Who: Magic Trio (Wanda, Stephen, Loki) What: how to quickly and safely cleanse a dimensional demon from a pregnant woman When: recently, end of August Rating: Green, with some exorcist barf involved.
Now that Wanda had coasted into the second trimester of pregnancy, she was feeling a lot better - she could actually eat, for one thing. The morning sickness (a deceiving name since it occurred pretty much anytime) had tapered off, and food held appeal for her once more. She craved a lot of it, specific types, nothing too out of the ordinary - just a lot of red meat so far. Burgers, steak, stir fry. She wasn’t sure if it was your run of the mill craving or...something else.
The something else was why she was at the Sanctum, still able to fit into her favorite short-sleeved red dress with the frilled neckline and still able to fit into her shoes. Hopefully that would last - being pregnant with twins obviously meant she’d get a lot bigger, quicker. So she’d see what happened.
Either way, learning that she was indeed pregnant with twins sort of lit a fire under her to finally take care of the dark, demonic magic she’d been tainted with, the magic she felt as if she’d unknowingly looped herself in like webs. Things had been calm since she’d gotten pregnant but that could change - quick as a streak of lightning, lashing out; she knew this presence within was hungry too, with a black hole for an appetite. Getting rid of it couldn’t hurt the babies, it just couldn’t.
“What do we do first?” she asked the other magic users in the room; instinctively, she’d wrapped her arm around herself, slinging it across her midsection. But she was willing to do most anything to fix this, once and for all.
Stephen knew this was going to be problematic the moment he found out where the demonic entity originated from. Sending it back to it's point of origin, even separating it from the children within her, was going to be very difficult to do without harming Wanda. And there was nothing in the universe that would make him want to hurt Wanda.
What surprised him was that Loki was helping, but since he didn't seem like the Loki of before, there was less animosity involved. The same amount of contempt was there, which made this situation feel like rival stage magicians each protecting their secrets.
"I will share a secret with you," Loki told Wanda with a wink that was so subtle and swift that Stephen had to do a double take to make sure he was seeing it. He rarely missed even the tiniest detail, so that was a feat. "And then your realm's magician can work his magic."
"Sorcerer," Stephen interjected, "Supreme."
"Barely," Loki mumbled, with a long-suffering sigh. "Give or take a couple hundred more years of intense study....."
"I'll do the rest," Stephen finished telling Wanda, in a slightly louder but no less flatly spoken reply as before. He could open a dimensional rift to call forth the demon's master from Hell. But he knew that the bargain that would ensue afterward was going to take every bit of his and the God of Mischief's abilities to achieve a relatively peaceful solution.
Luckily, he and Loki already discussed a plan prior to this moment. It was an uneasy alliance and a daunting undertaking to work together, but it was a start. Far better than having knives pulled on him.
Wanda trusted Loki, surprisingly - it was odd, but she just knew that he wouldn’t harm her or the twins; she had never given him a reason to and besides, she also knew what it was like to be scorned and feared by pretty much everyone. Maybe he wouldn’t walk into the fire for anyone (besides his new bride, and she couldn’t blame him for obviously wanting to return in one piece to her) but he knew magic and he’d help out - that was all she asked for.
And naturally she trusted Stephen as well. More than most. “If there is anything I need to do with my own magic to push it along...” she trailed off, the implication being that she would certainly do it. She also wasn’t shying away from jumping in to stop Stephen from doing something awful, or otherwise share the burden with him - bargaining with a demon was dangerous business, after all.
Beyond that, she was ready.
And Loki, surprisingly, recognized that same quality in Wanda as well. They were all different, even what he liked to refer to as Earth's paltry excuse for a sorcerer. They were all odd enough not to fit in with the rest of this mundane world. What Loki sensed here between the three of them was power. Raw or refined, harnessed to varying degrees, he could feel it as clearly as he could feel seidr moving through Yggdrasil that once connected their realms together and helped fuel Asgard's glory.
"Leave most of this to us," Stephen assured Wanda While he didn't fully trust Loki after the attack on Earth, at least he knew about the specific reasons now. It didn't mean he wasn't removed from the Threat List, or that he didn't want Thor and Valkyrie to not keep an eye on the God of Mischief. Trickster deities always caused trouble, whether they meant to or not.
"You will soon have more than enough to manage," Loki told her as he moved closer. When Stephen nodded once and turned to open up a portal, Loki stood close by Wanda's side, leaning in to whisper in her ear, softly. His words would ensnare anyone into a lulling sense of compliance, to agree with whatever the suggestion was. You will remain calm and believe that nothing is amiss. Nothing will harm you. As for what is within you, I want you to listen closely...."
Loki began to speak in another tongue entirely, in something old and dark and far removed from anything that ever existed on Earth. Whatever he said was meant to tell her how to safely help push the beast free at the right moment, as well as fully sedate the darkness within, lulling it into a deep dreamlike state it couldn't wake from, until it was too late.
"I shall see you later," he told Wanda. And with the last word and a sly smile, Loki seemed to vanish into thin air.
Meanwhile, Stephen was muttering an incantation that caused several protection sigils to blaze forth in mid-air around them. The darkness within the portal began to turn into a dull crimson glow that rippled like a stone thrown into a pond. When it settled, it revealed a landscape that looked like it was a pit of fire from the book of Revelations. Along with the cacophony of tormented screams, a sudden blast of heat hit them both, like they stepped too close to a furnace. The strong smell of brimstone filled the room inside the Sanctum, like rotten eggs in a toxic waste dump.
"...I call on you, Mephisto, to come forth! As Sorcerer Supreme, I want to make a deal with you!" Stephen called out with a firm voice that would not be ignored, looking like none of this bothered him despite the beads of sweat on his brow. All the while, he was silently hoping that Loki's powers to convince and swindle others would work on their next step.
As they waited, he took a step back to stand by Wanda's side, taking her hand in one of his and squeezing it lightly, to let her know that everything would be ok. Even the glance he gave her was a cunning one that even Loki could appreciate. It plainly told her without words, that they had a plan.
"He likes to be fashionably late," he mumbled to Wanda. Wanting to make sure she wasn't feeling ill with all of the heat, he asked, "Are you feeling ok? Do you need to sit down?"
Wanda let it happen. She had never been on the other end of a mind trick (usually she was the one playing at them), but it was necessary - Loki’s words seeped into her, she drew in a lungful of air and when she exhaled her worries evaporated. Those words were soothing colors, painting to and fro, the way grapevines grew - they became part of her memory bank even if she wasn’t fully cognizant of it, and then he was gone.
It took her a moment to realize what Stephen had done - the look on her face, when he called out that he wanted to make a deal with Mephisto? It was like her worries came back, they were a fire seed she forgot to water and they almost erupted - but then she caught herself. Stephen had a plan. He and Loki, they had a plan - they both knew how to deal with demons, beyond just giving in to their demands.
The air suddenly smelled like sulfur and despair; the heat was oppressive and the kind that zapped energy from every pore. Now, more than ever, she wanted to be free of all of this.
“No,” she shook her head, holding Stephen’s hand as a tether to the moment. “I mean, I am feeling fine. I do not need to sit. I just want him to hurry up.” Her tone was steely because she had to keep it together. There was no other option.
Stephen shrugged a shoulder, surprisingly confident despite the circumstances, "I've read he's a bit like the Tony Stark of Hell."
Or at least that's what it seemed like, from reading a few locked up summoning books in Kamar-taj.
Soon enough a shadowy mass began to coalesce outside of the portal, forming the shape of a figure that preferred a grander entrance than stepping through an open portal like most mundane creatures would. The figure that emerged from that mass was a towering 8 feet in height, with vividly red flesh and burning eyes. His clothing was scant - it was obviously warm enough in Hell to go without - but his cloak was grand enough to mark him a Hell Lord. It was a silken crimson that flowed like blood from his shoulders to the floor, and a collar that rivaled Dr. Strange's for sheer anti-gravity staying power as it rose up behind a head of unruly red hair.
"You have summoned me, mortals, and I have come," Mephisto said, his voice like a mass of slithering serpents, a mixture of malice and mirthfulness. "Who here willingly strikes a bargain with Mephistopheles?"
The demon's eyes fell on Wanda and he smiled, bearing a row of teeth like daggers.
"Is it you? Oh, how I hope it is you," Mephisto said, summoning a glass of what appeared to be wine, but was tinged more purple than red. He began swirling it around as he watched her with an appraising eye. "You have untapped potential."
"It was me," Stephen said, cutting this off quickly. "I'm bartering myself on her behalf. One of your demons has possessed her, and we need you to remove it."
Mephisto pursed his lips as though considering it.
"Oh, but I traffic in souls, Sorcerer Supreme," he told them, mockingly. "What do you wish to barter, for me to do this trivial task?"
"If it's a trivial task, then a soul isn't on the agenda," Strange said with a tight smile.
"But it is of some magnitude to remove a demon from this lovely young lady," Mephisto countered, taking a sip of wine as he looked at Wanda. "A favor then, to do Hell's good work."
"One favor, for one complete and non-deadly demon removal? I'll need to read that contract before signing," Dr. Strange said with conviction. "No fine print."
"There is always fine print," Mephisto said, producing a scroll that was written in Olde Hellish. It was translatable to humans, in the all too familiar languages of Averice, Wrath, and Desperation.
Strange took it and the obligatory red feather quill, taking it to a nearby table to read it over. Given how fast he could speed read and absorb information, not even the fine print would take long.
Meanwhile, Mephisto was staring directly at Wanda's stomach, almost giddily smiling ear to ear.
"Oh, this will be interesting," he said, as though he saw something no one else did and was reveling in it. "I would offer you some of Hell's finest vintage to celebrate, but most humans have this not drinking while pregnant ideology..."
The demon lord made a 'eh' noise like 'What can you do?' and shrugged a shoulder, taking another sip of wine as Stephen cut his hand to sign on a dotted line.
Hell’s finest vintage. Wanda could scarcely believe this was actually happening - though she smelled the blood when Stephen cut his hand (she was pregnant, she could smell everything); it sliced through the aroma of brimstone and rotten eggs. She swiveled to look at him so fast she was surprised she didn’t break her neck - her eyes were blue flames, like the end of a blowtorch, though beyond that her expression didn’t betray anything.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING????!!!
The telepathic question rang like hell’s own bells. Granted, a favor seemed a little better than Stephen willingly signing away his soul - but still. If this was the plan, she was starting to get concerned.
Then her frosty gaze slid back toward Mephisto, and she tilted her head a bit, like she was daring him to keep looking at her the way he was. Her twins weren’t demons - if she had to move Heaven and Earth to keep them from becoming as much, she would. She would sign her soul to the devil himself to keep them safe - why didn’t Stephen just let her?
She wanted to be done with this. She wanted to push Mephisto back from the portal he was summoned from. Her own magic began to bubble and simmer - untapped potential, he said. Maybe it was that. But it was also slowly becoming more controlled - before Stephen, she didn’t really know how to use anything besides what was negative as a way to focus her abilities. It was anger rushing through her mind, the smashing of glass, pulled from a place of pain. But it was also the empowerment of passion and love, warmth from a fire that blazed forever - he had taught her how to pull her magic from this place, and now he was signing a contract on her behalf. A contract with a demon.
One she could not outright attack, or otherwise tip off in any way. Maybe she couldn’t stop Stephen from this but she could make sure neither of them got killed.
“No,” she decided, holding out her hand for a glass. “I want some. One sip won’t hurt.”
Before Mephisto could offer the wine to Wanda, Stephen interceded. He stepped between them, fending off a headache twinge from being telepathically put on blast.
"Signed and dated," Stephen said with a tight smile. "Now if you can uphold your end of the bargain...."
"I always do," Mephisto said with a smile that was anything but friendly. He turned to Wanda and held out one hand, beckoning the demon out from within her. The pain of a dimensional entity akin to a demon possessing a human was beyond his comprehension. But calling a demon home to its master was a trifling affair for one of the most powerful lords of Hell.
The first pull of the dark energy was like a tearing within as it separated from the blood and bone it had infested, including from around the children in her womb. It moved within her as though curling up for protection, a few dark tendrils reaching out as though straggling along, or trying to linger behind.
As that happened, the hidden suggestion began to well up within her, like the whisper of incoming danger. It was a dire urging to push every tiny speck of darkness from her. Even if she had to use her shielding to keep the beast contained or to vomit it out at Mephisto's feet, she had to be rid of it all, entirely. There couldn't be anything left behind, after this. If there was, her children would be at risk.
Despite how angry she might be, Stephen moved to Wanda's side, resting one hand against her back to steady her and silently offering her moral support. He would always be a doctor at heart, and this was a pregnant young woman under stress. He wanted to keep as close an eye on her as possible.
Wanda didn’t know what exactly was happening - but she could tell the presence within her had some kind of mind to it, and based on the pulse of pain and the resistance she felt, it did not want to go anywhere. Well, good for it - it was strong, however, her will and desire to keep her children safe was much stronger.
You didn’t mess with a mama bear, no matter if you were a demon or otherwise.
The pain crept at first, cold and slippery, prickling her skin. Then it just increased, more like lightning strikes. What looked like liquid onyx bubbled up from within, pouring from her nose, her mouth - she coughed, choking on it, and her magic acted on autopilot; it latched onto the connection between the demon and her, what remained of it, severing, to carve them both apart and separate one from the other. Her hands pushed outward, no warning given when the scarlet blasts burst from her fingertips - red to the left and to the right, her eyes now glowed with it too as she opened a zipper in the fabric of this world. Magic crackled and popped, twisting over her skin like vines.
That magic was a sizzling blade, wielded to sever the connection completely. What was a breeze rippling through the air turned into a blast of wind, paving the way for the exit - it smelled like scorched earth, the singe of smoke, and that sharp wind was meant to blow Mephisto off course. The words to ensure his disappearance were spoken - and through the fabric of this world he went, falling into the next. And probably the next.
Wanda had been levitating a bit, her shields and the sturdiness of her powers lifting her off the ground - but when the opening zipped shut, and the wind was sucked out of the room, she fell. She caught herself on her hands and knees, still coughing, but it was done. She hoped.
The sheer raw power that Wanda possessed was always an impressive sight, but it was her will that drove that power, and Stephen never ceased to be impressed by that. He was already kneeled down next to her, rubbing a hand over her upper back in a slow circle to calm and steady her as she recovered from the experience. His primary focus the entire time was saving Wanda and her unborn children, but he was also watching for any abnormalities afterward. There weren't any that he suspected, but it was better safe than sorry.
Now that the worst was over and Mephisto was gone, Loki seemed to come out of nowhere, revealing himself with a shimmering ribbon of green light. It was as though he was stepping out from behind a magical curtain. Ta da.
"Oh dear. At least she's not dead" he said. Often times, he was all for the calculated pushing of buttons and envelopes, or just about any other preconceived limitation...simply to see how far it could go. But he wasn't one who wanted to get caught up too deep in the resulting mess, without an escape route. That included anyone that just vomited out the residual remains of a demon. "I assume our plan worked?"
"It worked," Stephen replied, as calm as calm could be. He couldn't sense that anything remained inside her anymore. "It's gone and your safe, Wanda. That's what counts."
The heat from the encounter with Mephisto was dissipating, but perhaps it was because of Wanda - whose cold, stiff mannerisms and expressions, as she pushed herself up from the floor (that was what she did, all the time, she fell and then would get back up) could surely lower the temperature in the room.
Her gaze alone was an act of violence.
“What worked?” she demanded. “You don’t have to hide anything from me anymore. Mephisto is gone. Stephen signed...something, I don’t even know what. Are you safe?” she asked her friend. “Because it doesn’t seem like you are.”
"Well," Stephen hedged, looking askew at Loki, "safe is always a subjective term."
Loki held up both hands and feigned innocence like this wasn't on him, even if it was fifty percent his idea.
"It's safe to say that if I conceal myself, it's for some purpose," Loki replied, trying to hide a small smile and failing miserably. "That contract has a few additions to it. With my blood, seidr, and a spell to render it invisible."
"Which will not be revealed until such time that said contract is presented for Mephisto to cash in on that favor," Stephen interjected. "It will render his terms null and void. You can't cash in on someone's soul...."
"...if someone else already owns it," Loki finished gleefully, holding up a rolled up scroll. "I discreetly added in on Mephisto's parchment, along with my signature, that the contract was null and void if the soul was already spoken for."
Stephen wanted to rest a hand on Wanda's shoulder, but refrained. He was often the first to step into the thick of things, and all too willing to deal with consequences after. It was the result that counted most, and Wanda was important to him.
"We couldn't tell you while the entity was still inside you," Stephen explained. "We had to control that narrative, and put our terms in writing. If it knew or realized what was happening, it would immediately tell Mephisto."
All was quiet in the Sanctum. Meaning, that hadn't happened. Dimensional beings from a place that was very much akin to Hell were not raining down on everyone. Street preachers everywhere could rejoice, until tomorrow when the world was ending.
Wanda exhaled, feeling dizzy. Her hand went to her abdomen - on what amounted to a small pregnancy belly; her stomach was usually flat, but baking twins in the motherly oven meant that she was expanding quicker. One might think she was either pregnant or had been eating too much ice cream, given the look of her.
But her relatively small twin-bump was still there. They were still safe, and so was she. “Thank you,” she actually hugged Loki and she hugged Stephen too - but with him it was one of those hugs where she threw thin arms around him and cried into his Sorcerer Supreme ensemble. Sobs comprised of relief and hormones. She knew there was no perfect solution - it just wasn’t the way when dealing with demons - but this seemed to be as close to escaping with everything intact (souls and all) that could be managed.
“I hope to be of more use, whenever Mephisto returns,” she said. No doubt he would be angry about this trickery. “And really, thank you - but nothing involving your soul in the future, please?” She looked up at him, with watery eyes. “I want you around. I want one of my twins to have the very best godfather.” The most alive godfather - that was her way of asking, yes.
Now rendered silent, Loki was left standing behind Stephen, looking shocked but delighted about the hug. People didn't hug him, and it was...an unexpectedly nice feeling to help a young mother, as well as the opportunity to dupe a soul collecting demon. There was a smile on his face as he watched the pair, and he felt absolutely no urge to stab anyone. This universe seemed full of acceptance - not to mention sentiment - and surely it was rubbing off on him. No wonder Thor liked it so much.
Stephen, meanwhile, was silent because that was a huge surprise.
"I'm honored, Wanda," he finally said, hugging her as she stared up at him with teary blue eyes. "I'll do everything in my power to see that you three are protected. No promises, but I'll try to avoid selling my soul to cheesy devils from other dimensions."
It was a tall order, but Stephen knew he could do it. What worried him was the way that he looked at Wanda a little too appreciatively, a little too smugly. He wasn't sure what that was about, and whatever it might be was in the past. The dark entity infesting Wanda was gone. They had their ruse in place, so bases were covered and this world and the Maximoff's were all safe. That was what mattered most to him.
"We'll let you know when he returns," Stephen assured her. "And if there's any problems, we'll take care of it."
He looked over at Loki a little warily, and Loki smiled back. It wasn't a particularly nice smile, but it wasn't a malevolent one either. It looked like it was ripped into sharp edges from someone who knew too much, and yet was still irresponsibly playful enough to rival any naughty child with a hand stuck in a cookie jar.
It wasn't a comfort to him. It was a good thing that Stephen didn't care about comfort.
He cared about keeping people safe, no matter the cost.