The Mists gather around.
Mordo blinks. It makes little difference. For the time being, there is nothing to see as the Dream takes him — and Strange — further away. Still, it is not the Mist that has him blinking — it is the Ancient One's comments.
How could they have known? he wonders to himself. No. Wrong question. How could they NOT? Of course the Ancient One would be able to tell if Mordo or Strange had orchestrated a shared, psychic journey into the Past… Mordo should have known better.
The real question now, is — does Stephen realise?
The Mists roll back, revealing a landscape that is entirely un-Earthly, and yet also very familiar to the pair of sorcerers: this is the plane of Va'aduum, where more than a few mishaps occurred in their tumultuous 'teacher-student' relationship. The ground is a pale brown — beige, rather — with spires that rise up through a thicket of trees into the sky like fingers clawing at the suns (two of them). It is quite beautiful, were it not for the numerous incursions of demons and the like, to assail the local inhabitants.
Mordo gets a fleeting glimpse of himself — standing down there between the spires — before merging with his Past-self and once again taking part in this grand charade of 'show and tell' that is the life of 'Mordo and Strange'.
He is covered from head to toe…in ichor, from a recently 'exploded', globulous elemental of some kind, glaring across the courtyard at Strange while the locals stare in shock. "That was not the best way to banish a creature such as this, Stephen," the warlock murmurs while wiping muck from his face. "Hmm. I'd forgotten what these things taste like… wonderful. Just wonderful."
Then he starts to laugh.
The Sorcerer used to think that dreams were simply dreams — hallucinations of a mind cavorting about REM, twisting reality’s experiences to fit into esoteric pockets of logic in ways that no cognizant being would accept. That, however, was a narrow view. It has been expanded — rudely, with his learnings in the Arts.
This…this is different than usual. There’s a hand to the helm beyond his own. Unable to see beyond the Mists enshrouding himself, he lets out a slow sigh, true mind momentarily taking active control of pensive thought.
Still, Strange is content to surrender to the current for now, if only to be buoyed closer to the answer he seeks: how simple is this dream?
Blanketing fog clears to reveal Va’aduum and that flicker-flash of true-self watching his own body standing there, hands in mudras half-dismissed, has a moment to indulge into another rueful sigh before it melds into the man struggling to piece together precisely where he went wrong.
Not that he is in the wrong, because…y’know…anyone could have mispronounced the spell mentally when they were avoiding a lashing spray of elemental-bile. The green-blue viscous splatter still eats into the ground where Strange used to stand. Of course, it means he was easily within range of the consequent detonation of the being and, like his teacher now chortling across the distance, he’s covered in goop.
He stares in shock at Karl before letting out a shuddering sigh of disgust. “I can see this now.” Spitting off to one side clears his mouth of some errant flecks of glop and that noble face screws up at the lingering taste. “Blugh — this is — eck — ” Flicking his hands like a disgruntled cat removes some of the ichor. The good Doctor is miffed, embarrassed by the error in front of a crowd, and it shows in the growl beneath his words. “I’m going to have to lodge a complaint with the Ancient One that you’re being vague again. You said, ‘Banish the elemental’. You didn’t say that it took a certain twist on the spell. That’s akin to telling someone you can put out a fire by smothering it and then letting them pick between water and gasoline.”
"One wonders how 'banish the elemental' could be anything but completely clear and straightforward," Mordo retorts after flicking more slime from his face and spitting some out of his mouth. "It belongs on its home plane; to 'banish' something is to send it out of the plane it currently occupies… one would assume that meant 'where it belongs'…"
"Of course, that means one needs to be familiar with the being's home-plane to begin with."
"Did you not do the reading I set for you yesterday, Stephen?"
So maybe there is something to the notion that Karl is less-than-specific in his teachings. Sometimes. Occasionally. Once or twice. The swarthy man lifts his hands up, holding his staff between them, and uses it to inscribe a rune in the air — made of darkwater. The rune expands and then floods both sorcerers, washing the slime away.
And leaving them both soaking wet.
"Very well," says the warlock. "Since you… dispersed the last elemental, you can summon another. I'll leave it to you decide what kind you wish to summon — remember to picture the target dimension clearly in your mind, and for heaven's sake… pronounce the name correctly. Proceed, apprentice."
“I read the damn reading.” Now soaked with luke-warm water in place of elemental muck, he’s doing an excellent imitation of a drowned rat. Slicking back errant bangs flat to his skull, he sniffs and recenters himself on the flat ground surrounding him. Patently ignoring the puddle around himself and the general splat-radius of the destroyed elemental, he does what he does best: Strange tries again.
He’s gonna get it right. One way or another. Because there isn’t any other option but success in his books.
Closing his eyes, he reforms the mudras necessary to access this particular flavor of elemental. Anyone familiar with the shapings of the hands might widen their eyes a little. This is reaching a bit farther than earlier, with the being made of water; mundane folk might have ascribed jellyfish-like aspects to it.
No-no. Let’s play with fire!
The portal splits open the ground at the middling point between them and from within reaches a tri-clawed arm, articulated with thin joints and absurdly-enlarged muscles. It strains in the empty air above before slamming down hard into the ground, enough to leave a collapsed impact of a print and dig those blunt talons into the surface. The other arm precedes the head, reptilian and canid in combination, with loose skin hanging freely like the mole rats of Africa — this takes not the hue of pinked flesh, but the blackened crust of folded lava, molten at the edges of the sheets. Not buck teeth, but lipless canines and carnassials revealed and life flickering in a blank ember-white eye, bulbous and blind and seeing all at once. The spine is arched, with pronounced processes beneath tented skin, and as it finishes crawling from whatever hellish pit it came from, the whippy tail flicks with an audible crack of air splitting.
Even as Strange watches, his triumphant expression sobers in the beginnings of concern. The elemental is under tremulous control on his part; it shakes its head back and forth, as if attempting to ward off a fly or loosen water from its ears. The locals have already backed up a good amount — some have fled, sensing the potential for chaos on the loose. Dark brows sharply collide and he bares teeth, pitting his will against that of the elemental still attempting to buck him. Gnarled hands form equally gnarled mudras and shiver.
“How…about…this?” It’s gritted out, a spark of triumph glittering in his irises gone silver about their pupils.
As the spell is woven, Karl Mordo's eyes widen.
He teeters on the brink of worry — and awe — back and forth, back and forth as his pupil casts what is… a very, very ambitious spell. He might have made some comment about Strange's arrogance and presumption, but instead ends up holding his breath. Watching. Waiting.
"By the Seven Suns…" he murmurs quietly as the draconic fire elemental is summoned. For a while, it looks like the spell is holding. The creature is secure. Typically, the summoner would be able to order it to do whatever he wanted — providing his will was strong enough. A being like this would test the will and mettle of its summoner each and every second it remained on this plane.
"Now…" says Mordo to Strange. "I do not wish to say 'focus' again, but even so… Keep the creature in your mind, and order it to…" The beast thrashes about. "No…" Mordo whispers, trying to conjuring a holding spell of his own in time. Again it thrashes.
The mystical chains binding it groan beneath the strain.
The elemental roars, torching the ground around it. "RUN!" Mordo yells, and takes off at a breathtaking speed through the spires. It is easy to move quickly, when wearing relics on one's feet (the Vaulting Boots of Valtorr). Stephen will have to use magic to keep up — with a fire-breathing creature hot on his heels.
The Ancient One will roast them both for this.
Assuming the elemental doesn't get to them first.
The backlash of willpower is akin to a rubber band snapping — albeit one of heavier grade than used to keep a newspaper rolled. More like one used to strap down construction vehicles to trailer beds. With a visible reaction to the invisible psychic impact, Strange stumbles backwards and falls to one knee, clutching at his skull. Karl runs, he groans in a lack of awareness to the Fire Elemental eyeing him as easiest prey yet…until someone screams.
Rotund white eyes flip to the crowd and it releases another deep growl that rumbles the ground. The locals scatter like frightened chickens. The keening shout is what brings a moderately-addled Apprentice to his feet. He shakes his head and blinks, stumbling in his place, even as the Elemental rolls shoulders like a tiger stalking a bushbuck, its jaws opening wider still in readiness to clamp down on someone within two or three easy rushing strides.
First, do no harm. This is his mess…damnit. The swat he throws at the haunch of the creature is purely neutral energy. The levenbolt breaks on the black crusty skin and with a feral yowl akin to shearing rock, it whips around to level a lidless glare on him.
“Ohhhhkay. Okay…okayokayokay,” Strange chants as he readies himself to follow in Karl’s rapidly-disappearing footsteps. “That’s right, come on, ash-for-brains, pick me instead.”
Oh, it does. The earth beneath the rust-red-garbed practitioner begins to fracture out in lines of molten rock and that’s the impetus for the pebble-scattering sprint. Long legs give him a good head-start, but the Elemental has four and a lengthy galloping run.
“Vekamaka-ati!!!” It’s Words spit out in frantic haste, the mudras formed out of reckless memory, but it seems like he gains a second wind and the fleet-footed hare leaves dust in the wake of his running. At a speed that would make most bicyclists thankful for their helmet in the wake of an impact, he’s rapidly approaching Karl and panting madly. Maybe Karl can hear the yell as his Apprentice catches up, arms pistoning back and forth at this sides.
“…this was A BAD IDEA!!!!”
"It was YOUR idea, Stephen!" Karl retorts, ducking around one spire and then another. With the shafts of solid rock rising up into the sky all around them — not to mention the trees and vines of the jungle as well — it is hard to put any real speed into their legs.
And it's a damn good thing too.
Or that elemental-dragon would already have caught up. This becomes especially obvious as the firelizard half-melts, half-smashes a tower of rock — showering the two fleeing sorcerers with dust, and pebbles as well as ash and flecks of lava.
"I said an elemental — not a gods-damned dragon!" He goes silent again for a while as the lizard almost catches up. Mordo uses the boots to leap tens of feet into the air, from spire to spire to spire — while throwing dark-green Bolts of Balthakk at the elemental creature. It retorts to the attack — which hurts it, no doubt about it — by sending a ball of molten rock at the young warlock.
Mordo barely has a chance to form a protective shield around him, before he goes sailing through the air over Stephen's head — and lands somewhere in the jungle. Other citizens of the jungle are still fleeing. No one on hand has the power to match the creature Stephen Strange has summoned.
“I know it was MY idea!!!”
Oh gods below, is he really arguing with his mentor while they both run helter-skelter through thick jungle and sky-high spires?
Yes. Yes, he is.
“A dragon is still considered an elemental — ACK!” Strange quickly brushes off an errand plop of molten rock from his shoulder and makes incoherent sounds of pain for burnt fingertips. This really was a bad idea.
The concussive impact of a cannon ball made of lava upon Karl’s protective shielding spell is enough to nearly blow out the Apprentice’s ear drum as well as set him to stumbling. Oh, it’s a futile effort, finding his feet at this speed. Add in the ankle-height growth of a tree root and he’s all set for a spectacular tumble.
Wait, let’s not forget the gently-inclined slope leading down to a river!
Maybe the mentor is lucky enough to land on some soft palm-like fronds or large growth of feathery moss. Strange goes butt-over-teakettle in a loose-limbed jumble down the slope, getting progressively more muddy as distance to the water decreases — SPLOOSH!!! Right into it. Thank the gods it’s a slow-moving river, otherwise he’d be dead. His inner ear is still catching up with him even as he orients himself towards the light shining through the surface. Bubbles escape him, proof that he entered the water with limited air to start out. When he breaks the surface, it’s with no graceful flip-back of hair or glittering beads of moisture running down his neck.
Nope. HACK COUGH WHEEZE SPLUTTER RIVER-WATER GLUCK. A nearby rock allows him to cling on to something sturdy even as he shudders from a combination of frightened adrenaline and suppressing his gag reflex.
With an agile arcing leap and seismic thud of a landing, the draconic Fire Elemental lands at the edge of the river. Steam hisses up where it accidentally toes the water and it releases a shredded shriek of what could be construed as pain, tucking the knobbly, long-digits against its ribby chest momentarily. Those white eyes scan the surface even as Strange remains clutching the boulder, ducking as low as he can while still trying not to give away his position.
The cough tickles the back of his throat — badly. Burying his lips against his soaked undershirt, he attempts to stifle it…with moderate success.
The Elemental zeroes in on the errant noise immediately, though it still seems uncertain as to precisely where the soaked conjurer is currently hidden away.
Maybe…maybe if he holds very still, the thing won’t see him. Don’t think that Strange didn’t note how much it seemed to injure the Elemental when it touched the river. He’s thinking madly even as he draws on connotations from meditation to slow his breathing and the racehorse thumping of his heart.
A shadow passes overhead.
For one reason or another, it feels like a rather angry shadow.
As the elemental dragon gingerly stalks its prey hiding in the river, the sound of rushing water grows louder as the darkness looms over Stephen Strange's waterlogged head. Should he steal a glance over his sodden shoulder, he would see…
The river is rising.
Quite literally, the water that yet threatens to drag Stephen off his little rock and down, down, downstream is somehow flowing upward in a graceful, circular arc. It is as if someone picked up the river — as one might see in a Looney Tunes cartoon — and is bending it back over itself to form a perfect ring…
Of spinning water.
Baron Karl Mordo emerges from the shadows of the ring-ed river, his clothes completely drenched — water dripping off the tip of his nose, his ears and his arms. He has forsaken his tunic, and stands bare-chested on a fallen log by the riverbank. His chest is covered in some intricate tattoos — clearly arcane — all involving interlocking circles and loops and curves… much like ripples and currents of water.
Now the elemental is in trouble. Caught in a ring of deadly water, it has nowhere to run, and only some slippery rocks upon which to stand. Also, the current is now much stronger… which is something Stephen will surely notice as his grip starts to slip on his own little perch…
Lipless mouth peels farther back still, revealing the inserts of the raggedly-edged teeth into bloodless, glowing gumline as the Fire Elemental retreats literally backwards up onto a pile of boulders. Gathered in that placement by ancient water shifts, the very actions that allowed the river to carve through the jungle as it does now, the bastion gives the creature a moment to eye Karl Mordo. With the palpable weight of undiluted primal hatred in its focus even as its ribs expand and then collapse as it utters another shrieking roar like the shearing of broken schist, the challenge is clear: it’s not going down without a fight, even if the translucent barrier in every hue from teal to jade to palest foam prevents any escape.
Another mouth hangs open even as he clings desperately to his own rocks. The short lengths of his nails begin to torque for the pressure, snagging on tiny crevices to keep him from being washed away by the unfailing pull of the river’s flow. Another sharp cough might announce his presence even before he utters a loud grunt and fights his way farther up the protruding rock. Slippery moss doesn’t help and he fights panic as well as current as his progress slips back to nearly drop him back above his chin. Another bubbling powerful set of kicks with his long legs helps propel him up and generally atop it. An awkward, soaked, rust-red beached seal is Strange, panting loudly and still coughing up errant droplets from his lungs. Looking up again makes the words die on his tongue.
Gods above and below, the river is being rerouted out of its bed and by Karl! He isn’t just seeing things. Nope. He can feel the errant spray of impacting wavelets in the air, smell the heavy natural moisture of the massive wall…was that a fish swimming through the water, silhouetted by sunlight filtering between air and water?!
With a clearing of his throat, he calls out to his mentor, risking drawing the attention of the Fire Elemental:
“Now what, Karl?”
He can guess: banish it, Stephen. You started it, you finish it. But maybe…just maybe…the man has another idea.
Karl Mordo leaps nimbly down from the fallen tree-trunk and alights upon a rock in the middle of the river… which is 'looping-the-loop' over his head. "I think," he calls out to Stephen with a wryly arched eyebrow. "You can already guess what I'd say to that particular question, Your Vaunted Supremeliness — however…"
He pauses just for a second, eyeing the dragon-elemental.
"Bind it," he orders Strange. "Finish the spell you started. Here…" and he tosses over what looks like a simple, ceramic bottle. Aside from the various tiny runes etched into its surface, there is nothing special about its appearance.
"You summoned it. You contain it. Its suffering on this plane should not be rendered pointless because of a single… ambitious endeavour from an apprentice." Mordo smiles at that; he is enjoying this, all things considered — and it is very hard to hide. "He puts the dragon in the bottle, and then he buys the evening meal — and the drinks — afterward, yes?"
Mordo's smile broadens.
Strange catches the little bottle with one hand and fumbles for a panicked second before tucking it against his chest. It click against the rock even as he scowls and mutters,
“Vaunted Supremeliness…?” He keeps half an ear on Karl even as he cranks up one knee in the process of getting to his feet atop the boulder. Thank goodness for boots with good textured grip. Just one or two wobbles and the dripping-wet apprentice now standing on his little bastion in the river, safe from the snarling, spitting Elemental which just waits for either man to make one wrong move. “A bottle. Really.” Disdain drips from him too. This is making things deliberately difficult. Fine. FINE.
He locks eyes with the Elemental and it seems to sense his attention. If the lidless eyes could squint, they would.
“And drinks are on you when I do this the first time,” he adds with a wicked smirk, glancing at the shirtless mentor.
Okay…here we go. The apprentice takes in a deep breath, clears his throat, and centers himself. One-handed circumscription of the mudra and its accompanying sparks of spell-light that burst into glittering presence about his fingers mark the need to hold the bottle with his other hand. The Fire Elemental hunkers down, uttering another feral sound of malcontent as it feels the beginnings of the weight of the banishment spell settle upon it. Strange’s eyes begin to silver out as he ups the intensity of his focus. Balancing the live-wire quivering of adrenaline in his blood is a task, but there’s less metallic fear now and the excess energy can be pointed instead to bolster him in the battle of wills.
It really is like shoving against a heavy storm door, solid weight that gives centimeter by critical centimeter. He bares his teeth right back at the draconic elemental as he cranks up the intensity of his mental command. The suppressing presence of the river flowing around it aids in bringing it lower still and its growling takes on a higher pitch of uncertainty.
Fury fearful and snarling scorn,
Bend your knee to my demand!
Into this bottle, I command!”
Quivering, curled fingers twitch and he breaks the stillness of the mudra in order to cast the magic. It flies as if flung from a bow string and violet falling stars impact against the black crust of the Elemental’s skin.
It resists — madly. The spell breaks to staticky arcs around it, fighting a sense of anti-gravity, as if repulsed by the bulk of the beast. Strange’s teeth feel to creak in his skull as he narrows his intensity further still, like shrinking the beam of light through a magnifying glass.
There’s a point when push meets shove. The metaphysical moment of a rock and a hard place. The fluid movement of the river continues behind the Fire Elemental as the apprentice strains against the alien will.
Wait, fluid. Water. Not force through it, go around it — beneath the storm door of resistance.
There’s a Mystical shift in the tide and surely Karl can sense it, more experienced that he is. The Fire Elemental caterwauls as the spell ceases to beat against its skin and, instead, swirls around it. Like the megaton pull of a black hole at a star, bits and pieces of the being begin to sluice away like melted plastic. Iridescent streamers begin to swirl towards the neck of the outheld bottle and pulls along the Elemental with it. Talons scrabble at the rock, leaving white streaks of pulverized dust in its wake, but for naught: Strange’s will be done.
The yowling becomes garbled, like someone gargling rocks, and then ceases as the last bit of the dragon-like creature disappears into the ceramic bottle. The little runes flash incandescent yellow before bleeding to lightning-struck purple and then to quiescence.
The silence is deafening but for the low, ever-present movement of the river around them. Keeping a grip on the bottle, Strange drops his arms and lets out a shaky sigh. He wobbles back and forth a bit before having just enough energy to point at Karl.
“You…buy the drinks.”
Carefully, as carefully as he can given his knees are practically jelly, the apprentice then sits down on the slippery boulder and hangs his head. Whew.
Mordo keeps the river flowing in that spinning circle — and the aquatic life in the river — for some moments longer, moving his arms as if he were pushing it around by hand. When the elemental is safely stored away, Mordo raises his arms up, and the flow of water stops; it rises up high, both before and behind Strange (who is resting on a rock in the middle of it), threatening to come crashing down on top of the apprentice…
The water falls, but not on him. Mordo maintains enough control over it to even guide it around his student… and then makes his way to Stephen's side (well, as close as he can come, without having to actually swim).
"That," says he with a weary expression on his face. "Was a foolish, ambitious, ill-conceived spell, Stephen…" Karl pauses to catch his breath. "But… somehow, you managed it. Your power is… remarkable." Then the man smiles. "Well done." The smile turns into a chuckle… which then turns into a rueful laugh. Mordo settles down on the riverbank, cross-legged, resting his elbows on his knees, his head bowed, laughing.
Until a sudden frown crosses his features.
This was a good memory, he thinks to himself, as reality bleeds through into the shared dream. Curious… why would I think that? Something is wrong… This is not what I was meant to see…
What is 'meant' and what is 'needed' are rarely the same thing, says an all-too-familiar voice. Mordo instantly looks up, and around himself.
"Ancient One?" he inquires aloud.
Lifting his head back up takes moderate effort and Strange gives his mentor a tired glower. Ambitious? Yes. Foolish? …come on. Ill-conceived? ..but was it really? He did summon another elemental, just as Karl asked of him. Ruler to the knuckles on his mentor for not setting boundaries.
Well…okay…ruler to Stephen’s knuckles for deliberately overreaching — but as if he was going to summon some pesky, malleable water elemental again.
The compliment comes out of the blue and the raven-wing eyebrows rise high. “Thanks,” he replies with a half-hearted laugh. It’s full of relief and rue, not at all unlike the Baron’s own chuckle. With another sigh that droops his shoulders and his chin near to his chest, he slumps again into his perch on the boulder.
He’s eyeing the stoppered bottle in his hand, attempting to translate the sigils etched into its side with a noted lack of enthusiasm when Karl’s inquiry breaks through the sounds of the river washing around him.
“Hmm?” Sloughing off the leaden blanket of near-fatigue means sitting upright and watching his mentor with growing unease. Karl seems perturbed. “What?”
Karl is perturbed.
He hesitates to reply, then sits down on a rock beside the now-normally flowing river again. The locals of this dimensional plane are starting to come back — now that the dragon is officially bottled. The swarthy man looks over at his friend and gives a faint smile.
"Things were simpler back in these days, weren't they?" he asks. A curious question indeed, one brought on by reality bleeding through into this dreamwalking experience. By the rules of the spell, neither Mordo nor Stephen should be aware that this is a dream — a shared dream — until after it is over.
But by those same rules… reality always finds a way of asserting itself here and there.
"I'd… forgotten this," Karl goes on to say. "It was… fun."
“Fun?” Now it’s Stephen’s turn to be perturbed, but only for a little bit. Reality wisps through his mind as well, lacing through the dream-presence of the apprentice with the hard-earned knowledge of the Sorcerer. The confusion melts away to a furtive amusement of sorts. It causes a barely-noticeable rise about the corners of his mobile mouth.
“Yes, fun. I lived to make your life difficult, didn’t I? I’d take one of these Elementals any day over what I normally deal with.” He flips the bottle insouciantly up about a meter into the air and catches it again. Poor draconic thing; it probably has motion sickness now. “Though you were vague — again. The Ancient One is going to hand your hide to you one day for that.”
There’s that boyish grin on full display, not chiseled with threads of jaded experience.
"Some things must be found for yourself, by yourself, my old friend…" Mordo murmurs back, exhausted. The 'old friend' bit would not fit in a scene such as this, for at this time in their lives, they had barely become friends in the first place — but, more reality bleeds into the dream.
"I have missed this," says he a moment later. "Everything was so very much simpler, before…" and he trails off. The mists of the Dream gather about the two men again on that riverbed, ready to whisk them away to somewhere else… somewhen else.
"What have I become?"
The words echo hollowly in the fog.
"You are still an asshole, though, Stephen."
- TO BE CONCLUDED..