1963-12-08 - Something is Rotten: Part I
Summary: Questions of official behaviour and a peculiar, quiet statue.
Related: Breaching the Garden
Theme Song: InFlames - The Truth
strange wanda 

Silvery wards register the Beloved returning in their habitual song, shivering against the mystic register of senses. The door nudged shut might be another resounding clue, though footsteps do not follow immediately after. Solid wood and cool glass support the forehead of the young woman leaning heavily against the portal to the outside world, as though she might forcibly lock out everything she doesn’t wish to acknowledge by that gesture alone.

Eventually she must move, but not before a minute passes in wordless communion with a building indistinguishable from ‘home’ in her mental lexicon. It might be the only one she recalls, other than a few shepherd’s cottages in the Balkan states.

Nails scrape across her forehead, rubbing at the fine lines dredged into warm golden skin. Pink streaks fade into the honeyed canvas, but she cannot help but scratch in frustration rather than only soothing an itch.

Why must life be so complicated? Her battered paper bag carried on one hip, she trudges to the central staircase and follows a path familiar. Normally it would be right for her to bring home some kind of dinner for the doctor in residence, a reminder even he needs to eat. However, his highly limited culinary options — worse even than hers — limits what exploration they share.

Wanda carries something else, an oblong shape held together by newspaper and too much tape. It must be heavy to burden her that much, her feet dragging as she climbs the stairs one by one, none of her usual spritely grace tonight.

Magic cast on the air gives a sense of where the Sorcerer Supreme spends his evening. Assured not to be the kitchen. Nor in the conservatory. The library? The tearoom? Her general sense of direction flickers like a radar sounding, a beep of sorts to the psyche, and she heads for him. He won’t like the news.

Hence the arcane relic. Might as well sweeten the pot ahead of time.


The tearoom, oddly enough for the tangible sense of magic in the air. He’s at it again, with all the tenacity he can muster. The last dozen spells have fallen apart before completion, but perhaps Strange was thinking too big. Perhaps the invocation needs to be smaller, much like its initial components.

Sitting in cross-legged posture — actually, hovering in said posture about three feet from the floor, the Sorcerer Supreme expertly balances the book across the width of stretched fingers in left while encouraging the spoon to continue stirring honey into his cup of black tea that hangs in mid-air just beyond his slowly-circling pointer finger right. Gemstone green today, the dress shirt — fine enough weave as to reflect the low light of the wall sconces in lines of gold and peridot. His face wears that habitual scrunch of concentration, though it’s on the text before him, not on the habit of keeping himself and his items aloft. Muttering aloud to himself, the Sorcerer drags nails through his hair (leaving himself looking rather mussed) before gesturing towards an equally gravity-defying notebook and pencil. The tome hovers open in place as he gets to scritching down shorthand that only he can read. Doctor’s handwriting and all.

Notebook shoved aside into invisible nook in the air, tea cup grasped, cheek poked with spoon handle.

“Ow, what the…” A few more half-hearted grumbles as he removes the spoon and flicks his hand dismissively to relegate it to the small tea table top.

Beloved. Home. Tired. The wispy protection spells swoosh around him and get all the attention of a distracted nod and hum of acknowledgement. Wanda tends to utilize all of herself when she goes on her errands (and adventures, he knows she gets into trouble now and then, but comes home alive if not a bit bruised, so…all’s well that ends well?) and it’s no surprise to hear the wards report this.

“Tell her I’m in the tea room,” he adds with a skimming glance at the weavings of starlight that swirl around his tea cup, likely just to interact with something in the room. With a ringing chime, like sweetest handbells, they zip off again and immediately to deliver her the location she likely already knows.


Maybe in her heart of hearts, Wanda imagines Strange trying to invent a new tea. Possibly all those spells are simply to simulate cream or honey, something wedded to the soft leaves dried to just the right consistency. He might be extracting a proportion of tannin, only to discover too much or too little removed from the cup. Then no doubt it joins the pile of shattered pots on the floor, and his face set in woeful abandon, arm raised to cover his expression from the judgmental Cloak of Levitation.

She has an active imagination.

A lack of interesting clothes, certainly, other than the dress and a robe borrowed and blue; the attire today is the same black pair of pants and shirt she always favours. One day she might mix it up and wear a black dress over thick tights, but today is not that day. Today, they fight face down a greater spectre by far. The slow roll of her footsteps halts when she reaches the landing, shifting her acquisition to her other hand.

Then come the bells, following up on suspicions well rooted in the eldritch investigation performed as a matter of course. She hasn’t quite the same birth-given twin link as Pietro, but a growing compass towards all things Strange forms in nascent degrees even now. Practice shall be necessary; locating him in crowds, blindfolded, surrounded by noise and spell backlashes. Yet her footfalls quicken in their feline cant, following the thin silvered whirlwind dustdeviling around her ‘ere taking their leave back to their master or that elusive mouse spirit nibbling on a particular grimoire locked up in the library. Damn thing collects mice no matter what, and they dash about on tiny scampering feet with a mindless mission to eat the arcane contents.

Paper crumples in her arms, the contours torn and shifted about under black and white print, aged to a bit of a sallow glow like a silver screen dame in her seventies. The gift can float along, but she doesn’t even bother to muster adequate magic for that, instead favouring an easier task of hauling her acquisition over three hundred thirty three stairs and steps. One needs must count every one, part of a ritual to remind herself why she can sleep in rather than practice her forms or swordplay or knife practice at 5:39 AM.

Wanda pushes the door open to the tearoom, peeking in and around the corners. That someone might subvert the wards is unlikely. Mischief? Possible, though the Sorcerer Supreme’s brand of mischief stands very different from any others she associates with.

Still she tiptoes over the threshold, laying down that odd statuette upon a low table not cluttered by anything he might possibly need. All the same, three feet up in the air leaves a prospective imbalance to be rectified in any number of ways. Her grave eyes hold residual garnet dust, aura in tatters of weariness and something underlying she keeps a firm grip on.

Flat out fury, the glacial sort that swallows valleys and crushes civilizations under two miles of ice. It’s well-chained, all said and done.

“I have come to report concerns to your mantle. I also come to say good evening.” Does he want business or pleasure? As if there was any doubt which comes first.


When he watches her walk in, the tea cup held to his lips is kept there in a delightful pause of growing confusion and concern. It’s only after she offers the two options, reporting or greetings, that he brings the cup away. Swallowing his mouthful, Strange lets out a long sigh that ends in a tsk.

“Let me put all of this aside, hold on.” He closes the tome after marking his place with a slip of silk ribbon. Long legs are unfolded, oddly bare-footed in dress pants, and the rest of the items are plucked from the air like fruit from a tree. The bounty of an afternoon’s attempt to create something new from archaic bits and pieces is organized on the table. Somewhat. Okay, so the tea saucer is in danger of falling off the edge, but only for a moment. He edges it back on carefully, no need to spill hot tea all over his hands. That would hurt. The newspaper-wrapped item is noted with a lingering interest, but then dismissed for the young woman standing there looking, to his knowing eyes, near to flying apart in incarnadine pieces.

“Oh, Rakshasi,” the good Doctor murmurs before opening up his arms. “Come here.”

It’s a hug, plain and simple, up for literal grabs. He can envelop her within those strong arms, sky-high aura, and the skin-warm scent of Sorcerer, if only to chase off the coldness of the world for enough time to either collect or collapse.

Dress pants and bare feet, peridot-olivine shirt, and those silver tendrils shot through his hair: Strange presents an irresistible image for the likes of her, all the more when this strange business casual — for him — coincides with countless opportunities. She takes a few moments to frame him within her vision, the spartan surroundings and the down-dressed opulence of the Sorcerer.

“I like that look on you,” Wanda says. Simple but pointed. See, even someone with no experience in art appreciation can still find the means to express what she likes. And the Upper West Siders claim the hoi polloi know nothing about culture!

Rubbing her finger up the bridge of her nose, she pads forward to be drawn into his embrace while she offers the same in kind, her cool, sore arms wrapping around his waist in a loose chain anchored at the clasping of her fingers. Here is home. Not the building, really, though she cares a great deal for it.

They might as well be in a yurt, buffeted by the winds of Inner Mongolia, and she would claim to be as content for the most part. Assuming they have tea and a brazier.

“My thoughts are confused. I trust it will make sense.” Muffled in the curve of his shoulder, Wanda lifts her head to be slightly more audible. “SHIELD, you know them? The government agency tries to protect the country. Maybe the world. Their boundaries are not clear.” She’s straying down the garden path into the woods, and forces herself to mentally walk back to the point at which Strange needs to know any of this. “Tonight I went to something I was told was a regular meeting. Many people spoke about a job in Istanbul. I was supposed to go.”

She’s not going to blush for the reason why. There is nothing to blush about. Not that she would ever assume it’s worthy of embarrassment, their adventures here and abroad.

“They recovered artifacts of an alien race. I saw only photographs. Crystals, metal, advanced scientific technology.” And what else is advanced science but practically magic? It’s a mistake to assume otherwise. “These artifacts possess immense energy. A kind of energy they cannot identify. I asked to see them, which will be granted. But, my love, the director of SHIELD intends to use these for a… a jail. A concentration camp for aliens, people of power, fueled by the crystals. They already design its plans. I saw a map. The layout. It’s for holding them if they are too dangerous, but what draws the line between an alien or me? Another sorcerer?”


Her curt appreciation is duly noted with a pleased little smile. No more indoor boots in the tearoom.

Enfolding her within his arms is natural now, as easy as falling into bed at night or assuming a meditative posture in the early light of dawn before the Window. She is soft curves and sleek curls smelling of oud and black roses. Hopefully she doesn’t mind how he buries his nose within their whorls to savor the scent.

A moment of two of subtle swaying, peace in a time of discord, and then comes the explanation. Peace is such an ephemeral thing. He nods against her hair at the mention of SHIELD, humming an affirmative, but then grows continually more still and tightened. Each new revelation winds the strings of his tendons up until maybe she can feel the subtle shifting of his jaw.

Squeak-squeak, not good to grind your teeth, Doctor.

“I did not sign up for this.” A note of plaintive frustration in his mutter before he disengages from the hug, but doesn’t let her go. Hands remain firmly on her biceps, not controlling, just present. “Let me repeat back what I just heard. There is an alien artifact, alien as in not from our dimension, in the hands of SHIELD that has potential use in creating a holding pen for threatening individuals that the general public does not understand.”

His lips thin further. “And I assume you were invited to this meeting because you have affiliations with SHIELD that I was not aware of.”

His irritation is appropriate, to a certain extent. Surprises suck. However, in turn, he hasn’t told her of how Director Carter showed up downstairs one day in the little shop and informed him that someone had fingered him as Sorcerer Supreme.

Though note: if Director Carter thinks she’ll be holding this Sorcerer in chains, she’d better come armed for cosmic bear and be ready to entertain a trip to the Mirror Dimension.

Wait, let’s not be too hasty about those lovely boots. They have carte blanche to appear anywhere and everywhere, as though Wanda might possibly have to stock up on visuals of those delightful footwear options on her second-favourite person in existence in case they’re going out of style.

The rest is optional, of course, but those boots do have a certain je ne sais quoi effortlessness about them, like a cape of considerably changeable volume. They are not optional for her.

Wanda spreads her hands. “How else did we get to America from East Berlin? Pietro and I made a deal. Their agent we helped to find the traitors in the city. It was easy for us. When they decided we were not hostile, they removed us from Germany.” Her fingers climb over the slick material of his shirt and hold fast for a moment longer, kneading out the tension in fine rotations of forefinger and thumb, the other three fingers nestling into the dented pressure points. “Staying was not safe and I have not tried to jump to America before.”

A skillful harpist absolutely knows the difference of slack and tension, a man keyed up by the pegs she turned too far and how sometimes to wind them back before something essential breaks. This moment requires careful consideration, relying on a sense a musician gains over time, dealing with a man of no uncertain value and pride.

“Yes,” she says. “SHIELD gained ‘Kree’ alien objects under Hagia Sophia. They are using them eventually for a prison in the area. The Director thinks it more humane than killing a prisoner. It caused much discomfort among some agents. This… I am sure the Director will burn me for this. I am betraying her. I don’t care.”

There a hint of anger starts to flood through, ice wedged into the crevasse, forcing its way through. “We left behind the camps in Europe. I have seen them, «Beloved». For all I know I was made in one. Father would never say. The step away from a jail for special victims to a gas chamber is very short, measured in steps and a willing plan.” The volume doesn’t rise, but she practically spits tacks of English and shudders, volatile in a way he’s probably not seen. This is beyond visceral loathing, but a calculated response where logic and emotion wedded in holy matrimony render their judgment. “This plan is anathema.”

Now time for her teeth to snick together and grind on the enamel. “They are afraid, yes, and see an opportunity. But instead of finding and destroying these things, I remember we — Pietro — are not alone. We stand together.”

It’s difficult to breach the fence into the realm of true exasperation when she’s clearly kneading out the knots in his shoulders before they truly take root. It’s a gesture of acknowledgment in the face of one of his key peeves and that adds its own balm; it shows she listened. So he’ll listen.

In the face of the mere inkling of a thought that the Director would do anything to Wanda, Strange is quick to snarl just enough to show teeth and mutter, “If she gives a single command regarding you — ” The sentiment is there, the threat is real enough. So is the promise. The Sorcerer tends towards the latter in dealings with those who attempt harm to his family.

However, the spike in protective anger dwindles in the face of what she tells him next and he grows silent. It breaks his heart. It nearly drowns him in spine-tingling rage quickly snuffed by despairing, cold logic — he cannot undo what happened to her. To all who met their ends at the hands of the camps and their legions. No neurosurgical miracles, not even Supremely suturing shut those wounds in history. It hurts like hell that there is even the opportunity for the Witch to consider those paths of choice for the Director and for SHIELD.

No, they wouldn’t do that. They couldn’t. Would they?

“Oh gods below,” he breathes, feeling her shake beneath his palms. Strange gathers her in close again, closer still, fighting a wave of nausea. “Rakshasi, no. They would never go as far as to consider…” He doesn’t need to say it. The final step. “Director Carter would never condone such a thing.”

Maybe saying it aloud enough times will make the nightmarish definition of ‘possible’ bent enough to erase such a timeline from the web of their reality.

“I’m here. What can I do? What do you need?” He punctuates each question mark with a kiss to the outside of each brow and looks into those chaotic eyes with pity. The Sorcerer already has half an idea of what she might ask (and many variations of it), but he’ll hear it from her lips first.

“The Director said they would understand the energy when their jail was ready,” Wanda mutters through gritted teeth, forcing herself to translate thoughts out of the most rigid Transian into English. “Twice. I think she tries to convince herself. I was not alone in my dislike for this idea, but no one else spoke out loudly about it.”

Her eyes narrowed show an unnatural gleam to them, the glow of red one that rarely comes into being: a pomegranate shade tilting towards black closest to her pupils, like two striated layers aligned against one another. Flatlined anger has to go somewhere, after all, though her grounded connection in Strange’s arms gives Wanda something to push back the tide with. Green shirts are magical, after all…

“She will not consciously say they would use such a facility to subdue people by whatever means.” Subdue, that’s a new one for her. Vocabulary improves around the job. “But they are afraid. She is angry for their lack of information about the President, the aliens, more. They think, now, these Kree aliens hide among us. Or the other kind. Now I see a place where they are like initiates who jump at shadows, and react instead of think.”

What to do? What to say? “I thought to examine these weapons and their energy. Learn. Then decide with information. Stealing them with Pietro or transforming them to toys is not a solution.” He better get used to her rather violent ways dealing with threats against the Earth, or perhaps just accept they both have equally harsh ways of handling anything that falls under the purview of ‘get the fuck off my lawn.’ Instead, she defaults to ‘I’m not sure yet’ without saying as much.

“Peggy Carter thinks me a child. Maybe I am. But I am European.” So are many of SHIELD’s agents from a theatre of war before this girl’s time. “I know this road and where it goes. She wants a solution. She wants security. This is neither, this is oblivion in a box. No better than the enemies she fears.”

“No, it’s no better, especially if you’re going about it like you’re casting a spell without reading the warnings first.”

Because boooooooy, howdy, does the Sorcerer know a few things about that mistake.

Her face is gently cupped by one scarred hand and Strange brushes his thumb along the soft zygomatic arc, down to the delicate line of her jaw, with soothing intentions. “I understand them being afraid. There have been a good number of revelations lately that this world was not prepared for. Perhaps she needs to be reminded that she has my support. We…” and he pauses, recognizing that this is where he might eat crow. Pot, kettle, black and all. His reticence shows in how he sighs before he continues, “We have talked before, Director Carter and I, about the Hellmouth. She came to me with concerns while I was still in my planning stages. She also came to me asking for me by my mantle. As Sorcerer Supreme.” It still digs at him, the fact that he was given up by someone. “She knows I exist, Rakshasi, even if she forgets right now in the face of recent events.”

Those lean shoulders shrug in a graceful rise and fall. “I can…speak with her in person. Could accompany you, should you feel the need to press your case? Rest assured that I agree with you entirely. These are not things that should be in the hands of the fearful.”

His gaze strays to the newspaper-wrapped parcel and then back to her in expectation. “That being said…what is that, on the table?”

Perhaps they share the same underlying question: who? The inquiry emerges from the deep honey water of her eyes, dripping intelligence in a trembling frame, turned upwards towards Strange. His touch upon the witch’s brow induces a natural reaction to raise her chin that would surely have Pietro staring agape. His sister, sharing a look like that, with anyone but himself? Trusting and relieved?

Pietro Maximoff is no longer the sole person she fundamentally edges towards opening up to. Won’t that make for a lovely collision course.

The stroke of a thumb and the chains binding her wrath tighten, deepening link by link, allowing her to breathe if not return to her brand of satisfaction. In turn she dusts the silver lines at his temple with a certain wonder, the dawning awareness of her own immediate reaction a drop of dye in clear water.

“Our thoughts are shared. Someone else in SHIELD had such a look on her face.” Her thoughts hitch. “I can hear her statements. She might be a good person to know.”

The statuette might be easy to forget, all things said and done, were it not singing on her peripheral senses. A look introduces a faintly devilish line to her smile, much diluted and subdued. “It is pretty art for a table.” She lets that inappropriate answer stretch out as long as she thinks she can get away with. “With a taste of magic on it. It gave me a headache when passing down on Atlantic Avenue for the past three weeks. I finally located the source. Careful about taking the paper off. It won’t stop chiming at me.“

A magical statue trying to talk. Like that doesn’t belong here.

Image: http://pin.it/fGdDCOR

“Then I shall plan on visiting Director Carter and possibly speaking with this other agent who shares our concerns. What’s her name?”

Now, the downshift from quivering repressed rage to relief was good to see, like a cat smoothing to silky coat once more. The upswing into a brand of furtive humor is enough to make Strange not take that first step towards the bundle just yet and offer her a low-intensity version of that scalpel-edged steel-blue look that Illyana dreads so much. Mind you, he rounds the mild squint with his own growing half-smirk.

Games. More games. Er, hopefully it’s a game. Sometimes, he’ll still not sure with her.

“Pretty art that won’t stop chiming that tastes of magic.” It’s a mocking sense of dubious in his deep tone, but as always — color the good Doctor curious. He’s more inclined to unwrap this present than most other parcels that come into the Sanctum. The last one he opened came with nothing but bad memories and bad deeds imbued in gut-bound parchment and steel stained verdant.

He needs to get to level with the table in order to open the present with most ease, so he kneels down with heels tucked beneath him. With all the carefully-dextrous touch of his surgical past, he unwraps the crinkled and smudged paper from around the little thing and then shoves the print onto the floor. As the Sorcerer does, he thinks that he hears the faintest chime from the object.


The statuette is bronze and gilded on all lines and curves with the low lamp-light of the room. Strange leans around it to study it from left and right, eyes half-closed in intense absorption of its details. Not a single doubt allowed it by its creator that it is female. There is a lithe grace to its posing, from graceful toes all the way through thighs tensed in frozen effort, up through the smoothed muscles of torso and engaged arm, held out in offering, empty-palmed. It seems that something should sit in her hand.

Hers is an unusual grace too, the definition of her features undoubtedly inspired by the French art deco movement or even rococo, its earlier counterpart. Blind eyes cast their seduction or wisdom, depending on how one approaches the figurine. She is not tall, at most two feet, smooth-limbed and polished to a deep patina.

Her garments speak to antiquity, chiseled robes, what few of them there are. The statuette might as well be cast in the nude, for all it matters.

Wanda gazes at her gift for a moment, but her interest is infinitely more for the man’s reaction. It is, admittedly, a rather graceful and feminine curio, wrought with strangeness and charm.

If he touches upon the Sight, its mournful chime echoes through the room from corner to corner. Every fifteen seconds, a faded ripple follows, and she marks the minute by another of those higher, louder notes quivering in the air. A single honeyed droplet of a note slides down the range of human hearing until evaporating out of reach.

Magic threads through the core of the statue’s breast, placed approximately where her heart might be. The fixed, outstretched arm and palm raised in supplication gives her urgency and the plea of her chiming voice implore Strange, however she can communicate.

The art within her is… different. Not the mystic arts, exactly, this is old and fixed in another fashion: something that feels western, undoubtedly, and precise, forcing the creative form into rigid shapes and directed flows. A blend of divinatory mingles with a bog standard item enchantment, evolved into something more detailed. There is some hint of resilience, too, to make her more durable, even if she’s broken.


Most predictably, the Sorcerer does blink the Sight over his steel-blue eyes and immediately flinches back a bit upon hearing the resounding chime. It seems that the sound corresponds to a measured beat of time, same as the odd doppler effect in the air of the tea room. Each peal of sound, like a chord in minor crystalline key, seems to emerge in time with a beat of the magical nexus at the statue’s heart. Energy in miniature lightning webs outwards like a pulse.

It seems like it’s beseeching him to do…something. An odd sensation, like he’s forgotten to tick off an item on a lost list and needs to remember it immediately.

“You found this on Atlantic Avenue? Where?” Strange asks over his shoulder, clearly intrigued by the relic but also still suspicious of the possible attempt at communication from the inanimate object. “It seems like it’s…trying to tell me something,” he adds in a lower tone, glancing between it and the Witch once more.


Wanda nods to the question. “I heard it but could not locate exactly where. The shop contained nothing and everything.” Her hand waves to dismiss its description, or possibly draws an idea of the crowded bric-a-brac. “Expensive and cheap pieces. Much junk that I don’t think anyone likes except old ladies with no grandchildren. I heard her. The door opened and that music started.”

Music such as it exists come in a single tone, the same way a rotating pulsar throws off a steady blip deep into the bowels of space and one lonely bell tolls the stations and the hours for the faithful who once gathered below the tower. It does not vary from those keys, neither more or less insistent.

“Atlantic Avenue sometimes feels special, but nothing like Devizes’ or the Bar with No Doors. You feel things differently there. This was lost?” A guess on Wanda’s part, even as she tips her fingers against her dusky brow. “Or maybe buried, because it was too loud. I could imagine so. We hunt for relics, grimoires, things best not put in the hands of unprepared people. Pietro is no good detecting them on his own but sometimes I granted him Sight to be sure he got the right one.”

She runs her finger along the edge of the outstretched arms in their elegant extension, tracing bronze thumbs cupped out in supplication. It’s fairly plain whatever she was intended to hold is long gone from the statue.


“It is definitely loud,” Strange says with a grimace. As soon as he banishes the grip of Sight around him, the chiming near-ceases. It continues, however, like the distant call to vespers over the brisk ridges of the mountains. At this volume, it’s fairly easy to ignore. Rising to his feet, he backs up to stand beside her. Thumb and fingertip run down each line of his goatee as he considers it with lightly-knitted brows. “Atlantic Avenue, huh…?” The Sorcerer tucks his other hand beneath his arm, against his ribs. “I’ll make a point of walking down it and seeing if anything else calls out to me as well sometime.”

He points at it suddenly, glancing over at Wanda. “It does seem like it’s missing something. Like something should be resting in its hands. I bet that’s why it’s chiming.” Steel-grey eyes take in the size of the sculpted hands and general missing volume. “Something about the size of a softball. What, though. A gem? A crystal orb? Sea shell? Incense bowl? Skull?”

Look at the man go. It’s a mystery that must be solved!

“All sides of the city contain secrets. Sometimes Yaga had us look at old estates or cellars. Prizes for when I find them,” she murmurs, old memories boldly scored across her creative mind. Rich details well up into the void where conscious thoughts taper off. “A spell. A book. Anything from charm to mighty pieces. I think the real treasures are hidden mostly in sancta like this, hidden or drowned. I know a man who dropped a mountain to hide a crystal.”

Her finger trails down over the limb of the hapless statuette again, and Wanda then turns, facing the sorcerer intrigued and beguiled. Her smile says nothing except the wisdom possessed by the sphinx is hers, that age-old prickling of feminine wiles to intrigue a man by a hook through the weakest part of him: the psyche.

Stephen Strange, beware of what nets you. She certainly comes bearing good gifts sometimes, along with the bad. Maybe he will forgive the witch her occasional shock?

The spacing of the statue’s hands is fairly broad, and tilted such she actually could have held a very small sword, Captain America’s shield face up, possibly anything from skull to nautilus shell to saint’s femur.

Ping! Her plaintive cry goes up again from the spell in her breast.


He’s still mentally envisioning what could be placed within the statue’s palms — the still-beating heart of a Xarlathian Musk Turtle? — and it takes him some time to process the last thing she utters. It’s not quite a brag, just informing him of an acquaintance, but the manner in which said crystal was hidden is enough to pull him from the whirling of wonderment and back to the present.

“I’m sorry, you said…drop a mountain on a crystal?” Strange asks, even as he takes in her expression. An equally-disarming smile begins to curve his lips, simultaneously admitting that she has him — hook, line, and sinker — and responding in kind to the tease she imparts. “You’ll need to explain that one too, I think.” The lowering of his voice signals the masculine riposte to his opposing yang in black rose.

Again, the damn thing pings, but he doesn’t spare it another blink. Right now, Wanda is up to something. And he needs another explanation.


Try something close to Surmeliath hanging jelly, which might even maintain its peculiar shape by proximity to metal. The very ionized presence of a good metal simply forces the creature to tighten its gravity and pull together instead of sailing about like a dreadful kite with glass-like tendrils out for blood. Or, more important, electrical impulses of a living mind. They are quite pretty with the most iridescent finish.

“Yes. A fairly tall Himalayan one. Not something to stick about for. Dusty.” Her mouth quirks up in a smile, responding to Strange’s obvious distraction. Introduce a child to a candy shop, a reader to a bookstore, and watch the fireworks. The effect cannot help but stir some faint sense of delight in someone so utterly ignorant of the emotion, and its general province is one she has scarcely walked through.

The most he can hope to get from her has been spoken. Ping. The statue’s quiet echoes build outwards, released in a steady ripple headed outward. At least the wards probably dampen the effect, though every denizen in the house is sensitive enough to register it.

Whatever her expression, the statue does not move or prove capable of anything evident. Her polished skin is smooth and unmarred. The base has little to distinguish it, the markings completely barren of distinguishing letters. Whomever made it didn’t sign it. Whomever made it might be terribly sad to see her lacking what she was intended to hold.


A slow sigh and the knowing expression turns towards stoic acceptance even if the smile never entirely fades. Fine. He’ll figure it out another time. Clearly, nothing bad came of it if she’s not expanding further on the topic. Privacy is one aspect of her life that he respects utterly. Nothing but ill-gained responses will come from prying further.

“Dusty,” he repeats thoughtfully. “Okay then.” Another insistent ping reaches him, even at that seeming distance and low volume and Strange gives the statuette a much less-amused look. “I hope it stays quiet once covered again. I’d hate to have to put it in the basement.”

There is a padded room of sorts down there, but the Sorcerer doesn’t truly want to traipse down there past all the whispering gemstones and malevolently-glaring idols and end up with a headache because he couldn’t help but grind his teeth at every susurration of insult against his station, himself, and his mother.

“You don’t know what goes in its hands either then?” he asks, scratching at the scars at his neck idly.

Covering the statue with anything remotely opaque silences the pinging sound that chimes from within its bronzed body. A sheet, a shirt, the cloak: pick something and it may serve the task rather well. The heat of the spell still stirs within the reinforced exterior, sustained against weathering and handling by a durability effect of some kind.

“She was not delivered with anything. I thought it would be round,” Wanda says, drawing a circle with her hands. “Not something you would leave by a door with candy in it.” No, the overglorified candy dish of the Rockefellers, this is not.

Such sadness resonates in the silence, her last musical chords fading out of hearing. The statue will resume the instant the covering is whisked off, no doubt something that renders it rather like a budgie in a cage.


A simple dish towel will do, remnant of his earlier spellwork and needing to quickly mop up spilled tea in case of an excitable twitch of discovery. It is placed overtop the statuette with a ‘hmph’ followed by a sigh of relief. Strange has given himself the beginnings of a tension headache with the teeth gritting earlier. The silence, to him, is more welcome than sad.

“Round, yes. I’ll have to see if it has a certain signature that I can track. It’ll be good practice. I might need it in the future.” He gives Wanda a significant glance. Family business and all.

“You do not track magic by aura or fingerprint?” The fact is practically shocking to the younger witch, but she has the manners not to demonstrably drop her jaw or sound disbelieving. Her tone registers as mild. “Or you mean this statue?”

Her hair brushed back over her shoulders, Wanda combs her fingers through the loose chestnut waves. No complaint follows when the dish towel is thrown over the statue, lending a quieting. Nothing else originates from that fetching bronze woman in her glad aspect.

“It is so insistent, and loud. Someone must want their neighbours to stay up. No one but me seemed to hear it, though.” Turning to Strange, she glances over his garments and then the table, no doubt assessing whatever he was up to. But the unmarked question in her eyes will never reach her lips. His mysteries are his own.


A dry laugh escapes him even as those lips curl into a confident smile shadowed with just a touch of dark delight.

“Signatures and auras tend to go hand-in-hand, if not be entirely one and the same. Track one, you can track the other. Fingerprints are…eh, a little more difficult,” and he rotates a hand horizontally in a so-and-so motion, “since they’re residue rather than physical connections. I’d be careful leaving hair about, for example. There’s always a little bit of flesh at the root and that can be used to track you. Blood…I’m sure you know enough about blood.” No judgment, fact. She likely does. Her self-proclaimed and much-appreciated tasks tend to revolve around coming home with a splash or two of it on herself and rarely her own. “However, I meant the statue, yes. There could be some Mystical residue from whatever item it held before on the hands. After all, I assume the item acts like a key to its lock. It stops chiming when it has the item. Since it’s magical, it’s highly likely that the item is magical as well. I don’t see mundane items interacting with Mystical relics very often.”

Strange gives her a mildly concerned look. “You can still hear her even when she’s covered? She’s silent to me right now.”

He’s speaking to her in a language she knows, even if English fails to much convey her in eloquent phrases. There are other times for elegant language. “I trace things by their magic… prints. Echoes. Signatures. Magic always have a taste or a feeling, unique to the spell or the person. You are different from anyone else, and your spells have their signs. Maybe I look to it too much? I have used them for… I do not know how long.”

Yes, she’s watching the world in the Sight all the time and measuring all the different aspects of it, indexing the business of each mage, and their hidden names in an encyclopedia. Have reason to fear her organizational talents, right?

His question leaves her with her head tipped, nose wrinkled. “I hear the spell. It stopped that alarm. But the spell sounds to me like a heart.” Her gaze flickers, traces of scarlet dust still in her eyes. “Slow vibrations. Thump, thump.” Her hand smacks her palm lightly to add to the percussion. If he too resorts to the Sight, Strange can detect that low-lying spell humming like a heartbeat when the statue is covered.



There’s a tightening around his mouth as he watches her clap in time to this supposed heartbeat and then his eyes slide back to the covered statuette. Blink, on with the Sight, and…

Well, gods below. That’s creepy as hell. A very slow, deliberate bah-bump. It corresponds with the inanimate nature of the statue, pulsing at a mere 50 beats per minute. The count is patient and deliberate and makes Strange eye the thing with increased suspicion.

“I’ll be damned. It does,” he murmurs, folding his arms tightly across his chest. His Sight-brightened eyes stare as if to pierce the center of the artwork and draw out its secrets and answers. About her hands, visible beneath the tea towel…a residual aura of sorts. “Hmm…” The good Doctor takes a step closer to the covered statue, still moving with measured control, ready to jump back at any second with mudras blazing.

It occurs to him, belatedly, that her question regarding her own ability to trace magics may not have been entirely rhetorical.

“Yes, everyone has their own signature, you and myself included. I couldn’t describe yours to you, Rakshasi, it is…” He pauses before giving a soft laugh, amused at his inability. “Maybe the best word is ‘innate’ to me now — and if you’re concerned with how much you utilize your Sight, take a break. Turn it off. Sometimes…it’s okay to be blind for a little bit. It’s like sleeping at night. Needed.” Scratching at one of his temples briefly, he shakes his head and retreats that one step again. “Look at the hands,” he points towards the parts on the statuette. “Do you recognize that signature?”

The statuette’s braided spells are neat and tidily done, for all these do not correspond to the eastern traditions of the mystic arts taught in Kamar-Taj and the other great citadels favoured by the Ancient One or a predecessor. Three separate strands of power can be teased out, so neatly interwoven and connected it’s hard to determine where one stops and the other begins. An efficient system focuses the standard enchantment around the torso of the gleaming dancer; it’s here the arcane underpinnings that leave a lasting magical pattern on an inanimate object begins. Her bronze ‘skin’ benefits from the durability spell lavished over every square millimeter, though its origins probably lie infused in the very making of the metal rather than afterwards. Not a common proposition: usually the object is forged or crafted, and then the spellwork begins. Then, of course, there’s that air of divination registered somewhere, a muted presence that likely suffers from an absent focus.

Or Strange simply hasn’t figured out the puzzle to trigger whatever conditions it awaits.

Conditional magic is surely nothing new to him, not with the nature of the studies he experienced, though its applications are more commonplace further west in the time-conscious European and northern African traditions much more than those facing eternity or the ‘no-time’ of the universal unconscious and karmic register.

The statuette has no answer for him. The witch, on the other hand, gives the mildest shake of her head. “She tastes like weak black tea. Something underneath is more herbal. Wood. Ordered but not your kind, the magic is supple. With this, I would almost tell you feminine. No masculine magic will be happy being inside a lady’s breast. It is too faint for me to be certain who. I have not seen this print before.”

Mournful as she might be upon that fact, Wanda rises and drops her shoulders.

Strange takes in his consort’s quiet musings, all the while running a finger down one line of his goatee. It all sounds so familiar, what he’s hearing being described to him, and it’s driving him up the wall.

The object was found in a shop on Atlantic Ave, stashed amongst mundane antiques. It pings for a missing item when uncovered, pulses with a heartbeat when hidden away, and remains silent to all who don’t enable or have the ability to utilize the Sight. Magic of a feminine note entwined all about it in braids and a particular line of invocation requiring a key. Black tea. Herbs. Wood.

Wood… Herbs?

“Oh gods…” he breathes, suddenly disappearing behind both of his hands. Guilt crashes into him with the weight of a falling piano. Maybe Wanda can hear the discordant echoes through her innate sense of their combined auras; his abruptly writhes with the discharge of frustration made form.

“Wanda, we need to go. Leave the statue here.” Strange turns on his heel and strides from the room abruptly, leaving all of his work and the statuette behind. He’s expecting her to follow as he takes the stairs to the Loft three at a time. With a swift gesture at his body, his daywear melts away into the battle-leathers of the Sorcerer Supreme and by the time he reaches the top step, the crimson Cloak of Levitation is flying towards him. With a swish of silk incarnadine, it settles upon his shoulders and seems to quiver in anticipation, faithful companion to its master. A ringing chime and the Eye of Agamotto hangs about his neck.

He awaits the Witch in the middle of the circular platform beneath the Window to the Worlds with closely-controlled impatience.

Without any relics of her own, at least beyond the necklace around her throat, Wanda is perpetually ready to step forth into the world. Battle in her case is an everyday affair, as attested by her limited clothing selection. She owns a number of black leather garments, and one very impressive dress. Someone needs to throw the Macy’s catalogue at her.

In hindsight, throwing a catalogue at her is a good way to have the animated Necronomicon come flying back at one’s face.

She understands the request made, and the uncomfortable sensation of the Sorcerer Supreme’s aura rolling through her in agitation the way a great river swallows up a sister tributary earns a shiver down the spine and a mild gasp for air. Those periodically happen with corsets; or, in this case, drowning her. Wanda’s fingers tighten and she leaves a simple shield dropped around the statuette, nothing particularly strong, but sufficient anyone blundering into it — or banishing the spell — ought to alert her and upset the wards.

Never know, Illyana might run off with it.

“Let’s go,” she agrees, running after Strange as much as her long legs allow. No one gets to blame her for being slow, not with a speedster for a twin.


Once she stands beside him, clearly ready for action, the Sorcerer draws up a Gate. It slowly opens, yawning in the reality before them, and reveals…

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