From the personal memoirs of Doctor Stephen Strange
By the time of the Ancient One's final test I had been under his study for just over a year.
When he'd came to find me I had been reading a book on inter-dimensional entities in the library, never once imagining just how relevant that book would become in a few weeks. My teacher approached while I hovered cross legged above the ground. So engrossed had I been in my studies that I didn't hear him enter.
"I am impressed, Strange." He said, giving me a start that made my book clatter to the ground and scamper off back to the shelf it lived upon. The One simply watched the book escape before turning his gaze to me. "You have learned more magic in a year than most manage to learn in two." My feet dropped to the ground as I stood up, the Ancient One regarded me now, not as the man I had once been but as the man I now was. "Good." He said. "Your time here has changed you. Your soul now sparkles with an optimism it was once lacking."
"Thank you." I said. "I couldn't have done any of this without your teachings."
"Of that I am aware. Yet it was your determination, my friend, that helped you listen and learn what I taught you." He took a long, almost sad breath. "Which is why I'm sorry to say that I can teach you no longer." The sentence came quick like a bullet, and upon hearing it I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
"But, master..." I muttered. "Why?"
A frown crossed his face and he reminded me of my mistake. "I am not your master, Stephen." He chose to avoid my question. "And that which you have to learn can no longer be taught through reading or studying, but from... experience."
My final test for the Ancient One was fairly straight forward when compared to the ones that came before, this was largely because I got to pick it. There had been a few times before that the Ancient One had, had students and whenever he felt they were ready he'd let them choose their final challenge in the hopes that they would attempt to better themselves. For the ones that chose to do so they would focus on an area they might be lacking in, and I was no exception. Throughout my training I had spent a great deal of time reading and using more metaphysical spells designed to heal the body and soothe the soul for reasons that should be obvious. That is why I decided to focus my talents and time upon a more combative encounter.
That is why I chose to return to the house on Bleecker Street.
It had been a simple childhood dare that lead to the darkest day I've known for almost thirty years, second only to the day that driver shattered my hands. My brother Victor had seen how me and my sister stared at the empty building that slumbered down the street. He'd dared us to venture inside, and being a young fool that's exactly what I'd done. April hadn't wanted to go inside, some sort of intuition had told her of the dangers that were waiting within but I had convinced her to follow me and then she had died.
The police had said we'd found a sort of maniac hiding inside, I couldn't remember the events well enough to correct them. For the longest time I simply believed what I had been told, but now I know better.
The Ancient One and Mordo met me before I left, the three of us stood in the temple's courtyard knowing that things wouldn't be the same once I returned, successful or not.
"Good luck, Strange." Mordo said, the two of us shook hands. A lot had changed since our trip up the mountain, now we actually regarded one another while passing. "Gods guide you." I nodded in thanks, some small part of me aware that the man still hadn't been given his final test from the Ancient One and aware of the irritation he must be feeling.
"You have been an excellent student." He told me in a voice that shook with pride. "I know you be an excellent sorcerer and I have every faith that you will succeed." Before I could respond with thanks he brought up a gift, glittering black robes with a twinge of orange fire around the rim. I noticed the look of anger in Mordo's eye a second before he hid it. "These are the garments of the Lord of Chaos. They are far more powerful than what you're currently wearing and shall safeguard you from whatever you may find."
I smiled, and with a mental command switched to the robes that had been offered me, a blast of fantastic light covering my body as the switch occurred.
"My thanks to both of you."
They both nodded silently, and with nothing more to be said I turned around and summoned a spinning, orange portal through which I stepped, taking me from the snowy mountains of Tibet to the garbage streaked streets of New York City.
Still being relatively inexperienced I'd misplaced my portal and wound up a few meters shy of my targeted area resulting in a bike messenger clipping me with his delivery bag as he whizzed by sending me tumbling to the ground. I remember feeling embarrassed as the portal snapped shut behind me, and confused shouts came from people all around. The embarrassment was replaced with calmness as I got to my feet and found myself standing outside 177A Bleecker Street.
"Good morning." I muttered, stepping past a particularly confused couple standing in front of the old manor, its windows and doors reminding me of glaring eyes that watched as I approached.
When the Ancient One had asked me for my challenge I remembered sounding confident, yet standing in front of the building I felt anything but that. The aura that the building conjured up was unmistakably evil, this place had been home to a thousand sacrifices, a thousand deaths and a thousand murders. Passersby would avoid looking at it, pets would drag their owners to the other side of the street and nobody would dare enter it. Except for me. I found myself staring at the same double doors I had done three decades earlier and found myself no more ready than I had been then. Scared witless I entered anyway.
The first thing you might notice about 177A Bleecker Street is the creeping scent of fear in the air, the whole place reeks of it and with good reason. Having knowledge now that I didn't at the time it would turn out that the house on Bleecker Street was a sort of inter-dimensional nexus, similar to the Nexus of All Realities in Florida. It acts as a sort of cross-way of the multiverse that links and connects everything. There are infinite rooms in the Sanctum as there are infinite realities, that therefore means there are infinite horrors that exist within.Yet there was only one that I was dare to face. Despite this, one of those horrors found me as soon as I stepped inside.
The Many Angled One spoke in a language I cannot comprehend, sounding simply to human ears like the sound of buzzing hornets amplified a thousand times. It clung to the ceiling, its many pointed bones jutting out from underneath purple fur. Looking into the creature's burning gold eyes that held the screaming souls of its victims I bit my tongue and somehow managed not to flee in sheer terror.
"M... may the crimson bands of Cyt-" I started to say, fractured hands naturally beginning to perform the necessary movements. Yet the Angled One didn't give me enough time to finish those movements, leaping directly in front of me and giving something that vaguely resembled a smile. It said something again in its terrible tongue and reached a spiked hand towards me, sparking my desperation.
"May the crimson bands of Cyttorak bind you!" I commanded in a voice that was not my own, my fingers pointed to the monster and something resembling fear filled its face as it perhaps realized the danger it was in. It leaped towards me releasing a shrieking roar yet despite this I didn't flinch, simply watching with satisfaction as bright red robes of satisfaction snared the creature and brought it crashing against the wall, covering it with rope after rope after rope until nothing of the beast was visible. The Many Angled One's final sound was a frightened hiss before it fell silent forever, not even able to struggle against the spell that had snared it. Feeling more sure of myself I stepped further into the building.
The manor's main lobby area had seen better days, now I found it covered in dust and dirt enough to make anyone gag. The dust, upon inspection was a carefully laid trap. I recognized it from my studies and realized it was designed to cause nightmarish hallucinations upon any poor soul that inhaled it. Thankfully the new robes I was wearing were designed to protect me from such rudimentary tactics. There was a large, oaken staircase in the center of the room that lead upward, but I couldn't see further into the dark beyond. It was with bitter remembrance that I recalled this room was where my sister had lost her mind.
Sensing no other dangers on the ground floor I decided to move up, inspecting a set of ancient armor as I went, not recognizing the culture it belonged to. I flicked my hand and conjured up flame that not only lit my path but lit the face of the next monster I was to face as it glared down at me.
To say that the creature had a face was an exaggeration, it had a fanged mouth that grinned upon seeing me but beyond that its skull resembled that of a squid more than any humanoid face. Its body, consisting mainly of tentacles levitated above the ground with each of the tentacles dangling from its head.
"It can''t be!" The creature giggled as I gazed upon it. Moonlight shone through an oval window behind it, illuminating its ghastly visage. "Little Stevey Strange! Back again!"
"Do I know you, creature?" I asked, recognizing the creature's type as a Mind Flayer from the Dark Dimension. Yet despite this knowledge I felt no fear, instead feeling oddly serene.
"Not too well." He admitted, floating right up to my face. "Your sister though. I knew her well." That comment made me see red.
"It was you!" I yelled. "You're the one that filled her mind with tumors! You feasted on her mind an-"
"And loved every minute of it."
We glared at one another, my hands shaking with rage as it practically dared me to make a move. I did what it wanted, just not fast enough. In my mind I had wanted to summon a bolt of Norse lightning, Norse lightning seems to be the most powerful form of lighting for some reason. Yet the fury that filled my mind muddled the mystic words that I was to say and I found myself gripped by the Flayer before I could state them. It charged into my body and passed into my mind, snaring its tendrils into my memories as it almost exclusively snared the ones that featured April.
"My, you HAVE changed!" It said from my mind, dragging its hooks all over and sending me toppling to my knees. "'Master of the Mystic Arts'? That's a new one."
The creature's physical form vanished as it turned to fog and trickled into my ear, rooting itself within. The pain I felt was worse than any I'd ever experienced, words tried to leave my mouth but they couldn't find their way and I felt memories of my past beginning to fade. In a few short seconds I forgot the name of my father, forgot the smell of freshly cut grass and could no longer sing the words to Rocketman.
"G... get out!" I managed to scream, but the creature did not oblige.
"Was I your big test, Stevey? Did you think you could beat me?" A stab of pain sent me to the floor and I was forced to use my hands to steady myself resulting in only more pain. In my desperation an idea came to mind and I enacted it without thinking, slamming my skull into the ground and knocking myself unconscious.
My inner self retreated inward and I found myself hovering within a spiritual representation of my brain, stray thoughts floating about like lighting while what felt like a million miles away the Mind Flayer merely regarded me as it grew fat on my childhood memories.
"Interesting idea." It said after a loud belch. "But now you're in my domain."
"No!" I snapped, summoning to hand a green mystic sword, my hands unbroken within this place. "We're in my mind, monster! And you shouldn't have come here!"
My feet dashed towards the creature which in turn sent a horde of inky, black tendrils shooting towards me. With a quick thought I conjured a simple shield that caused the tentacles to erupt upon impact. As I approached the Flayer realized the danger it was in and uprooted itself from my memories. It actually attempted to leave my mind, but I wouldn't let it.
"No, no, no!" It screamed, noticing my new thoughts revolving around nothing but the beast's death. I leaped towards it and brought the blade swiping down, silencing the monster forever. I landed upon the ground and sat down, covered in black, throbbing blood. With a wave of my hand the Flayer's body disintegrated and the aches of my mind stopped. A few minutes passed as I regained myself, then with a sigh I returned to reality meeting the sharp pain of a broken nose. Exhausted I sat upon the top step of the manor's staircase and listened to the sounds of other ungoldy horrors scuttling about in other rooms, problems for another time. I thought about my victory over the Mind Flayer and the Many Angled One hoping for some sense of victory. There was none, my sister was still dead.
After an age I summoned a portal and returned to Tibet, successful but beaten. Stepping past the Ancient One and Mordo I said nothing before returning to my room, believing that the darkest chapter of my new life was at an end.
Oh, how wrong I was.
(to be concluded).