September 24, 2018:

The Darkchilde steals away Pietro Maximoff from his dear sister, Wanda.


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Demons are everywhere.

Well, just about.

There are surely strongholds and safehouses here and there, their protections (mostly) thrown hastily up, but even so, the demons still run amok.

Big demons, little demons, and oh-jeez-what-the-hell-is-that sorts of demons.

One might easily get the picture of just what Hell must surely look like simply by looking out their window. And it's not pretty. At all.

The Mistress of this Hellish conflagration can be found high in Stark Tower, her current Citadel for this particular world. The roving bands of demons are thickest here and twined around her fortress is an even more fearsome sight - a dragon.

Within the Tower it's not much better. While the dragon surely stays outside the Tower, the demons do not. They mill about, guarding and protecting and watching their Mistress. After all the Darkchilde is a restless sort of creature and they know to stay aware of her moods at all times.

And right now her mood isn't the best.

There's the sound of her cloven hooves as Illyana Rasputina rises from her throne and with a step down, the woman says, "I'm bored."

Those two words are enough to cause every demonic eye to twitch over to their Mistress and within each yellow, red and black eye fear appears. No one, however, offers a word to her statement. Instead they just wait.

Which is the wrong decision as her serpentine eyes slash over to the multitudes of demons that sit within her throne room. "Did you /hear me/." The Demoness hisses dangerously and her words bring a prompt chorus of -

"Yes yes, Mistress."

And then, "Bored. You bored. So terrible."

And finally one brave soulless-sort, "Let's play game?"

And it's that last demon's words that cause Illyana to pause, just before death reigns down upon them. "A game." She muses, "Yes, let's play a game."

She turns away from them and reaches out to touch her scry crystal and with a smile the Demoness says, "Find me something amusing."

Her words and actions cause the rustle of many crackling sighs, as the demons avert another tragedy.

As for the crystal, it senses what its mistress really wants and with a flash of energy the crystal reaches outward, searching for a particular twin.

Twins really, but the crystal will settle for one.

And if the crystal had a voice it would say 'Pietro Maximoff where art thou?'.

It doesn't take long. Pietro is not far, after all.

Demonic invasion is perhaps one of the few conditions under which Mutant Town might fare a little better than the citywide average, due to a higher proportion of the denizens having natural weapons than the norm. Nonetheless, there are still a large number of mutants with combat-useless powers — or who are actually actively debilitated by their powers. These types suffer the worst, in a part of the city which is already lowest on the priority list of the authorities.

This is where the Brotherhood comes in. The instruction out to all cells that will heed the Twins is simple: help and protect. From the demons — and, if necessary, from humans who think they can use the chaos to get away with things they would not otherwise.

The situation is bad enough that the Twins are temporarily separated. Wanda is across Mutant Town helping to stabilize a few shaky buildings whose foundations took bad hits from a few rowdy rock demons; Pietro is here, in the center of it, slicked with sweat from stretching his powers, and from the heat of the active tenement fire he is trying — singlehandedly — to put out.

He's already extracted everyone from within the building — it took him about five seconds — and he's paused half a second for a breath of smoke-free air before trying to actually quell the flames.

There he is.

Saving people. The Queen of Limbo snorts softly to herself and murmurs, "How valiant." And then, much like the screen of a phone, Illyana expands the picture outward. It spirals to a larger picture, a bird's eye view of the burning building, across the facetted surface and idly the woman continues to watch.

Even with her expression half-amused the demons nearby can see the calculation within the woman's reddened eyes. Soon enough that calculation turns to a decision.

"Two birds, after all." States the blonde demoness, "Retrieval and pain." And while her words may not make much sense to her demons, Illyana understands exactly what she means by them.

Now comes the action.

In the half a second that Pietro takes for a breath of smoke-free air something happens.

That something is possibly heralded by a prickle of unease, as the energy around the building shifts.

Then, from within, a mote of light flickers to life. That spark of light rapidly expands outward and forms a circular portal. A stepping disc. Only as the gateway expands it literally rips through the walls, the foundation, the flame, heat and fire, and brings it down.

Bricks and mortar, cement and drywall collapse inward and when the building is completely down the stepping disc closes with a blaze of light.

It's only then that a figure is seen, standing there in front of where the building was.

Illyana Rasputin.


Horns and hooves, tail and reddened eyes have changed her form. Still, that same sort of sardonic humor can be seen upon the lines of her face as she turns a blood-red eye upon Pietro. "There." She states in greeting, "I helped."

Pietro feels it. He feels it earlier than most would, in fact. Half a lifetime of close-quarters exposure to pure chaos and raw magic will make one sensitive to the flows of energy, even if one has no personal aptitude in such things. He certainly had to think fast often enough, over the years, whenever it seemed Wanda's powers were about to go out of control. With time, he developed something a bit like the sixth sense fathers develop to know when a deadly fall or disaster is imminent.

Neutrally, the speedster watches as the building is taken out completely, flames and all. In his perception, it takes a long time, his accelerated nature allowing him to observe every nanosecond of it. It is therefore telling that he does not try to do anything to stop it.

He wants to see who is responsible. And he gets her.

"You call that helping?" is his initial reply, sharp and wary. His blue eyes take in all the ways in which she has changed. "That's smashing an entire car to take a dent out of the fender."

He straightens up, facing her, and his sister's gifted ring on his right hand glitters briefly with scarlet. He has no solid proof, but he has a heavy suspicion:

"What have you done, Rasputina?"

Illyana's actions are consistently over-the-top and it's only worse as the Darkchilde.

The extravagance is now tenfold although behind her actions is something much more than just the need for amusement.

There's something deadly. Cold. Calculating.

His question on whether her help is truly pulls a shrug from the woman. "Tomato, Tomahto." She responds carelessly and with his next words the Demoness smiles.

Whereas some might deny that she's done anything, Illyana does not. She embraces it fully, "I've saved us, Pietro Maximoff and the Witch too. Without my 'help' our world would have been sundered. Now its free."

And with that 'naming' of Wanda, Illyana playfully cants her eyes this way and that, making a show of looking around. "Where is your Twin?" She asks, as if she doesn't already know, but there are games to be played currently, "I was so looking to chat with her. We never did get to finish our talk from last time."

Easily now, as she speaks, Illyana steps toward Pietro. The softest clip and clop can be heard with each step thanks to her cloven hooves.

"Saved us?" Pietro repeats, incredulity sunk deep into his voice. He looks up, at the sickly sky, at the demons that still fall from the rifts slashed between the darkling clouds. He looks back down, at the new and deadly way in which Illyana carries herself. "You call this freedom? People are dying! What were you preventing that was worth this?"

He steps forward, his eyes narrowing. "Or is this just some bullshit justification?"

Mention of Wanda, though — that gets Pietro to lock up still and deadly-silent. The familiar rage blazes up in his blood to hear Illyana speak of her so mockingly — to hear those implicit threats in the demoness's voice. He should wait, should call Wanda to help with a threat of this nature, but he does not want Wanda anywhere near this creature, and anger beats in his blood hard enough to make him reckless.

"Close," is his sole answer, his voice taut with rage. "And under no obligation to even give you the time of day. Don't even speak her name."

There is no warning that anyone of average reflexes could possibly perceive, when Pietro bolts suddenly from zero to several thousand miles per hour. Even the crack of the sound barrier breaking comes later than his actual movement. He leaps right towards her face, at first — but then swerves, darting around her and driving straight at her back instead, in a lightning-quick feint intended to knock her flat on her front, so he can pin her.

Perhaps to his detriment, even now the attempt is not a lethal one. The short hex-blade he tries to press to the back of her neck is intended to coerce and not kill.


Others would say something to that - to prove what they've done doesn't need justification that. To show that they truly did save the world.

But not Illyana. She knows what she sacrificed and while she should feel a pang of loss for what she's sacrificed, she doesn't. There's only emptiness.

And the only thing that fills that emptiness is other people's pain now.

It's a game. She's like a petulant Queen whiling the empty hours away in-between plotting.

His rebuff of her speaking about Wanda causes a smile to curve her lips upward. There might even be a sparkle to her red eyes as well.

And while Illyana has access to the full gambit of her powers here on Earth, there are still things that confound the mystic and the magical. Like speed. No matter how many spells you imbue in yourself there are still things that are able to get past them.

And so, the Darkchilde is struck from behind and downward she tumbles.

His advantage affords him the ability to pin her to the ground and while it may seem like his attack is successful, it soon turns not. The touch of the hexed-blade upon her neck causes an instinctive reaction from her -

Silver armor, Eldritch for those aware of such things, immediately appears between skin and knifepoint and then it covers her whole body.

A low chuckle (muffled at this point) might be heard and as that sound of amusement dies, Pietro will find his world turning upside down.

Invisible bands of energy lash out and wrap tightly around the white-haired mutant's form, capturing arms and legs and entangling them from any sort of movement. Once secured the bands lift Pietro up and allow him to hang there in the air, his feet nowhere near the ground.

The Darkchilde rises fluidly up from the ground and back to her feet and with a look, she says, "You." Disdain lines her voice heavily, "Piotr. You're all the same. So easy to control with but one word." Her silver encased hand extends toward the man expectantly and those invisible bindings flash brightly for a minute to reveal the chains that encircle the speedster.

The end of those chains rests in Illyana's hand, "One name."

Perhaps under different circumstances, these two would be speaking of what they have respectively sacrificed, and sharing their mirror stories. For they have both sacrificed in order to see their goals achieved — and those sacrifices they made were of themselves. Something about their own natures which they were sad to see go, but willingly cut out of their souls anyway for some perceived greater good.

Perhaps. But those circumstances are not now.

Now is only hot fury branding his blood, fear and outrage alike pushing him to try to solve this threat to Wanda before it ever gets close to his sister. Pietro may have his father's looks, but he has little of the man's cold patience, the calculation to wait and wait until just the right moment. Wanda got that — and Wanda is not here.

For a moment, however, it almost seems as if Quicksilver's overconfidence in his own vast speed will be rewarded. He hits Illyana like a runaway lightning strike, pinning her beneath himself with the back of her neck primed for the threat of his blade. But he does not aim to kill. For all his posturing, all his slow acceptance of his father's creed, all culminating in that vicious attack on Tony Stark — there is still that shred of mercy in him that makes him hesitate: in most situations. Magneto rails against it as the enduring weakness of his son, that persistent point of failure he cannot beat out of Pietro's blood. That softness.

Of course, in this case, that decision does not matter at all. Speed may overwhelm magic that still needs to be cast, but it fails against that which is already prepared. His blade triggers a defensive reaction faster than thought, faster even than him. Perhaps Wanda could have cancelled it. Maybe. It will never be clear now. There is a reason the Twins rarely fight apart. Together they are immensely strong, each one covering the other's weaknesses, each one destroying obstacles to the others' attacks. But apart…?

Apart, the ending is this: Pietro, shackled and bound, pulled away from the earth that enables the full range of his powers. He strains against the chains, and there is a brief hum in the air as he tries to accelerate their molecular structure to shatter them. But the very definition of magic is that it confounds all conventional physics; there is no means for him to break these particular shackles.

His bond with Wanda — an old hex sewing their souls together — shivers like a touched spider-web. Wherever she is, the Scarlet Witch will feel her twin's distress.

There are a lot of things Pietro could say at this point. But when his head lifts, there is one thing he seems to focus on first.

So easy to control with one word, she mocks. "Easy to control with our love for our sisters," he hisses in low clarification. "What have you done to your brother?"

Pietro Maximoff and Illyana Rasputina's lives do have a ring of similarity to them.

A mirror, cracked in some ways, of self-sacrifice for family and in some ways the better part of the world.

The Elder Gods or the warping of all reality would have detrimental effects upon the world at large.

And sadly, even after all is said and done and Illyana is brought back from this momentarily lack of sense and sensibility that conversation will likely never take place.


The vibrations against the shackles prompts a soft click of her tongue, a sound of reprimand from the Darkchilde. The question of her brother and what has happened with him brings forth an amused sound. "Oh, he lives." She says with a casual tone, "Not that you truly care for him, or what happens to him."

"Now." She continues, "Time to cease all this talking. To drop the charade that you're going to find a way out of my bonds if only you keep me distracted enough. You won't. You're mine now and it's time to go, but first -"

Her hand tightens upon the chain and with that movement electricity crackles to life. The brilliant bright-blue flare of energy arcs from her hand to the chain itself, traversing up each individual link until finally it hits Pietro with the smell of burnt ozone and a static-filled hiss accompanying it.

"For your earlier transgressions."

Piotr and Illyana. Pietro and Wanda. Very similar, in many ways, if one thinks about it. Devoted brothers, who would do anything for sisters caught up by great and horrific forces beyond mortal ken. Young people faced with making terrible choices: the good of the world, or their own souls?

But if there was any opportunity for them all to recognize that similarity — to perhaps, someday, speak of it — that opportunity dies here and now. Some things cannot be forgiven.

Pietro ceases his fight against the chains, though his blue eyes still stare holes through Illyana with equal parts fury and cold derision. Not that you care about him or what happens to him, Illyana dismisses, and Pietro coughs a beleaguered laugh. "Projecting, are you?" he inquires. "I pity him, to have a sister like yourself. Of course, not everyone can be — "

And he is interrupted.

He was, in fact, trying to distract, or at least delay. To buy himself time to figure out a way out of this. The suggestion in Illyana's words that she wishes to take him for some purpose is a quiet alarm bell in the back of his mind, but it's a distant second in his thoughts to the urgency of getting free. But of course, Illyana is not so easily distracted.

Pietro has weathered a lifetime of physical pain, but there are some things that overcome even endurance. He screams as that searing jolt of energy burns through his blood, discharging itself eventually from his skin with a snap-hiss of burning electricity, and afterwards hangs limp in his bonds, breathing shallowly, head down.

There is room for only one thought in his mind, a distant warning he has a sinking feeling will not be heeded: do not come to me.


Illyana understands pain.

As such, she watches the electricity burn through the captured man and when he screams she can't quite stop the smile that curves the corners of her mouth upward.

It's only as he hangs there limply that she addresses him once more. "Oh please finish your sentence." Requests the Darkchilde coyly, "Though perhaps I should help - 'Of course, not everyone can be like the Witch'. There's truth with what you say there, you know. She's special. Far more special than what most perceive."

"Tell me though, does she hasten here now? Surely the pain you feel will shake her out from wherever you've hidden her, yes?" Her head tilts thoughtfully, "Or perhaps it won't. Perhaps she'll be the smart one and stay away." Thoughtfully, Illyana's reddened eyes flick off to the side, as she considers whatever thoughts play out within her head. "That just won't do. Not that matters, I know what will bring her out." Her expression holds both mirth and madness, as she turns her gaze back upon the white-haired mutant. She understands exactly what she's doing here and why; only now she has no moral compass to stop her.

"It's ironic you know." She states conversationally, "That you and my brother hold such similar names. There's almost a beauty to it."

And with her words the chain she holds is purposely dropped from her hand. As soon as it touches the ground the metal literally takes root, merging with the cement and asphalt. Those silver links lengthen and stretch outward, radiating into a formalized pattern. With Pietro's slightly higher viewpoint it might be enough for him to see what shape takes form below - a pentacle.

A star within a circle.

Pietro will find himself chained to the very center of it; where high magics are often worked from.

The Darkchilde stands at the base of the star, already facing Pietro, "And now you will take his place. A dark paladin to protect against all who seek to destroy me."

Here now comes the spell.

It starts with a single sharp word spoken in a tongue that h as never existed upon Earth. It drips with darkness and secrets, of shadow and pain, and from it a pitch-black fire leaps upward within the center of the pentacle.

Those flickering flames twine around the chain and hasten upward, link by link.

The flames ascend until finally it reaches Pietro and lances outward, striving to bury themselves deep within his flesh, singing a blistering song of burning coercion.

It seeks to scorch out all freewill, to incinerate all loyalties to ash for those ones Pietro Maximoff cares for, for those he loves.

To burn the mark of the Darkchilde into the man who holds the scarlet touch of the Witch.

Silence descends after the pain stops. Silence — but not stillness. Pietro shakes where the chains do not hold him too immobile to move, involuntary shocks still spasming through his system. Yet he is still aware enough to listen when she speaks. Still aware enough to comprehend the words.

"Not quite," Pietro says, his voice reduced to a rasp. "I was going to say… not everyone can be Wanda."

He lapses into a pained silence after that, his skin still crawling with the memory of that searing electricity. Illyana speaks, at turns taunting and conversational, ruminating on whether this shall be enough to draw out his twin. Perhaps pain alone won't be enough, but Illyana knows something else which might be more than sufficient — or so she claims.

"What happened to 'time to cease all the talking?'" Pietro asks in a dry, thin snarl, regaining enough strength to yank at the chains. Especially as he can now see the spell forming underneath him. "Well, as we seem to be talking again, let me warn you that you will regret what you do here — "

The chains snap taut and cut him off. And Illyana reveals her gambit. Her blood brother has refused her… so she will make herself a new one out of this young man so like him in his basic protective drives.

Pietro's eyes widen. "No," he refuses, a twin so imprinted upon his identity as brother to certain woman, that the idea of some other receiving his fraternal loyalty hits him like a slap in the face. "Not for you — "

But she does not intend to give him a choice.

The flames race up the binding chain and suffuse him. There is no screaming this time — just taut silence, as magic burns Pietro Maximoff's basic nature away from the inside out. It purges emotion, erases memory, unravels bonds that have formed over the years of his life. It is difficult work, as the spell must worm its way through all the Scarlet Witch's marks worked deep into her brother's body, mind, and soul, but there is something to be said for the overt power that Illyana can bring to bear now, while Limbo intersects over reality itself. For that matter, as she delves, she will find that for whatever reason, Pietro's mind itself seems to have a certain surprising susceptibility, as if many years ago it was passed over by the touch of something vast and unknowable. Illyana's spell burns through him, little by little —

— and then it finds that bond. The old hex has been knotted time and time again, rewoven countless times over the years. In the end it is smothered, not broken — the magic covers it, and that connection the Twins have shared for over half their lives goes dark.

The spell finishes. It drops him, scorched and shaking, to hands and knees in the middle of that expended circle.

Expediency is a trait of both Maximoffs.

Within moments, reality sunders. The empty space before both of them distorts, then rips open in tearing scarlet —

— and out through the gutted-out hole in time and space, the Scarlet Witch strides through on a quick, silent, furious pace. There is no hesitation or pause to her movement, deliberate and purposeful, expecting the world itself to bow, docile, to her every entropic whim.

It takes one look at the Witch to know she felt it. To know she heard. To know she knows.

The red consumes her, wreathing her in an unholy aura — scarlet curling and tendriling like smoke off her skin. It burns off her shaking hands, some fingers artfully splayed, others bent in preparatory gesture; it burns off her eyes, moondogging into the dark.

It webs like mapping veins from her dark side, molten-bright; the Witch is not a woman who comes bearing power. She is power barely-contained within its fallible flesh shell, and she fissures to hold it.

Every function of Wanda's life has been control. Until now, when she looks once to her twin brother, and lets it all go.

Her forward pace does not stop. The earth deatomizes, fragments, under her every step. And the Witch, glowing hands open, moves for Illyana.

She flexes her fingers.

The corrupt sky sings with a new, ambient light. For a moment, it feels as almost the sun is back as it was — back in a rusted, hazy summer sunset —

— but to look up, instead, is to see the light playing off the shining bodies of a million swords, burning scarlet, hanging suspended in the air, their cruel ends pointed down.

The Witch says only one word: "Sheath."

They fall for Illyana.

There's a curious note that Illyana feels, as she spies the oddity of Pietro's mind, of that susceptibility. Almost she wants to delve further into that, but for now the woman doesn't. There are other things to prepare for.

Like Wanda Maximoff.

Reality rips and opens, allowing the Witch to step through. The Darkchilde isn't surprised, instead she just waits for the other woman to step through. To enter the playing field, or rather, battlefield.

Idly, the Demoness' eyes flick to Pietro, and with a smile they move back over to Wanda. "Hello, Witch." Greets the Darkchilde and while more was to be said the light from above brings the blonde's gaze and attention upward. She looks at those shining swords that hang so stridently over her head. Surely this is what Damocles must have felt like. The anxiety and fear of waiting for the sword to fall, for death to strike. Only for Illyana there isn't fear. Or anxiety. Only calculation.

That calculation turns into swift action as Wanda demands the swords to fall. To sheath sharply into the Darkchilde's body.

A cloven hoof stomps down upon the asphalt, a grounding, and with that grounding Illyana opens herself to the power that resides within Earth. The magical energies of Limbo. It's what allows her to speak a singular word of power, much like Wanda does, only her the word she speaks is full of mockery, "Halt."

And those scarlet swords stop inches away from burying themselves into Illyana Rasputina.

"Such pretty swords. Such perfect weapons." Speaks the Darkchilde, "So elegant." And now to Pietro, "Rise my Knight and take your weapon. Teach this witch what it means to attack the Darkchilde."

A smile is turned to Wanda Maximoff now. A look of triumph.

Wanda arrives. This would normally be the cue for Pietro to run instantly to her side, to stand in that spot he's accustomed to stand — in front of her and to her left, keeping his dominant hand and his strongest side ready to be her shield at a moment's notice.

He does not come to her.

Reality fluxes, battle joined between two immensely powerful sorcerous women, and still Pietro takes no part. He does not look up. Even when all the Witch's blades stop inches from Illyana, he does not react. Even with Wanda only feet away, her presence blazing like a scarlet beacon — he still stays right where he is.

He only lifts his head when Illyana speaks to him.

The spent circle around him flickers again with a pulse of magic, the neat lines of the pentagram folding up into three dimensions out from the scorched earth. They enfold him and cover him in darkness. Wanda loved her brother's white hair, and everything she ever clothed him in was always pure white; what Illyana's magic has to give him is jet black, a plated armor cut in sleek angles and swept-back lines. Not a hint of scarlet to be seen.

The last thing the magic gives him is a sword, as per Illyana's request — not unlike an estoc in form, suited to standing up to high speeds.

When addressed, he rises. He takes his weapon. And he steps into that spot, that one to which he is so accustomed, just in front and to the left — of Illyana Rasputina.

Now teach this witch what it means to attack the Darkchilde.

Nothing reflects in those familiar blue eyes. There is no initial response. Wanda, feeling across the bond, would find only a frayed end leading into a fathomless darkness, the other end lost in empty silence.

"As you wish," he finally says. Pietro advances on his own twin, eyes fixed on hers, though it is anyone's guess why he does not use his speed.

The swords stop. And so does the Scarlet Witch, arrested into stillness.

It feels as though pressure locks her probabilities into one position — an unseen, but felt force. And powerful. So powerful. Even as she strains, she cannot push against it.

More powerful than she is.

The thought shatters her will on that ceiling of blades, and some of the light snuffing out of her eyes, they turn to the object of Darkchilde's order.

Her twin brother, looking a way now she's never before seen him. Her twin brother, no more.

Oh, Wanda sensed. Wanda saw. Wanda knew. She knew of so many possibilities where she ends up alone. But it still breaks her heart to see it here, now, with her own eyes. She reaches her ephemeral hands through their bond, and her fingers only close, empty, around the void.

The scarlet pulses with dissonance around her hands. The swords, hanging harmlessly, in the sky, fray and static with her breaking hex, her unravelling power. Some blades melt away. Some vanish.

Others reroute their course.

They no longer want the Darkchilde, no longer point to her, but turn in betrayal back on the mistress who made them. They lash with red light, spearing down into the ground on either sides of her; Wanda must stumble to avoid being impaled. She still cuts herself on them, as they razor in too-close, because her eyes cannot look away from Pietro.

The shadow that wears his face steps for her, vacant of anything but his new queen's directive. And Wanda does something that she, in nearly thirty years, has never done before.

She fearfully backs away from him.

It's the swords that catch her still, lacerating her arms, bleeding her side, slitting her cheek to hold her. And with nothing left in her whole world but to trust the scarlet, dying along her hands, Wanda lifts them to Pietro's advancing form.

"Return," she pleads down through their bond.

The swords stop. The Witch stops. But the expressionless man who used to be her twin brother does not.

In so many ways, he is the same. As he steps towards her, he moves with that familiar strong grace Wanda has grown up seeing all her life — the perfected physical surety of a young man whose powers first required a fully optimized baseline.

Yet everything else is wrong. The way he looks at her with profound indifference. The way his presence feels in the warp and weft of this reality. The sick chitinous-black armor that Illyana's spell has spawned upon him to mark him, wrought to be lean and spare — to slice and shed wind off all its cruel angles. The long chain that dangles from his back, between his shoulderblades, dragging as he walks… but unmistakably tethered to Illyana Rasputina's will.

The way he does not respond to the sight of his twin sister backing away from him in fear, for the first time in her life.

Pietro Maximoff has always taken care of his sister in every way. He taught himself everything he knows, so he could teach Wanda at night between the jobs he worked to keep her warm and fed. He watched her while she slept, to guard against her nightmarish episodes. He washed and clothed her when madness and sickness rendered her too exhausted to do it herself. He raised her, alone, through years of devotion and hard work. When she was frail and afraid, his hand was always there to steady and protect her.

Here and now, that hand only reaches to brush aside the scarlet swords that have fallen in his path, barring him from her. His plated grip closes down on each one, pulling them loose and casting them aside as he steadily closes the distance.

Her hexes have never hurt him. They do not even now.

He only stops once he is close enough to touch her. His shadow drowns her. It should have been her only place of safety. It always has been her only place of safety. She pleads for it to still be — for things to go back to the way they ought to be.

Return, she begs, with a voice that can change reality.

Her twin hesitates. Their smothered bond shivers under the weight of her scarlet words. His blue eyes search her, as if trying to find something lost through a thousand leagues of murky sea. His grip on the blade gifted to him white-knuckles, all of him drawn tense and taut under demonforged steel.

Teach this witch what it means to attack the Darkchilde.

"I see nothing," says this nameless knight, as he looks into his sister's face.

Slyly Illyana Rasputin watches, her blood-red eyes unblinking as she takes in the discourse between the Twins.

The discordant discourse.

Avidly her eyes track over to Wanda's features and when the Witch backs away from her Twin, the Darkchilde looks delighted. Her delight continues to grow as the swords begin to disappear, or better yet, fall upon Wanda Maximoff; to cut and slice her, to draw blonde.

If this were the sea Illyana would be the shark. Waiting to sink teeth in the wounded animal that splashes.

Only the shark doesn't quite bite yet, not when Pietro pauses. That hesitancy brings Yana's attention right back to her Dark Prince and what she sees there causes the Demoness' expression to tip towards a frown. A shiver of tremor of energy runs up the chain that runs from Pietro and to Illyana's metaphysical hands. A subtle tug upon the leash that binds him to her, to make certain he stays true what she wants.

And what she wants is for the Witch to feel pain, to cry and weep, to burn.

So, when Wanda reaches out with hex and word, Illyana stretches her own magics out as well.

Blackened fingers of magic reach to worm their way into the other woman's hex. To twist and turn, to tug, to add disorder and disarray that isn't Wanda's own. To cause the chaos to bite its favored hand that so often feeds it.

And where Wanda pleads for Pietro to return, Illyana lazily replies with, "Begone."

Tests like these compel some to endure.

But Wanda Maximoff was never born to wear the mantle of steadfast heroine, clever princess, or warrior queen. She is the witch, and before, she was the victim. The sacrifice. The pariah.

The no one, whom every day probability told her should not exist, should already be dead, should never be.

It is for that reason while there is suffering on Wanda's face, eclipsed in her lost brother's shadow, there is no surprise. To a creature cursed to see through infinite permutations of infinite lives, she has seen her own loss or death so many times that such a thing is to be expected.

Still, the thought of him touching her now seems to terrify her, and the more Pietro comes closer, the more Wanda shrinks back. She turns her head to claim that last bit of space, the action making her throat kiss the edge of a sword. The blade runs with her blood.

She does now what she did before, when men would hold her down by the throat to cut off her hair and spit on her face, when their wringing hands would hold the witch under water in hopes she would drown, when they would stare at her through the pyre smoke —

Wanda does not close her eyes, because she can still see even when she does that — she will always see — but she turns them docilely away. Afraid, but accepting.

He says he sees nothing. A tear rolls from her averted eye.

"Return," begs Wanda one last time, raising one hand to let her running blood mix with the red light that crackles off her fingers. Her power is fleeting now, failing her, turning on her — like it did years ago, because there is nothing left in her to control it. Nothing without him.

The Darkchilde's magic runs its command all through the spell. Begone. Return. Gone. Return.

The scarlet turns on the witch, folding over her, closing her up, sundering reality to pull her straight out — and closing it behind her. As if she never existed at all.

Her scarlet swords fall and clatter, until all their bodies dust away, lost like trailing red smoke. Any last trace of the Scarlet Witch are a few droplets of her blood.

He comes close. But he never touches her. His blue eyes turn down to watch her when she shrinks back so heedlessly that she cuts her throat on the edge of a blade.

Her twin reaches out then — but not to her. His grip closes on that sword and wrenches it away, discarding it along with the rest. Her drawn blood prints his plated palm.

It would be a simple matter for him to reach forward again and take her throat in his hand. It is so small, such a slender thing, that he could fit it into his closing fist if he chose. Break it with a twist of his fingers. He knows this as well as he knows his own body; his hands have memorized her, over the many years. He's memorized other things about her, too. The way she looked while staring up at the howling, hating mobs, for example. He's seen that too many times.

She looks like that now, swallowed in his shadow, staring up at him.

It stops him. A shudder runs his body. Pietro does nothing. Long enough that Illyana grows restless, and pulls hard on the leash of her new dark prince. He stiffens, straightening up, his eyes tearing off his waiting twin to fix on some point far away… even as Wanda's failing hex backfires, envelops her, and returns her. To where? Pietro would know.

Pietro is not here.

The final test of Illyana's control is the last sight of Wanda's scarlet fading from the air. He looks at it, at the empty space where she once was, at the few drops of her blood that are all that remain. Then he drops to a knee, and his fingertips dip up her spilled blood. He watches it shine along the black of his armor, the last shades of recognition fading from his eyes.

A moment later, the world has its last glimpse of his face. His white hair, his blue eyes — the features he has worn so proudly and so overtly as a flag of his lineage — all those things obscure away beneath the veiling clasp of a raked helm, which closes about his head in a flux of demonic magic.

"We're finished here," he finally says. His voice sounds flat, as it filters through that visor. He turns his back and walks towards Illyana Rasputina, long restless strides eating the distance. His twin's blood dries on his right hand. "I am tired of this place."

"Then let us be off." The Darkchilde says, her gaze lingering upon the spot where that blood had spilt.

"There are more important things to be had."

With those words said, the Demoness turns her back upon the area and steps ahead. By the second step a portal sits awaiting the Darkchilde and the Dark Prince. It only closes when both have stepped within its circular bounds.

The only telltale sign of the struggle that took place here is the missing building and the dark burnt charcoal lines of a pentacle upon the street.

Half a world away, reality flickers, statics, and opens.

And Wanda Maximoff falls.

The cold earth catches her in one, ringing hit of unrelenting stone. Bones pop, the breath knocks out of her, and she tumbles, stopping only where rough rock fetches her up against an inlay before a precipice point.

Her eyes open, though she is not sure how long she spends trying to focus them, trying to see.

It is the cold that comes in first, in her first sensory undertaking. Ice lain over dry rock, stretching in permafrost, and so freezing it sticks her clothes to where she lays. The wind howls past her ears, so harsh it pushes on it, whipping her hair over her face.

She is outside, she knows, somewhere. In some winter. She tries to take in air, but whatever she takes in — cold and clean on her throat — makes her lungs strain. It hurts too much to move, and better yet, Wanda has no reason now to do such a thing — no single reason left in this life but to sigh out, and let her head settle down to the frost.

Eventually, her eyes focus, and in a single instant, she knows where she is.

The great Transian forest, sharp, coniferous, dry, and tainted — tainted — spreads out far down, far below, in a crippled dark vista under the shadow of familiar Wundagore Mountain. She is draped on its spires. It was never the climate to have snow capping its top, never wet enough, but it's still cold — so cold.

Her eyes chase the body of a familiar river, and then she sees it. Her home. She's home.

She's back home, and she's lost the only anything who has ever loved her.

Not even Wanda is certain when she starts to laugh. Return, she ordered. Return, indeed.

She laughs hollowly, cruelly, violently, laughs until it climbs into madness, laughs until the tears are pouring down her cheeks, laughs until the sound, like everything else, turns on her, distorting into a horrible, sick moaning, twisted with pure agony.

Not even Wanda is certain when it ends, and she lays there under the Transian sunrise, bleeding, her dark hair fluttering in the wind, her lips going blue.

"No more," she whispers into the thin air, "me." She stares at her closest hand, limp, red with blood and nothing else. Her scarlet, not listening. Her scarlet, not heeding. Her scarlet, gone like everything else.

Her eyes slip unfocused. There is no more she can do but wait.

Wait for death, as the shadows of curling claws stretch over the rock, their spidery hooks circling her body in a christianing welcome.

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