Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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.
“I take it you were not successful?” Wong asked when he saw Stephen walk out of a portal with a rather pissed look on his face, the Cloak of Levitation looking none too pleased, either. Wong was already preparing for the fallout of a sorcerer attacking a public and famous figure like Tony Stark when Strange grumbled under his breath. “What was that?”
“Mordo escaped but Stark is just fine. Or at least he was until he decided to run off from where I slung him to get him out of Mordo’s hands.” The Sorcerer Supreme looked to be on the verge of sulking, much to Wong’s amusement. “Worse yet, I got an earful from Christine about killing genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropists and dropping them in her lap. I forgot she was using my flat these days.”
That had the other sorcerer glaring at him as he put down the books he had brought from Kamar-Taj. “And why haven’t you brought him here?”
“Because this would be the first place Mordo would look for him. My flat is not as well known as one might think, for a famous neurosurgeon.” The younger of the two grumbled again, stalking off in the direction of a huge cup-like thing that was actually the Cauldron of the Cosmos. “Christine confirmed he was fine and that he won’t be pressing charges-”
“That’s what has you worried?” Wong interrupts incredulously and gets this look from Stephen that he can’t quite decipher. He doesn’t appreciate it.
“And that he flew off,” Stephen continued as though he had not been interrupted at all. “A few minutes later. Now I have no idea where he is and I don’t think it’s a good idea to return to the Avengers Compound to check if he went over there, yet. I thought I might check here and then observe him with my astral form, try to see why Mordo’s so set on ‘dealing’ with him.”
Wong falls to his side as he activates the Cauldron and starts searching for the same, strange signature that had at first drawn their attention to Tony Stark in the first place. That was the only reason they could catch up to Mordo before he attacked Stark. “Mordo has lost his way, after what happened with the Ancient One. She had long since feared something like that might happen. He took to the teachings too harshly, too desperately. She had considered turning him away, but he had seemed to adapt and she had let him stay. Now, we must deal with the fallout ourselves.”
“He’s already sealed the magic of two dozen people, leaving them cripples.” Strange grit his teeth. “We draw our power from infinite dimensions. There is enough energy in each and every one of them for all those who have studied here and who might come one day to study here. He had no right.” He set the ‘display’ on the Cauldron to show only New York, doubting even Iron Man could go that far in the short time it took him to finish the battle with Mordo once Stark had disappeared. Mordo was not interested in anyone else and had left with the first opportunity he got and Stephen had decided to follow his lead lest he have to deal with the Avengers. “Besides, this is all Stark’s personal energy. He’s not drawing any power from any of the dimensions.” He sighs in relief when he pinpoints the exact magic/energy signature he had been searching for ... At Stark Tower. That was probably the safest place for him right now. He’ll check in on him personally in a few. “He has the potential of becoming a powerful sorcerer, yes, but I doubt a man so devoted to science will accept an offer to learn.”
Not when he has no reason to, like Stephen had. He did his best to ignore the trembling of his hands.
“That, however, does not explain Mordo’s sudden interest.” The Asian man points out, also looking at the strange signature that is Tony Stark. It shone like a beacon. Compared to all the other people’s inner energy that would allow them to channel magic should they decide to learn, Stark’s shone like Polaris in a starless night, ever present and ever there. Wong wondered if it had always been like this and, if so, why the Ancient One had not approached the man. He already defended the physical world, so why not the metaphysical as well? “He isn’t going after other potential partitioners. Just Stark.”
“He said something interesting about that, actually,” the once neurosurgeon said with a weary sigh as he drew back his magic and let the Cauldron of Cosmos fall dormant again. “Something about Stark already being touched by three of the Stones?”
“You think he means the Infinity Stones,” it wasn’t a question. It was a statement, one Wong enforced by looking down at the Eye of Agamotto where it rested against Stephen’s chest, protecting the green, ever shinning Time Stone within. They have both sworn blood oaths that they will protect it with their lives, as have every other Master of the Mystical Arts, but it was decided that the Stone was best off in the care of the Sorcerer Supreme. Young he may be, but he was gifted like no other before him where magic was concerned.
“More than probably,” Stephen agrees. “You already told me once that the Ancient One had considered him for the position of Stonekeeper and Sorcerer Supreme and had been readying to prepare him for it before I came along. He probably knows as much about them as I do. If not more.” He only had what was written as a source of knowledge but Mordo had learned from the Ancient One herself.
“It would make sense.” Wong mused as they climbed the stairs towards the big library they had in the Sanctum in New York. They did most of their studying and research in there and this promised to be a long session. Especially if Strange was going to check in on Iron Man in his astral form. It was probably for the best that he does. Who knows when Mordo will try again. “The portal above New York was definitely not made the same way our portals are. It had a similar signature to the Time Stone, so that must be the Space Stone. And the Mind Stone is in one of his teammates, that Vision guy.”
“But what about the third one he mentioned?” The blue dressed sorcerer asked as he entered the library with a dramatic sweep of the Cloak of Levitation that had Stephen cracking a fond smile. He had such weird friends these days. Not that he’d ever change them. He was just sorrowful that Mordo had stopped being one of them. “The only other Stones that I know of making an appearance on Earth was the Reality Stone within the Aether, but that thing was released on London.”
“Stark’s a busy man. We don’t know whether he’d been there at the time or not. If I remember correctly, not all of his suits of armor can come to him on their own.” Wong was, of course, referring to the fact that Iron Man had not been reported at the scene. Nor had anyone said anything about Tony Stark being in England. Though that could be because the news were overflooding with the Aether thing and didn’t much focus on Stark. Or maybe it had been a private visit or something? There were too many variables for them to deduce what the correct answer might be.
“And the cleanup effort?”
“Stark always paid for it, no matter what Avenger made a mess.”
Go figure. Even if he had been there or if he hadn’t, the cleanup effort wouldn’t tell them much. “So we have no clue whether Mordo was referring to the Reality Stone or the Time Stone.”
“It had to be the Reality Stone since the Time Stone never left Kamar-Taj until you came along.” Stephen paused mid step to look at Wong over his shoulder, wondering if that was an accusation or just stating a fact.
“Okay, now we know which stones we’re likely talking about but what does that have to do with Mordo wanting to steal whatever power Stark has within him?” Wong frowned in thought before shaking his head.
“Ir probably has less to do with which Stones and more to do with their numbers.” The older man guessed. “I’ve never heard of someone encountering so many before.”
“Yes, he did actually say something about that as well. Something about how no mortal should ever be touched by so many stones and that the other’s will resonate or call for him or something like that. I didn’t really understand him. He was spewing too much nonsense about disturbed balance to make much sense.” The Doctor said with a frown. “But whatever it is, we should be prepared for it.” He folds his legs under him and lets the Cloak levitate him in the air without a second though, making to form the necessary hand gestures that would open the Eye of Agamotto and reveal the Time Stone within when Wong all but lunged for him, stopping him in his tracks. The Cloak gave a warning shimmer to the other sorcerer, which Wong heeded only enough to step out of Stephen’s direct personal space. The Cloak was a fickle thing regarding anyone but its chosen master and magical partner. Wong knew better than to agitate an ancient relic as sentient as the Cloak of Levitation.
That did not mean that he will back down in front of it when he had something to say. “What do you think you’re doing? No.” He interrupted before Stephen could open his mouth to respond. “No. You are not going to use the Time Stone to do anything. We are supposed to protect the multiverse and its balance, not endanger it by playing around with that Stone.”
“We need to know what’s going on, Wong.” Strange countered just as easily. “Something, something bigger than this,” he gestured vaguely around the Sanctum. “Is at stake here. Something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth and it’s been there ever since I touched Stark. What if he does something with the Stones? What if something else comes for them? We need to know.”
“Messing with the future is never a smart idea, Stephen.”
“Which is why I won’t go to the future, or even view it as a whole. I’ll just take a glimpse, search for a connection between Tony Stark and the Infinity Stones.” Wong looked no less unpleased than he had a moment before. “What if it’s something terrible? Something terrible that we can prevent? Our job is to protect the multiverse. Is this not protecting it as well?”
“I am not as inflexible towards the rules as Mordo is,” Wong replied with a sigh and a shake of his head. “I understand the intention behind your suggestion. But more often than not, trying to prevent a certain thing from happening usually leads to exactly that thing happening. And even if you do prevent it, it may just lead to something worse. And if it doesn’t,” Wong shot him a long, scrutinizing look. “Men easily fall for power. It has been the downfall of many. What says you won’t be seduced by the power to potentially change fate and use it all the time? You could very easily rip apart the very fabric of time, Stephen. How am I supposed to let you do anything with that Stone while I know how easily it may corrupt you?”
Stephen stayed silent for a long moment before looking Wong directly in the eyes. “I guess you’ll just have to trust me, Wong.”
“That’s a high order in this situation.” They shared a wry smile that was answer enough for the both of them. Wong sighed and paced around the room for a few minutes, mulling it over while Stephen just watched him. Wong knew Stephen was probably right. Probably. There could be something far worse going on here that Mordo was trying to deal with on his own and it somehow revolved around none other than Tony Stark and the Infinity Stones. Stark was a reckless man. He could have easily - accidentally or purposefully, it didn’t matter - gotten into some sort of trouble while messing with the Infinity Stone at his disposal. Or something or someone might be coming for the Stones and Stark was in some other way involved, either fighting or assisting the foreign entity that might want them. Or maybe he wants them all for himself so he can do ... whatever real evil geniuses do with infinite power. And this would be their only warning. No matter how risky this was, letting the Time Stone fall into anyone’s hands besides the ones who swore to protect it was far worse. The Asian man sighed tiredly and nodded at Stephen. “Fine. I’ll trust you know what you’re doing, but take only glimpses. Knowing the future is a dangerous thing. We don’t need Mordo coming after your ass, too, if he somehow finds out you’re messing with that thing.”
“Got it.” Stephen said with a small smile at his friend for showing him such trust and faith. What he was asking for was a tall order any day, let alone now, when another friend was mercilessly sealing other people’s powers and hunting down famous superheroes and an unknown threat regarding the Time Stone and said famous superhero were somehow dragged into what used to be a simple mess. Now it was all beyond tangled and Strange didn’t know what to make of it all. Hopefully, this will help, as dangerous as it was. “Wish me luck.”
“Just don’t screw time over,” was all Wong said and Stephen snorted before closing his eyes and concentrating, doing the necessary hand gestures to open the Eye of Agamotto and let the Time Stone’s green light wash over them both and the library at large. He connected his mind to the Time Stone and let it take the lead after he implanted a suggestion of what he would like to see, just like he had read in the Book of Cagliostro. It was surprisingly easy to do, despite it all being considered a higher, more complicated form of magic. He guessed he just had a knack for it.
The images came soon enough, the Time Stone answering to his call. He was surprised to find himself in the relatively close future, if the looks of him, Wong and Stark are anything to go by. They were standing in a street not far away from the Sanctum, facing off two alien looking figures that didn’t seem friendly at all with a stranger on their own side. He saw a glimpse of the other five Infinity Stones floating in front of a serious looking Tony as the stranger desperately told him something, pleading with him. He saw him and Stark and some teenage boy standing in front of a strange window of sorts, deep outer space just beyond the glass, millions of stars, consolations and galaxies making them look dramatic and ethereal. Then they were on some strange plane that Stephen could not recognize but would guess to be another planet, the teenage boy and a group of four others thrown about like discarded toys, half conscious. Stephen himself was down and panting hard. Only Stark was still fighting, taking on a purple giant with a ferocity most of the universe would envy him for.
A drop of dark blood.
A sword going through Stark.
A golden gauntlet patting the man’s head gently, as though in reassurance before the light of four Infinity Stones was directed at the injured man.
“Stop.” Stephen was surprised to hear his own voice call out. “Spare his life and I will give you the Stone.”
“No tricks, wizard.” An unfamiliar voice that sounded neither threatening nor mad sent shivers down his spine regardless and he watched, confused, as he summoned the stone and gave it to the giant, ignoring Stark’s strangled “Don’t”.
“Why did you do that?” The billionaire asks when the giant is gone.
“We’re in the endgame, now.”
“Tony,” he find himself calling to the man some time later, as he feels himself slipping away to turn into dust. “There was no other way.”
A world of orange light and orange skies with an orange sun and orange clouds and water. People, all around him. Confused. Helpless. Resigned. Millions, billions, trillions of people, all around him, none there by choice. Half of the universe, something whispers in his mind. The Cloak is not with him. Perhaps it could no follow here.
He backtracks, panicked. He goes back, goes back to the planet his mind calls Titan. Back to before the fight. He’s sitting there, meditating while connected to the Time Stone, watching the futures. He can see them now as well, all fourteen million six hundred and five of them. Every future, every possibility, every option. Every death he or any of the other people on that planet will go through. Every ending of every scenario as they fight, desperately, the Mad Titan. He saw fourteen million six hundred and five futures and in only one they won, at the cost of half of the universe. He explores that future and sees that only a battle was lost and that the war has only just begun. He sees people, places, occurrences that have never been, may or may not ever be and he sees one man.
One mortal man who made the Mad Titan bleed.
The first to make him bleed.
He sees him snap his fingers and the balance is brought back, the lost life is brought back.
Doctor Stephen Strange finds himself in the desperate hug of one Tony Stark, along with the teenager he had seen earlier and he feel peace.
The Sorcerer Supreme jerks back to his time and to his body, closing the Eye of Agamotto with a gasp as his eyes fly open. Wong and the Cloak of Levitation hold him stead as he tries to stand, legs wobbly. He knows Wong is saying something but all he can hear are two snaps of fingers with two completely different meanings and all he can see are tears of happiness and relief streaming down bruised, bloodied, gaunt tan cheeks. The hands on him don’t feel quite right. Faces he’s never seen before are missing from where they had been just a moment before.
“Stephen, for the Ancient One’s sake, say something, damn it!” That finally drew his attention to Wong and he shook off the left over sensation of fourteen million six hundred and five futures off of him and out of his mind. Wong sighed in relief when Stephen found his footing, looking concernedly up at the taller male. “What happened? What did you see?”
“The end of the world kind of shit.” Strange says as he rakes a hand through his hair. “Wong, prepare the Sanctum for private lessons in the Mystic Arts, tell the other Masters to find the strongest barriers they know or can find and to prepare them. We’ll need to put them up in the near future, I fear.”
“Stephen?” The Asian sorcerer frowned. “What’s going on?”
“I need to find Stark. We need to protect him.”
“Why?” Wong asked as Stephen sat down in a chair and prepared to enter the astral frame to go check on said billionaire.
“Because he’s not the one in danger or the danger. He’s the only one who can stop it.” Blue-green eyes met bewildered dark brown ones with a seriousness that froze Wong’s blood in his veins.
“He’s the Endgame, Wong. He’s the key to the universe.”