“...if it was my book, in the name of Visanthi, I swear I’ll trap you inside the mirror dimension.”
The professional murderer flinched. His extraordinary reflexes put him back to action, and his sudden assault almost reached the face of his opponent. However, the spine of the book never touched the stern, familiar face; the action was blocked by a translucent wall. It looked fragile but in fact very much sturdy it made the attacker withdrew his weapon. Fathomed that there was no need for aggression, those fighters neutralized their stance, and tense faces were replaced by a more friendly expression.
The taller man who wrapped himself in a less-modern attire stared at the dead body leaned on the table. His neck was fatally snapped and twisted in an awfully wrong direction. Heavily, he sighed,
“Did you just murder a man using a book?”
“The wise man said that knowledge is power,” said the exhausted one in a fine, black tuxedo.
“And that words are mightier than a sword, yes.”
“Especially when they were printed and bundled in hardcover.”
“You took things way too literally,” a curve rose on the face of the man with two symmetrical white streaks on his hair, “... Jonathan.”
Jonathan – John Wick, ignored the commentary and bowed down to pick the bibliography he used to assassinate his former fellow mercenary. He stepped slowly as he forced his bruised legs to cooperate then returned the thick book into the empty space of the bookshelves. Very, very, carefully, he almost could feel the burn from the sorcerer’s gaze, knowing his obsession toward the ancient literature.
Stephen Strange slightly grinned when their eyes met and without a single word, he asked the lone wolf to follow him. A soft grunt escaped his thin lips, but John nodded nevertheless, and cautiously watched the glimpse of reddish-orange appeared around the wizard’s left hand. Stephen, using no help from the sling-ring, effortlessly cut through space, connected the library to the Sanctum.
The executioner huffed; magic wasn’t a thing he ever fancied, yet he saw no other option but to go through the portal. He trailed behind Stephen and swallowed his curiosity concerning the bizarre method, but he couldn’t help but ask with his calm voice,
“Why are you helping me, Doctor?”
“Me, helping you?” Stephen chuckled in a mocking manner, “Not exactly me, Jonathan. I believe your expertise in killing need nothing of my help. I heard you successfully annihilated three people using a single pencil, and honestly, that wasn’t a piece of news I’d love to hear when I was enjoying my breakfast.”
John scoffed, “News sure spreads too fast. But you’re not even close in answering my question.”
“Well, I couldn’t reject an exact request from a certain person, so,”
His words were floating, undone.
John was about to object, but he remained silent as he arrived at the magical base of New York City. The dimmed lights. The scent of aged papyrus and herbal tea. The cozy ambiance and the warmth from the crackling fireplace. The faint buzzing noise and the fiery sparks vanished, in unison with the disappearance of the multidimensional door behind him. Stephen briefly walked up to the stairs with his guest obediently followed. John made himself clear not to touch anything or he might end up in a terrible situation; the flowing motion of the living cloak on the host’s shoulders screamed the warning more loudly than enough.
They arrived on the second floor and John immediately sensed the familiar presence of a refined man who stood near the iconic window. He faced the stained glass, his back welcomed him like an old fellow from the past, and John needed no extra clue to acknowledge who he was.
“You look terribly battered; they beat the shit out of you pretty damn well, huh,” the tone was more irritating compared to what he remembered. John watched the eccentric billionaire over; how he turned back, now facing both the sorcerer and the assassin, a grin on his smug face, “Hm, Johnnie?”
The hitman raised an eyebrow.
He glared at Stephen Strange, who returned his annoyed look with a more concerned one, then lightly shrugged, “...he insisted.”
Tony Stark examined John Wick; an obviously wicked arch painted on his lips, even though he didn’t even try to mask his relief. You’re alive, asshole.
Stephen crossed his legs and levitated himself, instantly entering his meditation stance. He clearly possessed no interest in further conversation but he told himself to stand guard. Either the visitor or the requester, both of them had the capability powerful enough to destroy the whole Sanctum.
“You asked him to rescue me,” John was careful with his words, “Anthony?”
Tony discarded the shades he was wearing, put them neatly in his breast pocket, then spread his hands as if he wanted to embrace a long-lost friend. But he didn’t. He couldn’t since it wasn’t his real body which occurred in front of the expert gun person.
“It would be harmful for his reputation to be physically here,” it wasn’t really necessary to state it that bluntly, Stephen knew, but he couldn’t stand the icy atmosphere, “But he persisted, so this is the best thing I could do,” they eyed Tony’s transparent figure, which moved reluctantly – clearly he didn’t master the astral projection but struggled his best to maintain his existence, “He couldn’t use his advanced technology to form his hologram-self too, the High Table might track his personal network traffic and found out that he tried to contact you.”
John understood, “You should never let him stain the mighty name of the Stark family, Doctor,” he whispered, which was responded by Stephen’s ‘you-know-him’ expression, then faced Tony’s ancestral plane with a worried gaze, “If they discover this, Anthony, they will make you plead for forgiveness. The High Table is remarkably merciless and the adjudicator won’t hesitate to slash you into pieces, I - ” he slightly lost his composure, “Anthony, this could put you in danger and I can. Not. Protect. You.”
“As far as I’m concerned, the Sanctum is a neutral zone – no, precisely, this place never existed, free from any jurisdiction, not under the High Table, the government, not even the earth knew we met here, right now,” Tony crossed his arms, expressing his small victory, “I can’t help you directly since you have used your ticket and I would never risk my entire clan to save your ass, Johnnie, but… your clock is ticking fast, am I right?”
The former agent be very quiet,
“How much do you have left? Eight minutes?”
“And twenty-one seconds,” John corrected, “Nineteen, now.”
“Would you assist him with his wounds, Stephen?” Tony humbly asked the ex-neurosurgeon with a gentle smile, “And perhaps, a new shirt? It must be hard for him to roam around the city full of gangsters wearing a bloody piece of clothes.”
“Unless you want me to suture the punctured wound on his shoulder, Tony, you know I don’t have the steadiest hands,” with a snap of his trembling fingers, a set of emergency surgery tools formed itself from the empty air, “You know how to stitch yourself, I assume?” Stephen kindly asked.
The badly injured fugitive weakly chuckled, “And several tablets of painkiller is it’s not too much.”
John forced his crippled feet to move and dragged himself to the bathroom. He stood still in front of the mirror and unbuttoned his tattered, bloody white shirt. A few seconds was all he needed to examine the large, gaping gash below his collarbone. Tick, tock, he grasped the sterilized needle and the thread, his talented hands quickly sew together the severe wound, almost as capable as his proficiency in killing. However, it was painful enough for him as he let a grunt escaped his mouth several times and every time he did that, Stephen could see Tony tried to block his own hearing. It was halfway done when John resuming their discussion, “Could you please take me to the Continental, doctor?”
“You have to be specific, which Continental.”
“The one in the same town,” another groan, the blood dripped and splashed, blotched on the mirror and the basin, followed by curses, “...what, you charge the passenger according to the distance?”
Stephen snorted, “I can’t take you to the place I never visited,” he made a point, “How far from the checkpoint I should take you?” the sorcerer discreetly asked, obviously didn’t want to draw attention.
“As close as you could, please,”
John was panting in extreme discomfort. He felt a slight fever crept inside him and the bruises on his entire body began to throb. The scissors painted in red slipped his heavily shivered hand and the sound of clicking metals echoed in the bathroom. Three more minutes. Only if he could buy more time.
“Where will you be heading to, Johnnie?” Tony’s voices brought his sanity back.
“I’ll find my way to the Elders,” drained, John left the bathroom and sank himself on the nearby sofa, inaudibly apologized to the sorcerer for tarnishing his furniture, “I know a path which would safely lead me there, but first, I have to make sure the Continental put my dog in an ultimate security.”
The weapon specialist hummed, “Casablanca,” he hissed, “The Director?”
“She could never deny my request,” he declared, as his grip the crucifix inside his pocket tightly, “The blood is thicker than water, right, Anthony?”
“I could never betray the High Table,” the deepness in his voice indicated his truest loyalty, “But – ”
Tony let his eyes did the whole talking,
Even in his diaphanous state, John could feel his honey-colored eyes pierced a hole through his chest. And it was more tormenting than any excruciating physical wound he ever experienced. Only, if only, the leader of the Stark clan presented in his solid form, ‘The Reaper’ would gladly take him to his arm. There were long, untold stories beneath the brutality of the underworld, and theirs was one of the few. A secret within a secret, a clandestine inside a devotion. The days of the killing-spree was long gone, he was no longer in association with the crime lord, yet sometimes, the longing was too strong to be ignored.
Anthony Edward of the Stark family; an American mob, to him he committed his faithfulness, until the day he broke more than just one of the crucial rules and led him to the path of endless darkness. He wished he could hold him like he used to, he wished he could touch and kissed and devoured him,
But it was enough to see him this way.
More than enough.
“One minute and sixteen seconds,” John glanced at the giant pendulum clock before analyzing the details of Tony’s face, just in case he lost his memory on his way, “You should sleep more, Anthony.”
“My company did further research concerning the advanced version of the bulletproof vest for the High Table’s enforcers and I didn’t specifically say that you have to use a high-caliber armor piercing shotgun shell to penetrate them,” said the head of the project with a sly face, “Neck and joints are nearly impossible to protect, so go for it, they’re uncovered,” Tony added with a playful wink.
“Benelli is heavy and needs some serious skill to reload,” he joked, slowly regained his strength as the painkillers he swallowed took its effect, “Well, should I thank you for providing me the information you should never leak.”
Tony shrugged, “To know your enemy, you must become your enemy."
“I already did,” John firmly spoke, referring to the tactical squad Tony talked about, “I always am my own enemy.”
“Then you’ve already won half of the battle.”
“Sure, I’d prefer listening to some quotes from The Art of War instead of Dante from a bloodthirsty maniac who tried so hard to strangle me,” he chuckled as he got up from his comfortable seat.
“You, assassin, should read lighter literature,” Tony bantered, “Try Twilight. It might lighten up the mood.”
John rolled his eyes, before slowly, softly nodded.
“Twenty seconds left,” he bowed, delicately, full of honor, “This rendezvous never happened.”
“I’m currently sleeping in my mansion,” Tony waved his both hands, “...technically.”
He kept himself from saying unnecessary things and turned back. His clock is ticking fast.
“Stay still, Tony, I’ll guide you home soon. Don’t lose your focus and don’t even think to move by yourself,” Stephen blanketed Tony in a spell, locked his astral projection in a purplish see-through framework, before returning his full attention to John, “Right after I open the portal, you run straight to the entrance. There are at least twenty high skilled combatants presently waiting for you.”
“In my current state, I could handle at least thirty of them until I collapse,” he wasn’t infamous as the Boogeyman for nothing, “By the way, can you lend me one of your artifacts? It might help.”
“The best I could offer is a broken ballpoint,” Stephen scoffed, "Also, please don’t force your left-hand to do the dirty works way too much unless you wish to be fatally infected. Germs and bacteria might be getting you killed this time.”
“I countlessly survived the death, Doctor, my life, my soul, I stand on the death of others,” he grimaced and patted his associate’s shoulder, made the cloak fidgeted, “Life… is suffering, after all.”
“Death could disguise itself as endless suffering too, take this as an advice from a person who countlessly experienced it,” Stephen moved his hand in a circling motion, “But then again, pain is an old friend.”
(From a distance, Tony groaned, “Goddamn masochists.”)
They snorted a sharp laugh.
“He wished nothing but your life, Jonathan,” the sorcerer's voice was seriously demanding, “I hope you’ll finally find the freedom you’re searching for.”
“And he was so lucky for having a talented man as you are on his very side,” John sincerely praised the sorcerer, “Could I trust his life in you until the day I return, Doctor?”
The flickering wheel appeared before him and John saw the facade of his next destination through the portal. Stephen extended a hand, a fine gesture for his guest to formally take his leave. The assassin stepped away from the Sanctum and found himself in an empty alley. He memorized Stephen’s face as he confirmed an oath, a promise he would keep, a vow which would lead him back to his front door,
“I put his life above mine, Jonathan,”
The magical gateway closed in a nanosecond,