1963-12-07 - Undying
Summary: Old friends and rivals, Mordo & Strange are reunited to deal with a threat that makes very little sense, at least at first, but may cost them both far more than they could know…
Related: None
Theme Song: - "Within You"
mordo strange 



Return to Hell's Kitchen.

The resonance of magic is… sick. Confused. It is as though an orchestra had begun playing the same overture… only each in a different key. Where there should be harmony, there is only… dissonance.

But it does not stop there.

In streetblock in Hell's Kitchen, there is a tenement building. Inside that tenement building… is a room — the centre-room of a central apartment. Inside that room… is cacophony personified. A cult of thirteen members sit crosslegged about a collection of relics. The relics each lie around a brazier burning in the centre of the room. And as the cultists chant, slowly, one by one, each relic disappears in flames of blue and green.

The chanting has brought a sorcerer to it, irritated by the cacophony in his ears. The man, swarthy of complexion and dressed in a green tunic and cloak, bears a short wooden staff or sceptre in his left hand as he rises up from a portal of water and stone in the alley beside the building.

Gritting his teeth, he mutters, "These are either some very foolish amateurs playing with forces they do not understand… or they are some extremely skilled practitioners who know exactly what they are doing… I think I prefer the former. How can anyone sleep with this…"

The sceptre — indeed, the Staff of the Living Tribunal — pulses. It, too, does not like what is going on…


Okay, this discordant nonsense needs to stop RIGHT NOW.

As the Gate collapses behind Strange, his eyes, lambent with the Sight, unerringly locate the miasma of teeth-tingling wrongness. Those eyes narrow…and brighten a bit further as he drops his chin slightly. He may not be able to see through the thick walls of the tenement building, but it'll be easy enough to locate once inside. To the Sight-bolstered senses, it's not only a-tonal, but reeks of burnt matter (like the aftermath of a fire in a chemical plant) and the smell is so thick that one can almost taste it. Follow the acrid smell and accompanying Mystic light (also all wrong, what light anti-shines like that but the kind of demonic ilk?) to the group, shut it down, go home, and have some tea. With whiskey in it. It's been that kind of week.

The crimson Cloak worn by the lean man, unofficial relic badge of his office, tugs at his shoulders lightly as if caught in a quick breeze. Glancing over his shoulder, the other Sorcerer in question sees the fire escape door…left ajar. Ah-hah, perhaps this was where the group entered initially. It indicates the possibility that someone in this group may actually live here. His boots splash in a puddle as he makes his way over to the door and pauses, scarred hand resting on the outside edge. A quick once-over, with the Sight - no spells detected - and he enters the dimly-lit hallway. The dark hue his storm-blue battle leathers make it easy to walk in the shadows; the light glinting from the cosmically-imbued diadem at his neck does not. Gold contrasts with blue, unfortunately.

Upstairs. Whether or not the sound of the ritual is actually audible to normal ears or not, the Sorcerer pauses at the base of the staircase to listen. Faint ambient light grants him the ability to see while darkening the corners of the stairwell.

"What in gods' names are you up to…?" he asks the emptiness around him quietly, squinting to see if he catch other little trap-spells perhaps set within the building via the sweep of his senses.


'Normality' is broken more easily than people realise.

It is, after all, only an illusion.

The higher Doctor Strange climbs on those stairs, the worse everything gets — everything: the sound, the Planescape, the infrastructure of the building… everything begins to distort. As he nears the top, a door swings open to reveal…

Endless halls going in endless directions. Myriad staircases going… everywhere. And nowhere. Even beneath his very feet there is no 'floor' as such, but another staircase upside down just underneath him.

And more above.

The architecture is the same as one would expect from a cheap tenement in Hell's Kitchen… but it is as if someone took it all apart in chunks like a Lego model, and glued it back together in all the wrong places. How they did this is bad enough. How it has affected any other residents here… is worse

He can see them, going about their business, opening one door here… appearing upside-down or on the wall over there… blissfully unaware. Only someone with the Sight can see what has happened.

To keep Mystics out of the centre.

It is a Labyrinth.

With music. Awful music.

Baron Karl Mordo enters the building from what he thinks is the ground floor, and follows his own set of stairs to emerge on the far side of the 'space' (one can hardly call it a room) from Doctor Strange. The man lets out a sigh, crestfallen, then 'girds his loins' with a breath and calls out at the top of his lungs:

STEPHEN!!

It sounds like he is miles away.

STEPHEN!!!


It is precisely as stated. The higher Strange climbs, the more concerned he gets and the harder he has to grip on the handrails that follow alongside the outer edge of the stairwell. By the time he reaches the second floor, he's no longer looking at anything that makes sense architecturally.

Wincing at the echoes that rebound upon one another until the sound is nearly a physical impact on his skin, he squints at his surroundings. Stepping through the opened door makes him grip at the lintel hard. Vertigo becomes a near and dear friend as his brain tries to catch up with the fact that the hallway continues and then tilts at an abrupt ninety-degree angle down into the depths of a vast expanse of topsy-turvy nonsense.

He holds his hands outstretched for balance before him, not even trusting the wall beside him, as he edges up to the precipice and peers over. Oh — that is just…messed up.

All of the hallways are bisected somehow to reveal all of the doors at once and yes, residents come and go as normally despite clearly walking upside down on the ceiling - no, the floors of the hallways entirely inverted.

"Gods below…" The Sorcerer breathes as he flexes his fingers. "This is a complete — "

Through the cacophony of competing noises and dizzying auras of magics ranging from elementalism to essokinesis (a huge no-no, he will definitely have to do some banishing for that) to the insane twisting of energy conversion (the discordant music), he picks out his name. It takes him a moment, but then he finds a person standing across the room, at an impossible angle outwards from a tilted hallway floor, yelling towards him.

"You…!!!" he breathes, drawing up tall and suddenly electrified with the defensive swirling of the Mystic Arts around him. "Go away, Karl!!!!" It seems like his voice is lost immediately within the swirling sound, ripped away as if in a winter storm, and he too cups his hands around his mouth. "GET LOST, KARL!!!"

The Sorcerer has no idea if his words reach the small figure wearing green and bearing the relic so unfairly…seduced from the Sanctum.


Karl Mordo frowns, looking confused.

He can see Stephen's mouth moving, but he can barely hear the words — it isn't hard to guess them. He can lip-read to a minor degree, but as for actually making them out…

"What??" he calls out as loudly as he can across the mess of reality in between them. "I can't hear you!! What did you say??" He lets out a sigh, puts his hands on his hips (still holding the Staff in one hand) and glances from left to right in exasperation. It is thoroughly unnerving to watch the inhabitants of the tenement go from room to room, so totally unaware of what is being done in the Astral Plane here.

One old man grunts and grumbles on his way to the bathroom… he exits the bedroom on a level just a bit lower than both Stephen and Karl, walks into a hallway that goes up the wall (from the sorcerers' perspectives), and finally emerges in a completely open bathroom…

Directly above both sorcerers.

And upside down.

Mordo gives Strange a, 'please, do we have to see this?' look from across the 'chasm' of un-reality betwixt them. Sure enough, the man on the 'throne' has good reason to be grumbling… and he has no idea his efforts are being observed.

Mordo spreads his arms as the noisome chanting grows worse — from the cultists in the centre of the tenement — and tilts his head sideways in a, let me help gesture. To demonstrate, he quietly sits down, closes his eyes — sparing a grimace at the sound of the man on the upside toilet above them — and invokes his Astral Self.

Mordo's soul rises up from his body — still cross-legged, and still holding the Staff of the Living Tribunal in his hand, or a spiritual facsimile of it — and looks across at Strange meaningfully.


Of course the errant practitioners would give no thought to allowing the tenants their privacies. If you're able to summon up this sort of magic with no qualms, privacy means nothing to you.

If Mordo thinks the Sorcerer is concerned or bothered by the thing, he's only moderately correct. The good Doctor is, after all, a Doctor and seen odder and far more disturbing displays of human physiology.

This whole Astral Business? It has him visibly grinding his teeth. They flash against a momentary snarl as he projects the fullness of his displeasure at the current state of things. No doubt, this is a stance and posture Illyana has come to dread.

Fine. Fine and dandy and if the Baron twitches wrong, there will be Words.

He checks the foundation around him, both floor and wall, with stomps and shoves — all sturdy, it seems, no chance for sudden dropping-out beneath him — and then settles down into the Lotus position. Spine aligned, deep inhale, eyes shut aaaannnd…swish, he separates from himself. Time sloooooows to the speed of winter-chilled treacle. Seen in spectrums of sky and starlight, the crimson Cloak remains the one bright point on his Astral Form. He hovers in a standing form, arms folded, Cloak rippling in some unseen Astral wind.

"What the hell are you doing here, Karl?" In the Astral Plane, the discordant music is incredibly muted and thank the gods for it. His speech should travel clearly to the Baron across the way and impart all of its venomous disdain. One could almost wring the acidic dislike from it. "Get lost," he repeats sharply.


"It's good to see you, too, Stephen," Mordo tells his old friend. He lets out a sigh as he floats across the expanse of twisting stairs, and halls that go nowhere. Of course, when he alights upon a nearby, 'free-floating' piece of floor, it carries him with it as if he were glued to it (although only because he allows it, now that he is not in the Physical anymore). "But this is neither the time, nor the place." Passing by overhead, Astral arms folded across his Astral chest, he continues:

"The 'noise' is driving me mad — and probably most other Practitioners in the city, at least the ones sensitive enough to it. I will not 'get lost'. While we fight, some… fools or masters are attempting something… horrible. Don't you think we should…dispose of them first?"

An additional benefit to being in the Astral Plane: the walls will now no longer present an obstacle — however, the sorcerers will still have to 'fly' closer to see what is really going on…

…In the centre room of the tenement, the chanting continues. Its music haunts the very walls and floors of the building, causing it to further break apart — much like a human mind starts to break apart when subjected to perpetual noise, darkness, chaos… terror… As thoughts flee the source of the torment, so too, flee pieces of the building, breaking into smaller and smaller fragments, joining again in all the wrong places… at all the wrong angles.

Now the chanters merely sit upon a floor, suspended in space as surely as the Earth is itself. And around the burning brazier… another relic combusts, committing its magic to the flame.

This time, it is necromancy.

And the souls of the dead join the chorus.


Even as he's chastised for apparently picking the wrong location and moment, Strange begins to roll up one sleeve — and then stops with visible effort. This man was responsible for nearly taking apart his Sanctum at the seams for the simple reasoning of a lesson. He is nearly physically itching to lay his scarred hands around that neck and squeeze.

Narrowed eyes watch the Baron's path and he slowly sighs.

"It's noise and I'll stop it, don't worry. You really can get lost, Karl. This is not your job." You are not Sorcerer Supreme, left unsaid.

With all the grace he can muster, he flits down closer still to this central node of burgeoning Chaos magic and hovers beyond reach of the visible senses of the practitioners.

"Don't you have some small child to steal candy from or something?" he asks over his shoulder, raking the Baron with a dismissive glance.

Smoke roils and Strange suddenly tenses up, sensing the effects of the destroyed relic within this realm, the Astral Plane. He turns in time to see the smoke begin to spark from within with unlife, like explosive bits of gunpowder are detonating within its foggy depths. The first soul, one from the time of the American Revolution, rushes at him with a cry and a bayonet that is just as sharp and bloodied as the moment he fell. With a shout, Strange dodges to one side and immediately lashes the incorporeal being to dying embers with a hastily-summoned Mystical molten surujin. It writhes within his grasp even as he summarily retreats, his other hand formed into a mudra of protection.


More summoned spirits arrive — each one ripped from his or her Sleep, and forced to relive (in a sick, twisted joke against them) the moments of their respective Deaths.

And as Strange has found, to others in the Astral Plane, they are deadly.

A trio of children — barely in their teens — run past… shooting handguns before being gunned down by other spirits wielding ectoplasmic weapons. Mordo ducks, his face twisted in rage.

It is bad enough that children should have to grow up in a world so torn by violence, that they should have to suffer again in Death. He lets out an enraged, heart-wrenching shout — aided by his own anguish, for his broken friendship, and his broken body… of which he has never spoken — and burns the other 'shooters' in emerald fire.

Fire in the shape of striking serpents.

Looking at Strange as more ghosts assail them, he says — softly and defiantly: "We end this. Now. Together. Deal with it." And he draws forth an Astral facsimile of the Living Staff… and attacks some ghosts clearly from the War of Independence…


No time for a sharp remark, not when Strange is busy ducking the whizzing Astral dagger of some sort of Eastern Asian assassin. The black-clad attacker lets out a futile yell as the molten surujin CRACKS against its chest with the full force of a braided bullwhip and disintegrates it.

This is disaster. The entire complex is slowly being inundated with the Ghosts of Killers Past and there's no doubt in his mind that this much ectoplasmic energy will begin to affect the reality of true Earth very shortly. Already, he's needed to retreat farther still, back towards his body. It was heart-stopping to see a bullet rush through the chest of his physical body, still meditating in frozen Lotus position, and that particular spirit met a violent end at the Sorcerer's hands. It was the only one to be truly taken apart at the atomic level; the others, thus far, have merely been banished back to their respective realms. But — this doesn't precisely help the reluctant fighters. Like a hamster wheel, the smoke keeps churning out ghost after ghost after ghost.

Once he's certain that he has enough distance, Strange quickly spits out a quick incantation and counter-rotates a wrist. Around him springs the Shield of Seraphim, impervious to the Astral attacks. Weapons clatter from its surface. Within the confines of the shielding spell, he thinks as quickly as he can. Amaranthine-hued eyes flick from point to point to point around the room and eventually return to the practitioners. He's got to halt this process at the very least. Give him and — and Karl — time to figure out how to stop it entirely.

The green-clad Baron is given a very flinty glare. Words are pretty things, but actions mean the most ultimately — and the last actions he saw ended in permanent webbings of cracks in the windows.


"Woven thread, and thought combine
The Living, Dead. Now undermine
The Laws. Let Nature redefine
According to our willing…"

Words and phrases — pieces of them at the least — make their way through the noise, to be heard by both sorcerers, Strange and Mordo, in their Astral-Selves. Still the ghosts converge, now joined with either the souls of animals long-since hunted and slain — or mere representations of them.

A headless bird dives at Mordo, raking his Astral flesh with its claws… and marks appear on his own body to match. The man puts a hand to his face, and although a thing of spirit, he sees blood — for that is how his mind translates what he has experienced.

"Now unravelled and unwoven
Threads of power, for our coven
Paw, and claw, and hoof so cloven
Bloodied for the spilling…

Who is doing this? Why are they doing this? What could anyone possibly have to gain by weaving so many different kinds of magic together — especially since it is tearing the 'mystic' world apart??

"What are they trying to do??" Mordo calls out to Strange as he fends off astral knives and broken bottles from deceased bums who died in violence. "It's almost as if they want to open another Hell — ."

He stops.

And his gut turns cold.


"Son of a bitch," Strange mutters. The Baron is…nearly exactly right. It's not Morgan's way of bringing such a plan to fruition (after all, the Fae Sorceress had years to get the ritual down to an exact science and enacted it with very little warning due to this), but it'll be effective enough at tearing another gaping hole in the veil between realities — and the Sorcerer's gut turns cold as well, though for other reasons entirely. History cannot be allowed to repeat itself. After all, the ripples of the last Hellmouth so rudely turned his singular existence on its head.

"Not on my watch!" The Shield of Seraphim incantation dissipates in an outwards explosion of Mystical force, which allows him the ability to flit back to his body. With a sudden gasp and flash of amaranthine eyes, Strange scrambles to his feet and hastily recasts the shielding spell. He wasn't quite fast enough on the draw; an Astral arrow takes him in the upper arm, left side, and even as the final Word leaves him mouth with forced speed, due to the sudden sensation of a pinched nerve there, the spell clicks into place.

He rallies himself with effort. He can't remove the spiritual arrow just yet, not without going Astral, and he can't be in the Astral Plane to do this. Okay, Stephen, you can do this…just a little pain… he councils himself even as he grows a shade paler. Within the defensive sphere of translucent magic, Strange gathers power between his scarred palms before him. The plasmic ball of liquid light grows and grows until he has to draw apart his hands to not be affected by its touch. Coronal flares of eldritch power spit and spatter; the flecks travel through the shielding and effectively burn any spirit close enough for impact. It's as if he's managed to melt glass without subjecting it to the heated color changes. It remains crystalline-clear even as it writhes to become the size of a bowling ball.

With a grunt of effort that briefly shows teeth, the Sorcerer forces the warping spell beyond the shielding and down towards the center of this fiasco.

FzzzzzzeewwwwahhWHOOMP!!! Contact on the actual flooring of the complex.

And the entire immediacy of reality, ghosts and practitioners and sorcerers and all — flips to the Mirror Dimension, home of Mystical Containment Proper. NOW — it's anybody's game.


The Mirror Dimension.

An exact 'copy' of the 'real' world… although infinitely more robust. Here, reality 'dances to a different symphony', and while it can be torn apart, reflected and refracted… it does nothing to the Plane that humans know and love.

A brilliant move, Stephen… Mordo has to smile in spite of himself. Here, we can finally put an end to — .

He never has the chance to finish that sentence. The cultists — thirteen of them — rise from their positions, momentarily forsaking their remaining relics and tomes in order to charge at the two sorcerers in a pincer-style movement. It is coordinated. These men and women are clearly trained, and each one of them — garbed in garish yellow and black — bears the same circular brand upon one's forehead.

Just before their attack, the two 'wings' of the pincer criss-cross and a pair of the cultists break off — making their way back toward their treasures while their comrades cover their escape. Twin rings of fire appear in the air — portals leading them home… wherever 'home' may be.

Assuming they make it there.

As weapons forged of pure thought descend upon both Strange and Mordo, the baron parries one with his Living Staff, tying up the cultist's arm in the weapon's links and then proceeds to toss the man over toward Strange. "They can't be serious to attempt this, can they?" he asks of his old friend, knowing the answer, and that Strange must be thinking the same thing. He kicks another cultist in the gut and forms his hands into a simple mudra, uttering a Word of power.

The rune appears in the air — a watery-silver thing — and the cultist suddenly flies backwards as if hit by a train. As soon as the spell is over, the rune splits into tiny versions of itself, each one grafting itself to the Staff, and Mordo's body from head to toe.

"How have you been, by the way?" he asks with a faint smile.


Nope. No portals for these rats that scatter before the overhead lighting.

With curt gestures and Words spit with near-visible froth, Strange closes off the Gates. They shrink into mere points before sputtering out like firecrackers. The cultists find themselves either pulling up short in shock or landing with despairing whufts of lost breath from bellyflopping onto the floor of the Mirror Dimension rather than their perceived destination.

The man tossed towards him hits the shielding bubble with a whump and a groan and slides off onto the floor, clearly dazed. The Sorcerer looks from crumpled man to Baron with an expression of irritated bewilderment.

He has to forestall any sort of immediate recrimination due to the approach of a trio of cultists. The molten surujin comes to life in his hands and lashes out beyond the protective spell, even if the effort elicits a pained grunt from him. One cultist, tossed aside not so unlike the one still moaning nearby. Another, tripped up and knocked unconscious by fault of gravity's pull of skull to floor. The third seems to think twice about attacking the storm-blue practitioner, clearly skilled in disposing of unwanted attention, and instead backs up a few steps before bolting back towards the collection of relics still being collected.

Strange lets out a 'hmph' of a sigh before glancing over to Mordo once more. Did he really…? "You can't seriously be asking me that question, Karl." Spoken so dryly, not a drop of amusement can be wrung from it.


"Well, it seemed like a good time to make conversation," Mordo replies coolly, blocking another energy attack with a rune-shield. He retorts… with webs, familiar webs, completely encompassing the cultist's head. "You're looking well. How is Wanda?"

Meanwhile, the portals shut.

The cultists, relics in tow, skid to a halt — heads looking in every direction, legs splayed - then they turn around and the pair of would-be escapees look first at Strange, and then at each other…

They tuck the relics under their arms.

They link hands.

And they… combust.

In a brilliant display of ice-blue fire and silent death, the two cultists — and all of their stolen items — perish. Their sacrifice is enough to distract the rest of their comrades, which costs another one his life (taken by Mordo, who has the Staff wrapped around the man's throat, breaking his neck), but there is another consequence…

The sky splits.

A jagged crack opens lengthwise, parting like a pair of gargantuan, pock-ridden lips. It peels back, exposing a cavernous maw beyond — rimmed with fangs of stone, metal and flesh. Saliva spills out upon the floor where the two sorcerers battle the remaining cultists — all of whom begin chanting a single word, over and over…

"Belathauzer! Belathauzer! Belathauzer! Belathauzer!…"

A grotesque tongue formed of naked human bodies all squished together rolls out over the 'fangs' (stalagmites) heralding the arrival of a figure…A demon-lord in human form — well, almost. His skin is burning red, literally burning, and his head… boasts two faces side by side, each with horns, two eyes and forked tongues.

"Hello, Stephen," Belathauzer says calmly as though greeting a friend. Mordo, turns, horrified, still with a dead cultist caught in the grip of his serpent-like staff. Belathauzer continues, both mouths speaking as one: "It is good to see you."


"Wha — you — a good time to make conversation?!" Angry disbelief in every line of his body and tone. The scowl deepens further still at the sight of the cobwebbing of the cultist on the attack. The robed figure staggers away, clawing frantically at the insanely-sticky material. "You keep your goddamn nose out of my business and don't even think about Wanda, you — ."

The hovering Sorcerer within his near-translucent dome of protection has been actively ignoring his surroundings in lieu of the possibility of yet another round of fisticuffs with the web-spinning Baron and it's the sound of sudden spontaneous combustion that brings his focus back.

"Ohhhhhhhh…gods below," he growls, readying his hands in mudras. Word after Word is considered in his mind even as he watches the ritual finish itself out. Don't think badly of him — some processes in the world of the Mystic Arts, once started, cannot be stopped any more than the sun be forbidden to rise. One of these is the culmination of the summoning of the physical manifestation of an Elder God demon. This one, unfortunately, he knows. The Demon speaks of familiarity for true reason.

"I'd say the same, Bels, but I always forget what an eyesore you are. It's the two faces, I just…I can't get past that. Ten out of ten for arriving in style though. The naked-body-tongue-carpet thing must be all the rage these days." His hands take on the hues of banishing spells even as he glares.

"Get out of my realm."


Belathauzer laughs.

The 'tongue' rolls back in on itself, causing the bodies of which it is composed to moan and wail, pleading for help. Then they are gone. The giant mouth-portal remains — a mere shadow of the hellmouth found in Central Park, and no danger to the Mundus Plane (Earth), not here in the Mirror-Dimension — breathing like a living thing.

Belathauzer walks slowly forward, leaving red, burning footprints in the ground behind him. Smiling and glaring at the same time — two faces after all.

"Perhaps we could try not antagonising the visiting Elder God's avatar, Stephen…" Mordo murmurs as he leaves the dead cultist behind him, taking advantage of the lull in battle to sidestep over toward his old friend.

"Wise words," Belathauzer retorts with twin smirks on his double-face.

Mordo grimaces. "You know you're right," he says in the Elder-God's direction. Then he turns to Strange. "It's the twin-faces. Impossible to overlook. You've met him before — how did you address him in the Past? Was it the left, or the right?"

The Elder God glowers, making a sharp intake of air, and then looses a torrent of fire from both his mouths at both Strange and Mordo. The flames also consume others of the demon's own followers, leaving only a few of them behind.


"I can't help it, he's so damn irritating," Strange mutters back in the beat before the avatar's comment as to the intelligence of not poking strong things with sharp sticks. There's the impression of agreement if one twists the response just right and the good Doctor smirks sharkily.

He draws away half a step from Mordo's approach, giving the Baron a glancing knife-like glare before turning his attention back to the approaching demon. It's tall, taller than them both, and the heat of the flames radiating from its skin breaches his personal space. It's like being too close to a bonfire and has the added ability to apparently suck moisture from the skin like the desert sun. Cue the wise retreat of a step, even as he says aside to the Baron,

"I yelled at him a few times, we fought, and then I banished him. I didn't take into account the faces — WATCH OUT!!!"

The Sorcerer still has his shield and it thickens another Mystical layer, supernatural energies realigning to unyielding geometries. The gout of flame aimed at him breaks on the protecting spell with hellish heat he can feel even through the translucent wall. Grimacing and beginning to break into sweat, he holds out light-gloved hands in mudras and chants,

"By the might of the Vishanti three, fell flame of hell-spawn, rebound towards thee!!!"

The Mirror Dimension responds to his wilful casting. The steady stream of fire, so much like a flame-thrower, bends back upon itself to slam into Belathauzer. The effects are minor, of course, given that the avatar's body smokes with its own manifestations of flame, but it does grant Strange a moment's grace and a grimace from one face of the demon.


As the flames roll back against their maker, Baron Mordo takes the moment to slam his staff into the ground, sending crystalline spikes erupting upwards in a ring around himself and the floating Stephen Strange. He then looks at the Sorcerer Supreme and remarks:

"Stephen, you did not just refer to an Elder-God as irritating, did you?" just as the second wave of fire washes up against the crystalline spikes. It is not exactly the most… productive of 'attacks' if one could call it that — a fact that is not lost on the baron — but rather like an indignant… reaction.

A flare of temper.

Could they have just… offended — seriously offended — the great Belathauzer? Mordo blinks. "Oh, look. He has the 'mad-face' thing once more," says he, pointing. "Both of them."

"SILENCE!"

The roar of anger from the Elder-God's avatar reveals an aspect of his true power — shattering the crystalline barrier placed there by Mordo, as well as Strange's own protective force-field about him. As the two sorcerers — as well as the bodies of the slain cultists — are thrown across the Mirror-Dimension's 'reflection' of the tenement, Belathauzer begins tearing up pieces off the scene…

…and throwing them at Stephen and Karl.

"You — ," and part of a kitchen (complete with a house-wife cooking at the stove) comes flying at Strange. " — and your… minions — ." Part of a bathroom is tossed at Mordo. " — have cost me — ." The 'floor' beneath splits, releasing carnivorous plants… with grasping hands — human hands. " — terribly."

Bodies roll behind the two old friends, followed by pieces of architecture, as the plants with their disturbingly human hands attempt to overwhelm them… while Belathauzer prepares are larger spell. The hands reach Strange first, while Mordo finds himself busy trying not to get crushed.


The scowl on Strange's face, stemming from how he's feeling around the Astral arrow still embedded within his bicep, takes on a crooked amusement as he glances over at the Baron.

"I know, I've seen that face before — in infants with gas," snarks the Sorcerer before the Elder God quite literally pops his bubble. The Mystical feedback is ferocious, the sensory equivalent of blowing out speakers, and the man literally wobbles to his feet after the initial drop, blinking hard and trying to reorient himself in the dimension. Art-brightened eyes suddenly widen. "OH SH — " Stop, drop, and roll! He narrowly dodges the piece of torn reality (thank you, Cloak, for the pre-emptive yoink!) and begins high-stepping back and away from the gaping floor. "KARL! KARL, THE PLANTS HAVE HANDS!!!" He watches the ragdoll body of a dead cultist bounce from the back of one of the carnivorous flora. The plant's reaction is immediate: grip, gulp, gone. His reaction: gulp, "Ugh." Scarred hands are upraised, one hanging lower than the other due to wound, and the Sorcerer goes on the defensive.

"Glacitrabem!" As he zips frost-rimed spells at the encroaching hands and thorny vines, he dances around, shaking off the touches as soon as they brush at his person. The Cloak gets to snapping at anything in his peripheral.

Note: never get in a towel-snapping contest with the garment. It shears a wrist-thick tendril clearly in half with a hem insinuating a razor's edge rather than edge of material.

"Glacitrabem! Glacitrabem! GODDAMMIT, GLACITRABEM!!!" And then multiple things hit him at once.

Belathauzer is making them waste time AND power. He knows they're both human.

The electrical sensation in the air is a HUGE spell gathering up and he aligns his senses to the Elder God's avatar only to gulp again.

Then the hand wraps around his boot and yanks his leg out from under him.

"WHA!!!" Up into the air, upside down, and now Strange wishes he carried a boot knife like Wanda does. Hindsight is so 20/20.


"What is it with this Elder-Godling and body-parts?" Mordo remarks aloud, then he curses more quietly: "I wish I still had the darkwater sword…" Leaping out of the way of the grasping-plants himself, he spits Belathauzer with a venomous stare, then withdraws a small, sharp dagger from his belt.

His face contorted into a sneer of contempt, Mordo stabs the dagger through the palm of his left hand, then rips it free. With a cry of pain from the warlock, droplets of blood spray across the air in front of him…

And then hang there, as if frozen in time.

"Crimson, then the sacrifice,
Blood is shed to pay the price
In Peril's face, the very maw
Come hither, Fangs of Farallah!!"

Time seems to slow. The droplets of blood hanging in the air form themselves into a not-quite circular shape… in fact it is more like a mouth. Combined with Mordo's hand-motions — basically drawing the 'maw' with the blood on his hand, like a child smearing his hands across a window — the Fangs of Farallah take shape in the space of a couple of seconds, and then launch toward Stephen Strange…

The teeth and maw, wrought of Blood Magic, make short — gory — work of the 'human' plants, spraying Stephen's body with blood in the process… but the effect is… potent. The Fangs continue down into the rift opened up by the Elder-God, treating the plants like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The plants even scream.

It is not a sound meant for hearing.

Belathauzer fumes, pausing ever-so-slightly in his foul incantation to bellow: "My Flesh-Garden! You will PAY for this insult, pathetic mortals!!" As his spell nears completion, one by one the remaining cultists perish — collapsing into piles of skin and clothing, as if their insides were consumed from within.

"Stephen…" Mordo murmurs in profound apprehension.


SNAPSNAPSNAP!!! With reckless protective abandon, the hem of the Cloak cracks with the volume of a gunshot at the weaving, snapping buds of the carnivorous plants just dying for a piece of Strange. Upside-down, the Sorcerer ducks and weaves, utilizing every muscle in his core to keep himself from getting further entangled.

"Glacitrabem!" The icy spell shoots down the throat of a striking head and it goes grey with internal freezing before snapping off at the base of the floral jaws. Then — is that Karl speaking?

It takes much longer to recognize what the Baron is doing while hanging upside down, but the Sorcerer Supreme recognizes Blood Magic at an instinctive Mystic level even before his logical brain catches up. There's the skin-warm wash of power from the spell's enacting followed by the quick double-trip of his heart and the taste of metal in his mouth.

"Karl, what the HELL?!" Thank the gods he closes his mouth when he does because that other mouth, the one made of razor-fanged magic-enraged ichor, goes to mowing the plants apart with the ferocity of a hedge trimmer on steroids. It's like being splashed with lukewarm soup, thicker than water, and he has to close his eyes against the spattering of blood. Abruptly dropped with shut eyes, he has time for one choked sound of shock before the Cloak catches and flips him upright with surprising grace. He's yanked away from the Blood Magic's horrifyingly effective weed whacking and set once more on the ground, when he takes a moment to center himself and grasp at his left bicep in a grimace of pain. Dragging his sleeve across his face takes a good amount of red from his face, but he still looks like the victim of a randomly-exploding artery.

He looks up at the Elder God wearing that war face in Baron-blood and those eyes glow electrically-lilac. "ENOUGH." A knife-like glance towards Mordo before the Eye of Agamotto clicks open with a ringing chime that slices through the air and interrupts the nearly-completed spell. Not destroys it, but puts a rather final punctuation of a period on it.

The entire Mirror Dimension begins to reflect the citrine light shining in visible rays that streak every surface and begin to gather around his wrists in ribbons of power. A webbing of violet lightning fractures the floor from where he centers himself, adopting a martial pose that grounds him, and soon to follow is a rumble of distant thunder that vibrates the panes until every reflection blurs. A deep inhalation, smelling of gore and sharp plant cuttings and ammoniac dimensional air from Belathauzer's home plane, and he opens himself to the spell he chants:

"Belathauzer, Mystic's kine,"
"Intruding here, I redefine"
"Dimension's construct — I consign,"
"By Vishanti's will, your being mine!"
"Begone foul creature, Fate's malign,"
"Back to your Realm, by rights divine!!!"

Mordo's seen this before, in the Sanctum — how the Sorcerer literally crackles with cosmic power, how the entirety of his eyes blank out in spell-light, how every loose furl of fabric writhes as if agonized with the conduction of the massive amount of energy.

From scarred hands steady as the day is long, a net of streaming, sizzling magical wires explode forth. In the same tick of a second, pieces of the Mirror Dimension break off in jagged-edged pieces of perfectly-polished crystal. The path of the wires become entirely unpredictable, bouncing from rotating surface to surface on the panels that now rotate briskly around Belathauzer's flaming form. Like a demonic May Pole, the being is quickly ensnared and effectively pinned within the whirling shards that now move at such a pace as to hum in the air in an odd counter-pitch.

Strange's voice takes on a timbre that seems to press close to one's ears. "And now the pathetic mortal is going to kick your ass back into your home dimension. Anything to add in your defense? No? I'm sorry, I can't hear you, speak up."

Kind of hard when a particularly thick twining of Mystical wires has all but sewn the avatar's mouth shut. "Good. Get lost." With a curt dismissive gesture, the Sorcerer Supreme's spell completes. There's a muted howling of enraged frustration from the twin-faced demon, but the results are implacably set in Fate. Gravity yanks Belathauzer roughly back into the gaping mouth-like maw of the rip in reality from whence he came.

It leaves Strange to remain inundated with just enough power to sew those lips shut in a deliberate expression of the earlier doom of the Elder God's avatar.


The Mirror-Dimension.

Two sorcerers.

Several dead cultists.

And a 'lesser' Hellmouth (i.e. portal to a hell dimension) with its lips sewn shut. That is weird. Mordo takes a look around the area, that still appears as though someone has torn reality into pieces and jumbled them all up… and then sprayed blood and gore over sections of it — and lets out a sigh.

"Stephen…" he murmurs just loud enough for his old friend to hear. "Language. That's no way to speak to a visiting Elder-God just because he's also an egomaniac with plans for world-domination."

Try as he might, he can't quite say it with an entirely straight face. Then, he adopts a more serious expression, and tone, to go with it. "Was Belathauzer behind the first Hellmouth? Or merely… making the most of an opportunity? The scars in the Physical Plane are still there… if he had opened the portal there instead of here…" He leaves the sentence unfinished as he walks toward his old friend — Hellmouth to one side, bodies to the other, and around them. It is disconcerting that the portal is 'sealed, but not gone'. Not yet, anyway.

At least the Physical Plane will have returned to normal. The residents in the tenement will have no idea how close they came to oblivion, or worse — Hell on Earth.

Then, very subtly, there is movement behind Doctor Strange. One of the slain cultists slowly rises, brandishing a sacrificial dagger at the exhausted Sorcerer Supreme. The other corpses do the same. It would appear the magicks of Belathauzer are not completely dispelled. "Look out!!" Mordo exclaims, instinctively leaping protectively toward Strange, and summoning the Unbound Arms of Kthl — black tentacles — to tear the undead apart…

"Banish the port — !"

Mordo goes quiet, a surprised look on his face. Blood leaks out of his lips and the grinning face of an undead cultist appears over his shoulder, wielding a bloodied dagger. Mordo falls to his knees, shocked.


With the same sound one might make after waking up from a long nap after a triathlon, Strange wobbles in place as the cosmic powers don't quite slip from his tiring grasp just yet. He is human, even if Sorcerer Supreme, and the nerve clusters all over his body burn with something near to icy numbness at conducting such a magnitude of Mystical clout. He blinks with a sense of mild lightheadedness as he scans the room.

Yes, only the hastily-stitched portal-mouth and the strewn bodies of the dead cultists. The scent of blood is heavy in the air and he swallows against mild nausea. He doesn't think that he's responsible for any of the dead. Their doom came at the hands of the plants…and Mordo.

The quiet recrimination reaches his ears and he glances over at the approaching sorcerer with the mildest of smiles. The expression quickly changes into a grimace as he moves his left arm; acting as conduit for the Vishanti apparently only distracts from a puncture wound, it doesn't remove the pain entirely.

"Not Belathauzer, someone else entirely and just as powerful," he grits out. No need to share notes about one Dark Arts practitioner with someone who dances that line with a little too much merriment. "There shouldn't be any scars in Central Park, I can't sense any. If there are, I need to address those." A weary breathiness to the last few words and the good Doctor straightens with what seems like Herculean effort.

Even the crimson Cloak must be somewhat weary. It takes Strange a rather long few split-seconds to wonder why he's seeing the whites of the Baron's eyes and he's suddenly being rushed. The good Doctor is yanked out of reach from one sharp blade that arcs down at him, but not beyond another that simple physics and enchanted fabric just can't avoid. The tip takes him along his thigh in a dragging gouge that lays open muscle down a half-inch at a length of six inches. The pain is stunning and he immediately collapses to one knee, his entire other leg lamed by the blow.

Time slows, but only due to adrenaline. All around him, lustrously-ink tentacles tear the undead cultists to pieces at the wave of their summoner's hand. He's letting out muted sounds of agony that tear his throat raw.

Then, the sentence paused by brutal knifing.

Strange goes from panting deeply in his gut to letting out an enraged cry of denial as he watches Karl begin to collapse, a rubied line of life dripping over his slackened bottom lip.

"NO!!!" Another inhalation and he shouts a Word with such sincere force of emotion that the backlash of magic blows everything touched by the Elder God back with horrible violence. It passes over, through, around Mordo, but breaks the undead cleric on the far wall of the Mirror like a bug on a windshield. The portal, still grinning raggedly, is hit by this last wave of his will and wiped from existence like chalk from a wall. Thus is the rest of the power borrowed from the Vishanti used.

Scrabbling madly on the gore-slicked floor of his pocket dimension, dragging his near-dead leg all the while, the Sorcerer makes his way over to Karl and leans over the top him. "Karl, no. Goddammit!"


"…Language…"

Karl Mordo smiles. Almost instantly, however, his face clouds over in pain and he grips the arms of old friend tightly. "I'm… so sorry, Stephen," says he between breaths. "Here I was… lecturing you on being vigilant… I should have… taken my own advice. Oh, this is embarrassing…"

He stops talking for a while, concentrating as best he can on stemming the flow of blood with magic. It is hard — being unable to use his hands properly, or speak the right words… and all the healing spells he knows require something else.

Something dark.

"…beginning to… regret a few things," Mordo murmurs after a while. "Just a few. But not… this." He cranes his head back to see his friend's face, wincing at the effort. It is hard for him to breathe. "That Belathauzer… really does have… the most… annoying face. Doesn't he?"

Mordo laughs — grimaces — and stops.

"You… sewed it shut. Worse than an intern… on his first day." Time is running short, and both sorcerers know it. Without proper medical attention — or one hell of a spell, Baron Karl Mordo will die in the Mirror Dimension.


Sure, he might be bleeding himself, but Strange isn't about to let the Reaper take this one from him, even if he desperately wants nothing more than to scream obscenities at him until the man apologizes for what he's done.

Death is not a punishment within his right to grant or within his moral scope.

"Just shut up so I can work on you," the good Doctor grits out. From a medical perspective, he's glad to feel the strength in the grip of the man's bloodied palm wrapped around his arm. It means there hasn't been too much blood loss, but that status is changing rapidly. A stab wound, clearly to the vital organs, and by the amount of blood, possibly the kidney or liver. Likely the liver, since at least one lung seems to be impacted as well. He doesn't like the amount of grey he's seeing in Mordo's face and the paleness of his gums when the man grimaces on top of criticizing his suturing skills.

"Honestly, Karl, shut up. Focus on stopping the bleeding. I need…I need to cast a healing spell." A deep, shuddering inhalation as the pain in his thigh causes him to wobble and his elbows to nearly buckle. "One more spell. Just one more."

Who is he bargaining with? The dimension? The gods? His own faltering human reserves?

Propping himself up on one hip, he pulls at his own torn battle-leathers to drag his leg into position, letting out a snarling anguished sound all the while. Panting heavily once aligned before him and now in a slouching sit, Strange glances over at Karl, his own skin a shade lighter than it should be. "I hope you remember this, Karl. I hope you remember this in…in light of the Sanctum. Because I swear by the Vishanti…if you pull bullshit like that on me again, I will make you pay for it…then and there."

Then the Sorcerer manages to raise one shivering hand in a mudra and murmur, "Changa."

From where the energy comes within him, only the gods know. A blanket of sky-blue magic settles over them both, so close in proximity that the spell can't differentiate between its caster and the Baron. It seeps into wounds with lively energy, filling pockets and rents in flesh with glittering light before melding into skin. Not enough power in him for a perfect healing; they both will bear scars from this day, though neither will be hampered — just marked. With a focus that bobbles in exhaustion, Strange watches the knife wound on his thigh fill in and tenses the muscle in a test only after the Lidocaine-like chill has dispelled from his sensing. Good as new, minus the near-healed blemish that's just pink enough to signify its incomplete state.

He looks blearily over at the Baron to see if his attempt to stymie Death once more was successful.


There is something wrong with Baron Mordo.

Even as his visible wounds heal… the spell fails at something else. Something worse. Karl can feel it — not merely the fact that the spell falls short, far short, of a complete healing, but the fact that it will communicate as much to the person who cast the spell.

Stephen Strange.

Mordo does indeed fall silent, if not entirely due to Strange's urging. When the spell is done, he sits himself up — cross-legged — bloodied hands in his lap, head bowed. He remains that way for some time, just breathing. This is not how the day was supposed to go. Not by far. A simple investigation turned into an encounter with an Elder-God… and now this.

He is so far off the beaten-track (as far as his plans go), he will likely never find his way back to his original purposes…

"I am dying, Stephen," he murmurs softly. Glancing briefly around himself, it becomes plain — from the fracturing, like shards, at the edges of sight — that the Mirror Dimension is beginning to collapse. It was, after all, maintained by Strange's power… and he just exhausted his reserves.

Soon, the 'world' will end.

"I should have been dead a long time ago," Mordo continues quietly. "You are the Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen. Foes, rivals, will come at you from every angle — even from very close. I had to show you… while I could. But you should know:" and he turns his head to look at Strange. "That… I have been, and always shall be, your friend. That's all."

More of the world falls away.

It will all be over soon.


Death stymied. Elder God avatar banished. Perversion of true reality averted. Astral arrow gone from his arm and puncture wound knitted. All in a day's work.

So…why is Strange getting the impression, through the dizziness threatening to draw exhaustion's blinkers over his eyes, that his healing spell was rejected from the Baron's body? The knife wound is gone, the man is clearly sitting up, but…he looks still so haunted.

"Karl…what is it?" he asks, voice a mere ghost of itself from sheer lack of energy. How he's sitting upright still is mostly luck and chance as to the alignment of hip bones and spinal column.

The reveal takes him so completely off-guard that there is no reaction initially. The statement passes through him like a brush of chilled wind in deepest winter.

Behind him, a pane of the dimension falls to the ground and shatters. And then another. Instead of just the sharp fracturing of glass, each destructive impact is a chord of chimes, a cry of agony from inanimate object.

"What…?" Strange breathes, staring at the man he once called 'old friend'. The one proclaiming that he will always be the Sorcerer Supreme's friend. "Karl, stop — I don't understand," he rasps more urgently now. The far third of the pocketed dimension suddenly falls in with a resounding clatter of broken crystal and buries broken bodies beneath the wreckage. The floor beneath them begins to vibrate subtly from the deep, as if tectonic plates are rearranging themselves against the Sorcerer's whims. Strange frowns ferociously despite the sweat gleaming at his temples and continued pallor. "What you call lessons are idiotic. What do you mean you're dying?"

All his work, for naught? Does the Reaper actually beat him at his own damn game for once? Internally, he rages.

Another section of the dimension caves, much closer to them now, and Strange looks away from Mordo to take in the fact that he's lost control of the whole mess. "Oh gods," he husks out before looking back at the Baron and grimacing. "This is…gods, this will hurt later." He holds out a hand towards him and the mandala of banishment glimmers into neon-lined life. "Begone."

The last thing Mordo should see, as the magic surrounds him and consequently tosses him from this collapsing dimension, is the collapsing form of Stephen Strange; his eyes, fever-bright and silver-lilac, rolling up into his head as the effort takes the last of his will from him with indifference, and then his still figure suddenly absorbing citrine light that emits from the ringing Eye of Agamotto.


TO BE CONTINUED…

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