Chapter 13: Chapter 13
Summary: The rouge Avengers are pardoned under the influence of King T’Challa and it is up to Tony to ‘welcome’ them back. But as he and his new team are at the private airport, an unexpected fight breaks loose and the fate of the whole universe is changed when a wizard places himself as Tony Stark’s protector.
“Are you certain of this?” Stephen asked, eyes fixed on what the Cauldron of the Cosmos was showing them right now. There was a big blue dot on the magical illusion of a display featuring the world, located in Norway, just on the island that the Asgardians were given to settle in. That island was currently the second brightest point on the image of the Earth, second only to Kamar-Taj and maybe the three Sanctums. The people of Asgard know some magic or are wearing something at least a little bit enchanted, so there was plenty of magic signatures coming from their little island of New Asgard, as it was being renamed. Still, Kamar-Taj had hundreds of active partitioners of the Mystic Arts and thousands of relics in its temples. There were only a rare few sorcerers amongst Asgardians and only one really stood out, even without the blue energy signature Stephen was so intently studying. The Sanctums had a different sort of mystical energy about them and they shone in a vastly different manner. Mainly, the shields that spread out of the stood out.
The blue dot that he was staring at with X ray vision intensity was not one that should have been on Earth.
“There is not even a drop of doubt regarding this, Stephen.” Wong said, looking at the Sorcerer Supreme and not the blue dot. There were two more identical ones, if in different color, showing on the map. A yellow one in New York, with a green one a few centimeters away from it, smack in the middle of the light coming from the New York Sanctum. “It is an Infinity Stone and we have even less doubt about who has it.”
“Loki.” The younger sorcerer said with a deep sigh. “So Tony was right. Should have expected that.” He really should have. Not only did Tony rarely make a mistake when applying logic and not only did he have some very precise scanners, especially ones built to track the Tesseract, but this was also something so very Loki to do. Why Stephen hadn’t anticipated this, he wasn’t sure. Thor, he understood. The demigod had a big, nice Loki-shaped blind spot, which is why Loki so easily managed to stab him each and every time. Hopefully the stabbing urges had lessened over time. Thor didn’t seem like he was suffering from any such wounds two days ago.
Stephen looked up to meet Wong’s inquiring eyes. His face was as impassive as ever, but his eyes gave him away from time to time. Good thing Stephen had learned this in time or else he’d still be floundering with what to do about the lack of any emotional expression his companion seemed to suffer of. “He said his scanners were detecting some energy over in Norway and that he would bet half his fortune on it being the Tesseract and in Loki’s possession. I guess we should have looked into it immediately but-”
“But there was a vulnerable Infinity Stone to watch over.” Wong concluded for him with a nod. “The Tesseract hasn’t been used but the energy it is emitting is like a beacon that we could really do without.”
“Tony says that the container that is the Tesseract is leaking quite a bit of the Space Stone’s power because it isn’t as stable as it should be. Maybe if we put wards on it like Agamotto did for the Eye and the Time Stone, the leakage can be reduced to a bare minimum.” At Wong’s considering look, Stephen shrugged. “The man has dealt personally with two Infinity Stones, one of which is the Tesseract. I take it there is rare few on this Earth who understand the Infinity Stones better than him.”
“That will come in handy when it is time for training to start. Speaking of,” and here Strange flinched, knowing where this was going and that he didn’t have and adequate answer. Not one that will satisfy Wong, at least. Or any of the other Masters of the Mystic Arts. “When exactly do you plan to begin?” At the look on his face, the Asian sorcerer glared. “You are planning on starting the lessons soon, right, Stephen?”
“I don’t know what you expect me to say!” He snapped back, not at all happy about the way Wong was talking to him now. “I can’t exactly come out and tell him how and why I decided to teach him the Mystic Arts and why he must learn to control the core magical energy that is currently dormant inside if him. Something tells me it won’t go well and he might just run for the hills!”
“We can’t afford to lose so much time!”
“We can’t afford for him to avoid us completely, either, Wong! That defeats the purpose of ... nearly everything!” The doctor returned Wong’s glare with one of his own. “We won’t be able to protect him. We won’t be able to prepare him for what is to come and we won’t be able to prepare Earth for what is coming! There are three Infinity Stones somewhere out there but there are three right here. Earth must have a way of preparing and defense outside our magical shield and outside of the current Avengers lineup.” He crossed his arms and the Cloak fluttered a bit threateningly. “Tony is essential in all of this and we can’t let us rushing into something scare him off. We need to be in contact with him and on good terms-”
“Oh, we do?” The librarian asked with a near sneer to his tone, stopping Stephen in his tracks. “Are you sure?”
“Wong,” the taller sorcerer said in a half confused, half annoyed firm voice. “Tony Stark is quite literally the key to the survival of half of the universe-”
“Then why aren’t you training him accordingly already?”
“Because he’s not ready!” The two sorcerers were glaring at each other, eyes challenging and stances almost aggressive. “If he gets scarred off, we’ll never-”
“There is no we here, Stephen.” Wong interrupted and this time he sounded mostly resigned. “There is only you. You need him to be on good terms with you. I told you looking into the future was a bad idea but you didn’t listen and now you are compromised.” Stephen went to open his mouth and deny that but Wong just put up a hand as if to silently shut him up. The former doctor did as was requested, frowning. “A man with as much potential as he has will take to the Mystic Arts with a speed similar to yours. Only he isn’t desperate for it so he will not be as frustrated in the beginning and might actually make a better sorcerer than either of us, if he actually bothers learning.”
“But you’re forgetting that he hates everything and anything that has any sort of connection with magic.” Strange points out although most of the fight had already seeped out of him. He wasn’t a naturally violent man although there were a few times in his life that he’d actively sought out a fight, in his earlier years of high school and collage and maybe even a little during his own training at Kamar-Taj. He liked stimulative, intellectual banter, yes, but not meaningless fights with his friends, as rare as they were. “Not to mention that he will want to know why he would have to learn and that explanation, if it is to be at all truthful, would have to include details that might alter the time line I saw and the only way to defeat our enemy.”
“Mordo attacked him. A way to protect himself from magical attacks seems like a decent enough reason to make someone study the Mystic Arts.” The chubbier of the two pointed out and Stephen had to admit the reasoning was valid. That didn’t mean he liked it, though.
“He’s not a man to let himself be swept away by the energy of the world. He won’t let go of his need to control all that’s around him so easily.” He still remembers how hard he had clung to logic and reason and what the Ancient One had to do to make him let go. “And I can’t ... I refuse to resort to portalling him on top of Mount Everest just to get my point across. He only just started trusting me, trusting my magic. And sending his soul through countless dimensions is just as out of the question. It would result in a negative reaction that might severe what little of his trust I currently posses.”
“I understand your fear, Stephen, but even if you are the Sorcerer Supreme now,” Wong said almost soothingly. “That does not mean you must be the same teacher that the Ancient One had been. But we must teach him some basic notions of magic because, whether he likes it or not, that is how the Infinity Stones operate. If he wants to understand them, then he will have to understand the parameters within which the act. The Mystic Arts are the only form of manipulating energy that can cover all of the Stones’ powers, except maybe the time spells that you do with the Time Stone; those are kind of unique.” Which is a different way of saying pretty much impossible without the Time Stone. “He needs to know these basics. If you want your plan to work, it is better that he is ready.”
“I know that, Wong.” The frustrated Sorcerer Supreme ground out between grit teeth. Said man only arched an eyebrow at him, crossing his own arms over his chest.
"Do you, Stephen? Do you really?”
Anger flooded him and for once he didn’t hold back. ”Yes, I know! I know better than anyone just what is on the line! I know just what needs to be done, who needs to be involved and weather or not Tony should start his training right now! I’ve seen over fourteen million futures, Wong! I know exactly what I am doing.” The past sentence was almost a deadly whisper, daring Wong to refute him. When the older man, too stunned to say anything, remained silent, Stephen continued in a calm voice that was in stark contrast to the one he had been using only a few moments ago. “We are sorcerers of Earth. It is our sworn duty to protect the multiverse and to guard the Time Stone. Right now, both of those duties center around Stark and that means that we need to be careful about how we go about things. One wrong move can doom us all. Do you understand just why we must wait for the right moment to bring this up with him?”
Tony didn’t trust magic. It was really that simple. He didn’t trust it. Not after everything that he had been through because of it. It would be downright foolish to hope for a good reaction out of him at the prospect of him leaning magic. Stephen can word it in as close to scientific terms until he is blue in the face but it’s a fact that Tony doesn’t trust magic. It’s not even that he hates it - despite him always saying that he does. He hates how people are using it and the fact that he has no definite way to defend himself from it by the means he has at his disposal. So magic was a big no no in Tony Stark’s life. Stephen had honestly thought he would receive a lot harsher and colder treatment than he got but he knew Tony was practical above all else. Maybe there is a chance to change Tony’s mind about magic but they can’t do it by dropping a couple dozen of books into his lap and telling him to study them. Loki, Wanda Maximoff and, unfortunately, one Karl Mordo have already formed an opinion on magic for Stark but Stephen hoped he could change it. Even if only a little. Even if only for Tony to even consider the possibility of learning magic. It would have to be enough. Because, one way or the other, Stephen had set them on this path and Tony will need to learn magic if they want to win.
Wong finally nodded, conceding to Stephen’s point silently. Or maybe he was nodding in approval that Stephen had not lost sight of their mission. Either way, Stephen had won this round. “Very well. I trust you will know when to begin the lessons. But we should address the Space Stone problem now.”
“I guess I will have to go and have a chat with Loki.” Not something he was looking forward to. The god of mischief had a rather ... intense stabbing urge that Stephen would rather not try to discover whether it applied to people besides his brother. Not to mention that the frost giant was probably still pissed at the fact that someone who had been a sorcerer for a year had managed to outsmart a sorcerer, capture him and hold him within an endlessly falling portal that had thousands of years of experience in learning and using magic. Hey, it wasn’t Stephen’s fault that he was some sort of magical prodigy! Besides, god or not, Loki probably didn’t have a photographic memory. That meant that the average amount of spells he could use at any moment was probably about the same number Stephen can memorize. And yes, he was counting on the fact that Loki was taught on Asgard. Not that it changes things much. As Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen had traveled through many dimensions and talked to other creatures practicing the Mystic Arts and had learned spells older than his planet. Then again, he didn’t actually know all that much about Loki and his magic. The god of mischief had rarely came to Earth. He had probably thought them inferior. In that case, serves him right, those thirty minutes of falling.
“It would probably be for the best.” Wong agreed, eyes finally flicking to the blue dot on the astral map. Only it was no longer in Norway. It was at the Avengers Compound in upstate New York. The Avengers Compound, where Thor was staying while he is to discuss arrangements with the lawyers and consultants Tony had offered him and his people.
Stephen’s eyes narrowed in a dangerous glare. “What is he up to?”
“Maybe he’s following his brother to one of those meetings?” Wong suggests although he doesn’t exactly sound as if he believes his own theory.
“I warned Thor to keep an eye on him.”
“He technically is.” Stephen just sighed at that and ran a hand through his hair. “What are you going to do?”
“I need to talk to him, warn him not to do anything stupid. I won’t hesitate to seal his powers, if that’s what you’re implying, but I won’t take away the Tesseract either.” At the glare he received, he only rolled his eyes at Wong. “Tony said Loki had been under mind control in New York. Not an impossibility, since he was sent to Earth by Thanos to retrieve the Tesseract. Thanos already had the Mind Stone in the scepter he gave Loki but Loki lost it on Earth and it ended up with Vision and the Avengers. If Loki was really mind controlled, then Thanos is as much his enemy as he is ours. Whether we can be actual allies or just not-enemies is still up for discussion but one thing is for certain. Loki is perhaps one of the most qualified to keep an Infinity Stone. And knowing his tendency to disappear when things don’t go his way, he will probably give Thanos a good chase if Thanos decides to go after the Space Stone first, buying us valuable time.”
“The question remains,” Wong said after a moment, accepting Strange’s explanation. “Whether we tell him and Thor just what you and Stark are up to.”
“Honestly, not even Tony and I know what we are up to. All we know is that we need to prepare and get more recruits. Because, quite frankly, the first order of business for sorcerers is to keep the Sanctums and our reality safe.” On that much they all agreed on. Thanos was one thing. He will try to wipe out half of life in the entire universe but he was mortal and he can be fought and defeated. But just beyond the wall of reality and the distance of a dimension of space away there was a demonic creature that would destroy everything in the universe, in the multiverse, and that can’t be fought or killed, only sealed away in a dimension outside of time and space. If Dormammu were to get free ... Well. Thanos was a baby in comparison. “I think Tony is already on it. Probably has been ever since the Civil War a few months ago. Hopefully, there will soon be some new faces to join the New Avengers. We’re desperately hurting for numbers.”
“The Sorcerer Supreme isn’t enough?” Stephen wasn’t sure if Wong was teasing or mocking him. It was all very ... Wong.
“It’s not about me, Wong.” That’s something he had learned from the Ancient One. One of the last lessons she had taught him. He was insignificant. There was so much more to the world around them. They were all just specks in infinity. And yet, because of the six Infinity Stones, two of those numberless specks shone more brightly. It was the opposite for them. The universe was insignificant, for it was barely a battlefield for them. They were what mattered, they were what will bring change, for better or for worse. It was about them. And one of them had to be protected while the other must be defeated. Those two are to stand against each other and the universe is either to pick a side or to vanish.
Either way, the Mad Titan will face the Merchant of Death and one of them will walk away the victor. Everyone else was just a side-story.
“It’s good that you learned that.” Wong says for a lack of a different, better reaction and Stephen smiles humorlessly at him. “Will you go now?”
“Yes.” He sighed again and let his magic fix his hair for him. “If he is indeed in a meeting, I will leave a message for him to meet me on neutral ground so we can discuss the Tesseract and everything else.”
The Asian man nodded but still did not look all that pleased. Then again, it was to be expected. Loki was listed as a threat to this planet. A magical threat, at that. But he was now also a newly minted resident of a new kingdom that was being raised from the ground up on the efforts of Thor, Loki, any of their advisors, Tony Stark and the consultants he had provided and was as such a closely observed political figure. They can’t just portal him out of wherever he is to the Sanctum. Not anymore. Not without some serious repercussions and a boatload of problems for Tony. Seeing as Stephen strove to lessen the load on the man’s shoulders, it would be best if he threaded cautiously and think every step through before he acts.
“I will guard the Sanctum.” Was all Wong said and gave him a brief nod before he walked away, up the stairs and towards the library there. He was probably going to search for any soul-involved spells to see if there really were any like Tony had logically suggested there might be so that they could possibly destroy the Soul Stone if they get a chance. Which left Stephen and the Cloak alone in the foyer of the New York Sanctum to prepare for a confrontation with a sometimes homicidal god of mischief.
“You ready?” The sorcerer asked his constant companion, who made a strange shrugging gesture before settling back over his shoulders. Stephen shook his head fondly at the Cloak before squaring his shoulders and opening a portal into the Avengers Compound.
“Oh, I wasn’t expecting you this soon. I must admit I am impressed.” A smooth, slick voice greeted him as soon as he stepped fully through and he was somewhat surprised that the first thing to meet him wasn’t a dagger flying towards his face. “I guess that Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme has to have some decent level of skill. Nothing on par with a god like myself but not half bad.”
Stephen felt his lips pull into a smirk despite himself. “I will have you know that a mere mortal with no magic has located you before me, as well as the dangerous artifact I am here to speak with you about.”
Loki nodded, not looking surprised at all although there was something like respect in his green eyes. “The Man of Iron is a formidable opponent. I believe he still owes me that drink he promised me.”
“You won’t be getting that drink until we establish some ground rules, Loki.” The two magic users stared at each other with utter distrust and distaste but Stephen was not here for a magical pissing contest. “We must discuss the protection of the Tesseract.”
Loki tried his best not to react and the liesmith was good, but he had still stiffened for the briefest of seconds at the mention of the cube. “And why would I discuss anything with you?”
“Because Thanos is coming and I am under the impression you would rather not face him alone.”
His answer had Loki pausing, apparently thinking his options over before an unhappy scowl settled over his face. There was something a lot like both fear and resignation in his eyes that had Stephen thinking Tony was right yet again. Loki was not Thanos’ pawn of his own choosing.
“He hunts for the one you call Tony Stark.” The dark haired Asgardian says warily and Stephen was the one to stiffen this time, clenching his fists.
“I am aware. We are making plans.” Loki arched an eyebrow at that, intrigued. “I am giving you a chance to get a say in what will happen to you now if you sign the Accords and agree not to go around controlling or killing humans again. Just don’t forget, god or not, your powers can be bound and I am well withing my right to do so. You fall under my jurisdiction now, Loki.” He glared at the mischief maker. “You are officially my responsibility and don’t think I won’t throw you into a portal without the Tesseract if you piss me off.”
“Dully noted.” Loki nodded with a grim smile on his face. “Shall we begin?”
Stephen sat warily into the chit that was pointed out to him and the two magic users didn’t move out of their seats until well late into the next afternoon when they finally came to an agreement that they were both happy with.
“Boss, are you sure about this?”
“You yourself said that the project is as ready as it can be, baby girl.”
“Yes, well ... That was before we had more brainpower behind it. Maybe JARVIS will spot something we missed, Boss. This is too dangerous for you to just test it out on yourself if we’re not even sure whether it will work or making things even more troublesome for you.”
“I agree with FRIDAY where the danger levels are concerned should this not succeed, Sir, and while I do believe the serum is ready, shouldn’t we at least contact someone else to be on standby? Perhaps someone who would be able to help?”
“JARVIS, what did I tell you about sometimes flying before walking?”
“Boss, I know I am not as advanced as JARVIS, but that makes no sense!”
“It makes Stark-sense, FRIDAY. Now you two stop fretting and begin the procedure. I’m as ready as can be.”
“Boss, I still suggest more research ... ”
“Sir, perhaps we should contact Doctor Strange to be on standby ... ”
“Boss Lady won’t be happy ...”
“Colonel Rhodes’ blood pressure will reach worrying parameters ... ”
“And that’s why neither of you will tell either of them.” Tony said determinedly, glaring up at the cameras that his two AIs were looking out of. “If you say another word that has no connection to the procedure, I am going to lock you out of the lab.” He couldn’t have made a more terrifying threat at the moment than that one. He grunted in satisfaction when they complied. “Look, I know you are worried about this but this is a calculated risk, one I have to take, okay? I need the suit to work at 110%. This is what I’ve been preparing for since New York! I can’t ... I can’t afford to not be completely ready for this, J, FRI. Vision and the Doc will be his first targets and I can’t let anyone else die because I failed to protect them.”
“Vision won’t die without the Mind Stone anymore, Boss.”
“I agree with FRIDAY. And Doctor Strange seems to know what he is doing.”
“And the suit can’t get better without adding Vibranium, Uru or some other extraterrestrial material.”
“Not that it needs pointing out, but you will also have us with you, Sir. Three heads are better than two.”
“Be that as it may,” Tony conceded, leaning back in his chair, a big injection in his hand, ready to stab into his arm artery as soon as he finishes up his talks with his worrying AIs. “There are other factors that can kill them and I don’t ever want to lose contact because there was an EMP or my suit’s power was cut. I learn from my mistakes, guys. I never wanna lose touch with you. And if I don’t do this ... The implant can be damaged in battle if someone bashes my head against a hard enough surface. I just ... I want to be ready. To be sure I can take on this Thanos guy when he comes and I will need you, both of you, in order to fight to the best of my abilities ... Okay?”
“I still say we should at least have someone on standby, but you know I am here for you, Sir. Always.” JARVIS conceded after a short pause and Tony relaxed slightly.
“I second that opinion, Boss, but I also second my support. Just don’t get angry if you grow a sixth toe and I say ‘I told you so’.”
The engineer chuckled at that and shook his head, finally relaxing. His three helper bots were peaking from behind the counter he insisted they hide should things go South, even if for a moment, not wanting them to suffer any damage if it does. He grips the cinder in his hand tightly and thinks about what he was about to do before taking a deep breath and stealing his nerve. Stark men are made of iron and all that bullshit. Well, he just so happens to have some palladium rooted in his cells due to the heavy metal poisoning from a few years back. That should act as excellent circuitry. And a conduit for the energy from the Arc Reactor.
“Well, here goes nothing.”