1963-12-13 - The 12 Days: First
Summary: What do you get a man who has everything? A holiday.
Related: The 12 Days: Second Through Twelfth
Theme Song: Let It Snow - Michael Buble
strange wanda 

Blame recommendations fall from the lips of babes — or rather, baby-faced young ladies at a particular fruit market endlessly droning on about their husbands or fiancés taking them upstate to ski at Lake Placid and spend the Christmas season in a cozy lodge. She knows no more about the Catskills than Catalonia, relative to a map. Best to ask the uses of demonic ichor than about the joys rustic amenities near the Vermont border where 'constant powder' and 'secluded from groomed trails' feature frequently in those conversations. However, the repeated promises of 'romantic moments' in front of a fireplace translate regardless of imperfect grasp on language.

The path to perfection weaves through bookstores and eavesdropping on those upscale young ladies eager to be seen on the arms of their partners, armoured in their puffy coats and knit hats. Her destination? A charming town full of cozy bed and breakfasts, and that most inexplicably American of venues, the humble log cabin. Naturally surprises come hard to someone without money or even official identification, so she merely leaves a pamphlet for the 'Bearfoot Cabin' beside a cup of hot tea where even the most distracted Sorcerer Supreme cannot miss it.

Lake Placid already bears a fluffy cotton layer of snow. Whiteface Mountain rises at the town's back, its newly installed ski slopes and chair lifts giving it the colour of a European resort instead of an escape freshly hacked out of the woods. The forest-clad Adirondacks flow around said cabin, nestling it in a glade almost on its own, attained by a slender, twisting ribbon off a state highway wrapping around lake and slopes alike. One can forget the world is at arm's length, instead of buried deep on the backside of the Canadian Shield where no human might ever reach.

The cozy, luxurious cabin has a stone fireplace and the snug, open-beam ceiling commonplace to such things. Views? Trees, evergreen exclusively. Two rooms with a raised loft hardly constitutes lavish, but it amounts to much more of a home than the witch has ever owned.


The Sorcerer's arrival back to the Sanctum is heralded by silvery wards that cavort (as always) about him in familiar greeting. He's a bit weary — hunting down errant imps, especially when outnumbered four to one, is always a bit of a task…they're tricksy little things — but he's otherwise ready to settle in with a book and a cup of tea. The cold outside was brisk and the change from dry winter air to the comfortable heat of the Loft via a collapsing Gate leaves him to cough a few times.

The crimson Cloak is dismissed to its hanger-stand by the bedroom door and he rolls his neck with a soft groan before doing the same with shoulders. One last full-body stretch and everything seems to be in place.

As he walks towards the bedroom, the enticing scent of cinnamon catches his nose. Immediately, Strange pauses and his gaze quickly flicks about until it lands on the small table beside the bedroom doors, opposite the Cloak's resting place. The garment's collars flitter as he picks up the porcelain cup. He gives the Cloak a mildly-amused eyebrow arch before sipping at the tea and considering the pamphlet.

"Hmph." Another full-mouth sip of the spicy brew and a humming sigh as he peruses the information presented to him. It advertises privacy amidst the hills of the Adirondacks; the pictures certainly present that concept well. The view from the front porch shows the roadway leading up to the cabin and naught else save for what's visible overtop the thick wall of evergreen trees that apparently spread around the log structure. "What are you up to then…?" he asks the general emptiness of the Loft. The wards swish around his shoulders briefly to ruffle his hair before disappearing into the framework of the mansion. No helpful answer there and the Cloak appears to now go mum after that previous wiggle. Actively considering that the garment is possibly in cahoots with the Witch, he gives it one last lingering squint of suspicion before retreating into the master bedroom, tea cup in-hand.

Easy enough to shower off quickly and re-dress in a button-down in an appropriate hue of gemstone garnet and black dress slacks. Equally easy to find the long winter coat downstairs and, of course, the Cloak masquerades as scarf, a thicker weave than normal for the chill of the mountains. Supple leather gloves overtop hands to protect sensitive nerves and the good Doctor is all set. A quick jaunt back upstairs leaves him to snag some basic overnight supplies as well as begin the process of hunting down the Beloved.

Stepping once more from bedroom to Loft, he pauses in the doorway and casts his senses lightly about the Sanctum. Normally, he would rely on the wards, but…that pentacle gives him an edge over the semi-sentient guardian spells.

She should feel the psychic presence like a brush of spring warmth along the line of her neck and, buoyed on it, the soft whisper of, "The Adirondacks, hmm?"


The surrounding books provide all the education which an aspiring witch could possibly ever need. Deprived of such easy access in the past except by her impressively controlling mentor, Wanda delves almost thrilled into the depths of the offered texts and times. Among other daily matters, like hunting down imps and monsters, she inevitably curls up in here to peruse one of the advanced grimoires with a hunger barely disguised in her eyes. Strange may hold the records at Kamar-Taj for mastery and excellence, though his consort proves no slouch.

This particular tome focuses upon energy channeling and applications according to a holistic Indian — Dravidian, not Native American — approach, focused through prayer, breathing techniques, and a variety of other methods lacking any physical component. Floating motes of light shine around her head, adjusted to assure no strain on her tender eyes exists.

The way she curls over the arm of the chair, her feet lazily hanging several feet off the ground, can be called unconventional or a failed attempt to transform herself into a very lazy tiger.

Toes wiggle slightly, just to emphasize her foolishly relaxed position when the pentacle hums at her throat, in a sense. It brings her to attention without forcing her to sit up.

A thumb resting on the corner of the page to mark her place, she stretches out. Languidly, it makes a cat look rusty and elderly, her back arched and feet pointed for a moment. Something gives and she purrs, the rumbling sigh passing through her lips and released into the air. "The forest. Privacy in the forest, and a proper fire." She pauses a moment, and then reflects upon her own fate. "Mmm. Did you know I can start a fire with nothing but a rock and dry grass or moss?"


"I did not know this, no," Strange projects across the distance as he leans nonchalantly against the doorframe between Loft and bedroom. "Though I'm not surprised. You know many a good thing that young women this day and age certainly do not get taught in normal schooling." Is that a glimmer of dry amusement injected into the statement? Perhaps.

There is the faint impression of indolence on her part and he takes a moment to locate her precisely — ah, the library, no doubt lost within one of the many texts. It's a shared quirk he deeply appreciates in her, that insatiable need for absorbing knowledge. There has been many a time where they've been crammed into one high-backed chair, each lost in their own tomes, before the fireplace downstairs. Fond memories.

"If you'll come gather what you'll need for at least a day there, perhaps more than one, I'll call out and book the cabin." With that, he withdraws the sense of sky-blue aura from about her and returns entirely to himself. A quick jaunt downstairs, to the shop, and the Sorcerer dials to the resort's front desk with the number listed in the pamphlet held in-hand.

"Hello, yes, my name is Stephen Strange and I'd like to — yes, that's actually my last name — no, not a joke, just unfortunate circumstance." His tone is growing more and more terse and finally, after an elaborately-undignified rolling of his eyes and pert reminder that he can call elsewhere, he finally gets to discussing the actual booking of the place rather than his ancestor's predilection for odd surnames.


"Now you know." Slumped in her seat, Wanda is unhurried about the business of figuring what might be the best way to attain comfort and studying. Research does not require one to sit studiously at a desk, handwriting crabbed from hours of ramrod straight seating. Her finger runs over the coalesced, fine writing in tiny script that identifies the energy of the chakras, as suitable a demonstration as Chinese medicine or Zoroastrian spirit-fires or Maori tattoos. Brow furrowed in thought, she returns for a few moments to her reading. "I am not given a good education. Many things I cannot do. Yaga and Father picked what kept us alive. They did not go for nice things."

Like why she will be hopeless at setting sixteen utensils around a plate for a banquet or knowing what to do with folding sheets. She will not be the kind to knit. Glue is her preferred adhesive, if tape or nails don't do the trick. Perhaps it causes a vague throb of dissatisfaction.

Putting her feet down, she looks up at the empty space. His offer for packing is laughable. A joke, yes? One shirt, one pair of pants, a dress, leggings, are nearly all she needs. Two pairs of undergarments. They take no time at all to claim because the entirety of her wardrobe can fit in the smallest drawer of his bureau, maybe two if the pants are especially badly rolled up and the drawer is not deep. She puts them together in the time it takes Strange to punch in numbers for the upstate resort, and throwing in an extra pair of socks — his — seems suitable.

Go bags are a thing. A spy's spy, this one, though she barely constitutes it in the eyes of others. She shimmies down the stairs, trying not to ride the railing, freshly waxed and so tempting. "Come out, come out."


The teasing call of his consort is nearly impossible to resist. He hears it through the open door that separates shop from foyer and does his best to finish out his conversation with this damn receptionist who really wants to know how he got his family name.

"And the keys will be under the mat? You have the account number? Just — yes, just charge it directly. No, we'll be fine, no need for service, thank you. Yes, you have a good day too." The phone clatters back into place with a smidge more force than necessary and Strange emerges into the broad expanse of the entryway in time to see her gracefully descend down the final step of the grand staircase. Steel-blue eyes take it in and smile imparts frank appreciation.

"The cabin is booked for at least a day. We can phone down if we want to stay for more than one day and they'll charge it directly to my account. Though, I shouldn't be away for long," he amends with a rueful smile. After all, someone always seems to be knock-knock-knocking at his door for assistance of some kind. “But — at least we get a day. Let's go then."

It takes him a moment, with his eyes shut and focus reaching towards the remote north, but… there is a method to his madness. After all, he did ask the receptionist to place a small votive beneath a glass plate; on the plate, cinnamon, mint leaves, and dill, oddly enough. It creates a distinctive Mystical note, even in light of the great distance separating Sorcerer from cabin. It takes some honing in, but… finally… there.

With remote target in mind, he idly draws a rift in reality that opens into the main living room of the cabin.

The sparkler-like oculus opens up, rimmed as always in golden lightning, and he steps into the space. The air is temperate and dry, apparently from the stone fireplace in which the logs crackle merrily, and he gives an appreciative nod as he takes it all in. The small satchel of his overnight supplies is set on a nearby couch arm before he wanders over to one of the many floor-to-ceiling windows to look out on the wilderness before him. There's a decided contrast between the pine trees dabbled with pristine white, profiled against the grey skies and bruise-blue distant hills, and the warm hues of the deliberately-chosen woods that make up the interior cabin.

He stands there, silhouetted against the wane light, and remains enamored by the surroundings enough to momentarily be lost to them.


Acknowledging the warning of an interlude spent in hours, rather than days, Wanda nods. No sense of disappointment strikes her expression. Her mezzosoprano does not bend under a note of dismay, plastered over by a slipshod job at joy, too brittle to withstand whatever he decides upon. "Good. Is a holiday longer than one day?"

Reaching into her pockets for her gloves, she pulls them on one after the other. Her bag hangs off her shoulder, a battered pack worthy of fading into the background nearly anywhere. Unremarkable as it gets, that could be the possession of a Korean war vet, a traveler making their way to East Village for a new future in the arts, or some kid kicked out of the family nest to make a future elsewhere. Or skiing at one of the better resorts in the Northeast, so very shiny with newness. Half the hills are barely a year or three old, after all.

While Strange casts, her sight attunes to the ephemeral traces of his magic nearly subconsciously. One moment her pupils are black, the next laced by an orchid frost as delicate as the fronds painted outside. Brush a look of intent curiosity and then she steps into the Sorcerer's lee, adding Halfeti rose and dark spice to the mélange already settled around him. Mint forges an assault, too clean and crisp, and the lingering base notes on oil oud fight back before the pinwheel crackle fades away behind them both.

"Much more snow than in New York. This is good. It should be cold, not the little winter they are complaining about." Fingers curl and tease lightly against his back, tracing fondly over the collar and protectively wrapped Cloak as though to say to the relic, Yes, I appreciate you too. One cannot exactly scritch it. Maybe apply some Bounce to it?


Strange glances down at the crimson scarf as it responds to her passing touch with a ripple and rubs back at the fingertips with a sense of affection. The action elicits a smile from him that deepens as he sets eyes on the young woman standing beside him.

"If you think what you've heard is complaining, you haven't heard anything yet. Wait until it snows a good foot or two. Then heads will roll." And the hospital always got busy with the unfortunate influx of snowday-related injuries, most of which he greeted with a sigh and wonderment about self-preservation. But — that is in the past. "If this is our holiday, it will last as long as it can."

He wraps an arm about her shoulders and draws her in close to press a kiss to her hair, eyes shifting back to the expanse of wilderness outside of the cabin. "I haven't had a holiday in…"

Wow. The fact that the good Doctor can't even finish that sentence should be depressing.

That being said, he chuckles and shakes his head. "Clearly, far too long. Want to go walk around, see what's in the woods?"

In those steel-blue eyes, devoid of Mystical brightness, instead twinkle a youthfulness that she's likely rarely seen. There it is: the spark of charm that shows so rarely, that lust for simply existing in a moment that revolves around frivolity and not defending against interdimensional interlopers, that sense of adventure and challenging draw.

Totally no guarantees that she won't get snow down the back of her coat.


The scarf-Cloak gains another affectionate tweak at its hemline, gloves gathering the corner in a soft rub that might tickle, were it human or even given some kind of nervous system. Lacking that, the flapping, demanding relic will have to determine her intentions on its own.

Strange's statement deserves a bit of a haughty smile and the slightest implication of an eye roll in the toss of her dusky head. "A foot does not stop someone from walking. Too soft, these people. They have such pride in standing over winter but speak out when the temperature gets cold."

They both have an opinion about the cold. Banishing it, too, calls for multiple tests upon techniques that assure a human stays at optimal body temperature. The first can be the easiest, as whomever stoked the fireplace in short order saw to that. Merry flames in a contained space possess their own sort of magic, one mirrored in midnight eyes when he kisses her atop the head.

Since his pause supplies an opportunity, she says, "I have not done a holiday." Ever. Finality closes that door, slamming it, sealing it over in plaster and brick, and leaving all hints the word was ever spoken completely eradicated like a vengeful master of Amontillado.

"Will you guide me?" Even having a foray into the woods for a purpose that does not include survival, gathering firewood or food, or a demented exercise is lost upon her. Still, the Sorcerer Supreme is willing to let his guard down, and expose the man behind the high collar. Unable to resist, she flashes an even rarer expression back at him: a rusty, throaty little laugh.

Totally no guarantees he won't end up tied to a tree.


"Of course, «Beloved», though we'll be walking around. I have no task to complete out in them other than enjoy the fresh air and forget about my worries for a while."

That laugh. That precious purr of a laugh. Don't think he missed it and don't think it fails to amplify his delight. It magnifies his inherent happiness tenfold and that smirk is no longer sly, but full of playful cheek.

"Come on then," he murmurs before taking her hand within his glove-clad grasp and walking briskly to the front of the cabin. The key is indeed under the front mat and he exhales fog as he straightens up after fetching it from its hiding place. It glitters in the bright sunlight in the arc of its toss before he catches it again. "We'll lock up, just to be safe." Lock clicked home, key in coat pocket, and Strange frowns down at his shoes. "Not quite the right footwear…"

A little gesture and his daywear, that standard semi-formal get-up, melts away to become the battle-leathers. However, the coat stays as does the scarf. No need for the Cloak to get up to mischief just yet. With battle-leathers come sturdy, waterproof boots, high enough up his shins to deter all but the deepest snowdrifts.

"There we go," he murmurs, glancing over at Wanda once again. "Are you comfortable? Where shall we walk? It looks like there's a path over there," and he nods to a place in the wood line where the tree branches have been carefully trimmed away to reveal a path too trodden by human steps to belong simply to deer.


Laughter comes so rarely to Wanda that her vibrating larynx hardly knows what to do with oxygen strummed over it. She ends up coughing into her sleeve, suppressing the remainder of the sound rather than reminiscing upon its source.

Stamping after him in her habitual leather boots, she is well enough prepared for the cold. Anything worse is a test of her stamina. Foolish, yes. Then relying on her wits and scanty resources comes too ingrained to really fight, especially in his company. A sharp look falls upon his boots when Strange visualizes a better costume with which to tackle the imminent dangers and threats of the snowy forest.

Be wary of pinecones and fir thickets. Her leather jacket may be somewhat impractical for this, though two additional buttons close the collar up to the hollow of the witch's throat. She takes a moment to breathe in the resin-laden air, stretching her natural senses out as far as they will permit. Then the cyclical breathes ground her to the earth, a warm thrill settling into dark, velvety corners of her tattered soul. Subterranean regions always maintain a steady temperature, regardless of how hot or cold the surface is. Reaching down, she borrows a healthy dram preserved closer to the magma veins among the planet, and weds it to her flesh.

Fine. It's cheating, but at least she's staying warm, pliable rather than frozen as they break their path through virgin snow unknown to the touch of man this season. A few scatterings pit the surface where snow dropped from needles or deer sprang through, but little more. "Good," she agrees, nodding.

One could argue it's less about being warm than the view.


She cheats with drawing from Gaia’s ever-warm depths, he cheats with a whispered Word against the season’s chill. A sensation not far off from a shot of whiskey fills him from sternum to toes, stomach to fingertips, and chases off the nipping cold at the edges of his ears. A hat. A hat would have been a good idea. He’s sure as hell not wrapping the scarf around his head though.

That’s an indignity neither proud Mystical being will suffer.

Pushing branches aside means dodging dropping pufts of snow and while she may have trouble laughing, Strange gets to chuckling every time he narrowly steps aside from a slump of powder. It doesn'’t take them long to get into the old growth evergreens, where the trunks have grown wide, the heights towering, the roots deep into the rich earth, and the snow remains high out of reach upon the branches. Some has still filtered down, of course, and his glance back towards where they entered the woods shows footprints large and smaller alike. He marks the place before his eyes settle on her and stillness enters his poise. Not a threatening stillness, just a moment — one where well-traversed synapses seem to fire anew and repaint, in vivid color, the sheer affection he has for the Witch.

She’s managed to pause in a sunbeam, one of the few that reach through, and it splashes her scarlet against the muted greens and cool shadows of snow and bark alike. Incarnadine chaotic grace and supple old-coin eyes and those waves that impart Turkish rose and oud alike.

"«Gods above, you’re beautiful,"» he whispers, slipping into Tibetan with ease as he stands there, hands in coat pockets, with eyes for naught but her.


What's wrong with wrapping the cloak around his head, short of getting a hug from a smug bastard of an artifact? One needs must, presumably, until Strange feels his ears mildly burning from a lack of circulation and ends up weaving a survival hat from pine branches, ferns, and the stuffing of a weasel's den to soften the scratchiness. Pride goes before parts of one's body fall off.

Powdery snow gathers thickly on the sides of the path, filling the hollows of their little glade to a depth past the knee. It's nothing compared to generous dunes formed in the later season along the windward side of Whiteface Mountain, whose very name aptly describes the confectionary sugar dusting scoring the linear runs grooving across its forested face. She kicks at the kernels of snow, the little balls gathered on the crust of the surface flying in every direction. Thickly clotted precipitation runs down the lacings of her boots, trying to find a way to infiltrate the shaft and set her calves to shivering in spite of the spell.

Fie, snow, fie! She kicks at it playfully like some long-legged doe, instead of the apparent snow leopard she is not being today, not in this hour.

Shimmering snow-sprays fly upwards, trembling upon the branches, but the chill cuts through the crystal-clear air. Stillness envelopes them while, in the distance, some irate woodpecker clacks away in a building project likely to take longer than the Big Dig in Boston. Far from stalking anything, the good Doctor is a tempting target to the girl adding her own brand of chaos to the pristine wonderland 'round them.

His words take six and a half seconds to penetrate her mind, and mean something, even whilst she gambols around. Paused with her sole atop a fresh dusting of crystals, and her soul unmasked, a carmine flame leaping and quivering, she could well be comical to such a sky-father wrought in splendours of shadow and vibrant cobalt, flush with the riches of his vast and untouchable domain.

Is this how he ended up tied to a tree in a desert? Her teeth sink into her lower lip, and there cannot be any way to mistake the violet flush running over her aura to the Sight, or the faint tincture poured down her cheeks straight to her throat, vanishing under collar. "«I'm yours»." It seems the appropriate thing to say.


Unmistakable, the reaction to his somnolently loving gaze in her, and that cheek shifts back towards silver-fox cunning once more.

"«Are you now?»" Strange asks in a tone of light challenge with the barest sprinkling of a nod towards her independent streak. A subtle uptilt of his chin, near guaranteed to draw out her complimentary competitive streak, as well as a resettling of his booted feet to better center himself. Or ready himself? Which?

He ended up pinned to a tree in the desert when last he underestimated the power of feminine wile. This time, he courts it with dimples and crimson banner alike at his neck, more than ready to dodge nimbly aside in the face of a direct assault.

But — mind him well. He knows the Witch is not heavy-handed in her ways. He's equally as ready to dance as to dodge, airy on his toes, grace like the breezes of spring in his actions.

Just what is the Sorcerer up to…?


Strange might as well have pricked fuzzy ears and a tail swishing behind him, a bottle brush puff starting to form at the base. Are his pupils blown squirrelly wide in those blue eyes? A quick check affirms the known features against what transpires.

Forests are something of a native territory, compared to the rest of the terrain possibly applicable here. She glances up, and considers her handholds on the prickly evergreens clustered fairly close, remnants of a much younger forest that since aged into a point where only the giants remain. Branches stay far, far up rather than close to the ground, shorn away in time.

Her gaze loses itself among green, the thousand dark shades painted on the brush of nature's own making. Jades to deep yew, black-green gloss, all wash around them upon a stark white background. In some senses, Strange is every bit as starkly outlined as she. Blue is not a colour common to forests, and living things, his particular sky-bright shade all the more jarring.

Lovely forest, but not exactly suitable for her plans. She discards the possibility of climbing up and rather pats the trunk near her, hand soft on the grooved bark. The vibrations run up into the canopy, narrow and pointed as it is, and the branches shiver. Then more shiver.

Just what is the Sorcerer up to? He's bound to do it being pummeled by tiny puffs of snowflakes or a much larger dislodged clump ready to drop on him in its icy greeting. Flumping of a snow cat, while the snow leopard sashays her graceful self further down the path, the sway of her hips all the more noteworthy as she carefully picks her route.

Go ahead and taunt, see where it leaves him. Admiring the dusty sway beneath the slivers of leather, perhaps.


No? No takers? Remember too that snow can be scattered as easily in a gale as with gravity's pull. Who says she won't be knocked butt-over-tea kettle into the nearest snowdrift when he sidesteps a flump of snow with near-precognisance?

Wordlessly, Strange approaches her, steel-blue gaze never breaking from the Witch. Those eyes narrow at her touch to the elder evergreen and he suspects that something will come of this, but…

It's so worth it. Even the scarf, on the same psychic wavelength as its master, can't help the minute wiggle around his neck as he stands before her, not even a boot's length from her. She seems to radiate heat, even at the distance, and he can't help but deviate from doubloon-gold eyes to the tease of the mostly-closed scarlet coat and back up once more.

"«I think you are mine,»" he murmurs, still in the language of mountains touched by snow never melting and scoured by winds this continent has never considered. "«I don't know why I even ask.»"

That ego.

It's a deliberate lean into her space, even more deliberate kiss — one of the ones meant to discombobulate and scatter her momentarily with its singular pressure and heated intention — and he draws away before it can be continued much further.

Squirrely blown pupils? Maybe. "«But you needn't be so…cold about it.»"

Cue the mad-hat shove of snow from a palm snuck behind his back into one side of an open coat collar and an equally mad-cap dash away from her, long legs carrying him rather unfairly over the shin-high snow.

Did he just do that?!

He just did that.

The gods are wondering if he's really as mature as they think he is now.


The gods have no patience for showboating beyond their own grandiose, expansive natures bordering upon omnipotent. Surely their children are not supposed to step into those continental shoes and pretend to be Lord Business and Lady Numbers.

"You think?" These are fighting words. She knows them to be. Thus Strange receives the question in a deadpan tone wreathed in holly, prickly if he tries to grasp hold of it too long. Whyever does he even ask? Ego. Ego and pride.

She murmurs, "O holy Vishanti, I pray you show the truth of my vows to Stephen Strange." So he doesn't stumble around in the red cloudy miasma of his own self-imposed ignorance, with any luck, he will fall over a root and end up stuck up to his waist in a crevice while small forest creatures form a large, fuzzy wall of chittering giggles. Preferably as squirrels: red, grey, black. All are welcome.

Little fuzzbutts would make up for the wrong done to her, notably the cold bite sinks into her ever so sensitive nape. Her jacket in the front at least has both buttons done up to her collarbone, though that does nothing to safeguard the stretch of golden skin he so loves to mark, and tempt every last necklace link or whippy vine to bruise.

O trust abused, sovereign personhood scorned!

Did he just do that?! Knowing she's a sensate? Aware of her twin's predilections?

While he goes scampering off in shin-high snow, a single sound chases him: the sharp gasp, serrated by breathy zigzags going right up the vocal scale.

Her warmed skin turns the sting to a low melt running forwards and backwards, pooling under the leather, coursing down. Friction and dampness chafe at rudely awakened nerves. "Mmmmfff…"Every other breath is vocalized on the stutter-stop tableau, ending with a stifled, "Ah…"

Freeze her, Doctor? The vessel of chaos will singe your ears off.


"«Yes, I think,»" Strange hollers over a shoulder before spinning around and settling into a balanced stance, leather-gloved hands automatically curled into pseudo-mudras before him. That smirk is all spice and audacity and he can hear her just fine, thank you very much.

About twenty-five feet of space between them now, a path of trampled snow as proof of his retreat, and now Strange makes a stand. Snow is scooped into a packed ball and then he tosses it, all the while watching her chuffing reaction.

The snowball is thrown — and misses, deliberately. It plops into the drift beside her, not an arm's length away, and he shrugs before scooping up more snow.

"«I never took you as the sort to take that lying down, Rakshasi.»" Another snowball, in another arcing trajectory that lands on the other side of her, mockingly just beyond contact. He can't help the laugh, a merry sound that echoes from bare tree trunks.


Powdered sugar fills the air, crystals sparkling in the sunshine piercing the rank on file veterans of colonization and imperial expansion. These doughty evergreens have witnessed the harsh winters and the mild, peering skyward while foolish long-legged creatures cavort beneath them. Winter mirages coruscate in their dazzling sheen, so many priceless diamonds that might bankrupt all the mines in South Africa for abundance. Pity they're ephemeral things.

Wanda ducks back behind a tree after Strange makes a stand. Her imbued spell gives her warmth at the expense of dreadful shivering pangs teasing the back of her neck and the sloping valley between her upper scapulae she cannot possibly reach. The first lobbed spheroid smacks into the unbroken snow, and its distraction gives her room to move. Old lessons never lie far from the surface. That it's eastern cedar rather than Scotch pine makes little difference; lessons in the Adirondacks are not particularly different from the lower Himalayas or the Caucasus. She runs.

Not by any means is the line straight; she'd be demented if it were. Fleeing through the trees on a manic, dragonfly route means using them for cover, the sepulchral darkness blurring her presence and obscuring the slim, dark form of a girl used to surviving in the wilderness under such conditions. Just one change, of course: bleed the red from her coat, darken it, to avoid being too obvious a target. It melts over her in a dream, turned to mottled ash and white, giving a cover. Tree trunks reflect his laugh, the crunch of her boots, the melodious sigh of the wind or a girl's voice.

Fast, yes, not a speedster, but wicked enough to know the route through the pines need circle and jar back, interposed by moments of pause to catch her breath as much as throw off the hunter.


The curtain of snow falling abruptly between them gives him cause to retreat a step. Both hands are held up before him in instinctive defense, but still, he laughs. The sunlight reflecting from the frozen moisture isn't blinding, but it's sure as hell a good enough cover for her to disappear into the trees.

Once the cascade settles, the Sorcerer adopts a more attentive posture. This is a glimpse into her he's encountered but a small number of times; it brings back memories of slipping in miring mud smelling of tepid pond water and Chaotic scarlet magic breaking over bruise-blue shields. At this point, who's hunting whom?

"Remember, I haven't used any magic," Strange calls out, returning his hands to his pockets to stave off the chill beginning to bite at his nerves. The air is clear, cold, his voice should travel far. "And hiding as well? Really now." A linger on the last word, drawing it out in cajoling taunt, even as he watches for movement behind black trunk on white surroundings. Turning slowly in place to scan the surroundings, the man presents himself as easy target, but she's likely not fooled by this obvious display.

But — he seems to become still once again, his face turned off and upwards, towards magnetic north, as if sensing something at the peripheries of his Mystical reach. This…this may be her opportunity to hit him well and good, while he is momentarily ripped from light-hearted tease, oldest of three, back to Guardian of Fate.


Kicking up snow is perfectly valid excuse for a defensive wall, and the natural reflective and refractive properties act as a wonderful screen for the sunshine. Rainbows so rarely serve any purpose other than decoration or backdrop for murals featuring hot air balloon rides, and no harm is done by her snowy veil other than dusting Strange in a cold brush similar to the one he threatened her with.

All is fair in love and war. When those happen to be the same, then she certainly has an advantage. Strange left behind while she dashes through the woods might be a certainty for her return, but the low key of her song crafts something along the margins of reality and ethereal, the native spirits of any land surely hearing her lilting call. She isn't after the extradimensional, but serenading her own favoured kind. Nature's drowsy children, the dormant wood sprites and the snow dancers, all called by her festive hello.

Particular emphasis on the snow dancers, the ice sprites, the sylphs giggling above the canopy. It's not exactly magic if they decide to greet the consort of the witch with their own brands of hello and introduction, is it? Especially when she tells them what she wants.

One snowy body sits up and shakes off fallen beech leaves. It makes a muffled sound. These are the snow children of the Iroquois confederacy and their kind, the ancient joys of the land. The snowman is short and mildly grumpy, lumbering around. Another will join it. And another, as she lends her help to their manifestation. "Snoooow. Big snoooow," mutters one.

"Big snow," agrees another. "Big snow eat the sun."

Wanda pauses as sylphs chirp in chorus, "Old one wants a big snow!"


The call reaches him across the expanse of time and space in a sound akin to talons on a chalkboard and the scouring howl of an incoming blizzard. Strange, now sporting the ethereal glow of the Sight all about his person, begins looking rather frantically around him.

"Wanda! Wanda, no more games! To me!"

His shout echoes off each tree, breaking as it travels deeper into the woods. He desperately hopes that she can hear him.

"«Beloved», back to the clearing! Quick!"

The black Belstaff crisps away in a crackle of Mystical invocation; the crimson scarf gains volume and clasps to his shoulders, the Cloak's collars wriggling in tremors of suspense.

Beyond the tops of the trees comes the foreboding rumble of thunder, absolutely incongruent with the scuttling wisps high overhead. But then — the sudden blotting of the sun behind a thick band of nearly-black clouds. The impact of the first sheer wave of air crashes into the trees around him with violence that brings down blinding sprays of snow and branches alike. The Sorcerer winces as one thumb-thick shard of pine bounces from an upraised arm, thankfully deflected from wrist guard rather than unprotected face.

Thundersnow — the rib-rattling vibration thrumming through evergreens and beings alike. Another blast of wind, so cold as to make him inhale and immediately cough as his lungs feel to curling in on themselves within his chest, and Strange braces with rounded shoulder as the supernaturally-formed blizzard slams fully into place around them.


He need only call the once. A shout or a hissed word is enough to transform anything into a test of survival. Some magicians might laugh or brush off the response, even suspecting a trick. She pulls a knife by habit, transferring it to her left hand, and calls to the sprites and the snow spirits.

"Joga-oh, come to keep the forest safe. My brothers and sisters," she calls out to them as she goes dancing across the fallen snow on a track already broken by her. Several others follow, emerging from the woods in no particular rank and file, shy creatures perhaps about three feet tall at most. Their features are most definitely humanoid, and their postures upright and proud, save for the sylphs who wisp about and giggle in their endless chattering.

These creatures, though, belong to nature, and their embodiment is merely a temporary physical form while they shamble and tramp after her with infinitely more ease. It helps being made of the same substance as what blocks your path, whereas she has to duck and escape the rush of ice shards and hail falling through the wildly dancing pines.

Her swift steps take her forward and the warming jog already had assures muscles stay loose and joints mobile, though she still shivers from the melted snow dampening her collar. Another dart puts her through the notch of two trees, over a log, down the deer trail towards him. This won't be the first time Wanda has had to run through blinding conditions, it merely happens to be the first holiday that proves not to be one. Her spiritual companions are there, strung out around the branches, totally ignoring the fact the winds of a howling blizzard are set upon them.

"Big snow!" shout their voices, the spirit speech harsh upon them. "Bad! Stay on your mountain!"

"The Chief will not like this, no."

"Who does he think he is? All uppity flapping about."

No, the spirits are not impressed.


So much for a holiday indeed!

Squinting through the snow turned near-projectile by the speed of the wind that causes old trees to creak above him, Strange thinks he can see the approaching figure of the Witch. Another huge gust sets the crimson Cloak to snapping like a flag and he grits his teeth as the elementally-laced wind tries to strip the heating spell from his aura.

It isn't malevolent, the approaching presence (though it is psychically massive), but it is brutally uncaring of their current state of affairs and while inquisitiveness remains the primary emotional projection, there is also contempt and concern.

"To the clearing!" He hopes she can hear him. If not, the banner of the Cloak should be bright enough to see through the swirling white.

He jogs too, long limbs granting him a good pace back through the broken snow of their passing. No logical reason to attempt to fly, not in winds like this. He'd be battered to pieces against the staunch old growth of the pines.

The sound of approaching wingbeats synchs to the howl of the blizzard and an impossible shadow blots out the remaining light as it passes over them. Strange is the first to emerge from the swirling forest, yelping as a branch smacks him across the face to leave a series of shallow scratches (only one bleeds, evidence of two opposing forces meeting and flesh being less staunch than fibrous evergreen switch) across one proud cheekbone and diagonally up along his brow into hairline. He comes to an abrupt halt as the shadow passes by again, the air pressure shifting around violently in its wake, and manages to keep his balance even as snow crumples up around his knees due to his skid on icy crushed grass beneath the cover of white.

"Oh, gods below," he mutters, trying to see precisely what it is that keeps circling over them.


Thank Heaven for little gifts, especially sorcerers in red. Little Red Riding Cloak makes an excellent beacon to orient on despite the difficulty of seeing further than the tip of her nose. Wanda views the world through blinks, her arm held up against the searing chill of wind blasted into her face, and whenever she turns sideways, it's slightly more forgiving.

The angry spirits follow her in their bodies, the sylphs having a field day. What's a gale to them? They play among the windstream and flutter around, their incessant gabbling chimes acting helping a little to follow. Of course, they might just send her into a tree for being incautious. Ducking her head, the Witch plows forward.

"Bad big snow! Our place, you go back to your mountain," snaps one snow spirit who, for lack of a better word, has horned peaks on its shoulders. It imperiously waves a hand towards the air.

Her efforts to follow Strange are inevitably more difficult by the lack of his height and rangy build, but she forces herself to the clearing and practically falls over a half-buried log to the raucous giggling of the sylphs. Absolutely no one saw that she's face-first in the snow, pushing herself up, white from chin to ankles. At least that gives her considerable camouflage atop her impressively grey and white coat. It sort of removes the last things keeping her visible, even to eagle-eyed vision. Nothing to see there, not at all.

The six manifested snow sprites — stone children they aren't, not in this season — appear at the edges of the clearing, the invitation still good. Unimpressed faces turn upwards. Fear does not lie upon them, but how could it, for what's a blizzard going to do but, who knows, make them bigger? Wanda spits out crystals of snow and scrubs her face.


The lively elementals ping to his Mystically-enhanced senses and Strange glances back over his shoulder towards them. He can barely pick out the forms of the snow sprites, so naturally do they blend into this freak snowstorm, which is saying something in light of his abilities. Wanda? Where is Wanda? Squinting, he takes one step back towards the trees, intent on finding her when,


The impact of whatever lands in the middle of the clearing disturbs both air and earth alike, making the Sorcerer Supreme wheel about and immediately summon molten-bright mandalas of shielding before himself.

It's big. Big enough that his head noticeably tilts upwards as he picks out details of the creature through breaks in the blowing snow. Finally, head tilted at enough of an angle to encourage a slightly-slackened jaw, he realizes just what he's looking at.

The supremacy of the northeastern American blizzard made incarnate, powered through belief and shaped through stories shared verbally over fires for centuries: this is Pomola, B’mola, guardian of Mount Katahdin to the north still more, patron spirit-god of cold weather and winter's blast.

The gigantic Ice Roc glares down from eyes blanked as deathly-pale as the snow itself. Every foot of bared avian skin is cobalt-blue, the same hue as frostbitten flesh, all glistening as if slicked with a thin sheen of ice. The feathers of the looming creature range in appearance, from the same delicate frothings of Jack Frost's touch to windowpanes in the body and primary spread to jagged spikes of icicles that give the impression of complete lack of aerodynamic ability — all in the spectrum of ancient glaciers, surface and depth alike. The talons and beak are oddly silvery, nearly metallic, and he can see the furrows where the claws cut into snow and turf alike. The ruts are at least a dozen feet in length, an arm's length in width, and deep enough to signify a deadly sharpness. Its wings are half-folded at first, indicating a cautiousness that seems counter to its sheer magnitude in mass, though perhaps it's the first step in capturing the perceived interlopers and then mantling overtop their bleeding bodies. Still — those wings are easily close to being as broad as the cabin itself; Strange hazards apprehensively that the full spread would reach beyond the length of the building.

The Pomola screeches again, flashing a sky-blue lining to mouth and tongue and making the Sorcerer wince, and then comes the psychic impressions that bluster with the same amount of force as the swirling storm around them:



Times when it pays to be the one who fell in the snow ungracefully: now.

She's got that covered. Wanda raises herself from the ground in a classic pushup position, her arms braced in the fairly shallow snow of the clearing and feet hooked over the offending log. Scrambling forward, she isn't trying to stand in the midst of wintery gale likely to knock her off her footing again. A fine fringe of ice crystals dots her hair across the frosted coronet of her once red headband, melting into diamond drops against her brow. Once more she drops to her knees, shielding her face against the howling, vast elemental bird that decides at that moment to lean down and look through the hole in the trees at them. Worse, it thinks.

Times when it pays to be a frozen, unmoving creature hidden in the snow: now.

She's blown that one. All the courage she can summon is spent towards not going facefirst back into the snow, as though the smothering cold blanket might take away the sound clanging through her brain on a hundred blows of a hammer. Every syllable penetrates her brainpan and erupts in fresh forms of demanding pain behind an avian shriek and crackling icicles.

How many seconds does she lose before the empty hollow of her skull fills, dull sugar plum visions dancing on a blank slate? Is it still winter? Her brave blink dares to measure how much has gotten away from her.

The immediate thought helpfully shunted forward by her brain is not the action most likely to be taken, which involves her riding its back through the sky. No doubt this will end with a snap of that majestic iridium beak making short work of severing her into bite sized chunks it can swallow, assuming she might get trapped in its gullet. Fingers curl and she examines the bird with frightening rigor. Maybe measuring how big it is, possible airspeed as it's North American, and if she counts as a coconut.

In instances like this, she lets the gentleman answer.


Is his nose bleeding? Never dropping his glowing eyes from the huge bird, Strange tests by blotting at his face on his sleeve. Negative, thank gods. Still, it does feel like he just took an ice-ball to the head with how the creature's communication is as voluminous as its wingspan.

"Rakshasi," he whispers, the tiny puft of fog whisked away in the slower wind that surrounds them all now. It is as if they are in the eye of an arctic hurricane and the Pomola is axis central. His breath of an incantation accesses the pentacle about her neck and opens the lines of crystal-clear mental communication to her, so that she can hear what he says to the spirit-god.

Great Spirit, we mean no harm and did not mean to disturb you. We came here to holiday, he thinks, then visibly frowns in personal consternation. The Pomola has no idea what a holiday is, come on, Strange. To relax and retreat from our burdens in the world. The beacon you speak of was mine, to allow us to arrive here safely. There is no need to worry.

The great bird tilts its head with a flick of feathers that follow much slower in comparison to its skull proper, as if the shafts are weighted with ephemeral glissades.

INTRUDERS, it repeats, metallic beak slightly parted, SHAMAN. SUMMON SPIRITS.

After forcing his shoulders down from around his ears, the Sorcerer tries hard to figure out just what the Pomola is trying to communicate. Shaman? No shaman around here, not between him and Wanda. Summon. …summoning spirits? Wait, the wintry elemental-god can't mean…

Rakshasi, did you happen to summon anything? Wherever she is, he desperately hopes that she didn't.


These are the times that try men and women's souls, staring before the pitiless eye of an inconceivable creature impossible to bargain with in legal or social terms. It knows no more of mankind, surely, than mankind knows of the backside of Sirius. Boldest of strokes for heroism mean nothing. Hunger, yes.

Wanda has long since lost her dignity being snow-covered; mayhap Pomola will consider it an offering. The snow spirits, all six of them, glare at the great bird. Eyes shine white as milky glass against icy visages, and they do not shift from their position for all the gathering blizzard might bury them. At less than three feet tall, they wouldn't be all that hard to smother.

"They live in this forest," she manages to say. "Their home we entered. I had to greet them." Especially with two mages throwing snowballs and kicking up the blanket laid over the dormant land.

One of the snow children shifts, a faint tease of snow blowing off its body. Just reminding the bird, in case it needed to be reminded, they're still here. The sylphs are a lost cause, giggling their way up into the higher, fast moving currents of the atmosphere. But sylphs can never be trusted.


So…not exactly a summoning, but the elemental bird is speaking in words with so many interpretations that it could be construed as such, especially if the creature were at all jealous of its realm during the height of its powers.

Finally able to pick Wanda out between blasts of snow and hear her through buffets of wind, Strange is not surprised that A: he couldn't see her earlier, and B: that she would do such a thing. After all, she's proclaimed adoration if not allegiance to Gaia and Mother Earth as a whole. Entirely logical.

How unlucky that it seems to have prickled a demi-god.

If she can see his face, he gives her a fairly reassuring half-smile before turning his attention back to the Pomola. It has now tilted its head the other direction and those marble-blank eyes have not deviated once from him. It expects an explanation as of yesterday. And now he knows what it feels like to be at the receiving end of a true predator's glare.

The Sorcerer licks at wind-chapped lips before projecting once again: She is a friend of the Earth Mother, Great Spirit. She greeted and was greeted. She meant no harm.


I have already offered apologies, the Sorcerer replies with a hint of steel in his projection. The wintry elemental jerks its head back in apparent surprise. It freezes, only for a moment, before darting its head in closer to him.


The molten-orange mandalas remain upraised in silent defiance of the giant bird's rapid approach and the air around the Sorcerer Supreme visibly ripples, as if he gives off his own heat within the confines of the blizzard.

She is mine. We have already apologized. We mean no harm, he repeats, even as he mentally prepares himself for the possibility of needing to fight ice with fire. No one and nothing will come between him and his Beloved.


No one ever expects the celestial or the spiritual to understand things in human terms, if remotely wise. Summoners live a short span on the expectation everything views the world in human terms. Assess other career options if one is disposed towards an anthropocentric viewpoint of the world.

So too must a witch, as any caster, be prepared to make amends and know when to hold her ground. Pride spans a very large gulf, beset by the wreckage of foolish decisions. Wanda manages not to shiver under the weight of Pomola's psychic onslaught or the fact cold infiltrates her coat and the garments underneath, but no one else here thought to roll around — even accidentally — in the snow the way she did. A murderous thought spared for that log, certain to be burned in the fireplace out of revenge.

She edges into the clearing more openly, still shedding flotsam in ice and kernels of frozen fluff. Shining eyes receive the thoughtful regard of her amber-brown ones, though she does not quite have the courage to stare down a cryptid relic from the Iroquois pantheon and their cousins. One must have their limits, all said and done.

Lips are licked, dryness dispelled in time for the intense cold to strip the moisture jealously away. She bows her head a moment, composing her thoughts with the appropriate measure of dignity and levity required under the circumstances. "I apologize for disturbing you, Grandfather. Respect to you upon this day."

The Joga-oh, those snowy spirits, shift in their wordless sentry duty and one of them makes a sound very much unimpressed by a great fluffy white eagle made of icicles and frost and swirling winds. This is their land; they are part of the earth's bones and the forest's breath, the mirror-lakes and the rushing creeks. All the great winter spirit's dignity means less to them, who endure all seasons, and count spring and summer as kin as much as his snowy heart.


Oh, no worries, the Pomola knows full-well that the littler Joga-oh are there. Having listened intently to the words uttered by the snow-dusted Witch, the giant ice elemental then blinks membranes over those ghostly-glassy eyes before giving the smaller spirits a very human-like squinting glare.


Strange shifts in place, the shield-spells held before him dropping a few degrees as he considers what he just heard. The Pomola is not concerned specifically about them, but any and all foreign magi. Something must have happened to cause the great demi-god such apprehension.

Great Spirit, did you deal with another mage here?

His question is like a brand to the creature’s rump. It abruptly screeches and hippity-hops backwards, each step thumping into snow and earth alike. The span of its wings is indeed beyond the length of the cabin and another half-cabin’s length again! Only the bend of his knees and general balanced stance saves him from being blown back into the treeline by the deafening whufting flaps of the Pomola’s wings, thankfully only twice — whump, whump!!! — and the demi-deity screeches aloud, flashing the vibrant-blue of its mouth. Snowflakes rip at his skin as he winces at the psychic volume of the creature’s thoughts.


As the Sorcerer peers up at the bird, he sees it: the noticeable lack of feathering near the shoulder socket, in the soft part of the musculature near the ribs. A scar, darker blue nearing purple, still healing. That the creature can still fly is amazing.

You have slain the one who attempted to capture you?

EATEN. SPIT UP BONES. It’s a lovely image projected into his mind and Strange wrinkles his nose.

We do not wish you harm. She has apologized. We will guard this sacred place while we rest here, Great Spirit, not bring harm to it.

The gigantic Ice Roc seems unconvinced. It folds its wings carefully, one sagging from prior wound, and takes a deliberate step towards them to lean its beak down at the level of the two Mystics.

That beak looks quite sharp at the end of its hook.


The Sorcerer brings his gloved hands down to his sides and does something either very brave or very stupid: he dispels the defensive mandalas entirely, leaving him standing there in the swirling snow with crimson Cloak rippling around him.

I am Sorcerer Supreme, Shepherd of Fate, Guardian of this Realm. You are safe, Great Spirit, fear no more.

Psychic silence in the middle of the storm that still howls around them. Then, the bird draws back slowly.




Does one throw a hex at a spiritual creature? Would that be considered an amendment or intolerable to the gods? Questions likely to linger in Wanda’s mind while Strange performs the essential duty of acknowledging a demi-god’s needs and the violations done against the natural world, dealing with the soaring capitals and bludgeoning volume of the roc’s mental voice.

Aspirin will definitely be on the menu in a few hours. Or a few minutes.

An eye for the great, glittering beak and impassive eyes solidifies all she needs to know. She dusts snow off the front of her duster, long gestures sweeping away the remaining coverage that ruins the finish in ashen hues clotted paler by the inch towards the hem. Guesswork follows in the very careful appropriation of words from silence, because the language and the intentions are completely foreign to her as much as she probably is to it. Doubtful the bird will have the least idea why she wants to do be doing absolutely nothing in front of a fireplace.

“Grandfather, what do you want us to defend?" This takes all the careful linguistic weaving she can possibly manage, and it probably makes her sound as a child to an elder in the tribe.

Her cheeks are not burning but they might as well be. Ah well, pride goeth before the witch in the gullet.


The Pomola arrows its beak towards the Witch. It allows Strange a moment to compose himself fully; there had been one hell of a set of Words resting on the back of his tongue with all the clout and clever wit of the Sorcerer Supreme, just in case.

Still, it doesn’t mean that he likes how the gigantic bird seems to consider her for much too long. He knows the psychic weight of such a gaze.

LAND. HILLS. FOREIGN INTRUDERS. DEFEND. The sound of its feathers ruffling is like the sudden drop of all the clinging snow from the branches in every tree in the nearby woods, accented by the shattering of icicles. PRESENT. DEFEND.

While we are here, yes, we will defend this realm, Strange projects back, desperate to have the giant predator’s attention on him once again. It draws the heavy pale regard and the hair on his neck rises once more. At his neck, the Cloak’s collars draw close, both providing cover against icy winds and perhaps even a semi-sentient reaction to the sensation.


Yes, I defend all of this Realm all of the time. Wanda can probably catch the weariness in his mental words; the wintry demi-god likely has no concept of weariness. It is, after all, made of sterner stuff than all humankind and its parameters revolved around the indelible seasons.


Wait a second, this bird sounds kind of petulant now. If it stomps its foot, he’s not going to help but laugh.

The bird wants them personally to live in a cabin to defend New York, or the Adirondacks? Wanda shifts in the snow, and the snow children around the clearing do not have any such need. Her thoughts follow a dragonfly path as she slowly walks within reach of the voluminous cloak enveloping Strange when it feels the need, if only to show a doublet system, and couple her words to the Doctor’s.

“Grandfather, you want us to defend this forest against people who come in… magically? Or all people?" How does one explain the Forest Service and the concept of private ownership to a spirit from a tribal background noted for its communal living? As Romani, at least in part, she too has a notion of this.

Her hands draw a circle. “We live in the middle of the winter lands. This place, here, we are guests. We cannot stay only here. Our house is far. He," she nods to Strange, “guards all the lands already. Is there a danger now that threatens your… nest?" The last word is not easy to recall from memory. She almost stumbles over it.

The crimson Cloak might have moved in accordance with the swirl of the winds. Or perhaps it’s reacting to the nearness of the Witch. Either way, the next it riffles about, it seems to wrap about her, much like the comforting arm of a friend.

KEEP GUARDING. FOREIGN. SHAMAN. NO DANGER. FUTURE. The bird pauses to preen at its rump feathers and then stills, seeming to realize that this is a completely undignified thing to do as Pomola and blizzard incarnate. It swings its head back into view before settling its wings once more. FUTURE.

Forever, Strange projects, folding chilling hands up under his armpits momentarily. The elementally-charged storm is beginning to fray his warming spell truthfully now. I am immortal.

This makes the Pomola settle visibly. The half-raised crest relaxes back against its skull and with all the suddenness of the blizzard’s initial arrival, the wind dies. The cloud above thin and break, allowing rays of sunlight to shine down on them. While the gigantic Ice Roc looks no less deadly, there is an inherent beauty in the refraction through its secondary flight feathers. Auroras writhe within them and project down onto unbroken snow in paler watercolors.


The Sorcerer’s sigh ghosts out before him as he squints at the spirit-god. Yes…yes, we will defend. Gods below, for being so big, it has such a small capacity to understand him.

So big, and so unmentionable. Such are the burdens of an immortal, for which the young woman errantly cleaves herself. Might as well accept that is the way life will be, from now on. Her words have been spoken, and Wanda tips her head at the bird.

“Your wing is hurt," she states, for surely it must know of its suffering. “I can try to mend it." At least a little. One can pray that healing spirits in manifested form is no different from the rest.

Otherwise she falls back into the best of all options, silent. Relentless doldrums settle upon them, and the brilliant glimmer of the sunlight striking the shimmery plumage of the roc almost hurts to look upon.


Another immortal too proud to accept help beyond that of martial type. At least Strange has learned better than to pretend he doesn’t hurt. He pities the creature wordlessly, his eyes shifting from patch of still-growing feathers and back to the stern avian face.

We will guard. If you need healing, she is here. He gives the last word an emphasis in the sense of his own immortality. The Pomola tilts its head before granting them the grace of its ringing feathers clacking together to sprinkle motes of vibrant frost into the air around it in an abrupt hyper-flexible head twirl.

GOOD. SPIRITS. HOME. It focuses briefly on the little Joga-oh at the edge of the treeline before spreading those unbelievably-broad wings once more. GUARD!!! The psychic command is imperious and rings for miles across the psychic landscape.

A few squirrels drop from the canopies farther in, disappearing into drifts of snow in a daze.

Strange lets out a slow humming sigh of pain and no other response.

The Pomola flutters its wings once and then — a chirrup, a sound totally incongruent with its actions thus far.

NEST. EGGS. The image projected to them is a flash of eggshells in storm-blue and scarlet-red alike, blending at points in amaranthine. Then, snow blows up to near-blind them as the giant Ice Roc abruptly takes off into the air with wingbeats in the pitch of thunderclaps.

“What?!" The Sorcerer gets a mouthful of snow for his exclamation and spits out wet chunks even as he braces against the wash of crystals. With the Pomola’s retreat goes the thickness of the clouds and the sunlight strengthens further.

The Cloak shifts off of Wanda, shaking snow collected on its being, while he wipes the chilling moisture from his face and winces as he touches the scratches caused by branches in what seems like an eternity ago. As he turns to look at Wanda, he has no idea of the clumps of snow all scattered throughout his wind-mussed hair.

“Are you okay?" he asks quietly. He certainly won’t be the first to bring up the image of eggshells. Nope. Not him.

It shouts to her, as it overwhelms Strange, and the immediate reaction is flinging her hands to her ears as though she might contain the typhoon within her skull. A low, keening noise grits up through her throat and bursts the dam of her clenched teeth, Wanda’s voice shredded on the edge of pain.

Pain for the fate witch is never wise. Her body tends to rebel past a certain point, pushing outwards and backlashing when she can maintain any sort of focus. Not this time, however, when she rubs her temples and sinks down into the snow on her knees again. They’ve gone to jelly and they insist upon being against the ground.

It makes the downdrafts much less intense upon her from that position, anyways, and no one can comment if she were to be knocked over by the roc generating immensely turbulent waves. Clumps of snow in Strange’s hair are nothing compared to the buffeting wash of them hitting the trees, and the smaller spirits wandering back into the forest, hiding once more, now that the bird has left them and the game is up.

“It is too loud." Her nose wrinkles, and her clothes drip more than a little. “Your head must hurt a little." She chooses his welfare over his every time, and it won’t bother her to do that again and anew.

She inclines her head. “Does he think I will sit on his eggs? I will not sit in a nest."

“I have…a terrible headache," he admits, putting his hands over his face to shut off the glaring reflection from the snow around them. “And please don’t go sitting on eggs." The plaintive-sounding sentence emerges from behind the scar-covering gloves. They slap against his thighs as he drops his arms and then he offers a hand to bring her to her feet.

“All I want is a healing spell and a nap now. Does this sound like a good idea to you? Because it sounds like a grand thing to me."

A nap sounds like quite the odd way to spend a holiday, but Wanda’s understanding of holidays lies entirely in the spectrum of eavesdropping on young women. They will know these things better than she does, and if the situation is any disappointment to Strange, the good Doctor will either say it or say nothing at all.

Neither is entirely comforting.

“Where are these eggs? It sent an image of them. Is it trying to say we should go inside? I do not understand that… bird." Her admission of knowing nothing about something comes hard. Oh, he has his pride, and so does she. Teeth grit lightly together, and she peers up at the sky. “It did not say to follow. I do not know even where one finds such. A mountain? A tree? A place called eagle top?"

There may have to be a map and a dictionary for translation, given she has no hope. The puzzlement refuses to banish itself.

Her hand, even with snow-wetted gloves, burns in his grasp as he draws her to her feet. He follows her look upwards before giving a tired shrug.

“What I know of the creature is that is an elemental construct given form. I have this vague recollection of a demi-god called B’mola, from a mountain farther north. It never ceases to amaze me, the power of belief," he adds thoughtfully. “Simply by telling the tales over and over again and offering not only respect, but the sheer belief that it exists, it does exist. The magnitude of willpower is continually underestimated."

This sounds like something the Ancient One might have reminded him of so long ago.

“I don’t intend to follow it. I intend to go inside that cabin, banish this headache, drink tea, and then curl up under a blanket and probably fall asleep. And as far as the eggs go…”

Don’t mind his sudden reticence. He’s just shy.

“I wouldn’t worry about that. I think it was confused."

With her fingers intertwined within his, he begins trudging back towards the cabin, making sure to walk at a pace where she can remain comfortably beside him.

“It is argued many stories give rise to the gods, and the gods are not the source of the stories. These gods of the Norwegians and the Swedes walk and kill people. You have the hidden faces of the gods, the Bright Lady of Justice. My father is…” The Elder God of Evil, but that’s neither here nor there. “Many stories about his different faces. All sorts of spirits and stories seem to be the weight of imagination. I know only that reality is dangerous."

Her hands spread and she stares into their space, even as he pulls her near enough. “Then I and our son break it all. We imagine and it passes. Our word acts sometimes as law. This is why we must think and not act."

Let that heavy thought lie upon the air, and the matter will spin back away from confusion to the heart of that particular Gordian knot. Wanda pats the front of her coat, letting its colour restore to the shade of a good burgundy tapped in the last decade.

“Is he expecting us to bring him eggs, then? They were our colours." No, she has not lost that and she refuses to let Strange walk away from this, even if he gets to curl up and have a right proper nap in a few minutes, anyhow. “It told us guard. Then it made the happy call and sent the image of the nest. I am suspicious, Doctor, that you are thinking and puzzling, but not saying anything. We have — will have? — our happy nest."

A pause follows, limited by a quirk of her lips, almost a smirk rendered in the flesh. “In Isfahan, we had a story told of a great bird that lived in the mountains. The simurgh, they called it. This is much like the gamayun, but that was said to have the face of a woman like the Greek siren. I think the ancients meant its face had human intelligence. In the stories, simurgh and gamayun are prophetic. They speak the future as it will come to pass."

The implied question is there. He’s shy, and she merely squeezes his hand with no conception at all of what shyness could be. Bashful is not how they forged her in Chthon’s likeness.

She will not let that imagery pass, apparently, even if it might mean literally nothing beyond the biological desires of the avian demi-god, not so separate from its baser nature after all.

He gives a noncommittal shrug in response to the concept of guarding as they walk along, drawing nearer to the cabin. Yes, it’s implied with his mantle, he’ll guard until the day he dies, apparently.

It is an art, how Strange schools his expression to absence of reaction in the face of her oh-so-true postulation that he’s not sharing his true thoughts on the matter. He had years of practice before the masters of Kamar-Taj, before the Ancient One proper. Even Wong, that curmudgeon of a librarian. What book? Late? He knows not of this book.

Still, it is unfair of him to remain cloistered within his mind and finally, midway across the clearing, he gives in.

“Rakshasi, I…” His voice falters out, betraying him, even as he tries again. “Do not read too much into the imagery it shared. I suspect it had no idea how to explain to us whatever it is it wanted to explain. Honestly, it spoke in single words that each had a myriad of meanings." He gestures helplessly with free hand even as he glances over at her, brows knitted with a sense of pity. “Cracked eggshells could mean so many things. Absolutely, a fertile nest," and the Sorcerer’s face flashes over with concern before returning to base unsettled, “but also a broken one. Who knows if the eggs hatched? The future, it’s…it’s not set in stone. It can waver and shift as easily as a vibrating string." It’s the best way he knows to describe it. “The future is fluid, influenced minutely by each of our personal decisions and then, multiply us all by millions? There is no predicting it, not accurately, unless the Vishanti show me directly." By how he seems to glower a bit, it seems he doesn’t appreciate the insights most of the time.

They reach the cabin’s porch and he knocks snow from his boots by tapping his toes to the baseboard of the topmost step before continuing up onto the outdoor mat. “Don’t…don’t read too much into it," he repeats quietly, glancing over at her with a sense of pleading in his eyes.

Broken dreams, like broken eggshells, are nearly impossible to put back together.

“Let’s have tea, get warm, maybe take a nap. Oh, gods below, a hot shower. Let’s not forget that." It’s his attempt to change topic to something more comfortable and light.

“Have you not thought maybe that bird is lonely in its long vigil, and possibly tasked us to find it a mate?" The fact will not be dropped, different reasoning applying to Wanda. She copes with the possibility by covering her mouth with her hand, and scrubbing her snowy boots against the mat. It will not be the first time she has to peel them off and hope the water and snow will not disturb their supple fit. It’s not as though she has the means or wherewithal to go and replace her footwear every ten days. “Lonely now its small storms have gone to harass Maine and Chicago and the sea, it wants more eggs filled of snowflakes and ice. The little baby birds making their happy sounds, and causing these small breezes or frost to happen."

Admittedly, small shells full of raging storm spirits too juvenile to conjure more than a hiccup or a meteorological blip is well worth imagining as far as the witch is concerned. Otherwise she would not be biting the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from grinning.

Strange is in too dour a mood to allow her that much, anyways.

Little effort necessary to drain away that brief passage of sunshine. In her world, everything tends to reside in the dark anyways. It takes barely a few moments of reflection for the clouds to shut in on her world, and her wandering thoughts to retract to their typical graphite point.

She shrugs off her coat, braving the cold rather than being damp. A hand touches the handle of the door and she swings it open for the Sorcerer, nodding. “Go in. I will find wood and the other things for a fire. Have your comfort, I will not be that long."

Giving the leather jacket a good shake, she slips it back on over her shoulders. Worn open might be impractical, a refusal to acknowledge the current air temperature, however it might be warming without the ice roc lurking about.

Baby elemental birds. Cheep-cheep, feed us a deer or errant hiker who wandered too close, cheep-cheep! Have a sudden freeze that graces iris flowers in frost and chill.

It’s enough to banish his mood to some extent, to allow a snorting laugh to wreathe in the air before him. Still, the Sorcerer is a bit slow on the draw in regards to his musings and realizes that he’s basically become the fuddy-duddy he never wants to be far too late. Holiday: - 2 now, minus one point to the Pomola, minus one point to him.

Strange knows better than to argue with her at this point, with how she seems to be withdrawing. Any sort of comment on his part would likely come out incorrectly anyways, with how he’s still recovering from the adrenaline of nearly coming to blows with an ancient elemental and with the reminder that he has to guard. Still guard. Even on a supposed holiday.

“Stay safe," he murmurs, knowing this is even not the best wording he should offer. Of course she’ll be safe. She’s held her own against the world before. With a nod and fleeting smile, he steps to enter the cabin. In the doorway, he pauses, glancing back over his shoulder. Framed in crimson Cloak, now clear of all snow, he watches the scarlet-clad figure retreat with a tightness in his gut. His gaze drops to his booted toes as he sucks on his teeth. Holiday. This still needs to be a holiday.

The front door closes, but not all of the way; it remains open at least a half-inch, indicator that the decision has nothing to do with their current state of affairs. The crimson Cloak flits away to hang by the radiator from one of the hooks embedded in the wall; in order to dry? Or does the garment have a predilection for comfort? A simple sweeping gesture from throat to belt and it’s back to the daywear in garnet and black. Is the Sorcerer unconsciously mirroring his consort? Who knows, it’s squirrely mind between those silvered temples.

The best thing about how the spells easily shift between sets of clothing? The semi-formal-wear is as it was before the incident with a simple walk gone awry. Clean, smelling not too heavily of his cologne. The battle-leathers will need some addressing, but not now.

He cheats, he does, when he makes the tea. Within his overnight satchel, he has stashed away some tea bags from back at the Sanctum, not trusting the resort staff’s decisions as to ‘good tea’. He’s guessed at her favorites too, let her note, not just his own. A whispered Word and the kettle on the stove heats at doubled time, whistles even as he lifts it from the burner to pour over the herbs. Inhaling the steam redolent in cinnamon, clove, turmeric, and orange from his own cup, he can feel the tenseness in his shoulders lessen.

Once she returns, she might find him ensconced on the low-built couch before the fireplace, resting shoeless feet on the edge of the wide stone hearth. Her own cup will be on the nearest side table, a clear invitation to join him. No shower, not just yet. He doesn’t want to be unavailable if she returns needing something of him.


Wanda’s idea of a good cup of tea is particularly forgiving next to some, though her palate is also used to dining on unmentionable substances due to a lack of anything else. Never mind her dietary predilections have distinct limits more than they ever used to, she can drink anything short of liquid smoke without complaint. Harder still is convincing her to state a preference.

Strange will have time to brew at least three proper pots of tea in the time she is gone, consume them, and wonder. Her existence is measured within the vicinity, varying from somewhat near to ranging far up the woodland slope, though never beyond the tree line. Searching for appropriate kindling and tinder, at least that which is dry, takes time. No one mention the stack of chopped wood at the back of the cabin.

He may have noticed its existence already, and that of a dozen varieties of bird, and possibly skiers on the mountain and all of Lake Placid (mystics: 0).

Perhaps that nap was a good idea. Perhaps not.

Wanda returns with her selection bundled up in her coat, and she leaves it to season dry on, of all things, a picnic bench forgotten for the season. Pushing it towards the overhang of the cabin roof takes some work, but the extra effort assures she stays somewhat warm rather than clammy and frostbitten, or worse for wear.

By that point, her footsteps are a steady crunch all the way to the door, and she nudges the portal open to allow herself entry. A few bits of greenery stick to her hair, her boots are completely soaked, and the berry stains that would be on her fingers, if she weren’t wearing gloves, still leave a scent to the leather if someone checks.

The Sorcerer curled up on the couch under an afghan? Not going to be checking. Cloak? Doesn’t have a nose.

“You did that, didn’t you?" she inquires of the innocent ruby-red garment. Suuuure, cloak. Sure. Eyes on you.

At some point, yes, good ol’ Cloak had a hand — hem? — in covering its master.

Strange tried so hard, he did, to remain awake, but the heat emitting from the fireplace became too much for him. It got into his soles and then up into his legs and the bones of his hands absorbed all the warmth possible from his tea cup, now empty but for the dregs. The tea did its work from the inside out and it was too easy to slump to one side.

He sleeps, submitting to the draw of weariness from a stressful event plus the myriad of other things resting upon his shoulders, beneath the thick afghan. Maybe the tips of his toes peek out from beneath it, little ridges within black dress socks. To the Sight, his aura is still, riffled only by the subconscious visions that rise from the depths to touch beneath the surface before diving down once more. The slow, steady rise and fall of the blanket, the slackness of face now erased of lines of worry, it all tells of the near-lack of dreams and the depths of peace he currently finds within the arms of rest.

Bother than he didn’t put a warmer in her tea cup. He’ll feel guilty for it later in a loving way.

Her aura ripples in slow motion, almost fully scarlet, the core still the shade of plums instead of pomegranates. Hers is a garden settled, extricated for some essential time to exist as herself.

Or the lesser pairing in a twin, communing on identity defined as ‘am not that’ rather than well-established boundaries that allow Pietro to be his own person, and Wanda her own individual. Too late for regrets. The woods give quiet relief to the headache grinding at her frontal lobe, easing the bands of pressure and discomfort — fine, the stooping scream of a hawk — lacking any other outlet.

Some nations, like Norway, make a national pastime of taking an axe out into the woods. Now she can appreciate why, at some important level. Set free by embodying the cold and the separateness of self by dissolving into nature, she might actually practice being human instead of irritated on wordless levels.

One day they’ll maybe speak of it. Doubtful. Words are her foes. Words are always one’s foes.

His is a dreaming spectacle, a sign of comfort and peace upon a man so often denied it. Without a word, Strange conveys something that maybe a holiday is meant to do: give space and freedom. Wanda settles on the floor quietly beside the couch, rests her head against his shin, and stops thinking about anything much at all.

Let him sleep; she’ll just let herself fade away to a drowsy in between state, as long as it lasts.

Not so asleep that Strange doesn’t distantly note the sudden pressure of touch to his shin. With a slow blink and lick of his lips, he stretches beneath the afghan, uttering a wispy moan. The blanket is given a sleepy frown before he blinks at her.

“Come here," he says roughly, combining gentle command with a fold-back of the blanket and reaching hand. Respectfully, he draws her onto the couch and then goes about arranging her against him. Big spoon to little spoon, spine to sternum, Wanda is wrapped up in body-warmed blanket and muscled arm alike, regardless of whether or not she wears the scarlet coat. Both disappear under the afghan, much to the silent delight of the Cloak.

Sneaky garment, that one.

“I’m sorry," he murmurs into her hair, nuzzling it like he always does, before resting his cheek against the back of her head. She’s drawn closer still, hopefully using his arm beneath her as head support if not an actual pillow from the couch itself. “I just want…I want a goddamn holiday." The grousing fades into silence. He snuggles her a little closer still with a tensing of his arm.

Sneaky Cloak. Knowing one has a regular old coat, wet and used for carrying plants and kindling, how comfortable would that be? Its plans speak to an awareness beyond the hawkish sentience in the Sanctum’s wards.

She is stripped down to her black shirt and corset, boots hopeless at pulling off until the swollen leather dries out a little and allows freedom. Keep that in mind with sock feet, doctor, though she does the favour of leaving Strange dry by hitching her knees and tilting her legs outwards. That way, anything still wet drips onto the floor. Pray no emergency escapes at speed will be necessary or they’ll slip in a puddle.

The warmth he conveys, otherwise, will never be denied. It is too fresh, too unknown, in a harsh world defined by have nots, rather than comforts and privileges. The rights mystics take for granted - practice space, literacy, a roof - are never certain with the Maximoff witch, and she concedes whatever darkness toils away in the back of her thoughts to the simple sunny pleasure of being wrapped up in his arms.

Eyes shut for a few long moments, and she murmurs, “It made you have a bargain to be here. I may have to change my ways." The rumble of her heartbeat is still slow, thoughtful, dark in its melodies strummed at barely audible levels.

“Must I tell them you are not here to bargain with them, when you are on holiday?"

Sorry, Dormammu, we’re busy. Shut the gate on your way out?

“No…I’ll just flip them the bird and shut the cabin door and come back here," he murmurs with a sleepy chuckle. He’s still so drowsy; for some reasons, naps are much harder to emerge from in comparison to sleep. “And I made no new bargain. I have the mantle, I guard this reality. No new promise there…”

With a series of shifts, he manages to draw her closer still — though do note the draw away of socked feet from boots; he just discovered that they were wet and cold still. His nose ends up resting against the outer line of her neck, though this changes to allow him to tuck his chin beneath her ear. Hopefully she can still breathe, so enfolded within his capturing hold!

"This is a holiday," punctuated by a soft kiss to the outer curvature of the shell of her ear.

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