1965-03-02 - An Old Friend
Summary: Strange meets with an old friend on the astral plane.
Related: If there are no related logs, put 'None', — please don't leave blank!
Theme Song: None
strange lindon 

The grey gloom of an early March afternoon is proof that some days are meant for tea and bookish isolation. Accompanied by a half-finished clay mug, set off to one side of his knee, Strange sits upon the raised wooden dias before the Window On the Worlds. The stylized stained glass, bearing the Anomaly Rue sigil, lets in the weak light. The Sorcerer's eyes are shut — all the better to begin reaching out across the boundaries of Earth's reality with his willpower-strengthened mind. The bonds between physical and Astral self are tenuous as is, in this deeply-meditative state. If anyone has chosen to send a message along the Astral plane, he's sure to receive it now.

Behind and beyond him, Aralune stalk a stray clump of her own hair, this intermixed with a twitching charm to keep her attention. Ah, the simplicites of entertaining felines from time to time. Her tail twitches as she eyes the clump with predatory intent. Woozy…you will die.

All is peaceful, like it is before storms. Nothing in particular seems to trigger the coalescence of forces all fiery and scented to psychic senses with a hint of exotic spices. Thus does the astral form of Vasant Kulkarni. He looks older from the last time he was seen in Kamar-Taj. There's grey in his loosely curled black hair. His deep brown skin is lined from worldweary cares.

Even in his astral form, he wears that wirework glove that turns into a sword, and there's a slingring on his fingers. "Stephen," he says. "I've been meaning to find you."

The next inhalation in his ceaseless metronimic cycle brings the scents of baking spices to his nose — warm cinnamon, sharper cloves — and the ones he reecognizes as staples in continental cooking, that of saffron and cumin. When Strange opens his eyes, it is upon the Astral Plane itself. His Astral form wears the Master blues of Kamar-Taj and every natural line of his form, from angled jaw to tunic's edging, glows with starlight.

He recognizes the man before him, even with the greying of age, and unfolds from his floating Lotus position. "Vasant. It has been some time. What does a graduate of Kamar-Taj need of me?" he asks after giving the other man a formal nod and slight bend at the waist, implying respect for a fellow student.

Vasant settles into a semblance of the lotus position. He looks tired, a little unkempt, in a white t-shirt and jeans, not in clothes to go out in. He might be ensconced at home or somewhere assumedly safe to leave his body so vulnerable. "I come with a warning," he says. "There is a wizard who is accumulating power, and he seeks to challenge you and seize control of all the Sanctums."

He rakes a hand through his tousled hair, then rubs at the stubble on his jaw. "Does the name Hargrove ring a bell?"

Hovering where he is, toes above the Astral Plane's oddly-rumpled ground, Strange nods slowly to himself. An air of gravitas clouds about him, lending him the solemn dignity of the Sorcerer Supreme even without relics about his person.

"I wondered if your hunt would lead you to me…" He looks gravely upon Vasant. "I was informed by a friend that you were tracking him. You're not the first to warn me, though the latest and by far the most concerning. I was aware that he may choose to challenge me." A short sigh and grit of teeth. "Seems my hope that he would decide otherwise has fallen flat. What can you tell me, Vasant?" He folds his arms across his chest as he listens.

"He harvests souls," is the first thing Vasant says, getting that right out there. "The people he kills or are killed in his name. He gains their power, if they have any. He feeds on the rest to sustain his life and power his magic. He thinks he's in the right, that sacrifices are necessary for the greater good. His sights are on worlds beyond this one. He considers what you do imprisonment. There's nothing more dangerous than a madman who thinks he's right."

There's not even any venom in Vasant's tone. He fights, but it's without hatred. Grim necessity. "I always miss him by a hair's breadth. The last I heard, he was in Ohio, but he's probably long gone. He's got followers, a witch named Moira who does his blood sacrifices, a wizard named Hayden who adores him, and a healer named Eric who serves out of fear for his family."

Unable to pace where he hangs against the auroral watercolor smear of the Astral horizon, Strange contents himself with a slow bobbing, not unlike a buoy at sea. Booted toes are mildly pointed, all the better to roll to the soles of his feet if walking is required here.

"Mmm. Zealotry, my absolute favorite," he murmurs coolly. "It is unfortunate that he's managed to escape you thus far. I beg you, keep at your hunt. Though you may miss, your harrying keeps him and any followers from setting in roots… From getting comfortable, as it were. Some spells need weeks of preparation, as you well know. He needs no more power than he has, given what he's able to do with what he has taken." Strange's eyes slide off beyond Vasant's shoulder briefly, going distant; the same happens with his tone. "Hayden…Spurling," comes the last name with deliberate slow speed. Back to the present he comes, given the sharp eye contact made again. "My connections in New York City recently dealt with Hayden. They reported that he was neutralized for now, having had his family returned to him. It appears they were being threatened to keep him in line."

Vasant shakes his head. "That was Hayden's latest victim, James Yancy." He smiles crookedly. "So many names to keep track of, so little time to study them before mayhem breaks out again. I noticed Yancy and his family disappeared off the map. I had feared the worst for them. I'm glad to know they're safe."

His aged features draw tight as he says, "Hayden himself is as much a sadist as his master. He and the witch kill with glee. Women, children, they don't care, as long as they can feed more souls to Hargrove. It's the witch you have to watch, though. She's more powerful, more sadistic. He goes for the kil, she goes for the pain."

He lifts his chin. "I'll continue my hunt. Keeping him on the move keeps Hargrove preoccupied, you're correct."

"What else have you discovered in your huntings?" The Sorcerer asks. He re-folds his arms in a contained fidget. No use drawing sigils in the air here — they might actually trigger and no one wants random explosive trap-markers hanging about. "Any sense of a future path? What draws Hargrove to his victims? Are the other Sancti aware of him at this point in time?"

"He's drawn to power," Vasant says. "He absorbs the power of the souls he steals. He seeks a tinkerer named Alex Cohen, because Cohen can bring his creations to life. He uses this power to make toys animate and keep him company, but Hargrove wants to build automatons to fight for him. If he kills this man, he'll have that power."

Vasant rolls his shoulders, not used to staying still for so long unless he's catching what sleep he can. "I don't think the other Sancti know of him. Most people have never heard of him. His relic causes mortal men to forget they saw him or heard his name. Those on our level — not that I am anywhere near your power — at least retain what we hear. That itself is a trap, though. If we've heard of him, we've outwitted the Shadowveil at least a little.

"And he doesn't know the true nature of the Archive. That's one thing you have in your favor."

"Hmm." The thoughtful sound is melodic and the Sorcerer narrows his eyes at the other practitioner. "I never mentioned that I knew of the Archive. Who told you, Vasant? I expected that information to remain as close to shadow as could be managed." Or Shadow, rather, to make a clever reference.

"A few years ago," Vasant says, "when I had tracked Hargrove's followers to Aloys Reikland, I arrived too late; his power was taken and he was dead. His spell had gone off, but there was no relic to be found. I traced the magic to an insane asylum and a man babbling incoherently things no man should know. I left him be. I had to move quickly to track Hargrove to his next vicim. I've told no one, but you, Stephen, I expect you to know what's happening in your city." He smiles thinly, "Am I wrong? Consider it a gesture of trust."

"I am honored by your trust, Vasant, don't misjudge me," replies Strange, " - and your keeping of your own council is of merit. I thank you. I can conclude that the man himself is a highly plausible target for Hargove and his band given what his visions have shown me and my associates." He falls silent and looks off into the nebulous distance of the Astral Plane once more. Beyond their small raised surface, a floating spar in restless space, bubbles swarm in schools like neon-yellow fish and a quasar slowly collides with an inverted collapsing star in infrared.

"The next logical step would be to hide this tinkerer, Cohen — and hide him well, beyond reach of Hargrove and his acolytes. Take away one target, shift him to another. I may be able to enact this." His eyes, faintly lambent about their irises, slide back to Vasant once more. "What would be more clever still is if the next target itself was a pitfall, something that would trap or dissuade the man from continuing further…"

Vasant is quiet for a long moment, watching the dancing of bubbles and the collapse of a star with a deeply contemplative countenance. He absently nods to the idea of hiding Cohen. Yes, a wise decision. "I could be that target," he says. "When the time comes, I would give you the Fire of Monesh for safekeeping, so that it doesn't fall into his hands if I fall. I only ask that, if I do, you'll stop him and free my soul." He smiles a little. "If that is not too much to ask."

"I'm not asking you to do this." The Sorcerer's voice is quiet in the pulsating stillness of the realm around them. "This is simply a meeting of the minds, brainstorming against the actions of a madman. I would rather a simulacrum than another live being. Surely the libraries of the Sancti contain a spell for such, a likeness so much so that no one could detect otherwise. Set the bait, set the trap, wait for the zealot to show. No one's soul is going to be taken."

A faint laugh and then he closes his eyes briefly, as if in pain. "Still, if that is how it comes to be, if he turns upon you…yes. I will do my utmost to return your soul, Vasant."

Vasant tilts his head, then nods slowly. "That would be preferrable. I was merely thinking that there is no one else we could ask to do this. I wouldn't put forth a plan I wasn't willing to enact myself." There's a staid look about him, calmly determined to do whatever it takes with neither pride nor fear. "It would mean killing him, but I don't think there's any other way to stop him anyway. If I see a chance, I won't hesitate, and neither should you."

"There's always another option beside killing…" It's as if the silver-templed man is speaking to himself — or reaffirming his own beliefs in the face of such stark defiance to his soul-sworn mantra. "Regardless of the method, he will be stopped. One way or another. Continue on your hunt. Keep him guessing — scatter his acolytes to the wind if necessary."

Vasant closes his eyes briefly, and he nods. "Perhaps you have methods available to you that could free those souls without taking his life. For his sake, maybe you find him before I do, but I will keep hunting. He opens his eyes and regards Strange for a moment. "It's good to see you again," he says, "despite the circumstances. I always counted you among my friends."

"And I you, Vasant. If only the times were simpler, as our studies at Kamar-Taj. What I wouldn't give for a laugh over the nuances of Jungian magics by the fountain again sometime." Is that Strange growing wistful? It just may be, given the sense of mourning in his gaze, the nostalgia reflected in his half-smile. It wasn't all fun and games either, this training, but time and experience has a way of making the past's difficulties seem much easier at times.

"Still…things are different now and our responsibilities as such." The fleeting amity melts away into conventional formality. "As Sorcerer Supreme, I thank you for your efforts and for the information you chose to share with me. I wish you safe travels and success in your efforts, restful sleep and steadiest spells. I ask that you report any new and pertinent information to me upon your most immediate ability to do as such. Should you fall, I will be there to return your soul to you."

Vasant nods solemnly, almost a sitting bow. "And I," he says, "those were good days. As a servant of our better natures, I will keep your confiences and report to you anything I find out." Tension eases around his shoulders as he says, "Knowing you'll tend to my soul makes the fighting that much easier. Be well, old friend." He turns his head, then says, "I hear something. I should go."

"Go then, be safe," the Sorcerer repeats, as if saying it enough will make it true within the confines of his extended influence. "And be well, old friend." The echoed words take on an odd wavering tension, as if they're forcing their way through the air of the Astral Plane itself. Strange's form begins to fade too until, with a circling counter-gesture utilizing both hands, he vanishes entirely and returns to his body.

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