1963-12-20 - The 12 Days: Eighth
Summary: On the eighth day of Christmas, the Sorcerer Supreme is so like, not going to mail order or a shopping mail. Nope. Time for some excitable shenanigans!
Related: The Twelve Days: First through Twelfth
Theme Song: None
strange wanda 


*
It’s been nice to be back at the Sanctum. Their holiday, however brief, was also enjoyable and incredibly fulfilling once both of them got past the demi-god of Mount Katahdin as well as the imminent threat of frostbite.

Nothing’s ever easy for the Sorcerer Supreme and his consort, not even a simple cabin stay overnight.

The wards missed them both, cavorted about them in semi-intelligent joy, and then disappeared back into the structure of the Sanctum. Minimal unpacking happened, they both took very little in light of their respective Mystical powers, and it was back to business as usual.

Or is it?

It just so happens that a few weeks back, in the middle of his highly-structured Astral exploration of the multitude of veils separating this Realm from others, the Sorcerer Supreme stumbled upon an utter gem of a dimension. It was a quick visit, nothing more than needed to ascertain whether or not some protective presence or casting would come down upon them with the need to smote them from existence within the confines of the place and to begin mentally cataloguing the native species of creatures that existed within its expanse, and then he was back within his body once more.

Seeing as he’s a glutton for showing off the things he’s discovered and a certain Witch is his favorite audience, it serves nicely that the very next day, Strange emerges from the Loft with clattering steps down the stairway and into the hallway. In a moment of nonchalant meanderings within his favored floor, the memory had hit him and so had the need to return the favor of holiday with enlightenment.

“Wanda?” he calls out, forgetting in his excitement that he can send those very silvery guardian spells after her. His voice echoes around the expanse of the foyer beyond the railing that lines the outer edge of the carpeted floor and he frowns as he glances around him. “Hmm.”

With a calming intake of breath, he closes his eyes and the frown deepens a bit in focus. The projected beckoning expands from his person like a detonation of explosives, albeit much more subtle than concussive.

Care for an adventure?

The Sanctum aids and abets him in casting the thought into every corner, through every crevice, and from shingles to bedrock in order for it to reach his intended target, should she be within the confines of the Mystical mansion.

*

Among the many other tasks required of any practicing occultist, Wanda’s day follows a somewhat predictable structure of study, meditate, beat things, practice English, and conspire with her twin. Teatime is a regular opportunity to interrupt, but at this particular hour, she is wrapped up in a silk rope.

Not of her own choosing, to be fair. The rope twists and bends according to its own semi-sentient whims, and eagerly encloses her ankle, the leg of the table, and a vase of water and fourteen ferns known only to grow on a single island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Ferns known to possess powerful soporific properties and not much else of a use, since their rarity makes them terrible to test as a magical component.

If she were not hanging four feet off the ground, lashing out irritably at the rope with a knife in hopes of severing its connection with the sigils she marked upon it, the answer might be somewhat swifter in arrival. On the face of it, she is having an adventure.

“«I will use you for rigging. For kindling. I will braid you into my brother’s hammock!” she hisses in Transian, lending it a good deal more emphasis by sibilant hisses fraught by danger.

The rope does an excited limbo dance as it manages to lift the little table on one side, peering underneath while a light coil slithers down the curved leg. Her paint, fortunately screwed shut, slides off the edge like pianists on the deck of the Titanic, plunging onto the floor along with two brushes and a bit of paper.

She’s at the midpoint between a small practice chamber, full of varied oddments that suggest, yes, someone is plotting something. Including being attacked by a rope. The knife slashes at the resilient silky plait, and a few threads stick out. No luck.

An answer means the master of the Sanctum will show up. An answer not coming means he will show up faster. Maybe getting a cat is a better idea, something to waylay it.

“Yes.” The reply he needs, it may just buy her some time. Until the rope shakes her eagerly by her ankle. Maybe if she could just get her feet on the ceiling….

But no, that damn rope is not cooperating, spinning her around.

“Shhhiiiii—-”

*
The answer comes spoken aloud rather than mentally and the Master of the Mansion opens his eyes as he glances over his shoulder down the hallway. It sounded an awful like it was coming from one of the practice rooms down the way, beyond the tea room and around the corner.

So does that cursing, actually.

Maybe she hears the jogging as he makes his way quickly down and around and pushes the door to the room farther open from its cracked state. He stands there, framed against the dark wood of the wall behind him, dressed in storm-blue battle-leathers and with the familiar weight of the crimson Cloak at his shoulders…and then he blurts out a laugh.

Before clapping a hand over his mouth and bending at the waist a few degrees with the effort of needing to retain the bubbles of amusement at his throat. Quickly enough though, he regains his sense of responsibility and strides into the room. It takes him a few halted reaches, but he finally manages to catch at her and stop the spinning, be it by clothing or by limb, who knows. Hopefully he avoids the knife!

“Wanda, what is this?” Amusement filters into his question as he grabs at the silken rope, intending to nullify its inscribed sigils with the commanding override of his presence.

*

“It is a rope.” Queen of understatement, here. She arches her spine and swipes again with the knife while the damn rope twirls her again, forcing her into a suspended pirouette at a sharp arch. It would not help to grab hold of its length, especially given how excitedly it waves around its newest acquisition, a table. The extra length of the ‘tail’ goes slithering around the papers and ink, bumping up against the wall and flirting with rising against it.

A laugh, though, for whatever reason sends the rope eagerly after Strange. Just how fast does he nullify its existence?

She tries not to scowl all that hard at his boots, twisting around again and severing more entwined threads, but not getting to the core. The rune’s augmenting force does, however, threaten to weaken its strength or pliability enough she might be able to drop and cling onto the doorway while the rope mambo dances itself to its heart’s content.
“You have your adventure, now.”

*
“Not…what I had in mind,” he grunts, fighting with the rope that now attempts to ensnare him in turn. Strange needs to release his grip on her, unfortunately, to dart away from its lashing at him. Hand-to-hand combat experience suits him well in this instance. Accompanied by the results of many hard-earned lessons about failing to dodge said snapping attacks, he manages to keep away. For a little bit.

A loop cunningly wraps about one of his wrists and the immediate pressure is enough to make him both jolt back and utter a sound of pained dismay from behind bared teeth. It turns into a tug of war at his carpal bones that hurts, dammit!

“FINIS!!!” The Sorcerer snarls, his eyes momentarily blanking to brilliant golden light. The Mystical tasering bursts out from his aura to attempt to unravel the rope’s cheeky incantation.

Hopefully, two things happen: one, the rope stops its sadistic dancing, and two, that his lunge forwards is in time to at least halt her fall to the floor, if not to catch her in a rather romantic manner across his outstretched arms.

*

The rope stops dancing. It spills in inviting ripples upon the ground, the paint lifted off its surface where she graced its spirals with a bit of creative penmanship. See, harmless, minus several slashes. The table ceases to wobble about a foot off the ground and lands on its top with a noisy thunk. It will need some definite polishing.

Wanda does not utter much of a sound when she hears him shout, and her body curls to absorb the potential of falling flat on her face by instead rolling, or preparing to.

And instead he’s there to catch her, the dashing hero Doctor Strange catching the damsel in this dress. Fine, skirt over leggings. She will, however, venture to murmur, “Mrf!” in a very quiet tone.

Totally not snuggling the chest. Nope. Not… not snuggling.

*
How often does the Sorcerer get to emulate his childhood hero, the Lone Ranger, by saving said dress-less damsel from distress? Of course he’s going to take it all in Supremely-smug stride, even if there are some rather severely-red marks around one wrist now.

Never mind the table in need of buffing. Never mind the scattered papers and ink jar. Mind instead the mild surprise that takes even himself off-guard that he actually accomplished the feat. Statistically? Unlikely. What a delight.

So there he stands there, looking down at her with a knowing curve to his lips that quirks the lines of his goatee.

“Have you had enough adventure for one day? Or can I tempt you with another?”

*

He’s fortunate she loves him so to drop her pride a touch and allow Strange his moment. Now he just needs a little black mask to go with his thrilling cape. International sorcerer of mystery, no?

Wanda extends her fingers to dangle the dagger over the floor, that the spectacle not be destroyed by the possibility she, being armed and unbound, was really in no danger at all.

May the odds ever be in Strange’s favour when it comes to catching her should she fall. The knowing smile grooves its way into her right ventricle and squeezes a space to abide. Nothing out of the ordinary here, no. She resists shivering too obviously, denying the impact he has on her. Though her amber eyes soften a bit, her mouth pinched in rather than openly smile.

“You would lead a girl as me into tempting? Very dangerous, Doctor Strange. I will not say no.” That’s the danger, of course. She straightens his collar with a crisp tug, while expectantly awaiting his response.

*
While the master of the Cloak might give her a lightly-remonstrative arc of an eyebrow, the garment at first retains the forced alignment…and then slumps deliberately out of place. The silky fabric attempts to brush at her fingers and the Sorcerer makes a face of annoyed patience, twitching his face minutely away from the more ecstatic undulations.

“Alright, calm down,” he finally mutters, frowning at the collars. They settle back into place politely for the moment. “And so glad to hear that I remain as tempting as always.” Try not to smile, he can see it. That pursing of her lips, something he’s seen often enough, is a bit at odds with how comfortably she remains in his arms. It’s enough to bring a repressed grin to his lips, though rather than hide it entirely, little dimples show.

Carefully, he adjusts her weight in his arms and settles her to the floor, feet-first, silently noting the little knife’s presence once again.

“I don’t think it’s incredibly dangerous, tempting you, though you might want to grab your coat.” Flexing his fingers, the Sorcerer considers the ligature marks at his wrist before shaking his head. “What were you up to anyways?” This question is spoken over his shoulder as he turns to walk from the room, heading for the Loft once more. The man is clearly on a mission!

*

Oh, calm down, Cloak, she’s using it as an excuse to be friendly without being seen to pet the garment. A tasting run of her thumb over the collar’s edge can be assured as familiar and friendly.

Later, when it’s resting upon its stand, the poor relic will probably even get a brief kiss on the shoulder or something equally affectionate.

Using dimples on her will not bring her into further acquiescence to Strange, though the sorceress kicks her foot lightly into the air and possibly considers rolling into a ball. “Studying.” Her answer is more coy than Illyana trying to avoid admitting she made another orange that tastes of lye and sweaty socks. It implies everything and gives away nothing.

Nothing except she had an animated rope obsessed by hanging her from the air and dancing with her. And a table, no less. The man is on a mission, given an unanswered question to mull over.

Tidying up her things takes a few moments, once he releases her — reluctance is hidden, mostly. She has no trouble obtaining her coat; it’s drying in their bedroom, mended and stitched, lacquered under a fresh patina of oil and a little reddening dye. Fetching it will take her a few moments after he enters, and she pats down the pockets to be sure her particulars are there.

“Do I need anything else? Something special?” Maybe 22 feet of animated rope, say, if they’re going jungle exploring.

*
Never underestimate the mind of Strange. Sure, he might not be actively addressing the lively rope in this moment, when he stands centrally on the platform before the Window on the Worlds, but every time he takes in the young woman in oiled scarlet, the very persistent curiosity in the back of his mind will keep reformulating patterns and weighing probabilities. It’ll never stop, not until he finds an answer.

It’s the curse and edge of the Mystic.

“Hmm…I don’t believe so. Just your usual survival intelligence in the case of sudden change in status.” Boy, that was deliberately vague; teasing, in a sense, but also warning. He trusts her abilities, whatever weaponry they may require.

His gaze never drops from those amber eyes as he lifts one hand and in a manner worthy of confident showmanship, opens a Gate in the air between himself and the Anomaly Rue window. The lightning-framed opening hold to reveal…darkness. Abject darkness. No light. His grin is challenging now, inviting, ribbing at her serious nature, all at once.

With head held high, Eye about his neck, the Sorcerer Supreme steps through the oculus and seems to be immediately swamped by jealous shadow that leaves him invisible beyond the Gate.

*
Wanda pauses for a moment, glancing towards the one drawer that contains the sum of her worldly goods. Knives are accounted for, a gun is not, and she decides to go find it anyways. Was he aware she owns a Walther PPK? This is a girl who came out of Berlin, it should be no surprise.

Shrugging, she takes it anyways, and slides the holstered weapon over her arm, to be fitted under her jacket. One less dagger, one more set of firepower. Boots will be double-knotted, another pat down attesting to her readiness. Her charms will supply whatever else she needs.

Well, he’s out to be a stage performer, she might as well accept her fate in this world. Strange is about to leap into the unknown; he’s like to be challenged for who moves faster, for the moment he turns to grin at her, she follows him at a dead run. Springing into the shadow may not be the wisest idea, but neither is she going to be completely left behind.

And let’s be honest, dimples and a grin deserve another kind of goosing.

*
She might bump flat against his lean back, maybe sheltered from the major brunt of impact by the clever Cloak, but he didn’t go far into the darkness. The light of the sizzling frame of the Gate is the only illumination and he takes another step forwards, this time with a note of caution in posture echoed in the gunslinger hovering of hands before his waist in nearly-completed mudras.

A deep hum of consideration and then a glance over his shoulder. The golden sparkling reflects from his eyes, a counterpoint to the amaranthine glimmer around his pupils. “We should be fine.” A nod and the Gate collapses.

Dark. Darker than the inside of a cave. Except…around his feet? A shifting in his weight, unseen but for how the surface seems to suddenly bleed in sudden bioluminescence. It paints his boots in misty violet light, that odd point in the visible spectrum that the human eyes can’t entirely make sense of, and provides a marker for where he is before her.

“Well! …I didn’t notice this before.” Soft delight in his voice as he takes another step forwards, testing to see if pressure encourages more or less of the reactive glow. It’s not moss, not foam, not some forgiving earth — it’s something else entirely and it shines. Shiny!

Around them, the dark continues in complete shrouding. But what’s this? An odd clicking, faint, like a Geiger counter? It came from somewhere beyond them and Strange straightens in place. More light now, the summoning of mild magic about his hands. It identifies them as present and as defended.

*
For sake of experimentation, Wanda rocks on her heels where she lands in the easily compressed foundation of the realm. Her heels sink down and rise, determining whether it may be sponge or organic, possibly beyond her limited reckoning. As no evil cloud of spores shoots out or turns them into a hazy daze, she takes another step forward.

“Did you fly here?” A glance to Strange confirms or denies the possibilities. She presses her lips together, rolling her soles off the ground, and testing where balance or slippery surfaces might prove dangerous. Shiny, yes, but possibly hazardous in other ways.

Pale light follows them together and her eyes gain that same lilac hue, stained across her once amber irises and black pupils, alight with the drowning stare of magic.

Is there a somewhat unusual taste to the air, or a scent that strikes as familiar? If not, her attention falls to the ticking. Bug feet ticking, clock ticking, she’s listening for what.

*
“No, I stepped in briefly,” he murmurs, searching the ink beyond them with suspicious squint. “You never linger in a dimension where you don’t know the air composition or whether or not something’s going to suck the marrow out of your bones through your forehead.” Please don’t ask him how he brings this particular example to mind.

No familiar scent, not just yet. The air is dry and cool, the same as a house in winter with a dwindling fire. Scuff your feet, you might just shock the next conductive surface you touch, metal or flesh alike. The atmosphere is still and expansive, maybe thin; not close, it gives the impression of a great space around them even if sight and Sight cannot decide upon a set distance to any horizon.

Again, the trilling set of clicks, and then, a will-o-wisp. A small one, soft, almost velvety, it appears a good ten feet beyond them and bobbles there at chest-height to Strange. An upwards run of ticks now, almost questioning if paralleled to human speech. Whoosh, swoosh, blaze — three others now, all collected in a swarm. The individual lights expand out to become no bigger than a softball, all in opalescent hues. They can’t seem to decide what wavelength to emit, it seems, shifting from pearly-pink to mint-green to blood-red to butter-yellow, all within speed of thought and without coordination with one another.

“They remind me of foxfire.” Strange continues to keep his voice quiet, as if unwilling to spook the ghostly glows. “The ones that lure travelers into the swamp to drown them. You have another name for them, right?”

The farthest wisp approaches a bit closer, traveling in a path a bit like the lazy glide of a butterfly, before stopping an arm’s length away. The ticking it emits takes on a ringing note, a bit like a crystal flute pinged with a fork.

Touch it? Oh, he wants to touch it — to reach out and see if the light has substance to it. Likely it can be seen in how he raises a hand and offers questing fingers, but then draws it back with a nibble on his lower lip against a smile. Self-recrimination shows in his face. Tsk, shouldn’t touch.

“I think they’re harmless?”

*
Think, that’s comforting. Wanda’s eyebrows hitch lightly above her glowing eyes, and she tips her head a degree. “One way to knowledge,” she murmurs.

The wisps, so like her own search lights, wobble about and perhaps try to communicate in a spectrum of colours and sound. Her own musical aura at least gives a relative basis for knowing the notes, even if her skills as a harpist are largely by playing by ear and not always sight reading. She knows, as Strange comprehends angles and balances of power, what she hears relative to a musical octave.

“We call them different things. Some stories are bad. Some stories are not so bad.” The temptation to summon a witch light builds, but she keeps her hands tucked firmly in her pockets.

And squishes the ground for good measure. “I think it would eat your fingers.”

*
His snort, a repressed laugh, is enough to send the nearest light to retreating with a quick flit-flit back another few feet and to set the more reserved trio to bobbling about in what appears to be minor agitation. Oops, too abrupt. Easy movements, soothing cadence of speech.

“I don’t know that they would bite me, but they do seem attracted to the magic.” He stretches out a hand and fills it with Mystical power in a specific twist: liquified. Cerulean water that glows with gem-like hues and starlight cups and then drops between his fingers onto the surface beneath their feet. The spatters remain like neon paint against the ground where the ephemeral press of the eldritch flow isn’t enough to trigger the ultraviolet response.

The mote flaps over once more, closer still, and edges towards the offering like a feral animal: liable to spook at any moment. The other draw nearer as well, seeming to converse in clickitacks and scritz-flitz sounds.

All at once, the overbearing shift in air pressure signals an abrupt change in the dimension. The lights don’t scatter, as if they’re used to the barometric madness. It’s enough to cause ears to pop and the Sorcerer casts aside the hand of watery magic in favor of a martially-ready settling of bent knees and elbows alike, hands limned in golden light that shines nearly blinding in comparison to the foxfire wisps.

So sorry for everyone’s night vision, sight and Sight like.

It’s like the drawing back of a thick velvet drape over a masterpiece wrought by incomprehensible powers of nature and beyond. The darkness recedes away into a point lost amongst the myriad million points of light: hundreds of thousands upon thousands of stars. Their combined light is enough to allow them not only a way to see their surroundings, but just how they stand upon what appears to be a platform of earth defying any inclination to gravity, one of many spread out for infinity.

A complete surrounding; 360 degrees of space and all its celestial beauty about them. The Sorcerer exhales a quiet sound of awe as he takes in the sight. They are gilded in silver, their shadows things at odds with the rays of ambient glow.

“Gods above,” he whispers, “it wasn’t like this before.”

The nearest wisp seems to dance in place. Maybe the concept of awe is cross-species in this instance?

*
Strange might well kill her for the immediate thought popping from the abyss of the soul purged of any other thought or desire, beyond what they see. Wanda stifles a yawn behind her raised hand, the soundless inhalation met with the pinch of her throat and the click of her teeth together.

Perfect place for… a nap.

Why not? Happy ledge, stable temperature, an entire blanket of stars that looks exactly like her own aura half the time, and what lies behind her shut eyes when she turns her face to the sun.

Delicious, albeit not the point of adventure, unless it’s a fabulous precipice by which to take rest. He will come back to this place and study while she curls up like a ball and snoozes. Mark the calendar. That shall be a ready Wednesday activity. Mephisto wants to disagree? Stuff it.

The witch heads towards the edge of the platform and peers down, still overwhelmed by the intensely luminous chorus, the splendours of pallid hues mingled to an iridescent cloak of many colours captivating. Even the slightest play off matte cloak or oiled claret leather or rough leather vambrace sheathing a knife is remarkably hypnotic, a fascination to be avoided whilst she has her wits.

“We need no lantern after all.” But a pillow…. Thanks to floor foam, nope!

*
The Sorcerer joins her in peering over the ledge, barely able to keep still but for the amount of information he’s attempting to take in all at once. It’s miles down and even that’s probably inaccurate. Not miles, lightyears of distance all around them.

She might consider sleep, but he’s electrified by the whole business. The humming at his ear makes him flinch and retreat back a step to find one of the will-o-wisps checking him out in turn. Up closer, they seem to have a core of solid light that spills twinkling drops in all directions; these orbs, in turn, scatter into mist and refract out the living glow of their color-shifting cores. This particular brave sprite, in hues of tropical waters and evergreens, doesn’t retreat as he tentatively pursues the edge of its form with a single digit…and gets a shock.

“Ow!” It’s a gruff little sound and he inhales through his grimace before laughing. “Don’t touch, apparently.” The numbness lingers in the bone of his fingertip and he shakes out his hand ruefully. “I wonder if these are the only beings here?” His travels take him respectfully beyond the wisp and over to the other edge of the floating surface, where he peers over it and considers how to reach the nearest platform. Would he fall if he stepped off? Or does the same lack of gravity apply to him? Rocking on his heels in thought causes more glow and the motes all dance nearer to him.

He did consider if they liked magic. So far, he’s been the obvious source, incandescent Sorcerer who is utterly beguiled by this entire place. In this realm of light in all forms, maybe he blends in. Or maybe he’s a flare in a forest, drawing all attention to himself, with his individual spectrums.

*
The wisps are gorgeous constructs. How they hold together at their cores, the nebulous intermediate layers, a prospect of radiating energy held together by a biological gravity deserves inspection. They will be deeply considered without touching, but in a moment.

Wanda fishes out three pebbles from her coat. Pebbles are useful, especially when relatively well matched in size and weight. She takes one and tosses it over the lip into the abyss, listening whether any impact occurs or the trajectory of its descent can be measured. The second, she enchants with a simple spell to cause the stone to radiate a weak sheen of energy. Nothing special, merely a minor effect.

This she tosses after the first, determining the difference between the two pebbles in an experiment that’s simple as well as effective.

“Stephen,” she purrs while he endures the indignity of an inanimate object harming his wrist and now a wisp shocking his scarred finger. The purr of her mezzo-soprano floats over the distance between them, wrought in promise and dark allegories mirroring a starry night. Tongue touching the lower sweep of her lips, she swipes a lick over the bridge, giving him a look from beneath her lashes.

Sparks band through the descent of those pebbles, explosions that shed long trails that mimic a conga line. Wobbly distortions spark through the spectra burning a shade of jade green, revealing circular ripples that open the heart to a rich cyan and turquoise of a desert treasury, whereas the enchanted one naturally drowns in the wavelengths closer to marigold: orange, gold, pumpkin, tigrine. His sparked gates have a mirror in that citrine wash that rattles a low note as the spell turns into vapour and escapes away from her. Molten petals collapse upon the cores, creating deeper symphonies of unravelling sparks, causing sporadic tongues of fire that stand opposite on the colour wheel than the broader surrounding halo.

Another propagated flare wobbles and twists in a drunken roll, unfurling to a solar wind. Eventually these anomalies smooth out, the colours fading off into the background noise of sublimated violet and hazy opal.

Those in glass houses, and all, apparently doesn’t apply here; let them proceed from a position of knowledge. She might well be pondering hurling one of the wisps over the edge, but this speaks to a malevolence she simply doesn’t possess. Mostly.

*
Sometimes, he wonders at her sense of timing. Maybe she did see the testing bend at his knees, how he’s gauging the distance to the next hovering ledge and wondering if the crimson Cloak would save him from falling like a Sorcerous meteor into the depths of the place.

And then the voice. With the tone. And the name. Proud, proud ego saunters up to the logic scribbling frantic notes on paper and, after leaning in to briefly observe the hectic work, slaps the clipboard to the metaphorical floor. His inner scientist is then promptly sacked and held in a headlock while given an utterly-undignified noogie. AHEM. Clearly, his hindbrain considers the siren call of his consort more important than solar flares and celestial distances.

It’s as if she ran a feather up his spine. Strange stiffens and then glances over his shoulder at her. Another quarter turn in place grants her more of his attention still, especially the intent look in those eyes that glow at near intensity to the motes. The light-beings respond to his aura and grant him illumination in their shifting hues as they dance nearer to him, drawn like moths to a flame.

She, in turn, draws him. The image she presents when lit by starlight, shifting in pale fire across her form, is enough to momentarily clear his desk of dimensional curios. No doubt she can See, in turn, how the celestial shine plays havoc in his aura, turning it towards argent-kissed iris rather than deep amaranthine.

“Yes?”

*
Starlight etches them out against a radiant glimpse of eternity. Indeed, they might be snug up against the pillar of Eternity’s leg, being dwarfed by the enormity of that unknown celestial figure, unaware they are interrupting his infinite dreaming. Eternity is, after all, Death’s sibling, and might well be happy to bear a visit from the Sorcerer who defied her.

For someone so oft defined by her darkness, the ghostly shimmer of her hair reflects the muzzy glimmer of starlight bent among its raven wing sheen. Lowlights in violaceous cascades echo the lilac sheen on the ground, only to be shot blue and deepest burgundy by the errant shift of motion. Her coat diminishes to a plum chrome, absorbing the furthest edges of the spectrum, while her leggings are strangely metallic, and throw sparks of luminescent whiteness on every deliberate shift of her frame.

She touches her fingers to her lips, stifling the words shaped there, but they are plain enough to see in the auroral glow of a dimension refracting all the points of illumination in its surroundings. This, some galactic cauldron, stirs up the fated tapestries penned on starsheen and gossamer plasma curtains.

A pluck of a ribbon and the red length of satin turned almost iridescent black here goes darting towards him on a lazy toss. Where it came from? Surely he knows where she keeps a limited stock of such things.

“It looks…” A pause, lingering, poses her thoughts against the shimmer of all those wisps. Her own aura briefly flashes visible, drawn out of occlusion, a veil draped back long enough for the maelstrom of colours to blend seamlessly into her surroundings. “Comfy. Like our own bed of roses.”

Checkmate.

*
Close enough to catch that particular scrap and certainly quick enough to remember precisely where such souvenirs come from. As he eyes her, his expression full of somnolent craft, he rubs the ribbon between thumb and forefinger.

“I suppose so, if one used their imagination. Might be a bit cold,” he adds, glancing up towards the fathomless heights of starry sky above them. When that darkened gaze lands back her once again, it’s clear that he’s teasing, like the brush of black velvet, fabric and drink alike.

Remember those pebbles? Remember that little experiment he doesn’t know about?

Across the air travels the low-register hum like a plucked basso string. Strange suddenly frowns and spins in place, casting about for the source of the sound. From beneath them?!

Word travels fast across the deitic gossip chain. Who snubbed Death?! What now? No way. You’re kidding. Him? He’s an asshole and mortal to boot. Oh, that signature? Absolutely, I’d recognize that anywhere.

It looms, rising up on Wanda’s side of the floating turf-surface, a being that happens to be one of Mistress Reaper’s generals. Is it…snake? Eeel? Horse? Human? Its body is space-inverted; while it retains a sense of an outline in shimmering condensed smoke, its form is anti-presence, a living active rip between this dimension and gods know what other place. More stars twinkle against bruise-purple within the vacuum given form, but none that match the current arrays visible to them within this dimension proper. At points along its form, wherever angles grant the ability, the friction of its presence against the charged air draws auroral flares in manes and featherings and tufts to give it more of a sense of existence. The colors shift with each of its sinuous movements, drawing allusions once more towards serpentine, even of the family elapidae and creature granted status by the religions of the Himalayan jungles.

Eyes, two of them, signify what could be the flattened forward impression of a face. They are empty things, true infinity between the stars, beetle-black, but for a distant galaxy at their centers that begs to be considered more closely. There is even the sense of a rotation to the pinwheels of cosmic dust. The sense of the size of the entire being is confusing as hell; one moment, it seems to block out the entire night sky before them and then, as quickly as a blink, the width from spectral curve to curve of the face is no more than a daunting fifty feet. Give or take another twenty.

Carefully, as if hesitant to draw the being’s attention, Strange reaches out and hooks fingers around her arm to draw her towards him — and then behind him.

“Let me handle this,” he whispers in passing before standing as tall as possible.

Stephen Strange. Sorcerer Supreme and the Threefold’s Conduit.

The Sorcerer swallows. Okay, when the dimensional deity knows your name before you introduce yourself, it’s not necessarily a good thing.

And Wanda Maximoff, Great Shadow’s Chosen. How quaint. The voice translates to roughly human, likely by deitic intent, but many of the consonants are lost to magnetic buzzes and a sibilance, making it a desperate need to pay close attention or lose track entirely of what it speaks.

To what do I owe the dubious pleasure of your visit?

*
Child of earth and guardian against the stars stand together, for the instant something ripples in motion that does not fit the pattern — always calculating patterns, that whirling dynamo mind of hers — she is at Strange’s side.

He guides her almost as swiftly as Wanda seeks his shadow, moving with the inestimable care of a stone golem in a glass shop in downtown Venice. Her eyes show their whites for a moment, the movement of her throat marked against her coat.

Fear is not something she is invulnerable to, any more than he ceases to feel emotions. The real discipline comes in mastering one’s reactions to them, soldiering on in spite of the sick flutter of the belly and the quizzical lightning pang of excitement rising in her blood.

Oh, she is what she is, and make no mistake. A tiny spark in her being is smoldering into a wracked wildfire, eating away the terror. The children of revolution appear in the centre of such events not because they are afraid and cowering. A part of their being adores the unknown, and they leap wholeheartedly in their wordless certainty for the future.

It knows her name. That just offers fresh oxygen, tinder, and resolve to the building storm. Tender winds lap the buoyant crests of her pulse, driving them along to a heavily defended shoreline, mind still sovereign over the combination of emotional elixirs dumped into her blood.

Fingers curl the firmer, and she lies ghosted within the embrace of Strange and the cloak. It never hurts to show an interdimensional entity some degree of recognition and honour, especially when one has been bouncing along its surface and pondering that nap atop it. Maybe later. She inclines her head, keeping her mouth firmly shut. What answer is she possibly going to offer?

//We came to visit. You are welcome to join us for tea? // That might save a little trouble for the next corpse.

The girl, child of Chaos, allows for a brisk nod after, and she goes quiet. This is why he earns the big paycheck and Eye of Agamotto. Her? She just destroys reality on multiple levels when irate. Nothing to see here…

*
If she had smarted off about tea, there might have been immediate trouble. That being said, perhaps the inevitable is postponed for now by her respectful nod.

Stalwart, the Sorcerer grants the deity a similar wordless greeting before slipping into diplomat mode.

“I sense that we may have been expected? Were you forewarned of our arrival?”

The vibrating sense of a chest-deep laugh that seems to make the infinite stars around them shiver.

The gods do like their gossip, Stephen Strange. There is an intensely-uncomfortable plucking at the unfathomable spiritual space within his chest every time his name is used. He’s hard-pressed to avoid flashing his teeth in primal dislike at the auroral creature. A dear friend of mine expressed her frustrations not too long ago regarding your…mulish stake on remaining alive. She sends her regards and kindly extends her hand. You know the one. Kid…skin… A deliberate emphasis on the two words. Strange narrows his eyes and keeps the worst of his shudder at bay; it leaves ice in his blood. Still…I could do her the favor of offering you a reason to accept. It would further cement her faith in my abilities…

Oh gods below, it’s considering killing them. Right here and now.

Never looking away from those cosmically-imbued eyes, he whispers, “I summon a Gate, you go through, no questions.”

It continues on blithely, acting unaware of his instructions.

Of course, no insult intended, Stephen Strange. All in glad tidings from her Mistress Death. Did you not know? I am her right-hand. Your own pitiful kind have worshipped me since you first crudely attempted fire.

It’s right, dammit. Hindsight is 20/20 and despite his general proclivity to test the nature of the forces around him, for once: the Sorcerer Supreme is considering retreat. Those who fight and run away live to fight another day!

And don’t think I’ll let your little pet scamper away either. Look at her; Chthon has impeccable taste. So lush and fertile, no wonder you fell. Such a simple thing to ensnare you so. Her Mistress Death does not share power with such pathetic crawling spawn. No wonder the Vishanti are so amusing. I wonder… And the creature looms in closer still, the face a frozen death-mask. He doesn’t retreat, simply leans away, raising both hands in silent warning. Would you despair more if she carried your get? Shall I wait until I can take not one but two or more? Would you come on hands and knees before me then, Stephen Strange? Would you kiss Her kidskin knuckles with gratitude?

More disturbing is the distinct lack of emotion in its communication. It’s all null somehow, like an attempt to make them comfortable enough to reply, in the same way a vampire might mimic breathing despite having no need.

It’s unwise to run before a predator, but equally unwise to roll in dead salmon before wrestling a Kodiak grizzly bear naked. The Sorcerer merely stands there, attempting to keep his mudras from disintegrating into curled fists. This wouldn’t be a simple bar fight, it would be cataclysmic. Not only that, but the being has not, in fact, struck first. So neither can he.

Answer me true, Stephen Strange, and I will let you return to your Realm unharmed — this time. But, lest I forget: you, Wanda Maximoff. There’s the sense of heavy regard shifting to Wanda, even hidden partially in his shadow. Chthon sends his regards as well and reminder that you are failing. Do not make him set foot within your reality again, for it will not be your blood he intends to use within his toasting chalice.

*
“He usurps her honoured lady's right to do the act herself?” The question to Strange made at the threshold of hearing likely reaches the being, but this is an assumption to keep them alive. Hence the edge to her tone, the crisp formality that requires her to slow down and study her English.

Wanda can be grateful for the pause and the crimson cloak shrouded around Strange, mantling his broad shoulders with the authority of the Three. For herself, there is only what there ever has been: wit, witchcraft, and cold-eyed, fatalistic humour.

He asks the impossible of her. Yet what, if not for this, is his life sacrificed? The human agony registered at the highest stratum of her emotions bends to the cool discipline throughout the rest of the psychic column. A faint nod follows the promise to gate her away. She is but a single unimportant girl, a mote of dust in the eye of a divine servant, even if it holds her name.

Her soul feels its worth. For yonder lies a deep and unfathomable mystery, and he stands between them. It hurts, a host of pains registered. Between pain and insult, her amber gaze slants higher, pupils drowned under a violet meniscus, motes of night-black etched in stardust. Is she the scampering pet? The quizzical beginnings of arched brows smooth out, all by pacing mentally through the most mundane routines inflicted by a millennia old mentor.

Yaga. The temptation is there, the sudden promise, a card to play. It’s tucked away for later. If it can read minds, though, the thing might know what flits through, and right along with a glimmering wonder for the distant stars enmeshed in their miraculous radiance. She does not give death’s sentinel the pleasure of her attention for a brief moment of staring in awe and profound calm at the cosmos.

If this is where it ends… the rebellious sparks in her blood gather into a thicker whirlwind, an ichor running on determination.

And he mentions Him. The accursed, the defiler, the devourer. Chaos incarnate. Accusations flung over the distance will land but she pretends not to feel the words cutting, or the pulse of red-hot emotion in her breast. Be as smoke, pretend to be a ghost, be the starlight. Impossible to contain or stop…

She inclines her head. Might as well be gracious about the warning even if her trained mind ignores the shouts of her self, for now. This isn’t for her; it’s for Strange. All the words that crowd her tongue are not honoured. Don’t argue with monsters, rule one of dealing with the cosmic, after ‘do whatever and say whatever to survive.’

*
The worst part about this entire conversation is that the deity means no malice. As second-hand to Mistress Death, it is not only gatherer, but messenger. Nowhere in its celestial make-up exists spite. To it, they are candles that refuse to gutter against all wrote universal rule. Neither is a gender assigned to this creature’s existence, though it will apparently allow for such a labeling, if only to laugh at it later over mugs of bone-broth.

I will report that you acknowledged the warning, pet. If I may suggest that you do not delay further. He wearies of your heel-dragging.

Strange cannot, will not glance down at the Witch. He knew this. He knew the possibility of such a plan existed, even if she herself is not privy to it, and while it does rake his heart, the wounds bind up within the entrappings of faith — faith in what he Saw, faith in her actions thus far, faith that the Elder God has no concept of just how obdurate they can both be, especially in light of their soulsongs in Mystical harmony. Earth to sky, stars to magma, Guardian and Chosen. Fated.

He will, however, mutter, “Please do not question the demi-god,” moving his lips as little as possible.

Too late, she’s been heard. The auroral being causes more hyposonic hums as it shifts in the space around it, like a snake recoiling. Those deep, dark, solar-swirled eyes never leave either of them as it bobs its head.

I am granted the honor of acting in Her stead. You, weak pink sputum, are not granted even an iota of this measure in accordance to your true Master, who is not this shambling jester before you. You are a toy, created simply to play havoc and seed Chaos in your wake. You entertain ideas of free will and mock at living beyond His touch. I pity you. No, I do not pity you, that is beneath me. I await the moment in which I may gather up your soul and return it to the fold.

“You asked a question of me earlier.” This is the Sorcerer, attempting to divert disaster. “Would I crawl?”

Maybe she can see the starlight play off of high cheekbones and pockets at his cheeks as he grinds his teeth. Around them, those little motes make small ringing clicks to one another, as if conversing beneath the courtly play within their dimension. At his neck, the Eye emits a single flash — a boon granted with citrine mirroring in the centers of the Sorcerer’s eyes.

“Take my word, Guovssha — ” The deity recoils at the resounding pluck at the center of its own being, strummed by mortal-cheat with hands gloved in scars and Mystical power alike. “I would tear this dimension asunder to retrieve her soul. I would bring the stars down upon you and erase you from every living memory within the expanse of galactic history. Your name would become a thing whispered in fear, in connotation of revenge at my will. That is the truth.”

The demi-god’s outline shivers as if shaking off excess water and the auroral shine at its various eruption points flare brightly for a moment. The regard of its glare grows heavier still and he’s having difficulty avoiding the sudden urge to go to his knees.

That Agamotto stoops to aid you is appalling. You mock the Vishanti in your mortal needs, Sorcerer. I relish the dusk of your time, when I may collect you and bring you to my Mistress.

*
The witch's eyes stay a frozen amethyst, her aura chiming in adventurous tonal harmonies, plunging into an elaborate counterpoint of high, crystalline notes in the high register. Chromatic chords voiced in a pure pitch skillfully glides in a stellar descent, humming whole treatises for the conception to decimation of realms imperious.

Hushed cadenes capture the starlight so oft shining down upon the northern hemisphere, captured from lively Vega and stately Deneb, the volatile warrioress Bellatrix and Altair utters its howling eagle cry. Stormy Aldebaran lends its deep notes as majestic Regulus reverberates with will and power; dark dreaming Antares bespeaks healing and blazing Fomalhaut carries purest of tones. Celestial harmonies will not be silenced, modulated into the spaces between the words of demi-divinity and god-touched.

In her soul music, she prays.

Not to the maker in his magma-laced basalt crèche, and neither to the white god many churches supplicate themselves to.

Neither to one of a dozen dark powers she can put name and proper worshipful forms to, though hideous they may be, a sacrifice of blood and flesh merely the smallest of abasements required to capture their fickle attention.

Nor even the Three. She belongs to their covenant, but not to the heights achieved by their favoured, who speaks more truthful and direct than her plaintive entreaties. Honest attentions focus upon them in their honour, yes. Though Wanda herself links present to future by a tangible, obstinate and frequently quick-tempered link. Perhaps that strange, harrowing thing knows nothing of pasts and futures. Perhaps she can dream for a moment in a space by herself.

She prays beyond Death's doorstep to mother of mothers, the great goddess behind all masks of faith. Terra, Neith, Armaiti, Erce, Rangi, Danu, Aditi. She can name one after the other, all faces of the Earth Mother, beloved and forgiving presence. She prays to life itself, the blossoming of creation rather than its end, withholding every other facet from her erstwhile existence except the Sorcerer Supreme separating her from certain futures and uncertain ends.

What purpose otherwise? Chthon is not her master, never has been given right to earn that exalted title, and she sees no place to argument it. She merely observes that great, vast darkness painted by its absence, a black hole known where starlight distorts into an inconceivable shape, holding to the only truth of manners she knows: keep her mouth shut. //Silent. //

I do not ask this of him. Truth, assured, that she would switch places in a heartbeat. Mother save them all if she has to. It will mean very little, but she will. None need perish. Not for the sake of a taunt, a few words poking about for a weakness. This isn’t right. What is right? What is wrong?

*
Not a taunt: brutal truth, from the viewpoint of a being so many eons older than themselves and dealing with discordance in its dimension. The thing knows of endless cycles, of stellar rebirth time and time again, of the lives it ferries that wink on and out like the motes that hover nearby. They are aberration. Of course it’s attempting to settle the scales. It can no more resist than gravity pulls or temperatures impart heat or chill. It is.

“You might have to wait a while,” Strange replies in quiet admonishment. Patience. He’s schooling a celestial being on patience. He remains dignified, ignoring the way his knees keep wanting to go to jelly. “Regardless, it seems we have trespassed. We shall return to my Realm and not trouble you further.”

It seems that the Witch beside him gives off a palpable heat now, a warmth that soothes and reminds him that he’s not alone. He wants badly to check in with her, but has the primal suspicion that looking away from Guovssha for even a half-second might incite a more predatory response.

Indeed, let’s not trifle further with mannerisms. You are a thorn in my side, Stephen Strange, but you may visit whenever you feel so inclined. After all, you and your pet are most wanted by my Mistress. It would be lucky if an accident happened to you both during one of your times here.

Lucky. Hmm, lucky.

He sucks at his teeth before offering a cold smile. “I would say ‘unfortunate’ is the better option, but that’s semantics.”

Holding out his right hand to his side, he summons up a Gate once more. It opens to reveal the Loft, where a step out would take them from oddly-bioluminescent surface to circular dais before the Window. Never once does he break stares with the demi-god.

“Wanda, if you would please.” Go through the Gate, is implied. Also implied is that he’ll guard her back against any sort of attempt.

*
Why in the cosmos Death wants her is a mystery. Unless the pet is Agamotto. Does Death seek a god more powerful than the twins in his triumvirate? Questions not to be asked. Questions not to be considered, at least not here.

Dreams thread through her mind as she repeats her mantra, the end blending into the beginning, until where one statement starts is nearly indistinguishable. Repeat the syllables, precisely so, over and over. When the connection slips because her focus wavers, she stakes her concentration again on the task the way she might set up a glissando run on her harp. Fingers run across the strings as her thoughts pluck at the mental syllables in the same fashion.

Truly, a dull creature in the chance for interdimensional diplomacy.

“Thank you for your hospitality.” There. The ancient ways have been observed, the polite measure of matters stretched out, and a truth stolen from the eye of the storm-god. Strange opens a hole in space and time. Regret holds her back from saying anything or protesting, but she steps towards that rift speared back into their own home. She extends her booted foot forward, and plunges in, clearly as unthreatening as can be when ensconced before the Window.

Knees stay rigid, back straight, the picture of a pretty, clad statue. Nothing impotent, or the least bothered by what they face, or beset by a harrowing of doubts sprouting in the shadowy soil of contemplation. The curse of being creative: always thinking about the aftereffects, the consequences, and hindsight’s lenses being 20/20 and then some.

*
A balancing of the scales; Death considers her a weighty prize and impossibly-effective means of returning the good Doctor to his previous state of mortality. It’s not about pricking another god — it’s about erasing a blemish on the cosmic board.

Strange gives the dimensional deity a cool smile, but not because they’ve managed to gain their means to safety (though absolutely, he’ll add an extra degree of smirk for it): because the Witch has done everything possible remain of neutral status and there has not been a single instant of insult that would bring the celestial being’s wrath upon her should she wish to visit once more. After all, she did admit to liking the place a fair bit before old Doom and Auroral Gloom showed up.

When she seems far enough beyond the threshold into the Loft to be considered safe, he grants the celestial being one last respectful nod, though it sure as hell doesn’t dip anywhere near to full insinuation. It’s not quite flipping the thing off, but certainly a display of disregard.

“We appreciate your time, Guovssha. I’ll send tidings before our next arrival.”

The subsonic hum reaches him again as the creature expands to its full size, no longer contained by the need to fit into humanly schemas of sanely-sized entities. More auroral sheer from its angles. Those depthless eyes stare into the back of his skull.

Do, Stephen Strange. I look forwards to our next talk. Maybe I can convince you to abandon your current path in immortality.

“And maybe you’ll stop being Death’s stooge, but I know we both doubt this.”

A jaunty two-fingered salute, full bluff of composure, from temple angled towards the incomprehensible face, and he side-steps through the Gate. Once through it, he hastily collapses it and watches with full-torso breathing that only slows when the sparks gutter out to signify a complete closure. He then turns on his heel and immediately envelops his consort in a bone-crushing hug, corset notwithstanding.

“Oh gods below, I did not think that was going to happen,” he mutters. A kiss to her forehead, his lips lingering there, before he sighs gustily. “So much for an adventure… Are you alright?” The Sorcerer pulls back a bit to search her eyes and her face, his palms never leaving their places on each bicep.

*
‘Twas the week before Christmas,
And all through the suite
Not a heart was beating
Right,
Not slow or fleet.

Wanda knows the power of appearances; she has a model example in front of her most days. Fake it until you make it gets bloated from the headlines of young ladies’ magazines all around the newsstand, and she represents that in motion. Not until the Gate drops will she remotely surrender to her humanity, her knees rigid and spine steeled, up until he comes through and no tendril of star-shot darkness licks through to steal his heart. Immortal, yes, but deprived of an essential organ, likely unwell.

The wards might be vibrating unhappily with how much energy she is spooling up, positively crackling with the first deep surge borrowed from a leyline underneath New York. Creativity taints the upstream well, a byproduct of running through Greenwich Village, but she can make the most of that if need be. It feeds into the chaotic sheen limning her in the faintest distortion, prepared to be released in a straight shot on some demigod intruding too far.

As fate would have it, she doesn’t need to discharge the excess at all.

The floorboards rattle a little with the energy she dumps back into the stream, adding a little more of her own to make up for the imbalance and the borrowing. Stealing from the ambient energy of the world may be well and good, but the witch knows it comes at a price. Hers is levied right along, sending pinwheels and firecracker sparks downstream.

Some more mystic might find his appetite tilted to strawberries and his defensive spells rather more defensive on his next draw. Mana might come out purple somewhere around Maine. It’s all fair.

Strange can manhandle her as much as he likes, for she gives no resistance to being pulled into a hug. Her arms rise to wrap around him, and she awkwardly tilts her chin up to rest against his shoulder instead of being so completely crushed that oxygen is impossible. Breathing is optional. If she has to, let it be with the scent of him around her, enfolding her.

… and nuzzling the Cloak for a moment. Promised she would. Now she has, trying to release the stress in short, deep breaths.

“What a…“ Her words are not sufficient for this, but German makes an excellent substitute with a string of blistering descriptions that could be profane or merely a very specific guess of death spirit’s psychological condition in a postmodern industrial complex society, a proper translation of which would take about four essay pages. Go with the latter. She does add zeitgeist at the end. So go her!

Nose scrunched up, mouth tight as a plum blossom in the last caress of winter, she pointedly spins the tables. “Are you good? I do not fear for myself. I hear worse from everyone. Yaga called me all names in the book. But it wanted to hurt you with its words. Showed me it is weak; it would not dare act against the Vishanti. Do they all try to tease you into acting? Hmph.” That’s a universal sound of derision right there. “Maybe we practice being the horror and speaking threats. To be unsurprised. Maybe so we have better ones.

“‘Oh yes, I could eat your city and all the souls in it. Do what I say!’
‘I am so very bad, I will split your face like an overripe melon hitting the ground.‘
‘Look, my tentacles go in all the holes!’”

*
Blame the ghost of a grin at his lips to the startled amusement of hearing such words leave her mouth. German has never been his forte and Strange doesn’t feel the need to translate; between tonal volume and facial expressions, he gets the gist of it. Bonus points for zeitgeist.

If she can rant and then propose a rather sadistic exercise in flaying each other emotionally to the bone, she is fine. The tentacles though. Why?! Why bring that up?! It’s a favorite of demon-kin, no doubt, but it still causes him to make a face of disgust and chuckle uncomfortably.

“Er, no, I don’t think we need to practice threatening each other with tentacles.” He runs his thumbs along the leather coat, using the familiar oiled surface as another rooting point in the here and now, away from insidious auroral beings. “And…I’m fine,” the Sorcerer says with that bit of a hedge she surely knows to indicate a nearly-whole truth. Yes, he’s disturbed, but it’s nothing he wants to discuss right now. He does owe her an explanation as to the goads, however, and shrugs before huffing. “They tease because they want to break me; break my patience, break the deal with the mantle. I should not be the attacker in any situation. The Vishanti named me Guardian, not Berserker. It’s a point of honor.” Read: ego. “I have heard some…incredibly disturbing things, Rakshasi, that you do not want to hear pass my lips. Ever. No need to practice it. You held your own.”

The smile is a full one. He’s proud of her, but not as mentor to student; as her Beloved. Displaying affection takes more stress from his posture. The Cloak’s collars wiggle and he doesn’t even admonish them with a side-glare.

*
“I would say them, I would not propose to do most of them.” Point of clarification made, Wanda gives the moment room to slide away into the dregs of the past where it can inflict less psychological harm and disquiet. Auroral beings will not be given the pleasure, not at all.

His approval is a strange thing to her. Pun unintended; Stephen may well guess she isn’t used to such things, only corrections and grudging appraisals. Her head shaken throws shimmers of dull auburn and deeper chestnut over the lustrous waves.

“I wanted to talk back to it. Tell it I am not the demon’s toy. It would not help. Only to make me feel good, only to put you at risk.” Balancing that cost comes cheap, and she doesn’t squander his patience with more than that.

Her arms once more loop around his waist, settled in a heavily manacle; then she leans upon him for a brief moment of comfort, giving or receiving.

Too much of a good thing cannot be allowed, or squandered. After an assuring brush of her cheek to his, she steps back a little, but still maintains their hug. Funny, wrists don’t want to separate, fingers don’t want to let him go even under the fall of the cloak.

*
They do say like attracts like. He isn’t interested in relinquishing his gentle grip about the feminine build of her biceps either, even as she steps back.

“I understand. I mean…” His eyebrows do a jump and settle once more into an expression of mild concern. “I wanted to punch it in the nose, for lack of a better way of describing it. I don’t think it was being petty, I think it was looking to have a reason to interact beyond diplomacy. Thankfully, we are made of sterner stuff.” Strange wills away the shadow of worry with a mild smile.

One hand relinquishes its place on the scarlet leather sleeve to scratch at his silvered temple in a fidget of sorts. “Still, not…not what I had in mind, playing dicey games with dimensional demi-gods. I wonder…actually, that might work.” He meets those gorgeous eyes, the shade of old coins, and asks, “Trust me to show you one more dimension?”

*
“A reason beyond diplomacy? Is it lonely and seeks a conversation with mortals? Has it no one to talk to in its great starry place? I imagine the wisp would not be a good person to talk to. I do not know they say anything except their flashing.” A newfound creature to be studied if they intend to go back, to be sure, she might end up a cryptobiologist on the matter of ‘starlike spirit objects.’

Shaking out her mildly tangled hair, Wanda rakes her fingers through the locks irritably for they dared to break her grip on her sorcerer prior to anything meaningful. Three good swipes pull her bangs further back from behind her headband, a twisted symmetry of fine details executed in madder threads.

Back to Strange, her gaze tacks higher and comes to settle upon his expression, reading of his mien whatever emotional and intellectual clues she might for the state of his mood. Let concern drift apart. It will show up sooner than later, anyways, she already knows this.

His question makes her shake her head slightly. “I always try. Trust is hard for me but you earn it every time. I will continue to put my hand in yours and choose you at every road.”

*
She’ll see the little slump in shoulders, no doubt, that letting-down of his resilient personal shielding in the face of such an offering of trust combined with relief, gut-deep, that he hadn’t flubbed up too badly.

An ordinary woman would not have taken it in stride as she has. But then again, she’s anything but ordinary.

“Thank you, Wanda,” Strange replies quietly, suspecting at the cost of telling him such a thing and knowing enough to recognize its weight. The remaining palm resting at her sleeve grips in an encouraging squeeze before he turns about to face the Anomaly Rue window once again.

“And this time, no Death-stooges with ulterior motives,” he grumbles, glaring as he draws up another Gate.

This time, it spreads open to light rather than shadow, a brilliant shine of half-hidden reds and oranges that is both garish and wondrous all at once. Glancing over his shoulder at her, it’s not a cheeky smile this time. No, a gentler one, invitation rather than challenge. He steps through into the knee-high grass that undulates in time to unseen waves of skin-warm tangy air. Rather than the crystalline foam of the water, it reflects the half-eclipsed sun on the far horizon in ripples of fiery hues.

This dimension is eternally trapped in the setting of the daily star. The sky itself spares no expense in offering up every single color of the spectrum from the blinding white-yellow de sol into citrine oranges with indeterminate shifting to fulvous and farther into the reds she so loves: scarlet, crimson, darker still into welled blood and wine and maroon. At one point, the arcing of the light draws the colors towards the cooler end of wavelengths: cobalt, indigo, dusk…and finally, midnight blue behind the Sorcerer and beyond the Gate, up the hill and farther still, all scattered with the glittering droplets of stars. Any clouds are ghostly nebulae of chalky mauve, thickest gatherings a-glow in hottest amber-pink if nearest to the sun, awash in watercolors of silvery-lilac and smoke farther away still.

(Ref, with more reds: http://auroralion.deviantart.com/art/Small-Hours-571976941)

He stands at the edge of another precipice, this time with the sea before him and unexplored lands behind him. Silhouetted, he glances back at her, framed by solar fire and the Cloak that billows in each tranquil breeze to pass by him.

“Much better, don’t you think? I found this place on a hunch. It turns out that if you put an extra touch of willpower into your Gating, you can deliberately uncover places instead of…turning over a stone and not knowing what’s beneath. I’ll have to do that from now on instead of blindly groping for loose places in the veils. Well, not groping, testing, but you know what I mean.”

Is he babbling a bit? He might be babbling a bit.

*
Let him babble a bit. She steps into a world not her own, foreseen by the blushed light emerging through the gate a moment after he opened it. Wanda’s colouration sharply favours the small hours of the day, for she is made from the immersion of elements into their extremities. Melt sunlight and capture it in the middle note octave, and find her complexion. Taint by a dusting of moon silvered dust that chimes with a velvet finish, and that gives better aspect to her face. Her hair cannot decide upon being the dying launch of a sunshot missile, cooling at the highest reaches of the ionosphere, or the warmth of the soil being washed in dusk’s glorious sanguine dregs. Hammer copper and pearl, the wanderlust of opal and roses, and one shall find her.

Thus the patch of eternal sunshine on its path to dissolving unto a bruised dark suits her well.

Answering the blood tide warmth of the place, adjusted to a slight nip, she shrugs off her coat from her slim shoulders by a delicate twist. As it frees her from its imprisonment, Wanda trains her sky-bright eyes upon the man who has unofficially earned her lock, stock, and tumult for the next several millennia, give or take.

Still, then, fabled creature of sun-drenched lands. Here is a sight beyond words, the teetering of a moment into a timeless procession.

“A man wrought by mirage, built on stars, perched there,
Of starlight and cloud-shadows, phantom fair,
With naught of earth to taint mercurial thought,
His floating aspect o’er the wonders sought
An ocean of dreams. I see no dream so rare
As the herald risen, who does wear
Brazen sparks of a sunlit enchantment wrought;
O heaven blue eyes! O shadows of dark hair
O sanguine wrack coiled where the breeze
Plays over fate spun in desultory air!
Silver’d smiles unleash loves that seize
The soul, and spin storm song melodies.”

Turns out the harpist can sing after all, though the notes themselves are more an elegy in thought than praise on the lips. Wanda is a better speaker than singer, especially after she breaks her long silence in search of something properly poetic in English no less. Might as well go for broke, incarnation of a spell tossed to smooth the translation of thought to word to ear, with little of the language lost between.

Some pilgrims must reach the intended destination after all. Babbling?

She’s composing. Which is worse?

*
He is courted by beautiful words, poetry that emerges in a spoken melody woven from heartbeat and starlight alike. It leaves him, in turn, without words — and that’s saying something about the man who can be decidedly pithy if the mood strikes him.

The magic gives the spoken elegy a smoothness counter to what he normally hears. The fluidity in combination with her mezzo-soprano and lilting accent makes him swallow. In this moment, she’s ensorceled him well and good for the novelty of it all.

No one has ever written poetry about him before. Oh gods below, his ego. He’s going to be unbearable for a bit once he recovers from her effects on him.

His babbling is infinitely worse, assuredly.

“I, um.” A cough of a laugh as he drops his eyes to her boots momentarily before looking up at her again. Is that…a blush? No, not a blush, just the reflective ruddy light of the dimension. The Sorcerer Supreme does not blush. “That was beautiful,” he manages, still looking pleased, surprised, and a bit sheepish.

Words won’t do now. Unspoken reply instead in how he holds out his scarred hand towards her, eternal invitation to join him.

*
How is it the usually restrained and quiet one actually scores a point with the Master of the Ora Verbal Arts?

Hmph. That is all she would normally say to that. Her adoptive father must be rolling over in his bed. Grave. Wherever he is. This was not what he and Yaga raised the girl to do. Poetry saves no lives! It slays no enemies. Therefore what, exactly, is its use?

“This gave ideas. You were in the right moment.” The lamest of excuses when she collapses the momentary spell, refusing to rely on it to make herself understood in better terms than she already possesses. The mellifluous lilt fades, leaving words as boulders to be ascended instead of flowed around, a waterfall of flexible syllables and eloquence.

Turning once more back to the beautiful expression of death and rebirth all around them, she might pretend to focus a little on the nebulae painted in cloudy petals, adrift on a river of flame and everlasting glory.

Her fingers will find his, palm grazed down his wrist until they meet in proper formation. Hand in hand, Sorcerer and Witch, watch the blaze engulfing the horizon.

Now would be the appropriate time for some world-ending horror, like the Jormungandr, to show up and snap its teeth at them. Because in so many dimensions, this is why we can’t have anything nice. For everything else, there’s Hoggoth!

*
In some twisted way, they could probably thank Hoggoth, since this dimension is so delightfully set up to run without a dimensional overlord of any sort. Just time, eternally frozen, subject to nothing at all save for passing travelers that might pause to appreciate its existence.

Strange goes through a cycle of breathing with practiced ease. He never gets tired of the sea-winds, no matter where he finds them, on Earth or in some serendipitous dimension mirroring the seemingly-endless stretch of waters. Being raised on a farm left him without understanding of the simple appreciation for many, many years. The smile that curves his lips is contented and softens every line on his face so used to projecting grim determination or quiet disapproval.

At some point, he glances over at her and it’s another one of those moments painted indelibly into his photographic memory. He’ll be able to recall even the smallest things; how her hair, as dark as it is, still manages to reflect the sunlight in revealed chestnuts and auburn — how her coat seems ultra-scarlet and reflects back the color a thousand-fold — how her irises contain the solar light impossibly.

“I trust you too, you know. I remember what I saw that one night, when we discussed your soul and its alliance in the scheme of this reality. You give me no reason to doubt you.” Quiet reassurance in the emotional emphasis behind his words. “It doesn’t matter what that being said. I know all of it, it’s nothing new, and I’d know if anything changed, even if you weren’t aware of it — and I would defend you, «Beloved». Your soul is mine, as mine is yours. Chthon would rue the day he attempted anything in your stead.” He brings her knuckles to his lips and kisses them as he holds her gaze. “You are safe with me. Always.”

*
What warm breeze cascades over the flesh ruffles their clothes and hair, a fond and freely roaming caress that flits where it will. In spite of her longer hair, Wanda does not wear a glorious scarlet cloak capable of rising in the breeze to envelop a moon and several planetary rings. Pity, really, but she can admire the effect in the tall, dark-haired prototype of trouble that your mother warned you about.

At peace, that is a rare gift for her to embrace. How can she not be drawn to silence, observing him with such intense focus as he slips away from the world? This is the man, not the doctor or sorcerer. Some views are sufficient to stir the heart, others to capsize the soul. Reason evaporates away like so much sublimated gas.

Let him be forever in her memory, living on in this instant, the reflection borrowed as a vision by an older, wiser incarnation to shape the world. A beacon of hope, a torch of their ability to be human regardless of the restless corridors of Earth’s history they will traverse. She skims her fingers down the chain of the pendant, reaching its rounded body, tracing the star of the pentacle. Its metallic frame is warm as her skin, kindled slightly hot, and the stones glistening as chips of the first fires of creation land upon them.

“No word or gift is accurate enough to say all I need it to,” Wanda answers, her voice thick and resonating with the fall of many brazen shadows or luminous motes refracted from the dusty fall. His kisses hit the bridge of her folded fingers and she sighs, letting her soul inhale and aspirate the truth. “I desire you above all things. That death spirit knows nothing. Chthon could offer nothing that matches this.”

*
Don’t tell him that he’s the epitome of tall, dark, and handsome! Don’t do it! Not after the poetry! He’ll be unbearable for longer still!

Strange watches the rise and fall of her clavicle through the parting of the scarlet coat and can’t help the dimpling against her knuckles. No doubt his goatee’s whiskering is ticklish against her skin. One last pursing of affection before he draws away, though he never drops her hand.

“Don’t let either of them hear you say that. They might get jealous of your desire.” Teasing? With all the smoke and shadow he can manage.

*
She already gave him better, she penned a classic emotive poem that might warrant very much ego stroking to himself. He’ll probably write it down from memory, frame it, and read it to himself when Mordo goes off on another rant about something and the goddess of desire, blah blah blah, but does he have storm spun melodies?

Smug sorcerer is smug, and there can be no doubt that particular stroke has the cat purring with self-importance. He can be unbearable doing some chores and buying her proper clothes, though, so not all of Wanda’s intentions are perfectly innocent. Just mostly; a shade of cream rather than pure as driven snow.

His warning makes the witch lift a shoulder, insouciant shrug downplaying demi-deities. The way gold light melts upon the line of his jaw creates the most fascinating shadows, raising the unearthly structure of his face to something more primal, as if nymphs and naiads imagined man based on a wind-borne power passing in a chariot through the vault of the heavens. She can nigh hear the clatter of celestial hooves and imagine the light glancing off his brow, lending brilliance to the world before a jealous sky god smote him.

A lazy purl of stardust-laden wine gives her words a lush quality: “They already are. Do you think I can conceal it so well from them? They must know.”

They tempt the gods. The gods-touched really doesn’t care.

*
No one but the Sorcerer and his Beloved will spin melodies in plasmic firebolts and empyrean clouds of eternal amaranthine, not with any other, not whilst the other lives — and immortality lays a heavy shield across both shoulders against time.

Strange grins. “I am a huge believer in snubbing those who wish to come between us.” There’s a growing list of names, unfortunately. However, it seems nothing will intercede within this dimension of eternal gloaming in fire and darkness arcing across the heavens above.

Then, nothing between them at all save for fabric and its accoutrements in zippers, belts, and other paltry things. He’s drawn her flush to him and holds her against him, now a mere breath away from those lips roseate in the burning light. Her curves are pressed to his torso, one hand spread across her lower back, the other slipping up between her shoulderblades.

“Let’s make them a bit more jealous, shall we?”

The zephyr that washes over them can do naught but flow around them and rustle the grass in the silence that follows. He’s wordless, but only because he’s sinking into the feeling of her lips against his.

Oh, lies — one last thought whispered before he returns to such sweetness:

“Merry Christmas, «Beloved».”

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