Anderja nods. "Go."

Niska remains at the roof edge, ducking her head to mutter to Rex, "Does that sounds like a healthy sibling relationship to you? That does *not* sound like a healthy sibling relationship." Then she notices the cat. "Hey, now," she warns.

Rex is almost visibly vibrating, but he does glance up at Niska and shake his head. His jaw is clenched, or else he'd probably respond a little too loudly.

Miki turns and goes to pick up his bag from the porch.

The cat comes a little closer. A little closer.

Julen murmurs, "Easy," at Rex, almost inaudibly, although her gaze does not leave Anderja.

"Dude," Niska says to the cat. "I'm on the roof. How're you gonna get me on the *roof*?"

The cat reaches the porch. One light, utterly implausible leap puts her squarely--on the roof. "Mr/owr/!"

Rex takes a step toward Miki, one hand extended a bit. He tries to catch the other boy's eyes with a questioning look.

"SHIT!" the bird exclaims, leaping skyward. Her vast black wings buffet the air in the unexpectedly athletic cat's direction. Alas, the tense scene below is momentarily forgotten.

Quietly, Miki picks up the bag and slings it over his shoulder. As he stands up, he sees Rex and gives him a slight, sad smile before turning back towards his brother.

Julen apparently completely ignores the cat and bird, as she continues to watch Anderja intently.

Smug satisfaction radiating from every whisker, the cat sits down - still on the roof - and begin washing again. Though it's bad for her image of complacency, however, she does keep a weather eye out for the raven's return.

Rex drops his hand back to his side. His jaw works.

The raven mutters something about frickin' flying CATS, fer frick's sake, and alights on a farther part of the roof, alert to any further feline advances.

The Polks are a little startled by all this activity taking place between them and their front porch. They retire to the back of the house, choosing discretion over valor.

As Miklos returns, Anderja holds out his hand, waiting until his brother has reached his side to place it on his shoulder. "Good evening," he tells Julen and Rex. "I am in your debt for all your kindness to Miklos. I look forward to meeting you again, under more...auspicious circumstances."

A gruff voice that sounds like no one present coughs, "Jerk!" The raven seems to be studying the cat.

Rex swallows hard and seems unwilling to say anything. His eyes are locked on Miki.

Julen says, with admirable restraint, "Indeed." She does not look at the bird, though her eyebrow dances, once. "Miki, we will see you about, yes?"

Miki nods. "Thank you very much. I... I am very grateful." He looks around at everyone, then nods again, this time to Julen. "Yes, I think we will be staying for a while..." He tilts his head up and looks at his brother for confirmation.

Anderja looks down into Miklos's blue, blue eyes and smiles. "How can I refuse?" he wonders. "Of course we will stay. I only hope we can find more work nearby to keep us--occupied."

Julen says, expressionlessly, "I expect so."

Is that loathing in Rex's eyes? It may indeed be loathing in Rex's eyes!

Anderja's hand on Miklos's shoulder turns the boy gently. "Come, Miki. I will show you the place I found." He turns away, and the two head back the way the older came, pale figures against the gathering dusk.

Julen watches them out of sight.

Miki turns once to look over his shoulder at Rex, his expression perhaps a little too far away to be read-- sad? pleading? There's certainly something rather wistful about the tilt of his head.

Rex watches them out of sight, fists clenched and shaking.

Julen says, rather explosively, once they're out of sight, "/Well/."

Rex finally breaks out of his ramrod straight posture to quickly dash the back of his hand across his eyes. "Yeah," he murmurs, voice a little strange and thick. "That. I hope I'm wrong about his brother."

Icily, Julen says, "I do not think you are wrong. I think that, if we work with these men to free our gumi, we will be gritting our teeth. Frequently." She glances at Rex. "Do you care for him, or just want him?"

Niska makes a rude noise. With a cursory glance at the cat, she takes flight. Those watching see her soar to pinprick height before winging off in the same direction the brothers took.

Rex snaps his head toward Julen, his mouth open, face unbelieving. He closes his mouth, opens it again, and snarls uncharacteristically, "Of course I care about him. I ain't like the other cubs in the Pride. I care about... when I've..." His mouth shuts with a click of teeth, and he spins away, breaking into a run and heading for the field out to the side of the house.

Julen sighs. "Then we'll /back/ you," she calls, but does not follow.