1963-12-14 - The 12 Days: Second
Summary: On the second day of Christmas, my beloved gave to me, a puzzle, a box, and a key.
Related: 12 Days: First to Twelfth
Theme Song: Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters
strange wanda 

“In the bedroom, I left a key. For the second day this Christmas, it is your gift. It opens a box in the house. Small and wooden. When you want to claim the promise in the box, come for me and tell me.”

Somewhere in the Sanctum, Wanda told him, she left a box. He gained a key, nothing more than the instructions spoken in a snowy cabin.

True to her word, she left a key in the bedroom nested among his cufflinks and tie clips. Where enamel or polished stones and metals glitter, it stands out as a plain relic unworthy of his time. No more than two inches long, the metal chit is heavy, possibly brass. Deep, oddly straight teeth are irregular enough to be handmade, rather than machined, so it’s probably quite old. Not meant for a modern lock with a simple steel key, then, but not absolutely ancient.

A red ribbon expertly braided and twisted into a tiny silk rope slips through a hole in the terminal end. Penned in her delicate handwriting: Culhwch the Faithful.

Silvery knotwork shifts across the surface, giving a somewhat Celtic influence. Not surprising; the Celts and the Roma have long been entangled.

That delightful ribbon in its vermillion hue makes a perfect anchor for nonchalantly swinging the key around the end of one finger rather dexterously for the scarring presented on his skin. It hadn’t taken him long to locate the chit; after all, the instructions were clear in regards to its location and it didn’t exactly hide amidst his other items. One of these things is not like the other…

The Sorcerer in daywear leans against the doorframe of the master bedroom that separates sleep from Mystic study and stares across the room at nothing. His expression is distant, steel-blue eyes half-hidden; clearly, he’s within his mind rather than the world proper.

No signature of magic to track on the box. He started there first and was half-heartedly dismayed to find no linking thread between brass key and another location in the Sanctum. As if his Beloved were to let him have the prize that easily. She knows him too well. Any sort of connection was either summarily and thoroughly erased or didn’t exist in the first place. Even her fingerprints seem to be scoured away, physical and aural alike.
“Hmm…” The low baritone hum escapes him through his nose and he catches the key on the up-spin in his hand to observe it. Nothing new comes to him in the moment and he looks beyond it across the relic collection. Nothing is out of place there; Strange would know it immediately, with all the irritating intensity of its caretaker. The edge of the tag with the delicately-scrawled name pokes and he spreads it flat across his palm to read it once more.

Culhwych the Faithful. “Col…coal?” He has to dig through his memory for the linguistics of the island nations of Wales, Ireland, Scotland. “Coal…lack. Coal-lahk. Loch. Lock?” He frowns down at the name. “Coal-lock. Culock. Clock? I don’t have any clocks with locks on them,” the man mutters. Still, he shrugs and strides across the Loft towards the stairs. There is a grandfather clock downstairs, in the shop. A small box could hide there. However - no dice. Nothing behind the glass paneling that runs down its center save for the mechanical bits and the pendulum. “Dammit.” At least she’s not around to watch him fail at this first attempt. He tappity-taps his fingertips against the side of the clock in rapid, hollow sounds as he reads the name again. “Cuhl-lock. Clock…er, gods below. Lock, what is locked up around here? She wouldn’t go in the basement…”

No sane person would. It’s locked for a reason and everyone in the Sanctum has been thoroughly warned not to trifle with said barrier.

“Maybe a metaphorical stance… Unlocking…” His meanderings take him out into the foyer and he eyes the stained glass window of Agamotto. It stares back, certainly not giving away anything or granting any sort of hint. “Unlocking…knowledge. The library?” His weak laugh echoes back to him. “There’s so many places for a box there…” Still, he makes his way to the library and begins looking.

An hour later and no such luck. Not a single book out of place, not even pulled out a sneaky half-inch in which to hide a thin, flat box behind. He’s been over every shelf, behind every nook he can remember, through all the drawers of his desk, even taking a moment to crane his neck to see the shadowy corners of the topmost roofing of the shelves. Nothing but a little dust, no fingerprints disturbing that either.

He stands in the middle of it all, frowning thunderously at the tag on the key. “Cuhl-lock. Clock. But it’s not a clock, it could be a lock and it unlocks a box that I can’t find at the moment.” A long sigh and rubbing at one temple as he holds up the paper to the ambient light of the room. No invisible ink or erasure marks. He tosses the key and catches it, looking back towards the hallway. “Clever hellcat…” It’s a soft grumble, quiet acknowledgment that she’s got him stumped, if only for a bit.

Into the library swishes the crimson Cloak, unbidden and clearly searching for him. The Sorcerer watches the garment approach and hover before him. It undulates in place, shoulders dipping and collars flipping as if attempting to communicate.

“I…didn’t summon you,” he says in bemused confusion. “And I’m not in the mood for charades, okay?” It shifts directly in front of him when he tries to pass by. Strange gives it a gimlet glare before attempting the other direction. Nope, swish, block. The relic is too fast; it mirrors each of his dodges until he lets out a growl and points at it with the key. “I am in the middle of something important and I have no time for games with an animate cloak!” The word rings in the silence and he mouths it, drawing back suddenly. “Cuh-loak. Cloak.” He reads the title on the tag again, this time with the new pronunciation. “Cloak the Faithful.” His gaze shifts up to the crimson relic and his jaw drops open slightly as he sees the near-perfect color match between it and the ribbon anchoring the key. “No. No, you’re not in collusion with her?! Hey, no, NO, GET BACK HERE!” He takes off at a jog as the cheeky thing whisks out of the library. At a dead run, he follows it down the open-sided hallway, gripping at the decorative post-top at the corner to swing himself around and not bounce off the wall. “I command you to get back here right now!” It cheats — over the edge of the railing and up, back into the Loft. Strange leans out to glare up at where it disappeared, panting. “We will talk! Just wait until I get up there!”

He pounds up the stairs into the Loft and spots the garment instantly over by its stand. Not like it could hide anyways; it sticks out like fresh blood on cream carpet, its hues sanguine in the odd lighting of the expansive room. Strange points now with a finger as he walks over, pinning the relic in place with the willful gesture and sharp look. “You chose me. Remember this. What are you, no — stop it — ugh, really…fine…” It has alit upon his shoulders and now patpats at his cheeks, stroking them in friendly reminder that it is, of course, his firstly. Trying not to flinch at the ticklish touching, Strange goes from glowering to grinning in fiendish delight. Then he laughs, looking from key to stand and covering his eyes.

On the stand. The Cloak’s stand. Right next to the master bedroom door, where he leaned when first considering his starting point to search.

“Oh gods below, you…you…” He’s impressed, dammit. Clever riddle, clever. Even the Cloak seems to give an extra shifting of delight which makes him nearly lose his balance and glare at one collar before he approaches this box.

A gift, a present, hides in plain sight by melding in, turned on end rather than lengthwise upon its base. This apparently causes no damage to the locked coffer, though it might be considered an atrocious use of a fine art piece. For the contoured lid and bas relief sides are individually pieces of exquisite craftsmanship, the height of a carver’s art, painstaking renditions of a procession or a feast laid out in the loveliest depths of detail. Together? A masterpiece.

Men and women gather in a festive celebration of some sort, dispensing justice in one corner, romancing one another in the next. Warriors and maidens, bards and courtiers all gather. Or perhaps they’re just a medieval party of sorcerers. One expert around here might know.

Buffed white wood aged, gently, to an apricot glow maintains some prospect of metallic framing since removed. Not the lock, however, concealed behind a removable wooden panel of a sort. Now how to lift that panel is another matter entirely, albeit easier than crawling around on hands and knees in search of a damnable box under every last bed, couch, and seat in the whole Sanctum.

Its contents must be well couched within a nest of fabric or compartments; there’s a definitive heft there, notwithstanding the exquisite wood capsule. No doubt lifting it will produce a very faint melody, swishing about, and that smug Cloak probably has every idea of what elements are in play thanks to the fiendish witch in collusion with it.

Never mind she left a little red bow in Cloak’s colours on the stand, though it probably knocked over its present in the rush to go be a scarf on a chilly December morn. Sorcerer about town, fear wearing a bow!

Image: Http://www.tinyurl.com/jz7xjw8

No wonder he missed it then. Turning it on its smaller side absolutely enabled it to blend in. He lifts the box carefully from its placement and pauses, coffer in hand, to tilt his head and listen. Music, something familiar that he can’t quite put a finger on, though he can wrap his grip a bit more firmly about the object within them. It’s been the center point of too much creative human effort to be dropped and succumb to gravity. Inasmuch as he does file the object away as simple ‘box’ in his head, it would be a shame to pop the seams on the wood and leave the scenes fractured on the Loft floor. He stoops to grab the bow and gives it a small smile before turning to walk towards the nearest clear space on a nearby table.

The small casket, bas relief and all, is turned every which way in order to single out the point at which to insert said bronze key with Cloak-colored braiding. Centrally located on what appears to be the front panel is a thinner straw-shaded square of wood framed by another of the shapes in a darker apricot-cream. Maybe this…this hides the keyhole? Strange kneels down to put himself eye-level with the portion of the box and squints. It seems delicate. Probably a good idea not to use too much force.

The edge of his fingernail can slip into one of the vertical separations between squares and nothing wider. She’d laugh, she would, as he visibly bites at his tongue to leave the tip sticking out; he never made this face during surgeries, too much the seriously Supreme neurosurgeon. Maybe he cheats a bit too, whispering a Word to induce the separation process. The wisp of magic travels down his arm, through his digit, and along with the counter-levering of his nail, he’s able to pop the little panel loose. It lands on the table with a barely-audible clatter.

Key, inserted into keyhole, a test to check for rotational direction as well as oiled tumblers, and he twists it to unlock the box.

Click? Chime? Party popper of confetti?

He stands and wiggles his fingers before carefully lifting the lid to reveal…


Apricotwood slips out of its housing, kept in place by a tight seamless fit and the very faintest tension capturing the upper right corner. Once sprung free, the cover reveals a small, irregular keyhole shaped something like a chef’s hat. The key proves fiddly to slide in, but the teeth hit the right tumblers and snap open by turning to the left, rather than anticipated right. Tension flits over the midway point, and when it comes unlocked, the lid lifts easily.

Interior hinges squeak a little, muffled by the cutting within, a hardened cocoon of shaped cardboard further sheltered by layers of thin foam below and velvet above. The central pocket holds a cut crystal vial lengthwise. Not clear, this, but a deep red of sunlight striking a garden of flowering tea roses, the stylized capped ends awash in the tight knotwork that itself hearkens to the ribbon he received with the key.
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Being no longer than his middle finger, the vial’s contents are clearly liquid and the source of that ephemeral sound. Muffled, it might have sounded like wind or sand, but now clearly revealed.

More distinct, the bed of velvet is awash in petals: below the shaped holder for the vial, they are a mixed arrangement of the softest, rich shell pink bordering on hotter shades towards the core. Each is fresh as the moment it was picked at the height of June, fragrant in a gentle cloud, though easily bruised to reveal a trace of rose oil. Mixed among them are a lush scarlet array, these the mature red expected when someone tends to imagine ‘rose’ in the mind. It may be as sweet by any other name, but the collective imagination of western society thinks of that precise shade and endlessly replicates it: sports cars, high heels, lipstick, logos and so on.

Lift the vial, and there lies the familiar source of a scent or sight known to him: a caged spheroid on a chain attached to a keychain ring in metal, pierced to reveal the black roses found only in one spot on Earth. They tumble end over end, a goodly measure, and there might be some way to pull apart the sphere the way a person splits a teaball into two hemispheres. But in that heady rush from the threefold layerings, everything is fairly distinct: the sweetness, the deeper honey of the classic rose, the breathy, dreaming oils of the last.

A slight exhale passes as he leaves his touch on the outer edges of the box lid and observes the contents. The scent of roses is a slap in the face with a velvet glove; he wonders if he could literally taste it if he licked his lips.

The petals beneath the mysterious vial are incredibly soft as he scoops up the glass container. He narrows his eyes at it, attempting to figure out the liquid contents of it as he tilts it back and forth, holds it up to the light. One side seems to be more viscous, the other flowing freely. Both might be clear, or perhaps ruddy; either way, the coloration of the glass hides this. The sounds emitting from it don’t seem to change much even as he handles the object with mild irreverence, even going so far as to give it a gentle toss and catch to ascertain weight. Waves. Maybe it’s waves, shushing on a pebbled beach. Or a river? Moving water, he decides, no matter the manner of it. Moving water, but also something else more ephemeral and nearly beyond description. Maybe the best manner is a synesthete’s hearing light — putting the sparkle of reflected summer sunshine to paper.

Next to come out is the silver hollowed orb with bottom hemisphere punctured in organized rows of holes that leak the atar of black roses, her favored perfume. It swings, a pendulum near hypnotic in sight and scent alike, and Strange slowly sighs once more, a smile curling his lips.

Find her to claim the promise. The last step of all. Now where is she… Not difficult at all, as easy as breathing and feeling the hairs rise on the back of his neck at the swirling miasma of rose around him, to access the pentacle’s connection. No doubt she feels the spark of the spell flick to life, even if he remains silent but for the impression of that shrewd interest that might make most squirm for its keen edge. Not the Witch. For her, it’s softened by endearment and by inquisitiveness.

Ah, the…kitchen — and nonce, down he’ll go, but only after carefully closing off the cochineal lining with its carpeting of florid petals in blush and flush alike. The box is left on the table.

The Cloak? It deigns to accompany him and doesn’t mind its master’s grumbling as the man clatters down the steps to exit the Loft. Take a left towards the curvature of hallway towards the grand staircase? Nope. With a grunt, he places both vial and length of silver chain into one hand while using the other to vault over the railing. Caught by the parachuting of the enchanted garment, he lands gracefully on the foyer floor, dress shoes echoing in a quick tumptump of impact.

The good Doctor finds his Beloved in said room at the small kitchen table. He pauses in the doorway, content to observe rather than interact immediately. Oranges. Even as the sparkling scent of the freshly-peeled rinds reaches him, he spots the fruit along with her other favorite: honeycomb. This secondary sight brings a deeply-satisfied expression to his face — pure, undiluted gratification — that he quickly softens as he clears his throat.

“I don’t know how you managed to get the Cloak to play along, but…well done.” He grants her a fencer’s nod and knowing smirk; he’s not shaking his finger at her outright. An outstretched hand offers up the spoils of his search to the fluorescent light of the kitchen. “Your claimant has arrived.”

The kitchen may be larger than necessary for the occupants of the house, but one definitely requires fairly regular sustenance. A bowl of fruit lies before her, and a paper towel holds the remains of several orange rinds. Every last one she has peeled in a fairly continuous spiral or a Mandelbrot splotch, leaving no pieces broken off.

A segment of satsuma passes her lips, the sweet tart sting on her tongue a welcome addition. Citrus sings upon the air, cutting clean through the attar of roses, a brightening and enlivening scent to whisk the mind away from a mid-spring idyll in a garden.

Perched upon her chair, she plucks one of those small chunks of golden foam from under an orange and neatly presses it to her lips. Such a treasured comb never lasts long, reduced by time and moisture to mere memory. But she can savour the suspended industry of pollinators in the floral sweetness, licking the dust with a dash of her padded tips over her mouth.

Strange thus has her in one of those rare moments where she actually stands at the watering hole. Like many an animal in such conditions, Wanda trends a little skittish.

A glance skims over his recovered items, a nod acknowledged. Success on the game, though ‘tis but the opening act. Does he know it?

“What to give the man with everything for Christmas? I wonder at this puzzle put before me. Every prize,” the witch ruminates on this, one of life’s great mysteries. “You have all you might need. You have done so much. If you want it, what stops you from having it?”

Another segment of the half-eaten satsuma is pulled away, a mandarin crescent moon mirroring the curve of her mouth before she bites it neatly in two and swallows.

She continues, “Then an idea dawned. I can give you something, a new experience. What no one else has done: that is a worthy present.“ Smug? Undoubtedly. Excited, possibly, and a touch nervous, verily.

He’s taken aback and actually mildly embarrassed at the implications that, basically, he’s impossible to shop for. Still, Strange listens and her edict in regards to the dual chambers within the vial earns the object a contemplative look.

Walking further into the kitchen leads him to a chair across from her and he settles in. The teaball filled with darkest petals is set on the table, its chain curling up around it to keep the orb from rolling further. The red-glass bottle is held up to the artificial light and observed. Decisions, decisions…

“And knowing you as well as I do,” he speaks in an amused baritone, “you aren’t going to tell me what this experience is or what this thing is that no one has done. It’s sounding like I can’t have my cake and eat it too.” A teasing click of his tongue as he meets her eyes across the short distance. “Shame.”

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