From the personal memoirs of Doctor Stephen Strange.
As you might expect my first lesson with the Ancient One was quite interesting.
As had been requested I'd awoken at dawn through means I can only deduce were purely mystical in origin given how I hadn't had any alarms or devices set up. At the foot of my door was a tray of food and a pair of white robes, the appearance of both I found odd considering I hadn't heard anyone enter.
By the time I reached the Ancient One the statues and paintings in the temple's halls no longer unnerved me as they once had, save for a stone amulet that would come to plague me in later days. The Ancient One was seated upon the floor of his throne room in a meditative position. He himself was dressed in golden robes and had somehow managed to remove the wall of the throne room to provide a view of the rising sun beyond the mountains, yet despite the gaping hole in the wall I felt no chill.
Since the One said nothing as I approached I simply knelt behind him, waiting to be acknowledged. I recall wondering what was passing through the man's mind at that time as well as how he was able to achieve such a point of spiritual enlightenment and hoped that I might one day learn to do the same. Finally the Ancient One turned to me and said:
"Your first lesson begins now, Stephen Strange." I felt a slight shiver run through me despite the fact that the room was warm. "Sit across from me. It will be easier to talk."
"Yes master." I muttered quickly, sparking pain as I mindlessly pushed myself up from the ground.
"I am not your master." The One said. "Merely your teacher."
"I'm sorry teacher."
The Ancient One simply sighed and let the matter pass. As we sat cross legged from one another my master looked down to his lap and then back to me, as if he were seeing some sort of invisible object.
"You can read can't you Strange?"
I was simply aghast at the question. "Since I was three, sir."
"Good. That will be of great asset to you today." And without even blinking the Ancient One teleported a heavy, black book into my lap. The book was crafted from the hide of a creature I somehow knew had never walked the Earth and upon the cover rested a shifting, purple eye that stared at me as I likewise stared at it.
"What's this? My spell book?" I asked sarcastically.
"No." The Ancient One answered. "It is my spell book. You are simply borrowing it and if you survive your training I shall pass it along to you as my tutor once did to me."
Looking at the book I felt unsure. It filled me with the same unease that some of the darker artifacts in the hallway had the previous day.
"Won't you be needing it?"
The Ancient One simply chuckled, shrugged and began the lesson.
"The Book of the Vishanti that you handle now is your path to a greater power. Now that you're aware of the magical world Stephen Strange you can begin to make use of it." He smiled as he watched my hands fumble across the book cover. "That is... if you can open it."
I'd known there would be a catch. Something to note about books of the Vishanti that I hadn't known then, they're completely priceless in terms of value and rarer than a breakout of fibrodysplasia. The author of the few copies that exist was a proud sort. He'd noted every spell, ritual and artifact that exists into those texts and cast a spell upon each book that only allowed access to those using magic. Which in a sense would defeat the point of using the book in the first place but what can I say?
"Your goal Stephen Strange is to turn a single page of that book before the dawning sun turns into its mid morning glare."
I didn't need to ask what would happen if I failed, the answer was obvious and would have wasted valuable time given how the sun had already reached the 2' o clock position. A number of options and methods were tried over the next few hours but none of them were a success. I did of course try turning the page, unfortunately it didn't work. As soon as my fingers drew near the pages sealed together, tight and immovable. At one point I bashed the book's spine upon the ground only for the ground to crack like a much heavier object had been struck upon it.
At this point the Ancient One, who had been watching silently until now laughed and said: "You'll figure it out."
Looking to distract myself from the frustration I was feeling I asked: "Did the other one figure it out quickly?" Obviously I was referring to the one who had saved me upon the mountain, though at this point I didn't know his name. The look on the Ancient One's face switched from one of humor to a much fouler expression.
"You refer to Mordo." And finally I knew his name. "Baron Mordo he likes to be called though in truth he has long since lost that title. To answer your question Strange, no. It took our young Baron up until the afternoon to find a new perspective."
While the One spoke I'd been smoothing my hands over the book cover (avoiding the eye on front) in search of any hidden buttons or switches. Finally I turned the book over and was stunned by my own stupidity. On the back of the book, etched into the hide were the words: "Know yourself and believe."
"Know myself and believe?" I repeated the sentence almost mockingly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Exactly what it says." The Ancient One stood up for the first time in many hours. "Know yourself..." And then he vanished into a swirling circle leaving nothing behind but his voice. "And believe."
I'd like to say that I cracked the code immediately but that simply wouldn't be true. The next few hours were spent with me largely looking at the Book of the Vishanti in defeat with no idea of what I was supposed to do. As the sun slowly moved across the sky my stomach growled and my sense of worth began to spiral hopelessly downwards.
Finally, with nothing left to lose I placed the book before me and sat cross legged before it. I'd seen monks meditate in films and tried to emulate what I had witnessed.
"Know myself..." I muttered, hands resting in my lap. "And believe." My eyes were shut and as those last words escaped my mouth a sort of mist formed in my mind and I experienced an epiphany.
My vision brought with it memories of childhood, largely me spending time with my sister April. Victor, my brother, was never really there. It had been a good time in my life, April and I had loved watching horror films growing up but once we'd entered the old house on Bleecker Street we started to live one. April had suffered a heart attack from what we saw, for me portions of my hair turned stark white but I suppose I got off easy.
April died on the operating table as a team of nurses and doctors tried to save her life. I suppose that's why I became a doctor, strange how sometimes the most traumatic memories are the forgotten ones. I lost my way in the end. By the end of my career, and it was the end, the job had become more about the fame than the people and deep down I've always known that. Now I can finally admit to it.
"Know myself and believe." But believe in what? That thought stumped me for a couple seconds but then I understood
I could be better. I would be better, and I would finally make my sister proud. And as I stared at the Book of the Vishanti the front cover lifted on its own and the first page was revealed. A smile, a genuine smile came across my face and I began to laugh for the first time since the accident. The book's pages began to fly by at terrific speed and my laughter only grew as my confidence sky rocketed.
Then a slow, steady clap filled my ears and I finally noticed Mordo standing in the doorway watching me.
"Congratulations." Were all that he said before turning and leaving. I sat alone in the Ancient One's chamber and through sheer mental command flipped the book back to its first chapter.
I finished the chapter the next morning, it had been the first of many sleepless nights to come.
(to be continued).