1963-08-26 - Control, Control
Summary: Illyana gets some tutelage from Strange
Related: None
Theme Song: None
strange illyana 

Twilight, Strange has found, is perhaps the best time to work on simple lessons. There's something about the falling of the sun and the impending closure of the day that keeps the mind from wandering so far a-field. The timing is, well - simply magical as well. The disappearance of the light beyond the horizon has always acted like something of a door to the very Mystical atmosphere, in his experience. The quiet and potential ushered in is so easily harnessed by benevolent and malevolent creatures alike.

He sits in the lotus position on one side of the platform that rises from the floor of the Loft, beneath the patterened shadow of the Anomaly Rue window. Three feet of air lies beneath him and his hands rest easily on his knees. His expression, a rather dreamy sort of focus, masks the sharpness of his mind, now aided by meditative actions. It is another evening and another lesson for his apprentice, the young Illyana. Tonight, they tackle a new aspect of her learning: access to the magic of this world, his world, the one he oversees and protects.

"Are you ready?" he asks, his voice seemingly loud in this peaceful room redolent with gentle incense and candlelight.


It's not that Illyana can't focus— it's that she just much prefers to be uninhibited. Responding instinctually, allowed that freedom of self-actualization for the first time in her life.

But she can meditate with the best of them, when time and situation requires, and she's done so in silence with Strange for some time— focusing on breathing, on the rhythm of the blood in her ears, the slow pace of aligning herself spiritually with the world. Until every thread and strand of power in the universe is speaking to her.

"Ready," she murmurs, after a long, timeless beat.


His steel-grey eyes, darkened by lack of ambient light and half-closed lids, rest on her face. So young and yet he can see how the weariness of adjusting to this world has weighed on her. Deep within, in a quiet and secret place, he hopes that she will succeed. He must keep her learning and growing. He decides on a little explanation, one rather similar to the one given to her friend, Scarlett, who graced the Sanctum not too long ago for a lesson.

"Your grasp on summoning powers from the dimension of Limbo is unparalleled." No compliment intended, just the simple truth. "However, as you well know, the magic of this world, of Earth, does not come from an otherwordly source. Yes, demons can provide access to it, but in the end, we, as humans are the channel. Magic comes from us, from within us, and is driven by our will and our emotions. Feelings can dictate the magic's alignment and relative force: the powerful emotions of lust, anger, fear - these give as much strength as emotions such as joy and laughter." A little smile curves one side of his lips. "How one perceives the magic of this world is also dependent on the self. Myself, I perceive it as being nebulous and malleable, fluid until controlled. Gather the magic, shape it with your thoughts and will, and release it. I do not recommend diverting from the order of the steps." There is a story or two and the implications of it in his tone, but perhaps for another time.


Illyana's long, hard fingers reach into the air, calluses drifting around as if floating on eddies. She catches something, then, invisible but taut as a fishwire. Fingers curl— another. Then another. She gathers a net in front of her, strings tying her to energy, to motion, to the universe. Her eyes remain closed, but perspiration dots her brow and a frown tugs at her mouth. It's difficult here, for her, obviously— the way she'd learned magic before, using ritual and will and symbols and tools, was so much more … encumbered than Strange's more instinctual grip of magic. And there was little doubt that her affinity to the plane of Limbo had allowed her to 'cheat' more than once, where her technique would otherwise have produced no result.

A glimmer of witchfire manifests in front of her, a harmless purple flame hovering in the air and fed a steady stream of eldritch fuel.


"Very good," Strange intones in that deep, calm voice of his. It truly is quite accomplished, given how challenging it is for someone new to this world's Mystic Arts to even gather the latent magical energy from the Loft's subtly-charged atmosphere. "How are you perceiving your craft, Illyana?" He asks in order to explain more accurately the steps she would take to access the Sanctum's latent energy.

In a shift of willpower, his very own little were-light, the signature hue of his irises, swirls into wispy life across from Illyana's violet flame, bobbling gently in an undulating sphere. He offers it as a visual aid, a point of future expertise and example of how such wild magic can be contained into a deceptively-volatile sphere.


"Threads. Long stands. Some connect, some block… it's all woven together," she mutters, face turning a bit pale at the effort. "I'm tugging them left and right and trying to make them do what I want." The witchfire surges and crackles, a dancing flame compared to the tight, more disciplined ball of illumination that Strange has summoned.

"But it's… I can't keep them all in line." Hands shift violently, fingers clawing the air as she tries to keep threads from slipping from her fingertips, the flame growing a bit brighter and gaining a noticeable heat.


Interesting indeed. Strange watches his apprentice struggle to contain her threads and lets her continue for a time. He knows not to step in unless the witchfire begins to shift wildly out of control. His own misty blue werelight dances a little closer to the violet flames across from it. With another whisper of willpower, Strange will be able to rapidly encompass her summoning and cage it in as needed. For now, though, he watches and waits before replying,

"The magics of this world do not respond well to indecision. Either you decide, right now, that the threads are yours to grasp and weave, or you do not. It is not a matter of overcoming their resistance," he adds, "but rather tuning to their own resonance. Allow me." His right hand rises from where it lays, palm up, and he fluidly seems to wave at his were-light. With the oozing substance of mist and waving rippling of the aurora, it engulfs the witchfire - not to snuff it out, no, but to offer a controlled arena in which Illyana can work on aligning the threads without anxiety overshadowing her will. "There. Locate your main thread and find its resonance. You'll know the pitch. There will be no doubt."


Illyana's face turns cold, then hard, a feral grin tugging at the side of her mouth. Her head shakes left, then right, then she emits a frustrated, pained cry, fingers spasming. The witchfire flares, then explodes with a not-inconsiderable amount of force, though it's contained by Strange's wards.

"<Damnit!>" she exclaims in Russian, bitter and angry at her failure. "I am so close! I can feel it— I just can't… I can't keep it contained!" She snarls and slams a fist into the ground near her knee, her meditative state gone.


His apprentice's frustration and consequent violent collapse of the witchfire signal a subtle rise from his meditative state. Strange isn't thrown from the calm state of mind, but one can see a small frown appear between his brows. He silently rebuffs himself for setting the task too high for Illyana. Perhaps… His own were-light, acting as a repository for the now-chaotic magic within it, swirls with reflections of the Loft around it.

"I understand, truly," he replies quietly, giving a small nod. "My own lessons went quite similarly when I was first learning. The art of containing the magic, once summoned, is perhaps the hardest of all. The emotions that come with the success of gathering can hinder it greatly." He pauses and his gaze rises from the were-light sphere to her face. "An example that I shared with your friend, Scarlett. I was summoning a blizzard. Frozen water on a massive stormy scale," he adds, uncertain if Illyana has ever experienced such a thing, "and I let my own emotions get away from me. My excitement fed into the elements of the spell and when it collapsed…" He laughs softly here. "It left me with minor frostbite and the taste of peppermint in my mouth for weeks. I can't abide the taste since. I didn't try stepping to such a task until I had become comfortable with something far more basic: a snowball." In his left hand, the moisture in the air condenses and forms a small, glittering sphere, no larger than a billiard ball. It spins above his palm, catching glints of ambient light, before he dismisses it and it returns to the air itself. "I would like you to instead look at my were-light. Observe its threads. View the pattern and then pluck at the threads. Learn its resonance."


Illyana responds to Strange with a scowl, but she's at least receptive today. By the time he gets done reminding the Russian refugee about blizzards (which earns him a withering eyeroll), Illyana's calmed herself down to the point that she can slip into a meditative state once more.

Rather than trying to summon the energy to create her witchfire from scratch, she accepts the metaphorical reins from Strange, examining the way his own magic reinforces hers— how it gives it structure and permanence, made into more 'concrete' reality than Illyana's mere attempt at summoning eldritch flame would have otherwise allowed.

She tries to influence her werelight into growing, into sustaining, and it succeeds— for only a few instants— but it does, until once more the energy crackles out of control. This time, it goes out with a firm *blink*, leaving Illyana's hands to flop to her tired thighs.

"Damnit. I just— I can't," she says, frustrated. "Anything for more than a few moments, I can't make it last."


"I would not ask anything more than you can give," Strange replies to his apprentice. "Perhaps it would be best if we returned to the gathering phase." His gaze focuses intently on his were-light. It draws away from Illyana, back into his personal space, and he brushes his fingertips across its surface. Lambent glowing ripples roll across its surface and the sphere begins to pulse slowly, hypnotically, hovering above his palm. "I'm going to ask you to listen, Illyana, and I don't mean specifically with your ears. Listen with all of your senses, earthly and Mystical alike." The surface of the were-light becomes completely still, mirror-like in its tranquility, and then he touches it with his left hand. Another series of ripples, a triad, begin to travel in patterns across its surface. With each of their intersecting comes a hum. Auditory, perhaps air pressure waves across the skin, no matter - it emits a gentle, repetitive count of three. "I have induced harmony in the threads of this were-light," he explains, his voice pitched quietly in both focus and perhaps some own form of near self-hypnosis; "Look once more. Listen. Their resonance keeps this sphere intact."


Illyana settles herself with gritted teeth, trying to tap into that mystical tuning fork. She reaches out in a different manner, this time, fingers curling to touch the music instead of hooking around the threads of energy. She tries to attune herself to them, and for a moment they squelch out of tune, but soon the harmony returns.

She contents herself with merely interacting with them instead of trying to make them comply to her wishes— practicing the subtle art of touching without altering them. She makes it last two full minutes, until sweat soaks through her thin dress, and with a gasp she lets it all go flickering into the shadows, the music ending with a *twang* against the ear.

"I had it— for a few seconds. Not long, but I had it," she grunts, panting and trying to keep herself from falling over under a dizzying wave of sensation.


Strange always has proper posture when meditating, but his spine straightens further still when the dissonance of Illyana's touching of the threads rolls through his bones. His cheekbones become momentarily stark in the glow of the were-light as he grits his teeth, but long practice has allowed him to let the off-tune waves flow out of his body. The air around him ripples and then settles.

He is deeply reminded of his own history in playing piano. He's watched others tentatively press at the ivory keys and understands the intrinsic need to achieve the harmony of sound. A minute passes, and then another, leaving the Sorcerer Supreme impressed with his apprentice's tenacity. Perhaps the concept of harmonic threads makes more sense than anything else he's offered thus far. The were-light's wavering surface seems to respond to her touch, little points of sparkles gathering at points near to her fingertips.

The sphere's ephemeral surface collapses like a popped bubble when Illyana loses control and dissipates into the air above Strange's palm. He curls his fingers up through the remnants of the construct, appreciating how they lick at his skin like morning fog, before he nods and looks at Illyana. The glow of the summoned power begins to slowly go out within his irises.

"Our next lesson will focus on locating the harmonics of the magic you gather and then constructing simple patterns rather than grasping at already-established elements." His lips rise into a small and true smile. "More than a few seconds," he adds with gentle amusement, "Nearly three minutes. I would call this progress." He has noted the amount of perspiration in her clothing and will argue against continuing should Illyana offer the answer in response to his question: "Do you wish to continue?" He asks simply to allow her freedom of choice.


"No. I … I think I'm done for today." Illyana rubs her tricep, head ducking to hide an embarassed scowl. Once a queen who could rewrite reality with a thought— now, barely able to sumon hoary witchfire, a spell so simple a child could learn to do it.

"This feels impossible," she says, rising swiftly to her feet. She paces away, fingers curling into fists, and massging the still-healing holes in her ribs where the last of Strange's magic gave way for natural healing to do its work.

"How many years will I have to spend, learning magic all over again?"


Strange uncurls from his lotus position, his long legs extending to move up upright. His soft-soled house boots make no sound on the platform as he sighs slowly, considering his answer. A glance to his right, through the panes of the Anomaly Rue window, shows that the sun has set and twilight now encroaches on the city. The atmosphere of the Loft is still mostly settled, slow with the overarcing control of its Sorcerer Supreme, but he can sense pockets here and there of roiling energy, likely left in the wake of his apprentice's pacing.

"Time for tea, I think," he replies, in that light and annoyingly disaffected manner he occasionally sports. He walks over to the tea service set on its rolling tray, beside the housing for his Eye of Agamotto and the sealed textbook of the Ashanti. The tray itself is charmed to continually heat the kettle and he pours two cups of a soothing herbal tea, something green and earthy with hints of citrus. He bears a cup to Illyana and offers it to her with one hand while he takes a sip at his own drink. "It took me seven years of daily training, week after week, month after month. I was told that I had the ability to summon and manipulate the magic, but with absolutely no background, I had to work for it. The number of days I spent sitting on my mat, wondering to myself, 'Dear god, how long will this take?'…" He chuckles softly before taking another sip. "You are more familiar with the Mystical Arts than I was for quite some time. It won't take much longer, I think," and he gives her an appraising stare, one that could be quite disconcerting in its impression of dissecting its target. "However, you will still need to meditate beforehand and practice for some time yet. I believe it unfair to give you a solid timeline. I can't predict the future, now can I?" A twinkle enters his eye before he looks back towards the platform. Yes, he can't…not this future and not with so many possibilities.


Illyana shakes her head at the prospect of tea, hugging her elbows and scowling out at infinity whipping past the Anomaly Rue— hair damp and clinging to her cheek and neck. She's not been keeping up on the work Kitty's done to keep the hair maintained, and that sheet of blonde is growing tangled and discordant again. "I can do it in Limbo. I don't even think about it. I just— will it to happen, and it does. Here, though, the world doesn't resonate to my desire. I have to cajole and wheedle it. I— there's nothing comprable," she says, struggling for the words. "Magic listens in Limbo. It doesn't listen here. It's unspeakably frustrating that I have to /petition/ for magic," she growls. "Rather than simply making reality comply with my wishes."


"You know, my father once said that 'Diplomacy is the act of letting another person have your way'. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that perhaps the magic of this world responds similarly," he replies quietly. The cup of tea remains offered to Illyana in his hand, though it is not outstretched enough to imply any sort of 'take it or else' mentality. He rolls a mouthful of his own tea around his tongue as he joins her in gazing beyond the stained glass-like design of the Anomaly Rue window. "Perhaps approaching the threads of this world as an equal rather than an overlord will allow you better control. After all, the emotional state would change and hence, the resonance of the threads you seek. It isn't so much cajoling as enabling the magic to move from one state to another." Glancing over at her, he then extends the cup at her with a little frown. "Drink. You're dehydrated and it will save you the hangover tomorrow morning."


When his apprentice wordlessly refuses the proffered cup of tea, Strange shakes his head and returns to the tea tray. He sets the cups down, one empty and one full, and pauses there. His gaze lies on the Book of the Ashanti, with its myriad of spells, and he wonders, just briefly as he reaches out to brush a fingertip along its spine, if his apprentice will ever be able to decode its words as he can.

"We can continue this lesson at another time, when your mind is ready once again. For now, I suggest a shower and a fresh change of clothes followed by whatever pursuit brings you peace." He intends to hole up here in the Loft with another text and finish decrypting its mysteries. Turning in place, he gives his apprentice a dismissive nod. "Tomorrow evening, same time. I expect you then."

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