1964-06-02 - Flinders and Cinders II
Summary: When it rains, it pours — this dimension just isn't playing nicely with returning that rock!
Related: Flinders and Cinders
Theme Song: None
wanda strange 

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-hypnotized 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 smidgen 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.


“I am not a boat,” says the tired brunette, her mood settling back down into the proper mass of a pond it belongs in. Contracting from any hints of emotional displays, she reaches for that kind of clinical detachment. Attachment puts her in league of weakness and vulnerability, holes in the armour that other creatures of this wretched abyss can possibly explain. What unspeakable serpentine horrors they left behind could well have cousins here. She refuses to put herself at a disadvantage, and besides, Wanda chides herself, you could be dead.

The rift goes to a place of moisture and wetness on the New Zealand coast, nothing beyond their dimension, for interdimensional holes register as solidly foolish in the slate of things. Two neat rules about dealing with the Sorcerer Supreme: do not violate his mantle by angering the gods via Chthon or opening holes in other places. They might tolerate reality warping a little more, given the fact she is not the only one.

“What if this rock keeps on going one place and moving when we get there?” She can’t quite explain the concept of leading them on in English, but the struggle for the proper phrase without sinking into slang follows. Her education wasn’t preparing her for English but the other languages of the realm. “We come and get close. It then moves on?”

A question that needs an answer across gates as she steps through. It could be for nothing as she looks around, measuring possibilities. “Its origin? Salt and sand. Those things.” Cliffs? Hoodoos? “Mountain. Where it first was?”

These are guesses, and if there’s anything she hates, it’s guessing. Guessing games that are Pietro’s lot in life irritate her to no end.


“Yes, I think so. It was red, the giant outcropping is red… I don’t feel like I’m overstepping some point of logic to say that’s where the rock first was.” He waves a hand in weary, slack-limbed deference towards the monolith in rufous sandstone. “It make much more sense now, what the rock initially told me, back at the Sanctum. This is the reality of the Dreamtime, of Australian origin. Someone, probably some idiot tourist,” Strange spits this out vehemently as he is reminded of the mild tea burns on sternum and the destruction of his shirt; “ — took a piece of the mountain rock. That’s the source of the bad luck.”

Thank the Witch for her patience in acting as sounding board for his logic. His delivery had the slightly delayed air of a brain still whirring away, clicking together pieces, even as he talked aloud. It’s probably very funny to watch him in the rare moments when he catches a flaw in his own reasoning and peters out into annoyed, if slightly bemused silence.

“Now we just have to find the damn rock,” he grumbles. She might slip back beneath the still waters of her means of remaining distant, but if there’s one thing that the Sorcerer prides himself on, it’s dancing little ripples across that surface. After all, it’s not too far off as to how they initially met. He lifts her hand, still entwined within his own, and pecks a kiss before letting go. Let the demigod or god, perhaps plural, of this realm see and fear the potential wrath of irritating either again. “It’s not far, hold on.”

Not far at all, it seems, at least to his Mystical senses, weary as they are. In fact…

Strange frowns as he aligns towards a particularly large collection of spinifex, at least two heads taller than him and with blade-like edges to the stalks that look…geez, actually kind of sharp. He grimaces.

“I would like for it to not be in there,” he mutters, even as he makes his way towards it with a resigned air. Hell, he’s scuffed up. Bleeding’s nothing new.


A pause follows, and then Wanda tries to search through the crumbling knowledge of anything of the southern hemisphere. Her own scratchings for various traditions and presents worthy for the Sorcerer Supreme — some of which will be delivered next year, it seems — has given her a foundation. But not much of one.

“Is that… Air Rock?” Okay, Ayer Rock, no wonder she would mess that up. Uluru is unlikely for her to know. Scrubby grasslands and the odd wallaby frowning at them from afar suddenly seems much more likely.

She runs her fingers over the webbed ridges spanning her head, the delicate assortment of resolute carmine and scarlet lace identifying her to anyone who might know her other name. “When is your birthday, Trishul?”

It’s something of a diversion, perhaps. Waxy stalks and pointed, bladed foliage does not cause her as much discomfort as Strange. But then? He’s not a witch.

“Let me ask the ground to give us a path to pass. The Earth has no reason to be cold.” She goes down onto one knee and spreads her hands out, pressing fingers and palms into the soil.

What separates them also binds them. She can speak the language of the Mystic Arts better than English, but it’s one she rarely chooses to communicate in. Concepts are too precise or broad for actual conversations, unless one happens to be old, vast, and purposeful. “«Mother. Children - yours - call -aid. Walk your road. Blessings - love - safety - respect to nature. Plants - pass - no harm. Open path - help? Thanks - love - humble.»”

It’s as much a visual of them walking carefully through the spinifex, putting their feet down on the solid ground and not where the shallow roots seek the moisture brought at dawn with the dew. It means not touching the hard leaves, and striving not to bruise the surprisingly tender foliage.


A pause on the part of the Sorcerer, just beyond the rather notable growth of spinifex, for her query and for her thoughtful conversation with the Earth proper.

He turns on the spot, mostly towards her, and watches with his usual mild curiosity. Beneath her hands, the Earth itself responds, though it might seem a bit slower than normal still. This reality is separated from the one they call home, being the Dreamtime. The stalks of the hardy grass seem to wilt slightly, like soldiers being allowed at-ease.

“Ayer Rock, yes, the locals call it ‘Uluru’. The little rock likely came from its base. A chip off the old block,” he adds lightly and laughs as well, albeit tiredly. “My birthday though? Where did that question come from?” His half-smile curls up his goatee.

Then it slowly melts away even as his brows draw together.

Like as not, she can hear it too — sense it with her palms pressed to the semi-arid soil, even beneath the thin layer of dried leaves.

A rumble…nearly subsonic.

How is one to process it? It travels through air and yet resonates in skeleton and torso chamber alike; it tingles at booted bottom of feet and attempts to crawl along metacarpals that slip beneath the loam’s surface.

Along with it attends the creepy-crawly sensation that whatever’s watching you wants to suck the marrow from your cracked bones.

Two is more powerful than one, especially when bonded and in tandem. Strange is quick to retreat back to her side, a hand outstretched in ready defensive mudra while the other hovers near to the Witch.

“That doesn’t sound good,” he murmurs, doing his damnedest to search out the source of it before whatever it is shows.


“Sacred place. You know of any taboos?” Tabu; taboo; of course Wanda would know about them and concern herself. She gives her thanks to the earth, fingers passing gently over the rough red soil to erase any hint of her presence.

Dusting her palms together gives a smear of russet dust, the vibrations passing through her and scattering a few grains. Her hand is then extended to Strange. “Faster path. Will Cloak take us?”

There lies a risk to limiting them this way, but it’s not as though she cannot fly herself. Cloak is simply faster and more maneuverable, and that may prove the difference against something squawking its displeasure. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were part of the Emu War, and no threat would lie to two vegans?

So much for that.

Negotiating her way up, by whatever means, gives a suitable escort for hurrying to the stone. Besides, one-handed, she can still cast, even though her current desire might be to curl up at the base of the great sandstone plateau and bask like a tired wallaby, possibly even with her stomach in the air.


“I think it’s fair to assume that simply being here is taboo at this point,” he mutters, glancing back to her. The rumbling hasn’t ceased; if anything, it’s gained a gravely resonance that insinuates organic origin.

From the thickest, sturdiest and most mature patch of spinifex emerges a creature. One lanky paw — if one could call it a paw — shows first from the parting strands, spreading blunted nails onto the dusty earth. Knuckled digits, stuck halfway to a primate’s flexible control, allow the talons to break the dry surface with audible crackling. Out comes another twisted fore-foot. The pads muffle all sounds but for another dig-in, as if it needs to physically pull itself from the deep shadows cast by the canopy of the blue gum tree and then once again by the harsh grass. A pink tongue slips out from a mouth lined with so many ivory teeth, all perfect for a predator’s get and hyper-accentuated for the demonic weirdness of the thing. It leaves its mouth agape in a particularly frightening smile and a singsong growl issues from it, marking it as the origin of the vibrations. Rolling shoulders might make the ones observing its appearance wonder of feline aspects, though their accented height that causes a pronounced slant from said peaks to hips might draw parallels to hyenas. Its ruff rises in a Centurion’s crest of bile-yellow hair from skull to tail tip, that which swishes above behind it in a butchering of a friendly wag. No friendliness here!

Strange slowly straightens up and finds the hand outstretched to him. He never takes his eyes from the thing. Grasping at empty space next to him is cause for a blip of panicked heartbeats jumping, but he does grab fingers and attempt to draw her flat to his side.

His voice is steady, quiet, absolutely bluffing a semblance of control overtop the bone-chilling fear in his veins. “Yes, airborne might be good about now. Wrap your arms around my neck, but get ready to dive for it if we don’t make it off the ground.”

Some primal marsupial recalled from eras when Australia was hotter, wetter, and not so ridden with humans emerges and Wanda scowls. It seems the appropriate thing to do. Her desire to confront something obviously abundant in tooth and claw diminishes even further from given its particularly stocky build that indicates a penchant for rending and cracking bones. In an outright run, she knows who will win.

Her arms wind around Strange’s neck, oh so slowly. Not for the first time has she been wrapped up so, sometimes in her brother’s embrace as he means to carry her off. Often like this, with the Sorcerer, floating over rooftops for reasons other than escaping impending danger.

“You fly,” she says slowly, “I shoot.” Probably a very fair arrangement with all things considered. Suffering for accuracy when carrying someone becomes less of an issue when they can fire back, and take care of the shielding.

Hers is a sickle smile with no warmth, a moonless night. Fear is absent, in its weird way. Wrath is easier to reach for. Take no chances, with this man, not here, not now.


“Yes, excellent idea,” replies Strange with equal delicacy in delivery. No need to speak loudly, it might lunge at them simply for this. The Cloak’s collars give a subtle fast quiver, not too unlike a hummingbird testing its wings. This might be a gunslinger’s draw at high noon for whomever moves first. The presence of her arms about his neck allows him to slip a firm grip around her waist and he curls fingers tightly into any loose material he finds on her body.

It snarls, pinning them both with red-rimmed eyes. Its voice is the nightmare that stalked beyond the firelight thousands of years ago. “Trespassers! Worm-skin get. You malign your own kind by stealing of Great Uluru. Bone-heaps of shame upon you, Sorcerer, and you, Sorceress!” The broad triangles for ears flick back and it seems as if the dimness around it doubles upon itself, darkening further. “I am tasked to punish you. The Children of the Fires Above will not be greeting you with open arms. Offal!” The teeth clack together like the first millisecond of air detonating and the rumble of thunder follows as it takes another stalking step closer. The snuffling nose is on level with Strange’s chin, which leave the slowly-opening mouth very able to close about at sternum, at least in his case. “You disgust me.” Elongated vowels end in a purrling sigh.

“I’m done with being punished, I think,” says the Sorcerer in question, giving his best scowl. The creature seems to rationalize that there’s retreat in the cards and its eyes widen momentarily before squinting.

“I will not be denied!” It rages.

Therein, the lunge. Forthwith, the flick of the Cloak. Strange clutches the Witch to him desperately as they zip into the air with speed that serves to nearly white out the dimension before his sight. There’s the sound of teeth collapsing — and then the battle begins in earnest.


The witch needs time, and only time, to prepare the array of luck on their side. Blessings are a Roma stock in trade, whether real or not. Acutely aware of the grim sun rising to its haunches and the vibrating force of the Cloak preparing for an assault, she drags in a sunsparked breath dusty with the red earth of inland Australia. Here lies some of the most ancient stone on earth. It remembers times before life crawled from the primordial soup of the oceans, when volcanoes and ranges so long lost to geological memory not even the rock layers show their traces engulfed the horizons.

Eyes narrowed against the sunglare, Wanda draws in a slow, deep breath. Magic lies pervasive around them, but ideally the smallest and slightest hope springs to life without too much demand. Charming the graces of fate with a smile and curl of her fingertips into the pliable fabric stretched in high defense, she seeks the open emptiness of luck. A frisson of words spill out into the air in a murmur — for her to do this, by correct means, she must speak. But they are a sigh of a lover to Beloved.

Faced with doubt and malediction, the little moments count. The glowing radiance cracks like a pixie stick over them, sugary dust of a blessing deepening from jade green to the cherry heart of a spring blossom. It might tickle slightly, giving a finish to the Cloak only in the Sight.

If this thing sees it, too bad.

Let Strange speak diplomatically; she’ll shift the odds in their favour on the airborne ascent, even if it’s her boots at risk of a snapping tooth.


The skein of Fate responds to her machinations and, instead of enduring the shearing bite force of those jaws to ankles or Cloak hem, all whisk out of reach of the initial arcing leap. Like a shotgun in a small room, the sound of empty teeth echoes out and around them across the near-empty space. The leaves on the trees shiver as the thing lands noiselessly and then precedes to snarl loudly.

To the Sight, behind the yellowish guardian, there is a twinkle, not too unlike firelight glinting from glass. There, the stupid rock! It lies nestled within the bower of the spinifex like an arcane egg.

“When it rains, it pours,” mutters the Sorcerer as they hang aloft, beyond reach of the creature. His arm around her waist is firm despite shivering slightly; adrenaline and weariness will have out eventually. It seems to draw more from him to utilize the magics normally accessible to him in his home realm and reality. “«Beloved», can you summon the stone to yourself? It’s taking half of our intent to keep us aloft.” ‘Our’ meaning Cloak and master; the garment must have intimated something to him. He hates to admit it by the grimace and the deepening of crow’s feet about his eyes that watch the movements of the warg-like being. It rolls shoulders as it waits, too intelligent to waste energy leaping up at them further…for the moment.


The double-check of the Cloak’s state follows, and she brushes her mouth in a muzzy greeting and thanks to its support. Yet, there lies a particular danger in that admission. One too far.

Sorcerer Supreme versus needs of the Witch. It never dawns on her the cost might be gladly born. With a nod to Strange, the brunette looks over her shoulder to spy what might be lying bright upon the ground.

Those locked arms release from around his neck, and gravity does the rest, allowing her to drop unless he forcibly clinches his grip on waist and shoulders. Free fall will only last a couple of yards before she concentrates upon ceasing the descent, hardening the air under her feet in a body-limning halo of blossoming heliotrope light. Radiance drips from her fingertips, sparks thrown down, and then it’s just a matter of switching the rock in space.

Granted, she is slower than he; this is understood as a risk. Granted, she is lighter than he; this is an advantage. But Wanda won’t ever be a burden upon her beloved, least of all when the risk is high.

“There,” she says, bringing rock to hand, and sliver to master and relic.


Her decision to detach herself from the point of safe height galvanizes the stage once more.

Like a diesel engine being tested, pedal to the floor, the yellow creature simply can’t contain the sound of its burling growl. The teeth open and as she hangs in those critical few seconds, separated from the Sorcerer and Cloak, it crouches and uncoils. Muscles shift beneath skin with effortless contraction and extension; furrows of torn dirt are left in the wake of its kick-off point.

Fear always tastes like the heartburn one might have after ingesting a tack. No time for a spell — the words fail on his lips in a rare moment that will haunt him in brooding and nightmares alike. It’s a knee-jerk reaction on his part with the long-practiced gestures likely saving them both.

The gigantic hyena-like demigod had impeccable aim. Barring a wrench on Fate’s wheel of luck by the Witch, two forepaws would have driven talons through her chest wall like nail-guns and brought her to ground. Snickersnack — nothing in this dimension would have stopped the teeth.

Instead, its flight takes it through the malleable crystalline fracturing of this dimension, through the fractally-lit brevity of the Mirror Dimension, and out the other side of the wormhole. It is as if the Witch herself were naught but an illusion. The warg lands with an agile and eerie lack of sound, turning upon itself with a flexion of spine not too unlike that seen in the land-covering strides of the African cheetah. By this point, the disorientation allows the gain of height and distance for safety once again. Both practitioners reflect their individual shades of red, sweet apples beyond reach of plucking.


Someone’s frustrated.

Strange’s upheld hands twitch reflexively as it leaps up and bites futilely at empty air two feet beneath their boot. He lets out a shaky sigh, daring a look over at Wanda that’s two parts ‘what the everliving hell was that?!’, one part ‘oh thank the gods’, and yet another that’s probably not entirely appropriate at this moment, brought on by the maelstrom of relief winning out over abject fear of loss. Another thundershot of teeth missing their target brings him back and the Cloak’s collars flutter before settling at a mental shushing from its master.

“You’ve got it? Good.” Indeed, that cantankerous small piece of geology is safe within her palm, vibrating at being contained, likely testing her skin with probing pokes of undiluted bad luck that feel like the myriad shoves of blunt-ended needles.
Do her joints hurt?
Any open cuts?
Sudden spasm of tendons to release it from its prison?
Carpal tunnel?
Genetic disposition to sudden fracturing of finger bones?

No, don’t drop it.

The Sorcerer offers out a hand, as he tends to do, scarred and dirt-smeared and steady for the presence of his mantle. “We’ve got to get to the plateau,” he nods towards Uluru. “Hold tightly — and don’t let go this time, please,” he adds, wry irritation warring with an undercurrent of amusement. She’ll see it swish behind his eyes and settle beneath that veneer of self-control again, sparkling leviathan returning to the depths.


Bad news for the warg; the Witch has a better protector than most. When not her alacritous brother for whom time is a joke, her children can see through space and bend reality as necessary. Their father in spirit or blood might have something to do with enforcing dictates upon the mortal plane.

No mere immortal spirit of rage and bellicose digestive tracks will end a good thing too soon. What, it threatens to pin her to the earth? So be it, but if those claws come down, a defiant shriek in its face might avert death’s leather-covered hand once more.

For the nonce, the Witch is not terribly focused on the impending doom escaped so much as the one biting through the barrier of flesh. Her aura utters crackling dissonance, moaning notes that speed up and crescendo erratically.

Staggered sparks like crystal razor-beams poke through the crackling shell drawn around her. It tries to break fingers and bring around those fatal visits with banana peels or a spell sequence gone wrong.

Demon of light, demon of shadow. Freezing for a moment, she glares at the stone caught in her palm, waiting for the ill starred Sorcerer to take it.

Wanda breathes out a gritted, “Stop that,“ at the stone. She may have no notion how barbed the sounds are. The maternal tone behind her sharp imperative leaves no mistake, she is not impressed.

We still turn this dimension around and you can sit in your room for the next two hundred years, or be artificially weathered by Stephen’s thunderstorm, thank you very much.

She reaches for his hand and clasps his wrist, fingers closing tightly. Her own flight speed doesn’t match his, but that hardly matters being towed. The ground won’t bother her much.

“I said stop that!” she hisses at the rock, Tibetan just as useful. “Rude!”


To be continued!

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