Madame Natasha's Wagon Dark. Very, very dark. The Khatta seems to prefer to keep the lights low in her somber wagon. The walls are draped in black fabric with arcane silver-ish symbols. In the center of the wagon sits a round table that's about enough to seat three people around it. In the center of the table rests a crystal ball. A few feet behind the table hangs another sheet of dark fabric, presumably for keeping her bedding and personal items away from prying eyes.
Poor Axel. It's apparently just not been a good day. He's most recently been stared at by nearly the entire tribe of gypsies. Fortunately for him Natasha came out of her wagon. The others quickly withdrew and she then beckoned him inside her wagon. So, it's here where Axel now stands. Dim candles flicker, creating shadows that dance across the walls like nocturnal spirits. She walks without making a sound and sits behind the table. Only her eyes are visible in the darkness. "Please, creature," she says in a melodic purr, "Sit down across from me."
"Creature?" Axel says the word as if it had a strange taste as he stares at the floor. While he thinks about it he rubs his left wing absently in what one could image is an effort to massage away the soreness delt to him by his earlier mistake of closing the door on it. "I should sit," he agrees after a moment of silence. He nods, as if to himself, and takes a seat with his wings askew.
Uncomfortable silence follows. Thankfully, the Khatta breaks it after a few minutes. "What is your name, creature?" she asks softly. Her eyes don't move, nor do they blink.
Uncomfortable fits Axel's expression as well as suspicious. He shifts uneasily in his chair and tilts his head so that he watches the woman with one eye. "Axel," he answers. Then, quickly, "Nadyenka."
"Mmmm," Natsha murmurs. "And just where are you from, Mr. Nadyenka?" she inquires next, her gaze unwavering. She waves something (her hand?) across the air in front of herself and a thin glowing line follows it. Her hand, becomes visible and is encircled by a pale, glowing, mist. It illuminates her features, making her eyes seem sunken and her bones more defined in her face. Her hand goes down and taps the crystal on the table and the mist curls off of it in a serpentine fashion to come to rest in the core of the sphere.
"I'm from the south," Axel answers slowly. "And the north." He blinks at that and in the pale light his lips can be seen to move as he seems to go over his words before saying them. More of this review or is it muttering to himself? and he frowns as he apparently doesn't like what he hears. "That's right."
"Well, Mr. Nadyenka, how can you be from two places at the same time?" comes the Khatta's question. She interlaces her fingers and sets her hands on the table.
The man's eyes widen at the question. "That's not what I mean," he insists. "No, I'm … " His head cocks the other way and his other eye watches the woman now. he scratches his head. "I'm south. Yes. And north. Was." He shrugs a little.
"You seem to be attemptin' to confuse me, Mr. Nadyenka," Madame Natasha says in a soft, eerie, tone. "I protec' dis caravan. So, it falls to me to examine threats. It's advisable to no' hide things from me. Explain what you mean by 'Was', please."
Axel pulls his hand away from his wing and begins to rub his hands together nervously. "I was before." More of that soundless muttering. "The caravan I met in the south, where I was. Before. But I was also … north? In the north. Before." He pulls his hands apart and slowly brings them together in a meeting gesture. "I was supposed to meet someone. Ones. In the south. Before. But I was already there. And now I am in neither." He shoots the gypsy a worried glance, almost pleading, as if he were afraid that wasn't enough or that he won't be believed. "I'm sorry," he adds carefully.
Madame Natasha glides her fingertip along the crystal ball. The mists inside twist and undulate beneath her fingertip. "It is advisable to not go near areas of magical instability, Mr. Nadyenka," she says in that eerie, calm, tone. "Bad t'ings can happen, no? That which was two becomin' one."
"Oh yes of course," Axel agrees readily. "They're very dangerous. Why all the ghosts, and werecreatures, and wit- … wittles." He grimaces and resumes rubbing his hands nervously.
"So, which are vou, Mr. Nadyenka?" the Khatta asks quietly, then goes motionless and waits for the answer.
He blinks. "Which what, ma'am?"
"Vou are not a ghost, Mr. Nadyenka," the Khatta says flatly, staring at him as if peering into his very soul. "So, are vou a demon, a werecreature, or not from dis world?"
"Oh my. That's what you think?" He looks appalled at the very idea, eyes wide, hands clutched together. "I'm certainly human." He blinks, frowns, and adds, "with feathers. And," he frowns deeper, "wings. But that doesn't make me a bird." Then he leans forward. "You don't think I'm a bird do you? I do. But I'm not listening," he whispers conspiratorially. "Don't listen to the Creens either."
"So, then, Mr. Nadyenka," the Khatta begins again, "Who were vou merged wit'? You are more than jus' one. Dat much is obvious. And where did it happen? Near here?"
The man turns his head so that both eyes are directed at the woman, though they remain hidden by the dark and those ridiculous dark glasses he wears. "I don't understand," he answers worriedly. "I'm just me."
"I'm not certain vou will be vou much longer, Mr. Nadyenka," Madama Natasha says softly. She goes back to tracing her finger over the crystal and says, "I see more changes ahead for vou. It is also beyon' my power t' stop."
"Wait, wait." He holds out a hand to gesture the woman to stop. "What do you mean? Merged? I'm … not … " His eyes trail to his hands and he leans forward to look at them as his words trail off. There he stares until in apparent frustration he takes his glasses off and puts them in his lap. "I can't see very well wearing these," he admits uncomfortably. Black eyes squint in concentration in the dark as he seems to try and see beyond his own skin. "I don't understand," he repeats. When he finally looks up the light catches such as to show his eyes are not pure black but rather possessed of a large pupil and a deeply red iris. No white at all.
"Vou are not human. Vou are not Korv. Vou are a merge of both, or along those lines. Vou may become more human, vou may become more Korv, or vou may become somet'ing else entirely," Madame Natasha says, watching the man with a seemingly calm air. "But, vou will never be what vou once were." She taps the crystal again and the mists snake up into her palm. She holds it up for Axel to see and in it the mists twist and shape into a parody of a human, then of a Korv … then something in-between. "I cannot say vour life vill be easy. But, vou are at least here amongst the lost."
"Oh," is all the mans says before he wobbles unsteadily and collapses back in to the chair, eyes rolling back. He passed out!
"Tsk. He could haf handled dat better," the Khatta mutters. She reaches over and shifts some fabric out of the way and opens a window. "Someone fetch me a bucke' o' water, please," she says calmly. A few minutes pass and a hand reaches in the window, handing her a bucket.
"He could," agrees the man who ought to be unconscious. He certainly looks unconscious. That angle of wing and rolling back of eyeball can't be comfortable to fake. "Could before. Could again. Could, could." His tone is different, too, with each word spoken in a sort of "burst." Loud at first and then rapidly dwindling.
The Khatta calmly gets up and walks around the table. "Well, will vou tell me what you mean by before and again, hmm?" she asks, tipping the bucket and almost pouring out some of the water on him. She seems to be waiting on the answer, though.
Axel sits up and for the most part his body remains slack. His wings droop, his eyes stay as they are, and his head rolls to the side as if he were a puppet who's strings had been cut. "Before a child," he explains in the silly voice, "after a man. Before, and again. Live and die. Before I sleep. Now I sleep. Again I sleep." An arm raises limply to grab his head and angle it so his eyes are mostly looking at the woman. "Yes?"
It's at that point the Khatta unceremoniously dumps the bucket of water on Axel. "Th' boy's worse than when the caravan has a night o' drinkin'," she mutters.
Axel sputters and flails! "Ah! What, why, who," he complains. His wings manage to narrowly avoid knocking a cabinet open. Apparently a bit of water helped his voice, too, because he ceases that funny accent. "Where am … oh! Oh. Uh-oh." He watches the woman apprehensively and non too dryly.
"Vell, Mr. Nadyenka, given vou have a hard time stayin' awake, I don' t'ink vou vill threaten us much," Madame Natasha says and goes back to her seat, apparently unconcerned that he's now very wet. "As I vas saying, vou are lucky to be here, amongst th' lost. If vou had wandered into a town, vou likely vould have been burned at th' stake or taken by a witch to become potion ingredients."
"Potion ingredients," Axel repeats in a tone that lends the two words a gruesome edge. Like the sort one might use when describing an particularly hideous torture. "And the stake! Great benevolent angels." His head cocks to the left slightly. "I guess I'm thankful the- … Um, wait, why am I all wet?" he looks down.
"Vou passed out," Madame Natasha says calmly. "I can't haf an unconscious man on the floor of my wagon. People vould talk."
"Oh," he says, and this time at least he doesn't pass out afterwards. He stares at his clothing a few seconds more and then with a resigned air of someone accepting sogginess looks up. "You said you're lost? Lost together, or lost apart? I guess we're lost together. Much is lost. Before and again."
"Ve are all lost here, Mr. Nadyenka. Some lost by choice, others by circumstance," the Khatta says. "Some vish to forget the past, others find it. Such is the way of de world."
"So it is." Axel nods in agreement. "So … " He rubs his hands together again. " … you're not going to kill me?"
"Do vou want me to?" Madame Natasha asks, the odd calmness of her tone implies it's an honest question.
"Do I want to die?" It sounds like a question, but not one directed at anyone in particular. Indeed Axel doesn't look anywhere particular either as he queries it. His slides away from the woman and he seems to stare somewhere far away. His mouth moves, but he doesn't make a sound. Then, suddenly and with great energy he declares, "No."
"Good. Then vou need to quit playing wif dangerous magic, Mr. Nadyenka," the Khatta says calmly. "Or dangerous creatures."
After refocusing his gaze on the woman the man scratches his head uncertainly. "Okay?"
The Khatta waves her hand dismissively. The glowing mist she once held vanishes. "Vou are dismissed, Mr. Nadyenka. Go ask Aladar for some dry clothes, if vou are too cold," she says.
Axel slowly eases out of the chair a bit as if he's expecting a wrong move might earn some sinister gypsy curse hurled his way. A monster afraid of the slightly more normal woman apparently. "Thank you. I think. Miss. For the water. Yes thank you for the water. And the advice. Yes." He flicks his gaze towards the door, steps backwards, then after what looked like a reflex bow almost runs out the door.
Unfortunately his wing is still in the door when he closes it quickly. A rather loud, "Ow!" can be heard form outside before his wing slips out and the door closes completely.
The Khatta shakes her head slowly and sits back down. She pulls out a book and goes back to reading, leaving Axel to deal with the rest of the curious caravan. "So, did she probe vour head?" Djivan asks him. Apparently he'd been standing outside the door. Probably trying to listen in.
Outside Axel does a half circle before just stopping and moving his wing towards his hand. "Turning doesn't bring them closer," he tells the man sheepishly. As he massages his now even more bruised wing he answers, "I don't feel probed. Is it like being wet? I feel wet."
"Hah, vou owe me ten shekels," Djivan tells Aladar the Korv who is apparently lurking nearby. "She didn' fix his 'ead. She prol' broke it fut'er." On the far side, a wagon has opened up and a scantily clad Eee, followed by a Skeek, come out.
Olivia follows in Liliana's wake as they approach the other two. "So, it looks like we're not the only ones to come spying tonight," she whispers to them, smiling.
"My head isn't broken," Axel insists, or rather sulks. "My wing may be broken. How does anyone move around with these?" He shakes his partially feathered skin flap of a wing and glares at it before his expression melts in to plain worry. "Oh, my poor wing." He sighs and glances at the two with him. "She was a little crazy. Saying things about mer-" he wobbles, "-merrrmaladye."
"Yah, vell, Djivan is like that," Liliana whispers back. "He's noooooosy." She eyes the strange man and comments, "Wow, is he de ugly one."
"Ey, no insulting Madame Natasha," Djivan warns and shakes his finger at Axel. "No' unless you wan' to look worse than you do now." The Korv coughs and mutters, "That vould be quite de challenge."
Ugly is a good descriptor. Hideous might also work if you're not a fan of the bald skinned. Without fur, and mostly without feather, the man next to Djivan and the Korv might be a human. Might, if you know what one of those are. Then again he could be a monster. With achingly unseemly partially feathered skin flap of wings, a rather scrawny bare chest covered in what might be the corpse of a shirt, worn travel pants, even worse for the wear boots, and black hair soggily drooping over abyssal all-black eyes he's very strange looking indeed. But at least he's not likely to be competition in the next Frog Festival.
Olivia tries very hard not to stare in an unblinking way at the strange man-creature near them… but she finds herself doing just that. "Uh, sir, are you all right?" she asks Axel, after a long pause. "You seem to be, um, weaving on your feet a bit. Madame Natasha didn't give you something to drink, did she?"
Axel steps around to peer at Olivia with his head cocked to the side. Then he suddenly throws his hands up in the air and complains with gusto, saying, "I'm not cold, I'm not a bird, I'm not probed, I don't want to die, and I am NOT all right."
"Halt who go… " comes a booming, yet squeaky, voice somewhere off in the trees. "Wait … you're … ut oh … " Thrashing and crashing can be heard, then another Skreek comes running out of the woods. He screams, "Witch! Witch! Someone get Madame Natasha!"
Liliana goes rigid. "That's never good," she says meekly and starts scooting back toward her wagon. She tugs on Olivia's tail to follow.
Olivia jumps at least a foot into the air at the Skreek's screaming. "It's always something these days… !" she mutters, then starts again when the Eee begins pulling on her tail. "What? Oh, okay, I'm coming… " she says to Liliana, starting to follow after.
Djivan squeaks and dives under a wagon! Aladar squawks and goes up onto the wagon! And the door slams open, followed by Madame Natasha, looking stern and harsh. Her hair ripples unnaturally as she looks around for the supposed threat.
"Witch?" The ugly winged man's eyes go wide and with that they catch the light just so. Olivia can see his eyes aren't pitch black but rather possessed of a wide pupil and deep red iris. Not a speck of white at all. "Witch! Oh no! Oh, no." He begins dancing around on his feet in unbridled nervousness, a panicked dance of head clutching, foot stepping, and wing flapping. Then all of a sudden be bolts! Like a bat out of hell he runs pell-mell towards the forest yelling something about "the stake."
"I see you there, Olivia Weaver," says a rather stern voice from the trees. A moment later, a tall black pointy hat enters the clearing, with a middle-aged, reddish brown Kadie underneath it. The woman is also dressed all in black, save for two grayish (and nasty-looking) hat pins that keep the hat tight to her bun of graying hair. She holds up a hand at the rushing bird-man, and says, "STOP!"
Olivia suddenly comes to a halt, which causes Liliana to jerk to a stop, as well, and yank painfully on her tail as she does so. She stares at the Kadie and says in shock, "Isolde! What are you doing here?"
Madame Natasha spins and focuses her eyes on the emerging Kadie. She moves to put herself between the witch and the panicking bird-thing. "There will be no violence here," she says in a warning tone. "Not in my caravan."
"Keeping the peace," the witch snaps, and from the look she gives Olivia, the Skeek can tell the woman has spotted her new ear jewelry and Will Have Words with her about it later.
Axel skids to a stop quickly enough to cleave the dirt under his feet. Panicked he looks left, then right, as if searching for a way out or someone to help him. Then slowly, VERY slowly, he turns his head around and peeks over his wing at the pointy hat. "Oh no," he wails like a man sentenced to execution.
"Good policy," Isolde says to the Khatta, in a suddenly sociable voice. "Now, does that… person… belong to you?" the witch asks, pointing to Axel.
"Oh no," Axel wails louder when pointed at.
Olivia looks nervously between the Kadie witch and the fortune-teller, not quite sure what to say or think.
The Khatta glances back briefly at Axel, then back to Isolde. "No, he does not," she replies, her voice returning to the eerie calmness she had earlier. "He arrived earlier vith another group of travelers. He is … not vell … in both spirit in body. But, he currently poses no threat."
"That's right," Axel insists. "No threat at all! I'm terrible ingredients! Terrible!"
"Hmmm," Isolde says, then turns to Axel and smiles to the man. "I won't bite you, so please come a little closer boy," she says. "I have something for you."
Axel's head ducks a little more behind his wing. The mix of terror and suspiciousness not to mention his hiding behind his own appendage lend him an absurd air. Comical, perhaps, if there wasn't a angry witch and an unknown monster involved. "For me?" He blinks. "It's not … the stake … is it?"
The Khatta steps aside slowly. She watches the two with apparent interest. Liliana nudges Olivia and whispers in awe, "You know a witch?"
"What's this babble about stakes?" Isolde asks. "I can tell you aren't a vampire, lad. But you can't just bring a strange spirit into the territory of another, you see. So I'm going to give you a little temporary passport, of sorts."
"Well, yeah," Olivia whispers back, her eyes still on Isolde and Natasha. "She's the elder witch of our village. She's usually pretty nice I don't know why this man-creature has her so angry! I don't think they've ever met before… "
"I don't like witches," Liliana whispers back with a shiver.
At the mention of "strange spirit" Axel's eyes widen and his apparent shock is enough to make him drop his wing a little from his face. When he recovers he quickly pulls it back up and manages to look even more suspicious as if, perhaps, revealing his face for that moment allowed the witch some sort of advantage over him. "Passport?" He glances behind himself as he asks, rather as if gauging his chances with running. "I could go?"
"Go where?" the witch asks, starting to look impatient.
Olivia whispers again to the Eee, "I'll do my best to vouch for you if Isolde gets really mad about my being here. I mean, if you had some sort of nefarious purpose, you wouldn't have tried to meet openly with our mayor about staying around town, now would you?"
"Well, no," the Eee admits nervously. "But, but, she's a witch. They're dangerous. Madame Natasha says so."
"Well." The bird-man looks around again. "I could … " He frowns. "Go … " His eyes move from person to person trying to, perhaps, find an answer. "Maybe … " They settle on Olivia. He looks terrified, and, after a moment, defeated. Then he looks to the witch and his expression looks more worried than anything else. Everyone knows about making witches mad. His wings droop and he steps towards the witch without another word.
"Stand up straight, don't slouch," Isolde chides. "Nobody ever got anywhere in life by slouching."
"It's okay," Olivia says firmly to Axel, seeing that he needs some support. "Mistress Isolde wouldn't hurt you unless you were a threat."
Axel's reaction is immediate. He snaps to standing straight, though his wings spread out suddenly as well. A bit like a cat's hair might stand on end when suddenly surprised. "Y-yes never got anywhere," he parrots in agreement and when he hears Olivia's words he glances at her and gives her a nervous and grateful smile and when he faces the witch again he looks a little less terrified, though he does seem to mumble something. His lips move but he doesn't speak loud enough for even the witch to hear.
Now that the man is standing erect, Isolde has to crane her neck to see his face. "Hmm, on second thought, a little slouching isn't too bad… eh, nevermind that. Kneel down, there's a lad. This'll be too much of a chore if I've got to reach up."
Madame Natasha traces her hand through the air again, resummoning a pale glowing ball of mist. She watches the goings-on through narrow eyes … particularly on Axel.
Maybe it's magic, or that witches are simply bigger than life, but even standing Axel somehow looks smaller. Less intimidating even with all his odd features. Squished small by the witch's force of presence alone. It just gets worse when he kneels, hands in lap, fingers fidgeting. Oddly he seems a little less distinct now. Maybe it's the light or the way he sits but he looks a little hazy around the edges.
"No need to be summoning up auras," Isolde says to Axel, and draws out one of her hat pins. Unceremoniously, she uses it to prick her own left thumb, then uses the blood to draw an arcane symbol on Axel's forehead, all the while muttering under her breath.
Even stranger is that Axel snaps in to focus when the witch condemns "auras." Or perhaps it's the very sharp looking hat pin that does it. The way his eyes shift to watch her hand a viewer might suspect he's gone cross-eyed watching the blood smear, though it's hard to tell with those dark eyes.
"That should do it," Isolde says, stepping back to check the mark a final time. "You can wash it off once it dries," she tells the kneeling man, then jams the pin back into her hat while swinging around to face Olivia. "Now then, Miss Weaver… I've always thought that you were a responsible young woman. Are you?" she asks the Skeek.
"Oooo, you're in trouuuuble," Liliana whispers from behind Olivia.
Olivia ahems in embarrassment as the witch's attention shifts to her. "Mostly, ma'am. I try to be, anyway." Because of the stern way in which Isolde is addressing her, her last sentence comes out more like a question than a statement.
Olivia hears Liliana hiss behind her and reaches back to swat her again, this time not as playfully.
Reflexively Axel reaches to rub at his forehead, but wisely seems to think better of it and returns his hand to fidgeting instead. "Scared," he says, apparently to himself. "I don't know." He follows the witches gaze to Olivia and continues speaking. "I guess I'm not the only one." And, louder, he tells Olivia, "It'll be all right." He even forces a smile that while not very convincing looks like he's trying to be convincing anyway.
Liliana squeaks quietly.
"Well, here's your chance to prove it," Isolde says, crossing her arms in front of her chest. "You are now in charge of this… man. Get him cleaned up and dressed in something decent and keep him out of trouble for the next three days. Then you will bring him to me at Witch's Rock, understood?"
Olivia blinks repeatedly and stares at the witch in astonishment. When she finally finds her voice, she says, "Errr, ma'am, may I ask why? I only met him tonight and I'm to be his caretaker?"
"Because," the witch says, "he isn't these people's responsibility. And it'll take me at least that long to fetch the other witches in the territory together so we can make a… formal introduction of the boy."
Axel seems to have this question in mind too, and blink those deep black eyes of his. "Yes, better than the stake," he agrees. To no one. Then to apparently cheer Olivia up he tells her, "It's better than the stake!" He grins hopefully up until the mention of other witches where upon his expression drops hard upon gloomy like a rock drops hard upon the earth when dropped from an airship.
Olivia glances between Axel and Isolde, not sure how to absorb this information. "If it's so important then I will, Isolde, but I don't understand this at all. Will you be able to explain it to me when the three days are over? Or, um, sooner, if that's possible?"
Axel just shrugs unhelpfully as if he, too, had no idea what's going on.
"Will you be causing a ripple in the spiritual planes at this … witches meeting?" Madame Natasha asks. She's still watching the witch with curiosity.
"Explain it?" the witch scowls. "It's witch business, Miss Weaver. But if it isn't done, then bad things could happen in our area. And for goodness' sake, don't let the Oggtons sell him to Dr. Pike!" Turning to the Khatta, she answers, "The mark should keep him from causing more ripples, and the meeting will hopefully prevent there from being waves, Miss… Natasha, is it?"
Olivia turns her eyes to the ground and sighs at this. "I figured she'd say that, but I had to try," she mumbles to herself.
Axel blinks and asks sheepishly, "Um, miss? Misses? Do I have any say in this? I'm really not … a ripple causing bir- man."
"I don't even like to swim," Axel adds hopefully.
"Mmm, then I won't concern myself with it," Madame Natasha replies, her tone that neutral calm. "I have … experience in dealing vith spiritual matters and disturbances. A large ripple might've drawn my attention, but knowing vhat would cause it now, I'll ignore it. And yes, you may address me as Natasha."
"You make enough ripples that I could find you," Isolde points out to Axel. "And you're barely in the territory. Your spirit must not have gotten around much, or it'd know about crossing territories prop'ly. And Olivia will take good care of you. She's even got access to pretty bits of string, eh?"
Olivia nods to Isolde, then turns to Axel. "And lots of cloth to make you some decent clothes. Well, if I'm to keep you safe for the next three days, we'd better get back to town. Getting you to the Weavers' under the cover of darkness would be best if we're to get past the otters. I'll just get my things from Liliana's wagon and then we'll go."
"My spirit … ?" Axel looks down at his chest, frowning. He reaches and pokes his chest as if testing it for spirituality. "Oh." he blinks, murmurs. "Pretty string would be ni- … wait I can't be distracted by string bu- … well, just a little bit of string if … " His head shakes violently. "No, no, no. Focus. Focus. Must focus. String later. There's something important … yes, about me … me, together and … OH!" His head shoots up, yes wide, and he declares, "I get it now!"
… and the Axel's eyes roll back in his head and he collapses in a heap, unconscious.