1965-02-06 - Finding the Prize!
Summary: The Shadow gives the journeymen of Kamar-Taj a run for their money!
Related: A Cracker-Jack Hunt
Theme Song: None
lamont strange 

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 5


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 6


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 15

Finally, karma ceases to mess with him….and Lamont vanishes in a curl of shadows. As the saying goes, he only has the one song, but boy, can he sing it. And then he's gone from their perception. Presumably on foot, for unlike his successor in the bat outfit, flight and gliding have never numbered among his powers.

Whatever the journeymen from Kamar-Taj were expecting, it wasn't vanishing from sight — and literal perception. Even as Aleski's mouth drops open the slightest, Victoria is taking brisk steps forwards. Her eyes are already lightened with the Sight, an attempt to spot the man and probably have a serious case of the Smug if he's still seated in that chair.

But alas, the Shadow has given them the slip in the immediate present and Strange curls a subtly-pleased smirk. The young woman pulls up short, a hand raised in a half-formed mudra, and her magic fizzles out as her self-confidence immediately plummets.

"It wasn't going to be that easy," the Sorcerer murmurs, sauntering over to lean a hip against the side of one of the tall-backed chairs. "And here is where my aid ends. I will know when you've managed to catch him — or I shall fetch you when time is up."

"How much time do we have?" This from Aleski, taking his place beside a Victoria indulging in some serious teeth-gritting.

Strange lifts a hand and sketches out a few symbols in mid-air. The neon lines weft and warp to form an hourglass in pale-orange. "An hour. It should be more than enough time." He moves his hand as if waving away smoke and the time-keeping device reforms as a temporary living icon on the backs of their left hands. "Off you go." The mild dismissal might throw them all the more. Victoria nods shortly and jogs out of the living room, while Aleski rubs at one shoulder before following her.

Lamont. They have an hour, he kythes across the distant to wherever the Shadow has gone.

There is a flicker of mute acceptance, tinged with keen amusement, from his fleeing student. No words, just acknowledgement, and the sense of a mind working busily….and swiftly distancing itself. Someone's snagged a ride on the back of something motorized, unseen as a gremlin. All the better to leave no traces of scent, should one apprentice shift into something with a beast's nose.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 17


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d2 for: 1

As soon as the two in rust-red have emerged into the small hallway leading into the foyer, Strange allows himself a toothy grin.

"This'll be interesting…" he muses to himself, lazily opening a Gate to the Loft itself. He settles down in a proper meditative Lotus position in the center of the wooden platform, the stained-glass light from the Anomaly Rue window shining down upon him. One deep breath after aligning his spine and…swish, out from the corporeal and into the Astral. Limned with the ambiance of starlight as always, he wills himself down to shadow the ones being tested. It's just as easy to will himself to ghost to the Shadow's side, but not quite yet.

"He's…gone," Aleski mutters, rubbing at the side of his nose.

"Yes and no," Victoria demurs quietly. "I feel like I've seen that magic before, but I don't know where. Or maybe I read about it? Regardless, this won't be too difficult."

"No? I'd say it's difficult already. He took his coat and hat." The blond gestures at the empty coat hooks. His partner-in-test snorts.

"It doesn't matter. Go check the chair he was sitting in for any hairs. Make sure they resonate to that…awful red and black combination of colors. Anything else may be Master Strange's and I won't make that mistake."

Aleski raises an eyebrow at her haughty tone, but obeys nonetheless. Upon reaching the chair in question, he squints. "Well…ah, here." He pulls a short length from the inner backing of the cushion. "This should do."

"Good. Cast the compass spell already."

"You are being impatient," Aleski reminds her lightly.

"We're being timed, Aleski, get on with it already!" Victoria snaps. Lamont will feel the tiniest vibration along the hairs of his neck as the spell aligns to his locale. Then comes the sudden sparkling of golden Gating, signature transportation of those tutored at Kamar-Taj, not a dozen feet ahead on the sidewalk. Both young people step out and begin to look, their narrowed eyes bright with the Sight.

Of course. A swift method of transport, but not subtle to the senses of magic. Not in the least, with the Catherine wheels that precede a Gate's opening. He's still hidden from their Sight, for the moment, but that won't last long. So, how are they tracking him? Even as he moves, he's reaching for their minds - focussing in on Aleski as likely the least focussed. A swift skim of his thoughts - what means are they using, to appear so swiftly?

Ah ha, sympathy, a tiny piece of him held at his side. Rather than pry further at the young magician, he turns his attention to a pair of passing mortals, trying to inject them with a jolt of fear and anger…focussing it on Aleski. Perhaps he can make him drop it, or loosen that grip enough to steal it.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 18

Not an understated arrival at all, but thank goodness for mundane propensity to dismiss magic as a trick of peripheral vision. My, what an interesting play of light that was around those young people! That must be new fashion, tsk, how odd.

Victoria takes her cues from Aleski, who has a far keener sense of where Lamont is at this time. A…moving target? His head continues to turn at a fixed rate and the brunette with the short haircut hisses.

"He's running as he should. Coward. Can you tell if he's off the ground?" She looks askance at the young man. Frowning slightly, the blond is slow to reply.

"Yes, but…" He sounds distracted. "Something…touched me. My mind."

"What?" Victoria looks properly shocked just as someone slams jarringly into the back of her co-student. Aleski yelps and throws out his arms for balance, needing to spread his hand or risk slamming knuckles against a nearby trash bin. "Crikey, what the hell's wrong with you?!" She's immediately in the man's face, who looks equally reddened with emotion.

"S-Sorry!" He manages, tugged away by his concerned wife. "Thought I saw a rat!"

The pair scurry off, leaving her to turn and find Aleski grimacing. "You lost the hair, didn't you."

The flat question earns her a good glower. Turning away, the young man grumbles a stream of terse Swedish. Squaring his shoulders, he glances over his shoulder at Victoria. "Yes, but the touch can be traced as well. It will be like chasing the wind, but I have done it before."

This next feeling of attachment upon Lamont will be located at the ring finger, the gentlest tug, as if someone were testing the tensile strength of flyfishing line. Again, another Gate from point A to point B, a little ahead of his traveled route, and doesn't Victoria have a bulldog-ish set to her jaw when she appears again.

That's the Catch-22 - if he drops it, they can pick it up and use it to follow him. For it's nearly as much a part of his body as that hair. Moreso, really - the hair's only there for a year or two at most, but the Girasol has been next his skin, day in, day out, for decades. He can find it, it will find him.

Which is why he does next what he does. Namely, he removes the ring and drops it into the coat pocket of some poor salaryman, hurrying for the nearest subway station. Let the hounds orient on that, as he seeks to blur his own tracks.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 16

"Where is he, Aleski?" Both young people stand as still as pointers in a field, knowing that their target is close at hand. The blond is the first to move, glancing both ways to cross the street without being hit by any fast-moving vehicles. Victoria jogs after him and then his alignment turns in the opposite direction of the initial beacon's travel.

"This way. It's cloudy and the trail…breaks many times, but this way!" He breaks into a ground-eating run, arms churning, and leaves his test-partner practically in the dust. Poor salaryman. He's standing at the corner and waiting for the crossing signal to turn when someone tap-taps him on the shoulder. "You thought you were…oh —" The man is very confused now, transferring his briefcase to the other side of his body as Aleski curses up a Swedish storm. "YOU ARE NOT HIM!"

The briefcase is raised in a half-hearted shield. "What the hell?!"

"Never mind," Victoria pipes up from the man's other side, giving him a sparkling grin. A mild wave of lassitude washes over the salaryman and he returns the smile, albeit more woozily, as if sudden hit with a wafting of chloroform. "Where is the beacon, Aleski?"

The blond fishes out the ring after squinting at the coat and even as he's got his grip white-knuckled about it, Victoria releases the man from the brief charming. A Gate appears and collapses. He's in time to see the sparkling remnants litter the sidewalk and he blinks, still baffled.

On a nearby roof, having taken a knee, the young man holds up the ring to the wane light of day. "This is a powerful relic. It is risky to drop it." Victoria plucks it from his pinched fingertip-hold and tosses it once lazily — disrespectfully.

"Let me try…" she murmurs.

Now, to Lamont, comes a frisson across the bond between man and tarnished opal. It might be akin to hearing the far-off belling of aforementioned hounds. To the Shadow floats a low and amused baritone, easily recognizable by the muted Midwestern twang: Clever, Cranston.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 3


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 3

There's the rasping whisper that is his mental voice at a distance, with that cold, sweet undernote. «One must always be willing to walk away from material things. No matter what.» It has the air of a quote…..and then he's trying to cheat, by laying an impression of his mental signature on Strange himself. The Doctor forbade actual harm, but nothing along the lines of trying to stamp that target on the Sorcerer himself. Not *quite* cheating….and with Strange's power behind it, even for an instant, it should confuse both the ring and the hunters.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 13

That line of thought has the bittersweet taste of Shangri-La. The warm glint of a half-grin floats in the unseen Sorcerer's baritone. He's still within the Astral Plane and thus, he detects the wrapping of the attempt about his own signature. It's not too unlike attempting to blot the moon with the wisps of high winter's night. The sly laughter echoes across the momentary kything and then a click of the tongue. Imagine if I'd worn the white opal ring.

At this point, the pair of journeymen are pattering down the subway stairs. Leading the charge is Victoria herself, quite certain that nothing short of an enraged wildebeest is going to part her from the ring, and as she reaches the turnstiles, she simply…leaps them rather athletically. Aleksi follows, their persons smeared in illusory charm, and no one mundane objects. Standing by a pillar in the lurid light of the underground tunnel, she glares and scans the crowd. Then comes the very sudden disorientation to her; reality around her half-melts into a fever-dream as the combined scent of burnt myrrh and petrichor slaps her upside the face. The shadows lengthen and deepen while countered by a bright flash of celestine light and then she's got a hand over her face, slowly sighing out a high groan. Aleski has a hand on her shoulder, all concern.

"What is it?" he whispers.

"Prickly son of a sotted pair of kanga's balls is blurring the trail again by - by - by adding it to something else!" She hands off the ring to Aleski, who manages to deflect the worst of the combined effects. He blinks a few times and then orients in the general direction of Lamont once again.

"He's very near," comes the sharp murmur. Victoria is definitely looking about ready to sack the lanky man on the spot now.

Laughter isn't heard so much as felt, vibrating along the link like footsteps on a creaking old floor. Close contact with that magic is eerie. «Thank you for reminding me.» Then he's reaching *past* strange to the white and rose ring itself, bidding it wake and call to its partner - trying to rouse it like Mickey trying to wake that first crucial broom to do his chores for him. Turning the link between them to a living presence, trying to make his own sympathy with it diminish.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 11


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 8

Another impression of a sharp smile, like the glint of sunlight from water's surface. Ah-ah, you can't claim that I was aiding you. I merely mentioned it in conversation. With that, Strange's presence separates itself from the faintest wrappings of shadow, leaving it to linger like cuttlefish ink in a shifting tide. It's this that the journeymen hone in on at first, unerringly turning their heads nearly in sync. Their human gazes likely rest precisely upon Lamont, be he moving or staying completely still, regardless of physical objects in the way.

"There," Victoria growls, she of the ring-holding, and thus, the one suddenly distracted by the faint clarion chime of a perfect echo of the relic in-hand. "…what?!"

"What?" Aleski echoes her, paused in his steps. No one's staring…yet.

"It's…there's…it can't be," she finally decides, marking this as another attempt to throw them off the Shadow's trail. The white opal, housed in its rose-gold base, responds lazily to Lamont, more inclined to its current owner in the end. Still, it gives a wave — elbow-elbow-wrist-wrist, wiggle fingers, blow a kiss. "He's still here." Both begin moving again with purpose, headed right for their target.

Now comes the hard part - not merely concealing his physical presence, but the traces of his mind. A mental quiet, leaving the psychic waters about him untroubled. There's a train pulling into the station. Perhaps….a feint to convince them he's boarded it, trying to flee that way. He can see by how they move as he moves….or a moment to cut the link to the ring, for now. It's a dangerous throw, for to sever that is to keep him from finding it easily again. But worth it, considering.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 5


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 5

Anyone without experience in the Mystic Arts would find the concept of tracking something unseen to be disturbing, but not these two. They were given a task as the best and brightest and their young ego emboldens them further. The sudden muting of the signature they trace is a give-away nearly as effective as lighting a distant candle in the darkness — or rather, snuffing one to darken a room further.

"There," the two journeymen say overtop one another and break into a run. This is an attempt to flush the Shadow from his place; even the jarring and incomplete fracture of the ring's beacon-like connection isn't enough to make them hesitate. Already, a handful of golden-yellow light exists in Victoria's free hand and Aleski has woven a small net of aureate strands with the speed of long-practice. Still, they have to wind through the crowd and clumps of people here are there aren't easy to dart around, even if they begin to make sounds of surprise at being jostled by tunic-wearing maniacs.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 3


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 13

This time, his reach exceeds his grasp. The mortal minds he touches don't rouse to fear or attention, too caught up in their own concerns. Now he'll have to rely on something physically dangerous: getting himself into a space they can't easily follow with via Gating. You can't Gate into a solid tunnel roof, after all.

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 10


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 7

The prey is fleeing! Putting on an extra burst of speed between gatherings of a school trip and a family reunion, Aleski again out-paces his companion. He weaves beyond another pillar and then looks over his shoulder for confirmation as to direction. Victoria skids to an abrupt halt, staring at the subway car itself as if unable to process what she's sensing.

"Victoria?" The young man jogs back over.

"He's not inside the car, he's…" She stops talking as she stares, trying to suss out the exact angle at which she should look. To her Sight, a silken rippling in ink and blood, no more apparent than a mirage in the Kalahari, marks the body. "On the roof?!" The subway doors close and the train begins moving. "He can't — he'll get squished, crazy blighter!" Still, off moves the car, at a faster speed. Aleski flashes teeth in an uncertain expression before shaking his head slightly; nope, we are not going to match this level of daring-do, not when the off-chance for being squished between metal and slimed bricks exists. "Find the nearest board showing the stops! We'll Gate to the next station!"

Not a minute later, the glittering oculus expands and disappears again. Lamont might be arriving in a very timely manner to see two somewhat-winded journeymen standing in the crowd, their Sight-brightened eyes looking again for what the sympathetic ring points out.

…..that assumes Lamont arrives there. The train pulls into the station, it's true. But there's no trace of a Shadow either in the car or on its top….though the wind of its passage blows in that plain gray fedora he was wearing, sending it drifting in lazy loops to come skidding to a stop on the grimy tile of the platform. There's already a frantic passenger complaining to a transit cop about how the last door of the car fell open - surely there's a problem with the emergency exit? She didn't *see* anyone touch it….

The car arrives and the fedora lands with nonchalant placement at Victoria's feet, but alas and forsooth…no Shadow himself. Aleski stoops to pick up the hat even as Victoria is turning a rather interesting mottling of embarrassed red.

"This is getting to be difficult," the young man murmurs as he brushes off grit from the hat's brim and then puts it on his head. "He is very good at eluding capture."

The brunette folds her arms tightly, the blackened opal pressing hard enough into her palm to leave a mark as she clenches her fist. "I'm tempted to try something."

This gives her test-partner pause. "…what?" He's properly dubious and probably for a good reason. The young woman uncurls her hand and looks down at the ring.

"It's a relic attached to him, right? And it has sympathetic connections to him, right? So…what if I tied a compulsion spell to it? Commanded him to come back?"

Aleski reaches back to tug at a loose strand of his braid, clearly uncomfortable with the idea. "I am not certain if that is wise. It is not your relic to use."

"Why did he drop it then? Anyone could pick it up," Victoria argues. She gazes on the dark opal with hooded eyes and then whispers to it. The spell is beguiling, a sweeter twist of the feminine to the low and soothing whisper that the Shadow might use. "Mister Cranston…? Come back." Oh woe, the pleading in tone, and it travels along the bond to curl around Lamont's ear.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 15

It is most definitely not hers to consciously use. It's a kneejerk response, as swift and fierce as if she'd dared some unwanted and invasive physical intimacy. Mental coercion is a very, very sensitive point, hypocritical as it is for Cranston to object to such things. There's a jolt of mental energy, like a beast's teeth snapping closed just before her nose. Stop that.

Victoria yelps and jumps at least three feet into the air, landing again with a spastic flail of her hands. The ring isn't thrown away, but it's a tempting thing that she heavily considers. Aleski and others stare, at least until he takes her elbow and steers her off to one side, out of the main flow of foot-traffic in the subway station.

"The relic did not appreciate it, did it?" he asks quietly. The sharp 'UNMPH' of incoherent speech is enough of an affirmative.

"…but he did respond," she finally grumbles, glaring at the piece of jewelry nestled in her palm.

"Victoria, you should not." The young man wasn't privy to that sharp retort, but the response was enough to make him leery.

"We should not allow the problem to defeat us." With that, and a good dose of daring, she whispers again to the ring. "You didn't like that? Then come and get it back." Ooh. This one's plucky.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 2


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 20


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 17

He's still moving. Yes, physical distance matters little to the masters of Gating….but it's tiring. Weariness brings errors, cloudy thought. And also a shortening of temper and patience.

Which explains the next jolt she gets - nerve-wracking, heart-pounding terror. Nothing so direct as a telepathic message; he strikes for the gut and not the mind, lashing out with that power like a bad rider cutting a horse with a crop.

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 3

The shriek that leaves Victoria's mouth echoes in the confined space of the tiled subway station. If people weren't looking before, they're absolutely agog now. Her knees go watery and only Aleski's arm about her ribs keeps her from crumpling to the dirty floor.

"It is alright! She was startled by — a rat!" The young man makes up the excuse on the fly as he leads the shivering brunette away from the abrupt drop to the railway lines. Up the stairs they go, emerging into daylight again, and underneath the awning of a shop window, he sighs slowly. "Victoria, you bring this upon yourself." Her teeth are audibly chattering. "Are you able to continue?"

"Yes!" It's more squeak than steady word, but the brunette is not going to go down without swinging. "We still have the damn ring and we can still track him. He has to be getting tired now." She takes a deep breath and slowly uncurls her fingers to reveal the ring. Aleski's hand slaps overtop it.

"No." Glittering sea-green eyes meet and hold the blond's hazel eyes.

"Fine." She shrugs off her test-partner and even brushing at her tunic. "Thank you," she adds tersely.

"You're welcome," he replies and then closes his eyes. A set of slow breaths, in and out, and then again, he aligns with the distant signature of the Shadow. "That way." Even as he's opening the Gate, Victoria steels her mind.

"Rude," Victoria whispers for a last time. "Run."

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 4


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 13


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 6


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 19


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 17

Can they withstand him coming back? For there's that sense of that dark presence approaching them, coming with smoke and fury, and changing as it does.

Not merely Strange's eccentric student, but that old evil, bearing karma's rusted chains - something steeped in death and cruelty because it was the surest route to power. No direct threats - he's not offering them pain or harm. But do they want *that* anywhere near them? Do they want it to know where they are? Let's see if they can be made to flee.


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 10


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 17

The first few steps out of the recently-resolved Gate are confident. They may not have the Shadow in their sights, but he's close nearby — very close…nearby.

Aleski is first to be hit with the bow-wave of Lamont's power. His knees jelly for a moment and a choked cry escapes him. "Helvetets isiga bollar!" His boots scuff on the pavement and he literally attempts to crawl up the nearest thing. Thankfully, it's not Victoria, but it is a covered bus stop. Now he has the high ground and the beginnings of mandala-shields begin to sparkle before his palms weakly. Fear is the mind-killer when well-utilized.

The brunette looks away from her task-mate and squares herself, even as a similar weebling sound escapes her bared teeth. She wears the matador's red, she may as well stand before the charging bull and risk its wrath.

"Then come!" She doesn't say this loudly, but her weaponry of choice forms up from the gathering of molten light in her one hand: a quarterstaff. She's ready to literally face him if need be.

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 12


|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 16

She has to catch him. Lay hands on him, perhaps. And now he's daring something direct - a shadow of himself cast before her. Let her try to subdue that. For all it began as a chase, instinct says it ends in a fight. Or its semblance….for he has no arcane weapons. Not like that, the tienshan or its kin. And this isn't a fight for flying lead and falling brass, not for blood stakes.

But he still has to try and stop her, so inserting a momentary disconnect between the apprentice and her power might be his only recourse to run the clock down.

|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 6


|ROLL| Strange +rolls 1d20 for: 18

With the grace of the guillotine, his influences severs the zen-like subconscious attention necessary for the continued access to the magic. Victoria takes a step forwards, the cant of the quarterstaff indicative of a potential swing…and then the fright cuts cleanly. The weapon dissolves into firefly bits and she stumbles back, uttering another high-pitched squeak.

It's then that the one atop the covered bus stop strikes. He can barely make out the truth of the other caster, the real against the very chilling solidity of shade, but Aleski has woven his golden web once again and throws it at Lamont with a feverish cry of terror!

|ROLL| Lamont +rolls 1d20 for: 14

Caught. For there he is, bound in the golden web. Terror vanishes, as does that horrifying severing of her magic and her consciousness. He's grinning like an old fox, now merely a middle-aged man in a good suit and overcoat (albeit smudged with subway grime), dark hair rumpled and windblown. The web has him off-balance enough to go down on one knee, from where he looks up at them with an utter lack of apology, as if he weren't the vanquished in this particular game.

The quiet clapping resounds out of nowhere. Both journeymen seem to come out of their fugue state of fright just in time for the entire area around the three to crystallize entirely into the Mirror Dimension. Strange himself emerges from the malleable wall in his Astral form, fully visible in the brilliant way that the state manages.

"And…" he glances down at an invisible watch on his wrist. "Time's up." The icons of hourglasses in pale gold vanish from the back of hands. "Dismiss your magic." The netting about Lamont dissolves into nothing as Aleski releases his hold upon it. With an expression settling somewhere between bemused and sheepish, he gets down from his perch and walks over to join the group. Victoria feels the need to summon up her quarterstaff once more and then, with visible effort, dismisses it. She only has eyes for the Shadow…squinty, angry eyes. "Return the ring." The Sorcerer's tone is implacable despite its quiet pitch. The smoky opal returns to its owner and then the brunette takes two long steps away from him, silently speaking to caution.

"You did complete the task in the allotted time. Congratulations," Strange adds.

"That's it? But did you see what he did to us?!" Victoria gestures at Lamont.

"I did. It was well-played on his part — and yet, here we are." Aleski chooses to remain silent and the Sorcerer continues. "Life will be less kind still, journeywoman. Enjoy your victory."

"Yes sir." The brunette is subdued…for now.

Insecure, I think, Strange comments to Lamont, unheard by all others.

He gets to his feet, slips the ring back on, brushes what dust he can from his coat and suit. No comment on his restraint or lack thereof. He's lost his hat for good, but that's fine. Still smiling, albeit subtly.

His mental voice has that cool, metallic quality. I've made an enemy, he says, and there's humor behind the studied neutrality. But it will add to the legend.

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