1963-11-11 - Old Friends Part V - The Betrayal
Summary: Disaster calls Strange and his old friend Mordo back to the Sanctum to find it under attack. But all is not as it seems, and nothing from this moment forth will ever be the same again…
Related: Old Friends Part IV - The Game
Theme Song: None
mordo strange 

This used to be… 177A Bleecker Street.

The Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme.

Once upon a time, the multi-storey house stood as a beacon of light and hope to those in the magical and supernatural community, while at the same time appearing as a simple abode in the East Village of New York City. Now, however, it is something else.

From the outside, past the illusions that protect the Sanctum from 'Mundanes' (i.e. everyone else) the building looks almost normal. Almost. The windows are blocked by something — the doors, too. White, ropey strands cling to surfaces, poking out through cracks. Where a window was left open, sheets of the stuff blow in the breeze.


Inside the Sanctum is an even worse story.

As Strange and Mordo teleport into the foyer of the good doctor's house, they find themselves standing in the middle of a spider's lair… Webs cover everything: draped over the piles of books — and there are many piles of books — down the shelves, over the chairs…

Including Strange's favourite.

Every doorway, every arch… there are webs slung between them, ranging from the gossamer-thin to unnervingly thick. Even the ground beneath their feet is covered in web.

And there are spiders.

So many spiders.

Most of these are small — right down to thumbnail-size — while others… Others are much, much larger. Beware the brush of web-strands on one's clothing and skin, for it may likely be the legs of tiny arachnids. Spiders have gotten into everything, but they have done more than simply infest the Sanctum…

They are into the books.

Consuming pages.

Consuming spells.

Consuming magic.

Now what has become of the many relics hidden here? And how, in the name of Chthon, did they manage to breach the wards? Perhaps answers lie further, where the magical webbing is thickest.

There's something crawling on your skin…

"The — the wards, where are the wards?!" The Sorcerer breathes even as he truly acknowledges the scope of the spider webbing before him. He closes his eyes and sends out a Mystic ping to the sentient guardian spells, supposedly woven into the psyche of the Sanctum itself.

Their reply reaches him, but seems…muffed somehow. He blinks and then jerks back from the saucer-sized spider slowly dropping down before him. The stickiness of the webbing beneath him makes him growl and rip his boots free, even as he raises his hands in offensive mudras.

"It's the webbing," he says aside to Karl. They'll return to their previous conversation (oh believe him, THEY WILL), but for now, he remains old friend and all. "It might have some sort of — OW."

The webbing that he just reached out to touch, thicker strands of it sharing the gauge of telephone wiring, seems to suck flat to his skin and not only zap, but leave his fingers numbed. Oh, and also steal some of the vitality from him, in both spirit and Art!

That's a truly horrifying thing to Strange and he squints at the Grand Staircase that is looped in the stuff. "Don't touch the thick webbing. It hurts."

Mordo will recognize the series of fluid gestures that ends in the appearance of razor-edged glow-orange shield-sigils before the good Doctor's palms. The first spider is stepped on with an audible thud and ground into the webbing beneath it by Strange's boot.

"'First, do not harm' only applies to humans. Get out of my Sanctum," he growls before striding towards the staircase. His sharp movements seem to signal his true appearance to the spiders and suddenly, dropping down from the ceiling, five eight-legged beasties the size of a ponies. Maybe Strange, in his past, would have stumbled away from their approach.

Woe betide the monstrosities now. Limbs fly and bruise-purple ichor sprays as he dances through the scuttling attacks and returns missing swipe with lacing cuts by the spell-weapons at his hands. The crimson Cloak blocks attacks he cannot see coming and flicks at delicate eyes to cause the creatures to hiss and retreat. Baring his teeth in a snarl of focus, he suddenly crouches and flies up into the space above the foyer. Dropping spiders pause in mid-descent and then shriek as his discs slice through their rappelling lines. They crack with sickening thuds on the Foyer floor.

"Karl, meet me in the Loft!" With that, he turns in mid-air, clearly intending to skip the entire set of stairs and whisk into the sacred space on the third floor.

With the Sanctum's master now in its midst, the unearthly manor appears to…wake up, almost as if it had been poisoned with spider-venom, putting it (and its wards) to sleep. It struggles, like a sleeping giant, on the verge of consciousness and subsequent rage to defend itself.

Now that its keeper is here.

Perhaps all will be right with the multiverse now?

The 'giant' stirs… but can it wake?

Mordo draws the Sword of Sherab from its sheath at his back, its watery blade cutting a swath through the spiders directly in front of him. The baron watches Strange prepare his own defenses, standing at the ready with his free hand also held before him, two fingers straight, the other two closed.

In the hissing and chittering of the spiders, voices can be heard: "Ssso 'click' much powerrr… 'clackclack'. Feeeasst. 'Clack' Killlll themmm… Drrinnnk themmm…'clickclack'."

As the larger spiders come at them, Mordo sidesteps toward the wall. When his foot connects, he steps onto the wall, as if gravity had suddenly shifted (for him at least), making the wall… the floor. Up he goes, slashing behind him, and cutting off several of one spider's legs as the creatures split up.

Some go for Mordo, on the wall.

Others go for Strange.

All of them… seem intent upon keeping the two sorcerers out of the Loft. In addition, the webbing in the area makes the very air feel like magic is being bled out of it. Mordo is careful not to touch webs on the walls as he leaps and dances away. The darkwater sword slashes at the unwholesome strands, each time suffering the same bleeding effect to its own magic.

"How the blazes did they get in?!" the swarthy man exclaims, parrying fangs and hairy legs alike. He can see himself reflected in each of the spider's twenty-seven eyes…

Mordo knows how the spiders got in.

The truth is in every reflection. Haunting him. Judging him.

But does Strange know?

The hissing and clicking all sound like ravenous arachnid-like sounds to Strange. Perhaps Mordo has gained an ability unknown to his old friend.

The Sorcerer dodges dropping spiders in the empty space above the Foyer. Several more meet gravity-drawn ends on the sumptuously-designed floor below. It's going to take a lot of mopping to get all of the spider guts up.

With every grunt and subsequent spider death, the Sorcerer can feel his Sanctum coming back to life. The wards burn and eat away at the webbing covering every surface even as the drain fights back.

His voice carries overtop the sounds of battle, snapping with anger. "I don't care how they got in, I want them — " A sudden weight on the hem of his Cloak makes Strange 'gluck!' and plunge a few feet. The spider attempting to crawl up the fabric weighs as much as another human — but the crimson garment isn't having it. With a violent lashing, it whips the arachnid to and fro until the creature's brains must clearly be rattling about its exoskeleton. Then, it's brought to an equally-violent end as Cloak and master meet in the middle. Strange's spell-weaponed fist emerges from the other side of the spider's body and it slides off to splut on the floor below. Shuddering and shaking spider blood from his skin, the good Doctor's focus switches to the Loft.

A spider menaces him from the railing that lines the balcony of the hallway outside the double doors, rattling and waving its stubby foremost limbs at him. Another choice three words followed by a Word and the spider is suddenly ON FIRE. With a wail, it tumbles from the banister, leaving his pathway clear.

Wha-BAM!!! The entrance of the Sorcerer Supreme into the Loft echoes with a clarion martial thud and his steel-grey eyes quickly ascertain what's before him.

Big spiders. BIG, BIG spiders. Spiders the size of Clydesdale horses…and the webbing swathes all of the relic room, though nothing has breached the glass containments that house each item. The shadows in the heights of the cathedral ceiling…they seem to size him up with equal menace even as he advances up the short flight of steps, his aura crackling with his mantle's power.

"Ssslay the — 'clack' — Ssorcerer!" the spiders hiss and chitter menacingly in their own Tongue. "'Clack!' — Drink hiss essence! And the essence of his preciousss — 'clickerclack' — relicsss!"

The largest of the warrior-spiders converge on the Sorcerer Supreme, their many-eyes glinting with hunger, fangs dripping with venom, and mandible cackles with fell energy. Intelligent, entirely evil — utterly dangerous.

But so is the Sorcerer Supreme.

Around the Relic Room, certain beams and points in the walls and ceiling begin to glow. The Sanctum is still waking up, still shaking off the poison running through its veins — if it had veins. While two of the giant-spiders attack head-on, another sprays venom toward Strange. A fourth breaks off to go after Mordo…

…who is running along the walls and up onto the ceiling, his watersword held low behind him, slicing into the webs with crackling energy. It becomes a chase, between him and the spiders trying to stop him. If only so much magic had not been bled away, either sorcerer might have had more power at his disposal. Alas, they must make do.

"Ssslay the Ssorcerer!!" one of the spider-acolytes yells again, arms in the air. It is the largest of them, part man, part spider, as it fusses over an object — a relic, and one out of its protective casing. In fact, the casing is undamaged, as if it had been left unlocked…

The object in question… is the Orb of Sham-Horoth. The Orb itself is active, and the threads of tiny runes upon its surface stretch forth like strands of a web — creating a familiar vortex, a connection between two points in space. One point is here, in the Sanctum. The other… is in the dimension of the Spider-God.

"Is there nothing in here we can use?!" Mordo asks Stephen urgently as he spars with spider-legs and mandibles, upside down on the ceiling. Some of the casings protecting certain relics begin to crack. Others begin to melt, or unravel. Whatever the effect, the cause is apparent: the magic of the Sanctum is failing.

Something must be done, and soon.

Double-teamed, the Sorcerer reverts to defensive actions.

"Shields of Seraphim!!!" His shout can be heard overtop the clattering of many approaching feet and then the two spiders slam against the Mystical fortification. Object: meet wall. Ripples of impact spread across the magic-shield and the arachnids bounce backwards and onto their backs, their legs writhing weakly in their stunned state.

The venom sizzles as it splatters across the spell and then begins to eat holes in it! Strange lets out a half-bitten-off cry of pain as a droplet lands on the back of one hand and then it's back to the offensive. Polarities are reversed and the spell blows outwards in a massive corona of silvery light. It shoves everything around him at least a dozen feet back, burns all of the smaller spiders away entirely, and does not harm a single aspect of the Sanctum or its human inhabitants. The demi-spider godling is knocked down, but not out — after all, it is only partially demonic arachnid. Its saving grace is the human aspects to its self.

Panting and looking quickly around him, the good Doctor can sense the Sanctum building up steam. Thick ropes of webbing fall to the Loft's floor as the walls begin burning away their base attachments. He can sense that the wards are just out of reach, though they are fighting like cornered wolverines to get free.

In the chaos, he hasn't felt the insidious throb of the Orb until…now. It's a deep, drum-like wave against his skin and the good Doctor unerringly picks it out. Oh…OH. This is how the creatures got in! They reverse-engineered the Gating capabilities and…oh gods above!!! How did they break through the locks?!

In his trance, in the moment during battle when the mind flows at lightning speed and the world slows down to adrenaline's touch, it comes to him: he does not have enough power. All around him, the Sanctum is bucking and bleeding magic left and right. He needs more power.

With mudras rarely seen and a surge of willpower no doubt felt by all with Mystical senses, the Eye of Agamotto hanging at his neck whirs and shifts and clicks open. The citrine flash is blinding to those spiders approaching him. At his left hand, counter-rotating circles of emerald-green Mystic Art shine and then, Strange releases the bowstring of the tightly-withheld spell.

All around him, time sloooooooooows…and stops. It's absolutely freaky. Everything is frozen in place, down to spherical droplets of ichor and venom and gods only know what else that hang in the air like marbles. Above him on the ceiling, Mordo remains in battle, clearly holding his own against the spiders.

Panting and sweating around his temples at this point, Strange swallows and then adopts another stance, one meant to ground. "In the name of the Vishanti, in the goodly godheads three — I call upon the powers true, bequeath your might to me!!!"

Power floods him until it tingles in his teeth and writhes in the battle-leathers; the crimson Cloak ripples with citrine static. His aura is a-crackle with the threat of lightning and imminent thunder and then…time is released. All around him, the spiders begin to draw back, sensing their demise in the air that sparks visibly around him.

"Karl, get that relic back! I'll close the vortex!"

The Sanctum struggles to awaken.

The spider-god's webbing continues to drain the Sanctum of its magic.

The effects show in the littlest of details: paint that has remained pristine for who-knows-how-long chips and peels. Windows that have never known a smudge suddenly darken with grime, and crack. Books that have never suffered a spinal crease are now bent, frayed, and… blank.

The writing from them is gone.

Consumed by the spider-god. And to what end?

Mordo smiles.

Upside-down, running across the ceiling, cutting a swath through eight-legged monstrosities from another dimension… one might think 'it doesn't get any better than this' — especially fighting beside (or above) his best friend.

But it should be better than this.

It has to be better than this — otherwise, what is the point of any of it? "Of course, Stephen!" he calls down. Mordo side-steps a splash of venom that had been aimed at his face, then makes a grasping motion with his free hand.

A trio of spider-acolytes contort, twisting in on themselves until their own legs pierce their thoraxes — spearing themselves to death… eight times over. The acolytes drops from the ceiling, followed swiftly by their destroyer.

The avatar of Sham-Horoth clutches at the relic — a staff or sceptre of wood, barely three feet long — and turns toward Mordo. The swarthy sorcerer tilts his head sideways and smiles at the cravenly-looking spider-god.

Mordo attacks.

Darkwater sword meets spidery-leg and mandible. Spell meets counterspell. Man and monster become almost indistinct from one another as they spar — a dance of death that carries them away from the now-empty relic case, up the wall, over the ceiling, into one mirror… and out of another further down the hall.

The spider-minions seem to know something is awry, but rather than attacking Strange to prevent the closing over the vortex (and their only way home), they rush the vortex. It is a mass exodus of legs eyes and fangs… those that survive.

The lights of the Sanctum flicker.

The first of its death-throes.

When Mordo next appears, he has the relic in his hand — it is the Staff of the Living Tribunal, a weapon for the balancing of arcane powers. Potent. Deadly. An instrument of great change. The staff moves like a living thing, elongated to its full length…and coiled like a shepherd's crook around Sham-Horoth's neck. Mordo drags the so-called 'god's' dying body along the floor. The baron is injured — pierced in more than one place, by the spider-god's razor-legs, yet through the staff he siphons Sham-Horoth's energy…

And the energy of the Sanctum.

The Sorcerer's lips twitch in his grimace as he reins in another monster of a spell. His entire form shivers like a plucked wire. Nearly every nerve jumps with conducting the deitic magic.

He has to wait until Mordo is beyond reach of the immediate impact point — the fear of accidentally injuring his fellow caster lingers beneath the protective rage over his hurting Sanctum and tempers the dark emotion to a fine edge.

Strange watches the ultra-flicker of the Darkwater sword clash against staunch arachnid leg and then the battle moves beyond the immediate relic room, down into one of the side halls of the Loft. Maybe the other practitioner can feel the intense attention between his shoulderblades before he disappears beyond immediate sight, but likely not — fighting against eight available limbs, barbed and keen, seems to be taking all of his efforts and for good reason!

There's the faintest audible panicked screeching to his ears as the Sorcerer Supreme rises into the air, holds both hands out before him, and recites the demise of the remaining spiders in the entirety of the Sanctum. Scarred palms face one another and a reality-warping ball of near-plasmic energy builds in the space between them, growing with damning force before him, and backlights him brightly. Excess arcs between fingertips, like lightning chained.

"By the wrath of the Vishanti three,
Gather might and hark to me!
Foreign bodies, not of man,
Erased by magic by my hand!
Sham-Horoth and all your spawn,
Eradicated, fated gone!!!"

Wrists break and rotate to flick his hands outwards.

The shockwave of displaced air comes first, throwing up dust and torn pages and shreds of webbing and smaller spiders before it. Then comes the roll of thunder and the wash of citrine-silver Mystic Arts. It takes the power of the gods to wipe the reality within the confines of the mansion of all trace of the invader's presence. Webs burn at supernatural speed into dusty cinders that spiral away further still into nonexistence with sparks of red. Every eight-legged body, dead or alive, is disintegrated on an organic level — taken apart atom from atom and very literally erased from the place. The Sanctum resounds like a giant bronze gong…and then falls silent.

The crimson Cloak brings its master back down to the floor when he immediately buckles to one knee and gasps deeply for air. His hands may have been steady during the casting, but now they tremble violently against the ichor-stained floorboards. He forces himself upright and looks around the Loft slowly.

No more webbing. No more spiders. Just…destruction left in the wake of a callous invasion. The wards limp to him and swirl around him once before seeming to collapse across the expanse of his forearms, now extended helplessly.

"I'm sorry," the Sorcerer murmurs with a catch in his throat. It's not sentient, he knows this — it has no emotions, no capability for blame or understanding of what happened beyond the power drain and explicit instructions written into its being to fight back against invaders. Still. "Back to your place. Let me…I'll figure something out." There's the feeling of the wards lifting up once more, lighter even than the dismount of a flying bird, and then they disappear up into the cracked ceiling.

Strange then eyes the Orb, where it remains on its small pedestal and continues weakly emitting enough spellforce to hold the vortex open. His senses, fried as they are, tell him that it's become a one-way trip now, from the Sanctum to the dimension of the Spider-God. Good. Luck is on his side. He can have a reprieve, rest for a bit, and then close the damned thing.

Approaching footsteps. Wiping a line of sweat from his temple, the Sorcerer turns in place to see Mordo approaching, triumphant in his wounded state.

"Oh…Karl, good. Toss him in the portal, it's a one-way trip now," Strange says wearily, gesturing towards the web-like vortex. But…there's a pause. He's given a look that makes his brows slowly draw together. Relief turns to acid in his stomach even as he swallows down bile. "Karl… Toss him in the portal and then give me the relic." An outstretched hand, quaking faintly, and the Sorcerer Supreme waits, trying very hard to resist the bleeding of despair into his psyche.

"I wish it did not have to be this way, my old friend."

Karl Mordo, the baron of Mordo, stands opposite the Sorcerer Supreme — one hand upon the hilt of the ever-shifting darkwater sword of Sherab, the other hand grasping the Staff of the Living Tribunal, still coiled around the neck of Sham-Horoth's avatar. He shows no sign of doing either of the things that Strange has ordered him to do.

Sham-Horoth squirms in the staff's grip, his efforts growing more and more feeble as Mordo drains the avatar of all its innate magic. It dances like light — the stolen power — in the baron's emerald eyes.

"But someone has to teach you — what the Ancient One failed to do."

"Thiss… wass not …'HACK!'… our bar — ." The spider-godling tries to say, in English. The coiled staff pulses, cutting off any further words it might have said. Not that it needed to. Mordo looks down at the pitiful god-brought-low and arches an eyebrow.

"You have feasted, as was promised. Now, as chalk on a board, you are to be brushed away… and over-written." It is fortunate that the webbing is gone, or the siphoning powers of the staff would still be affecting the Sanctum itself. As it is, the house may never fully recover — even if the only remaining sign of what happened here… is a single stain on a window, or a curtain that remains forever torn.

There will always be a reminder.

Perhaps… that was the point?

Mordo looks back at Stephen. "As I was saying — ."

Old friend.

Never has such a fond titling taken on such nauseating connotations as when spoken to Strange across the distance between them.

All he can do is stare, listen, all in horrified silence, as it begins to play out before him. It is suffering, even if the sight of the barely-alive godling still disgusts him, and his steel-blue eyes flick back up to Mordo once more with glittering sorrow — not of tears, but of a sadness blending quickly into helpless rage in the face of betrayal.

The Sanctum will remain forever tarnished in the various webbing of crackles in certain window panes throughout the mansion. Never again will anyone look out and not notice the spread of distress through the glass. The Window on the Worlds, towering in silent monument beyond both sorcerers, is the only window to remain untouched, simply due to its massively powerful Mystic properties. It is symbolic in a time of cruelty.

The Orb. All along. It was a trick. A callous twist.

His curiosity has been abused. His helpful nature has been abused. His Sanctum has been abused. His trust in Baron Mordo?

Burnt away as cleanly as the touch of molten steel to skin and just as effusive in weeping pain.

"You…!!!" His word, petering off in spitting hiss of censored insults, cuts across Karl's sentence as cleanly as a knife. "You…lying son of a bitch," the Sorcerer Supreme continues, his countenance growing still even as the Sanctum begins to respond to his internal war of emotions. His irises bleed towards silver now. There is the hum of disturbance from the walls around them, lowly-pitched, meant to crawl along the skin in its own variation of multiple legs, even if it's far weaker than normal. The wards are staggering upright again, the guard dog not finished, still attempting defense in the face of heavy wounds. "You used me, you used our friendship and for WHAT?!" His bellow resonates and he throws both hands out to encompass the Sanctum's torn state. "What the hell did I ever do to you?!"

With an abrupt outreaching of curled fingers, the good Doctor attempts to yank the Staff from Mordo's one-handed grip…and fails. The relic remains silent to his beckoning. The microtell of desperation flickers across his face before being swallowed once more in thunderous dismay.

Mordo's eyes never leave Strange's.

Beside him, unnoticed, unseen — uncared-for — the avatar of Sham-Horoth withers away into a dried up husk… and then the dried up husk becomes nothing but a pile of dust. The pile of dust… is slowly sucked into the vortex leading to the Spider-God's domain, until it is all gone.

The Staff has done its work.

For now.

Mordo… watching Stephen, releases the staff as though allowing his friend — his former? friend — to take it back. If only he could. As the Staff hangs there in the air, Mordo's expression turns darker — a glowering shadow. "For a lesson, Stephen," he says in a very quiet voice, like the Whisper of Death itself. "That the great, omnipotent Sorcerer Supreme — Doctor. Stephen. Strange. — is not infallible. That his Sanctum Sanctorum — his Holy of Holies — is not impregnable. There will always be things that escape even your Sight, my old friend — Sight you should have used so long ago."

Mordo raises his chin, leaving the Staff of the Living Tribunal floating behind him. It follows its keeper, like a faithful hound. The Relic always chooses its keeper. Always. How that must stick in Strange's craw — that for all the pain of this betrayal that Mordo has inflicted upon him, the relic still chose him.

What could need balancing so badly, that the Staff should come to life in Mordo's grasp? "You are blind, Stephen," says he as he comes to stand between Strange and the vortex. "As the Ancient One is blind. You are a child in a cape too big for your shoulders. Someone must make you see. That burden… falls to me, and class has begun."

A pause.

Mordo goes as though to walk past Stephen to the front door. Pain, his own pain, flashes across his face, eliciting a twitch by his eye — a tightening at his lips. The man is grieving almost (if not) as much as his friend. The 'mantle' should never have gone to Stephen, or so Mordo believes. Stephen presumed too much, attempted too much, too soon… Mordo has always told him so. He cannot bring himself to talk about why else he needed the power he has taken today. His thoughts cannot even go near it. Not yet.

No, for now, the lesson will have to end here, no matter what happens.

"Someday, you may even thank me," he murmurs with infinite sadness as he takes another step.

Not just his hands shake now, though the fists balled up at his sides show ghost-white knuckles and leeringly-reddened scars. The entire body of the Sorcerer Supreme shakes, down to the twitching of his lips bared in a snarl of tightly-checked anger at Mordo's retreating shoulderblades.

No. This will not do.

Not in his house.

Perhaps the only indication of the sudden attack is the riffling of Strange's crimson Cloak and the spitting hiss of a magical weapon erupting between clawed hands. The Staff of the Living Tribunal is batted out of mid-air where it floats docile behind Mordo. The relic whistles through the air before clattering off of more than one glass and wooden display case and then rolls beneath a far settee, flickering haphazardly after being briefly overcharged by the rude shove of Mystic magic into its form.

"You were always a terrible teacher," Strange says roughly, rising into the air via the crimson Cloak as he summons up yet another molten surujin between facing palms. "Arrogant, inflexible, unable to look beyond your own damn failings." Still, the good Doctor checks his rage to words rather than actions. "Don't you dare think to teach me what it means to see, Karl. I don't need to use the Sight to figure out that you are no better than any zealot. You collaborated with Sham-Horoth, Karl! You're a hypocrite! What did it cost you, part of your soul?! You're no better than — "


Mordo's fist catches Strange straight in the jaw, cutting off his words mid-sentence (although it shouldn't be hard to figure out what Stephen had been about to say). Now, at last, the anger and resentment of so many years being 'second-fiddle' to Stephen Strange, his 'nurse-maid', and other things, is coming out.

It feels good.

Despite the broken bones in his left hand now, from that punch.

But this… here, in the Sanctum, this is not quite how he had wanted it to go. Sham-Horoth was meant to either die, or go home — fat and happy on magic from the Sorcerer Supreme — and then die. The Spider-God wasn't supposed to have made an attempt on Stephen's life.

Nothing serious, anyway.

But he did.

Ambitious little godling.

Then, of course, Mordo had to step in and end Sham-Horoth; such a pity that the godling managed to speak about their little 'arrangement' before he died. Mordo had always known Stephen would figure this out — and that it would have come to blows — but not right away. Not here, in Stephen's base of power. This is not the place Mordo would have picked for a showdown between the two sorcerers, and at any moment the Sanctum will wake up fully. The wards will attack him.

And it would be over.

Mordo will lose.

But it was worth it… just to get in that one punch — that one glorious moment of perfect retribution for a lifetime in someone else's shadow. It was worth it to see the shock in Stephen's eyes as his hand connected with that smug, sonofabitch's —

Blow taken, the Sorcerer Supreme reels at first. The punch easily splits the skin of his cheek and a rivulet of blood runs down to draw a stark line against his jaw even as the crimson Cloak keeps him from collapsing to one knee by not allowing his feet to touch the floor.

A broken-sounding pained sigh of reaction from him and he tenderly feels at the spot before shaking his head sharply. Ice-white eyes narrow towards Mordo, standing there and looking so smug at yet another successful unanticipated attack.


Strange feels knuckles pop even as his fist collides with Karl's face (surely the man will have an amazing black eye for a few days) and then it turns, briefly, into a physical kerfuffle as his impact rides the Baron to the Loft floor. Several good punches are landed, from both sides, and then the crimson Cloak yanks its master back and away from the green-clad Baron before it can escalate much further.

Snarling something garbled in split-lipped rage (it's probably most easily translated to 'LET ME AT HIM'), the good Doctor tries to unclasp the Cloak. Crack-SNAP, it whips a hem at his fingers and then he's holding both hands to his chest, grimacing.

In his peripheral, the broken vortex to Sham-Horoth's dimension remains open, albeit weakly. Any other massive distortion will likely jar the Orb's connections to this dimension too much and the whole Gate will fall apart.

It catches the good Doctor's eyes and then, spitting out blood, he slowly straightens, giving Mordo a look of anger. It's hard to stand up straight; one of the punches landed on his small rib and that hurts.

Karl Mordo rises up on a knee, using a hand to steady himself on the floor — eyes focused balefully upon his old friend — his rival — Doctor Stephen Strange. He goes to speak, but spits blood, and puts his other hand to his jaw.

"You've been working on your punches," he tells Stephen with a rueful smile — in spite of the bitterness in his eyes. There won't be any 'laughing this off' as a brawl between brothers.

Not today.

Today, there are still lessons to be taught — to both of them, not that they truly realise it. Mordo is destined for his crucible too, and who knows what will come of that…

Mordo stands to face-off against his friend. Squaring his shoulders, he says, "You should never have been given that mantle." He brushes the back of his hand against the corner of his mouth, wiping away more blood. The Staff of the Living Tribunal floats back over toward him, but he doesn't grasp it. Not yet.

"Yes, I made alliances. I had to. Someone had to prove your fallibility, Stephen — there is too much at stake. You need to be ready — and if the only way to forge you into what you need to be is in the fires of betrayal, my friend…" He takes a breath and lifts his bruised and bloodied chin.

"So be it."

He can't stand still. Even as Karl spits out denial at his gods-granted powers, flaunts the perceived weaknesses of the Sorcerer Supreme, spins poetic gravity in terms of heat and treachery — Strange begins to pace. It's difficult with his rib and the slight hunch takes away an iota of threat, but still…he prowls, three steps in one direction, four in the other, all the while pinning the Baron in place with the force of rage.

And intent.

At his right hand, Mystic power gathers. It spits and snarls with the emotional touches of its summoner. Another attempt at the golden light-linked surujin, now drawn single-handled and without half of a grounding portion of care. It is chained lightning in the grasp of a vengeful mind.

"Yes." And he swallows, giving time a moment to hang. His heartbeat thumps loudly in his ears as he fights down agony in the face of the decision he's just made. "So be it."

With a muted grunt of pained effort, he whips out the magical weapon. Once again, the Staff is batted aside — but with a slicing angled arc of silvery magic that swats it momentarily aside and most certainly not far from its chosen master. The whip wraps like a striking snake around the ankle closest to Strange and seeing as he's near to kneeling in a facsimile of a fencer's lunge, he's able to grasp the weapon with the other hand and wrench back with all of his might.

It puts blazing strain on every magic-fried nerve in his body and his rib feels close to daggering into his gut, but the intent is bolstered still by a sudden back-push from the wards. The warlock's body is not only yanked, but lifted from the floor and summarily tossed —

Into the half-open vortex still cast by the Orb of Sham-Horoth.

Later, in the depths of nightmares, Stephen Strange will remember the look on Karl Mordo's face that crystallizes even as the body flies past him. He'll hear the sounds uttered. He'll relive watching the web-like tendrils embrace the man like an old friend…and suck him into the muffled depths of the dimension.

There's a sudden focused point of pain in Strange's left shoulder and even as he huffs out a breathless cry, the Staff of the Living Tribunal continues past him post-attack and into the rift.

The relic's entry into the realm of Sham-Horoth, so charged with latent energy from the Sorcerer's initial strike, is enough to collapse the Gate. It curls in on itself rapidly, sucking in air. Strange has enough time to fall backwards onto his behind, crab-crawl a few steps, and then whip over, curled up, spine towards the volatile point in reality, before —

Kaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah-WHOOM!!! The heat is explosive and most of its brunt taken by the covering of the crimson Cloak. All he feels is the pelting of tiny bits of metallic shards, much like hail stones, and then…silence.

Slowly, he rolls over, panting, squinting at the haze that evaporates away to reveal the obliteration of the Orb. Naught but particles remain and the Sanctum's wooden floor bears the blackened scar of thermal impact.

The fight is over. His Sanctum is once again free of the Dark influence.

….but is it truly over?

The vortex closes.

Even here, entire dimensions away, Karl Mordo still feels the destruction of the Orb. There will be no going back that way. Such a priceless artefact…


It served its purpose.

Lying on his back on what feels like a cavern floor, Mordo presses one hand flat against its surface, trying to 'ground' himself with the touch of something… tangible. His other hand extends out to the opposite side, also encountering rock. And then…

Something wooden. Engraved. Crackling with energy.

Mordo smiles.

The staff. He still has the staff. Clearly the cosmos believes that Balance needs to be maintained. There must be a Dark to Stephen Strange's confounded Light. Something — or Someone — must be around to keep teh Sorcerer Supreme…


Mordo opens his eyes to see…

Stars. No, wait. Not stars. Eyes. Hundreds of eyes. Thousands. Tens of thousands. They stare back at him through the dark, some of them quite close, while other seem so very far away. Most of them move in groups — clusters, like the many-eyes of spiders.

Exactly like them. The cavern in which Mordo lies is vast, with myriad tunnels extending in myriad directions all around — and there are webs. Many, many webs. So very slowly, the swarthy warlock pushes himself up to a crouching position, one hand firmly grasped around the haft of the Staff-relic. He can hear the skittering now. The chattering and chittering. The sound of thousands of legs upon stone and thread, of mandibles and fangs…

And voices.

"Food… food… a morsel a tasssty morsssel… Revenge for Sham-Horoth, yesss…For Sham-Horoth…"

Mordo begins a spell, chanting softly: "Thy power ebbs. I think you'll find, the spider's webs to me I bind. By might and Staff behold my wrath — I claim the pow'r of Sham-Horoth!" The warlock thrusts the Staff upwards, pulling the webs unto himself, just as Stephen Strange had witnessed as the vortex closed… and the spiders shriek.

This is not the last time Strange will see the webs of Sham-Horoth.

Or Baron Mordo.


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