One way to pretty much guarantee that you're not disturbed when doing something crazy and occult out in the woods is to wait until the weather is literally freezing-cold and there's nothing around to hunt. At that point, it's even easier than normal to find a quiet spot in Hanging Hills, in which to pitch one's occult camp and then throw one's soul into another plane of existence.
Not, of course, that doing so is exactly a common hobby, even in somewhere so profoundly strange as Fallcoast.
Still, there's presently one such projected consciousness within the woodlands of Shadow that lie behind the trees of Hanging Hills in the physical realm. Perhaps in deliberate rebellion against the chill her body is likely to be experiencing, the figure in question appears to be clad in denim cut-offs and a backless handkerchief top. Though she might be quite readily identified as native-blooded, at least by the sorts of people who might visit Shadow, she is not exactly trying to imitate Pocahontas - both sides of her head are shaved, the remaining hair bound into a braid that runs some way down her back. And at least the in the image conveyed to the spirit world, she's added quite striking makeup to emphasise her eyes.
Right now, she's sitting cross-legged on snow-free ground beneath one of the largest Shadow-trees, perhaps in a light trance.
Zoey generally looks like herself no matter where she is, Shadow or not. Her body is elsewhere; it's just her consciousness exploring the woods now, making its way through the shadow trees. What spirits there are seem to take notice of her, and she smiles or waves to them as she passes. The more lucid ones, she says hello to. Quite the friendly young woman.
And there's someone else. Zoey veers in the direction of Aurore and her tree, bright blue eyes lit with curiosity. She draws nearer, but opts not to speak in case she's interrupting Aurore. People can be pissy about that kind of thing.
It takes the meditating native a few moments to register the new arrival... not least because she doesn't 'ping' any of Aurore's additional senses. Then she cracks open an eye, arches a brow, blinks, and after a quick head-shake focuses upon the stranger. Her gaze flicks down to take in the silver cord springing from one ankle - then lifts up her own foot, to better display her own such attachment.
"Snap," she says, tone dryly amused, a slight smile curling full lips. "I don't often see anyone around here." Her voice is a rich, warm alto that mingles the local accent with more exotic tones.
"Am I interrupting?" Zoey asks, drifting closer to Aurore and peering at her intently. Zoey's most notable feature is her brightly coloured hair - pink fading to chartreuse at the moment. And, here at least, that she has a pleasing sort of aura about her, at least as far as spirits are concerned. "Was that 'snap' like, 'oh snap' or more like 'snap, you broke a twig when you were sneaking and I noticed you'?" Zoey offers a little smile. "I wasn't trying to sneak. I was just looking. You're not one of the three witches, are you?"
Aurore blinks, then laughs. "No, no. I'm nowhere near scary enough for that, I promise. If I were to threaten doom and destruction, it'd have to be via the spirits rather than my own power. And... snap. We're both projecting. The silver cord's kind of a give-away for that. You're not here physically: your body's back on the 'human' side of things. So you're not lost, but here absolutely by choice. And since the cord's intact, you can find your way back when you want to. All things worth knowing when you meet another traveller here. By no means *everything* that looks like a human is one; and some of those don't get here in the way we have."
Zoey curls her hands up into her sleeves and wraps her arms around herself. "I know a bit about this sort of thing," she says, her tone pleasant and mild, still smiling. If she minds being told the basics, she doesn't show it. "I'm glad you're not one of the witches. Not that I've met any. I had a dream the other night. Has anything with three witches happened yet? Sometimes my advance warnings are... really advanced. And then sometimes they don't even happen when some thread or another twists or ties instead of getting snipped." Ethereal winds blow her hair up around her, a brightly coloured halo. Wind spirit. Zoey raises her hand, each fingernail painted a different bright colour, and lets the spirit play through her fingers.
"They threatened last year; they returned again only this week to repeat the threat, and set a deadline. We're all to bend the knee to them and pledge our loyalty, or... they'll drain us dry, I think it was," Aurore says ruefully. "They've certainly got access to some rather startling power. I don't even know the theory of how one could try to open a physical gateway between material-side locations, so that three people can walk through. It wasn't a spirit-based power, and I'm not aware of anything else we could even conceivably tap into that might allow it. There are some speculations regarding ley lines and the like, but..." She shrugs gently. "Sorry. I'm Aurore, by the way. It's nice to meet you."
"Zoey," says Zoey, trotting over to close the distance and offer her hand - not the one the wind spirit's preoccupied with - for Aurore to shake if she so wishes. "Nice to meet you, too. Ley lines would make sense. This whole town is packed with weirdness and junctions and geomancy. And spirits. And ghosts. Do you know why it's like that, by the way? I mean, it's interesting. I haven't seen anything like it since a city in California."
Aurore leans forward and up, smiling as she shakes - her grip amiably firm. "My personal opinion is that the Dawnland has been a decidedly special place, since long before Europeans first laid eyes on it. This particular portion of it, however, seems to be an especial focus for supernatural strangeness. There are... critters here. Problems. That seem to be pretty much unknown elsewhere, let alone serious and persistent dangers. I think that the power inherent in the land was always a temptation to dark powers as well as light... and that the centuries of disruption and death brought by colonisation, followed by the environmental changes and the interruption of efforts to keep things in spiritual balance...." She shrugs gently. "We're living in the midst of a corrupted mess that is all the more dangerous because it was once so powerful a font of lighter power."
"No wonder the spirits are sad," Zoey says, shaking twice and releasing. The wind spirit is still fooling around her, blowing her hair across her face. She smiles, reaching up to tug strands of hair out of her mouth. "Haha, quit it," she says. Hopefully not to Aurore herself. Though she's looking at the other thaumaturge for the next part: "But if that's true - and it sounds very true - maybe that's why I was nudged here. That would make sense. Is there anything going on I could help with, do you know?"
"Rather too much," Aurore says ruefully. "I could point you at an array of undead horrors. A potentially-spiritual blight that manifests via 'blue goo', but doesn't appear to be spiritual so much as... able to affect them. The trio of terrifying witches who want to enslave us. A number of mysteries...." She shrugs gently. "Please, feel free to pull up a root and take a seat, if you want." The spirit, she seems wholly unbothered by... though she's evidently not nearly so interesting to it as Zoey is.
Zoey turns about and plunks down on a root by Aurore, resting her elbows on her knees and cupping her chin in her hands. Across the back of her left hand the word 'LEVITY' is written for whatever reason. "Okay. So the goo... is it visible to anyone, or just to people who can see into these realms?" And then, kind of out of nowhere, "You're really pretty."
Laughing softly, Aurore inclines her head. "Thank you. I'm just a washed up old model," she says teasingly. "But... I'm not sure. I think so. It's in the physical world. Wardings have been noted to 'have little effect' - which implies to me that they have some. I dunno. It's not something I'd actually really heard about until the last CAB meeting - do you know what that is?"
"...It is not something to do with taxis," Zoey ventures, the wind spirit still occupying itself with her hair. She reaches up, tugging a lock forward and separating it into three parts. "See this," she murmurs, looking upward as she starts off a braid. The spirit catches hold of it after a few moments and is distracted by learning how to braid. Zoey drops her hands again and looks back at Aurore, squinting. "Is it?"
"The Convention of Alternate Beliefs?" Aurore checks, just to be sure. "It's... an organisation in two parts. The publicly-advertised meetings tend to be for all the 'occult' types, from people selling 'healing crystals' to astrologers and so on. Baby Wiccan high school Gothlings, and the like. The somewhat-hidden side of it is for people who have talent and knowledge. As you're demonstrating in no small degree by being here, and getting on with your companion as well as you are doing. It was a private-part meeting of the CAB that the three witches turned up to threaten."
The spirit isn't having the easiest time with the braiding. Right now it's making a knot, but Zoey doesn't seem to mind. She smiles, looking upward again. "A lot of them are easy to get along with," she says. "If you just listen. But I bet you know that." She returns her attention to Aurore, drawing her knees up toward her chest and slinging her arms around them. "I don't get why anyone would do that. Show up at a meeting and say that sort of thing. That doesn't seem like a smart way to go about it. If I were going to try to take people's power, I'd probably try to be friendly and then suck their power out when they trusted me." She blinks, twice. "Not that that is a thing I would do. But then if I was that kind of person, that's exactly what I would say to look less suspicious." She's a little crestfallen at this. "I'm just digging a hole here."
Chuckling softly, Aurore shakes her head. "I suspect there's a good deal going on behind it. A cabal of three is suggestive of a powerful symbolism, already. It might not be functionally possible for them to cooperate as equals with anyone outside the trio, depending upon quite what sort of foundation their power has. And the sheer showiness of their entrance might well serve to cow a few people there and then. I dunno. It's not something I'd ever consider doing, myself. As for the spirits...." She chuckles, shrugging slightly as she eyes the one attached to Zoey's hair. "Listening has never exactly been my problem. I'm a walking one-woman window through the Gauntlet, it seems. For at least as long as I can remember, I've been able to hear them when they choose to talk to me. From here in Shadow."
"Oh," exclaims Zoey softly, sitting up a little straighter and smiling crookedly. "You, too? I always have. Spirits and ghosts both. Do you see ghosts, too? I haven't met anyone else who sees both." Zoey hugs her knees more tightly. "For a long time I didn't know that other people didn't see all this stuff. By then it was a bit too late to not attract attention." The spirit gets frustrated and swishes the lock of pink and chartreuse hair around. Zoey rolls her eyes upward and suggests, gently, "Just take it slow. See if you can unwind what you've done and try again. It's okay."
"I don't see spirits, except when I'm here," Aurore says. "They can see me, right across the Gauntlet. And talk to me. Just as clearly as you right now. Talking back takes effort, when I'm on that side. It's got at least one perk - I'm apparently close enough to being a spirit that none of them can ever hitch a ride in me. Let alone take over. I've had a lot grumble at me about that over the years. The first juicily tempting human they see when they're at home in Shadow, and they can't even step inside. It's a positive affront to some of them...."
"But, ahh, sort of. I can sense when ghosts or spirits are nearby, immaterial or not, in the physical world. Can feel when they're up to something, too. It was only last year that I learned to give myself a way to see and hear ghosts, too, though it's not permanent. A rite I need to perform, to let myself perceive their aspect of Twilight. Spirits, I've not yet learned to do that for: but I hope to."
"Oh," repeats Zoey, though less hopefully. She rests her chin on her knees. The spirit messing with her hair is trying to undo the tangle. "I'm sure you can come up with something. A ritual, like you said." Her nose wrinkles a bit. "As for them hitching a ride... sometimes it's easiest to just let them. I do it sometimes. Like if we're making a deal. I try not to just get taken over by mean ones." Implying that sometimes she does.
Aurore offers a worriedly sympathetic look. "Oh, it's not something I consciously do, really. I could potentially try experimenting with willing myself to be open to it, but I've not found a spirit I trust enough to take that chance with. I don't even notice any attempts they make, at least from Shadow. I'm just... not normal enough for it to happen. With a soul so strange that it is visible in another plane of creation, it seems that I just don't 'work' like a physical being in that way, at least."
Zoey's eyebrows go up a little. "I'm pretty not-normal and they can do it to me. Maybe it's not not-normalness. I mean it's not normalness, obviously, but maybe it's a specific brand of not-normalness." That might have been hard to parse, which is a thing with Zoey sometimes. "Which I guess is what you said. In any case, I don't know what's normal anyway, so I couldn't tell you."
Aurore shakes her head, flashing a wry grin. "No, no. I'm not saying I'm the only 'unusual' person. But in all honesty, I'm yet to - knowingly - meet anyone with quite my particular oddity. Even powerful spirits normally need to consciously look through the Gauntlet. Most can't do it at all. Yet even the weakest and least perceptive can see me. There's something about me that just... negates that side of the Gauntlet. I've speculated on the 'sort-of-a-spirit' option, because of the inability to possess my body. Spirits can do a whole host of things to each other, but *possession* isn't one of them. Whatever I am, it's a pretty weird sort of freak. I don't seem as bounded by 'mundane reality' as conventional theories of cosmology suggest I should be. I don't stray as far the other way, but I still straddle that boundary a bit. And you do, too, from the sound of it."
"I'm not sure I've met anyone like you, either," Zoey says thoughtfully. "I mean, I might have, but it's not like I get into these conversations with everyone I meet." The spirit has mostly undone the knot now, and is smoothing out Zoey's damaged hair as best it can. "You don't really think you're a freak, though, do you?" She unwinds her arms from around her knees and stretches them out to either side, wriggling her fingers. "I kind of think of it as being more like a throwback. Like we all used to be one, right? Us and spirits. It's like... a piece of glass that got broken, with cracks and spiderwebs. Some of us can see or step through the cracks." She draws her arms in again. "Some of us can't see other parts. It's a bit sad."
"Oh, I am a freak," Aurore says happily. "No question of it. I'm pretty sure that the fact that something like me is possible is proof of how... messed up the world is. Sort-of-spirity humans who also reach out into the dead side of things? I doubt that we're part of the original design. If there even are any others quite like me. But I'd far rather be a freak with some options to help, than be stuck cluelessly in the dark like most people."
Zoey is silent for some time, worrying at her lower lip with her teeth. Her gaze goes a bit unfocused, and she might seem like she slipped away for a moment there before she's back. "I think adaptability was part of the original design. Like when the dinosaurs came back and they were all supposed to be girls but they had toad DNA and went around making eggs and other dinosaurs."
Aurore blinks, cocking her head as she studies Zoey with amused interest. "...is that from the Jurassic Park films?" she ventures with a smile. "And... well. I've some pretty wacky ideas on cosmology, that tend to upset many people. But I think it's safe to say that creation is kinda screwed. And that those of us with the, ahh, option to help out really need to do so when we can."
"I think it was Jurassic Park," Zoey says, nodding. The wind spirit is trying to braid again now that it's sorted the tangles out. It's holding its interest for a remarkable amount of time, really. "...Films? Was that a movie?" She frowns for a moment. Then she just looks embarrassed, blushing slightly. "That was a movie. I... sometimes I get them confused. I could try to come up with a real example, but I'm curious about your take on cosmology. Even if it's upsetting."
Aurore arches a brow, then cracks another grin. "Not much of a movie buff, huh?" she asks amiably. "And... hrmmm. You sure? The summary version is, crudely, that the soul is a divine creation. It is our remaining direct link to a power - or powers - beyond the spheres of the world. Creation is not merely the mundane world that most people think they live in; as you and I know, it is wholly possible to come here, even physically if one finds the right locations. One can go the other way into the Underworld, too. All of it is linked... but the origin of the souls is to be found nowhere within any portion of Creation. Instead, it comes from somewhere outside... and can serve as a connection, however tenuously, to our creator."
"And that is, unfortunately, all the more vital - and all the more tenuous - because Creation is manifestly a corrupted mess. What balance remains has to be fought over just to preserve it. There's darkness twisting the very nature of creation, altering how things work, and what is considered appropriate or possible - by people, spirits, and the dead. And there are other things arising."
Zoey reaches up to scratch the side of her nose. She's trying to keep up with that, she is, but maybe she isn't entirely. "If it's a corrupted mess, would we necessarily want a link to the Creator?" she ventures after another few moments' thought. "And do you mean corrupted or, um... enth... entropic? Is that the word? Entropic? When things decay naturally."
"I mean corrupted. From the original design. Somewhat as you alluded to, in your comment about the capacity to do something other than blindly exist wholly in a limited material world being a 'throwback' rather than an aberration," Aurore explains. "For myself... I'm a religious thaumaturge, to be honest. Though most people assume that means that I'm a crazy Injun doing batshit Hollywood-style 'primitive ritual hoodoo' with lots of waving of rattles and feathers in my hair. I do a lot with spirits, and think that the First Nations got a great deal right in their cosmology and approach to things... but I'm somewhat more of a Dualist, myself. A believer in a creator of our souls, and a darker power - or powers - responsible for the corruption we see around us."
"Whatever smashed the glass," Zoey says thoughtfully. "Darker powers not of the natural world." She keeps one hand cupping her chin and propped on her elbow, but her other hand toys with a pendant around her neck. "But it's natural to have dark powers, too." She seems to be thinking out loud, maybe. "So... extra-dark powers. From where? Outside? Outside what?" Another pause. "I'll have to think about it. Maybe ask some questions."
"The same 'outside what' can be asked about where souls come from... and where they can potentially go to. Because by no means every soul winds up in either Twilight or the Underworld, it seems," Aurore says gently. "There is more beyond Creation than we can ever access by our own efforts... but it is possible to use our own souls to find a connection to what lies beyond. The notion of arcane connections is a near-universal one in 'occult' practices, as well as in many faiths. What stronger bond is there than between a vital, living thing - such as a soul - and its creator?"
Zoey nods slowly. The wind spirit, having braided a short section of hair, tousles through Zoey's locks one last time before departing. "I have so much stuff to do I'm not sure I'd ever get to the bottom of that," she finally says. "But it's interesting. Is that what you do? Try to figure that out? Do you have a day job? I'm terrible at day jobs."
Aurore's head turns, as she smilingly watches the spirit depart, before hauling her gaze back to Zoey. "I've... forged a connection," she says softly. "Which makes me a batshit-crazy freak even among many thaumaturges. But I hope that my being here as I am is proof that I've not sold my soul to Hell or the like. But, ahh, yeah. I'm officially meant to be spending all my time working on a doctorate at the university. I pay the bills by dancing."
"I was never good at school," Zoey says, a touch wistfully. "Doctorates are a lot of school." So much school. Zoey reaches up to thread her fingers through her hair now that the spirit's departed. "What kind of dancing? I don't meet many people who dance professionally."
Aurore giggles, nodding. "Yeah, it's a lot of school," she agrees. "And, ahh, well. I'm afraid that I'm a stripper. It's what lets me pay the bills while only working a couple of shifts a week. Even in Maine, there's enough demand for fat-assed non-Caucasian chicks that it keeps me in house and home."
"Well, you are very pretty," Zoey says, as if reminding Aurore of this. She said so earlier, after all. "I don't go to many strip joints. Sometimes I have to, but I guess I don't love spending time with the type of spirits that linger there? Maybe don't look for them there." She hesitates before adding, "They're kind of... oily. And pervasive. Mostly. Not all of them. I don't want to judge them." She offers Aurore a smile, starting to stand up. "I should go back. Maybe I'll meet you on the other side sometime. I'd like that."
"You have to go to strip joints?", Aurore asks, evidently both surprised and intrigued. "And, ahh, sure. I'm Aurore Abernathy. You could contact me through the CAB, or at the Department of Anthropology at Saint Johns University. I'd be happy to meet up in person. It's... a pleasure, finding people with similar talents and views."
Zoey dusts her butt off once she's straightened up. Habit, really. "I guess I don't have to, but I kind of help any spirits or ghosts that ask and some of them have business in places like that. They expect me to help them and life is easier if I do." She makes a sort of gathering gesture toward herself. "They kind of... find me. They like me."
Aurore chuckles, nodding. "Yeah. I want to work on being liked by spirits, rather than just... fascinatingly odd. And unable to stop them talking to me," she says, winking. "But... it's been good to meet you. Really. Thanks for coming over to say hi."
"It's been good to meet you, too," Zoey says, and she's smiling broadly. "Safe travels." She begins to retreat along the path her silver cord lies, into the forest.