5258/What a Life!

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What a Life!
Date of Scene: 19 February 2021
Location: Sanctum Santorum
Synopsis: Oh dear. Murder?
Cast of Characters: Stephen Strange, Illyana Rasputina

Stephen Strange has posed:
It was a dark and stormy night...

Or not, really. Within Stephen Strange's humble dwelling, his space between worlds, it is whatever he deigns it to be. And, presently, he desires a simple fire in a fireplace, a rather simple wooden chair, a side table, and a book, resting upon it. Of course, the chair is not exactly simple, as it is an antigue within the Sanctum Santorum, but in comparison to the Sanctum's other marvels within, it is really quite quaint. And, while the reading chair besides the fire is rather innocent (i.e. boring) enough, the actual book itself is not. Needless to say, it isn't a tome for light reading, but rather research, with bindings ancient yet without blemish.

In layman's terms, the good Doctor appears to be studying. Certainly his idea of fun.

No one to entertain, this is a common occurrence. The book is placed upon the lap, as a flick of the finger causes the page to turn to Strange's last musing. Another gesture and the flames within the hearth dampen, the light adjusting to the desired reading level for the sorcerer.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Tutelage under the Sorcerer Supreme might be a grave insult for another holding that rank, but Stephen Strange is a cat of a different stripe and Illyana undoubtedly the very youngest to hold the title in any immediately adjacent dimension. Probably better for everyone that the Demon Queen has someone to check her.

Even if this humble space, a bastion of the Vishanti, would be somehow a hovel, it radiates power. She feels it, living within a stone's throw of the place, though almost none of her companions know it.

Thus does the direct descendant of the Mad Monk find herself on the threshold of the largest mansion in the Village, a place ruled by brownstones and Revolutionary Era lanes and alleys turned into a modern sprawl of a city. The wards such as they are must feel her, taste the presence of that shattered aura crossed over by silver lines that speak to the grievous damage inflicted upon her.

Raising her palm to the door is almost unnecessary, but she murmurs her name quietly and waits.

Stephen Strange has posed:
Indeed. The gesture of the Queen of Limbo is certainly not required to identify exactly who is upon the doorstep. And yet, the gesture is appreciated. Formality still holds its sway, for there is power there, too, in the practiced motions. The soft whisper reverberates through the halls, weaving its way towards that solitary room, with the fire and the singular chair. As it speaks soundlessly to the sole occupant to the room, a slight smile curls the corners of his lips. The book is replaced to the table, as Strange shifts to stand from his chair.

"On time, I see."

The words are spoken to no one...meaningless syllables nearly obscured by the crackling of flames. Yet, as he stands, the outer door yields, allowing the fellow Sorcerer Supreme passage within the Sanctum. Strange himself steps for the sole doorway out of his own chamber, opening the door to find himself within the foyer of the great manse, in the middle of the room to await his visitor. The door closes behind him, yet no evidence of its existence stands within the foyer he is now in.

Of course not, when that particular room is actually on a completely separate floor.

There is even a moment to straighten Strange's own ensemble, though that comes in part from the cloak upon his shoulders. It appears that it wants to ensure they look their best for their visitor.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Certain practices may be famliar among mystics, essential among those who practice the means to separate the world into three parts and dismember atoms with no more than a gesture, a word, and the sheer force of their will. Reverberating ripples pass outwards and travel through her, the effort to restrain her Sight a reflexive act by Illyana to cease herself from being blinded by the protective wards layered around the handsome fortress arcana.

Fire crackles in that distant chamber where the Sorcerer Supreme keeps his counsel and his preferred light reading. Nearer at hand, the chill of New York by winter leaks in, February mists gossamer as they swirl relentlessly around the snowy drifts gathered in grey heaps. Nothing stays pure in the city, just further proof of urban living being inevitably corrupting. When the door gives, she steps within, feeling the pressure searching for equilibrium between the interior and exterior. Only a fact of necessity considering the dimensional anchorage woven into her very DNA, and Stephen's role being what it is. The Doctor to all. Master and protege, if one can call their unusual relationship even that. Boundaries burn and slide until they form a new position of sorts.

In her wine-dark swing coat and narrow pants with over-the-knee black boots, she doesn't look at all a master of the Mystic Arts, nor given to descending into any sort of uniform. The black-on-black attire with spiky pauldron and more for accents lacking is a good sign, presumably.

"Evening," she says to the house, and means it. Only fair. Greatgrandmother's has chicken legs.

Stephen Strange has posed:
A sense of welcoming and approval impresses itself upon the sorceress as Illyana enters. The domicile accepts her, grateful for the politeness she has shown it. The door to the cold, cruel New York winter closes, sealing teacher and student away from Nature's mechanizations, enveloping the two within the comfort of Inside.

"A pleasure as always, Ms. Rasputina." The voice, while soft spoken, fills the foyer. It is as if he is standing besides the visitor to his home, rather than in the middle of the room. "I trust the journey was as pleasant as can be expected?" Oh, how droll. Small talk. Again, following traditions, as always, be it mystical or, in this case, social.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
"Please, Doctor. Illyana if we must be formal." The sound of her surname on any Western mouth is cause of piquant acceptance and the occasional arched eyebrow. Even they know what those names mean. The habit of shutting herself off afterward remains, shielded against whatever a man too insightful by half might discover. It is all the same, not to be armoured physically, but mentally it's another story.

Her gaze lifts to meet his, measuring the details: the tone of voice, choice of words, pauses that would indicate distraction, the changing focus that invariably follows all meetings of minds and mystic might. Like she stands a chance against that prolonged scrutiny, if it exists, but here... The mental kick forces her to react, dragging her away from that paranoid ledge in a few seconds. It might just be the consequence for those wards brushing past, winding around her ankles like cats, his words winding around her like smoke in kind.

Clearing her throat acts as a self-reminder. "Fine, da. Not so bad for a Russian." She waits, unless some light sparks a direction or more. "I would speak if you have time. Nothing world-ending." Yet.

Stephen Strange has posed:
That slight smile widens as Stephen just nods in response. Illyana's gaze would catch the subtle hints of relaxation within the good Doctor's demeanor. The shoulders loosen, the stance shifts, the posture just ever so slightly relaxed. "Of course, Illyana. As you desire." There appears to be perhaps even a sense of relief, to let go of the more rigid of social expectations.

There isn't a return gaze, no judgement from the master of the manse. There is only that patience...a trait that has been long in coming. There is no hurry from Stephen. Rather, he seems rather content to letting time flow on its own accord. Almost in confirmation, he speaks, this time with a tone that seems jovial, almost playful. Well, as playful as Strange typically gets. "We have all the time in the world here. Feel free to use what you wish."

And, with that, he offers a hand in the opposite direction of Illyana. It indicates towarda a door, that once was not there, but now simply is. "Would you like to use the sitting room? I was just studying within, so I am afraid it might need a little tidying up, but the fire is warm and the room inviting. I could even provide refreshment should you want." A truly earnest gesture.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
What social order and protocols dictate behaviour at some fundamental level can take a leap. Rather let them decide their own practical outcomes, determining what serves best. It's not as if Asgard's worst trickster showed up or Daimon Hellstrom fell out of a portal to start threatening deceit from woven words wholecloth. Perhaps they can both find something closer to norms. Illyana is still the laconic creature she always is, and Strange... Strange is apart from all that, oddly patient. A comfortable balance, really, with the strange counterbalance of dichotomies at play.

Still, those arctic pale eyes consider the diversity of expression and reactions like reading a book, all without forfeiting much of her purpose. Golden bangs help conceal some of that, anyway. "Da, the hospitality is appreciated." Shades of old custom play out, but she stalks -- because there's no other way to walk efficiently -- up to that door. "Black tea, please? If it is no trouble. I can go without if needed."

Oddments and oddities, though it's a careful dance of two stars around one another, finding the central point of gravity again. "New York seems stable, more than the past year. The borough spirits mostly calm, though the Bronx seem troubled. A good time for me to turn my attention away for a bit, and deal with a lingering issue."

Stephen Strange has posed:
And beyond that door? The self-same room that Strange had retired to previously. Though, the environment within has shifted, rearraigned itself to welcome the ruler of Limbo. The table, once merely a glorified nightstand next to the simple chair, has expanded to more of a coffee (or tea) table. Upon that table, a silver tea set, already hot and ready for consumption, with containers for milk and sugar at the ready, regardless if they are needed or not. The simple chair has evolved, as well, into a more comfortable recliner, with a twin situated opposite the table as well. The fire still is in place, the hearth radiating heat and comfort. The book remains as well, positioned on the edge of the table. Perhaps this is the only item out of place, warranting the possible need for tidying? Otherwise, the room reflects its master, in function and decor.

Allowing the lady entry first, Stephen follows close behind, closing the door himself while allowing time for his guest to take her seat. "Ah....the Bronx always is a little troublesome, but yes, I have noticed it, too. There is a relative peace present. It certainly is not uninvited, though I do suspect that it may not be long lasting. Peace never is everlasting, unfortunately."

With the door closed, Stephen steps around the table, to claim the chair opposite Illyana. "A lingering issue, you say? I trust that this particular issue may be somewhat vexing?" There isn't an overt attempt to pry. However, there is interest there. True to his word, there is no sense of urgency. For the moment, Illyana possesses all of the Doctor's attention.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
A place that practically radiates the familiar traces of the man at her back, though it has a character unto itself as all rooms do. Blame not Illyana for spending more time absorbing buried clues that offer deeper insights that a clever student might read more deeply into. A larger table with that elegant silver tea set factors into something more familiar -- Russians and their samovars are fairly legendary, after all. While sugar might be something unnecessary, its presence earns a calculated, minor nod almost to herself. Milk may be bypassed, but her attention slews back towards the small bundles of crystallized energy that might well be worth consuming. Factors then worth addressing. The petite gestures announce themselves as she waits briefly on Stephen to find his preferred spot before she in turn sits.

"It feels like it holds its breath. I have not tried to find the genius loci of the borough." That's a lot of conversation for her, sentences usually preferably short and direct. Though when he invites her to speak, she tilts her head in his direction. Considering at length, with that accustomed bluntness, she will settle and pour herself a cup of tea. Him, if there is one, with the same controlled grace used to thrust swords through demonic bodies.

"Peace is never everlasting," she agrees. A long pause as she drops a spoonful of sugar into one teacup, then looks at him expectantly to see preferences as they lie. It's an art, elegant ritual performed with skill and precision at play.

"I seek it still. Sins done to me make any veneer of calm just that." Those words are close to thin ice, requiring a more careful approach. Even speaking of it is difficult, walking near something she dislikes greatly to face. "Limbo harbours chaotic elements that harm humanity, when their influence touches here. I mean to bring that to an end."

Stephen Strange has posed:
Eyes of blue (or are they green?) shift from the sorceress pouring tea to the silver spoon with its cargo of crystals for the briefest of moments. A slight shake of the hand is all that is needed to indicate no need to sully Strange's tea with the addition of sugar. Truly, it could also mean that there is no need to actually serve him, since he really should be the one serving, as the host, but this little detail is, perhaps wisely, kept to himself. He knows that Illyana is one to do things on her own and he does not wish to disturb that very same balance so adeptly established. He allows Illyana to speak, those eyes of his not leaving her own. The respect is very real, almost physically tangible.

As his guest speaks of Limbo, and her desire to purge it of some unsavory elements in her quest for peace, Strange shifts, his expression shifting to that of pondering. "Chaotic elements. You wish to purge your kingdom of these elements. I assume that these elements have names and a propensity of defiance?" It would appear that Strange is, ahem, no stranger to the workings of Limbo. "To have such chaos remaining tells me that the source of said grief does not think highly of its Queen. Which...is certainly not a stance that I in particular would take."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
That clarity of a gemstone can only be defined by the light playing through it. Illyana's gaze can seem almost grey, so pale is that sunstruck blue, and the maturation of any discernible turquoise or azure bespeaks a terrible fate awaiting anyone on the receiving end of the Soulsword invoked from the hidden fissures of Otherplace realm and psyche. Where she is involved, Limbo and soul are one and the same.

She spills a small swarm of loose crystals into the tea taken otherwise dark, and transfers her attention onto the pour without spilling anything from the pot. Some might evince more care dealing with the handle or boiling temperature, but not the Russian sorcerer. Simply guiding the stream of deep amber liquid into a cup shows not the least intimacy of care about burning herself, another of those minute tells. That perhaps this further complicates the rhythms and independence of the man who names the Sanctum as his office and home alike very likely becomes apparent when she lifts her gaze, meeting his, words and worlds sparked in those brief concussions. Sparks don't fly precisely, but they always might and will.

Not for nothing does she trace her lower lip with her fingertip, the generous line coming away mildly smudged by the dark gloss she prefers. It stains flesh like blackberry juice, far fainter, but particular. "They engage in abhorrent activities. Removing them is a major investment in stability." How reasonable it all sounds, though 'removal' and termination sound entirely like what they are: contractual realities of a ruling monarch, a Hell Lord sitting in front of the Sorcerer Supreme of a parallel dimension with a cup of tea in her hands and barely any legality to speak of. "Sacrificing peace in the short term to allow fewer such transactions seems a reasonable cost. The first step not of conquest but dissolving the toxic corruption that /he/ permitted for a millennium. Limbo was not always like that."

Stephen Strange has posed:
This promises to be a more engaging conversation than previously expected. The book, settled on the corner of the table, drops from view...put away snuggly in its place not within the sitting room the two reside in now. Those cerulean orbs never leave Illyana's form, intently watching as Strange slides his own cup of tea over. Merely holding his fingers open until the cup presses against the fingertips. The cup is then lifted, a sip partaken, before Stephen speaks. It is not often that his fellow Sorceress Supreme is so open to him and he is perfectly willing to let her be so.

"Given what I know of Limbo, I can only guess as to the nature of the activities you wish to see ceased." Truly, Stephen can do more than guess. The expression upon his features betrays that he does understand more than is being spoken. However, this is the lady Magik's show. He is going to let her dictate the course that it takes. "I do have little to say in what transpires in your realm, Illyana. However, you know that." The teacup is placed down. "However, that does not mean I do not have a vested interest. I am sure that offering assistance, however limited it may be, would benefit both sides."

A flash of a smile, as the scarred hands fold themselves upon the table top. "Therefore, how shall I be of assistance?" A simple question, which says so much. It indicates that Strange knows that Illyana may want assistance, or a blessing, or something to that effect...or else she would not have came and brought it up. And...it indicates that Strange is willing to help.

Within reason, of course.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Indeed, the conversation holds considerable promise when it comes right down to it. The matter of realms and viable strategies for protecting them earns considerable chatter among heads of state -- which Illyana technically qualifies as -- and organizational leaders, CEOs, and those in between. Why not sorcerers? Surely the Ancient One digressed into conversations about the best methods with other counterparts now and then, if they weren't viciously trying to eradicate one another as an existential threat? Sadly the Fourth through Tenth Dimensions tend towards ruthless peril.

Tea, then, shall be the great leveler in the matter, a simple and profound experience known by American culture as much as Russian. Russians take it quite seriously indeed. A kiss of the dark brew unleavened by the softer touches of milk satiates her palate while undermining a touch of rage simmering away. Anger is never far for the blonde sorceress, but kept in check along with all her midnight moods and deadly passions. Chained down, governed by a ruthless hand of adamantine without the benefit of a silk glove, more like. No one is harsher than herself against herself, and Illyana sips the tea without fully letting its calming effect take hold. Stephen may well be in full command of himself, hinting at possibilities behind the facade of someone inestimably polite. Her mask is marble, her face that of a caryatid, and the burden no less.

"Human trafficking," she replies. It's blunt and effective as a description. Serviceable without the necessity of too many words and tangents to explore. "Souls, specifically. I cannot up-end their use as currency." Not when planes on planes use it, and even /she/ can take advantage of those elements, were she of a mind. Then again, almost any high-level sorcerer or mage might, depending on their proclivities. It just happens that the Demon Queen has a little more oomph than most, to be a master of understatement. Her mouth flattens. "Disrupt the economy, however, fully within my mandate."

Back to the point of CEOs and captains of industry and world leaders. It's not a far-removed topic from their concerns too. Deep currents stir, the hesitancy born of secrecy and a dire need of self-defense. How do you even begin to pry at the pains of life?

Stephen Strange has posed:
"Ah, of course." Yes, there was a suspicion that it would involved the matter of souls. Hence the doctor's interest. "The most valuable 'worthless' item known to creation." Opinions are to be dispensed...and it would seem that Stephen has opinions to spare. Though, he does not clarify his comment. Instead, time to move forward. "So, you wish to disrupt the market." It isn't a question, but given as a statement of fact. "I would anticipate that there would be those within said market would disagree with this. The toxic corruption that you wish to dispel." Yes, the former surgeon can follow the signs. Strike at the source of power of the corruption, and the corruption disperses.

Another calming sip, then a comment springs forth. "This cancer within Limbo. It will be difficult to excise. I suspect that whatever took advantage of the lax attitude of your predecessor is rather entrenched and confident...enough so to bring about your displeasure and not care of the consequences." Another observation. "I do not envy you. That being said, I understand the intricacies of the situation."

Does Strange, though? He isn't a ruler. He is a protector. Yet, it is that protective nature that prompts him to assist. Seeing the economy of souls reduced, at least, would certainly make that charge of protection easier.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Matters of souls rarely descend into regular conversation, and market forces have little bearing on the matters philosophical and religious. Oh, the Catholic Church might have something to say that falls opposite of the position of Buddhists, Hindu saints, and countless other faiths. But they are a true and real thing, souls, and the blonde is living proof of that. Not that she advertises it.

No reason to let anyone know their existence hinges on her not falling to the dark side. Elder gods rally at the door, but currently it's locked.

For the moment, she tastes the tea and sets it aside. "No businessman wants regulation. The terms are non-negotiable in my land," she observes with bleak consideration. "The main entities took advantage of a power vacuum. My..." It's thin ice here, her eyes narrowing, voice darkened in bitter-black dregs. "Predecessor would have done worse than annihilate them. Simply unmaking them is straightforward."

Stephen Strange has posed:
Well, yes. Simply removing the parties in question would be rather direct. "Is that the intention? To remove those in question from existence? And you are prepared to fill the void that they would inevitably leave behind?" For that is what will happen, too. A void was filled once. Removing that which filled it will only cause the vacuum to be present again. "I assume that these entities feel protected from you. Otherwise there would be little issue with them. You wish to make an example out of them."

That...was not a question. Again, just a casual statement of fact, over cups of tea. Another sip, as an eyebrow raises. "Is there anything else I should know? A reclamation of inventory? An audit of finances?" There is a light laugh..."If it is an audit, then I should tell you. I am lousy with finances." Did...Strange just tell a joke? The tone was straightforward, but there is certainly a tinge of jest. Though...it is only funny because it is true.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
The parties in question can't be a problem if they don't exist, after all. Direct, bold, and rather terminal in execution, Illyana's plan is simply that: clean.

Ruin takes a simple inclination of her head. The question is already answered, in effect, Strange's ruminations on the matter merely rhetorical where she is involved. "They act, believing I am weak. Others suffer for their actions. /Humans/ suffer. It is not easily done to change a demon's nature, not one of that power. They become more concepts than beings, more entities driven by their purpose than someone who would ever consider the loss of a soul a dreadful thing. They understand power, force, and very little else. Cunning that outstrips their own."

She doesn't blink, and she doesn't flinch. The question is acknowledged, and she raises her palm. "This has a cost. It will and you can perceive the price better than others. If I fall, I must die. Is this clear?"

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Illyana Rasputina gives a mild gesture of her hand. "The others will not do it. You know the role, you know what we are meant to be. It is not an end."

Stephen Strange has posed:
And...there it is. The reason for the visit. The purpose for which the Demon Queen of Limbo felt the need to talk to the Sorcerer Supreme of Earth. "You want me to act as the failsafe. The weapon of last resort, should all else fails."

There is no anger in the words. No sympathy, nor dread. Just the simple acceptance of truth. "You are correct, of course. I understand the cost clearly. Of what would happen should you fail and descend into darkness. I know it well, for I face the same. As you have stated before, there are worse things than death." There is only a moment's pause before Stephen confirms his part.

"Should you fall, I will ensure that Death finds you."

Then, another beat. Longer, before Strange speaks once more. "We will simply ensure that you do not fall."

So confident, yet casual are his words that one cannot help but to believe in them. It sounds so natural. And perfectly within Stephen's power to do so.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
"I have no intention of failing," an act of supreme arrogance by a supremely confident near teenager essentially lays out the vice and virtue in tandem. There's no anger in this, no beauty established through a hint of a smirk. "The limited number of demons in my dominion gives me no pause. But it remains a possibility."

The have such candor only from necessity, such truths shrouded in blackened deceit and the careful sleights of hand necessary for any mage to operate at a given level. Everyone who dances along those uncertain margins between power and grace has to decide on their choice, where they stand and where they fall.

To open the door a crack might be too far. Vulnerability is not what she offers; a brutal challenge accepted, yes, and no purpose, no promise of success.

It all circles back. "My fall means there may be no future. Zod, Brainiac. Magneto. They think on a small scale. Much worse is what I hold back." Perfectly natural, as all things should be.

"More tea?"