Logs:Wake House - Unburdening

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Wake House - Unburdening

Characters: Gast, Jacob, Jeanie and Rafael with Slip as ST
Date: 2020-04-22
Summary: Out the backyard and into the gardens where burdens can be forgotten and some shadows can talk.

Wake House isn't quite as quiet as it had been when they'd entered, entirely because the initial care which had been taken in seeing to their stealth and respectful behavior has been somewhat abandoned in the past few minutes. The squashed bits of a speckled green frog are splattered across a blessedly small patch of floor in the entry way, not too far from the door that is very much present which nobody seems to care to acknowledge right now. The door to the basement remains open, a scent of stagnant water and mustiness slowly creeping up the stairs. The hall opens into a rather nice kitchen with an adjacent dining room separated only by an island and a bit of distance. Potted forget-me-nots sits near the sink while a bowl of large seeds of some variety serves as centerpiece at the barren table. The china in the cabinets looks like it could be expensive.

A couple windows and a set of french doors look out on the back yard, a well-shaded patio near the house spilling into a rather lovely garden that stretches back a considerable distance where, at the end, a rather large plum tree serves as centerpiece, a few benches nearby. Other little nooks appear here and there among greenery and floral arrangements, some of which feature the same small blue flowers that grow inside the house, all a bit overgrown as if nobody's been seeing to them lately. The frog pond back here has also gotten out of hand, a few dozen amphibians lounging in or around the water feature, chirping at one another. A main path leads back to the plum tree, ending at the fence where no gate seems to be. Toward the center, it also branches off, paths leading straight into that dark wood in either direction.

Fresh air. That's what's on Jeanie's mind as she scurries down the stairs and gulps as she VERY PURPOSEFULLY tries not to look at the squished frog stain. The kitchen gets a quick glance and a nod. "Huh. That's nice." Her momma would be proud if Jeanie's ever able to get a kitchen kept to such clean standards, but right when it looks like the girl is about out the door, she doubles back to the sink. "Those seeds look too big to be forget-me-nots..." While she doesn't pick one up yet, she does shake the bowl a little.

"We should check the..." Rafael's hand lifts, fingers brushing in a general motion towards the back yard, "...further gardens. There was mention of a well in the book, that may prove of interest." A look back to Jeanie in the dining room, a brow twitching upwards a bit, "Seeds? Well, she does have quite the garden."

Gast is down from the attic with a journal tucked in beneath the crook of his left arm, held to his overheated combination of hoodie and jacket that he'd entered not-quite-anonymously with. He takes it slow, heading downstairs from there, in the wake of others and with his right arm and hand kept free. He's fresh off a revelation - or a couple of hunches, as he put it, having relayed that Lillian Alexander wasn't alone back on January 8th. And that she might have been about to take a trip of indeterminate length. With Rafael ahead and Jeanie aside to check on the seeds, he holds back at the door down to the basement, peering down from the doorway to check on the sounds and the smells. "Ready when you are," he notes of the further gardens. The mention of the well. "What kind of seeds?" he furthers, a little louder, so that it might carry to where Jeanie is.

Jacob scowls at the remains of the frog. He scowls even more deeply when he sees that he has frog spatter on his neatly shined, rather expensive shoes. That'll teach him to wear a suit to explore a witch's house. Still, fashion should never be forgotten simply because it is inconvenient - he's stronger than that.

He looks around the room, then moves towards the door after the others. He doesn't exit the building yet, however, instead holding back a moment and looking back towards Gast. There's a lot of frogs out there and he can't very well squish them all. Instead, he says, "You find any other clues?" He glances at Jeanie and Rafael, so that they don't get too far ahead, but takes a moment to further inspect the room, just in case he missed something.

Getting a closer look at the seeds in the bowl, a couple things are immediately evident. First, they're almost certainly the cleaned pits of some sort of fruit. Plums would be a reasonable guess, given the tree in the back. And, well, there's the shape, slightly flattened and a little pointed on one side. Second, they were not harvested all at once, but have been collected over time. Some are smooth and hard as stone, others gnarled and shriveled. They're the sort of thing one would usually discard, but here they are, collected over an extended period of time, just hanging out in a bowl. Jeanie might get an inkling of purpose behind them, for how they've been cleaned and kept, thinking to stories of magic seeds handed over by a witch, buried in the earth or swallowed, one problem solved, another growing in its place.

The basement smells wet, though there's enough mustiness to suggest not all of it is currently flooded. There might be some standing water left, however, for the stagnant scent which rises from that darkness. The stairs are new, recently replaced, but the walls downstairs are rough, old and water-damaged. Really, New Orleans is no place for basements.

Jeanie glances between the bowl and out the window. "Plums, probably?" That's at least her guess for Gast. She quickly searches for a napkin and carefully takes two seeds, one of the smooth and hard type and another of the wrinkled ones while trying not to actually touch them with her skin, folding up into a little packet of napkin. "Do you wanna hold onto these?" She'll hold out the packet to Rafael. "A well could be down in the basement..." There's a sniff and the dank air. "But outside sounds better." And back to the door she goes and actually out it this time.

A napkin full of plum-pits is handed to Rafael, and he regards them bemusedly before - with a shrug - he tucks it into a pocket of his jacket before moving to follow Jeanie outside. "We can check the basement... last," he says in quiet tones, stepping outside, "If there's anything particularly horrible in this witch's house, I assure you that it's in the basement."

There's something weird about these seeds. It's difficult to say what it is exactly. The illness inhabit Rafael shows no interest in attempting to spread through that vector, but... there's curiosity. A consideration. A shift in the tone of his pain.

"Just a look at her and what I've noted as hunch," Gast relays to Jacob at a quieter murmur, as not to let slip the nature of what he is and can do - compromising when he provides info for all, with no solid explanation. "I want to peek into some mirrors. Later. With more to work off of," he adds, to the fellow Lost. Gaze shifting wary to the frog-squisher, but reading the renewed relative calm. A reply to Jeanie's answer of plums, in, "I'm guessing those grow fine, around here?" An assumption. A blindspot for the PI, garden climates. "Might be flooded. Only a bit," he says, louder, more inclusionary to those searching. He ends up snagging the edge of Jeanie's thought, running with it some, as well. "What defines a well?" Could a basement stand in? But he seems keen on following Rafael's line of thinking, saving the basement for last, so long as his curiosity can still be satisfied in seeing it. Delayed but not abandoned. He follows outside.

Jacob looks towards the basement door, and there's curiosity there. Part of him wants to just explore it now, while they are there, but with a sigh he turns away, following after Gast to join the others. "We were right there. We could have just taken a peek." Like the last time he took a peek, which ended him up in a different world. Or semi-different world. It's hard to tell.

He heads out towards the gardens, looking around with interest. As for the seeds, he comments, "Well, we could always try planting them. We're in a garden, after all. Maybe they're magic seeds and will grow a giant bean stalk." He glances towards the fountain and the frogs. "Or a giant lily pad." He smirks wryly. "What do you think, frogs? A lily pad?" Yes, he's addressing the frogs, almost challengingly.

On the bright side, the basement door doesn't have the same sort of otherness as the now-closed door that everybody's intentionally ignoring. It's right there. They could go through it. But after what happened with Jacob, maybe it's for the best that they step out back instead. It's a lovely evening, the dusky sky seeming darker for how little of the fading sunlight gets past the high fence or tall trees. Someone might think to turn on the lights before stepping out, illuminating the space in glittering gold fairy lights and electric lanterns that seem more old-fashioned than they are. It's enchanting, really. The frogs pay no mind to Jacob's questions, but a few do hop away from the general presence of people. Anyone looking around notice, now, that there seem to be gates in the fence where the paths lead into that tall obstacle, three in total between the back and sides.

"They're not exactly native," Jeanie did study coastal ecology before she started law school. "I think they're a bit like apples and need cold days to really fruit?" Although that doesn't really seem to be much of a problem seeing as New Orlean's past winter was mild and there are clearly fruiting trees out there. So she could be wrong or it could be magic! That school knowledge does have a bit more info for Gast's other question. "Normally it'd be something that has access to groundwater. Or I guess a magic well could have access to like... a locus or something?" She shrugs and continues outside, taking a deep breath of that fresh air. Jacob's questioning of the frogs is eyes warily. "If you stomp another frog I might feed you to the witch." She mutters the threat under her breath.

"There is something... strange about these seeds," Rafael mutters under his breath, patting the pocket of his jacket a few times with a slightly puzzled expression. Then he's looking back up to the gardens, moving towards the gates in the back to see if there's anything visible on the other side. "Also, there's the possibility that a 'well' is actually a passage down to the basement."

Gast flips the light switch on the way out, illuminating the gardens as he's one of the last out the door. "We still will. On the way back." Peek. It's a promise that Gast makes to Jacob. And to his own curiosity. They will return to the basement, so long as they can help it. And he side-eyes Jacob, when they're out, still keeping to careful observation of the eccentric Lost who speaks to - or at - the frogs. And back out to the world around them, with the care to percieve what might be missed. "I'll take your word for it," he tells Jeanie, on climate and fruit. She did recognize the seeds after all. And he might remember to google the answer for himself, at a later time. He doesn't comment on if the well is magical. His nose scrunching at the idea. Nothing to relay on the subject avoided, yet, anyhow. "Strange how?" he dares to ask, about the seeds. He too heads toward the gates, awkwardly balancing the journal as he tries to fish a flashlight from his left jacket pocket, if that from what he turned on doesn't continue beyond. And if the woods veil what's left of the evening light.

Jacob nods to Gast about peeking at the basement after, adding, "And let's not forget the door." He motions towards the less natural door. "I still think the answer lays not in this realm, but another. If we don't find a well here, we might find it there." He seems willing to have a look around here, first, however. As Jeanie talks about the seeds, he asks, "Well, /can/ we try planting one? I wasn't entirely joking. Although..."

He's distracted by the gates, and the fact that Rafael's opening one. He tenses slightly, waiting to see where it leads. There's a quick glance at the frogs and a threatening growl, just to ensure they're not up to any funny business, as well as a look towards the other two gates - he doesn't want any surprises, after all.

The gates are special. Jacob can tell. He can feel it. He knows a door to elsewhere when he sees one. And he certainly sees one now, plain as day, as Rafael moves to open it. Without his magic, they might not have noticed the gates at all.

The frogs don't care. As long as nobody is stepping on them or attempting to disturb their pond and its partial film of algae, they don't care about the people one bit. Much like the rest of the garden which just goes on being a garden. As gardens do.

The gate opens easily under Rafael's guidance, the hinges issuing only the slightest creak. The path he's on continues for a few yards, into more gardens lined with more golden fairy lights, before hitting an intersection which stretches in all four directions, inclusive. Immediately across that wider bisecting path is a large stone building that's most definitely at odds with the rest of the neighborhood. The arch leading into it has words carved into its curve reading: Unburden the Heart & Bathe the Body. To either side, the path continues into deeper gardens flanked intermittently by more out-of-place buildings, greatly mismatched in their strangeness.

Jeanie's familiarity with local flora lends her a little extra insight: some of the plants in this new part of the garden seem... strange. Not native to the area, in some cases. Growing in odd colors, in others. They're all lovely and reasonably well-maintained. It's just that they seem a bit out of place.

"There's plenty more in there for you to plant if you want," Jeanie's not volunteering to give up her seeds even if she has physically given custody of them over to Rafael already. But then the man is saying that those seeds are strange and she's turning to him with a look of concern. "Like, dangerous strange?" If they burst out in fire, at least there's a pond near by! As everybody else is going through the gate, she'll be following, peering a bit at the strange gardens. "This had to have taken forever to collect... and maintain. They're not all native either."

"I'm not sure," admits Rafael to the question, glancing down to the pocket again, "There's something with them-- maybe there's some enchantment on them, or maybe they're tied to some sort of enchantment? Maybe the trees they came from are just magically grown, I couldn't say." He steps along through the gate, brow furrowing at the strange buildings, "Hrm. That sounds like... some sort of new age spa?"

He moves towards the stone building to walk beneath its arch and investigate.

The nearer Rafael gets to the arch, the more intense his pain gets. What disease wants to be cleansed? Definitely not this one. It hurts.

"I haven't," Gast promises - forgotten about the door, and how it complicates the space. Expands it beyond what he can map in his head, in its strangeness. And he addresses the exploration thereof with a resigntation toward curiosity, and a troubled caution as to where it might take him. More of the latter shows through in his tone. He keeps his flashlight handy, slung at his side in such a way that he might flip the switch on and angle it forward, stiffly, without compromising his grip on the book. He doesn't weigh in on plantings, either, but not with the same wary regard of the topic of magical things. Flowers do draw his eye, in an unfamiliar but curious way; maybe quietly appreciating, along the way. But unless there's a lotus among them, he may not stand a good chance of recognizing a non-sunflower. He stops to peer up at the arch before stepping through, to read what prompts that latest response from Rafael. To study the words over in his head at the threshold.

As Rafael opens the door, Jacob steps forward. "Wait... " He looks at each of the doors, "These aren't normal gateways. Not that anything is normal here," he glances at the frogs, then back to Rafael and the others, "Be careful. Once we go in, we might have trouble getting back out." He speaks from experience. Recent experience.

He studies the words for a moment, mulling them over. Something's familiar about them, but what is it. "If we go in, we should all stick together." Unlike him the last time.

Thresholds possess magic. Every changeling knows this. It isn't only that doors can be opened into other worlds, that one can step into the Hedge, delve into Arcadia or find themselves in any of the strange places which Jacob has visited. It is also the magic of hospitality and boundaries, of the freedhold and the brim. A threshold is a border between one idea and the next. They've already crossed several this evening, some of which may bear significance, but this one is marked. As with the Wyrd, it may be best to consider its interpretation literal, though what exactly it might mean to Unburden the Heart is difficult to pinpoint, even with their combined expertise. A shed fear? A bad memory? Anything can be taken. Anything.

Here, at the intersection before the stone building and its unusual arch, they can all, should they choose, get a better look at just how impossibly far this property stretches in either direction. Farther than the block? Certainly into neighbors' yards. Jacob's almost certainly got the right of it. Stepping through the gate has almost certainly brought them into another impossible place, over a significant threshold. On the bright side, the gate is still very clearly there and open. It hasn't just magically trapped them.

"Sticking together is good," Jeanie will nod agreement as everybody seems to be giving the building a very cautious eyeing. "It is supposedly a witch's house. Anything could be enchanted. And... yeah. But new age spas don't normally span more than a block in a house that shouldn't even be that big..." She hasn't seen the plot diagrams, but pretty sure city planning doesn't work that way.

As he draws closer to the arch, Rafael pulls up sharply in his tracks-- a grimace twisting his expression, the fingers of one hand curling into a fist. He draws in a tight, shaky breath, then steps slowly backwards away from it. "I... shouldn't go in there," he says tersely, eyes flicking over the stony arch again, "It should be safe for you. But it wouldn't be safe for me."

"Like a buying a timeshare," Gast adds to the troubles in possibly returning once through. "In a witch-house and spa." He means for levity, surely, but he's so distracted that it's less than dry - just a mutter. He studies in quiet, alongside Jacob. He repeats it aloud, to himself, and to Jacob, "Unburden the heart and bathe the body." He turns sidelong, to the other Lost. To spitball. "Steps, do you think - to follow them and get some result? To leave or to enter?" he tries. "The cost?" A bath and an 'unburdened mind'. "Not 'bathe and you'll unburden'. Not the right order." Though, that too is voiced as question. "A secret?" the Darkling assumes, for what's to be unburdened. Jacob maybe be closer to the right of it than he, on that note, yet. He does turn away from the reading to differentiating notes of safety. Paranoia flaring up for assumptions of Rafael should think there difference between them, "What makes you say that?" Composure keeps the inquiry calm.

Jacob seems hesitant at first to cross over the threshold. Why? He's used to traveling other realms. It could be that, having experienced the little incident earlier, is concerned for his companions. So when Rafael and Jeanie cross over, he gives a sigh and looks at Gast, "All I know is it won't be what we /think/, and it probably won't be pleasant. Unburden the heart... it could mean memories. Ir could mean emotions. It could physically mean your heart being removed. And bathed, well.. in what? Blood?"

Still, he's following after, at least until Rafael suddenly backpedals. Like Gast, he looks curious as to why and waits to hear the answer to Gast's question.

The arch itself offers no further answers. It is a still thing, its only clue the words carved into it stony structure. Beyond, there seems tile flooring, some indistinct walls. Really, it's difficult to get a good read on the interior from here. However, there is a sound emerging from its depths. A pleasant one. Humming? It seems a cheerful melody, bright notes balanced by a low thrum of rushing water below. There's somebody in there.

"As long as it's not like the Hotel California," Jeanie whistles just enough of the song to really drive the point across. There's a shiver at the rather morbid discussion of the quote. "I think I'd prefer my mind appropriately burdened. Being completely unburdened sounds like a zombie or something...." She gives a shrug and turns to the shaky-breathing Rafael. "Are you okay? Do you need someone to stay with you?" Although the sound of that humming has her eyeing the interior of the building as well, torn between the two.

"Purification..." A reluctant response from Rafael, still regarding the arch with a wary look in his eye, "Is not... shall we say... an experience that I relish. And it's bleeding from this arch, from this building." A hand comes up, absently scratching at the blotchy stains climbing up the side of his face, "I don't expect any of you would have the same issue, however."

"It could," Gast agrees. The intricacies of the Wyrd advising his own interpretation, even if oaths aren't where his specialties lie. "Does it matter more what the one who wrote it meant or what we interpret it to mean?" As if the sign isn't just the sign that tells of what lies ahead, but part of the agreement itself. There's an unconscious shiver at the mention of Hotel California - the troubling connotations of such a realm. But more back into the present, he puts better voice behind his quip, "At least we know they'd be flexible about check-ins."

He readjusts, kneels to set the journal down aside, where it can't get stepped on while they ponder. The humming brings him back up to his feet. Flashlight (which he keeps off, for so long as there's still light to go by) in his left hand, still, and his right hand entering his right pocket, staying there, probably with a weapon of some manner. Attention split between the blotchyness of Rafael's face as he explains, and the sound from ahead. From paranoia to questions to ask - later. "Guess we'll find out. We should see who's in there." Promptly, apparently. He moves forward, to see if his feet find the tiles in moving ahead. To see if the purification allows him without any trouble, as he heads on inside, looking for the source of the hum.

Jacob lifts an eyebrow as he watches Rafael, taking note of those blotches. He purses his lips, glancing over at Gast, then back towards the others. "Interesting." About that time, he hears that sound of the water, the melody. "Well, I guess there's one way to find out." He smirks slightly, then looks at Rafael, "Watch the exit? Jo, maybe you ought to stay with him?" Even as he's speaking, though, he's heading towards the spa as well. He's cautious, but he's undeniably curious. It's such a lovely melody, too. Absently, he murmurs to himself, "I wonder if there will be frogs."

"That you, doctor?" The voice echoes off the stony walls of the structure beyond the arch, but it's easy enough to make out: deepened with age, with a feminine inflection, untroubled. Quieter, more difficult to make out for those who haven't yet entered the building, the voice adds, "I keep telling you not to wear your shoes..." Those closer might be able to hear movement farther in, a gentle slap of damp bare feet against stone floors. Someone is definitely approaching.

Which may be concerning all on its own, but as Jacob crosses the threshold beneath the archway, the pair instructed to 'watch the exit' might have a difficult time doing so. The gate which had been open isn't anymore. In fact, it looks just like any other old fence with a few flowering vines crossing over it. And that journal that Gast had set down nearby. There is still a path that leads to what might have been a gate, but the gate itself just doesn't want to be seen.

Jeanie's face turns a slight shade of green at the mention of putrification. She doesn't even need to know the particular to context to assume whatever it might be, can't be good especially with those red splotches growing. "Holler if you need help. I'm going to try and make sure he," She nods her head towards Jacob, "doesn't decide to try and go off on some people like he did that frog." And she creeps forward a little more. "Ms. Lillian? Is that you? Ms. Johnson down the road asked me to come check on you. She was really concerned."

Passing under the arch and into the 'spa' feels rather nice, like just entering draws stress down by a single notch. Just a little. A worry is abandoned. Like, for Gast, whether or not Jeanie is aware of Jacob's nature... along with her words of encouragement earlier. Or, for Jacob, any sense of trespass or bad behavior; he doesn't need the Wyrd to help him be where he already belongs. he mind is cleared and magic is shed. The air smells clean, herbaceous, with faint floral notes teasing at the senses. The air is cool but humid, the promise of a hot bath or sauna somewhere not far off. The path branches either direction, but both seem to connect to the same room, the entry wall simply providing privacy for those within the building.

Rafael folds both arms over his chest, rocking his weight back to one foot and keeping his distance from the stone arch and the building beyond. He tries to hide just how uncomfortable it's making him, looking around the garden absently. "I'll be fine," he reassures Jeannie, "I'll watch things out here... in case someone else shows up."

Gast keeps his right hand in his pocket, the dull tap of his soft-gripped shoes on tile guilding him forward, along with Jacob. He falters at the voice, surprised even that the hum turned to words. That they would find anyone. Breeding the uncertainty of weather they should care to into the tension between his shoulders - and that same tension seems to filter back out, enough to get him to go forward. He exhales. An oddly content sound. As Jeanie calls ahead in answer to the voice within, he keeps his mouth shut, takes in a deep breath to replace what was lost on exhale, and forges forward to catch those incoming steps off guard. Pleasant scents and humid cool air soothing the rust of his lungs as he drives on. He motions with the unlit flashlight for Jacob, or for Jeanie, yet behind - whoever interprets the gesture - to take one of the branching paths while he takes the other. He takes the leftmost.

Jacob nods to Rafael as the man hangs back. He heads into the spa, followed by Jeanie the chaperone. He pauses as he hears voices, listening, taking a moment to look around the room, taking in the details. When Gast motions at him, he nods and begins to creep towards the right path, keeping his eyes and ears out for the speakers, as well as looking for any clues he might find.

While the others are occupied with that terrible arch and its attempts to unburden and bathe people, Rafael, in his perusal of the garden, catches movement among the greenery some yards down. It might be a trick of the light or suggestion of something larger looming around a corner, but that certainly looked like a shadow extending across the path an then retracting.

"Who the hell're you!?" calls the voice from further in the building. Jeanie, clearly, does not sound like the doctor. As Gast moves past the privacy wall just beyond the entrance, the footfalls stop. And it's not difficult to see why. In front of him in the cool, soothing light of what, yes, does genuinely seem like some sort of--overall, very empty--spa, stands a spry older woman. She's thin with long hair in shades of silver grey and golden blonde, dulled and darkened from recent bathing, her fair skin marked with age spots and creased with wrinkles. Thin and tall and flat-chested, she wears an old tee shirt a size or two too big for her with a faded logo on its cornflower blue fabric paired with a long broomstick skirt the color of straw. She wears a belt slung low on bony hips which has what seems an ancient shortsword on one hip and a reasonably modern pistol on the other.

A hand settles on the latter as she flicks her blue-eyed attention between Gast and Jacob, chin lifted with a confident wariness. "I am the Keeper of Hospitality here," she says evenly in that deep feminine rasp of hers. "You'd do well to identify yourselves." No threat, there, except for where her hand rests, ready.

"I'm Jeanie. I was delivering Meals on Wheels to Ms. Johnson. She said she hadn't seen you in a while and asked me to check," She calls out, taking a few steps towards the woman, holding out her hands as if to show she means no harm. She's still got on the bright blue Meals on Wheels shirt to help back up the story too. "Your neighbors haven't seen you out in a while. Made them pretty worried. Seems like it wasn't like you?"

"...hm?" Rafael catches movement out of the corner of his eye. He did say that he'd watch the entrance, so he hesitates for a moment before moving to slip off to the side of the 'spa' even as his companions all move inside. A slow but steady step along the path, moving to investigate just what it might be...

Alone. Like a dumbass.

There's a feeling of relief passing through the archway. Tension drains from shoulders, and the heart does, indeed, unburen itself. That unsettled feeling Jeanie has been carrying since watching Jacob stomp the frog is... gone. Along with the memory that inspired it. Surely, she didn't need that. It smells lovely in here, really. It might be worth visiting when not facing an old woman giving stern looks to the three trespassers.

Gast's right arm tenses, like his grip has tightened on whatever is in his right jacket pocket. He pauses just in from the privacy wall. Not more than a step after he notices a hand on a pistol at her hip. But, like the Keeper of Hospitality, makes no overt motions toward a threat just yet - well, aside from the invasion of privacy. And the breaking and entering that preceeded it. As Jeanie speaks and explains, he lets his gaze wander about for a moment, lets the center of focus remain there as he inspects. He does offer insight to Jeanie when he does speak, "That's not Lillian Alexander." And to the Keeper of Hospitality, centering his regard back on her, and on the hand near the weapon. "But that is true. Ms- Mrs.?" he options, giving the Keeper the option to clarify the owner's marital status for them - maybe to catch a confirmation of familiarity. "-Alexander never came back from the trip she was planning, back in January." His tone is neutral, not sardonic, not soothing, just calm and composed as he plays things cautious. "And who are you? Aside from your title."

As Jeanie calls out, catching the woman's attention, Jacob does his best to peek around, trying to get a look around the corner if he can, to get a glipse of whomever it was she was talking to. When her attention shifts towards him and Gast, he stops and offers a low whistle and smiles, "Look at you. Aren't you just lovely. We didn't interupt anything, did we? We were just looking for Ms. Alexander." A glance towards Jeanie, then back to the woman, "Concerned neighbours."

He smiles again, amiable, and both of his hands are visible and unarmed. He glances back towards the direction the woman came, though, still hoping to get a glimpse of whoever she was talking to. When Gast asks who she might be, aside from her title, he waits for an answer. He does, however, answer her own question, "Jack, Finder of Lost Things and Friend to Meals on Wheels."

The gardens really are vast. As Rafael moves away from that inersection, he can see a few two-story buildings, copses of trees, at least one glorious victorian greenhouse, maybe a bridge over a stream he just can't quite make out from here... And, more importantly, what appears to be a moving shadow, notably without a souce. At first, it has an odd liquid quality to it, the way it dips and sags as it travels over flowers, but as Rafael stills nearby and tracks its movement, it draws upward into more human-like form, cast upon a nearby wall. A sound like a rustle of autumn leaves suggests a breeze or, perhaps, breathing. "Not dead." A dry whisper, inhuman and curious.

"Ms. Who?" The Keeper of Hospitality asks sharply of Jeanie, squinting at the third person to enter the baths. "Ain't nobody seen me outside the gardens in, shit." Her expression softens some as she seems inclined to think on that. Gast's words bring her back into focus, and she straightens to her full height, bright blue eyes studying him. Jacob earns a flicker of her attention for his addendum, not buying the flattery, but the autumn seems to have struck the truest cord. "I am my title, in these gardens," she asserts, emphasizing her authority, but her shoulders are already slackening a little, guard loosening. Even if her hand hasn't yet moved from her weapon. "But my name's Manfred. It's pretty clear not a one-a-ya knows one lick about Ms. Alexander, but let's say I buy that good samaritan bit. Whattayu think you can do about it that Miss Dierdre ain't already tried?"

"Johnson," Jeanie responds helpfully. "Three doors down. House with the blue shutters. And the fact that they haven't seen you outside in so long is the problem! People are worried about you!" So... maybe it would have helped if Ms. Johnson had also given a bit of a description of who exactly Jeanie was supposed to be looking for aside from 'old lady in that strange pink house'. She blinks as the woman in front of them reveals herself to actually be the mysterious Manfred. "Ohh. Well, I guess that depends on what happened to Ms. Alexander, doesn't it? But I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to help."

Rafael comes to a halt in the gardens, his head tilting slightly to one side as he regards the shadow upon the wall with a wary - and curious - expression. "No. Quite..." A faint, bitter smile briefly crosses his expression, "Quite the opposite, actually. More alive than I should be. And what about you...?" He keeps his distance, unsure of this thing's motives or nature.

It may be a blunt way to approach someone who introduces themself as Keeper of Hospitality, for Gast to lead with questions when he answers none. But it's what he did - aside from confirm the truth in some of what's been said. While Jeanie and Jacob both answer and explain. He grants an uncertain nod when he gets the initial assertion of authority, slow, but accepting the answer. Breathing something close to a sigh of relief when they get the name - one readily associated with the house they just exited. He pays the same respect, in terms of weapons. His hand on his own, though concealed. He tries to speak plainly when it comes to that last question. "That depends," he admits. "On what Miss Dierdre has already tried." Prompting. Or at least a direction to take. He doesn't call himself helpful, but he does, at the least, seem curious.

Seeing as how they don't seem to be in any immediate danger and the woman is conversing with them now, Jacob takes to looking around a bit as he waits for the woman to answer Jeanie and Gast's questions. After a moment, he can't help himself and inquires, "Who were you just talking to?"

Manfred looks like she hasn't the least understanding of what Jeanie might be talking about in regards to Mrs. Johnson and her blue shutters. She looks between the three of them as they offer their various questions and answers, none of which are especially satisfying. "If we knew what happened to Ms. Alexander, we'd be in a different state of affairs right now," she informs Jeanie. To Gast, she indicates, "You'd have to ask Miss Dierdre what Miss Dierdre's done, but I know she's been counting them damned frogs for weeks." Then, lastly, to Jacob, she notes, "That one--" With a shallow point toward the autumnal darkling. "--sounds a bit like one of our residents. Now." Another look about the group. "Seeing as you managed your way into the gardens, I can accept you as guests, but that means you abide by guest rules." Are they listening? "First, you don't stray from the path. Second, you don't take nothing what don't belong to you that wasn't given freely as a gift when you go, and that includes the flowers. And third, don't hurt folks. You respect the gardens, and you'll be fine." She seems to reconsider that and adds, "Cept I might avoid the archives. And the conservatory. And don't go near the main greenhouse, unless you wanna end up plantfood. Alright?"

The strange shadow playing on all the pretty flowers and the stone wall near Rafael weaves a little bit at the man's words. At the question, it dips the shadow of a long-fingered arm into the bushes, plucking up the shadow of a wilted bloom, the sagging flower brought up to what might be its face, the details growing indistinct. A slight of light suggests a mouth when it speaks in that voice of dead leaves. "Fed and feeding, growing, growing." It's almost a song. "How the garden gives and gives." Its 'mouth' splits wider, spindly fingers shoving the tiny idea of a flower into its increasingly toothy maw which smooths back out to unbroken shadow with a dry, hushed sigh.

Jeanie nods along at those instructions. "Are the archives and conservatory somewhere that we won't accidentally wander into them while we are staying on the paths?" She's been listening to the rules, really. Just needs some clarification. "And any advice on where we might be able to find Miss Dierdre so we can see what all she's been doing? No use in trying stuff if she's already tried it and it didn't work." never mind that Jeanie still doesn't know what exactly they're supposed to be helping with.

"Do you... eat the dead, then?" Plants die too, after all. Rafael is somewhat unnerved by this talking shadow, but then-- can he say his own existence is any more normal, being honest with himself? He maintains his distance for the moment, watching the edges of the shadow in case a part of it may try and creep closer. "Do you have a name?"

"Any idea where we might find Miss Dierdre?" Gast asks. Without missing a beat. He lifts a brow at that shallow point in his direction, and the comment that goes with it to Jacob. The expression might mean to say 'how so' and 'who', but he doesn't voice it. Rather he tilts into listening, careful, when rules are mentioned - as with the writing on the archway, he seems to deem these of some importance. He nods once, in understanding, once the list has finished. And again, as before, more uncertainly, at the vague threat presented in those latter mentioned locales. "Why?" he asks, broadly, to the threats of those places. Asked in short form if only to hurry on to his next question, and one that he's been holding onto since before he silenced. Not as to who he reminds, or how he belongs here, but, "Unburden the heart and bathe the body. What does it mean?"

Jacob lifts an eyebrow at the woman's comment about residents. "Residents? There are other residents here? Who are they?" He looks around curiously, as if he might see some evidence of them lurking around. As Jeanie and Gast ask their questions, he nods, obviously interested in the answers as well. At Gast's, he can't help but chuckle, "Well, I think the bathing part is fairly obvious. The other, less so."

To be continued...