5564/Beware the Ides of March

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Beware the Ides of March
Date of Scene: 13 March 2021
Location: Sanctum Santorum
Synopsis: What *is* Strange's favourite music? Find out next time on...
Cast of Characters: Illyana Rasputina, Stephen Strange

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
The moon slips to its darkest phase, little better than a smudge in the sky. Not that the great companion orbiting Earth ever completely disappears, but deprives those terrestrially-bound souls its presence and visual comforts. No moonlight illuminates the path for a woman from a remarkably unremarkable building to the foot of a mansion like no other, one of only two in the whole Village.

Called inconstant unfairly by crueller souls, the waning sliver winks out behind clouds gathered over Greenwich Village. More superstitious souls might find a trouble in the new moon moving through Pisces, a dark conclusion of astrology with almost no bearing on the world. None to worry about, except for the rituals observed: a knock upon the door, an offering, a smirk stained by mischief. Exchanged first names restore familiarity. Dispensing of a coat while proffering a bottle of wine with a peculiar vintage, a 20-year white plucked from some cellar most likely in the cooler belt of France.

Illyana Rasputina is many things, depending on the mood: Demon Queen, X-Man, sorceress supreme, Russian, mutant.

Which mask shall it be tonight? One harbouring weighty thoughts, as a start.

Stephen Strange has posed:
For most, the mansion on Bleecker Street is an object of revered indifference. Sure, the three story townhouse is one of the more impressive residences....but this is New York. Even the most awe-inspiring location becomes old hat after a while. And, it isn't like anyone could actually go in.

Well, except for one.

With the moon refusing her illumination this eve, the doorstep that the blonde bearing gifts of wine and company finds herself on is rather gloomy, with only the dim glow of a streetlight providing any illumination. With the knock, hardly needed, the door opens, allowing passage within. Inside, the master of the home stands patiently, a small smile upon his features.

"You do know that there is no need to knock. You know I knew you were coming." The fact that there are two wine glasses in his hand would betray the fact that he might have been keeping tabs.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
True, it's not like the other neighbourhood mansion with its gardens open to the public and a revered effort to save its historic character from rapacious developers. Nothing like a gorgeous bit of architecture to stir the masses. Illyana, alas, has no eyes for elegant sculpted plinths or commonplace brick facades marked by white and black windows peering onto fabled streets and squares named Abingdon or Lafayette.

What dim provisions streetlights and neon provide shall not be found wanting, for in a sense something about the guest is more ethereal despite being grounded, more radiant for all the smutted soot on her soul. "I must ask, Stephen." Insistence breaks on her lips as a sharp Slavic cant slides across the words, rendering his given name closer to its Greek origins: Stephanos, whispers between. The seriousness of finding the Master of the Mystic Arts there is not entirely without precedent as she offers the bottle. A step within waits for her aura to balance out, the charge of Limbo's energies threaded through her body in an inescapable signature. Tighter, brighter. If he peered into the Astral, he might see the cracks glowing on her tethered soul, fracture lines corresponding to lost bits of self.

Stephen Strange has posed:
The bottle is taken, as a careful glance is cast towards Illyana. The cracks are certainly seen, superimposed over the physical, giving the sense of a cracked porcelain doll, held together by willpower and miracles. Yet, he does not mention it. No, there is no need to, not when they both know. There was a reason he offered his assistance so willingly before.

Still, what does one do when a woman bears gives of wine? For Stephen, the answer is simple. He willingly accepts the bottle, holding the stemware between a couple of fingers on the other hand. And, as far as asking? "Yes, I know. It is the little things such as that which makes you both endearing and enigmatic, all in one." A slight bow, then an extension of the hand holding the wine, pointing towards a sitting area. "Shall we sit and converse? Perhaps trade good-natured barbs? You can tell me I am too old to be listening to top 40 pop stations and wonder why I don't just stream music like real people should."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Willpower and miracles, who among them is not shaped so readily by the titanic forces they command and little better than string, chewing gum, and luck into avoiding a full descent into madness? The lot of a sorcerer is not a light-hearted one, at least not for those fully endowed to brave magic's apex and bend creation to them. What instills character into the best might be the ruin of the worst.

Bearing up under Strange's regard isn't easy; the doctor aware of a patient with a malignancy under the skin, the dimension's guardian ever ready to muster arcane forces for rooting out infection and trouble. He might well be a danger unto himself, but she presses her empty hands together and bows. Stemware already laid out receives a knowing look, in the moment she bends, an opportunity to assess changes in the great Sanctum of New York so different than her own. And then she is straightening as he sinks, a mirror reflection of action dawning even in discovering they anticipate one another. "Is that what you see in me?" A loaded question lands between them like a World War-era shell, innocuous and unpredictable, certain to blow up the back garden at the worst possible moment. She can fling as good as she catches; perhaps imperfect. Efficient movements take her to the indicated seat, a place to settle in with purely insouciant grace wedded to a snow leopard's stalk. Cool smirk turned up, she lifts her chin to boldly declare disbelief in his statements without a word crossing her lips. "We should. I have a small vinyl collection. Records, you called them in the day? We could listen. Nothing quite matches the smell when they start up. A good thing." A tiny insight to a woman of complications not at all like his own, but satisfactorily nuanced. "You are too young to remember crystal sets and talkies. Try again. Sit with me."

Stephen Strange has posed:
"Ah, but I see a great many things in you, my dear Illyana." A finger lifts up, waggling gently in her direction. "Like how that question is more dangerous than any weapon. Should it ever be asked to a person, he would do well to tread lightly." Yes, Strange knows exactly the perils of an inquisitive female, especially when the questions come from the Demon Queen herself. He has threaded his way through those before. And, it was no small feat, even for one such as himself.

Ah, now on to music. As a gentleman ought to do, he waits until the lady in the manse is seated before Stephen himself takes a seat. "Yes, vinyl. I do like records. Why I can remember sitting cross-legged upon the floor going through stacks of 45's, just to see what my parents would listen to." As he speaks, the wine bottle is put to use. Strange pours into the stemmed glasses, as he continues. "Now, my father was more of a country-western person. I could certainly appreciate the songs for their structure and tone, but unfortunately, it just wasn't exactly my cup of tea...or wine, in this case. But, my mother. Oh, she had rather varied taste. Everything....except country, fortunately for me."

A smirk curls the corners of his mouth as Strange muses. "Too young for crustal sets and talkies, hmm? And I could make the same point about cassette tapes and rotary dialed telephones for you, my dear."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
"American country is all sad things, loss of love, friends, house, dogs. It should be more popular in Russia." Except the harboured doubts about guitars and the banjos as weapons of international war banned under the Geneva Convention. The 187 signatories agreeing not to proliferate the banjo then would be understandable for the lack of such music. "Not enough vodka or suffering. The singer gets his own in the end, da?" She reaches out her hand to take the glass, a careless sort of ease to her gesture evincing none of the hidden strength or bridled self-control that bespeaks an intense restraint used at all times. Not merely for enhanced strength, but something else besides.

She examines the liquid gathered from the bottle, a properly aged expression of the watered terroir in all its stony glory. Never a chardonnay; she hates them. This is a blending of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon from the French region of Burgundy meant to reveal unexpected depths beneath the initial aromas of fruit and spice that betray any idea of a heavily oaked, overly dry tipple. No salt; it has minerality hidden among nutmeg and the daring honeyed notes. Vibrant, mineral-stricken, a gem that packs a heady punch. Just wait for it.

"We had only rotary and a party line," she replies after a sip. "Four kilometers away, da? When the power was on, maybe it would work. Cassettes were smuggled, the discs not worth buying." A slender fingertip draws a circle in the air for him, almost turning in sight, her gaze slanting with a musing directness as bold as the stories he dares to tell. "No player. We had radio. Sometimes, we heard Korea, Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar, the city amid the yurts. America was very different, so much noise everywhere. Everyone had headphones, phones, speakers, playing their music loudly. It scared me and enticed me once."

Complicated, then, as she adds, "Your varied tastes?" A gesture of her hand sweeps to the floor and those black-rimmed boots crossed at her ankles. "The songs were hard to remember in exile. The worst lyrics to have, they meant nothing then. A blink and a decade passed. It felt longer. Vashe zrodovye." A bitter twist of her mouth as she lifts the glass in a toast as mocking as it is deadly serious. "This is the night I am closest to my humanity and furthest from it. Six years reigning. Four since being lost and found." How, exactly, that works is a testament of Limbo perhaps. "Za to, chtoby sbyvalis mechty, my darling Stephen."

Stephen Strange has posed:
The pleasant countenance of the good doctor before the Demon Queen slips, ever so slightly. It is in realization of the night, the anniversary. Still, Stephen does not dwell. Instead, he lifts up his own glass, tilting it towards Illyana. "To you, whole and sound."

An unusual toast, to be sure. Why did he give that, when he knows, better than most others, that the Russian before him is fractured? Perhaps, just perhaps, it is a simple affirmation, in his typically mysteriously stylings, of his promise to do just that.

To help Illyana recapture her soul, that was forcibly taken from her.

A sip, then the wine glass is lowered while Strange shifts to previous topics. "Varied tastes." The ghost of a smile returns, tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I am nothing but a man guided by my varied tastes. Tethered to my ideals, be it for good or for ill." A mischievous smirk slowly materializes into view. "Fortunately, I have impeccable tastes."

A wink. Oh, it is a jest. Look, Stephen told a joke! Be amazed...

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
He makes a joke; she almost smiles. The ghostly tincture turns dark lips concealed behind the prospects of liquor on her lips, dark and moody in its cascading notes. Hints of citrus, sweeter fullness accompanied by a bite. As it should be, in all things, complex and deliriously pleasurable as a libation. The first tendrils hit the bloodstream sometime after, not nearly enough to offer a buzz, but the starting pinprick holes in the shroud surrounding her.

"One day," she meets Stephen's gaze, stormcloud grey and glacial rime clashing and bound to an Arctic promontory. "Soon."

A promise, a curse, the melodies between full of dark, purposeful music just this side of being wild. Such is Russian music, far more passionate than those people of a long-lived, stern nation ever allow others to know.

Her tongue ghosts a trail along her lips. Blotted, they give another flavour, dimensions coming to the fore when her gaze slants. "Naturally. Simplicity suits no sorcerer. Even those focused deeply on a single strand need multitudes to express themselves. It is not for the dull-witted."

Magic, that communal thread between them. That smirk, met in kind. "Show me."

Stephen Strange has posed:
Almost. It was precariously close. Still, it was a start. Every worthy goal needs a beginning, however humble. A simple step. An off-hand comment. A jest given in solitary company. A foothold has been established.

It is only going up from there.

"Yes...it does take a certain breed, does it not? One that refuses to accept what lot was given to them. One that depends on the myriad of aspects within to translate and then bend the laws of reality to one's purpose." Idle conversation, perhaps...but still complimentary. It really does take a type to want to persevere in adversity. And, while Strange's own journey and cause of adversity was mostly self-inflicted, here before him was one that had her path forced upon her...and she came out stronger because of it. It is praise, most certainly.

However, as the two sorcerers sport similar sneers, no matter how playful it may be, it would appear that Strange is not going to make it easy for Illyana. In response to her request, her demand, the doctor regards her with that pleasant but blank mien, his words offered in an questioning, and perhaps overtly innocent tone.

"Show you what?"

Is this sincere? Does he not know what she is asking for, or is it just a game? Regardless, the response is the same...that patient, waiting expression.

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Almost. Almosts fill the dustbin of history, those could-have-been and might-have-done moments peppered in every moment. Quantum physicists have entire philosophical arguments about those forking branches in the path.

Still, the moon is absent and the thirteenth rides hard and dark through incense-laden streets, the mellow perfume of laundry soap mixing with tailpipe discharge, cool bricks, and the icy breath of a city exhaled through heat grates and vents.

Illyana exudes that laissez-faire candor, one leg crossing over the other. She doesn't precisely slouch but therein lies a more dangerous ease, an elegance shared with hunting cats that slip through brindled boreal forests in pursuit of prey canny, fast, and likely as paranoid as she is. Every sense pricks to the game afoot, the expert playing it clearly no slouch.

When hunting a wolf, best be very sure-footed and confident indeed.

"You favour me as I do not deserve." Perhaps she does, in her arrogance and faulted acceptance of such compliments. Elbow resting on the arm of the chair, she curls slightly, the very picture of informality. He is most certainly more formal than she, even if the nibbling away at the expectations surrounding them both gives a most intriguing risk to run. "You know precisely what."

Stephen Strange has posed:
The differences between Stephen and Illyana are painfully apparent. Whereas Illyana is lounging languidly, with a deceptive grace to her motions, Stephen sits straight, rigid. While speaking, there is that sort of playful banter, though the descendant of Rasputin has a more predatory glint to her speech, while Stephen is more innocent and unassuming, be it either real or imagined. There is caution there with Stephen, to be sure. One does not simply banter with devils and not learn to be guarded.

But this is Illyana that speaks. Not the Queen of Limbo, but Illyana as close to her mortal self than anytime else. And, if there was a weakness for Strange...verily for all men in general....it was always with the female of the species.

The formalness of the doctor shatters as he blinks, the passive expected illusion dashed into pieces, leaving behind a true vision of Strange's mindset. That of mild confusion and perhaps just a dash of embarrassment, for flavouring. "Actually, I truly do not know what you are talking about." The admission is sheepish, the auditory clues betraying hints of apology within the clear resonance of truth. "I am really not sure what you wish for me to show you." The break allows a glimpse, however brief, of Stephen Strange, mere mortal. Not the famous doctor nor the Sorcerer Supreme, but just Stephen as he once might have been.

The break doesn't last long, as Stephen finds his footing quickly enough. "You are wrong, however. You do deserve whatever favour is offered and more. I am just merely vocalizing what is true."

Illyana Rasputina has posed:
Straight and purposeful has its buoyant presence, the kind of power found in stately elms and enduring pines that withstand the blasts of frosty air descending from the highest latitudes into those of the lower realms. Deep roots, proud limbs, a shapely confluence bears up the weight of the world like Atlas himself spreading his arms to endure the weight of the world. Strange is he; she, a child of the bear priests of the east, the shamans who catapulted Russia to its demise and the birth of the Red Scare deep, deep into the twentieth century.

Perhaps America takes its present state because of her grandfather. Perhaps because of his hand moving, the world took its current form, molded inadvertently of clay and fire and nuclear halos.

"Those varied tastes," she answers. Crooking her wrist raises her glass at an awkward angle, glass caught in her fingers and toyed with. Regarding him with an almost callous simplicity, lashes slanted lower. A hint of the smirk vanishes. "Of all the options, I choose all of the above. A classic C, da?"

Stephen Strange has posed:
"My varied tastes." The words are repeated, with a soft chuckle underscoring the tone. "I see. I will admit, it has been some time since I had threatened a date with exposure to my record collection. Or CDs or cassette tape or whatever other archaic methodology of musical conveyance one wants to consider." A glance is cast Illyana's way, eyebrow raising as questions formulate within Stephen's mind. Questions that are considered, refined, tossed around, and refined anew. "But...surely that is not what you mean, though it relates to what I was pontificating about."

A beat, then a continuance. "No. You just said it yourself. You want all of the above. Does that mean you want all the quirks that make up my essence? Surely not, for that would be much too boring for the likes of you." The wine glass lifts, another sip taken. "Perhaps we should start simply with the musical library. Then you can judge what more you would want if I do not successfully drive you away with eunni."