The Disciple's Return

December 17, 2017:

After a few weeks absent Illyana returns to the Sanctum to talk with Doctor Strange. The main subject of the conversation is the Demon Bear, of course.

177A Bleeker Street

It is a magical house.

Characters

NPCs: Wong

Mentions: Dani Moonstar, Ripclaw

Mood Music: None.


Fade In…

In the foyer of the opulently-appointed foyer of 177A Bleeker Street, a point of silver-white light appears. It swells and flattens, stabilising as a softly glowing vertical disc around six feet in diameter. In most other residences on this street, such a manifestation would be unusual in the extreme. Here, it's such a mundane and familiar occurrence that it's barely worthy of note.

Once the portal reaches its full size, a cloaked and hooded figure steps through into the foyer, the glowing portal winking out of existence behind her. Reaching up, the figure throws back the hood of her white cloak and takes a swift look around at her surroundings. Satisfied that all is as she'd expected, she lets out a long breath and seems to relax slightly.

With deliberately slow and casual steps, Illyana Rasputin walks towards the curving staircases, picking the one to her left on a whim. She has a small wager with herself as to whether Wong - or the Doctor himself - will appear before she begins exploring.


Illyana's arrival, although authorized and welcomed by the house wards, is not unannounced to the usual residents. So Illyana sneaky ways carry her all the way to the top of the staircase before a voice calls her from downstairs. "Good morning, Mistress Illyana. Would you like some tea? Ah, the Doctor is in his office, working on spirit-binding rituals. If you wish to talk with him I can go find him, too."

Not that she is forbidden to go exploring. But the House is still leery of Illyana. It is a thing of the Earth and Illyana carries the taint of the Elder Gods with her. Chances are high she will end up in the grue oubliette. Again.


Illyana's gloved hand touches the handrail and she pauses, as if expecting something. When nothing happens she moves lightly up the stairs until, finally, a voice reaches her from downstairs. Illyana is surprised to find herself smiling, and spins around to look back down toward the ground floor. "Hello Wong. Tea sounds great, thank you." With quick steps, she moves back down the staircase to join Wong. "Spirit-binding rituals might be exactly what I need, too. If Stephen can be disturbed, I'd like to talk to him." As always, Illyana's on her best behaviour around Wong. Even better than she is with the master of the house himself.


"I am not surprised," comments Wong, heading back to the kitchen but leaving the door open. "We keep having visitors concerned about a soul-stealing bear spirit. The Doctor has been in touch with the Ghost-Walker, they plan to move against the monster soon."

Another voice comes from the other corner of the room. "And I will guess it is what has kept you away from your lessons the past few weeks. Hello, Illyana. Good to see you back to my humble abode." Strange looks at the outfit (or is that her X-Men uniform) and smiles faintly. "It appeared in Westchester, pretty much your backyard."


Illyana leans against the banister at the foot of the stairs as Wong moves off, wincing faintly as the 'soul-stealing bear spirit' is mentioned. Of course Doctor Strange knows about it already. Illyana should have come here before… but Dani is family, in whatever weird way that applies, and even now Illyana's not used to leaning on others, particularly those outside the insular circle of the X-Men, for assistance. "I hope they have… good luck." Illyana amends that from 'better luck than me' at the last moment, and is glad she did when the Doctor himself speaks up.

She almost wishes she'd been able to talk the situation over with Wong first, but now there's nothing to do but face up to the situation. It feels like she's been doing that a lot lately. She's not finding that she enjoys it much.

"Hello Stephen." Illyana says as she turns toward him, straightening up from her slouch against the banister and walking across to meet him. Being reminded that she's been neglecting her studies draws a faint look of dark amusement, and she nods. "This time it wasn't super-powered rednecks from another dimension." That was her last excuse, and her last request for assistance. "It did. It had taken the soul of a friend of mine. The fight could have gone a little better." She says the last in a rueful tone, as if to emphasise the understatement she's making. "What do you already know?"


Strange knows better than pressure Illyana into seeking his council or aid, so he nods and invites her to sit down by the low table of the living room. Wong will bring the tea soon. "It crossed over the last day of August," and Illyana was probably in Genosha, so she couldn't sense it coming. "I tried to stop the beast, and it fled to the light of Agamotto. But then I wasted my time closing the tear in the veils, instead of giving immediate chase. It was a mistake, as the Bear managed to hide from even the Orb while it hunted its quarry. Ever since it has clashed with several supernatural and superhumans in the region, and stole several human souls, growing stronger. I talked to the Cheyenne shaman Black Eagle and now I know a little of his story. Apparently it takes souls, but it can't consume them. The first taken were William and Margaret Lonestar in Colorado, but they managed to exile the Bear for a while. Then it went after their daughter, Danielle Moonstar, Valkyrie and Agent of SHIELD. Moonstar apparently managed to defeat the creature once, but it came again in August. This time Moonstar fell, along with several others."


Illyana follows the Doctor to the table, unclasping the brooch that holds her cloak in place and draping it over the back of a chair. She takes another few moments to remove her gloves, too, and then finds another chair across from him.

The revelation that the bear crossed over as long ago as August makes Illyana pause, halfway to her seat, and look up sharply. So much time lost. In another place, she'd have a particularly unpleasant curse in a particularly unpleasant demonic language to use in response to that news, but in the Sanctum she's a bit more circumspect. "I didn't sense it then." She says instead, with an edge of irritation, whether at herself or the bear isn't clear. As Strange continues to explain, Illyana completes her interrupted move to seat herself.

What she hears doesn't improve matters, although Illyana just nods when the Doctor mentions taking the time to make repairs to the fabric of reality before pursing the bear. She's not surprised, and she can't fault him. If she'd been there maybe they could have done both, but she wasn't. She continues to listen, a faint smirk appearing on her lips when he mentions his trip to meet Black Eagle, and she nods again when he finishes his story.

"I knew most of that already. We've been following the same leads - or at least, a friend of mine had the same idea as you, and spoke to Dani's grandfather. He told her the same thing, and it's why I'm here." Illyana leans forward, resting her arms on her knees. "Dani's soul isn't held by the bear any longer. She's alive, and back home. Not that I'm stupid enough to think that the bear is finished with her, or the rest of us." There's a hint of bitterness in her tone. Surely the bear hasn't had all its fun yet, despite the damage it's already caused. "It's strong." Illyana admits. "I've faced it twice and come off worse both times. I… we need to weaken it before round three, and that means taking back the souls it's stolen." Illyana smiles, but the look in her eyes is dark. "Can you help me with that?"


"It has grown very strong." Confirms Strange, taking the seat at the other side of the table. "Even now we feel the winter bite deep, the Bear attacks the whole city. But I think it underestimates the human ability to deal with foul weather. It is wasting power."

The news Danielle is free are quite welcomed. Finally someone brings good news! "And perhaps she has the Thunder Arrow still? The Ghost Warrior, Ripclaw, obtained a weapon that should be very effective against the Bear, but lost it to Moonstar."

As for his plan, there is not much yet. But as Wong brings the tea, Strange adds. "I have come to believe the Bear is a corrupt spirit, not a true demon. I want to trap it and free the captured souls. Then we can try to heal or purge the corruption. If it is not possible, it should be trapped and jailed. Destroying it might cause it just reform somewhere else on Earth."


"Maybe." Illyana doesn't sound convinced. "But when it attacked us… it wasn't just powerful. It's cunning, too. It's dangerous to assume it's made a mistake now." Twice now, the bear has constructed traps from Illyana's own memories for her. The idea that there's no ulterior motive behind the bear's most wide-ranging attack yet doesn't feel right to her. Illyana sits back in her chair and crosses her legs at the knee, brooding. She almost misses the change in Strange's demeanor.

"She was carrying something with her." Illyana admits, almost reluctantly. Keeping secrets is what she does, but that hasn't helped her against the bear. Still, changing her habits isn't easy. "There was magic in it, and not from the bear. Unless Dani has a collection of mystical weapons, Ripclaw might be in luck." She's wearing a thoughtful look. She's intrigued to know just how Dani got this 'Thunder Arrow' away from Ripclaw, but she decides to wait and ask the man herself. Considering how much larger and more cybernetic he is than Dani, it should be an interesting answer.

Illyana looks up when Wong returns with the tea and takes the offered cup. "Thank you, Wong." He gets a smile, but it doesn't last as Strange begins to outline his plan. "We need to trap it to free the souls, but the souls it has might make it too strong to trap." Illyana sips her tea. "Can you find its victims? The soulless?"


Strange shakes his head. "Its actions are erratic because all the souls inside influence its behavior. On the other hand, it might be it knows all they know." Which means it has the knowledge of at least a dozen humans. At least no longer from any SHIELD agent.

Strange does not know the Bear took the Winter Soldier's soul or he would be far more worried.

"I have a soulless her, a woman called Nimisha." Explains the sorcerer. "She is in stasis to prevent body deterioration. However, the Bear keeps in his power the bodies of several soul-taken and probably can control them." He sips from his tea and adds, "since it still has the souls of Moonstar's parents, I think she is still going to be a target. I also suspect she was the original target. Although why, or maybe… -who- sent the Bear to her, are still unknowns."


"It knew everything Dani knew about me." The words are spoken flatly. "Nothing I did was a surprise to it." Illyana grimaces. "Even when I decked Dani, I have a feeling it let me do it." Illyana shakes her head, annoyed at having played the bear's game. "That's not all, though. It knew how to push my buttons, better than Dani ever could. And it offered me…" Illyana cuts off abruptly. "It offered me something that shouldn't have been possible. It might have been an illusion, but… it felt real. It felt like it could deliver on its promise." Illyana's spent an hour or two in Limbo staring at her Bloodstone amulet and she's /still/ not sure what really happened in the bear's shadow realm. It still bothers her.

The news that Strange has one of the bear's victims on the premises perks Illyana up. "You have?" She asks with interest and more than a hint of anticipation, and looks a little impatient while she waits for Strange to conclude his explanation. "If you'd be willing to let me borrow her for an experiment, maybe we could ask her?" Illyana raises her hands in a display of non-aggression with her palms out, then twists her writs so that her palms are facing upwards. A long silver sword materialises, resting on her hands. "This might sever the bear's link to her, and bring her soul back home." She shrugs. "Then again, it might not. Want me to try?"


Maybe Illyana should have explained how much Moonstar knows about her. He has heard the familiarity she is talking about 'Dani' but he can only guess. Strange himself did some research on Illyana years ago, as previous Supreme Sorcerers did on Belasco when he took over Limbo. Which is why he accepted her as disciple. But he does not know enough to know how to 'push her buttons'. The Bear did? That is worrisome.

"It might have been some kind of mystical insight," suggests Strange. Or it might have been Dani's psychic power to know the heart desire and greatest fear. Again, something Strange does not know.

"As for experiment with an innocent, if we do it would be with the utmost caution," he states. Stabbing the poor woman with the Soulsword would not be very safe, in his opinion.


Illyana gives the Doctor a suspicious look, then smiles slightly. "You don't know either." It's not really an accusation, and Illyana doesn't seem disappointed. More reassured that the Sorcerer Supreme isn't doing so very much better than she is, after all. 'Mystical insight' indeed.

There's definite anticipation in Illyana's eyes - along with the reflected glow from the Soulsword - while she waits for Strange to give his verdict on her idea. When it comes, this time there is disappointment in her expression. With a sigh, the Soulsword is banished and Illyana crosses her arms instead. "Fine. If that doesn't get you anywhere, give me a call." She hadn't quite realised until that moment how much she wanted to hurt the bear. Dani's back, true, but Illyana had no hand in that. And she has reasons beyond saving a friend to want to cause the bear pain. More selfish reasons. With a grimace Illyana decides she'd better get to the other reason that she's here.

"There's something else, too." She admits in a grim tone. "You may get a visit from a really uptight man who wears red sunglasses. He'll want to talk to you about me."


"Illyana, I am counting on you for the Bear-hunting posse. I think your sword will give us an important advantage," comments Strange with a humorless smile. "Ripclaw will be with us, and a few others. Perhaps Danielle Moonstar should join us too," he suggests. "I feel I should meet her before confronting the Bear."

A really uptight man with red sunglasses. Right. About time.

"I will make sure he learns you are a most wise, dutiful and responsible disciple," comments Strange. Totally deadpan. Even Wong has a coughing attack when he hears THAT.


There is something subtly wrong about the dignified Doctor Strange announcing the formation of a 'bear-hunting posse'. Illyana pauses before taking a sip of her tea, her eyes flicking up over the rim of the cup to meet Strange's, followed by a deliberate raising of her eyebrows. It's as if she wants to assure herself that, yes, he really did say those words. She holds the look for a beat, then completes her sip and puts her teacup aside. "I wouldn't miss it." She says the words lightly - or at least that's her intention. There's a dangerous undercurrent to the words, betraying that she's relishing the chance to get some revenge on the spirit.

Illyana doesn't react to Strange's suggestion that he should meet Dani. That's not her decision to make. It might not even be Dani's, if a certain individual with questionable taste in eyewear has his way.

Illyana has to admit that Strange's poker face is excellent as he delivers that line. A slight narrowing of her eyes is the only sign of her irritation at his sense of humour, but Wong's cough breaks the moment and, finally, she allows a wry smile to touch her lips. "Please. I need him to believe you KNOW me." She says, sardonically. Although she does glance toward Wong and favour him with a more genuine smile - for his more genuine reaction.

All sign of amusement has left her expression when she looks back toward the Doctor again. "He saw my less agreeable side." Illyana tells Strange shortly. "And now…" She snorts. "He doesn't trust me. I can't really blame him, but the timing couldn't be worse." She pauses and takes a breath. "He wanted a contingency plan. To… deal with me. You were the only thing I could think of." She holds Strange's gaze for a few moment's more, then looks away. "Congratulations."


"I disagree," replies Strange, shaking his head, "you should be judged by your deeds, not your appearance or even your words. I am teaching you more magic because I believe you love the Art as much as I do, and I trust you will use it to protect the world, not just for your own benefit. You need an alternative to the dark magics you learned in your childhood, which will only further harm your soul on the long run. What I am teaching you, the techniques, not just the spells, will make you stronger both in mind and soul."

Contingency plan, uh? Fine. He can be the contingency plan.

"I have to apologize," says Wong. "You are indeed wise beyond your years - and responsible too. Dutiful as I understand it, er… well, I think you still have to learn to trust us more. But I hope it will come to happen in time," he oriental man bows, and retires to the kitchen.


Having someone who's actually seen the Darkchilde - not just seen it, but seen what it can do - and who's still willing to offer her their trust means a lot to Illyana. Is she going to admit that out loud? Of course she isn't. "Now I feel bad for asking you to teach me better ways to beat up super powered rednecks from other dimensions with magic." She clearly doesn't, and she may even be reminding Strange that she still has more to learn on that score.

Shifting in her chair as Wong makes his apology, Illyana shakes her head. "As long as you make me tea you never have to apologize, Wong." Illyana tells him before he can get away. Once again, she seems oddly charmed by Doctor Strange's assistant.

Illyana takes a breath and then faces Strange again. "I'll see what I can do about bringing Dani here. If not, you might need to make a house call." Maybe she can kill two birds with one stone, if he does. "Speaking of either of my homes, I have no desire to visit either of them right now. And since I'm here… what's our next lesson?"


"Next lesson," Strange had not thought about the next lesson, he has been so busy. But… "how about we go to the workshop and I show you my spellcraft on spirit binding? It is not the same as binding demons, most spirits are not outsiders." He finishes the tea and stands. "I would appreciate your insight, since you have met the monster we will hunt. And of course, you can stay here for the eve. Wong can prepare a guest room for you."

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