5476/Feast of Souls Prologue: The Hunt

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Feast of Souls Prologue: The Hunt
Date of Scene: 07 March 2021
Location: Sanctum Santorum - Limbo
Synopsis: A problem requires a solution of unconventional, dare we say Strange standards.
Cast of Characters: Illyana Rasputina, Stephen Strange

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Customs differ heavily between different realms, countries, generations. It's a bitter fact. Boomers complain about X, Millennial, and Z all the time. Every curse about avocado toast and laziness gets volleyed back by the children of Echo and the Zoomers right into those big entitled maws. It's been going on since society stratefied beyond hides and caves or savannah campsites. What applies to the normal state of affairs between two acquaintances withers and dies when confronted by a frosty Russian stare. Expectations can go hang for every footfall that brought her initially to a Sanctum Sanctorum, the main one for Earth in the central dimension where she typically lives.

At least that much honour can be done to Stephen Strange, renowned as the last and first guardian of the dimension he calls HAM. Home.

A girl in all black then, hood pulled over most of her blonde hair, the ultimate in incognito fashion among their kind. A metallic red travel mug in gloved hand reveals nails marked with painted glyphs, none of them idle, spanning seals and wards against divination, summoning, eavesdropping.

Bang, bang. Knock knock. "Truce," she utters when he answers the door, however he does. "Probably time we talked." Most people cringe back when 'we need to talk' is flung down, especially by a girl who lives under an atomic sky. "The Primarch of the realm of Limbo extends promise of safe passage uncontested by her power or rights to the Sorcerer Supreme of terra," nulla, terra nulla, "and at least two samovars of tea. A moderate favour may be claimed upon return to the shrine of the honoured Vishanti." Formal words, dangerously so, not quite out of keeping except for tea. Her hand scribes an open circle, palm out. "That is, if you don't have something more pressing to do tonight than accompany me places."

Stephen Strange has posed:
The knocking was a mild surprise. The more formal declaration, more so. Though, honestly, it does bring a small smile to the aforementioned Stephen Strange. There is something to be said for a little pomp and circumstance...and to see it from, all outward appearances, a person just barely in her twenties made for a little amusement factor, too. Amusement that, fortunately, Strange keeps to himself.

A short bow...and he responds in kind. "I, as the Sorcerer Supreme of Terra, hereby accepts the offer of safe passage and the promise of tea." Then, is a decidedly less formal matter, he admits his plans. "I was going to watch some old movies and hope the world held together at least long enough for me to get through the first act. I would be honoured to accompany you places, Illyana."

Yes, first names. Less formal is the rule of the day.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Lucky they share no psychic link, no bond that cleaves through external details. Though in her case, Illyana boasts a poker face that leaves marble statues mobile and transparent, and a mind shuttered beyond anything short of equivalent Powers with a capital P from tearing open. Not perfect, but close to it. So she accepts the Doctor's bow at face value, which is to say a degree of suspicion reined back to its normal paranoiac levels and not much further. His response causes pale eyelashes to flicker; lips tighten and thin a moment. Her broken smile is not deployed, not like that, as she extends her hand to him. "Then come, Stephen."

The other births the pure fragment of her soul ripped out of herself at the base of a dying tree, a long silver shard of the soul igniting in a cyanotic halo. Fire wreathed along a weapon forged from her trails back to form a centralized portal, assuming the wards allow it, permissively tucked between elements of space. As good as her promise, her fingers coil around his if offered, forming a bridge to step through.

Of course nothing is so simple as that. The transaction of falling into that other-space means jettisoning flesh and soul, streaking in sixteen directions as the vibrations of universal superstrings hum in violent harmonics. Crashing selves intersect along spiritual axes, crashing backwards and up and around, time loosened to free them both from cultivated cares and reconnecting through the bombardment of atoms and crystalline rose petals capturing the cosmic background radiation when stars first took shape in the hot gas stew of existence.

Or there's a blink and in the side step, the centre of her power in that mutable realm. Order in chaos, a declaration of a voice crying out in the dark.

Stephen Strange has posed:
Ah, yes. The impenetrable mask of disillusioned youth. The lack of reaction was disheartening, but certainly not unexpected. Perhaps this is how a father feels when an attempt at humour falls flat upon his charge. Still, he takes this failure at levity in stride. It isn't the proper place, at least in the eyes of his young companion, and so he will certainly respect that.

A hand extends, fingers offered. "As you wish." Another attempt at jest or truthful intonation? It is left to be decided as those digits encompass Illyana's own, forming that link to allow passage within. Passage that is not without its perils. Each has their own method of transportation and the Demon Queen's method is certainly not the same as Stephen's own. The sensation as he passes from one dimension into the next is not unlike the first experience he had with his own mentor, when his eyes were opened for the first time to the true foundations of reality and what lies within the cracks.

But he is not the neophyte that he was then. Therefore, as Strange takes his first step onto the soil of Limbo, such as it is, he appears none the worst for wear. The connection between the two still maintained, the simple handholding that did not betray a hint of discomfort. The malleability of the realm he is now in is certainly noticeable, as is the flow of eldritch energies within one whose hand remains held within his. Truly, he is merely a visitor...and while he does possess his own power, it is absolutely certain that his companion hold court in the land he now finds himself in.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Disappointment rests heavy on the brow, does it? Levity requires familiarity with jest, and Russians can be notoriously dry in their senses of humour. Stephen's quips could land, but like Venus, Illyana boasts a rather high albedo and dense, pressurized psyche that tend to hide whatever is below. Luckily less likelihood of sulphuric acid upon contact with her, though she lands upon the polished birch path weaving up to a proper spire and graceful deck. Around them, the forest gives way to rose-shrouded embankments defining the extent of her Sanctum: unmistakably that, honed to the same key of power projected between her aura and the Soulsword held point-down.

Young, yes, but she has no need to project her identity or trap him into a measuring contest of any kind. One of those instances where manners count, she asks, "Where would you prefer?" Dacha, lake, rose-glade; the tower, the promenade, all are feasible entries to the Demon Queen in her mystic inclination.

"I am diminished," she says without preamble while he considers. The blonde isn't shifted in clothing, but the black spiked crown rising like wings over her ears is there. "Broken. You can see it in the astral, da? Here, my innocence was taken and portioned out. When I said I would destroy the three who flout my power, it was not idle."

Stephen Strange has posed:
Where would he prefer, indeed? It is not often that Strange is given passage to realms outside of Earth freely. There is a great many questions that a man that seeks knowledge could ask, so many places that one would want to see. Still, he is a guest...and there is a reason that Illyana brought him here. Questions can wait. Now is the time for listening.

"The rose glades appear particularly lovely." An answer given. Perhaps selected to allow for strolling, to clear the mind? Or, perhaps, chosen for its calming appearance. Nevertheless, the answer is given, and Strange allows the queen of the realm to voice her intent. Yes...yes, he has noticed within the astral plane that Illyana is, as she said, diminished. Fractured. Though the loss of innocence was prevalent without the use of the astral.

"The three you spoken of before. The ones that deal with the currency of souls. You say they flout your power...which means they have something they believe gives them power over you." It doesn't take much to put the pieces together. "A piece of your own soul..." Not a question...but a statement given.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
So many questions, a paltry heap of answers. With the senses at his command and experience at his fingertips, what might the good Doctor sift from the contaminated dross of Limbo? Conflict and secrecy may be common currency for mages, for good reason, and yet holding secrets back from him is no doubt hard.

With a nod, she takes to a serpentine path looping through the monumental drifts. Long canes support crystalline thorns and those heavy, drowsy blossoms by the bucketful. Stardust swirls among the cosmic dance trapped in rose petals, each exuding a heady fragrance not entirely free of mild intoxication if studied too long. Not much dwells within the blooming thickets save the occasional minor daemon, separate from actual demons, cavorting after infernal insects that would prey on these manifestations of a barrier wall or elegant if wild gardening. Rattling thorns and bristled 'fur' announce themselves now and then, if curious glowing eyes and pointy little noses stuck out by the catlike beings weren't enough to register. They are not malicious, but certainly protective of their chosen patch.

"Not exactly." His guesses come close but don't hit the mark, requiring her to dip into a store of words to clarify. A price more easily paid here than up there. The heavens above are never starry except in very rare instances, the roses reflecting celestial waltzes from elsewhere. But the bloody tint turns blue at the peak, sapphire dark, like the sword. "They mistake my mortality and tenure for weakness. My predecessor," a hissing sharpness goes sibilant, "ruled ruthlessly for a millennium. His tenure ended suddenly." Because a teenaged mortal wouldn't bend or give, thanks to that self-same relic. "Before he completed the process corrupting me by extracting my soul fully. I am not fully a demon, so negligible to them." But a Hell-Lord still; her gravity even in a mundane form holds far more weight on its own, a mantle invisible but borne with terrible pressure anyway. "Destroy them, I consolidate power. But they exchange souls. They may know where he hid /mine/."

Stephen Strange has posed:
Careful consideration is given as Illyana speaks. It is not often that she speaks so candidly. And so Stephen plays his role and plays it well. He listens, rather than venturing half developed hypotheses. His theories were close, true, but there was more. There is always more. And if the Russian is willing to share, so be it.

"I see..." Does he truly? Perhaps, though the explanation given does absolutely helps to piece together the greater picture. "They challenge your authority because you cling to your human nature, thinking that weakness, when it is the very thing that gives you strength." And the dilemma of dealing with the Three in such a final manner comes into play. "Going to them to obtain clues as to where your soul fragment may be...could be misconstrued as weakness, as well. You want them subjugated. Brought to ruin...but you need information that they might possess. A vexing situation, to be sure."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
What he sees is not her province to know, though such magical endeavours would not be impossible. Survival of the fittest would make any instrument at hand useful, if she needed. But those paths are not ones where the Russian sorceress walks. Strange is many things, an audience and a guest to a finely driven point.

"Commerce requires buyers and sellers. All demons trade, few at that level. Thus, leads," she begins. A different tack taken, then, as it does not serve her purposes. Or maybe it's a stepping stone for him to leap from lily pad to lily pad in search of answers. "A banished demonic magus in search of vengeance to reclaim his position needs somewhere to cash in favours. In exile, he left with nearly nothing except the bloodstones in an amulet. Their interests intersect. He would never give up the amulet. Where to rebuild influence without drawing my attention?"

Stephen Strange has posed:
Strange is certainly following the path laid before him, the dots connecting as the two walk amongst the roses. "The market. To call it black would be rather redundant, but yes, I see your point." There is a moment of hesitation, then continuance. "For any market deals the same. Goods that are rare would fetch a higher price. Even the promise of goods, should be it rare enough, is enough to garner prestige. And...for one to have the soul fragments of the liege of Limbo, that would be enough to gather a modicum of glories lost."

How does one go about to recover a soul shard? That is the question that floats on the tip of the tongue, unspoken. A simple answer, yet extremely complex. One simply needs to fetch the amulet...and the stones with it. Simple enough...but yet locating it remains difficult. But....the sorcerer was never one to back down from a challenge. and Strange seems to have an idea on where to start.

"Feel like a little shopping?"

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
A little shopping; the offer earns a sudden shift of her gaze, those icy blue eyes gaining a little more lustre and shade so they might well approach the frosted radiance of celestine instead of something cooler, paler. The very notion of the pair of them waltzing down Fifth Avenue or peering into windowfronts might just be responsible for the minute, fine crack in her facade.

"I would like that." A slow, curling incandescent idea settles, and may just be responsible for diluting the perennial winter if not outright melting it. "Very much." The toe touched to an impermanent, unstable surface proves at least stable to her mind, and so Illyana broaches the matter within the confines of that silver birch forest path giving way towards the drifting twilit roses in their moon-struck glory. Leaves reach out to touch her, and she doesn't brush them aside. Soporific haze lilting across the landscape might just weaken demons, but won't touch the willpower of a man bearing the Eye of Agamotto. Much. "Shopping for pleasure's sake I have less experience with. It was never an option in Russia."

The earth underfoot is black, black as the Russian rodina -- the heartland, the very soul of their nation. Here winter is not evident, though leaves and fluttering petals scattered ahead of them offer a nearly bucolic experience of hiking within a complex sanctum whose very paths pin down power to the sorcerous monarch. "The sorcerer," with an intonation to only be one, seething with such buried anger the very roses shudder, "serves the darkest elder powers. He requires the amulet to summon them to Earth. Other souls would be unsuitable substitutions. If he ever sold it, it would be a ruse, the secondary theft imminent."

Stephen Strange has posed:
"Please. You had me at 'darkest elder powers.' Just mentioning the fact that he wishes to summon such to Earth merely reinforces that it is to everyone's best interest to locate said amulet and relieve if from the one seeking to use it." This time, it is the elder sorcerer that maintains his own facade, that damnable passive mein that is neither stoic nor foolish, but balanced on the fine line in between. His own brand of mystery.

Though, that passive expression does tilt more towards genuine amiableness when the concept of shopping threatens to defrost the snow queen. While he had meant for them to journey to Limbo's market to see what leads they could muster, the mention of shopping for pleasure's sake being an unfamiliar activity is filed away. Something to be experienced, a joyous Illyana. That...would be a sight indeed.

But back to the business at hand.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Illyana Rasputina's accursed state is laid out in no uncertain terms, for Belasco's plans sketched in broad, bloody strokes illustrate precisely his goals, her role, and what frail barrier stands between. Her mouth hardens to marble, eyes flashing beneath the averted weight of her honey lashes. Possible that nothing lies before her as the sylvan confines of Limbo's corrupted forest appear perfectly normal. But just as in the former Soviet Union, those lovely forests might conceal radioactive secrets ill-conducive to unshielded life. Though she cannot very well walk with her arms crossed, at least not without looking ridiculous or surrendering the hand claimed, so there it shall be that she just stretches her gait out to maintain no casual hike.

The doctor's going to have to match pace somehow, if the Cloak does not take matters into his own hands.

"He is not here. I would know it otherwise. The bazaar at the edges counts as close to unclaimed territory as there is, and my rule very much extends there," she murmurs, clipping the words sharply. Not much to be done to suppress the anger, as much as she might like, but her attempt at civility claws back the old convection currents of anger to simmering levels. "My targets maintain a more discreet presence. Their agents will be at the market, they will not. Not after I ripped apart one of their holdings to make a point." A smirk. "Or rather, mortals did. Do you wish to see it now?"

Stephen Strange has posed:
The stroll is noted. Actually mused upon. It is just evidence to just how much control Illyana has over her realm...how it shifts to meet her whims seamlessly. And yes...that is certainly a brisk pace that is established. Though the Cloak is certainly up for the task. With a quick tug upon his shoulders indicating intent, Strange allows for the Cloak to do as it is intended to do. The feet leave the ground, grow still, and remain motionless....while Strange himself remains besides the Demon Queen.

Keeping pace? Check.

Now, the bazaar. A nod is visible, should the sorceress be watching, as Stephen listens, noting that the ultimate target is not in Limbo. It makes perfect sense, considering the simple display of control with just the stride. The ruler would certainly know who is in her realm. And....the Three that she wishes retribution? It would also stand to reason that they would not immediately be present. "Their agents will do nicely. Enough pressure applied on the base is enough to topple even the tallest of trees." Metaphors given. But wait. Mortals toppled a holding? This is intriguing, indeed. "Mortals took down a market presence? This is most interesting. I would indeed like to see that."

Curiosity may have killed the cat. Perhaps the sorcerer will fare better.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Remaining beside her, not quite tethered; or perhaps they are, if Strange hasn't forfeited his hand. She has no reason to do so, not consciously, her attention shifted elsewhere and away from the tether linking one person to another. A rarity in this realm, given how precious few mortals brave Limbo and rarely, if ever, for long. Demonic legions, restless spirits, fallen gods, and the occasional dragon all find their place. Everyday people, not entirely so much.

Otherwise, their shadows length and twist though a bloody sun never quite rises or sets to assure which direction day runs. Forward or back, hanging on the instincts of a young woman contemplating murderous intent? The rose blossoms break apart as the path diverges, scripted into a forking Y up ahead or a private nook just large enough to contain some kind of statue cast in a pale alabaster stained, as so much is, by the darkness somewhere deep in the realm, deep in the sovereign. Here, temptation manifests as an older woman holding a hand up to a chunk of petrified wood, barely visible until they pass or turn in.

"Mortals took down one of their bastions of power. They held a gated community. I merely supplied the lock," she states without preamble, and then swivels suddenly to face Stephen. Illyana's slightly narrowed gaze assesses his expression. "What would you do? Negotiate, fight? Call down wrath on those trafficking humans? Though not for a moment do I doubt you could, I do not know the path you take in this."

A chance for him to speak. Or arbitrate his thoughts.

Stephen Strange has posed:
"What would I do?" The question is echoed....not for lack of understanding, but for the usual reasoning for such. To buy some time, to allow the thought to germinate, to flourish. What would Strange do, indeed? In this particular domain, he is not judge, jury, nor executioner. There are rules that even one such as he should follow. But what, really, would he do?

Answers come, though they are nuanced and varied. "For something such as this, I would imagine that the terms would vary, depending on the situation. For a soul unwittingly bartered, be it through avarice or simple foolishness, force would be pointless. It is the contract that binds for this, stronger than any show of force. For that, it may be wise to negotiate, though I would not be above a spot of trickery to tip negotiations into my favor. For a soul forcibly taken, I can see using equal measures for recovery. But....to stamp out trafficking outright?" There is a pause, as Stephen collects his thoughts. "I fear that stamping out trafficking outright may be a futile gesture. However, since this defiance from the trinity is derived from a misconception of frailty, then disrupting business flow with the elimination of choice market holdings would certainly open minds. Then, perhaps an arraignment with the three in question....maybe a treaty that heavily favors the ruling party...so that it brings the trafficking under control, yet allows for leveraging the three for future use."

As Strange speaks...he shifts his attention. Those grey eyes focus on the brilliant blue of Illyana's. "That is what I might do. A rudimentary plan of action, to be sure. However, if there is truly no quarter to be given to those that upset the crown...then there is no need to keep one's options open, yes?"

The seeking for knowledge travels in both directions. Even as Strange answers questions, to allow the young queen a peek behind the curtain, he is watchful of Illyana's own reactions. To comprehend his guide...his current companion.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
"Can you turn a being more concept than sentient against its nature, and still have it be the same?" Illyana might not answer that question, a dart plucked from the mental quiver and flung fearlessly at an unseen bullseye. Whether she strikes or misses is quite beside the point. "For the greater demons of Hell, trafficking in souls through deals enhances their power and prestige. They can avoid it. They choose not to. Many here did not through previous tenures. Limbo itself was not always a reflection of the Hells." A gesture sweeps ahead of Stephen, the roses shining when galaxies wheel and great lanes of dust and silver light flash prominently across their double-petalled blossoms. Rosettes cut from galactic cores throw streams made nebulous, and she walks right into their shrouded embrace, lifting her pale face to meet a drooping flower that releases its moonlit dew with a tap of her fingertip.

Answers come, and she must concede that much, eyes closed and mind presumably open in kind. "Punitive measures would drive activity underground or beget further resentment. Disrupting the markets permits me to establish someone under my own terms." The thought earns a bitter smirk, teeth barely visible, tips of her canines driven into the inner lining of her lip. "Who would have thought you would support that uncommon turn? The Three cannot be permitted to continue untouched. Whether the others can be contained..." Turning over possibilities behind her cool mien, though the gap is there, the break present beneath flinty grey eyes too wise for themselves.

And perhaps all this serves a purpose of measuring humanity and using a faulty meter stick. For a more jaded man to show himself fallen, for her to cling to a few porcelain remainders of a goodness so intense, so great, it once withstood a decade here. Once, but not perfect.

She glances at the Cloak, arching an eyebrow. Momentary hesitation splinters and she slides out from the gap in the roses, leaving them to blossom and invite jewel-bright bees to frolick therein. "Options must always be kept open. When we shut ourselves off with a certain plan, we ignore all avenues arising from unexpected opportunity. Always donning a greatcoat means never trying a smoking jacket and finding it to our liking. Choosing to set aside coffee," that most precious elixir, her fondness is devastatingly clear, "for a complex, nuanced tea more subtle and yet profound upon the lips. To determine it must be one way and none of the others seems to have neglected everything that lays before us, and not provide a proper chance for it to truly blossom after it has taken root."

The offering of answers travels in both directions. What comprehension is drawn out there may be cast in monochrome palettes and metallic strokes, a blithe smirk and the rotation on her toes. "That was the first lesson of Oshtur here." Facing away means not seeing her expression. Not knowing that clarion bell of regret buried under years of scar tissue, or the last harrowing moments that bled life into a gemstone. "Plant the seed and nurture it as it grows. I failed so many times. With failure came doubt and rage, instead of the true lessons of patience. Hope. That perhaps one day that seed I chose would grow true despite the darkness, and shelter me in its strength until the corruption would wash away. It hasn't. It may never. Does that change anything?"

Stephen Strange has posed:
"Change is a constant. Throw an idea, an entity, a vision against change and the one absolute is that it is never the same." The comment is freely given, a direct call to the supposedly hypothetical question offered. "You and I are not immune to vicissitude. We are not the same as we once was. Even now, as we converse, we are not the same as we once were before we started." Strange's hand gestures to the roses as they travel. "The very fabric of this dimension is rife with change. Is it still Limbo despite change, or because of it?" A beat, then continuation. "Those that refuse change...those that stand in the path of fluctuation, that remain rigid when the entirety of the multiverse itself cries out for fluidity will find themselves ground into nothingness." A sidelong glance towards Illyana is cast.

"Change is inevitable. Maintaining the status quo is an illusion. Nothing is ever static."

Then, onwards with revelations. Seeing the young sorceress somewhat surprised at Stephen's suggestion to disrupt the markets does prompt somewhat of a sly grin. "I am a sorcerer, not a saint. While I do advocate for more peaceful solutions more often than not, I am not blind to the notion of taking advantages whenever possible. As you already concluded, shaking the foundations allows for a more...favorable establishment of your own vision. Surely the Three that vex you so know of this. Even if for the preservation of their own power, they must know that to remain stagnant is to court death of all they hold dear. Though, it is true there may be more to battle before they see the error of their ways, if they are truly as entrenched as one might assume."

Another musing, reserved, but given freely to the fierce Queen. "It is perhaps not who we are that defines us, but rather what we do. Humanity is a collection of shared experiences, both for good and for ill. To acknowledge one side while refusing another is to deny human nature. The key, though, is to accept both sides. For me, I always try to do what is just, but I will not pretend that I am not immune to making decisions that others may find cruel. If it is necessary to amputate a limb to save the whole, then it will be done."

The glance to the Cloak is registered, if not by Strange but by the Cloak itself. It remains stalward in its charge to transport the sorcerer himself, following unbidden behind Illyana through the same gap, even as she speaks her agreement to Strange's prior point of keeping options open. But then, it is the last question that catches the Doctor...the phrasing of such. "I would venture to offer that you truly did not fail. In failure comes lessons that are often missed with our successes. In failure does hope truly spring from. The wish to succeed, the hope that this time would be better...and the seed planted would grow to frutition. The fact that you recognize your failures and yet continue to try....that is hope, pure and unfettered." A gentle smile is given. "The fact that you continue to try, unrelently, despite the corruption...despite the dark tendrils of despair...that is strength, as well. The mere act is enough. If I had known nothing else but this desire to grow, it would be enough to convince me to help you."

"You *want* to change. And that...that changes everything."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
The world around them seethes with alterations great and small. Only the sheer will holds those flowers in relatively static form, overseen by a slender tower perpetually caught in an act of subtle redefinition or greater shifts when the inclinations seize Illyana's mind. More easily wrought here, changes to landscapes can topple mountain ranges in a moment or transform the still, almost bucolic lake into a churning waterfall or a city among the sand dunes.

"Limbo is itself. Even locked in its current mode, it remains the rose by any name." Shakespeare's presence on her lips renders a dusty allusion as Illyana sweeps her hand. Silver birches shudder, their soft leaves springing into golden chains that cascade from quaking boughs. From the balmy memory of spring to autumn's decline in an instant, the forest alters its mood and sends the foliage tumbling on a barely palpable breeze.

"Words define ideas," she says to Stephen, looking at him through pallid aureate lashes drawn from the weakest sunshine glancing off a dewdrop. "They can be stripped from something, and it still holds the same shape and purpose when nameless. Apply the wrong name and something could change. A possibility with the Three. Their names are nearly titles. They could be bound by their identity but not destroyed, only hindered. Strip their title and they lose a fundamental part of themselves and power." The idea has a tantalizing weight to it, turned over as a prospective gem, though not one exactly that she knows the value of. A jeweler's loup of incisive force teases across the planes and nuances of the argument just as they crystallize him within her pale gaze.

Unseemly to stare, daring to question. "Do you still function when deprived of license as a doctor? Chopping off a limb enough could make the patient wither. Not dead, but diminished, and there enemies do the rest." No need to explain how that works in a demonic realm, for the young queen of Limbo very well understands the math. Strange can do the rest, surely, and understand how hierarchies rise and fall if collapsed. Her lips sharply turn, the black smirk ripening to a blackberry sheen under a dusting of summer. Only for a moment.


Then there is the burden of memory thrown down like a gauntlet, forcing her to acknowledge with frosty grace and no little belief perhaps in the whole of his honest words. "I failed. Failure paid in blood and death, everything a step closer to its demise. I do not get to shoulder less of that because of youth or /trying/."

Contempt slides between the syllables and hacks out the roots, leaving the bloodless thoughts skewered under a pitiless eye. "Failures as glass in the veins and a constant drip of acid. They force growth or death by slow degrees, da. Her lesson remains unanswered. I wasn't saved. I did not save myself. The fine line between control and failure is the difference of a compelling temptation, and never knowing where the fall lies. They say many fallen don't remember how they fell or why. Not as a mercy but a punishment, so they will always question it."

Factually, she holds out her hands, mute for a testimony of words so long in the building that it depletes the stores down to near silence. "The Soulsword would be a swift answer for the Three, terminating their troubles. Not enough, though." A grimace, as it happens, her expression soured by frustration so very real, for all it's a piquant demon. "I cannot do this alone."

The whispers between the canyons of conversation echo for help, inured in pride too great to ask and a tiny flame of trust that might be extinguished in a heartbeat.

Stephen Strange has posed:
Absolutes. Black or white. Right or wrong. Success or failure. Everything is cut and dried and there is no deviation from these truths. Or, so it seems with the young sorceress. But, Stephen knows this path. He has walked it before. He has seen its sights, heard it speak to him on so many occasions. How he is valueless, not even worth hope himself. He has dealt with it in different ways...self-loathing, escape in a bottle. But, he knows there is continuation beyond.

The concept of stripping title receives an affirming nod from the former surgeon. There is no need to comment. Already, it is apparent that Illyana has the skeleton of a plan in place. Even if it is just a fledgling, there is substance in that idea. And they both know it.

The subject of failure, though, is a slippery one. The Doctor's hands are held up, palms inward. The scarring of his hands plainly evident. "I have failed, too. Not only myself, but those around me. Those I have loved. People that entrusted their care to me. I have failed them with each and every selfish act I have performed...a lifetime of egotistical pursuits that had led me to lose everything that I had worked so hard. Everything that I had held dear. What I am now does not give me a pass to forget what I had done prior. I keep my hands like this to remind me. Of course I can repair them...return to my work as a surgeon. But, to do so is to deny that failure meant nothing to me, which is far, far from the truth."

The hands are lowered, falling to his sides. "You say you cannot do this alone. I say....that you won't have to." Do what, exactly? Save Illyana's soul? Take on the Three? Nurture that seed to grow? There is no clarification from the sorcerer.

Nor will there ever be. It does not matter what assistance is needed. The simple answer is that Strange will provide it regardless.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
So many choices stand ahead, and it's not entirely accurate to say that the Demon Queen views matters in crackling absolutes. A world in dizzying numbers of grey shades glows before her, ethics and decisions in shining multitudes thrown at her boot-shod feet. Perhaps Stephen just passed some critical test. It certainly might feel like it, as the knives of the realm sheathe themselves in the aether and tension bleeds away into nothing. A collective gasp leaves the aspens and birches humming in the soft zephyr driven off the lake, only a hint of crystalline winter remembered in Limbo's heart.

Because its Russian queen, granddaughter of Ded Moroz, knows exactly what the stark lines of truth sound like, and that cutting clarity is better than sweetly alloyed comforts cushioning necessity in weakness.

"Too egotistical to die, and me to let you go," she chides Stephen, tongue fletched to her hard palate to create that muted click. Somewhere, a distant horror trills a basso bellow that rumbles through the landscape in a resonant cascade more tactile than audible in that distance. Mountains ricochet the sound in a ragged bowl, haunted threnody plied back in his direction. Hers.

She reaches for his fallen hand, careful, mindful ever of the scar tissue and damage that ruined a career and launched a new life. Perhaps the same could be said the moment a child's love sacrificed her soul and set her on a road of ruin and unlikely redemption. "We're strange, you and I." Rhetorical question or ultimate statement, it's entirely his to gauge. If he doesn't shake her hand off, her fingers curl in a calloused guard.

Stephen Strange has posed:
A test of character? It could have very well been so. It is true that the very air seems rather less dangerous to partake. It is not lost to Stephen. Senses, both natural and mystical, relax, for what little may constitute as relaxation for the sorcerer.

A laugh escapes unbidden, drawn forth from the depths within as commentary about stubbornness, for both parties, is delivered with perfect timing. "Oh, yes. Too egotistical to die. And too self-absorbed to acknowledge that it was with help that I still stand." The hand, formerly at his side, is taken up without resistance, with only the faintest of twinge the outward evidence of reaction from Stephen. Both Illyana and him strange? That is most certainly an understatement. "Comes with the job title..." Was...that a joke? Perhaps. But, it is also truth.

The hand does not withdraw. Instead, it remains, content within the loose grip. "Now then..." intones Stephen. "...shall we go hunting? For bargains or trouble...it matters not."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:

Unequivocal there; he offers and she accepts option C: all of the above. That will teach a sorcerer supreme to underestimate the resilience of his counterpart of this chaotic, disordered dimension touching on all times and spaces. The smirk responding to him is nearly cocky, her shoulder rolled in a casual uplift. "I never would have guessed." No need to speak of the Mad Monk or her lineage's prowess at overthrowing monarchies, considering two who have done it. Her mad grandfather; her. Piotr has a good deal to live up to.

Her gaze turns slightly in the shelter of liquid fire drawn among the roses and the falling leaves, guiding them to step through to some other distinguished plane. The end result is a tidal dance of shining lapis tiles, parquetry and mosaics on a stunningly bright stretch of wall. "Where do you wish to begin first?"

Stephen Strange has posed:

There is no mistaking now the slight lift of the eyebrow, coupled with the tugging upwards of the corners of Strange's lips. There is amusement there, plain and simple. "Well, I should have known." Indeed, perhaps he already did. Otherwise the offer would not have been made. But, where to indulge in both trouble and purchasing of wares?

For Stephen, there is but one simple answer that will provide both. A straightforward reply that will check all the boxes and start them both on their journey.

"The bazaar. All the better for seeking of both trinkets and information...with more than a little trouble for excitement. After you?"