1964-04-30 - Flinders and Cinders
Summary: Returning a rock becomes far more difficult than initially suspected when bad luck haunts the process.
Related: None.
Theme Song: None.
wanda strange 

It came in a box. Of course it did, these things always do — well, not all of them. Some arrive in white-knuckled grips, handed off with profound relief oftentimes on the edge of tears. Some arrive via interdimensional spirits able to carry them without suffering ill effects. But this — this arrived in a small cardboard box no bigger than a deck of cards, tied with twine and addressed to the Sanctum. The address? Somewhere in New York that proved to be false once the Sorcerer had done some research. Oh well.

After all, it’s only a rock, no bigger than a six-sided dice. Its hues in dark brown striving to be red in the right light give no good indication as to its type or geological niche in the myriad of Earth’s layers. Not easy to crumble, jagged as if gravity contributed to its removal, and without a tangible sense of what convinced its previous owner to mail it on, it’s…a mystery. Placed aside in the Loft on a small desk within a cautionary circle of salt, it remains sitting in its box.

And then things start happening.

The latest culminates with Strange walking through the foyer of the Sanctum with a cup of tea in-hand. He’s on his way to the kitchen to steal some honey for said cuppa when the oddest sound reaches his ears. Pausing with steaming demi-tasse upraised on the path to his lips, he frowns and looks to the living room’s open entryway. It sounds like…someone trying to plunge a sock out of a toilet. Then some garbled wails, like a teenager attempting to sing while gargling water. The frowning man strides into the room in time to see a certain adolescent Malk kitten, now reaching upwards of 25 pounds, finish heaving up a hairball — onto the seat of his high-backed chair.

Horrified silence is his first reaction, mouth hung slightly agape. Aralune looks up, blinking at him with jade-green eyes, and then high-tails it out of there quicker than a scalded cat.

“What in the seven hells?! NO!!!” His shout is pure frustration. Yes, it’s easy enough to clean with a scouring spell, but will the stain come out? After all, it’s Malk vomit, not your standard tabby cat — and the smell. Gritting his teeth, the Sorcerer stomps across the room and makes it nearly to the chair when the steaming tea sloshes over the rim of the cup and onto his hand. “OW!” Unable to help the reaction, he jerks, further splashing the dark brew down the front of his white dress shirt and that is HOT! “Ow-ow-shit — OW!!!” Plucking the soaked fabric away from his skin means ditching the tea cup to the floor, where the rest of its contents spill onto the rug before the fireplace. With teeth bared, he sucks in a breath before shaking off the hand with reddened skin now brightly showing up. “Gods below, the hell is this nonsense — ”

It sucks to stub your toe on a heavy chair leg. It sucks more when your flailing fall smacks into the pile of research you’ve been working on for the past two weeks on the demi-spirits of the dimension of Va’aduum. It sucks even more when the fireplace catches at least three sheets with all the delight of the fire burning within it. Scrambling on the carpet, Strange snags at least one of the papers, but not before he has to pat out the embers eating away the paper with quick movements of his palm.

The room settles. He settles, lying there on his stomach. The tea spill is still warm on his skin, no longer scalding where it remains in the material of his shirt, but a delightful reminder that everything seemed to go to hell in a handbag in a fell swoop clearly capable of knocking him from his feet. The silvery wards swirl down to check on him and he mumbles something into his forearm, content to lie there and wallow for a moment in self-pity.

Off they go, merrily and lithe and to report that he needs assistance of the resident Witch, should she be in residence. After all, it seems like bad luck has been haunting his footsteps as of late and she might know a thing or two. Should she arrive any time soon, he’ll be working on reorganizing his stack of papers back to its place on the side-table by his chair…with hairball gone but still a stain that needs a little extra work.

And his pen will have broken all over the cuff of his shirt.


Stephen Strange swearing happens so infrequently the wards probably turn pink and the house quakes. That experience alone warrants deep suspicion and possibly deciding that holiday in the Mirror Dimension or the isle of Buyan needs to happen right now. Bumped up several weeks, undoubtedly.

Aralune knows on which side of the house her bread is buttered, at least when it comes to dining on her preferred and essential treats. Scrambling for purchase on the floor is scarcely easy when one’s retractable claws catch on a rug, and those great paws skitter about in hopes of maintaining forward momentum and equivalent traction. The grey blur of the fae cat becomes an elevated state of fur and puffed bottlebrush tail, flashing eyes round as Olympic medals, and she galumphs in thunderous procession through the halls of the shifting house.

Right into the leg of the woman holding an armful of flowers to restore the vases and various arrangements in the lower levels to fresh beauty once more. Twenty-five pounds of cat meets an object going in a different direction, and sprays of tulips spiral away from the collision. Wanda snarls in a vindictive curse, all serrated consonants and pointed sibilance, reaching down to rub the offending bruise sure to form on the narrow aspect of her ankle. Leather boots give little protection against blunt force trauma delivered by fraught feline.

“Where do you think to go?” she demands of the cat, knowing full well Aralune’s inability to respond has something to do with vocal structure rather than absent intelligence. Then come the wards in a bounding heap of puppies, right as a few tulips take down a paper scroll from Kamar-Taj off the wall. It lands crosswise on another gew-gaw with a pointed top, slicing through the pretty brushwork.

Chaos knows its own kind. Wanda slowly takes a deep, certain breath, and pinches her inner forearm hard enough to mark her tawny skin white and break the surface. Pain lances along crescents converging in mismatched angles at their horns, and the familiar blooming redness assures something fairly clear. She occupies reality. No dream, no inadvertent shift out of herself. A good start.

A wave of her hand fends off the wards, their concerned hovering little help to her as she pivots and goes in search of the resident master. It’s fairly easy: concentrate on necklace, use that to orient. Pietro’s whereabouts may be a strange mystic twin sense, but this one hardly constitutes a simple cantrip anymore. Letting her aura draw her along delivers her into the disaster of his chambres, where a bedraggled and disheveled Strange goes to war with Doormammu and Shura-Ruggath, other entities of the domestic dimension causing him deep dismay.

Assessment takes a moment or two. A ruined shirt has possibilities. “When you get tired of this work you do, you say to me that you would rather go somewhere else. I will give you the distraction you need.”

“I have the distinct suspicion that my attempting to Gate us out of here would land us in some tentacle pit in some dimension with carbon dioxide for atmosphere and we’d immediately regret it.” He doesn’t mean to sound so terse, but he really did like this shirt and thermal burns are a literal pain to nerves already sensitized to such a thing. The busted pen is dropped rudely into the basin of the little cabinet and the sound of the drawer slamming shut is sharp in the room. He eyes the stained cuff of the white dress shirt before giving a scoff of disgust.

The Sorcerer continues talking even as he begins unbuttoning the crisp sleeve-ends. “Bad luck, Wanda. Something recently brought into the Sanctum is bleeding bad luck left and right. I lost nights — no, weeks of work in what went into the fire.” The contained conflagration continues burning, not one bit repentant for its destructive abilities. “If I hadn’t been faster, it would have been half the stack.” The first button goes flying off over his chair from how hard he yanks and he pauses, looking dubiously at the black-stained cuff in question. Whatever, on to the rest of them lined down his front. “I haven’t brought anything in that’s cursed lately. Have you?” His attention remains on the third button down which endeavors to resist his every attempt to slide it from the crescent hole embroidered into the shirt. It goes flying, pinging off a nearby wall. With a huff and his chest bared to mid-sternum, the Sorcerer quits at the task to scrub at his face and grumble behind the wall of scarred tissue.

“No, you would not have brought in anything cursed,” he mutters, managing a form of contrite apology in the tone even as he meets her eyes. Hands fold away, but not without a wince for scalded skin. “Do you sense anything, «Beloved»?”

“I do not bring cursed items here.” This is generally the truth. Not after the statue which led them to Leandra, and the immense cost brought to their lives, Wanda shows a degree more circumspect behaviour than that. “Some curses are small. I can twist them or give them to Aralune to eat. But this seems something too large for that.”

Carefully she makes her way into the room, looking around for anything potentially a hazard in her way. Her loose hair falls around her shoulders in a dark mantle, and she curls a piece over her ear, enjoying the lambent light filling the room even if he suffers from some unfortunate event sartorially. When a button goes sailing through the air, she ducks and pre-emptively throws her hand out, the bubble of pure probability sweeping around her fingers and opening in her hand. It’s not chaos, not precisely.

All the intent behind the oscillating sphere delivers blessings and good outcomes, a tipping of the balance in favour of an oven baking cookies at the precise temperature or a nail serving its purpose perfectly, a lock withstanding picking a little longer. “Sorry. I do not want the sanctum to suffer,” she says, threading the magic through her vicinity to gently nudge luck in favour of benefiting others.

“I might bring something as accident but I do not buy many things. Books? Anything in the tea room?” Trying to scale back her hex, she folds the power in on itself, guttering the flame as she approaches. It wouldn’t do for Agamotto to backhand her for daring. “Feeling the vibrations and distortions here is easiest, maybe, if this is where all the bad events happen.” Normally she would just open her Third Eye, but not in this case. “Chalk?”

Time to draw a circle, and sit herself in among the benevolent runes and sigils.

The folding of his arms loosens even as he watches her make her way towards him. He doesn’t manage the smile he wants, but there’s a sense of recentering himself and shedding off the last bit of uncertainty. Another brain always makes for shorter pathways to the end of gnarled problems — and this spate of bad luck is one hell of an issue.

“Yes, er, chalk,” he replies, glancing around the room. “Over there, in the top drawer of the writing desk.” It’s the one located beneath the middling of the tall windows that line the street-side wall of the Sanctum, placed for optimal natural lighting. “I would…go over there myself, but I’m concerned that I’ll break something else in the process.” He grumbles this, glancing aside to the fireplace. The ashes of parchment are visible as pale flakes atop burning bark and he glowers as if to make the contents simply retreat in abject fear.

Wanda walks over to the appointed writing desk, carefully pulling open the drawer in hopes the handle will not end up in her hand or the tracks jammed up on the sides. Should there be the least bit of resistance, she nudges gently and ceases to fight with the wood. “Did you try asking the pages what you wrote on them? The top one might remember, and then you can build from the back what you lost. Sometimes the book will remember the start of the story because the words inside would not exist without the start. You might try.”

Deluded as it sounds to request this of the inanimate, she makes the very notion natural. “Or look back at yourself writing, like a divination. Slow but then you can perhaps stop the divining. Then write the complete page. Then go on to the next. I could be the one who writes these things for you while you keep the spell?”

The girl’s nothing if not resourceful, swerving through possibilities. And preferably a piece of chalk. If one comes up safely, she executes a neat ring around herself, and writes several symbols at the quarters, invoking the favours of karma and good fortune, clear sight and clear mind. Then the most essential ability of all: opening herself to the strands of probability, tuning out the noise of her aura, dialing it back down to show — or play, more notably — only the humming luminous silver chord of the Moon and the ultraviolet murmurs of Saturn.

“If you would aid me in that endeavor by writing, «Beloved», it would be greatly appreciated.” See? The man can accept help after all. Take that, naysayers. He watches her settle into her carefully-drawn mandala, symbols and all, and waits. Patiently. All the while, the skin at his hand twinges, reminding him that spilling one’s tea is a literal pain.

The bad luck stuck to the Sorcerer hasn’t seemed to extend to the Witch just yet. It doesn’t exude effect for it appears to come from a box she hasn’t yet touched.

From within the Loft come said sympathetic vibrations, a rolling resonance that carries in a basso double-reed of a note. It oscillates for some unknown reason, reaching beyond the small box with its pulsation. It slides slow and low along the strings of fate and chance, muting the inherent brightness of felicity with a sense of near-affront.

Granted, Wanda is his right-hand woman, if one discards the fact his hands sometimes serve the Vishanti or belong to the Vishanti. Paws, in the case of Hoggoth. She nods to the offer accepted, tolerant to the man’s grandiose pride. One never knows the pain of pricking it, and how that will measure up against their relationship’s bulwarks. Truth told, she would rather never find out.

“Have you spent any time outside this room?” A general question follows after far too long a survey, the indolent tip of her head giving her a childish, quizzical expression in a sense. Only her eyes, solid violet and deepening where her once-amber irises should be, give lie to the impression. “You stay too close to this source and it sticks to you. It lies in layers, painted on and over and on again.”

This causes her no little consternation, the business of a naughty box. One long finger points towards it without touching the offending item. “This is angry.”

Spend time outside of this room? It’s the living room. He practically dwells on the second floor alone, with the Library existing upon that level as well as living quarters accessible from the reliquary-room. Down here is for entertaining guests or compiling papers.

The Sorcerer follows the angle of the extended digit and his gaze is drawn to the ceiling. The ceiling? A brief flicker-flash of the blueprint of the Sanctum before his mental eye and correction, not the ceiling — the Loft.

The Loft — the Loft. Something in the Loft, something that showed up recently and doesn’t have the correct wardings around it to avoid bad luck.

“Oh…gods below,” comes the mutter. “I know what it is. That box that arrived last week, with no name on it. No, it’s not from Karl,” he adds before the sprouting of thought can break the mental soil-top. “Karl prefers to include notes with his gifts.” A roll of his eyes. “It’s not from Maximus either because it’s not oddly-advanced technology. That’s who sent the Demon Possession Detector, by the way.” He can’t remember if he’s mentioned that before, but it’s not as if the gadget is an obvious one, tucked away as it is by the perfectly-mundane first aid kit upstairs in the Loft. “But angry…? Hmm.”

He draws a fingertip slowly down the line of one goatee as he mulls over possibilities. The touch stills just above his jawline as something cements. “I…have an idea, «Beloved», but I’ll need to meditate on it first.” There’s an air of faint discomfort as he continues, “I’ll need your assistance again. If you can locate it that quickly, you can likely…bend or deflect its influence while I ascertain more as to its origin.” Okay, okay, so it’s still difficult to ask for help, but at least he’s able to do it while holding her gaze instead of being all lofty and distant. “I don’t believe this is flaunting the Vishanti’s edict regarding reality and its keeping. After all, you’re aiding in keeping its keeper from some terrible demise, I’m sure.” A wry smile twists his lips.

“You did not tell me the Inhuman pretender sent you a gift to detect demons.” Wanda rarely goes icy, though it takes all the conscious willpower she has to rescind the immediate snap of frost trying to weave its way unwelcome into her speech. Everything in her life abraded by the presence of demons sings out in complaint, and she shuts it up mentally by memory of the fact she has a roof over her head.

Also, she loves the man, though not the gift-giver, so forgiveness may be a strange and multifaceted experience, however new. “Please tell me. There are diplomatic difficulties. My… father… courts a princess of their city. It is not safe. Not with secrets as those in Maximus’ hands. I saw enough.”

A sigh, as they go, and she scrubs her hands vigorously over her face. Chalk leaves streaks from her brow over her eye, a whorl painted on her cheekbone, making her thoroughly the sort of thing to confound some Gauls. Good.

“Curses go slippery. Do you want me to keep it in a bowl of glass, like all your other dangerous things here?” asks Wanda. “I can do it without a curse. I can box it with a ward or a blessing. I do not believe my spells will mix right with the hexes. They are the same thing and not.”

Because simultaneously wielding two types of magic, and one a mutation, is very difficult, or someone wisely decided never to teach it to her. She needs a damn off switch, as Strange well knows.

“Yes, I remember about your father courting an Inhuman princess,” Strange replies in an even tone as they make their way towards the Grand Staircase beneath the ever-seeing Eye in stained glass. That had been an interesting discussion and, indeed, the diplomatic difficulties remain, especially given the stances within such diplomatic connections of each practitioner present. “The Demonic Possession Detector isn’t anything to be concerned about. I didn’t bring it up because it’s harmless.” Or, at least, all of his current experimentations with it have proven so — thus far. “He sent it in a box as thanks for a few minutes of fresh air. Granted, he didn’t send instructions with it, so…it was a learning process. But — ” And he holds out a hand in a twist of a palm upturned and shrugs. “ — here I stand, clearly no worse for the wear.”

Wanda offers up options and he considers silently as they round the bend towards the second level of the Sanctum. He keeps his pacing tame, not wanting to out-stride her upon the stairs. He would normally take them two at a time given his height.

Maybe it’s also because he wonders if he’ll trip and break a shin if he tries more than one at once.

As they enter the Loft, temporary home to the dastardly rock in question, he glances over at her. “I think that I’ll need to directly handle the object in order to figure out its origins, so…perhaps if you could keep a hand on me and prevent its influence from slipping further into my aura?”

The parcel sits still on the small table within its circle of salt, which was not enough to prevent its irritation from spreading. The little desk is right along the pathway in which Strange might pace when deep in thought over some Mystical mystery. No small wonder it snagged and twisted his fortunes so quickly, like silk captured by blackberry thorns.

The Sorcerer pauses at least an arm’s length away, eyeing the package with proper caution, before nodding towards it. “Is that the source of the anger?”

For a moment Wanda stares after the sorcerer, her eyes nailed to his silvery temples. “It is harmless as it has only a few minutes of air? It is alive?

Woe to the translation error made, though she hastens to catch up with him, lengthening her stride until she can cut around in front, interposing herself before he carries on further. “Death is blind to you, that is no reason to judge a test successful. Are you so sure this is a good stick for an end?”

Her mental wheels are turning on what sort of creature Maximus might have contained within a box, given barely enough oxygen to survive, and something able to measure a demon. The only answer coming up to her is infernal or spiritual, and knowing him, she easily guesses what that might be. Few spirits would tolerate the likes of Maximus.

The question will not quite stand until they reach the interior of the room, and she holds out her arm to prevent him from reaching the parcel til quite done with indulging the blackest aspect of curiosity.

“Yes, that thing radiates a wrongness, but the box?”


“It’s not alive, no.” Having stepped carefully around her on the stairs and continued into the Loft, it takes him a bit longer to realize that she means the box that Maximus sent, not the box containing the dice-sized chunk of rock.

“Ohhhhhhhhh.” The sound of realization carries about the Loft and Strange follows it with a chuckle despite the harrowing moments before in the living room below. Sure, the skin still stings, but it’s just a burn. He’ll fix it later. Simple spell. And it’s not like he hasn’t walked around in frayed dress shirts before. Sometimes one encounters more than the demons of social nicities at events.

“It’s by the first aid kit.” He walks over to the white case in question, with its blatant red uniform cross signifying relief within, and instead picks up the metal tube beside it. Twelve inches in length, with wires curving up and diving back beneath the casing as well as two buttons, one red and one yellow. Seams around three inches in length indicate that mechanisms inside move when the proper sequence is engaged. In a show of extreme nonchalance (indicative of that obscene amount of self-confidence he wears as proudly as the crimson Cloak), he flips the tube up into the air like a cheer baton and catches it again. “See? Harmless. If you push the yellow button followed by the red button followed by the yellow button once again, it takes an internal reading and tells you whether or not you’re demon-possessed. I don’t know how he managed it, but I’m currently free of demons.”

One more flip and instead of being caught, it bounces from his fingers to clang on the floor. An errant grab doesn’t snatch it up immediately and Strange collects it with a grimace before setting it beside the white kit. “I’ll…look at it again later — when I’m not stuck with a run of bad luck. We need to deal with that first.”

That being the little red rock sitting so innocently within its box upon the table.

As explanations go, Strange gives the satisfaction of a piece of cheesecake topped in shavings of dark chocolate and a dusting of espresso, nothing essentially overly complicated and balanced well. That he nearly sets off an electrified spark through her at the business of pulling out a tube that he all but fires into himself leaves something to be desired, but she loosens her clenched fists surprisingly early.

It only takes about a minute and a half to achieve, a record on the whole of it.

“Harmless,” she repeats him, the flat, bleak shades of her voice approaching the darkened cliff face of a volcanic island, abrasive to the skin no matter how one slides down it. “What does it make when you have a demon? A burn?”

That. She will eventually get round to the stone, cinnabar or a chunk of corundum, whatever it happens to be. Geology is not Wanda’s strong suit, but her understanding for gemstones does include a fair number of descriptions based on general colour and certain properties. Garnets, rubies, rose quartz, corundum, carnelian, these all belong to her purview. The rarer versions, tourmalines and beryl and spinel, are harder, but not impossible for her to name.

‘Ere she approaches the stone, her hand draws a circle around herself and the polarity of fortune inverts, plunging countless minute arrows at her, marking true north for good luck and designating everything ‘round her as subject to slightly less. She pulls and tugs the individual strands until they cocoon her in a net, a curiosity of sorts. And then, only then, does she walk up to it.

“Curious thing, are you not?”

“I wouldn’t know seeing as I don’t let demons within touching distance of me — and neither do you, so we won’t be figuring it out anytime soon.” A bit tart, his reply, but the cloud over his eyes whisks away because one picks their battles and this is one he laid down weaponry over a while back. “I’m content to let sleeping dogs lie, «Beloved». I’ll hide it away later.” He means box it up and stash it in a cupboard somewhere beyond reach of the boys, primarily.

The stone in question is no gemstone — rather, a form of sandstone. Arkose, rusted red by time and weatherly wear, with faerie-veins of sparkling quartz through it and feldspar to keep things interesting. It’s no surprise that someone might have picked up the chunk from somewhere on the Earth. It sparkles with enough teasing shyness to encourage anyone to do so, from toddler to adult.

Strange stands behind her shoulder, his height enabling him to watch her actions as well as to look for any response from the open package. Turns out he never sealed it up again — who knows if that would have had any influence on its influence.

“Very curious,” he echoes quietly, not looking to disturb her until she’s done with her initial actions. The rock itself doesn’t move. It has no voice or animation. It simply sits there…and grumbles on some metaphysical wavelength that tests the netting around her, not unlike a predator seeking to claw its prey out from a hidey-hole. It is plain mad. Uncomfortable, hurting that it is someplace that it’s not supposed to be, and lashing out in any way it can. It has no intelligence to return itself to its home plain — or plane. Maybe there’s an odd logic that if it reacts enough, the idiot who removed it will put it back already.

A muted snap, the motion expertly done (which indicates the Sorcerer can clearly crack-snap if given a reason to do so), and the crimson Cloak whisks over from its hanging-post by the master bedroom door to alight upon his shoulders. It seem immune to the effects of the rock, having not caught itself on any sharp edge on the way over or buffeted its master upon impact.

“Tell me when you’re ready, «Beloved». I’ll meditate and attempt to see what I can.”

Wanda knows something about being a shard off the old block, a fish out of water. There are days, still more frequent than she will ever admit, where she questions if New York is where she belongs among these foolish people with their eccentric notions, their soft lives, their complete and total ignorance. They look upon the business of the world through unbearably rose-coloured lenses, ones she never even had a chance to don.

Sympathy only extends so far, and her blessed bubble remains a hemisphere directed in front of her and shifted, so much like Strange’s surujin, oscillating to intercept the threads of bad fortune.

“It does seem to be unhappy. Taken from where it was, or denied what it should be doing. I would be angry if someone made me go somewhere when I was busy.” Observations made neutrally at a distance, the Witch stares into the patterned fabric of existence and all its permutations. Eyes narrow, her pupils shrinking slightly. “How did this come here? Track back to its source. But this rock is a common enough piece of rock, so I cannot just say ‘it comes from a volcano in Tanzania.’ Let's begin.”

“Sent in that very box. No return address…probably because the poor bastard doesn’t want it back. I wonder why.” His tone is drier than the empty shells of bones in the Saharan wastes. With lavender hues in his gaze, he ascertains how she manages to deflect the extremely-translucent strands of luck-twisting influence extending like Sorcerer-seeking threads.

Very good. That’ll do.

“Keep them at bay, «Beloved». I’ll zero in on its specific origin.” Closing his eyes, it takes him three cycles of breathing to relax all but the tension needed to keep his mind alert as he slips into a meditative state. It’s a thing to Master, this near-separation from self while one remains standing, and it was hysterical to watch others practice it until he’d been tested himself on it as Journeyman. Yet another stepping stone of humility for him to nearly twist an ankle on, but a story for another time. Around him, the Sanctum settles into noticeable silence. It’s odd, considering that there’s a low and steady hum about the place. When one’s wards directly plug into the power of the Dragon ley line, there’s no escaping its rumbling. Imagine living near a large river and then realizing that it has slowed to a lack of whitewater about submerged trees and rocks.

He extends his aura beyond in a wispy susurrus of inquiry towards the box.


The rock, to his meditative, warped sense of vision, takes on a fluidity. Its solid state melts like a block of chocolate and then swirls up into the empty air above the box. Droplets play catch-up as it undulates, seeming to want to take on another form entirely but restricted by the sudden presence of the guardian-spells. These are mercurial liquid starshine in comparison to the tensile rubbery-mud of the rock-gone-liquid to his Sight. They swirl around once, designating a barrier about the shifting blob even as Wanda’s deflections continue of its influence.

Anangu. Land of Tjukuritja, house of Waparitja.

The sense of a place beyond New York…beyond the Atlantic…following the sun to its setting and then chasing the frissons of polar ice caps in an overlay of at least two realities.

Strange frowns. The spring-sky aura scintillating with celestial hues slips closer still to the slowly-roiling rock-self.


All time. Beyond time. Inconsequential.

A slight change in weight is the only movement reflected by the Cloak’s length.

True origin.

Well, the man asked.

Dreams. In a flick faster than the sonic slice of a braided bullwhip, the molten rock punches a hole through the ephemeral wall of the wards and wraps sticky tentacles around both practitioners. There’s the sense of gravity inverting even as the Sanctum around them plays box hockey with their inner ears. Gyroscoping would be putting it kindly as the rock takes brutal advantage of the sympathetic parallels in inquiry by the Sorcerer and the power present to warp them all


They certainly don’t land on anything soft. It’s more like a trip down a lengthy tunnel lasted too long and ended in a blink — like fallen leaves riding through the sewer piping beneath the streets after a heavy rain — like free-falling through a tornado — and it sends Strange, at the very least, tumbling in a loose-limbed roll that finally comes to a stop.

With a cough and a groan, he blinks and then squints. Gods below, it’s hot and bright — very, very bright — at least, until his eyes focus properly and the watercolor blending of the distant horizon between empty sky and flatlands consolidates into something he can make sense of.

“Wanda…?” His voice sounds flat, eerie, improper in the air of this realm, wherever it is. Breathing itself seems like a sin, pushing himself onto one hip like trespassing. Unseen eyes clearly measure them both; the pressure of such a gaze is unmistakable.

Looks like the rock dumped them into a salt pan. In the middle of nowhere.

Gyroscopic motion gone made is not unknown, but nothing ever prepares the inner ear for that level of abuse. Equations biologically line up for an outcome of being sick even as she slams every which way, brain inverted in her skull as her feet rush away at supersonic speeds. This must be what Pietro felt like the one time he rolled down a slope in a barrel at Pietro speeds.

Wanda wraps her arms around herself when the rock flings her unceremoniously out onto the caustic crust covering a likely long dead lake. Her knees punch through the upper sediments, revealing some kind of goopy chemical accretion, and the very assault on her senses finishes off the response.

Make no notice of her being sick, bitterly shaking as her stomach revolts along with everything else. The blessing field at least gives her the advantage of being sick into another pock marked hole on the landscape, so she can pretend she’s not retching.

The rock had better hope she is sanguine and worn out after the effect, or else the warping strands are likely to braid together in an arrow aimed at its very crystalline matrix, ready to punch through.

Wiping her mouth with a handkerchief, she spits out the last sour mouthful and backs up onto her haunches, shaking off the crystals clinging to her clothing. Too hot by far for where they are, leather is brutal and the corset will soon be mocked up into a hat of some kind. Maybe those ribs work as an umbrella. Staring about blindly a moment, she squints, hand shielding her face. “Stephen?” A pause. “Pietro?”

It never hurts to ask. He shows up at odd moments. Even now he’s probably pausing mid-munch.

There he is, the Doctor, not the twin. She gets up to her feet unless the atmosphere forbids it, and staggers over to him on wobbly legs.

No quicksilver speedster in this place, whatever dimension it is. The Doctor, indeed, and he hears his name. Oh, there she is, thank the gods. With a groan, he gets to his feet, glittering with the results of his own landing. Brushing it off is mostly effective; the Cloak riffles at a speed that blurs it, completely clean by the time the motion is done. The salt falls flat to the earth — no wind movement, at least not at this moment.

“Are you okay?” Of course it’s the first thing out of his mouth, even if his dress pants and shirt show signs of friction-based wear. Assuredly it means some nasty raspberries beneath the fabric, so let’s hope the twinkling crystals don’t make it through and into the abraded skin. An aborted choking sound marks his own efforts to not lose what little exists in his stomach and he looks pale about the mouth. “I have no idea where we are…or where that damn rock is,” he mumbles even as he reaches out a hand. The intent is to take hers — solidify their bond, announce their status, act as anchor, reassure himself, pick your reasoning.

Bright. White-bright, reflected light bouncing off of all surfaces save for the sky itself which stretches overhead in a vast, cloudless dome of unchanging blue. It manages to be matte despite giving the impression of endless height. The sun hangs directly overhead, nature’s spotlight magnifying the ambient heat. Hot — hot enough that the air itself wavers in desert mirages. The ground itself twinkles, pale and sparkling with desiccation made terribly-beautiful. It stretches for miles around them and no distant landmark breaks the monotony.

Wait — something breaks the monotony. The shivering air swirls in liquid spirals as shreds of substance begin to take form from the ground itself. No, not the ground itself, drawn from the emptiness of the shimmering space. Or maybe it was there all along and chooses now to reveal itself, sliding forth from nowhere.

Tall, angled in limb for musculature bulging only to sleek to the joints, with heavy brows despite the clearly-feminine lean of the form borrowed. Not skin, but scales in dusty-cream and darker browns in patterns that defy definition. They could be nature’s symmetry or runic markings — who can tell? She stands, eyeing them with an emptiness behind the shadowed eyes. The reflected sunlight catches within them eerily, giving them a sheen that would otherwise be lost to the flat caramel-gold irises. A translucent membrane flicks down and over them in lieu of a blink.

“Be welcome, travelers,” says she, the cadence of her speech heavy on sibilance and the curling of her tongue, shocking in a hue of lavender-blue. It flicks up to rest against her upper lip and lingers, defeating the purpose of wetting it. No, this is something else entirely, and the tongue slips away. The large dark pupils narrow. “Graced by the gods, oh travelers-two. Not the standard fare.”

Uh oh.

Be welcome by having your stomach plumbed through your mouth, and tipped over.
Be welcome by a bruising arrival, an unwelcome and hostile environment to any life form that relies on moisture exchanges. Already Wanda feels her skin chafing at the heat, the need for something to drink slowly creeping on insidious tendrils into the marrow of her bones.

Strange is a safe point, avoiding being cut off from here. There. Anywhere she knows. She curls her fingers into his, favouring her hand that wasn’t used to clutch the handkerchief. She stuffs the mildly soiled cloth into her coat, rather than discard it. No telling if it might be barter at this point.

The appearance of anything out of the salt haze mirage puts her on high alert, and the embers of her aura stir to a conscious mental command to shield herself, falling in a limited shield of air around her. Not harmful, and it might testify to keeping her cool. Such things matter, for a girl who spent much of her life in harsh conditions.

She regards the reptilian being with impassive, amethyst eyes, assured of nothing and refusing to meet its gaze head on. Fool’s march, that. He’s the Sorcerer Supreme, the diplomacy goes to him.

“Wise, little one,” says the reptilian creature in response to the airy shield drawn up around Wanda. Its flat, alien gaze shifts from her to the Sorcerer beside her. Again, that shockingly-hued tongue slips out, resting in a delicate curve against the upper lip before sliding away. The creature’s face was not formed for the delicacy of human emotive expressions. Is that a smile? A snarl? No teeth, maybe not a snarl.

“Hmm…the gods have steered you well. He tastes of great power and potency.”

A resetting of his stance means the subtle shifting in weight and Strange stands taller still. Ah, the ego, such an easy string to pluck. He gives the Witch’s hand a small squeeze before speaking.

“I am the Sorcerer Supreme, of Earth. We seek to return — ”

“That which was stolen, yes, we know.”

“…we?” It’s a breath of a comment, but not lost to the anthropomorphic being.

“She does not forget, nor does She forgive. When Her children leave, they must not stray beyond their own accord. The rains may wash, the wind may blow, but no hand may aid.”

A sweat beadlet begins to rivulet into his silvered temples. The Sorcerer frowns and dares a look around. It’s risky; there’s the off-chance that the creature might lunge while no one is paying active attention.

“We do intend to give it back to…Her. We’re still on Earth, this much I can tell.” The creature slowly blinks and swallows, the motion obvious in an awkward manner, as if there was the risk of swallowing her tongue.

“In a manner, yes.” Very much sibilance. “You can imagine Her ire, assuredly. After all, your own children would encourage equivalent vengeance, would they not?” Strange stills in his fidgeting and his gaze becomes flinty.

“The world would rue the day.” His voice is smooth and low, not breaking for a growl. A simple truth. The heavens would shake.

“Would it.” The creature manages to sound just shy of bored, more emotionless than anything else. “And you, scarlet one, you would mind so terribly if I were to walk off with your offspring?”

An error to assume Wanda does not pay active attention while Strange surveys the lay of the land. If his eyes stray away, her gaze remains relatively riveted to the odd being patterned so incredibly brightly. Its appeal to the heritage of her mother’s people notwithstanding, she will review the inspirations at another time.

Idle threats spun between two powers curb her interest in speaking. Nothing to be done for the sour taste in her mouth, either, though she briefly dreams of papaya or a very ripe ring of golden pineapple. Positively dripping sweetness, that would hit the spot right about now.

Distracted thought for a heartbeat, her gaze resolves back on the saurid being. Alien physiology does not give her much familiar to read, though an aggressive stance and words delivered in a particularly unpleasant tone might be universal, unfortunate as that is. Pity the creature reading love poetry and sounding like it is about to launch a war.

The Sorcerer Supreme adopting that tone of jaw-tightened obstinacy can speak to only one outcome: someone got in trouble. She knows that much and parsing through dense accents becomes much easier when Stephen Strange is having a fit of pique.

“We return this missing one, when it came to us,” she explains. “I do not punish the hand to help. What sense is there in hitting them?”

Making a leap of logic about her future incarnation, she shrugs her shoulders slightly. Sweat licks down her back, the airy carapace doing only a little to keep the worst of the scorching sunshine from melting her. Next stop, Blue Lagoon again.

“I tell my children to do what is right. Revenge is not right. It is a waste of things too precious and energy.” Here, in the middle of the desert, they might understand this better than most. Waste not, conserve all.

Treading lightly, she turns her head slightly. “Do you say my children stole something?” She is Roma as Erik’s daughter. Ownership is a funny thing. “Speak of what happened, maybe.”

“Your children did nothing. I use them as examples in explaining Her feelings on this matter. Punishment is beneath Her.” Slits for nostrils widen and shutter again, a breath taken after an absurd amount of time has passed for natural need of the action. Perhaps this indicates the state of the being as not mortal — not human, even if it adopts sapien stances. The hinge of her throat above her voice box pulsates, again another unnatural motion. “The force you call gravity does not bear the broken-winged bird any ill will for the fact that it shatters its bones upon impact. The force of the river sweeping down does not laugh in glee for those lowly animals who cannot swim against its wrath and drown. Lightning takes no delight in setting brush fires that consume all. The curse laid against you god-chosen is. It is as simple as this.”

Her tongue flicks out even as she takes a step closer still, arms still hanging loosely at her sides. The lavender muscle disappears again. Her reptilian pupils narrow specifically at the Sorcerer, who still glowers back.

“The longer you linger, the more the curse clings to you. So — god-chosen, how much time have you passed here with me?” No delight, just a simple question.

Strange jerks his head back minutely even as he inhales silently. Oh gods below, the thing is right — how much time has been wasted? Hours? Days?! He can’t be kept from his Realm like this! His eyes flash bright with the Sight as he attempts to ferret out the familiar thorny aura of the missing rock. The tendrils of his willpower wisp out around him, only to be slapped, each and every one of them, like a toddler’s fingers reaching for the cookie jar. It causes him to flinch and shake his head, absolutely unused to such a reaction.

“No, god-chosen. Not in that manner.”

“I don’t have time to play games with you!” He snaps, his aura swirling up around him in cyclonic staticky breezes. “I cannot be hindered by some lingering malaise and not by some demi-god attempting to keep me from returning a simple rock.” Dropping Wanda’s hand, he brings up his own with a plan clearly in mind to circumvent this maddening delay.

“Nonsense…you have all the time in your world,” replies the lizard-like demi-god, tilting her head in an avian manner, her gaze never leaving him. In a counter-mirror, her gnarled, long-fingered hand rises and there’s the sensation of the entire world around them briefly uprighting itself — realigning — reverting — shifting to adjust to something.

Oh. It’s the glaring absence of the Sorcerer Supreme. Where the man once stood, crimson Cloak and all, is simply empty air. Empty, shimmering, super-heated air. Those flat eyes slide to land upon the Witch, devoid of emotion.

The benign influence of the good judgment and forceful presence of the Sorcerer Supreme serves the diplomatic necessity of the situation well, such that Wanda feels little inclination to open her mouth. Similarly, she prefers to allow Pietro to put his foot in it, often relying him on pulling the proverbial pin or yank the belt from the pompous man pontificating on matters. She’s never had a taste for occupants of the bully pulpit.

Serpentine or not.

Anything serpentine or lizard strikes her very much as aligned to the other brother of the unholy quartet born to the most ancient of times. Chthon, she represents. Oshtur, him. Gaea stands between them. The last…

Before she can open her mouth to warn him, Strange is flinching and recoiling at some level. Her fingers curl in defiance of their host running off at the sibilant mouth, the host’s intransigence casting sparks likely to smoulder unwisely in the bone-dry tinder of his short temper. Teeth clack together, tongue skimming across ridged terrain of her hard palate. A breath taken in comes scoured of the air.

“«You meddle with forces you can scarcely understand,»” she announces in Transian, the lyrical fusion of Latinate syllables to the inherently scathing Slavic undertones an odd couple, but eminently suited. Her tone is nearly as flat. “«Those he serves now have your measure. They will not forgive your trespasses.»”

Assurance in every note nailed to the atmosphere follows. That much she can be sure about, but her own state, alone? Shifting for herself, stripped of any advantage, that is not new. It slips around her as an unwelcome old coat, fitted mostly to her current shape, and something she can bear. It’s always been a necessity. “«You are a bad host.»” Among her people, the direst of sins. “«Do your own work yourself.»”

And upon that note, she takes her leave, walking across the hard-caked pan of the salty desert. Discovering her path may be difficult, but no one ever found their destination by standing in the same place. She reaches out in silent accord to the gift she was born with, the one corrupted, and throws out the simplest of blessings. She throws herself on a sea of fate, letting good luck guide her wherever it wishes. Hopefully that will throw back bad luck on rude lizards.

“A bad host? I have not been called that in…an eternity.” Perhaps Wanda is close enough still to hear the creature’s mildly thoughtful musings. It clearly cares not one minute ounce for her feelings on the matter. Such is the way of the true demi-gods and their more powerful counterparts, the very ones that she mentions as her mate serving.

Speaking of said triad, how do they feel currently about the consequent disappearance of their Conduit? No lightning cracks. No further inversion of the reality around the Witch. No citrine vault opens to swallow up the errant lizard-being. For the moment, it seems the Vishanti are more content to let things play out as they are. Of course it seems uncaring and well it should. The gods use their chosen hard.

Fate is a fickle thing and the definitions of ‘good’ luck as well as ‘bad’ entirely in the eye of the beholder. This particular sea is filled with phantasms in the shimmering heat and the unerring near-physical weight of the sun above. Water? Good luck. Don’t lick the ground. Luck on her side means she avoids the myriad thin areas of earth’s crust where a misplaced step might have led to that terrible-smelling accretion sticking to her boots or perhaps even a twisted ankle.

Fate is also incredibly annoying when it joins hands with ‘good’ luck and skips along merrily, heedless of personal impressions on the matter. If at any point the Witch glanced back over her shoulder, the reptilian demi-god has vanished into the rippling sheets of heated air.

Or has she?

“Have you considered that wandering here is not wise?” Not a dozen feet from where Wanda walks, the horizon parts to reveal the demi-god. “A circular path only allows you to track your own prints.” What…serendipity?

The difference in this sense is that Wanda holds a particular capacity for shutting off caring much. Pietro is exceptional at locating that switch and flicking it a few dozen times until the circuit gives, and remains permanently stuck in give no fuck mode until categorically reset. Such a reset is no easy task, and not likely to present the right criterion.

“«We would return the stone to its rightful place. If not here, then take it yourself. Not my problem. Goodbye.»” She does not look to the demigod, eyes narrowed as the emotion simply drains sideways into a hardened brick somewhere in her belly.

It was never her job to deal with such capricious entities, much less one she could give a damn less about. Agatha’s oldest lessons: can’t go through it, find another way. Around. Up. Down. A thousand directions other than the path she trudges.

She is not one for idle threats, not when her parched hands are purely mortal and the memory of glacial water from a spring skimming. The witch shrugs, and if the rock is in her keeping — or was it his? — then it is placed politely down on the saltpan. Let it find its way home how it will. If not, then the matter is infinitely simpler.

The reptile creature gains a flat, blank look from eyes narrowed and weakest amber brown. Nothing else. She measures her shadow and where the run lies against her shoulder, and then treads away from it. Every step nails the atoms dancing in her thoughts, the threads of thick and thin fortune felt mentally rather than physically. Push comes to shove, she won’t play games. Wanda does not even know games of childhood, much less twist their rules.

When it comes to breaking the unseen rules, she’s learned from her mercurial brother, and her adoptive father’s bitter tokens. Thus after a random length of time, she flings out her hands to push against the walls of reality and test how permeable they are to her influence. Her purpose is simple: tear a hole and fall through it back into her own proper place. Let a lizard have its just desserts.

Breaking through the veils of riffling, rising heat isn’t impossible. A lesser practitioner might have some serious effort to give, but there is an inherent kowtow on some molecular level to the gesturing of the Witch. To break through would be no more difficult than pressing hands against three layers of Saran wrap until it gives.

What lies on the other side? Whatever she chooses, seeing as reality is hers to warp.

The lizard-like demigod lets out a low hiss, not too unlike a tea kettle revving up to alert someone that the water is boiling.

“You have less diplomacy than your erstwhile mate, god-touched! And I sought to wonder as to your worth here.” Lifting up another hand, a spell begins to coalesce around the spindly fingers. “It amounts to none!” With the Witch’s back turned, there’s a high chance for the spell to hit home.

That is, until a sudden firefly-storm of orange sparks breaks through the undulating heat and a neutral levenbolt flies from it like a sorcerous fastball. THUMP, right into the demigod’s ribcage, and she’s sent tumbling away, seeming to disappear behind the miraging skyline like dust swept beneath a rug.

Out steps a disheveled, panting, rather sunburnt Sorcerer Supreme, glaring up a storm and sparking in aura. There are red dirt stains on his elbows and knees as if he tumbled again. His lips are cracked and he licks them even as he strides through, fixing one dress sleeve that had fallen down from being rolled up.

“If I didn’t know who you were, you’d be disintegrated!!!” His angry shout is raspy but conveys the enormity of his emotion nonetheless. His eyes, narrowed and lit with hyper-bright amaranthine, shift to Wanda and there’s an obvious sense of relief that pervades him. “Did she do anything to you?”

There’s an unspoken threat implied if so.


Molecules spin out to reveal a cloudy expanse of sky, pointed trees emerging in sylvan notches among a mist bank. Moisture saturates the air so heavily its excess drips on the stones and coats trunks, runs over narrow needles and coagulates into puddles caught perpetually reflecting the sky. Moss thrives in such an environment, and little else except water fowl. Even a breath of it through the spatial incision cools the lungs and coats her face in a moist sheen.

The very air and earth cry out to the witch. Her aura crackles, energy jolted backwards to lines she barely knew existed. Pans of a scale going out of balance cause power to answer the vast gravitational yank. Every last hair on her nape rises, gooseflesh stippling her forearms.

Too late, the refrain comes. If Pietro at her back… Some cry of horror matches the rising shriek of defiance unlocked from rusted black bindings, stiffening her spine and rising in a wave.

Copper sparks throw her to her knees, and the levinquick spell flung at her torso might sail right over her head if she lands onto the salt pan fast enough.

Sparks mean but one thing. Kamar-Taj. Kamar-Taj amounts to two or three possibilities, one neutral, one bad, one good.

The cacophony in her skull spins up to a fever pitch and the bleeding lines of rainfall surge around her in a spreading cloud. Probability spun up in response to her instinctive reaction when taken unawares by a considerable threat turns into a hundred swirling embers of a hex, amorphous, neither blessing nor sin. Oh, something might hit her, but then the old Slavic folktale of death curses is entirely true where Wanda Maximoff is involved. Some faster moving part of the alligator brain awakens from its dormancy, and hearing a spirit calling, answers back in language older than humanity.

There is reason when her heartbeat kicks up a notch. Trembling fingers clamp over her lower jaw and mouth, the inchoate void staring out of her huge, dark eyes. Empurpled past the point of ultraviolet, the seesaw rhythm of breathing has suspended around her, and she stares past Strange into the horizon to a corner of sere paradise where a body might lie.

And if it does, it may already be targeted to be
ousted from its own realm,
flung through holes in space to the void,
disassembled atom by atom,
folded up in a bouquet of roses and buried under the ground,
subjected to a rain of toasted walnut and pear jam scones,
led to a place of second chances,
turned inside out and baked into a terra cotta tile,
brought face to face

She doesn’t speak. Speaking is past her, for a single word means conjuring a thought and crystallising an idea shapes the raw clay of will to being. Happening. As long as she is in neutral, the power can’t act, not until she knows the risk to them.

Not to her.

To him. He might realise that with awful clarity as the seconds drag on, clawed out of the natron salts. Wrath hangs on the precipice, ready to stoop, checked by so precious little.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. On beats the hearts present, near to paralled in pattern, both ratcheted up for the sake of self-preservation and defense against a deific being with no cares for those within its wavering pocket of reality.

Directly in the line of fire, the Sorcerer does feel the cold brush of fear along the back of his neck that floods his veins to freezing and numbs his aching fingers. They tingle, already charged with a spell he too aborted when the red dot landed square on his sternum. The bold apple of his throat slides up and down as he attempts to find his tongue, cottony as it is.

Raspy. “«Beloved».” The voice implies hands held up though the actual palms are held neutrally down, an acknowledgment of the danger he’s in.

Oh, if that lizard demigod shows again, there would be a race to see who could hit it hardest and fastest, with the Sorcerer reacting with more than a smidge of offended lack of patience.

Pray — pray to the gods triumvate, who choose to show then, that no hex is unleashed for how he suddenly inhales, eyes flooding to citrine. With face tipped towards the sky, the puppeted body sways on its feet before blinking slowly once. Citrine recedes into his irises, which then bleed in shifting watercolors stolen from nature’s pristine forests. His eyes find Wanda once again and observe with an absolute lack of humanity behind them.

She’ll know this particular borrower even before Strange speaks again, alto-above-baritone.

“I speak in turn for my son. He is displeased with the current state of this realm. Resolve the matter of your powers, Scion.” The patriarchal lines of his face don’t soften in the least for Her presence; if anything, they take a shadowing of steel no less inflexible than that of the other gods. “I understand that you act to keep yourself alive.”

She would, out of all of them, the most inclined to life itself as opposed to sterile knowledge and snarling battle-blood.

Hospitality offended causes no little irritation to scrape along the wounded margins of her psyche. Shame and regret waltz their grey duet in the ashen chambers of her unbeating heart. Tongue thick and throat closed, the moment she hangs within stretches further and thinner, smeared across the dilated scale of history.

No Eye of his is needed to permit that distortion, a personal stumble out of sync with the rest of reality. It’s funny how someone can see things with crystal clarity as the mind grasps fine details and can do absolutely nothing about them.

One misstep and she might be committed to the pyre right there. Even conceiving the idea rotates the blessing around in countless daggers, a multitude of thin blades prepared to pierce the flesh and heart.

Would they be soft as butterfly wings? A question for the ages.

Butterflies are a symbol of death and rebirth, functional dispellation and reformation in the same twinkling of an eye. Dozens of bright blue wings the shade of a cat’s eyes reflecting the heart of summer go dusting past cheeks and shoulders. A storm of them fluttering for the open rent in reality, out into the misty rainforest oozing the sweet resin of cedar over the harsher tang of pine.

Butterflies lead to flowers at her feet in the middle of the desert, a path for the Witch Road all the way back to the gate. She allows the blessing to drain out behind her, imparting fertility on the land, giving a little protection against the ravages of the sea or some developer thinking about putting a few cabins up. Nameless, formless, the gift really doesn’t amount to an imbalancing so much as a cheerleading session for that particular patch of forest.

And a rainfall of scones hailing down on the last spot the lizard was seen, baked goods piling up.

All in the blink of an eye. The next, the willing is pinched out. Though she does silently lament for a lack of good strawberry jam. Mm, jam.


A single of the multitude of shimmering wings diverts from its flock and lazily glides to the Sorcerer Supreme. It alights upon the tips of upheld fingers, little black feet tickling as it lingers, opening and closing its wings in no more of a hurry than nature intended. Eyes in shifting hues watch its actions, their corners crinkling with an appreciation one might see granted to an old friend.

“Shame has no place here,” murmurs the odd overlayering of voices. “You are touched as you are and naught can change it. Your decision is for the better against your forefather’s influences. Be mindful, Conduit. You are more than you seem.” A gentle puff of air blown beneath the butterfly’s brightly-flashing wings sets it aloft and it spirals away. Widdershins about the Witch it flies, trailing a comet’s tail of glittering droplets of moisture. These hang before sublimating away in the intense heat. It too disappears into the rent in reality that breathes of green in a place devoid of it. Strange’s hand slowly drops, his entire body shifting with that delicate and eerily-alien pose of the god-borrowed. He looks to the pastries and back to Wanda. No flicker of amusement that might have crossed the man’s usually-expressive face occurs. “The offering may be accepted. You will see.”

Blink. Gone, the overwhelming weight of their triad presence, leaving as smoothly as smoke through a crack in the ceiling and noiselessly as well.

More blinks, a frown of blank confusion, and then a sharp inhale. Strange grimaces, his hand rubbing at his throat as if to massage out a kink, and he coughs.

“They did it again, didn’t they.” Despite the usual momentary amnesia, he’s beginning to recognize the gaps as god-blessed. Cursed? Regardless, he looks upon his Beloved with a growing sympathy. With moderated speed, he closes the distance between them and pauses. Two hands held out, palms up, offer succor in the desert.

The scone pile sits where it is. From beyond some veil, a scaled hand reaches out and snatches one away out of visible sight again.


The Witch makes no explanation to the power that is, her mouth wired shut. Would She understand the horror of leaving behind one’s beloved, despite pulling in spatial hole to a place cooler, wetter, and softer than the hard lines of a desert? No way to ask, no bravery to inquire.

Wanda rubs her upper arm vigorously, the prickle of regret and rebuke making her skin lift in a shivering ripple with nothing to do with the temperature. All she can do not to stamp her foot on the ground and hope the bits of sand rise in the air.

“I told it you were protected.” The proof is in the pudding and everything in a how many kilometer radius knows it?

Sometimes self-sacrifice serves its purpose, though the raw shiver of anger and protectiveness sneak back into their hermit crab shell, sneaking out of sight and resuming a quiet life. Her veins burn, her thoughts itch, and she gestures weakly to the misty hole.

“This place,” she begins, and too late, for the man is back, not the godtouched, something she can race to enfold in her embrace. Blazing citrine and luminous heliotrope cords erupt in luminous divides as she leaps off her feet and wraps her arms around Strange’s neck. Pardon her.

The verbalization of impact sounds like a dry-throated “Oof!” She’s just short enough for him to hold her flush to him, feet dangling off the cracked desert ground, before letting her slide down his body for a firmer, more prolonged hug.

Even the crimson Cloak joins in despite the heat. It does pick its favorites most carefully.

“It’s fine,” Strange rasps quietly into her hair. “It’s fine, we’re fine. Nothing appears twisted out of place.” His eyes shift to the pile of…scones in the midst of the expanse of nothing. Dark brows flick high. His gaze then shifts to the rent in reality, breathing out its verdant moisture alien to this place, and he pulls back to look down at her. “Creative.”

His smile is fond, hopeful that he’s offered some form of grounding to her. He knows the amnesia. Gods only know what was said. Nearly literally. It fades for a sudden influx of uncertainty and lends a very foreign cant to his expression.

“The rock is nearby, in a neighboring dimension. We’re almost to it. I can sense it clearer now.” This beacon turns his attention nearly ninety degrees to his left, somewhere off towards a distant mountain range that might not even exist. It might too be mirage — and he knows this in his heart. “We should attempt to Gate again. Is your stomach alright?” He looks to her again, concerned for his heart of hearts.


He may not know what his gods say, but she does. Worse, still, her gods are conspicuously silent when vexed to action for the most part, preferring deed to sound.

Reaching out to slide her bridged hands within the ruffling judgment of the high collar of the cloak, Wanda seeks the familiar scent that acts as a drug to the system, a promise of intoxication. It melts into a palate fine-tuned to capture the blend particularly Strange’s, the sandalwood and spice, the dry alkaline note of space, and the components of the moment.

One can be human enough, flawed enough, to show emotion through all the business of others. Betimes she abandons stoicism altogether for a rare glimpse of the scarred, pitted prune of a heart still occasionally twitching to Eros’ golden arrow shaft perpetually stabbed inside.

Bloody hands would never rip it out, but rather stain his blue doublet with the personal stain of their own particular truths. Scones be damned, purple lizards suck it. They have a moment for themselves, and then she disengages from the good Doctor, jaw set and expression studied in its blankness.

“I have no food left.” Except for a week’s supply of pastries. One of them will be thrown at the desert dweller, hospitality or no hospitality. “It will be fine. Did it go there by itself or have we not carried it yet?”


An errant lock of her hair is tenderly tucked away from her face as his lips rise into a fond smile.

“You are made of stern stuff, Miss Maximoff.” As always, the buzz on that title. “It went of its own accord,” Strange continues, ghosting fingertips down her arm to find her hand. Their fingers interlock as he turns torso towards those far mountains. She’ll feel some grit still sticking to sweaty skin from his impact into some other refraction of this dimension earlier. “I’m not surprised. It had a sentience to it, not too unlike the Cloak.” Collars wiggle — oh hi, we’re discussing me, hi hi hi! The Witch might catch the corners of his mouth quirking in a flash before he regains the composed formality known to his mantle. He coughs and clears his throat. “If you’ll close off that rift, I’ll open up the Gate.”

Presuming she works to shutter away the alien moisture and greenery that no doubt has the local demigod-guardian of this reality enamored and near-hypnotised for its sheer foreign properties, the Sorcerer raises up a scraped-knuckled mudra. His eyes bleed more deeply amaranthine still and narrow. His gaze is distant, far distant, unerringly aligned to that damned little pebble of malingering effect. After a smidgeon of resistance, the characteristic flint-spark of his will dilates upon some plane.

Shrubbery! A cooler place, with a passing breeze now and then that ruffles tussocks of tall, hardy grass. They have arrived beneath the shade of a hardy species of tree with striated bark that, when broken, smells of medicine, astringent and slightly minty. The Sorcerer sighs in visible relief, upturning his face with closed eyes to the wind blowing by, even warm as it is. Above them, elongated arrow-pointed leaves rattle quietly. The horizon is more Earthly now, with clearer landmarks. Still brilliantly-blue, clear of all but a few wisps of clouds, the sky stretches to meet the edge of the expanse broken by formations instead of unbreaking in salt-pan monotony. Whatever folding of space that Strange did brought them closer still to the mountain range that instead proves to be a collection of red rocks. The largest of them all looms not but a few miles away, towering in singularly majestic presence.

“There,” he murmurs, now eyeing the geological formation. “The rock is nearby, but that…that is its goal. I think I understand now…” The musing is quiet and he wiggles the fingers of the hand not intertwined with the Witch’s digits. “Though what I wouldn’t do for some water.” His tongue slips out to test chapped lips. “I hesitate to drink anything here or summon up any…at least not without making contact with this reality’s guardian.” By the mild slumping of his shoulders, it’s clear that the Sorcerer wishes the task to be over and done. After all, his nerves still feel as sunburnt as his skin for having been borrowed by his patron-gods.


Will the rock ever get returned or will this reality run helter-skelter over the weary practitioners? TO BE CONTINUED!

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