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|Doctor Strange||Text Message
Hey, come over. I'm not giving a reason, but there's gonna be free food.
And you'll get to meet an old buddy of mine.
The Sanctum Sanctorum is, from the outside, a pretty, if cozy townhouse. On the inside, it is massive. The work of many hands, of tools mystic and mundane alike, first spreads out before you in a foyer with a grand staircase. Minor artifacts in display cases (mostly for decor, no doubt) flank either side of this staircase, with a vibrant Persian rug spanning the distance between the entry and the staircase. At the top of the stairs, bathed in light from an impossible window overlooking the foyer, is Strange.
Wearing grey sweatpants and a Jets hoodie. "Look at that," he says, leaning on the banister and cradling a bowl of nachos with the other arm. "Right on time." With convivial suddenness, "Okay."
It is now that you may come to appreciate the impossible construction of the Sanctum--because it all goes rushing past you in a blinding blur. Is it art deco? Is it Victorian? How many rooms are there? In the span of two seconds, it seems as though countless numbers of them race past you, crossing all manner of colors and architectural styles.
When you come to a stop, you're in what looks to be the quintessential American den, straight from the forties. There's seating for all of you via a comfortable couch and loveseat combo, arranged around a coffee table with a spread of typical game day fare.
Strange has a pretty respectable flatscreen and sound system. There's also a game console with two fight sticks neatly put away beneath the entertainment center supporting the TV. There's just one little detail...
There's no game on TV. It's the most obvious thing in the room--the sound system isn't broadcasting the roar of thousands of fans. It's broadcasting a sorcerous chime, followed by what sounds like the hiss of an arc welder. "That's my buddy," Strange says passively. "I'm gonna invite him in, but first we have to wait for..."
In a blur, a bewildered looking man in otherworldly clothing (it looks somehow futuristic and fantasy-inspired at the same time) appears. His green and gold finery would be complemented by a golden helmet with high-curving horns, were that helmet not tucked under his arms. As-is, his slicked-back black hair can't quite convey the confidence he was no doubt hoping it would.
|Doctor Strange||"Loki, hi. God of Mischief. Or... have we graduated to--"
"Chaos," Loki attempts with a certain gregarious caution.
"Cool, cool. How are you?" asks Strange in his usual deadpan. "Get here alright? Didn't take the Cross Bronx, did you? That's murder, this time of year."
"The Rainbow Bridge, actually," says the Asgardian, taking a seat in the nearest loveseat. "Do you mind if I..." He points towards a mini-fridge.
"Oh, yeah, no, go ahead. That's what it's there for."
Loki is halfway to the fridge before he realizes Strange has tricked him into being a houseguest, wheeling around with an irritated glare. "This is ridiculous. Sorcerer Supreme, I've come to--"
"Challenge me for my position, yeah, I know," says Strange, a bottle appearing in his hand with the top already off. He leans forward, and switches the channel on the TV. It's now displaying a room with a sorcerer in green robes, carrying a quarterstaff, attempting to blast through some means of mystical protection surrounding a vault door. Strange reaches for one of the few artifacts in the room--a gargoyle with a mouth large enough for a human hand to fit inside. The Sorcerer Supreme presses his thumb between its fangs. "Yeah--Mordo, pack it in, guy. it's been almost thirty minutes. You're not getting the Grand. Mmkay? C'mon into the den."
Mordo turns and hurls a bolt of energy at Strange's scry-mark, but the Sorcerer Supreme is unconcerned. "Don't worry about him," he advises his friends. "He'll be in here once he realizes I'm right."
|Gawain||Gawain was already on his motorcycle from 'hey, come over'. He was extra excited when he reread the text outside the townhouse after parking and it said 'free food' and 'old buddy of mine'. Strange never asks them to do stuff like this!
He's in a jacket and a t-shirt, with jeans. "Hello!" He says once inside, eyes glancing around with awe. And then things get weird. Like the sound of the TV. Or the fact there's everything rushing past them. Or the fact this is magical bullshit.
But Doctor Strange simply just is magical bullshit, so it's okay.
"Hello, Loki!" Gawain greets him as he's there, though he frowns when it turns out he's challenging Strange for his title. And as the TV displays Mordo trying to break into a room. Well.
"So, what's on these nachos?" Gawain asks, concern lightly marking his hungered voice. He hasn't eaten yet.
|Kale Hearthward||Free food gets Kale's attention. Hopefully some of it's vegan - but the multiverse is slowly wearing down his commitments on that anyway.
More importantly - he's yet to meet Strange, and Strange is supposed to be a pretty big deal in the magical world.
When inside: "Oh - wow, this is a nice pad..."
And then everything changes suddenly. When the world stops spinning: "Oh, this is..." 'not as nice', is what Kale's not going to say. "... More appropriately sized?" He liked the massive grande foyer better.
He hops over the back of the couch and takes a spot that gives him an armrest.
"Hey - Loki, right? Hey," he says, waving lazily over. "Oh, is this a challenge thing? Strange, if you wanted secondaries, you could have just said on the invitation, I don't mind."
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian, at the sight of the Sanctum Sanctorum's interior, is struck with a particular memory of Alison Rook interacting with its owner, and then shoulders the burden of silently feeling kind of gross that her estimation actually seemed fairly on the money all along. It occurs to her that some amount of house staging might be inevitable, but there's no way you can get Persian rugs like that so easily on such short notice.
"Doctor. I'm glad to see you." she says upon seeing him, and the weird tone of relief manages to silently convey 'wearing something so slovenly'. That lasts all of about five seconds before Strange gets to the point in a way so unceremonious that it finally underflows back into being ostenstatiously obnoxious. "I-- Beg pardon? Are those related, somehow? Wait, how many of you are there all at once? Trying to break into a vault for a thousand dollars?"
|Doctor Strange|| "Well, I saw this lime-flavored kind at the store and thought it was either gonna be overdone and kinda lame, or pretty decent. You know how stuff like that is," says Strange to Gawain. "The dip, though... figured salsa would be the best. Cilantro, diced tomato, lime, red onion, garlic, little bit of sugar." It does go well with the nachos. Strange flips the channel a third time, and now the TV is actually showing the game. One look at the score, and Strange sighs, shaking his head.
"You can't do seconds for the Challenge. Defeats the point," explains Strange to Kale. "But I *do* need you, and I appreciate that you're already picking up the vibe. Mordo's gonna give us an earful when he gets here, and then you'll understand."
"STRANGE!" Mordo appears not five seconds later, and Strange gestures towards him with his bottle, as if to say 'there you have it.' "If you won't give me the Grand, then I issue the Challenge, as set forth by the mandate of Agamotto--are you DRINKING with an intruder in the Sanctum?! Where are your vestments? I could kill you--"
"Okay, first of all," says Strange, motioning with a hand to sweep Mordo's legs with an approaching armchair, forcing him into a seated position. "This is an Orbz," he says, waggling the bottle. "Zero percent, so slow your roll, Agent Ness. And 'B,'" he says, switching from numbers to letters, "Kill me with what? Gan Lu's Piercing Glare? See you've got the Staff of the Living Legend there," he says, pointing with a scarred finger towards the quarterstaff. "Wanna give that a whirl? Maybe Arshan's Flying Daggers? G'head." His sarcastic tone takes an edge, and his eyes narrow slightly. "I knew exactly what you were doing, why you were here, and for how long--but sure, I did all of that setup to die watching the Jets go 0 and 3 with two knights and an imperial honor guard just, you know, twiddling their thumbs."
"You're... highly unconventional, as Earth's sorcerers go," notes the God of Chaos with something that sounds like interest.
"Unconventional, yes," sighs Mordo. "But not stupid. Strange, I understand your hesitance to part with the Grand. I also understand that there may be... He frowns. "Personal motivations involved. You and I have our differences, but you know that I would never misuse it."
"Yeah... Lilian, not a small-g grand. The Grands are..." Strange sips his non-alcoholic beer, running a scarred, trembling palm over his forehead. This is one of those rare moments where the sarcasm melts away. "Bones, in a way. The bones of a malformed world, doomed to die. They're powerful, but deeply flawed artifacts, and anyone who uses them risks inviting the sadness and misery of the world they once upheld." The bottle is set on a coaster, and Strange leans forward.
"Anyway. Mordo. I'm... not a hundred percent interested in what you consider misuse," he says in a condescending upwards inflection, "Because you're kind of... literally trying to be a serial killer." On the heels of that punch in the chest, with Mordo fuming and starting for a rebuttal, Strange continues. "I'm allowing you as a guest in the Sanctum because even though I can only accept one Challenge, I'm willing to let the both of you make your case."
Loki excitedly leans forward. "Are you saying Baron Mordo and I are going to compete for the chance to challenge you?"
"You're excited." Strange strokes his chin, looking at Loki. "Interesting." He refuses to elaborate on why this is interesting.
|Doctor Strange|| "Ridiculous. We don't have time for that," Mordo says urgently, his fist balled in frustration. "The War of the Seven Spheres is begun. Even if your proposed elimination contest weren't a waste of precious time, to even consider allowing Loki the honor of your station is an affront to everything the Masters stand for! To have a god as Sorcerer Supreme is--"
"Karl, you've driven most of New York's hedge magic community into hiding. By, uh... systematically trying to kill them. Terminator style. Kay? Stones, glass houses, guy."
"And I'm right to do so. If it weren't for the likes of Excalibur--"
"Then it would be -me- after you, and buddy, you do not want that. Using the Grand Finale to just write them out of the picture instead of killing them yourself is... still not okay. By the way. Agamotto? First Sorcerer Supreme? Not exactly mortal! So..." He pauses. "Nanny nanny boo boo, shut up and let me pontificate for a minute. You're lucky I don't send you to Brazil in the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak." Strange shakes his head in mild irritation, then makes himself a little cracker-salami-cheese finger sandwich. "...Here's the deal, everybody." Crunch. "It's commonplace for Sorcerers Supreme to make bargains with outsiders, and the safest are the Vishanti. They like humans. A lot. One of our most powerful artifacts is a solidified tear one of them shed for us. But, Gawain, Lilian, you guys know how it is with outsiders. If they thought like us, and acted like us, lived among us, we wouldn't call 'em outsiders."
Loki sips his own Orbz, his face alight with intrigued amusement. "You're being called to fight in the War, aren't you? Either you go, and Earth is defenseless, or you refuse--"
"And give up a substantial chunk of my ability to deal with all the cosmic douchebags who are going to come knocking while the Vishanti are running damage control. They're going to put off asking for my help for as long as they can, because they don't want to do Earth like that. But they're... big picture thinkers. If it gets bad enough, they'll come calling. So we need to do three things: one, Loki's gotta be trained on sorcery--"
Loki scoffs. "That's absurd. I've been practicing magic since your people could scarcely brave the seas."
"Hello? Talking." Strange rolls his eyes. "Yes, Loki, I get that, comma, but the Contest has to be fought with mortal sorcery, because for one, Mordo wouldn't shut up otherwise, and for two, you need to be familiar with it anyway if you're going to teach--and yes, that is part of the job description. ...where was I? Right, three things. One, train Loki on sorcery. Two, clean out the Mirror Dimension, and three, prepare for an invasion."
|Gawain||Gawain just takes everything in. By eating some nachos, once they're present. And then, finally, he speaks up.
"So! Training, cleaning, and invasion preparation. Sounds like squire duty!" He's a little cheerful, less nervous now that he knows what's going on, though it dawns on him that this means Strange is getting drafted and that's not great.
"Loki, how much mortal magic do you know? Did you recognize any of the spells Doctor Strange mentioned?"
|Kale Hearthward||"I don't recognize any of the spells mentioned, either," says Kale, perhaps redundantly, since he's one of the two people here who isn't even from an Earth. (The other one being Loki.)
"I can train him in the magic fundamentals, though? Power, control, endurance?"
He breathes into the palm of his hand, does some quick finger-work, and then flicks something invisible off towards the plate of nachos - and a moment later a stack of the loaded chips lands neatly in his palm.
"It's that, or I'm going to have to focus on the other two parts and leave the training to Lilian and Gawain."
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian hear's Strange's initial clarification as to what a 'Grand' is, and promptly and pleasantly replies, "Really? That sounds like the sort of thing I'd expect Stark to be sitting on; not so much you." The fact that it'd be because Tony thinks he can bend it so some greater good if only he studies it for a while in his metaphorical garage just goes unsaid, but implied.
From then on, it's a deluge of proper nouns that are more obviously proper nouns. Or, maybe Lilian knew right away that 'grand' just had to be a shorthand, and that was her way of forcing someone to explain it. Or maybe she could already figure that out and had used it as a foothold instead. Who knows. Who cares at this point. The subject is interdimensional war.
"So, what I'm understanding is that you're attempting to preemptively secure the continued cooperation and immediate combat readiness of long-time allies of yours, and intent on finding someone to hold your position for you so that exactly what Stark is always talking about doesn't happen, again; probably even in New York. Am I more or less correct?" Fuck it. Lilian has nachos now. "I knew you were a 'big picture type' too, but I'd never much taken you for a warfighter. Beg pardon, but do you plan on 'Challenging' for your job again once you get back?"
"And if one competitor can't even use the magic necessary to meet the ground rules of the competition, then why not just accept the challenge with the only viable competitor? Could it be that you would *prefer* Loki?" Lilian is really doing her best to just not get stuck in the fact that apparently this is actually the Norse god. "Likewise, I thought the entire point of your Mirorr Dimension gimmick was that nothing inside of it matters."
|Doctor Strange||>Did you recognize any of the spells Doctor Strange mentioned?
Loki pauses, his face an impassive mask. "Oh, yes, absolutely," he says. Mordo rests his head in his hands.
>I can train him in the magic fundamentals, though? Power, control, endurance?
"Yyyyyeah, looking like you'll have to, Kale," concludes Strange dryly, turning the TV down. It's on an ad, anyway.
"Excuse me?! Now even my fundamentals are in question?"
"I've observed you for some time, God of Chaos. You have a remarkable level of control, it's true. But you don't lift. Misdirection is your only strength, and while it's a powerful tool, there are people--like her, for example," he says, nodding towards Lilian, "Who make it their business not to be fooled by clever tricks. There are gonna be fights you will -have- to fight. Getting you to where you can fight those fights... That's gonna be an 'all five of us' thing."
"Absolutely not," Mordo says, vehemently beating a fist into the arm of his chair, and rising in an agitated, hostile posture. "I will have no part in teaching the God of Chaos the mystic arts."
Strange's rebuttal is as deadpan as most other things he says--"Write the next great American novel, for all I care, but you're not doing it out of my sight, or Loki challenges me unopposed. Now, sit down, before Gawain sits you down." Mordo scowls, but does indeed sit back down. Strange nods graciously towards him, and makes a 'we're cool' gesture towards the Knight of the Sun.
"None of the three tasks we're looking at here are gonna be short work. No matter the task, I'm gonna need each of you cracking at it right along with me, if we're gonna be ready..." There's a pause. "For the worst case scenario that Stark is always afraid of, right, Lilian. It's not a question of who does what, but a question of which task we tackle first."
>Do you plan on Challenging for your job again once you get back?
"Depends," says Strange cryptically.
"On what, exactly?" asks Loki. After a lack of any answer from Strange, "Well? Are you going to answer me?"
"No," says Strange with an irritating little smirk. "And I'm not answering Karl, or any of the rest of you guys, either." There's a pause, and Strange coughs like he's trying to cover the noise of something else. "I'm not explaining that, either."
>Could it be that you prefer Loki?
"He did try to invade us, one time, so 'prefer' is a strong word. It's more like both of these guys have warts, and both of them allegedly want to protect humanity. Karl's felt that way for a long time, but he's a little too dark-ages in his approach. Loki's trying to turn over a new leaf--"
"How do you know that?"
"Funny story. So, I'm kind of the Sorcerer Supreme, and I've got a lot of numbers in my phone."
"Heimdall gave you a ring, did he..."
Strange doesn't dignify it with further banter. "...Each of these guys gets a fair shot at the title."
"But your friend Lilian does raise a valid point. How do we know that you haven't already decided? For instance--that you've not used the Eye to look into potential futures?"
Strange frowns at Mordo. "Oh, I've absolutely done that. Yep." He nods firmly. "Believe it or not, both of you have an even shot. You've both got traits that'd make for good Sorcerers Supreme. The point of pitting you against each other is to see which one of you is able to manifest and call upon those qualities."
|Gawain||As Gawain is used as a threat by Strange towards Mordo, he waves a hand and a nacho. "Hi!"
And then he goes back to listening and nodding. He's too busy stuffing his face to have much to comment.
|Kale Hearthward||"Alright, good. Power's my best trait, anyway," says Kale, cracking his knuckles. "We're going to build you up a nice set of metaphysical muscles, just you wait. You might even have fun doing it."
There is a certain set of thoughts implied by Kale's words the phrase 'You might even have fun doing it', representing a sort of collective-unconscious-shared-cultural-trope, whether you're galean or human or asgardian or a servant. It's a sort of conglomerate narrative lump of early morning runs, gulping down raw eggs, sweating in a sauna, and pulling a loaded truck attached to a rope that's wrapped around one's midsection. An unpleasant training montage, in other words.
"Also, what's got you rubbed the wrong way about getting invaded? I mean, your side *won*, so what's the problem?" asks Kale, as the minifridge opens and a beer gets blown into his hand by very specific wind currents spontaneously happening in the apartment.
|Doctor Strange||>I thought the entire point of your Miror Dimension gimmick was that nothing inside of it matters.
"That's not... a hundred percent true," says Strange, waggling a palm this way and that, leaning back in his chair and finishing his Orbz. "It has a few purposes. Number one, yes, absolutely, damage control. Having a Great Value Arena on deck is, yeah, convenient for when the latest Concord pledge has to go do a uranium butt chug or whatever."
Despite himself, Mordo can only just manage to stifle a snort.
"But we use it for other things. Training, for one. And, in certain, very specific, specially warded corners, threat containment. Think 'low to middle-of-the-road' Antegents, D and C-class Servants, some of the less-skilled Gale Empire honor guard--" A pause, and a glance towards Kale. "Not that those guys would ever... do anything we'd need to put them there for, but you get the message."
"What's my thing?" Loki asks with an eager expression, drawing a blank look from Strange. "My yardstick for your little prison dimension."
Exasperatedly, "I don't know, dude. Dark elves, I guess." He throws his hands up in a shrug, but the answer seems to satisfy Loki. "The thing about the beings imprisoned there is that individually, they're not exactly Navsegda Prizrak, and in times of peace we have the resources to handle them. The prisons can withstand attack to a reasonable degree, but we really -don't- want a heavy hitter with an axe to grind breaking into the Mirror Dimension, staging a breakout and forcing us to fight two battles."
"Bottom line is, we need those prisoners somewhere where a breakout isn't going to affect anything, which means picking from a very narrow list of other dimensions, and safely and securely getting them to one of them."
"Your strategy is sound, but the task would be much easier if we killed all those who weren't deathless."
Strange gives Lilian a 'see what I mean' look.
>What's got you rubbed the wrong way about getting invaded?
"Not my finest moment," admits Loki. "Humanity did win, but... I made it very difficult for them, and I also drew some very concerning eyes towards Earth. I may have also..." Loki chuckles nervously. "Used a building block of our material existence to satisfy my unfulfilled ambition. Ahem... but unlike the Baron here, any destruction I caused was indiscriminate and utterly impartial."
|Lilian Rook|| Lilian finds time to smile at the glow-up between almost aggravatingly perfect manipulations of salsa on nacho, apparently having no fear of mixing handegg snack fare with clothes about as expensive as pick-one-thing-from-a-display-case-in-the-vicinity. "I'm flattered at being a point of comparison regarding a genuine god, truly." she says.
"Please believe the Sorcerer Supreme that there are indeed places that being smarter than everyone and six steps ahead somehow will not get you. In fact, problems so messy that it doesn't matter if you have a plan, and people so large and stupid that it doesn't matter if you manipulate them, are something of a chronic problem recently. Even moreso when it comes to war and the fate of the Earth and such."
"Well, at any rate, there are certain things I can't share no matter what, but it so happens that my primary area of study features joint influence with something Loki should obviously find very familiar." She gestures to him to get his attention, and then to the bottom of his beer. There are now futhork runes there, or rather, were already, which amount to 'as many as you like' to someone who can read them. She really couldn't help it. Strange had gone and built her up like that.
Back to Mordo though. "If someone can see the future then you should just assume that they already have whenever circumstances would permit it as a possibility. It's too important of an ability to forget about, or only use sparingly. Even if he's lying about both of you having an equal opportunity, it should go without saying that he gains something from the challenge, and as long as you live on Earth and would like it to keep existing, whatever that takes the form of is probably something you want too."
She is merely 'polite' rather than 'attempting not to' when it comes to snorting almost in unison with him on Strange's description. "'Pledge'. I think I like that one better than Partner now. I think I'll borrow it." And to follow it up, Lilian makes a carefully faked indecisive sound at Mordo's final take. "The same thing crossed my mind, I'll admit. But I presume if they're not earth-shatteringly powerful, and thus your only recourse would be to seal them away, and yet still alive, they have to be imprisoned for some reason you can't just go ahead and kill them over, yes?"
|Kale Hearthward||"I know what my home country is like, thank you," says Kale, without saying whether or not he disapproves of the Gale Empire doing something that would elicit supremely sorcerous intervention.
He sips at his beer, and then goes for some nachos.
"But yeah - I'll handle the fundamentals, Lilian handles the complicated stuff, and Gawain makes Loki stay up all night staring at his armor. We're a team!"
Then he pauses, remembering something, and pulls out a notecard from his pocket - one with dense handwriting on both sides.
"Let's see... six? No, wait, seven. Yeah. Gods, ancestors, enlightenment... yeah, that one."
He puts the notecard back into his pocket, and then makes sure he has Loki's attention.
"Loki, do you consider yourself enlightened?"
|Doctor Strange||>They have to be imprisoned for some reason you can't just go ahead and kill them over, yes?
"Exactly," says Strange. "And Mordo knows that. He was a sorcerer before I was even an apprentice--he just has trouble telling the difference between troublemakers and bloodthirsty abominations. Always has."
Mordo crosses his arms, and looks away with a grim expression.
>Loki, do you consider yourself enlightened?
Loki seems amused by the very question. Between laughter, "I haven't the faintest idea what it is to be enlightened. But," he says, peering at the bottom of his bottle to gaze upon Lilian's runes with a smile, "I do think I'd like to give learning mortal magic a try, at least."
"Good," says Strange, nodding once.
"Time is short. I suggest we get the most ridiculous task out of the way first. Teach the God of Chaos sorcery--it may as well happen, with all the other ill tidings the War of Seven Spheres brings. After that's done, then we can discuss which task to handle next."
|Kale Hearthward||"It can't be that ridiculous," says Kale, who clearly isn't taking the expressed difficulty that seriously.
"I'll set up a basic regimen - Loki, you have a phone?"
|Doctor Strange||>Loki, you have a phone?
Mordo and Strange both look at Loki in mild disbelief as he pulls out a phone. An actual cell phone! "Okay, great. What's your number?"
Loki has no answer. Only a blank stare.
"...alright, then hand it to Kale, have him enter his number and text himself. Then he can send you the regimen." Mordo pinches the bridge of his nose, in disbelief at the absurdity of the situation. Kale is handed the phone. After a few seconds of unsuccessful fiddling, it becomes obvious.
"He stole it," Strange concludes.
"I did not! I found it."
"Where did you find it, exactly?"
"The Inner Quiet," answers Loki in mysterious intonation, spreading his hands wide.
"That stupid cafe where Nine Guys used to be. They make you lock your phone in a hardened box. Like a coat check. But for your phone."
Mordo is perplexed. "*Why?*"
Strange shrugs. "Phone bad, pee pee poo poo. Anyway, that's a wrap. Kale, just text it to me and I'll print it out for him." Being a magical stronghold and repository of all manner of forgotten artifacts, the Sanctum has a printer, and it might even have ink.