"And now we move to item two on the to-do list," Sera said. "Finding the lost Furnace of the Hierophants."
Angela nodded grimly, as she was wont to do.
Sera stretched. "Any ideas?"
"No. Knowing things is your purview," Angela said. She sounded almost teasing, but she was Angela and her tails were limp.
Sera shrugged as she pulled on her shirt. They were looking for a different Furnace than the one she'd seen into. At the same time, it was also the same Furnace. It was a metaphysical thing and not worth thinking too much about. Nevertheless, same or different, the Furnace itself was and had always had been, hidden from her sight. There was no need. The Furnace was always where the Furnace always was.
Would that it could be that easy. But why wouldn't it be? The Furnace of the Hierophants was always where it always was and if it wasn't, then it was anyway, because it was a space-time anomaly. A fixed narrative point. Wherever it was was where it had always been. What it was it had not always been, but that mattered less than that there was a Furnace in the place where the Furnace was.
Sera breathed out and focused. There the Furnace was.
Breaking into the Temple of the Hierophants was not supposed to be something one did often and yet here Angela and Sera were, again. Time really was a circle.
The Furnace looked different then it had the last time Sera had seen it. That stood to reason, it was not the same Furnace. And yet, and still, when she stared into it the Furnace stared back.
This time, though... This time it stared back with eyes.
Poison green eyes of two different shades. Witchbreed and Faustian, past and future, handmaiden and queen.
Sera and Angela were so stunned by what they were seeing that the Hierophants had time to mount a counterattack. The dashing lovers made a hasty retreat, on Sera's suggestion; until they could figure out how to sever Leah and the other girl both from each other and from the Furnace, there was nothing more they could do.
"Why?" Angela asked. They weren't even safe yet, only halfway there, at best, but that had never stopped Angela before.
"Why did we run or why Leah and the other?" Sera replied. Unlike Angela, she did not stop running.
"Why Leah." Angela caught up with Sera.
They emerged in Central Park. It was a welcome sight always and especially for Sera after having been among the anchorites once more. She found a bench and sat facing a statue. Angela sat by her side.
"Leah's timeline is one of the most convoluted in this universe -- in any universe," Sera said. She launched herself into an explanation. She skipped over God-Emperor Doom's Creation as much as she could. Angela never liked to think about that. Through some twisted reasoning of her own, she inputted to Doom the same flaws she inputted Odin. Doom was a flawed man and an even more flawed god, but had the saving grace of not being Odin the Butcher.
"The Furnace needs a fixed point in time to exist. Leah, with all the complications of her timeline, is something better. She's a paradox weaved through this universe and the next, an anchor. If fire drives the Furnace, Leah is what allows it to be driven and see through all of time and space," Sera said. The memory of the Temple is long Sera almost said, but that was a mantra she would no longer speak.
"And the other?" Angela asked.
Sera shrugged. She thought she knew, but she was no expert. And the girl was from Doom's Creation, a Witchbreed turned Faustian turned Witchbreed again. She had power enough and will enough to contain the Furnace.
And she would have to contain the Furnace. If she didn't, it would spread its fire across all of reality and do what fire did best. Burn.
Angela nodded. She trusted Sera. For her sins. For Sera's sins.
"We need to save Leah and Anna-Maria," Angela said. Her mouth twisted. Sera needed neither telepathy nor transtemporal knowledge to know what she was thinking, that she was wondering where the name of the other girl had come from.
"Quite." Sera bit her lip. "We need an Uru blade to sever the connection to the Furnace."
"Tony Stark," Angela said.
Sera continued, "And I doubt Asgardia will let us -- Tony Stark?"
Sear breathed in and refocused her inner sight. Tony Stark had a long and varied history, across many universes. She focused on this one and on his connection with Uru.
When the Serpent had brought the world's fears to life, Odin -- thrice cursed be his name -- had given the Iron Man the means to acquire an armour made of Uru. Once the danger had passed, Odin had reclaimed the Uru.
But Tony Stark was a scientist at the core, with a scientist's flaws. He'd kept some of the Uru for study.
So yes, if they wanted to avoid Asgardia, visiting Tony Stark would be the best way to acquire the raw material for an Uru blade.
They would need primordial fire and a smith to forge the blade. Angels of Angela's rank had no care for where their weapons came from and Sera had been the lowest kind of anchorite.
Tony Stark was easy to find. He had his name lit up in lights on the side of a building, after all. Sera didn't actually need foreknowledge to find him, then, but that party trick always had the most wonderful effect on the ladies, especially the one lady Sera cared about in that particular way.
So find Tony Stark they did.
He was in the middle of something though what that something was, Sera couldn't quite tell.
"Hello," she said, because it never hurt to be polite when you were going to try and make a deal. Angela never understood that politeness was its own sort of deal: I say the right things, you say the right and this goes much easier for the both of us.
"I fucking hate magic," Tony Stark said. "What do you want? I have Stephen Strange and Doctor Doom on speed-dial, you know."
Sera smiled. "I know."
"You're being creepy."
"I know." Sera's smile widened.
"I'm not doing this. What do you want?" Tony Stark reached for his gauntlet.
"We need your help saving the world," Sera said. Not quite a lie, but not quite a truth, either.
"No you don't," Stark said, which was quite rude, if you asked Sera. "You wouldn't need to sneak into my lab if you were trying to save the world."
"Fine. We're going to save two young ladies who don't deserve what's happening to them, we need your help to make sure that doesn't destroy the universe." She smiled again her creepy smile. "Space-time anomalies, you know."
From then on, getting Tony Stark to help was easy. Sera appealed to his self-destructive nature and made him the deal: she would give him the means to forge an Uru blade and he would let her use said Uru blade if she needed to. All the while Angela glowered silently in the background.
They retravelled to the Furnace by now well-trodden roads that angels still feared to tread.
"Whatever happens do not geek out," Sera warned Stark.
The Iron Man armour nodded in reply.
Angela stepped forward and kicked open the Furnace. Primordial fire leaked out. Stark went to work. Within moments he held a blade. Uru was always easier to forge the second time around.
Sera held out her hand. He gave her the blade. It was white hot from forging, but then it had to be. A deal was a deal. Nothing for nothing. If she was taking from the fire, she had to give something back.
Angela cried out in alarm. Sera blew her a kiss with her free hand.
With the other, she cleaved Leah and Anna-Maria from the Furnace. With another swing of the blade, she severed them from each other.
Leah stumbled to her feet. For a moment, the person looking out behind her eyes was someone else and not a person at all, the death of the unmourned. Then she returned to herself once more, hand turned handmaiden of the queen of the dishonoured dead turned free woman, captain of her fate, master of her soul.
Anna-Maria heaved. It was ugly, dirty dry heaves that raked her entire body and send green lightning coursing between her shoulders. She sat up.
Leah reached out and grabbed her hand. She kissed the back of it. "I am sorry that I could not save you."
"So, thanks to all at once and to each one," Anna-Maria said.
"Let's get out of here," Angela said. She pulled Leah to her feet.
Sera pulled Anna-Maria to her feet. "Ice-cream?"
Iron Man raised his hand.
"Yeah," Sera said. "You can come too."