Strange Tales #1
Footsteps grow louder with each step up the stairway. The door handle turns and the long-neglected door opens with a thin creak. Dust particles float through light, spilling in through the skylight in the dusty attic. He takes a step into the room filled with tall stacks covered with white sheets. He pulls a sheet from one of the vertical shapes, sending dust motes billowing into the room, revealing an old leather Victorian-Style arm chair.
He lets the sheet drop from his hands to the ground, sits in the chair, and looks around the room. Under all of these tarps were things he hadn’t used in ages, and might not ever get to actually use again. His mangled arms hang like dead weights over each armrest, as he looks around the attic of this old house on Bleecker St. ‘Nothing will be the same from here on out.’ thinks Stephen Strange… before be closes his eyes.
Randy Lander presents
Marvel Rebooted – Strange Tales
Issue #1 – The Good Doctor
by Nate Bliss
Strange throws his hands to the side in frustration. His eyes open to the bright golden-lit Tibetan chamber. His annoyed voice is sharp and echoes in the quiet chamber, “This is futile!”
Strange sits, cross-legged on a cushion in a large elaborate chamber. Two other men sit in the chamber to his left, and and an old man… an impossibly old man, sits facing the three of them. The old man strokes his beard and regards his new pupil with a careful eye. “Yes.”
He puts his hands on his knees and looks at the old man right in the eye “You agree, then!”
“If you keep talking, Stephen” He lets go of his long white beard and replies “Then it IS futile. Yes.”
Strange looks away from the old man, sharply… before continuing “That’s not what I mean. This is impossible.” His frustration was bubbling to the surface. His useless right hand, as much as it could, pulled at the edge of his tunic. Why was he here? How could any of this nonsense help him?
The ancient old man looked at Stephen, impassive. His gaze and expression had not changed despite his pupil’s frustrated outbursts and simply said “For nearly a quarter-candle, you have been meditating, successfully.”
“No, I haven’t.” he snaps back, bristling with anger before his shoulders sag a bit. What annoyed him most, more than his ruined body, was his inability to successfully perform this seemingly simple task. As simple as meditation sounded, he figured he should be able to begin with flying colors. His voice is now a little softer, “I can’t quiet my mind. I haven’t been able to stop my thoughts since I undertook this ridiculous task…”
“You cannot will your mind to stop thinking… the same way you cannot will your heart to stop beating.”
“Then what is the damn point of all this?!”
The ancient old man slowly stood from his cushion. He seemed much taller than Stephen originally thought he’d be, and fixed Stephen with a strong gaze. “The point… is so you can slow down. So you can live, and think, in the moment.”
The… Ancient One takes a weak step forward. He seemed to have as much difficulty walking as Stephen had using his arms. He continued “You are fixated on the past. You fret far too much about the future. This is normal. Everyone does. I do.”
The Ancient One hobbles over to Strange’s mat. “Your thoughts are going to keep occurring to you. You cannot stop them. Your past memories. Your future worries. They may come to you out-of-order.”
He takes another candle from his robes. “Let the thoughts come to you, Stephen. Let them swim up to you. They will just as easily swim away, but only if you LET them.” He takes the candle holder by Stephen’s mat and lights the new one from the half-spent one in the holder. “You do this, Stephen, by sitting, breathing, and by staying silent. You have to let your thoughts swim up to you, and then they will swim away. Let them.”
He places the new, freshly-lit candle back in the holder by Stephen’s knee. “Close your eyes, resume your breathing, and continue.”
– – – – –
– – – – –
Despite being a hospital, this wing at Bellevue Hospital in New York City was buzzing. The Maggiano kids crowded around their matriarch, sitting in her hospital bed; she had burst into tears… her eldest son put an arm on her shoulder, “Mama? What is it?”
She looks to her son with wet eyes “Oh Carlo… Our prayers are answered…Don’t you see?” She gestures to the doorway where two Doctors are involved in a discussion. She’s points to a handsome Doctor with a thin moustache…
Carlo’s face falls, but he puts his brave face back on before he turned back to his mother, hoping his disappointment and disdain doesn’t show and ruin her hope…”Mama… please… wait a moment…He’s not…”
Mrs. Maggiano is unwavering in her joy “Carlo, Esperansa, it will be all right…Doctor Strange is here!”
Carlo puts his hands on his Mother’s shoulders, to try talk to her down…gently. The younger sister was confused as to why her Mom was so happy, but her brother was not pleased about the situation… she walked over to the doorway to listen to the two Doctors talking…
The thin handsome Doctor, the badge on his white lab coat read “Strange”, was talking to an older more gruff Doctor with a bushy beard. The thin handsome Doctor speaks first. “-ing kidding me Arno.”
“Stephen, I thought if…”
The Handsome Doctor spoke in a hushed, but harsh, tone and glared at his comrade . “What? Seeing one weeping family might make me change my mind?”
“Arno, understand. I operate on Burroughs, we can finally get the funding for the intensive care unit. Our department will get the respect we need to…”
Strange flashes a smile, and then looks serious again as he explains his rationale to his colleague. “Yet if I operate on” he jerks his thumb to the Mrs. Maggiano’s room… “whoever, all I’ve got to show for it is a tear stained coat and a lost afternoon.”
The bearded Doctor takes a step back, a disgusted expression on his face “Are you serious?”
The thin Doctor goes into his coat and produces a cigarette case. “Arno, my time is too important to squander it on…” he catches the eye of the young girl standing in the doorway, and his face changes, hiding behind a friendly face. “Why, hello sweetheart! Give us a minute…” and closes the door between them.
– – – – –
– – – – –
The candle is almost burnt down to it’s holder, when Strange’s eyes open in a start; sweat running down his forehead. Every muscle in his body, tense. His skin, clammy. His heart, racing. His teacher, looking at him, impassively… just observing him curiously. Almost like the old man expected this reaction.
The ancient old man looked at Stephen, waiting for him to say something. Stephen didn’t quite know what to say, if he had to say anything… he did not expect to be presented with so…raw and revealing moment from his past… he felt shame, guilt, at seeing this behavior. He doesn’t know how to bring up this forgotten memory to his teacher.
A few moments of Stephen being silent, prompts the Old Master to face all three of his students and says “Zazen, the practice of Meditation, can sometimes bring forward your darkest fears and greatest shames to the forefront of your mind.”
The man furthest to Strange’s right, a stout-sour looking man with oily black hair, glances to Strange for a moment and then back to their teacher. “Ignore it. Move past it.”
“You cannot neglect it, Karl. What ever it is.” Although the Ancient One doesn’t shake his head or show any outward sign of disapproval, the tone of his voice clearly communicates what he thought of Karl’s response.
“It is a part of you.” says the man to Strange’s immediate right, a strong, proud man with long brown hair.
The Ancient one nods “that’s correct.”
The man turns and puts a hand on Stephen’s shoulder and gives him a reassuring yet somewhat-unsettling smile. “You must embrace it.” He looked at Stephen with an intensity… like he knew what Stephen had seen… which of course was impossible.
For the first time, a look of annoyance flickered on the old man’s face. “Victor, Silence. All of you remember what I said this morning when we started. Allow the thoughts to visit you… and allow them to leave… reflect on that.”
He stands up with great, pained effort. “All right, that’s enough for this morning. Karl. Clean the galley. Victor. Prepare the main hall for afternoon practice. Stephen, remember what I told you…” he lights a fresh candle and places it in the holder by Stephen’s mat. “…and continue meditation”
– – – – –
– – – – –
Doctors Stephen Strange and Arno Bonfiglio walk from the Bellevue Hospital Center to their cars. The elder Doctor regards his colleague skeptically. “That was a brilliant operation, Stephen. But I beg to you reconsider what I asked you. For our patients, for the Hospital, hell, if anything, for yourself.”
Stephen puffs from his cigarette. “Don’t tell me you suddenly care about my well being, Arno. Or the fate of this hospital… when you’ll soon be sipping cocktails on your yacht in Hong Kong…”
“Stephen, The Hospital will soon have the means to care for more patients. Technology is catching up when…”
“Let’s talk about technology. Maybe, one day, hospitals will be filled with machines that will cure any ailment or re-set any bone, or cut into a body and reassemble any of it’s delicate inner workings… Someday they’ll just be a big conveyer belt of well-being.” He takes one last puff of his cigarette and drops it to the ground. “But until that day comes, they’re alive because of what us Doctors do.”
Arno’s face reddens “Then why don’t you do the WORK of a Doctor? Treat these patients and get them OUT of those beds and…”
“Let them keep their beds. They’re well taken care of, probably better care than their own homes. They should be satisfied with that.”
“LEAVE THEM ILL?!?”
“Have you ever fought through an illness, Arno? Never underestimate the power of a good long rest in bed.” He fishes he keys from his coat pocket.
Arno throws his hands up and looks away from his colleague. “I can’t… that’s it, Strange. You are horrible.”
Strange opens his car door “And you are only here for another month. Why do you even care?”
The bearded doctor leaves without saying anything. Strange smirks and puts on his hat and opens the door to his Jaguar.
– – – – –
Gawain’s sword crashes down and scrapes against the armor of Mordred, the sound fills his ears. A meteor storm breaks out, sharp debris whiz past his field of vision and catch on his skin. Fires of Hades bake, radiating heat and he feels hot fiery tongues lash out and lick his face and arms… His jacket catches on fire. He sees the roots of Yggdrasil, the world-tree, set in front of the moon. Angry red lights pierce the night sky… which is not the sky… red dots topped with white fins… a metal chariot speeding off to the horizon…
He does not remember how this happened… He is in his car.. he is also on the pavement. His Jaguar is upside down. He cannot move his arms. They are pinned. There is a fire…somewhere.
– – – – –
He remembers the car with the bad shocks. He was very familiar with it, down the streets of Greenwich village. It’s the following spring.
“…save lives. I shouldn’t be treated this way.”
Officer Polk of the NYPD in the driver’s seat takes a gentle turn and replies to Strange, who is pressed against the bars that separate the front seats from the back of his police cruiser. “If you don’t want that treatment, you shouldn’t get drunk at the matinee, Doc.”
“I’m not drunk, Poke.”
“And as you say that, you splash what’s left in your bottle down my sleeve.”
“HAH! Not an indication that I’m drunk. After all! I’m just a hopeless cripple, aren’t I?! according to… Loo, Lew…”
“Lieutenant D’Fazio just said that to defuse the situation and keep the manager from pressing charges.”
“Your intendant is a fool.”
The squad car comes to a stop. Officer Polk gets out and opens the back seat. “Home sweet home, Doc. C’mon, give me your hands.”
“Do we have to do this every time, Doc? Give me your hands.”
“I can open get out of a car on my own! I’m not a damn child.”
“I’ll remember you said that, the next time you consider taking a bottle of sour mash to a screening of Pinocchio. Now give me your hands.”
Officer Polk takes Strange’s hands and lifts him from the squad car. Polk puts one of Strange’s arms over his shoulder and walks him up the stairs to his Greenwich Village home. Strange did not want to be home. Polk fished the keys out of Strange’s sports jacket and opened the door and helped Strange past the threshold. “Safe and sound, Doc. Now please… take it easy, huh?” Officer Polk touches the brim of his cap and turns back to his cruiser.
He walks past the mail piling up and spilling off the hallway credenza. Small slips of things he’d rather ignore. Past bills, final notices. Letters, ranging from rejection letters; angry letters from ex-colleagues; to the hopeful “please reconsider our offer” from teaching hospitals; and smaller hospitals that wanted to suck from his years of experience. They all just reminded him of how useless he is, and how much he resented the world for turning on him.
At the first floor bathroom he takes off his sports coat and undoes the buttons of his shirt. Due to his ruined hands, the mundane task takes him about ten minutes. He splashes cold water in his face, and looks at himself in the mirror. Under his TShirt, his arms… thin with atrophied muscles. Scarred from shoulder to fingertip, burn scars, operation scars from botched surgical procedures… his mind is filled with all of the excuses, explanations and latin terminology that his ex-colleagues expounded, hundreds of complex 10-cent words which basically amounted to “your arms are now useless.”
He walks to the parlor, which has turned from a plush sitting-room to the the only room he ever spends time in. Most of his other furniture had been packed up to the attic. The television is still on from the previous night… his alcohol induced haze starts to lift as he watches the current channel. Four smiling faces… no, three smiling faces and one rocky excuse for a person, as they speak to the camera about hope and improvement for humankind…
– – – – –
A hand is placed on Strange’s chest, pushing him away. As he yells, “Do you realize what you’re doing?”
The tall man in the grey suit glares hard at Strange. “I’ve read all about you, Strange. In the Post, the Times. ‘Damaged Doctor Blames City and Colleagues’ You’re about to say that I’m standing in the way of progress and saving lives.”
The two men stand just past the front desk of the Future Foundation. Strange tries to temper and subdue his impatience and annoyance and take on tone that might convey the mutual benefits that could occur if they helped him. “Exactly! The lives that could be saved with my skill as a surgeon in conjunction with the work done here…”
The Tall man simply smiles “I don’t think you’re interested in saving anything for anyone else, but instead gaining something for yourself.” Two large men in suits flank the tall man, who just shakes his head “Get out of here, Strange. You are a disgrace to your profession.”
Strange doesn’t look the man in the eye. He holds his head up high and turns on his heel and heads the other way back out the lobby of the Future Foundation. Visitors to the center, building staff, are silent as the once-celebrated Stephen Strange walks out of the lobby of the Future Foundation. One figure among the people follows Strange out the door as he meanders down the streets of Manhattan.
Many blocks and a subway ride later, the figure locates Strange at a bar and restaurant. A plate of food, pushed aside, the vegetables and potatoes eaten… the steak left untouched. Fork and knife on the floor. All that is in front of him is a tumbler and a bottle of whiskey, and a pack of cigarettes. Strange is about to touch the lighter to the end of his cigarette as the figure approaches him. The man says to Strange “Those things will kill you, you know.”
“Will they? Well then.” Strange dismisses the man and lights up. He’s had his fill of know-it-all busybodies expounding their ‘expert advice.’ The number of these people interrupting his life have increased since his public disavowal.
Undeterred, the man sits in the chair across from Strange, leans in and smiles. “You needn’t throw away your health…”
“It’s all I have to throw away.”
“That is nonsense. There is another way, Stephen.”
Annoyed, he can’t shake this one off. He mock-smiles at the man and says with mock-sincerity “Oh? What do you suggest?”
Without irony the man says “There is a temple, in the far east, in Tibet.”
Strange laughs and stands up to leave. “This is ridiculous. Leave me alone.” The mystery man stands, walks around the table and looks at Strange, face-to-face, right in the eye. He raises a finger and touches the tip of Strange’s cigarette, which leaves his mouth… it is not “removed” from his mouth… He can still SEE the cigarette, but Strange senses that it has become immaterial. It actually ceases to exist on the edge of his mouth. The man moves his hand back, the ghost-cigarette on the tip of his finger. He waves his hand, sending the cigarette flying, and it vanishes THROUGH the wall…
Strange looks back at the man, who appears to be shimmering and wearing an unsettling smile. “You do not need the assistance or the validation of those who undervalue and mock you.” The man starts to disappear. His smiling, face is, for a moment, distorted in a scarred mess… Stephen wonders if it’s a trick of the light or his imagination. The man fades from sight completely but he hears his voice “You will find your salvation in Tibet. My name is Victor.”
– – – – –
– – – – –
Stephen opened up his eyes. Gone is the noisy bustle of New York City… back in his senses is the austere silence and golden glow of the Ancient One’s temple.
The sun… or… at least, the light that acted as the sun… was setting. He didn’t notice it for a the first month or so of his time at the Temple, but the clouds in the sky did not move in any natural way. Sometimes they did not move at all. The candle at his side had long since burnt through its entire wick. It was just a waxy pile in its holder. He couldn’t figure it out, there were days, and nights… but… it did not feel as if time passed here. But his hair grew. His face had annoying stubble since he had long since ran out of shaving cream, and his hands began to cramp again and he couldn’t hold his razor. There was nothing else in the temple that he could use…
He lets the thought about grooming habits leave his mind. It was inconsequential. He looked around the great chamber where he spent most of his time. When he wasn’t sleeping in his quarters, or eating meals with his fellow students, he was sitting on this mat… meditating. Although he hadn’t found a point for this exercise, he found himself reluctantly drawn to the practice. He didn’t know why. All it did was bring to his mind things he already knew. He couldn’t put a finger on it. But best he could figure, it was like he was working to untie a very complex knot.
Stephen left the huge meditation center and made his way down the many hallways to to his room. He passed the hallway which led to the library. The torches and candles were aflame and he knew Karl Mordo would be studying and practicing. He did not like Karl. Mordo was smug and believed himself to be the top student at the temple. He had a machismo, no… not machismo. A sort of old-world mentality that annoyed Stephen. He took glee in the fact Stephen couldn’t use his arms. Stephen turned away from the hall and continued to his quarters.
He walked past Victor’s room, knowing at this time of the day/night that he would not bother Strange. A light often came from Victor’s room, a light like the dull blue flickering glow of a television. If it was a television, Stephen often wondered how Victor was able to get electricity into the temple.
Victor did not see Stephen as inferior. He openly expressed to their teacher that he would take it upon himself to teach the newcomer some things, to bring him up to speed. It was a request that their teacher always politely refused. Victor never viewed Stephen’s handicap as a weakness. In fact he seemed to always encourage him to continue on with the studies, even though their teacher hasn’t yet included Stephen in any of their “practical lessons” whatever that meant. Stephen didn’t dislike Victor… But there was something off about him. At times he seemed TOO enthusiastic.
He reached his chambers. A tiny room, a mat on the floor for sleeping, a window which overlooked a picturesque view of the mountainous Tibetan landscape. He laid down… strange how a day of meditation… sitting…doing nothing… could feel exhausting. He closed his eyes wondering if there was anyone in this world who he could trust.
End Part 1.
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Begin Part II
The Storm had dumped its precipitation and was heading it’s way east. A man in a Baseball cap pulled away a blind from a window, and opened up the air. The air filled Stephen’s lungs as he watched the clouds race across the sky… clearing after the storm.
He remembered a long journey, by boat, by train, by truck, and struggling thru a mountain pass… he knew he was approaching a village, and shortly after that, Stephen knew… then a temple… But a storm hit and he fell… and there was a man…
Stephen looked around, glass cabinets filled with basic medical supplies. Lying on a plastic bed… his arms in bandages. He was in a small clinic. The man in the baseball hat… he was the man who pulled him from the mountain pass after his fall. He sat down and began tending to Strange’s wounds. “I found you on the pass as the storm hit. You were raving about a temple. There is no temple in these mountains. You’re turned around”
Stephen took these words in, and had a lot of questions in his mind… But the only thing he could ask, while looking at the familiar logo on the man’s cap was “Yankees?”
At first the man looked offended, but the irritation quickly faded from his face and his attention goes back to mending the wounds. “No. Mets.”
Knowledge of Sports was not among Strange’s strong points. “Ah.” He looks out the window at one of the tall peaks that surround the area “You’re a long way from New York.”
“So are you.”
“How do you know I’m from New York?” The man points to a wallet on the bedside table, which included his driver’s license and his old Bellevue Hospital ID. Two pieces of paper which Strange had little use for anymore.
The man’s attention and care to Stephen’s wounds impressed Stephen. “You’re trained…”
He looked at Stephen warily for a moment and replied “I’m a Doctor…” He held Stephen’s gaze for a moment, as if he’s expecting Strange to react… he just nodded…and put his head back on the pillow.
A few moments of silence had passed when he said “I once worked alongside a man who was once a colleague of yours, in Hong Kong.”
Stephen closed his eyes. “Arno Bonfiglio. I’m surprised you’re talking to me.”
The man kept working on Stephen’s cuts and bruises. “He said you were a short-sighted, self-righteous, self-absorbed elitist son-of-a-bitch.”
“He told me many stories.”
A silent moment passes, the only sound is the sound of his scissors snipping away thread of his careful stitch work. Stephen asked “Knowing what you know… why would you treat me?”
He replied simply. “Because it doesn’t matter who you are. You need help. You are my patient.” A few more moments pass as he snips away and adds some gauze and begins to tape him up. “That, and Arno was a disrespectful bigot. He would have hated me treating you.”
Stephen let out a single laugh. Probably not prudent to laugh, helping one terrible person to just to spite someone else he felt distasteful… but the revelation was a welcome diversion for Stephen, who for about a year had either been drowning his sorrow, or doggedly chasing down this miracle cure. It was a very rough, hard existence, and this little sliver of humor, albeit schadenfreude, lightened his mood somewhat. He turned to the man in the hat, who was not smiling, but focused on his work… “What’s your name?”
“Huang Kuan-Yin” He raises an eyebrow and a tiny smile breaks for a moment on his lips “Doctor Huang to you.”
– – – – –
The sun was about to set. It struck red and yellow against the fast-moving ever-changing clouds. Night was about to fall, and there was likely another storm coming. Huang chased after the man he had come to know over the past two months. “Strange, WAIT. This is madness!”
It had been a month since Stephen’s was first pulled from the storm… and Huang’s continuing therapy treatments on his arms had brought about improvement that had amazed Stephen. He had not regained the full functionality of his arms and hands, but more mobility than Strange had been used to the last year-and-a-half of his life.
“I can’t, I’m close, Huang. I know I am. I can feel it. I can HEAR it…”
Huang shook his head. He’s mad. “Are you sure that’s not the wind? The pressure in the air? That’s another storm, Stephen, not some… magic man.” Huang had hoped that he would stay in the village, Strange’s progress was impressive, and if he stayed around for another year…
“You’ve helped me immensely, Huang” Strange moved his fingers in his glove “I can SHAVE again! For that I am hugely grateful, but the larger solution to my problem, the person who can bring me back to my peak, I know he’s near.”
Huang yelled after the frustrating western man. “I CAN DO THAT, Strange! Your arms are the worst I’ve seen, yes. But NOT a lost cause. My treatments and exercises can bring you back to how you once were!”
Stephen turns around “How soon?”
“Two years.” He shakes his head and readjusts his ballcap. “One and a half. Maybe”
“Not soon enough.” Stephen turns back to the mountain path.
“I won’t be there to rescue you again!” Huang yelled “You’re on your own, you fool!”
Stephen turns back to Huang and his village, the comfortable little place he had spent the last month. “Huang, Thank you for everything you’ve done. I hope to repay you someday.” Stephen calls out but Wong is running back to his village, the wind and precipitation beginning to intensify. Strange pulls his parka hood over his head and makes his way up the Mountain path.
The voice he’s been hearing for the last two hours in the village is getting stronger. Louder. It is the only thing that propels him forward as the weather gets worse, the farther he gets up the mountain pass. At times he can’t see or feel the ground beneath his feet. But he can feel his limbs moving. His hands, better than the were, thanks to Huang, but still comparatively useless, clutch at his backpack’s straps, as he tries best he can to ignore the cold. One foot in front of the other. Walking… walking… listening to the voice growing louder. “Strange… Strange…”
Until suddenly, the noise of the wind dies. The precipitation and wind cease beating against his body. The only sound he can hear is a soft low hum (some sort of horn in the distance?) and the crunch of his footsteps in the ice and snow. his eyes begin to adjust, and shapes coalesce in his vision, as an immense stone Temple takes shape, a large heavy double-door, and two men. One sour looking man with oily black hair and a grey cloak, and another in Green Monk robes and a Green Cloak standing by its entrance. The man in Green was the same man he remembered seeing in his last Friday in New York. “Victor?”
Victor smiles “Stephen Strange. Welcome.”
– – – – –
– – – – –
It has been what felt like months. Strange had tried to get along with his fellow pupils, but tensions seemed to be rising. Mordo became more and more withdrawn and confrontational. Victor would not leave Strange alone… he kept prodding him to hurry with his studies, when it was clear to Stephen that he was NOT ready…
But he still tried to do as much as he could. Stephen had insisted he try to take on more duties around the temple, to do his fair share. Today as he was attempting the sweeping, he had seen Mordo walk to a room he knew was off-limits to all of them. He tried to ask Mordo what he was doing here, Mordo responded by pushing him back, dismissing Stephen. Stephen raised his voice, and tried to prevent Mordo’s entrance to the room with his broom. With minimal effort, but a lot of anger, he pushed Stephen down and took his satchel off his shoulder as he towered over Stephen.
Karl Mordo sneered. “I need not the advice or council of a soft city-dwelling westerner who can hardly hold a broom…” He unfurled an ornate European sword from his satchel, and brought it to Stephen’s neck. “…let alone hold a sword.” Strange was sitting on the ground next to his broken broom… his back against the stone wall just outside the master’s personal library.
“My troubles… could end… right now…” said Karl as he traced the point of his sword against Stephen’s neck and pressed his boot down on Stephen’s arm… Pain pulsing into Stephen’s mind. Just then a bolt of yellow light flew from the end of the hallway and knocked the sword from Karl’s hand. The bitter man looked up. “Von Doom”
The air seemed to bristle in the hallway. Strange had just seen lighting… or something… fly down the hallway. But it was hard to focus. The pain in his arm was unbearable. He needed to guide his meditation… direct himself away from the pain… He began to breathe and stay as calm as he could while the drama unfolded around him.
Mordo said with a low voice “In the years we’ve studied… not once have you used my title to issue me with the respect I am due.”
Victor smirked. “There is only one title that matters in these halls, and it is certainly not yours.”
Karl glared at Victor, who slowly kept walking to close the gap between them. “What do you know of it! You are weak. and a Coward.”
Victor’s eye brows raise. “Weak? A coward? tsk tsk. Such juvenile name-calling. Rather unbecoming of a man of the court such as yourself.”
Mordo growled “I need not hide my true self behind cheap glamours, boot-lick!” Karl waved a hand and a mass of skin on Victor’s face shimmered… revealing a horrendously scarred face… the man Strange knew, now appeared more like a misshapen monster… Von Doom’s eyes flared in burning hatred as he raised his hand as Mordo flew with force against the stone wall.
“I… lick… the boot… of no one…” Victor’s arm tensed and the rocky wall around Karl trembled…as he struggled to break free from the unseen force that kept him pinned.
Doom approached him with his hand outstretched. Mordo looked back at the grotesque figure approaching with a look of defiance… his angry resolve etched in his face… when a blue mist began to swirl around him. Karl’s resolve melted into that of horror…
“No… No…” Karl started to whimper softly, the sight of the blue mist shook him to the core. The blue mist also gave Doom pause… observing the odd occurrence… a Blue mist started to swirled and coalesce around the men… but mostly swirling around Mordo. Doom releases Mordo from his hold…
“He cannot be here…” Karl scrambles to gather his bag and spilled scrolls, his sword… “My lord, NO!” before running down the hallway, away from the Ancient One’s library.
Doom stands, looking at the blue swirl, then to the man known as Strange, who breathes but looks vacantly at the ceiling… and back to the blue mist which was collecting in the center of the hallway. He gestures to his scarred face. “STRANGE?!? DO YOU NOW SEE?” Victor looks at the mass of blue taking shape in the hallway. “EMBRACE IT!”
– – – – –
– – – – –
Stephen takes a long deep breath, and lets it out slowly thru his mouth, before opening his eyes. The odd diffused light of the Temple softly illuminates the two figures in the great hall. Slowly Strange’s senses start to come back to him, the knots in his joints. The pains in his arm. He looks up at his master. Only the two of them are in the meditation hall. It had felt like months since the incident when Mordo fled and Victor disappeared, but the scene often comes back to Stephen’s mind during his meditation.
“What brought you out of meditation, Stephen?”
“The night Karl and Victor fled the temple.”
“The night you touched the Astral world for the first time. It took me a long time to get your ectoplasmic self back to your body.” Stephen’s Ancient teacher chuckled. Since Victor and Karl had left, his Master had lightened up… enough to occasionally laugh or smile. A tiny change, but enough to humanize the old man, making him seem less like a cliche, and more like a man.
The ancient man says to his student “What is on your mind.”
“I… don’t really know. The memories come and go. It’s confusing.”
“I hope I can provide guidance.” He claps his hands once. “Stephen. Let the questions come.”
“My arms have been useless for almost a year.”
“Much longer. Yes.”
Stephen holds his arms up. “I can’t do the work that Karl’s and Victor performed before they left.”
The Ancient One regards this information “You do what you can, Stephen.”
“Yes…that used to infuriate me. Not being able to do things that should be doing.”
“As I said Stephen, you do what you CAN do. It is not a question of…”
Stephen holds up his hand “Master, it’s not that. I’m not seeking validation or reassurance…” Stephen pauses, digging for the words. “…it used to irritate me to the point of fury… Not being able to do everything I used to be able to do. Seeing my arms as…punishment. Or a grave injustice. A constant reminder of what kind of man I used to be. But, It’s been…a long time… Since I’ve felt that way.
“You no longer feel insignificant.”
Stephen Nods “yes.”
“Much like how you no longer feel superior. Before your accident.”
“You now feel like you are now a part of the world.”
“Yes… for the first time.”
“You were never APART from the world, Stephen.” the Ancient one stroked his beard. “You have not been able to see it, but you’ve always been a part of this world and your universe.”
“It seems odd that I had to leave the world in order to feel more a part of it.” He remembered the first time he slipped away from his body.
The Ancient One shakes his head “Astral projection is not leaving the world. It’s simply leaving your body.” He resumes stroking his beard. “My Temple is closer to the heart of the world than New York City is… Because of that, time moves slowly here. I’m…we’re given the time that we need.”
He fixes Stephen “You have been here for almost three years, Stephen. But if you were to walk out that door… you will return back to the world you came from, just as Karl and Victor have.”
“This is one of your enchantments…”
He shakes his head. “Not one of mine. The enchantment of the Sanctum Sanctorum was cast by one of my predecessors. So that each of his successors would be protected and better able to perform their duties.
“Predecessor… duty” Stephen looks at him confused, and shakes his head trying to understand.
“There are many titles for what I am.” His master stands, with great effort. And walks to the large stone seal behind him. “The Anglicized term would be ‘Sorcerer Supreme.'” He touches the round symbol, which had two swooping lines running right-to-left, and another two going from top-to-bottom of the large stone circle. “I am the latest in the line of the Vishanti.” Stephen had seen the emblem all across the temple, but hadn’t known what it had stood for. The Ancient One looked at Stephen “An ancient order that protects this world from the next.”
The Ancient One walks back to his large supportive cushion. Stephen noted, again, how much difficulty and pain his master seemed to be in. And then it hit him. He folded his arms across his chest, feeling the knotted spindly limbs. He was a fool to have not noticed this sooner. “Master, despite being… Sorcerer Supreme… You have not been able to mend your legs, have you?”
The ancient one slowly lowers himself down to a lotus sitting position. “I could teach you everything I know, Stephen. but the best you would be able to do is stave off the ill-effects and the pain for a short time. Magic is vast, but not boundless. There are limits.” Stephen looked distantly to his left… regret beginning to fill his mind; the solution he had been chasing… he would not find it here. “But…” The Ancient One continued, Stephen turned back to look at him. “There is still much that I, myself, have yet to learn. The one way magic IS boundless is the amount one can learn from it.” He held up an old finger “You may find it yet, Stephen. And it may come in a form you had not previously imagined. You never know what you will learn as a Sorcerer Supreme.”
Stephen looked at his master, unsure of what he had just heard. “What I will learn as…?”
“I assumed this responsibility before your ancestors discovered the New World. I cannot do this forever. I need someone I can trust to eventually take over.”
Stephen sat on his cushion, not knowing what to say in reply.
– – – – –
There was a tremor.
Stephen is brought out of his meditative concentration by a rumble. In his five-years of relative time at the temple, he had never felt the ground shake. He looked to his Master who felt the same thing… They exchanged a cautious and concerned look… as subsequent rumbles were felt, and sounds of crumbling rocks and explosions began to become audible.
Stephen looked to the source of the sound, the end of the great hall. The odd orange glow, which usually faded out of Stephen’s attention, as he had grown very accustomed to it, was wildly pulsing and shaking… moving like angry ocean waves during a storm. A large shadow became visible in the hallway just outside, a figure walking closer to the entrance of the hall… a low Eastern European voice growled “Teacher. I have come back.”
Strange stood up, standing between the intruder and his master. “Karl.”
Karl stood wearing the Royal garb of his homeland… and carrying the same ancient sword that he threatened Stephen with the last time the had met. His laugh seemed to shake the ancient stone pillars. Karl looked past Stephen right into the eyes of the Ancient One “If my former teacher, or the twig-man, wants to address me, they will do it by my title.”
The Ancient One said “Very well… Pupil.”
Mordo sneered “Jest while you can. You are no longer dealing with a mere novice with ambition… I am on the Gods Doorstep!”
Stephen “Indeed?” Stephen moved into a fighting stance…
Mordo ignored Stephen. The Ancient one remained sitting “If you paid any attention, Karl… you would know that the the powers of the Gods can be easily be nullified within these walls…”
Stephen quietly beseeched him “Master, please… don’t push him, let me protect you…”
The Ancient One did not break eye contact with his former pupil. “Tell me, Karl. What entity did you stumble upon? To whom are you an emissary? A proud Asgardian wouldn’t stoop to employ you. An aloof Old-One has no need for someone like you. Who has placed their trust in a frightened little boy from Transylvania?”
“DORMAMMU!” Karl yelled and a huge wave of red energy shot from his eyes. Suddenly, faster than the energy pulse, the Ancient One appeared in front of Stephen… standing between the invading Mordo and his student, holding the energy blast in his clapped-tight hands infront of him.
“Stephen…” the energy crackled and for the first time he saw his Master truly straining… “Leave…” he swooped his arms in a large half arc- sending the energy back to Mordo… who just smiled as the energy flowed around him, like snakes.
Baron Mordo started to walk proudly closer to his former master. Red Energy flying from his eyes with every step he took. The Ancient One deflected each one, but each successive deflection began to take its toll on the old mage.
“His power burns inside me… it is so much more than you had ever shown me…” Mordo said, laughing as he approached The Ancient One.
“I have shown you… magic tricks, Karl.” The pressure in the room changes as the Ancient one rises four feet off the ground.. and is surrounded by a swirling maelstrom of beasts, ancient sigils, and multicolored tendrils that whipped and flew around the room like live electrical wires. “DO YOU THINK A WHELP LIKE YOU CAN STRIKE DOWN THE SORCERER SUPREME?”
“Dormammu, Dirige mea manna” Mordo lunges forward past The Ancient One’s circling protection and grabs him by the neck. Mordo says “I know I can…” and runs his sword thru the belly of the old man. The magic dissipates and a frail man falls to the old stone floor.
“Master!” Strange Fires off a large pressure spell which blows debris, statues, furniture, and everything not nailed down flying towards Baron Mordo; who just stands still, smiling. Every item in the room crashes down on him and just breaks and falls to the side. Mordo smiles and steps over the rubble at his feet. Advancing on Strange. “I have just defeated the Sorcerer Supreme… I will take his power as my own… but not before I take care of the likes of a broken dog such as yourself” Mordo drops his sword and shakes off his black cloak. He cracks his powerful knuckles and walks to Strange. “I will enjoy this.”
With little effort, swings his arm out and strikes Stephen across the face, dropping him to the ground like a marionette that had it’s strings cut. Mordo laughs… as he grabs Strange by his tunic and stands him up again. This time reeling back and landing a strong blow against Strange’s other cheek… sending him flying back onto the body of his dying Master.
As Stephen musters his strength and will, to push himself up from the ground, he sees the hand of his Master move upwards with a weak gesture “‘Ril Yan…Lang Strange…” He hears his master say, weakly, before his hand falls to the ground, never to move again.
Mordo laughs as he moves to pick Strange up again. Strange uses his good muscles, his leg and torso muscles to roll out of the way, and uses this momentum to roll back on his feet. He gets in an defensive position and his hands begin to glow purple. Saying nothing, looking Karl Mordo right in the eye. He smiles and takes another step forward.
Mordo swings and knocks Stephen down. The light from Stephen’s hands flickers and dissipates. “Blasted cripple. It is a joke that you were even permitted to these hallowed grounds. You couldn’t even open the gates by yourself.”
Stephen spits blood on his former classmate “And you’re so worthy? The man who breaks those gates down?!?” Mordo seethes and lands another impossibly strong blow against Stephen’s temples. Colors and pain flare in his head and finds his eyes closed. He splutters blood as he says “You will stop…”
A laugh stretches and bellows out of Mordo’s barrel chest. “hah! Hah hah hah hah! At whose order? A pathetic broken man, more content to sit and do nothing… day in, day out… rather that act?”
With great effort, Strange lifts his arms and grabs hold of the lapels of Baron Mordo’s frock, and holds on as tightly as he can. Mordo smiles and laughs “Ha ha ha, These are the hands of the man who will undo me? Will it be a cripple that stops me?”
“No…” Strange lunges forward brings his own head down upon the area between Mordo’s eyes and nose, breaking skin and possibly Baron Mordo’s nose. Mordo stumbles backward in shock, face starting to bleed.
A red cloak flies from the mass in the corner and spins around Stephen like a flock of birds, and affixes itself around his shoulders. The Grand Eye of Aggamotto rises from the body of its old master… and lowered around the neck of its new master. Suddenly Stephen could see. Much more than he used to be able to see… he could now see a spotty, flickering, red and yellow aura around Mordo. The entire temple coursing with an vibrant orange glow, trembling and pulsing with an orange crackle. And a growing red power fueling his own right hand, tensing and flexing with, of all things… Power. “…it will be the Sorcerer Supreme.”
Strange recoils his red-lit fist and lands a right-hook across the jaw of Baron Mordo. The magic that Stephen can now see, Mordo’s red and yellow aura dances and flares… trying to lash out and strike, but with an unconscious host, its attacks are ineffectual against the Sorcerer Supreme. The Aura… as if it were alive… pulses and considers its next move… Stephen begins to wordlessly generate a spell of dispersal…
Before Stephen can recite the incantation, the colors surrounding the fallen Baron lash out in every direction. Yellow energy taking the form of serpents, biting and peeling away the orange Enchantment of the Sanctum Sanctorum. With the protective orange energy torn away, the blasts of red strike at the stone pillars, the walls, the floor… in a matter of seconds… the entire temple that had been his home begins to crumble…
– – – – –
Huang had been at his clinic, cleaning up. the storm had been raging for about an hour. He had not been able to get Strange out of his mind. What an infuriatingly stubborn man. How could a man of medicine seek out such an obviously BOGUS cure, when an actual medical science, the techniques Huang knew… would ACTUALLY heal him? It was just earlier that day when Strange and Huang parted ways.
Huang said he would not be there to pull Strange out of any danger he would invariably find himself in on his suicide hike up the mountain. He was beginning to regret that decision. The Storm outside was one of the worst he had ever seen. The clouds didn’t even actually seem to leave the mountains. Other people in the village had shut up their doors and windows. Huang lowered the blinds and took out heavy wooden beams to block the windows when he heard the voice, Loud as thunder, in his ears.
“HUANG…” He nearly dropped the heavy beam on his foot. He heard the voice but no one was in the clinic.
“HUANG…” The voice was familiar… but booming…Impossible….
“Strange?” he asked, to the ceiling…
“EVACUATE THE VILLAGE…”
As he heard those words he felt the ground shake…. and instantly grabbed his Parka and ran out of his clinic. He ran to the center of the village, Pulled back on the rope-suspended log and let it swing and strike the old Iron Bell. He pulled back again… And again… the sound and vibration of the bell getting the attention of the villagers.
Huang yelled at the gathering villagers to evacuate… flee from the village! By this point the storm up the side of the mountain looked unlike anything anyone had ever seen… Red, Yellow and Orange colors illuminated the black clouds from within. Then, on a part of the mountain that had always just been a bare cliff-face, an enormous stone temple began to appear, and just as quickly as it appeared, it began to crumble and fall down…toward the village.
There had never been any falling-rock hazards in the villages long history… but when a castle suddenly appears and falls, you don’t stand there and gawp. The people of the village fled for their lives… running further into the valley and away from their homes, escaping the inevitable crush of stone…
Which did not come… Huang turned around and looked at the falling temple… which was falling very slowly… It appeared to be held up by a gargantuan purple shape… a hand… no, an arm. no, Two arms. Two huge purple arms that appeared knotted… and spindly… and strangely familiar… The Arms led toward each other down and disappeared to a point… no, they didn’t disappear, the purple light grew smaller and smaller, and tapered down into a single red dot…
The parts of the temple descended lower toward the village… towers, pillars, Walls, floors, mosaics Furniture, and debris being placed gently… (or as gently as huge a crumbling temple can possibly descend) down into alleys, roads, squares, and the outskirts of the village.
The Red dot got larger. It started to look like a bird. Then a flame, fluttering in the sky. But as it got bigger Huang realized… it actually WAS a flame. No. It was a man on fire. STEPHEN? The hair was much longer, and his beard was out-of-control, but his eyes, nose, and his thin spindly arms were unmistakable… he wore… this impossible red cloak… which was the thing on fire. But the expression on his face seemed calm… or at least, concentrating, as he held his hands out straining like Huang never saw him strain before… as he lowered portions of the Temple down between the structures of the village… he himself started to float down closer to the ground… Huang got a bucket of water to take care of the flames. “Strange!” Huang yelled.
And following Huang’s cry, like some infernal Echo… “STRAAAANGE!” came a booming voice… from a burst wall, charged an ugly bloodied man dressed in some gaudy old Western-royal garb and carrying a broadsword… he ran, full tilt to the tired figure of Strange… “YOU WILL FALL!” The burly man was so focused on Strange that he did not see Huang to his left… who threw a brick and struck the charging man on the side of the face.
Baron Mordo stumbled to the side, losing grip on his sword, “Hu- huh…. Who- dares?” Without another word Huang rushed and with two hands grasped, swung at the brute’s gut. And when he doubled over, he brought his arms and double-fist down on his back… sending him to the ground in a groan.
Huang turned to the man to his left… and picked up the bucket. and splashed it on Strange, who had already taken the cloak off his shoulders and put it on the ground between him. The water splashed Stephen right in the face and dripped down his face. The two men looked at each other for a Moment. A smile broke across Strange’s features. “Doctor Huang” Stephen flexed his gnarled fingers, and gestured over the fiery garment…. the flames diminished and eventually disappeared.
Huang walked up to the man. “Strange.” Despite how impossible it all was… this was the same man who foolishly walked off into the Storm just an hour or two ago. Long craggy hair, dirtied, covered in burns and cuts… but smiling… and laughing. Huang started laughing too… glad that the mad Doctor was all right.
– – – – –
– – – – –
– – – – –
Strange opens his eyes. Glad that he did not necessarily need to sit in an uncomfortable cushion to meditate… his old leather armchair would suffice. He looked up. He had noticed, upon walking into his house, for the first time since he left New York City to chase for a cure… the fixtures, beams, walls and floorboards, began to flow with the same magic that ran thru the home of his teacher… the enchantment of the Sanctum Sanctorum… to protect the Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme… Stephen let that sink in, at how much his life had changed.
The dust motes hung in the pillar of light coming from the skylight of his Greenwich Village home. The skylight was different than he last remembered. The plain circular skylight was now divided into distinct curvilinear panes, Two lines flowing right and left, and two going up and down. Behind the glass…. the rising spires of New York City. His home.
He took a long deep breath in…and let it slowly out of his mouth. He stood up and stretched his back and heard the door open. A dour-faced Huang walked in. Stephen smiled “Ah, how did it go?” Huang glared at Strange and handed him the paper. Stephen’s eyes lit up in surprise and laughed…. “Kevin Wong?”
“Ugh.” Huang grimaced “That office is nothing but a collection of imbeciles. How hard is it?” he takes the paper and looks at it. “Wong.. Huang…” he shrugs and admits “All right, I’ll give them that. but Kevin? From Kuan-Yin? Honestly?” He looks at it with distaste and shoves it in his jacket pocket.
Stephen pats his shoulder. “Sorry…uh…” Strange’s face twists, unsure as to what he should say… “Kwann-yinn” trying out his friends’ given name for the first time…
Huang’s expression goes from annoyed to slightly puzzled. “Uhh…” He looks at Stephen… his pronunciation just not sounding right… he looks at Stephen and shakes his head “No.”
“No?” Strange replied.
“Absolutely not.” He took a step into the attic and continued “Huang, Wong, Doctor…. whatever. That’s fine.” he holds up a finger “Just… never say my given name again, Strange. Please”
The sound of Stephen’s laughter filled the attic. “Fair enough, Wong. Fair enough.” He takes a few steps to the door and the Attic stairway. “Hey… how about a film? I haven’t seen anything since I left. I’ve been hearing good things about ‘Doctor No.'”
Wong shrugs his shoulders and follows Strange “Sounds OK to me. But listen Strange, now that we’re here, we’ve got to resume your muscle therapy.”
“Absolutely.” They walked to the stairway that led downstairs.
They reach the House’s entry hallway, and a bunch of movers are moving huge wooden crates into the house. “So, we’re keeping all that stuff in here?”
Strange continued down the steps. After the disaster that destroyed his Master’s home… Strange, Huang and the villagers went through as much of the wreckage of the temple and salvaged as much as they could. These rare, precious, and of course, dangerous artifacts had to be contained and protected. As a thank-you for saving their village (and in some ways, improving it… the villagers expanded upon the ruins of the Ancient One’s temple incorporated it into their village…) They began the process of packing the artifacts in crates and arranged them to be shipped back here, to his home in New York City. “Yeah… we are.”
“That’s impossible. There’ll never be enough room”
Strange turns and smiles, “I’ve got it all under control, Wong.” Movers pushing the crates into the house asked Strange where to put them. There were two large moving trucks outside “Put them anywhere you can find room.”
He slipped the head mover a few bills, causing the mover’s eyes to light up in surprise. “Yes sir, Doctor Strange, sir!”
Now it was Strange’s turn to look a little puzzled “No…just Strange.”
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