1964-09-22 - One Ring to Snooze Them All
Summary: Always a good time discovering what a relic does! Also, shinies, shifting, Shadow-ing, and general shenanigannery. Alternatively known as "No Shame in Doin' a Snoozin'."
Related: Sorcerous Prank logs
Theme Song: "Mesmerized" - Amethystium
lindon lamont strange 


The lawn has succumbed to some neglect, and with autumn coming, there are flower beds that need to be put to bed for the coming winter. Lindon actually has a little firsthand knowledge of gardening from watching his mother, so he's not entirely useless as he kneels before a flower bed, clearing out the withered petunias and laying down a bed of straw. It'll be rich soil by spring, and it'll keep the budding herbs safe from ice and frost. To Lamont, he says, "After this, I'll make us some tea. We can warm up by the fire." He peers up at the sky. Dark clouds are gathering. "We might have to take a break sooner rather than later."

*

Since they're at home, and working in the garden. The outdoor garden is ornamentals, as opposed to the herbal oddities that lurk in the safe, warm confines of the 19th century conservatory. Think Professor Sprout, including things that may or may not wail when they're uprooted. So he's in worn jeans and t-shirt and a ragged Panama that does neither him nor his haberdasher any credit, but is fine for a situation with extra dirty. He also looks up, tipping the hat back to peer at the sky. "Agreed," he says.

*

A shame for the bad weather. Tilting a bright eye upwards, the Sorcerer eyes the incoming weather. Beneath him, the boughs of a tree growing tall outside the walls of the property begin to shift as partially-turned leaves catch the increasing movement of wind, gentle as it is in intensity.

He has a reason to be there, sequestered behind his veil of pre-autumnal greenery, truly. Firstly…there's a slant promise to be fulfilled. Secondly, he's learning. His knowledge leans heavily towards gardening in the sense of expansive field, with tilled soil by tractor — not the urban, and the herb garden might need to be better prepped for winter. It would gain him points with the Witch and perhaps even a smile when she found him up to his wrists in dirt.

A decision is made and the bough shakes, its movements blended into natural wind motion. A spread of wings with hidden gemstone tones in emerald, sapphire, amethyst revealed by just the right amount of sunlight and a lazy, rolling glide brings him to land…

On the crown of Lamont's head, covered by said Panama hat. He doesn't weigh much, the dapper magpie with snowy chest and white scuts, and he flicks his tail, angling a look at Lindon. A raucous squawk escapes that dark bill and the bird mimes looking about further. Inside…the Sorcerer is laughing so damn hard. However, human laughter translates poorly to jaybird-speech, so he remains mum as to spoken words.

*

Lindon looks up from his raking and his eyes widen. "Lamont!" he says, quietly lest he disturb the bird. "Look, it's a magpie." Then he says, "Oh, hello, little magpie. Look at you. Lamont, he's friendly." Lindon is such a sap. Even if he comes down firmly on Team Cat, he wasn't mean to the dog, and now there's a bird and he's all squeaky.

Setting the rake against a tree, he takes a tentative step closer. He reaches into his pocket and draws out a silvery wrapper from a stick of gum he had earlier. He holds out the little shiny. "Do you want this?" he says.

*

The Shadow holds very still, indeed. He likes this hat, even though it's already a holey old wreck. "I wonder if he's an escaped pet," he muses, not looking up to dislodge the bird. He grins at Lindon. "You and animals. You know, I bet you could find a charm to let us talk to animals."

*

A gum wrapper? The bird looks Lindon dead-on and the narrow profile rotates nearly ninety degrees. …why is his brain telling him that he needs that gum wrapper? Strange scoffs mentally even as he rotates in the other direction, carefully balancing on the center of the hat's top.

…okay, he wants the damn gum wrapper, SHINY.

A careful slight spread of wings and a dart of that gunmetal-blue beak snags the silvery rectangle from Lindon's fingers. While quick, the movement spares fingertips from being poked and the magpie places the thing under his foot. Success. A little puff of that white breast and then humanity takes over again.

A few quick manipulations of the malleable material between scaled foot and clever break and then he's stuffing the feather-shaped piece of trash in the hatband of Lamont's Panama. Maybe the man can feel the dulled tip of the beak digging in a few spots, but eventually, it's settled and the bird looks…far too pleased with itself as it flicks wings and squawks.

And then sits smack in the middle of the hat, looking far too content to stay there in the awkward birdy manner.

*

Lindon clasps his hands together, and he steps back so as not to crowd the sweet, adorable magpie. "He took it," he tells Lamont in a tone that a kid has when he find a bike under the Christmas tree. His eyes widen further as he observes, "And he's giving it to you. Oh, Lamont! He's given you a gift!"

Lindon covers his mouth with his hands, too overcome. "Lamont Cranston don't you dare move," he says. “He's having himself a little rest." On Lamont's head, which is apparently a bird's prerogative in Lindon's book.

*

"He must be a pet," Lamont agrees. He is, perhaps wisely, not wearing the magic ring. No use scuffing the gold with garden grit. Not on his finger, anyway. There's a chain visible at the back of his neck, not gold but steel, but very fine. "All right," he says, settling back into a meditative kneeling position. "Needs must when you've encountered a friendly animal," More quietly yet, he adds with a crooked grin, "….you're like a princess in a Disney movie, I swear."

*

It is rather nice to settle in on the Panama. There's some lingering warmth gained from exposure to sunlight and then some rising from the head beneath the hat — Lamont is warm-blooded, after all, not some lost Lizardman…well, last time Strange checked, at least. Still…might as well make the best of it. The magpie inclination to check things out falls delightfully in-line with the man's own tendency to let his curiosity take the helm.

The bird rises and hops in place, rotating to look about further. He can sense the wards at a distance, but it's clear he hasn't triggered their interest — yet. A cant of his head and…oh. OH. Oooooh. Is that…? It's silvery. And shiny. And…probably has something attached to it. A quick forwards hop places him to check the dirt-smudged hands. OH-HO. …the ring. Strange always wondered what that did, precisely. Hmm.

Eyes constrict and consider Lindon. Then back to the hands. Then over the inky-blue shoulder backwards. There — another tree beyond the wall, not far.

It's all rather quick, the whole enactment of his plan. A forceful-enough shift in feather-weight may be enough to shove the Panama hat down over Lamont's eyes even as he spreads wings and lands on the man's thigh for a split second. There — a flick of wings and push-back enables him the proper retreat after snagging the steely chain.

SNAP — after tensing on the back-wing, the thin line gives and the ring flips end over end through the air, victim of the abrupt swish of the chain. The bird dives at the glittering circle in the grass, avoiding touching the earth itself, and then off it goes, beelining for the far wall of the lawn!!!

*

"I am not," Lindon insists, though he laughs a little, because Lamont's not entirely wrong. Then the bird makes its move, and he says, "Lamont!" He is of no help, alas, because he has no idea what the bird is going for, and by the time he works it out, it's too late. "He's got your ring!" David Attenborough, right here. He points to the wall of the bird's retreat. He follows after the bird. "Oh, no. No, birdie, you can't have that." As much as it pains him to say.

"Don't hurt him," he tells Lamont as he, magicless, can only pursue on foot. He could throw something, but he doesn't have it in him. He might hurt the poor bird, and all it did was steal a priceless artifact.

*

"Oh, fuck," says Lamont, all humor gone from his face - indeed, it's as close as Strange has ever seen him to genuine panic - as he scrambles to get the hat off, the close crop of his hair as disarrayed as it can be. "I can't lose that." Then there's a scowl. "I wonder if it's somone's familiar. That was a deliberate attack, the ring was hidden." He's unarmed, being at home in casual clothes - no gun, no knife to throw. He's reaching out to try and blind the bird with that variant of his illusory powers, but….Strange is armed against those, now.

*

There's been long hours of mental steeling against such wiles as a man, but there's enough avian influence in the mindset that a well-thrown wash of Lamont's power is nothing to sneeze at.

The magpie doesn't drop the ring, but the muffled squawk is panicked as it pulls up abruptly before — nothing. Nothing's there, but now it's fluttering about wildly in a small space as if suddenly enclosed in a glass room no larger than a dozen by a dozen feet. Still space to move and beyond easy grasping reach, but the bird clearly thinks it’s trapped.

*

"Don't hurt it!" Lamont reiterates as he comes to where the bird is flapping around, like it's an underappreciated mime. "Shh, oh no, it's okay little magpie," he says. "We're not going to hurt you. I promise I'll find something super shiny for you. We just need that ring."

To Lamont, he says, "He might be someone's familiar, but we can handle this without harming him, right? He's so scared."

*

That emptiness of expression has the faintest hint of cruelty to it. "I'm not going to hurt it or kill it," he says, but his voice is cold. He's reaching out again….and suddenly that hard-earned ability to fly is gone. Up is down, the air currents are a terrible confusion, the delicate sense of the flight surfaces numb. No physical harm, indeed.

*

With his tiny heart beating triple-time in his chest, the Sorcerer fights madly against the compulsion of the Shadow's powers. While the human mind, struggling for control, insists there's nothing blocking the way, the bird half of things is spiraling into sheer primal terror.

On the final, unthinkably-suicidal winging up-lift towards the wall (the magpie is partially convinced that it's going to smash into something and break its neck, truly), everything suddenly…falters. Gravity flips and strong muscles fail as quickly as if someone cut the tendons.

The arc of the bird's initial escape attempt carries it up, up, up…and over the wall. The last thing to be seen, falling from a height of at least a dozen feet, is a wing-crippled flash of black and white, screeching to wake the dead. Only a sidewalk to greet its fall on the other side — or if luck has its way, perhaps the mulch of city-planted flowerbeds.

The connection that Lamont's power grants him will tell him that the bird's still alive…if not acutely uncomfortable and frankly, up is still down.

*

"Oh no!" Lindon bolts for the gate so he can come around to check on the bird. "Lamont, we need to take it to the vet." As he makes his way for the bird, he says under his breath, "pleasebealivepleasebealivepleasebealive." Lindon may not be Disney Princess, but he's a soft touch, and honestly, was it necessary to scare the bird like this? Lamont gets a gimlet eye, but then Lindon turns his attention to the bird, inspecting him. "It's okay, little one, I'll take care of you." His favorite saint is Saint Francis, as a matter of fact.

*

Lindon takes the time needed to find the gate. Lamont's impatient enough to scramble up and over the wall, careful of the filigree iron points atop it. Surprisingly athletic, for someone who looks his mid forties. He offsets the landing enough to not crush the bird beneath his boots. He doesn't wait to inspect the bird - scooping him up to retrieve the ring. Only then does he hand him off to Lindon, still holding that effect.

*

Having landed on the very edge of the mulched city-flowerbed — luck was a lady this time around, at least in that instance — the magpie is fair game for anyone walking by. Thank the gods it's the two gentlemen of the mansion who put hands on him first. Any alleycat would have found him fair game.

The ground was the sky and leaves and now there's a wobbly ground — no, not ground, warm and dirt-encrusted hands — another set of hands, oh gods below, can a bird vomit?!

The Sorcerer manages to flick the one wholly-hale wing out beyond the cup of Lindon's thumb as dizziness washes the world sideways and the avian brain just wants off this awful ride. A weak cry of dismay escapes him and those claws gently scrape at the Archive's palms as they clutch convulsively. His pupils are blown wide in the bird's dark eyes and his negligible weight, captured in-hands, keeps shifting to one side repeatedly, like a sailor with a bad case of sea-legs. Between the mind-swamping and the panic making that heart beat fast enough to be felt, it's hard to get human fingertips back on that small brain. Bird brain indeed!

*

"What did you do?" Lindon accuses. "Undo it, you've got the ring. No harm done. Lamont, he's suffering." This could be grounds for a domestic spat, because the birdie is all wobbly and most of Lindon's empathy has been dumped into animals. People he doesn't get, but a thief of a magpie? He can't handle the way the poor bird wobbles.

"Poor bird," he murmurs, "it's okay, Lamont's going to fix it and you'll be fine." He cups the bird well but doesn't obstruct his wings. He just keeps him upright and safe as he can. No alley cats get to eat a sorcerer today.

*

"Bring him into the conservatory," Lamont says, and there's little more kindness in his voice than there was. "It's either someone's familiar or a shapeshifted sorcerer. Either way, we're not letting it go until I get to the bottom of this. He's suffering a lot less than he would if he'd got away with it."

*

The other wing suddenly extends beyond Lindon's hands as balance disappears beneath the magpie's claws. He flaps weakly, still all akimbo mentally. What's the lesser of two evils, watching the world do funny rotations and suddenly kaleidoscope before one's eyes or shutting it off and simply suffering the sudden disorienting flips of neural transmissions misfiring?

The beating of the bird's heart doesn't lessen in rapid dancing and it pants now, lids mostly closed, beak ajar to allow maximum air. The tail spreads wide in unconscious attempt at balance. It's at the mercy of the two men. All the while, Strange fights to take back control of the shapeshifting gone awry.

*

Lindon continues to cradle the bird as he takes him to the conservatory "Hmm. A sorcerer?" Now he's starting to get suspicious. Who visits them in animal form for pranks? He studies the bird, but he can't help it. Whoever it is, right now it's an off-balance bird and its dilemma tugs at Lindon's heartstrings. So into the conservatory he goes, and he murmurs, "Just hold on a little longer, fella." Lamont gets a plaintive look. No hurting the bird. After it's human? If it is human? All bets are negotiable.

*

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d100 for: 54

*

Lamont settles the ring on his finger after a careful inspection, dusts himself off, and leads the way back into the yard and into the little iron and glass conservatory. The glass is sparklingly clean, and there are shelves and tables arranged to take best advantage of the light. What grows there are for the most part things useful to the occultist, and the air is rich with strange scents. There's even a little water garden in a set of tiered vessels, serving as a fountain so he can grow water lily and lotus. A worktable is covered with jars of dried herbs and resins, all of it neat and well-tended. Only once the doors to the house and to the yard are shut and locked does Monty gesture for Lindon to lay the magpie on the cleared space of the bench.

*

Lindon does so, nice and carefully. He's gone all sort of suspicious now, because how likely are magpies to be this friendly? But still. While in bird form, Strange is tenderly cared for by the soft touch (some would say sucker). "Here we go. No, don't move around, here." He carefully arranges some empty pots so that they sandwich the bird, keeping him upright. More or less. Then he steps back, giving Lamont and expectant look.

*

Upon the bench, the magpie sits for a second…and then tilts to one side, one of the pots acting as crutch against a full flop. It continues panting, eyes nearly shut.

Inside that skull, the battle wages and rages and — one can see the shiver go through the bird as Strange finally rescues the line of human logic from the mire of avian fear. Feathers fluff and then settle slowly. A sharp shake of the head, as if warding off flies, and then, a weak whisper escapes the beak, at odds with the hard structure:

"Oh gods, no more…!!!" It's soft enough to barely be heard over the trickling of water in the conservatory, breathy enough to defy assigning sex…unless someone picks up the nasally twang of a Midwestern accent.

*

There's a little grimace from Lamont- it looks for a moment like a stiff smile, before it's so clearly a baring of teeth. The Shadow is furious and he's very much the type for whom anger is cold. He releases the effect that destroys balance, leaving only that queasy unease for a moment. But right behind it is another blow, compulsion towards obedience. It comes through in his voice, which has the metallic flatness of that darker persona. "Name yourself to me. Or name your master, if you are a servant."

*

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 7

*

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 12

*

Removing the first compulsion rights the world. Oh…thank the gods above and below and sideways and sidereal and in all dimensions. Coney Island is now absolutely out of the question. No roller coasters — ever. The magpie has a moment, Strange has a suspicion, and the mental wards come up in time to deflect the majority of the metallic clang resonating about his birdy skull, attempting to jar an answer from him.

The bird visibly winces, wings attempting to spread and failing for the pots, and then comes a louder reply, gaining some power and losing some of the waver of discombobulation:

"Cease that immediately! I wasn't trying to rob you, Cranston, seven hells…" The bird blinks rapidly and those dark eyes flood to frosted-violet as the Sorcerer takes full control over the shift. "Oh gods, I strained something…fuck," he whispers, craning his head to look back at his wings.

*

Lindon's eyes widen, not that the bird is the Sorcerer Supreme, that doesn't faze him anymore, but that the Sorcerer Supreme said that word. "I don't think magpies are a good influence," he says. Then he gives Lamont's arm a squeeze, and he says, "I'll put on some tea." The bird gets a lofty look. Even Lindon knows not to mess with the ring.

*

Lindon's seen him do this once before, and then it was as a calm demonstration. But now it's the Shadow in earnest. The very light seems to change for a moment, rendering things flat and monotone, as the shadows gather around him. But then it eases again, and he sighs. "Forgive me, geshe," he says, wearily, passing his fingers through his hair, and leaving it in a worse state than before. "I….am oversensitive on that subject when it comes to that ring." A glance at Lindon. "Thank you, my dear," Now he looks only gray, and tired. That was quite a shock.

*

Yep, something's strained, at least in this form, and when Strange turns his attention back to the Shadow, he has a moment to appreciate that stark display of temper. Oh, how the mighty have fallen and the tables turned. He watches Lamont warily, even after the cling of darkness disperses from around the man, and one can see the feathers on the bird flatten even more.

"No…I think I need to apologize as well," says the Sorcerer, his voice low and rueful. "If you remember being within the mind of the cat, the majority of my actions were influenced by the bird's natural propensity to gravitate towards…shiny objects." Even now, his eyes focus on the ring glinting on Lamont's finger — but only briefly. His gaze quickly turns aside, accompanied by a full flick of his beak to his feathered chest. "Not the first time my curiosity has gotten the better of me," he admits, bird breast rising and falling in a few embarrassed laughs.

To Lindon, even if the man is on his way from the conservatory, he adds, "Thank you, Lindon." See? Magpie has manners…after all.

*

Lindon inclines his head to the magpie and says, "Glad to be of service." These little pranks allow Lindon to talk to animals like they're people. For that, he can forgive oh so much. Lamont's arm gets another affectionate and comforting squeeze, and he murmurs, "Come in for tea, it'll be ten minutes, tops." And only then because he's got to wash up first. He heads toward the house.

*

He bows, formally. When in doubt, Englishman, be reserved and proper, right? "Do come in for tea," he urges, before adding, unable to help himself, "Or I could catch a roach for you, if you like." Better snark than icy fury. "And I understand," he says, with that sudden, puckish curl to his lips. He has a dimple, even, rare as a falling star. "I was rubbing things with my cheek for days after. And finding myself very perturbed indeed by valerian tea."

*

Another laugh from the magpie and then a wince cuts off the amusement.

"I can imagine…" he grinds out, glancing back at his wing. "Cranston." A few beats of reticence follows in which the sound of the lily pond takes precedence. "…please move the pots. I can't. This is…unfortunately a shift that I cannot will myself out of. It has a life of its own, being based in the Arts of the Native Americans. It may be…" Strange sighs. "Some time more still."

*

He takes a very deep breath, lets it out with shuddering slowness. Like a man bracing himself for the carrying of a heavy burden….or trying not to dissolve in tears of laughter. A hard swallow, and Lamont carefully moves the pots. "I see," he says, and then offers his wrist for Strange to step up to, after removing his watch. A cheap wind up, it must be noted. How odd.

*

"Aaaaahhhh…glk." The pained sound stops when the strained wing, now freed of the pressure of the pots, reaches full extension. "Hnnnnng…ngh." Now folded, it becomes apparent that, indeed, there will be no graceful flying anytime soon for the magpie. Ungaily fluttering, sure. Maybe a moderately-coordinated glide, but that would be certain to turn into a tumble of feathers.

Lamont's wrist is considered and then Strange looks the man dead in the eye. "If you laugh, Lamont Cranston…" One clawed foot upon the wrist. "…I will know." The second clawed foot upon the wrist. He draws himself tall and dignified as he can, in said avian form, and mantles his wings slightly to keep balance, even if it hurts a little to do it.

This is apparently how he's going to arrive in the manor proper, cleverest Sorcerer Supreme — tamed momentarily by magic itself. The only thing he's lacking is jessies and a hood.

*

His lips tremble at that, compress them as he might. And the pale eyes are brighter for it, the most transparent part of him. "Of course," he says, voice lower for the effort needed to keep that thread of laughter out of it. Then he's heading in to the house - a sunlit expanse of parquet floor. This place is old enough to have an actual ball room, though it's entirely unfurnished….and by the wear marks on the floor and the dummy rolled into the corner, this is where Lamont trains for fencing when at home.

*

Lindon has washed up and put on tea. He's just finishing it up when the pair come into the house. The kittens are in the kitchen with a saucer of cream, and they lap away, greedy and round-bellied things. There is a small pitcher of cream for the tea and sugar cubes as well as the honey pot, and it's the kind of that Strange enjoys. He brings these to the dining room table on a tray, then comes back into the kitchen to gather up a plate of chocolate-dipped digestives.

"Are you two ready for…?" He turns to look at Lamont and the magpie. He sets down the digestives at the table, then comes to the second drawer down, which is universally where random dodads are kept. He rummages until he finds a thimble. Then he brings it into the dining room. "Wash up, Lamont," he reminds.

*

Strange eyes the two kittens. Even with bellies distended from a proper supping of cream, he's suspicious. When is he not? He's more so for the awareness that these furry little beans might be more than willing enough to take a shot at him, stuck as he is within this feathered form for a while longer.

"I'll pass on tea, but thank you, Lindon," he says, finally looking away from the pair of young felines. "This form isn't suited for appreciating it. Different tastes…literally." Sounds like he tried brewing a cup once before and it didn't work well. "I had no idea you fenced, Cranston," he adds, his bright eyes flicking from the Shadow and back towards the improvised salon and back again. "We'll have to duel sometime." He doesn't sound the least bit worried about coming to blows with Lamont in another manner.

*

Completely domesticated. The Knight of Darkness wears bunny slippers when at home, metaphorically speaking. "The doctor will be indisposed in this form for a little," he notes, drily, with a perfect butler's deadpan. Will we be wanting the black automobile this evening, Master Bruce? Ceremoniously, he sets Strange to perch on the back of a dining room chair. Then he does go wash up. Lindon is particular, but his demands are otherwise so minimal that Kent's happy to oblige him. Turning from the sink, he says, "I do. I haven't seriously in some time, but I've been working on getting back into practice. I'd be delighted to."

*

Lindon nods to the bird and puts the thimble away, outwardly all hosty and solemn, while inside thrilling at the idea that he gets to have a conversation with a magpie, even if isn't really a magpie. He pours tea for Lamont, doctoring it to his tastes, and then pours tea for himself. "It's good to see you again," he says with dignity. "Sorry about that earlier confusion." Is that what he's calling spell slinging and stolen rings?

The kittens lap up the last of the cream, and they wander in after Lindon, because is the resident sucker. Athena sits down to groom a paw, but Pye notices Strange immediately. She hunkers down, and she stares, tail-tip twitching. Lindon notices her and says, "Oh, you couldn't catch a cold."

*

Perched on the back of the chair, the Sorcerer does remain as dignified as possible. It is the damnedest thing, being stuck. He's itching to join them in tea, but truly, it doesn't taste the same and don't even start about the awkward gurgling throw-back-the-head business of drinking it.

"Please, don't apologize," replies the magpie once everyone is settled at the table. He turns about on the back of the chair, needing to lift those long tail feathers to clear the furniture's design, and then seems to settle in with rueful avian acceptance. "It is in the past. Though, Cranston, I won't sit here and pretend any longer. What does the ring —"

Lindon speaks and the bird quickly turns his head to eye Pyewacket. "Gentlemen. If that kitten jumps at me, a clump of missing hair will be the least of its concerns." Implacable, his tone.

*

There will be war between Archive and bird. Lamont hastily scoops them up, banishes them to the laundry room. When he returns, he has the ring on his finger again. And he says, deliberately, "If you like, I will show you." Is that a gleam of malicious humor in his eyes?

*

Lindon clucks his tongue as the kittens are ferried off. "She's still all paws and belly," Lindon says. "I doubt they'd hurt you." But hey, why take the chance, right? So he doesn't argue with their banishment to the room of only a few toys and not even the good ones. Lindon sits, and he dips one of the digestives in the tea before taking a nibble. He glances to Lamont curiously. He too wants to know what the ring does, but he's never thought to ask.

*

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 9

*

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d35 for: 14

*

"The frame of a bird is delicate. Maneuverable, but…delicate." There's a marked distaste in Strange's tone for the fact. "And cat bites fester. I have no interest in cat scratch fever either." He blinks at Lindon before dipping his head rather charmingly, absolutely taking advantage of the Archive's generally-sweeter disposition. "They're safer where they are as am I." The self-preservation is strong with this one.

Lamont gets a far more searching look. Oh yes, that magpie even squints at the Shadow. His eyesight is good enough to catch that knife's edge of expression.

"Oh…absolutely, Cranston, don't get me wrong, but…" And he manages to sound like an utterly cheeky bastard as he sits tall on the back of the chair, tail feathers spread wide behind him. "…would you demonstrate if the Witch were present? Or will a simple explanation suffice?" Oh yes, there would be a wicked dimple or two present on his part were he human.

*

"No?" Lamont asks, expression going arch. "You seemed to like it when *I* had cat-scratch fever." Oh, yes, he's teasing. "And I would. I won't hurt you, or do anything to make you blush," he assures Strange, with that low, purring note in his voice. He holds up the hand wearing the ring. The setting of white gold is plain in its simplicity, and fitted to his hand the way high karat metal wears after long use. The stone, though. It's a dark fire opal, nearly black in the subdued house lighting. In its heart crawls a thread of fire, like the last shifting glow of dying embers. It's serpentine, hypnotic, like a depthless pool. "Look," he says, and his voice is a murmur, almost seductive. "Look." Strange can feel the weight of it settling on his mind - no sudden crushing blow, but a creeping languor like the edge of sleep.

*

Lindon says, "I know, I know. Better safe than sorry. They just don't have a lot to do in there." Except lick their paws and chops from the cream they just had and curl up to sleep on laundry. Cats hate that! Lindon leans over so he can watch as well. His eyes glaze over. He's looking, and he's responding to Lamont's voice well, as he always does. There's that inherent trust so his mind doesn't even try to resist.

Lindon's head tips forward, and the digestive tumbles from his fingertips onto the saucer. He's out. Out like a light.

*

The magpie flicks his tail wide again, flashing white scuts, and snaps his beak shut sharply. This must stand in for the click of his tongue, considering a bird can't do such a linguistic trick.

"Like it? My life was at risk." The tease flies back with a faint laugh and…well, gods-dammit. Strange stares. The ring, it's…it's…sparkly. Shiny. Stupid, stupid bird brain!!! Look at it indeed — the gemstone's center, it's…scintillating like coals and - and he's seen that dark well somewhere else before, its depths warm and inviting and…everything's so relaxed, how…?

The crack of the dropped biscuit's impact to the saucer is enough to jolt him from the sweet lethe wending its foggy way about the outer reaches of a hastily-erected mental barrier that wobbles in rickets for the half-hearted effort. All of his feathers stand up at once and he flaps frantically a few times, his efforts at controlling a knee-jerk reaction mostly successful. Mostly. A feather flutters away from him as he rights himself, staring now at Lamont wordlessly.

Then Lindon catches his attention and there's a slightly hysterical chuckle. "Oh…gods below," the Sorcerer breathes, already calculating the amount of homework he needs to do to resist this level of compulsion.

*

No need to blast those barriers down if you can just sap them from underneath. Willworkers go after what they want….but if what you want is to surrender to that dark peace, to let go and drift, well. Strange has never seen Lamont at full stretch, for he never brings the ring into that practice room. The point is to learn new techniques, new strengths, not to rely on old ones. "Ssshhh," he tells the Sorcerer. "Hush. Just relax."

The glance he gives Lindon is tender, but definitely amused. Clearly, he hadn't intended that. But then, there's trust and the bond between them. Lindon feels nowhere safer than in his lover's presence. A glance at Lin, then back at Strange, and he holds an admonitory fingertip against his lips. Don't wake the Archive, he's sleeping.

*

Lindon sleeps where he sits, his head bowed as if in prayer. He's not a snorer, at least. Just nice, steady breaths. He has no idea what's going on around him now. For the moment, Sorcerer and student may talk frankly.

*

Indeed, the Sorcerer hasn't experienced the full extent of the subtle effects of the Shadow's powers. Now the magpie, with the cobwebs of moments ago still clinging to his mind, has his attention drawn away from the Archive. He'd rather admire, with some envy, the way the man is out cold to the world, safe and sound like a bird in a nest. This bird?

The bright frosted-violet eyes invariably fall to the signet at Lamont's hand again. Goodness knows it would feel so very nice to relax, to just…stop the frantic clamoring in his skull and - and — The rickety walls tremble, begin to slip down the slope into the lassitude being offered up on a golden platter. Ruffled feathers begin to settle, tell-tale outer sign of the slide gaining speed.

Stupid…bird brain, so…very sparkly.

*

There's that effect of having someone whisper in your ear, closer than close, and …it would be startling. But not with him exerting himself to bring his master down into sleep. It's alluring, with no chill of fear, no sense of force. So much easier to woo than to ravish. "Sleep," whispers that voice. "You're safe here. See Lindon, he's at peace. You can be, too. I will guard you while you rest."

*

"But…but I have…and there's…"

— such an irresistible urge to succumb to the weariness that always dogs his steps. One hour…what would one hour do…? Surely the world can stop spinning for such a time. There's a silvery aspect to the words, the curl of soft shadows around his resistance, and the bird slumps on the back of the chair. A bit of a wobble in place and he catches himself with a half-gasp, eyelids heavy and nearly shut.

"Peace…" he murmurs. Gods, the Sorcerer shouldn't sound so wistful.

*

The presence at his mental elbow is urging him to let down the barriers. Tuck his head under his wing and sleep. The cats are confined, the relic is dozing peacefully, and the Shadow is there to watch over them both. The peaceful glimmer of moonlight and a quiet night. Take a well deserved rest.

*

The siren call of rest is one he cannot ignore any longer. After all…four nights of no sleep, and all of it consumed by research, catches up to the man when his own longing intertwines seamlessly with the malleable power itself.

Not enough of a true avian knowledge base in that shifted mind to know to balance on the back of the chair. Lindon naps, so does the magpie do a near dead-drop onto the cushioned seat of the dining chair. There's a confused fluttering in place to right himself, some quiet mumbling — "Shiny…ngh…" — and then the Sorcerer falls completely under the compulsion, bill tucked to his white chest.

It's comfortable here, dark, the captured bubble of warmth beneath a blanket on a chilly morning all blended in with perfect loss of knotted stress and the benediction of a good-night kiss. A slow sigh and Lamont can probably feel that noble mind lay down its head.

*

It was meant as a joke. But….one needn't be a telepath to see how very weary they both are. Strange especially. So, still keeping that gentle weight on his mind, trying to keep him under, Lamont rises, lifts the bird in his hands….and takes him upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms. Where he is laid, carefully, in the middle of a decent sized bed. Comfortable in either form, should the shapeshifting spell break before he wakes.

*

He must not weigh much, feel so small in the Shadow's hands, downy and limp, not enough to be construed as dead. No, the magpie continues breathing slowly, bright gaze shuttered off by the leaden burden of mantle and clinically-insomniac tendencies.

Settled in the center of the bed, Strange shifts about minutely, wings rustling in near-silent wisps of sound. In a surprising and sudden unraveling of the charm of his shifting — maybe even while Lamont is nearby — the cyclone of sky-touched blue and crisp chill of high-altitude winds surrounds the bird. When it disperses, the Sorcerer Supreme, on his stomach, splayed across the guest bed in dress shirt and slacks, continues to sleep. No lines linger about his eyes or mouth, his jaw slackened and pattern of breath slow.

*

Meanwhile, downstairs, Lindon continues to sleep. He'll have a crick in his neck, but no worse for wear. At least the kittens are tucked away so he won't be harassed by them while he's defenseless to do anything about it. Safe from the real hazards.

*

Now that is hardcore tired - sleeping through the breaking of the spell. He's going to have to call Wanda in to wake Strange with True Love's kiss…..later. Strange is getting a good long nap, now. And so will Lindon. And the kitties in the laundry. Lamont's the only one awake….and he looks down at the ring, fondly, as if at a well-trained pet.

*

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