1963-11-12 - Burning Like the Midnight Sun
Summary: Baron Mordo and the Scarlet Witch end up investigating the same odd death.
Related: Bad Sun on the Rise
Theme Song: None
mordo wanda 

Someone, or something, hunts witches and mystics in New York. The latest story to reach Devizes, the pop-up shop of mysticism and magical components, spoke of a woman who practiced Egyptian practices founded on Hathor and celebratory music. She is not the only one.

Two more deaths go almost without notice. The old man whose statistical skills made him a veritable financial wizard found dead in his study, bled out over his precious accounting ledgers, with a smashed abacus left behind is one. Who weeps for Milton Scofield-Annandale? His maid has to worry where the next paycheck comes from.

Then there is Gertrude Ebbing, 58, factory worker retired into a quieter life. Unwed, quiet life in Queens, and known to have an especially large family. Once. Her photographs went ashen, and another warlock — the Cerulean, he calls himself — gasped out her last words in a language he didn’t know.

But someone else did: Hebrew.

The translations have been hasty: “Please, no! Not again! I have nothing they want… why are they here? I came here so they could not— no… no, not you. Oh save me. Father of Fathers, hel—!”


The speaker of that awful cry has been plied with alcohol and sent to bed under monitoring. No one wants to talk about it, in the Empyrean, in the Bar with No Doors, in Devizes.

Yet here stands a witch, her shoulders tipped back, dark eyes scouring every detail out of the building. Sight only gets a girl so far. Exploration and hard work might piece together a broken path for Miss Ebbing back to her grimy little apartment in a part of Queens mostly left behind. It’s not so far other enclaves of expatriates and new immigrants from the rural areas, and rents are low enough to allow for the elderly, the oversized families fed on one wage, and the down on their luck to live in conditions less destitute than some.

Wanda’s eyes tilt up towards the glossy windows. In the astral, buildings appear as they want sometimes. Yet there are stains, psychic scars of wars fought two centuries ago and the despair weighing down on those who are trapped. It feels so much like a cage.

It tastes even worse, slick grey blotches hanging in the air like mold growing on bread. She avoids those, armed by no more than her psychic wit. Somewhere, the young woman’s body rests suspended almost in time, a note left on the table beside her.

Now, though, the Maximoff witch takes from the ground to float towards the third floor window left often. It will serve as well as any for slipping through, rather than that peculiar sensation of breaking through walls. Gertrude lived somewhere in here, and the effects of a practicing mage ought to make it possible to follow.


Ripples form in the astral plane.

Emanating from a single point in the 'air' just to the right of the Scarlet Witch, the ripples widen into a vertical pool of dark green water. The pool shifts and changes until it resembles the silhouette of a man…

And a man does indeed emerge.

Having clad his astral self in a tunic of green, and leather, runic armour, the baron Karl Mordo looks over Wanda Maximoff and tilts his head to the side in curiosity. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to find you here, my dear," says he, floating closer.

It is not quite floating, for he walks upon the 'air' and offers the Scarlet Witch a polite bow, his eyes studying her. "Whoever or whatever is committing these murders-most-foul is obviously a skilled practitioner; perhaps you would permit me the honour of serving as your escort, my dear? Mordo is no stranger to the terrors waiting in the dark of the Astral Plane."

He goes quiet then, awaiting Wanda's response.


From the other side, the greyed tint laid over the world resembles so much fog on a cobwebbed and dusty windowpane. Scrub too hard and the edges of reality start to fray, creating fine scratches rendering the view even more distorted.

The astral shouldn’t be this scarred, but it is.

Even to the ephemeral aether-stuff of an astral form, the weight of the world bears down terribly heavy. It slows and weakens, making the passage forward through space a slog of concentration. Some parts of the astral world can be buoyant or airy, almost carefree. Others choke out momentum down to a grind. This is one such unpleasant spot.

A long black dress chopped to the knee and belted twice gives Wanda a vaguely Oriental appearance in fashion, albeit not in features. Her typical burgundy leather jacket is present in this form, too, cut and slanted on more dramatic diagonals, the high collar upturned round the French knot of her sanguine scarf. She ascends a few feet off the cracked, unloved pavement, another distortion in the relative space turning her head.

Baron Mordo shamelessly makes entrances. Very well.

Eyes flooded by brilliant pomegranate seas resemble nothing so much as the vicious hue of the dying sun afloat over the sea. Perhaps a bit strange, but not unknown, that the ephemeral reflects a reality the physical is not governed by. Yet his image is not reflected back in the solemn black oceans of pupils drowned in red.

Who exactly is the horror here?

Hands to her sides allow a tidy, neat fold forward in a bow, attained crisply as one can presumably in her habitual corsetry. “Let’s not make another victim,” she murmurs. “As you would.”

A faint ripple of movement overlaps her ghostly image as she merges into the wall and reappears in a grimy corridor ill-served by the one bulb floating there. Torn carpets watered down to charcoal smears and cheap, paneled walls greet the eye, and the luminous starburst marking where she steps through another wall into a cluttered parlour with far too many glass vials and spices arranged on magnetic slides. Plastic covers the sofa and the matching loveseat, a metal table overturned. Once it must have been orderly. Now it is in tatters, damaged furniture slashed open, glass broken on the ground, tatters of power hanging like cobwebs where shattered and ruined wards evaporate from their moorings.


Mordo's astral self ripples a bit, as though it were comprised of oil-based paints in a pool of water. He tilts his head curiously to the side, smiles a little at Wanda and raises a finger.

"Death is a part of the natural Order, girl," he tells her in a tone one would find in a school-teacher… to an impertinent student. He floats after her, through the wall of the building, pausing to watch 'echoes' of people going about their daily lives.

It is the astral-reflection of what these humans — these 'Mundanes' — go about in their daily lives. It is also how they dream of going about in their daily lives, the good and the bad. They are not aware of this Plane, nor the souls navigating it, observing them.

Far down the corridor, a young woman stands up to her verbally abusive husband in a shouting match — and then they are gone. In another room, a boy works up the courage to tell his childhood best friend that he loves her — in reality, they are grown men and women, but he never did end up telling her.

And that image, too, is gone.

And just like the spiritual 'architecture' of this Plane, all these souls and reflections of souls appear… frayed, torn, smeared… broken.

Mordo frowns.

"Whatever is doing this," says he in a soft voice. "Is not natural. It must stop."


Not until Mordo appears beside her does Wanda deign a reply. "Murder defies the natural order." Else how would it be a violation of the law?

The crisp, flat words in English carry their audible edges conveyed by German and a plethora of other Slavic languages. It might be a mistake to assume she inflects any more emotion than a certain authenticity brought by how the world is.

Palpable disorder congeals in thick dreaming clots inside the broken parlour, a living room in complete disarray physically projecting destruction to the astral plane. The sorceress extends her fingertips to touch the torn edges of a lost ward, fluttering away from her.

Words spill out at the disturbance, fractured bits of Hebrew striking in stutter-starts. Sparks of sound burst and die in a second. Garbled noises are produced when she floats over the broken glass. She leaves behind the ruined living room for the kitchen, peering through the overturned furniture, the clutter spilling into a hallway and adjacent bedroom.

Rainbows shine in an organic spectrum. Sepia, umber, cinnabar, chestnut, russet, ochre, ecru: these are the shades of a language conducted in measures and balances. Blasted scales and heavy-duty measures are flung and the overstuffed couches are torn open with awful force. None of these things themselves speak to anything on their own. Together it's an overturn of the natural way of things.

Blood smears the ground in places. A handprint streaks the floor. Another sanguine splash radius mixes with something greyed and foul, and the tile's surface is eaten away.

"Whatever is doing this will cease," she states simply.


"Tell that to the lion that slays the lamb, young one," Mordo replies with an arched eyebrow. Yes, in his eyes… the Scarlet Witch has a long way to go before he will respect her as much as he does Stephen Strange.

A long way indeed.

"Or the bear who kills in defense of her young." Mordo goes silent after that, and symbolically draws his watersword — an act that causes a spray of emerald droplets that hang motionless in the air. He sweeps the blade around in a circle, followed by a series of other mystic gestures…

Forming a spell of divination.

If the Astral Plane is willing, it will reveal who — or what — did this… violation of matter and spirit. It will lead them to the culprit, or culprits, and then… well, that would depend upon what the two Practitioners find.

Immediately following the casting of the spell, Mordo walks — sword in hand — toward the blood-smears he can see in the room, and crouches down to trace a finger through the stain.


The divination meets thousands of tears and scars, scratched lenses. It isn’t often a diviner encounters that sort of damage to the world. Major events popular to scry upon accrue the weight of piercing the veil, eventually scouring a clear view.

Hence why trying to watch the fall of Atlantis or birth of Jesus is pointless. So many have tried, succeeding or not, that their psychic graffiti scratch time beyond all recognition. Another event in about two weeks’ time will soon have the hallmark scars all over it.

Splatters of smoke and acid start to burn the spell, however. Spilled crystals fan around him, the pungent scent of sulfur and cinnabar mixing comfortably. Burns flit through the air, memories of broken symbols painted upon the air.

Alchemical symbols revealed by Mordo’s divining are hard to perceive, but present. Theirs is a Middle Eastern tradition mingling Greek and Arabic principles, attributes aligned to 14th and 15th century information refined by Rabbinical writings.

Whomever has struck leaves behind far fewer signs, suggesting magic was barely used. There is only a sense of strength, a reinforcement that lingers throughout the tableau.

The only other sensation might be the ghost of a gate, tremors on existence and no more. If they jumped, it wasn’t here.


Wanda doesn’t even bother to respond to Mordo, not about to conduct an argument while searching for traces of the obvious.

The bathroom is dismissed with a glance. More disarray ruins the simple bedroom and a shape sprayed onto the wall brings a hiss out of her. A round disk radiates bent, right angle rays all the way around.

“Blood,” she says. Not far below the wall is an equally gory patch. Human bodies only contain so many quarts. They seem to be spread mostly in a gory painting and a tacky patch on the carpet. No sign of a body.


"Sulphur," Mordo replies.

"Beyond the efforts of ones such as Stephen — and ourselves — there is no force policing such murders in the Astral as well as the Physical," he goes on to say. "Like it or not, my dear girl, we are 'it'." He pauses as he floats over toward her, the glowing sigils of divination following him, like torches shedding light upon darkness.

In a fog.

"This magic feels Middle-Eastern," says he after a moment. "Even through all the psychic scarring. Either whomever did this was incredibly sloppy… or they wanted this much 'injury' to the Plane to be visible. And as for the sulphur… it suggests demons." He directs the sigils to float over to the gory painting on the wall, his expression not flinching for an instant.

Mordo has seen worse.

He may have even done worse.


Gertrude Ebbing, alchemist, is not here. Her blood certainly is, painting the wall and saturating the floor, but she remains conspicuously absent. Her gore leaves the traces on the wall, stylized in a sense no random pattern would ever be. The bent rays form a full circle, though the outer rim is not a continuous force due to the splat radius of liquid impacting a solid surface.

There is no power to that symbol, no vestiges of free-floating particles or the effusive signature of a spell. It contains a host of pain and fear, matched by a ruthless sense of belief. This is an ancient emblem used across the face of Europe from northern Norway to Morocco and further east, carried by the horse tribes of Scythia and the proto-Indo European tribes that peppered the continent. Supposedly such signs are found in the Altai Mountains, supposedly they are known to Dravidian cultures.

One is painted on the wall, and the sunwheel stares balefully back.


“Djinn?” The word is hard on her tongue, shaped out uneasily. “Demons of the desert. Babylon? Akkad? Ur?” The old names are harder still to evince from the dirt. Her knowledge is not learned by conventional methods, stolen on the run, instilled by lash and sword and lunge. Mordo can decipher what he will of the guesses.

She kneels then, peering under the bed. A box might be pulled out if she were in tangible form, but the weathered handwritten cards on them say things like ‘Winter sweaters’ and ‘Coat, Spring, 1956.’ Nothing but the detritus of a life gone out too soon.

Who has done worse is a race no one in the room needs to win, and she turns, giving the dusky mage a pointed, long look. Wanda’s expression remains fixed into a reflective cast. Swiveling around to detect the imperfections, the scratches on the surface of the Astral, leaves her shivering slightly at the ghostly brush on her ephemeral skin.

“They do not want to be seen. They break the windows to damage the shop. It cannot be rebuilt,” she assumes, shrugging. The air tastes and feels wrong, and that bloody wheel glares at her.


"Djinn…" Mordo murmurs. "Well, it would be in keeping with their behaviour…" At Wanda's other remarks, he frowns. "There must be some trace…" the baron murmurs as he floats ahead.

His astral self rises into the air, turning sideways like a spoke inside a wheel until his feet connect with the ceiling. Then he walks forward — upside down to Wanda's point of view — arms spread wide.

Mordo projects tendrils of aether into the metaphysical world around him and his companion, each wisp of energy acting like a finger sliding over muscle and tissue, looking for anomalies beneath the surface.

"It — or they — have done so much damage…" he all but whispers, eyes rolled back in his head as he uses his mystic Sight to see. "Movement…" he remarks after a few moments. "I thought I felt movement."

Mordo walks ahead, along the ceiling.


Movement, more specifically transportation, has not happened in the apartment. They entered without magic, here. They left without the same. The old hints of broken wards and personal spells fallen dangle from astral space, fading as time slips past on a slower river. In a half hour, there will be no trace of their existence, not even an indication there was ever magic performed here by Alumen, otherwise known as one Gertrude Ebbing.

Windows are shut, uniformly, given a view of a dead courtyard full of refuse and leaves. No one plays there without a will. The heavy weight of the sunwheel practically burns to Mordo’s divinations and eyes, imposing its purpose and ancient shape upon the world. It stares him down.

If he gets too close? His magic drains. Bit by bit, a drop here, a taste there, being peeled by or reduced ever so slightly. But time is not his ally, in a place without time. Proximity is not a boon, but a bane, where space is relative.


Pieces of his divination splice and wisp away without a trail to follow them by.


Flowing through the wall into the kitchen, Wanda rummages through cabinets and open-faced closet alike, daring to peek into the refrigerator. Its contents are strange as the rest, inorganic compounds in pickle jars and pitchers and bottles, for the most part small liquid or solid qualities labeled by tape and a spidery hand full of symbols she scarce recognizes. They’re the proof of an alchemist’s studies. Similarly the cabinet has a few boxes of crackers, fallen flour and other staples flung upon the floor.

Broken glass, broken art, broken life.

That’s the sum of the apartment and no more.


With a look of muted horror on his face, Mordo backs off his divination spell, then walks down the walls to the floor once more as if he were taking a stroll through the park.

The right way up.

"This place is wounded," says he as he reaches Wanda's side once more. "A wound that draws you in, drains you. Whoever or whatever has done this, does not want to be divined or scried. I feel I should wash my hands just for having been here."

He scowls. He does not like being thwarted — by anything. Especially a villain he cannot (yet) detect. It grates upon the warlock more than chasing a group of ifrits through the streets of Cairo — that almost gave him the same feeling.

"This puts us both at risk," he warns Wanda.


“It puts anyone alive at risk,” whispers the Maximoff girl. The painting smeared over the wall burns out any good sense of propriety and order. Blood glows in all its assumed misery, a beacon for suffering. She stares at it a good moment longer.

Seven suites are arranged around the hallway by count of the windows. Wanda floats towards the front door where the thin, flimsy chain lies broken and several dents leave lasting impressions of a break-in. In this part of Queens, kicking open a door is not terribly uncommon.

Wards flit and spark weakly in a last ditch reminder of their purpose, fading ghosts deprived of precious energy. They fizzle in last sparks that escape away into the gloom.

No one else dares come close. Signs of inhabitation are few. Yet she spends the time to clear the adjacent apartments, poking her head through the wall carefully in anticipation of some spell trap, yet none is to be found.

Only the grey mist and stain laced at the hall’s end, where stairs cut up and down. The astral realm feels abused and burnt with callous disregard, and the smell if Mordo follows becomes unpleasant. Worse than an ashtray.

Like a charnel house.


Mordo does indeed go further inside.

At the same time, his astral self becomes a little more indistinct — psychically distancing himself from the environment and dulling his senses a little. In this form, he doesn't breathe — what he smells is a 'thing of the mind'. Still, it does not stop him from unconsciously lifting a hand to his mouth — a reflex action.

"As soon as we return to the waking world," he tells Wanda over his shoulder to her. "I'll begin researching these… garish symbols." He refers to the gory artwork left behind by the person (or persons) responsible. He glances at the stairs, both upwards and down, and shifts a finger to his chin, tapping it in thought.

"Shall we split up? Or continue together?" he inquires aloud.

“Good. This is an abomination.” The last word is one she stumbles over, the quicksillver thoughts forced to pause for her to translate. Astral forms are still limited by knowledge, else every mage and hedge witch would show up here to bypass the price of understanding.

Her eyes narrowed, the glimmering starriness shed a primeval look to the young woman. It might be the only hint of her mood, the only touch of power pulsing through her constructed body.

She gives no answer immediately to Mordo’s question. Seems too easy to do it, something that wastes time. Quick passage by flight throws her to the scar wound on the astral, or near enough. Only caution and reflex born of the infernal dangers she finds herself in stops Wanda from careening headfirst…

… into an astral ward.

Her body shivers and she flings herself back. “Ward trap!

Space distorts and twists, starting to spin near the gate wound. It’s not only the astral that’s scarred, it’s the spells come alive to sever the spirit from the body.

The scratches behind Mordo come alive, too, and everywhere the filaments spread out like the deadly, stinging nettles of jellyfish tendrils.

Nothing like a friendly present left behind, like a dog walker leaving a steaming gift courtesy of their best friend.


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