1964-09-03 - A Golem's Heart, pt II (A "What If" Tale)
Summary: Locating the Golem's Heart is easy enough; it's dealing with the interruption and chaos that follows which becomes difficult for Strange and friend. Nothing like a world-class assassin that just won't quit!
Related: The "What If" Tales, A Golem's Heart, pt I
Theme Song: None
strange bucky 

The bullet stays hovering there, obdurately pointing in that same direction. Avi picks up Mesic and cuddles her, which she permits. Familiar knows her sorcerer is in need of comfort. "He does. That is the knowledge I fear the killer wants," he says, softly. "I and the Rabbi and one other know what truly is in the museum." The KGB museum, of all things. "If you leave me….she will come."

Strange swallows and tucks her chin, eyes darting all about and not seeing what's before or around her; the mind must fly and weigh options. She acknowledges the bullet's alignment with a distant nod that somehow manages an odd sense of disappointment — hiding is all well and good, but…she had expected the killer to scamper and leave them to their devices.

"She may," replies the Sorceress softly, finally lifting her face and looking towards Avi. "You risk your life coming along with me. You risk your life staying here. Could you make it to your mentor's safehouse without being detected?"

"By a normal person, perhaps. By that…." Avi shrugs expressively, and the kitten's furry brow is wrinkled in consternation. "Probably not."

"You have no experience in glamours or shielding yourself from another's eyes?" Color the Sorceress mildly surprised. At Kamar-Taj, the apprentices are taught a basic illusion spell from the moment they can quantify and bring to life such a draw upon the energy of the world around them.

Mesic gets hugged so tight she squeaks in protest. "I have basic ones," Avi admits. "I do not trust them to work on her. She has killed magicians far more powerful than myself. I would rather come with you and risk that."

Avi is subject to a lingering glance, one that grows decidedly more concerned with each passing second. She doesn’t want to renege on her earlier stance, but…

"In the essence of my mantle and the Fate of this reality, I cannot ask you to not accompany me. You were shot once. You were damn lucky that her aim slid, young man. You'd risk that again?" Strange has her arms tightly folded now beneath her chest and remains standing nearby to the compass-bullet still hovering in mid-air.

It's a tiny mote of wickedness. Surely the Soldier is not a sorceress in her own right? "And if I stay here? She has to know where I am," he says. "You fixed the door. But have you made the windows bullet-proof? You go, she will come, surely." He's still deferential in his body language, but there's fear there, too.

A curt nod. "So be it. Leave the familiar behind." Perhaps unnecessary to add, but…is it so unnecessary? The worry of the kitten's fate could be very real indeed. "We can Gate directly into the museum if you've been there before. I'll need you to project it mentally towards me once we've gripped hands."

The Sorceress offers out a small, limber palm towards Avi, the infamous scarring in red plain to see.

He inclines his head. "I will go, she will not find me," chirrups the kitten, leaping down to vanish under the bed. A glance back from Avi, and then he squares himself up to her, and takes her hand in his, like a child reaching for comfort.

It's small, a few rooms full of artifacts and photos and old weapons. Not something grand like the British Museum or the Met, but down towards the tourist trap end of the scale. "A friend runs it," he says. "We wanted to move it from its old spot, somewhere no one would suspect."

With eyes shut, Strange can See the place as easily as if she'd traipsed there herself. Avi's hand is abruptly dropped and irises that glow with the Arts rest upon him.

"It's a good place," she murmurs. "Very few would suspect it to be there. Allow me." Firstly, she plucks the bullet from its suspended placement, wrinkling her nose at what sliver of negative magic lingers within it. Into the pocket of her tunic it goes, shielded by the fortified weavings of the tunic. Secondly, that Gate.

A circular gesture incises her will upon reality proper and the scintillating passage opens up upon one of the back rooms of the KGB museum. With her usual amount of self-confidence, the Sorceress steps right through the portal and into the small room. Here, a few rows of seven foot-tall cabinets house multiple glass-paneled drawers and cupboards.

"We should be safest here to start, I think," whispers Strange, motioning for Avi to follow her. Only one point of entrance here and it's the door itself, paned with frosted glass and the room's titling backwards in German.

He's as tentative as a kitten, himself. But Avi's safe in Strange's shadow, or so he feels. It's a musty little back room, cluttered and disorganized. "I think it is here," he says, looking around. "I mean, this is the room." There's diffuse magic here, the kind designed to misdirect and confused, rather than precise wards. But even with it, Strange can feel the pulse, old and slow and strong in the way that stone is. Beating like a heart. Strongest near one of the cabinets.

"Such luck…" Strange's voice is low, soft, nearly a purr because — frankly — she's pleased. Indeed, the relic calls to her in the same way a lodestone might respond to a magnet, with a draw that becomes stronger with decreased distance. Enamored in a way, the Sorceress steps noiselessly over to the cabinet in question and then frowns.

"The chance for a warding curse is high and the…the amount of misdirection is ridiculous." She wrinkles her nose and…it's kind of adorable if one looks at the right angle. There's a grudging respect for the way the beating seems to come from multiple places within the small area, not too unlike how a prism refracts light into multiple rays.

Which is when the bullet comes to life in her pocket, wriggling and rolling like a little trapped reptile, trying to reorient. Avi doesn't sense it. But to Strange, the diffusion gets worse. Multiple points, multiple heartbeats - the heart knows an enemy is closing in.


|ROLL| Rosemarie +rolls 1d100 for: 96


|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d100 for: 29


With that reptile hindbrain springing to life not a half-second after the sudden wriggling of the trapped bullet, Strange wheels towards the door with its concealing glass and panel only aiding in shielding the approaching enemy from her vision.

But not Mystically. The butter-fingered slip of mis-handled Dark magic is zeroed in upon with an acute upswing in the crackling effervescence of an aura kept at a low sizzle on the backburner.

"Git her," the Sorceress hisses and — poor Barnes, if she's out there.

Another round with a particularly pretentious bandanna is coming at her through that glass window, heedless of the shards and definitely out to bag her once again.


|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d100 for: 91


|ROLL| Rosemarie +rolls 1d100 for: 67


Well, Cloak is lucky, because someone conveniently makes an exit for it, permitting the most direct route. Alas, this is done by shattering a window, making Avi dive for the floor….and one of the metal cabinets clangs like an enormous de-tuned bell. However, as Cloak leaps towards the shooter, it is met by one of those bullets. And this one actually damages it. Not that it matters much in terms of aerodynamics - it doesn't fly by ordinary physics anyhow. But….that hurt. It hurt the cloak. Someone must've upped the caliber on those enchanted slugs.


|ROLL| Rosemarie +rolls 1d100 for: 22


|ROLL| Michael +rolls 1d100 for: 74


Strange utters a choked cry of shock at seeing the Cloak, stalwart companion and generally immortal in its own way, convulse in mid-flight and swirl about in place. The tinging sound of a bullet slowed in flight and then hitting the floor follows, hyper-slow in the manner that adrenaline can imbue.

Is that…a hole?!

Oh gods. Someone's going to suffer tonight.

Aligning with the general space nearest to the dented cabinet, the Sorceress goes through a series of gestures and flip — the entire space is now within the Mirror Dimension, Avi and hidden Heart and even the Winter Soldier, for the moment unscathed.

But only a moment. Strange throws up the very same ultra-violet shield seen earlier after dancing gracefully to one side before the sprawl of Avi on the floor and the entire dimension, with its crystalline panes, shudders for her temper being loosed. One hand supports the half-dome shield while the other summons up the brutally-sparkling lash of the molten surujin. The Soldier can only run so far within the dimension — actually, only to the walls of the proposed room itself. Not far at all. Bearding the lioness in the den has taken on a whole new meaning now.

Long range didn't work - the delicacy of the sniper traded for brute, close-range firepower. She's just on the other side of the wall, trapped against those mirrored panes again. There is no displacing when the walls of reality have closed in on you like a trap. The Cloak is still trying for her, but with a tentativeness. And with good reason - visible in the refraction, just outside the window, is a metal hand holding a gleaming length of black volcanic glass. If a tactical knife won't serve, steal a wizard's athame.

"You DARE!!!" The Sorceress snarls, her voice splintering apart with the incoherent rage. There's something so very wrong about such a blade being in the assassin's hands — she should not know of its potentiality to cause such damage!

Oh, screw the surujin. The very air of the Mirror Dimension pulls in tightly, forewarning and barometric pressure drop all in one, and Avi's heard this one before:

"YANAI KATTANAM!!!" The Cloak dances with silken agility away from the immediate area as the Mystical weapon is exchanged for a rather heavy-handed attempt to swat the Soldier like an errant fly.

There are hands on the window sill - well, a hand. Mere glass is no match for an alloy hand, and she's trying to get in, get at them. But the force just exerted blows out that wall and frame, then tumbles down within the curves of the mirrored boundary. The rubble rolls back on itself like a wave breaking on a beach, and a limp, cloaked body is left amidst the scatter. The metal hand still clutching that black knife.

"Avi, stay here." The command is brisk and sibilant, proof of teeth clenched visibly, like as not. A quick exchange of half-dome shielding for that of one of the golden mandalas, double-wide like a large Dhal composed of Mystically-reinforced neon-threads, and she approaches the sprawl of the Soldier's body amidst the rubble. Another subsonic rumble shakes the Mirror Dimension and those frosted-lilac irises gain a bright citrine ring about their centers for the amount of power drawn in now.

"Verru palakai!!!" Indeed, a clean slate — and whatever glamour-producing Mysticism that lingers about the Soldier is promptly banished to another dimension entirely. The Cloak, torn at the hem, flits over to her and settles on her shoulders. It hugs close for a second, that heartbeat of time utilized to assess what damage has occurred, and there's an unspoken promise to sew up the loss once the safety of the Sanctum is regained.

Strange approaches the prone body carefully, light-footed and with one hand wreathed in pure-white potentiality, energy gone liquid.

With the cloak of whatever it was gone into another dimension - for that is what vanishes - she's a slim young woman with dark fatigues on. Her hair is long, but braided and then pinned severely. There's a rise and fall of breath, but there's blood on her mouth, scarlet as paint, and it's not just from a bitten tongue or a nicked lip. By the way it bubbles with each feeble movement of her chest, the lungs are pierced. And that's not even counting what sort of brain trauma that blow may have wrought.

The obsidian knife has stayed, not a magic of concealment, but one meant for harm. Passive, though, in a way the bullets weren't…..and aren't, for the pistol at her hip glows with that malevolent energy.

The sense of the concealment vanishing is like cracking a window, a shifting of reality that allows the breath of fresh air and revitalized action. The Sorceress takes one last leery step before drawing up as tall as her 5'5" can manage. A flick of her dominant hand dismisses the radiant plasma about it and droplets fizzle into nothing even as she stares down her nose at the fallen Soldier.

Oh yes. No kill like overkill…save for the woman is still alive, against seemingly insurmountable odds. The sharp rise and fall of Strange's chest is marked counter to the clear injury. She visible grits the edges of enamel horizontally before spitting an awful curse series of curse words.

"Avi. Stay back there," she commands and then comes the dismissal of the full-circle mandala-shield with a flicker-snap. The Cloak vibrates at a low intensity and a scarred hand reaches up across her body to rest upon the dominant slant of the garment across her shoulder. "I like it no less than you." It's a raspy whisper, rough with confliction.

Firstly, the weaponry. Easy enough to retrieve the pistol from its holster. Oh, that dusting of life-thirsty magic, it makes it difficult enough and the grimace holds on her expression until she's able to find a nearby heavy board in the wide spread of rubble and shove it beneath — far beneath, beyond reach of anyone but a sentient rat. She'll be able to summon it up later, from this pocket of the Mirror Dimension, and run it through Mystical diagnostics. After all…every practitioner has their fingerprint. Now for that athame. Strange knows, or at least can hazard that unfortunately-educated guess, that the metal arm of this assassin is terribly-strong. There would be no retrieving the knife by uncurling fingers. Instead, with the reminder that there is likely no physical sensation of pain, she drops the brick from four feet above and onto the ritual blade. No obsidian knife, Mystical or not, should survive such an impact; if it does, there's a touch of Darkest Arts within it.

Lastly…the healing spell. Karmically, she must fix what she breaks and the Hippocratic Oath haunts Stephanie in this moment. "I hope it hurts," she grumbles, looking mildly ashamed and yet relieved to admit it aloud, as she steps to the far side of the Soldier's prone body. Like a wary cat, she crouches and then, touches fingertip to the dusty back of the assassin's hand. The susurrus of spring-blue and breath of cool dawn should slip into the Soldier's system, wending into the damaged ribs and healing them…to hairline fractures — suffusing the skull, with its damages, and returning it to full function…save for the inner ear.

"If you can hear me, you scum-sucking puck of horse pocky, twitch your goddamn finger — because if you twitch anything else, I will blitz your brain between your ears," Strange says, low and utterly serious.

Avi swallows mutely, but does not protest. He's shaking like an aspen tree in the wind, eyes too wide. The pistol…..or more specifically, its ammo, is all too alive and aware. But impotent to do anything other than yearn to damage, to drain that magic. It's safe enough, crammed beneath the board.

The knife fares even less well: it shatters into a thousand sharp fragments, glinting even in the dimness of the closed museum, leaving the metal fingers an empty cage.

The magic creeps along the veins and nerves of that nearly ruined body. Her eyes are still closed, her breath the softest hitching rasp….but Strange can see the eyes flicker beneath their lids. It's the hand of flesh that twitches, all of the fingers curling just a hair and then relaxing.

The barely-contained flinch and briefest disconnect of her scarred fingertip to the assassin's skin happens in near simultaneous time with the requested twitch.

A slow sigh. "Good. I hope it's abundantly clear to you what you gain from continually dogging my steps. Tell me, are you experiencing any of the following symptoms: nausea, shortness of breath, headache? Speak if you can, yes or no."

Strange risks a glance to Avi and her free hand rises, clear gesture to continue to stay put.

The eyes open. Well, one eye does. The other's busily swelling shut. It rolls to track the Sorceress, then to take in the wreckage….and the strange, faceted surroundings. "Yes," comes the voice, not even a whisper. "All." Avi looks aghast, still….but he's started to calm down.

"Wonderful." There's a rather brittle bite in the word, dropped delicately and savored by syllable. "Once we're through discussing what needs be discussed, your ribs will require at least six weeks of recovery time at this point. The concussion might require upwards of twelve weeks, depending on its grade. By your pupil's reaction time, it'll be at least ten weeks. That will give me more than enough time to track down your handlers and express my disapproval for their recent decisions." By how Strange speaks, with that chilling precision, she'll enjoy some questionable fun in doing as such.

"Depending on your cooperation in sharing information, I may take up to three weeks of damage from your body. Otherwise, you will be returned to society as such and left to your Fate." Capital F. "Where are the missing relics?"

"I don't know," The truth is easy enough to grant - she doesn't know. The one eye is heavylidded. She can feel the damage - even with the serum, it'll be weeks. There's nothing she can do now…..and there's a resignation, almost peace, in her face.

"Fine. Where are your handlers then?"

It's chillingly easy to push aside the inherent worry for the woman before her, what with the risk upon not only the Sorceress's life repeatedly, but that of Avi. The bullet within Strange's vest hasn't resonated again since the last flare — and the thought of it being slippery with warm blood between her fingers is simple to pluck from recent memory.

At that, she lets her eye close, and even succeeds in rolling her head to face away from the Sorceress. As firm a denial as she can manage.

"Seven hells." Strange throws up both of her hands and rolls her weight back to one heel, kneeling in a near-lunge. "Fine, fine. I'm not like them. I won't stoop to their level. I'm not going to sit here and break your fingers until you give them up."

She rises to her feet abruptly and gestures towards the young man beyond the broken wall. "Avi, fetch the relic. We're leaving." Her eyes, still glowing faintly about their centers, narrow down at the Soldier again. "You have a choice. You can give me one name, one…and I'll take the three weeks from your accrued damage. I will test this, in the name of my mantle, and if it doesn't ring true…well." A sigh. "You'll live."

Avi nearly trips over himself in his haste to get it. He can barely stand to look at the Soldier. "You should kill her," he says, suddenly, in barely more than a whisper. "She'll heal and they'll send her out after us again." Jane is stubbornly mute on the floor.

The Sorceress slides a flinty glance to Avi.

"She'll be out of my hair for long enough, Avi. If you can trace what snarl of Fate your decision may mete, then she is yours. Do what you will. Otherwise, get the relic and stay silent." She hits that last consonant as hard as a gavel on a block.

"As for you. Last chance. One name." She addresses the Soldier, lying there amidst the rubble.

She can see Avi flinch from the temptation to just snatch up a piece of fallen stone and brain the Soldier with it. Jane says nothing, but Strange can feel that she's still conscious. still listening. Just waiting.

Strange's expression closes off further. It's competition for the nobility found in most cemetary angels, both benevolence and pain somehow. "So mote it be."

And with those faintly-ringing words, a sluicing of foreign magic counter to what once cloaked the Soldier rushes through her veins. The taste of morning dew and scent of petrichor will fade away soon enough, but the geas placed upon Jane won't: her own body must mend itself. No other healing magics may touch her.

"Avi, you have the relic?" The weight of her gaze lands on the young man again.

"Ye-yes," he stutters, still watching the Soldier as if Jane might shrug off all that damage and come lunging for him like a pitbull. He's got the Heart gripped in a hand white-knuckled with stress.

The woman - girl? - is still mute where she lies.

"Excellent." Strange clips out the word. "We'll be leaving shortly. If you'll give me a moment, the authorities will appreciate my delivery. Oh — " and the Sorceress pauses, running her gaze unemotionally over the assassin once more. "If you make any abrupt moves, you risk re-breaking your third rib anterior and puncturing your heart. Lunge at us…and you kill yourself. On your head be it."

A scarred hand rises and the flicker-spark of willpower's flint against reality, the birth of a Gate, begin to appear in a perfect circle about Jane's body. "Absolutely certain you have no name to give?" Third time's the charm…?

There's that infuriating silence from Jane. She hasn't fainted again….and there's nothing on her now to interfere with the Sorcerer's magic. Pale save for the streaks of blood on her face. "Kill me," she says, finally, in that distant murmur.

Able to hold a spell in near-perpetual state as Sorceress Supreme, Strange simply continues slowly rotate her fingers in the air before her.

"No. I am on the side of life, not death. You'll live — and one day, you might be thankful for it." Her lips thin further. "The authorities will decide what to do with you in my stead. I hope they're merciful." The Gate's encircling frame then gains further brightness, nearing completion.

God only knows what Prague's cops will make of her. The brightness casts stark shadows over her, and there's a shudder of what can only be disgust.

The Gate completes itself and the mercy from Strange comes in the short drop to the bridge's stone surface, no more than an inch at most. Mind, it'll jar something awful in combination for the sudden shock of no flooring beneath Jane, so maybe it's a particularly bitter flavoring of mercy in the end. A maestra's uplift of her hand on the final encircling of her fingertips upon reality and the sparkle of gold gathers in upon itself to die entirely.

This pocket of the Mirror Dimension is still now, fragile in the manner only found after a severe disturbance, and the Sorceress turns to Avi, crow's feet at the corners of her eyes.

"Thank you, Avi, for your assistance and for your courage. She is no threat, not for some time now. We're safe here," a little gesture to include the oddly-faceted walls, " — if you wish to discuss anything further. Otherwise, I will take the relic and return it to my Sanctum, where it will be contained and kept from other hands."

"We need it here, again. Soon….as soon as it's safe," His eyes are wide and pleading. "It is vital to certain magical defences in the city. But….for now, yes, please, keep it safe." Avi's hands are spread wide.

"Oh gods below, that's right." Strange lets out a soft groan and looks a little wearier. "No, not to the Sanctum, not right now…inasmuch as I hate saying it. Where is your mentor now, Rabbi Loew? I need to speak to him."

Scarred hands reach out and close Avi's fingers back over the relic in question, then they rest overtop them as if in benediction.

"There is a permanent Gate in the old cemetery," he whispers. "It is hidden to most. There's a pocket dimension behind it, large enough to live in."

"There must be more than one cemetery here in the city, so — as before, project the image of the place to me and we'll Gate there." It'll be easy enough to do, what with the delicate fingers of the good Doctor resting still upon Avi's hands. She can sense the radiating energy of the Heart, potent and old, thumping on some Mystical level.


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