The Sanctum Sanctorum was unusually quiet. Wong was off at Kamar-Taj with America and another group of sorcerers in training which left him all alone. The silence was absolutely deafening.
Most of the time he just floated through the Sanctum when he wanted to go from place to place all because Cloaky was feeling restless. It was Stephen's turn to feel restless. Dr. Strange had handled the Darkhold a little TOO much if truth be told. He had no idea how he was going to stop Wanda if he didn't. For now, while this annoyance at the silence was getting to him, he decided to physically walk it off.
The burgeoning power within him was what he'd imagined a volcano was like just before it erupted. The Darkhold was far more damning than he imagined. Wong had tried to warn him, but as usual, Stephen was too stubborn to listen.
Another person who was a voice of reason despite being a pain in the rear was Tony Stark. Ever since Tony had sacrificed himself to defeat Thanos, the world had become a far more dangerous place than anyone could have imagined. Stephen stopped his baseless walking and looked down at his feet.
The Master of the Mystic Arts held up his own hands to look at them. The fingertips were showing signs of the corruption of the Darkhold. His eyes closed and he steadied his breathing. With complete concentration, he focused on a particular spell he'd seen in the Darkhold before he reanimated his own corpse from another dimension. He waved his hands in front of his body with fingers curled and and arms spread apart. A figure was manifesting in front of him. The figure was Tony Stark.
Stark wasn't fully alive again. He was caught between living and the dead. Stark was still wearing the half burned out armor he wore the day he died. "What the hell is going on here Strange?" The image of The Armored Avenger told him. Stark looked at the glowing fingertips of the Sorcerer. "What have you done to yourself?" The acidic tone of Stark was still just as sharp as it was before.
"It's the corruption of Dark Magic. I had to do it…" Stephen spoke knowing that his own mind was questioning his decision. "The multiverse was dependent on it."
Stark's stranded spirit gave Strange a bizarre look. "So you did it. Is everything safe now? Or did you pull me into No Man's Land for sh!ts and giggles?"
"As far as I know, yes." Stephen could feel the sting in the rebuke with each word. He deserved every minute of it.
Stark was still confused by all this. "You opened Pandora's box Strange. Now you have to deal with the consequences. Just look at me. I don't get to see my kid grow up except for being Casper the Friendly Ghost around her. We did what we did and lives were saved because of it. Now put on your big boy pants and put me back where you found me before I start on a spiel that would make Rogers proud."
Stark was right. Stephen nodded as he lifted his chin. He flashed a smirk at the spirit, before he started to reverse the spell. "Take care Tony." He told him before Stark slipped back behind the veil.
Stephen knew Tony was right. He removed Cloaky and wrapped him up almost like an ascot. Doing this brought Strange into wearing street clothes despite the protestations of the sentient Cloak. "At least I'm not leaving you on the closet again." He spoke with rising confidence in his voice.
Stephen walked down the steps and toward the front doors of the Sanctum. The sun was shining. Surely things were about to get better…
The air was growing warm as the late May weather was showing signs that summer was approaching. The cemetery was in transition from spring to summer around him as his footsteps carried him deeper within its confines. The lightly chirping birds and the scurrying feet of tiny rodents like squirrels as they were emerging from their hiding places to trod upon the grounds that were slowly approaching the signs of life in its prime.
The man walking through the cemetery was Stephen Strange. The Master of Mystic Arts was just another man paying a visit to a loved one here in this place of remembrance. The path he was taking lead directly to part of his heart that he could never recover again. The marker was just ahead. Stephen turned up the path so he could stand at the foot of this particular grave.
The marble was elaborately carved with angels and old English Ivy that matched the flowers that grew in a particular garden he'd not seen since childhood. The words on the marker were clear as could be.
Vincent Burke Strange, MD
Born April 9, 1946
Died May 26, 2019
Beloved husband and father.
Stephen stood there a moment longer swallowing hard so as not to show how his heart was breaking. He motioned with his right hand bringing it to his left. The magical glow made a solitary yellow rose appear. He took the yellow rose and while kneeling, rested it on the emerald earth of his father's grave. "It's been so long,, Dad. I can't believe it." He spoke softly.
The Blip had taken Stephen away in 2018. He was not present when his father passed away which hurt his soul even more. He didn't even get to say goodbye. Now all he could do was come here. "There isn't a day that I don't think about you. You were the best Dad I could have ever wanted. It's a shame I didn't realize how good I had it, until I dial your number and you don't answer." Stephen blinked away a silent tear that would fall upon the earth itself.
The pain of finding out about your father's passing from a family member but from a third party embittered him still to this day. He harbored that deep inside, never letting it taint his soul as best he could. It was so difficult though because no one meant to him what his father did. He still remembered the first time he saw his mother again after the Blip and the Battle versus Thanos. All he could do was hold tight to his mother as the most soul crushing wail came from her heart. He choked back tears letting his mother hold onto him for as long as she needed.
"I'll always take a little of you with me everywhere I go." He told his father's grave. He was still kneeling after resting the rose on the earth. His father often warned him of his arrogance and his hubris. It wasn't until he lost everything did he realize the wisdom in his father's words. "I'm trying my best to make you proud Dad. Despite everything, I couldn't be here to see you when you left. I hope someday you'll forgive for being a lousy son."
At this point, Stephen didn't realize just how wet his cheeks were. A monarch butterfly flew down in front of his face. Stephen extended his scarred digits so that the beautiful creature landed gently on the perch it was given. Stephen watched as the butterfly stayed there for a moment or two before flying away. His eyes closed as he knew what this meant. His father was still watching over him and always would.
Stephen slowly stood back up to his full height. He drank in a full breath expanding his lungs before breathing out again. He knew he had to get back to the Sanctum Sanctorum. He had duties to perform, but on this day of all days he needed to spend time with his father. The Master of Mystic Arts was dressed as a regular man as he visited his father. He started to go back the way he came disappearing into a portal he opened behind some oak trees.
Arriving back in the Sanctum, his clothing reverted back into what his normally wore on any given day as he lived here. The Cloak of Levitation was excited to see Strange again. It danced all around him. "Yes!Yes! I'm home again." He smiled gently. They were at the top of the stairs when Cloaky wrapped around Stephen's shoulders again.
He started to turn away to go toward the Study when he heard pounding on the front door or the Sanctum. A flick of his hands opened the door wide so the young girl pounding on them would fall into the lobby. Stephen floated down the stairs to greet her as he shut the doors behind her. "Is there something I could do for you, Miss?" He asked before landing beside her. He had no idea who she was or why she reminded him of his mother's pictures when she was younger. No matter who she was, she was looking for help and he would provide it without question.
Shakespeare once wrote “Conscience doth make cowards of us all.” As I sit here alone in my dad’s trailer, I can say that an attack of conscience caused him to confess in the murder of Jason Blossom. He wanted to protect me from the psychotic rantings of a megalomaniac who killed his own son without even batting an eyelash by threatening to kill me as he had Jason. The one and only FP Jones actually wanted to do right by me? The thought gives me hope. Well, it’s more like cautious optimism. There is a part way down deep that really wants his dad back. I miss Mom. I miss Jellybean. I miss things how they were. Will it ever happen that way again? Maybe cows will sprout thirty foot wings and fly over a moon made of green cheese.
The sound of the loudest thunder possibly imaginable jolted me from my random musings. I clapped my laptop closed as the lights flickered on and off. I wasn’t afraid of storms. I’ve been through plenty of them. What bothers me more than anything is the wind. The destructive power of wind has been duly noted in the annals of time. Plus the added fact I’m sitting here in a trailer puts me a little bit on edge. As if taking a cue from my high anxiety levels, a gust of wind started to rattle the entire trailer. It wasn’t enough to make my dad work up a sweat about it, but he was not here right now. I was.
A vicious bolt of lightning shot out of the sky and crashed violently struck the power cables next to the trailer across the lot from me. I could see by looking out the window. The cacophony of explosions along with the smell of charred wood heralded in the envelope of darkness that enveloped me.
I couldn’t see anything around me. There were shapes and outlines that looked a lot like monsters in the darkest reaches in my childhood nightmares. I mentally braced myself if I had to go further into the trailer to look for some sort of light.
In the back closet in my dad’s bedroom, I started looking for any sign of a flashlight. My fingers reached out touching the flat walls of the closet not detecting anything. I kept moving until I found a small box sitting back in the back of his closet. My extended digits wrapped around the box hidden away from prying eyes. Betty would tell me to open the box without hesitation. Part of me wondered what sort of secrets that my dad was hiding. I almost didn't want to open the box. Almost.
I had the box open just a few moments later I was soon gazing at the contents within. The great secret that my dad was hiding was a dirty old Polaroid picture that had four figures in it. I recognized the figures immediately. It was me, him, Jelly Bean and Mom from about 5 years ago. We all looked so happy and smiling together. The picture was wrinkled around the edges almost like my dad had been holding this more times than I care to imagine. Just when I thought he really didn’t care about our family, it turns out he did all along. I took in a deep breath and exhale sharply. I paid very little attention to the fact I was still sitting in the dark. I didn’t realize my cheeks were wet until I heard the sound of a car horn.
The loud voice I heard was that of my best friend Archie Andrews. “JUGHEAD! CAN YOU HEAR ME?” I could hear his voice through the steady growing rain. What the hell was he doing? I stuffed the picture in my pocket and made my way into the living room.
By the time, I made it to the living room, Archie’s cries were getting louder. I opened the door to see Archie standing there in a virtual monsoon with his dad behind the wheel of the truck. They came out here just because they were worried about me. I could be a real d.ick and not go with them just until the storm passed by. Who was I to ignore my adoptive brother and my second dad? I dodged back inside just quick enough to grab my bag before I ran back outside.
Archie clapped my shoulder before he got into the front of the truck. I slid in beside Archie and shut the door. Mr. Andrews and Archie had come out in the middle of everything to make sure I was safe. Not too many people would give a tinker’s dam about me. I am just a Southside kid who had everything go wrong for him. Who cared if I lived or died?
With that picture in my pocket that Dad had kept hidden away along with sitting in the truck with these two made me start to think things could actually be okay for once. Thoughts of Betty added to my growing smile. Maybe there really was hope after all.
"My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them." - Jack Kerouac
The onslaught of fire that fell from the heavens had given him no refuge. Chunks of burning rocks kept falling from the sky. Innocent men, women and children were running screaming seeking refuge everywhere but finding it nowhere. Dr. Strange pulled out his fists ready to try and fight against whatever it was raining hellfire on the Earth. The glowing magical runes that made halos around his fists were even brighter even as the skies around him grew darker. A particularly large boulder with a raging inferno came directly for him. Strange immediately fired a magical blast from extended fingertips that protected not only him but those around him being crushed to death in a burning bloody mess. “STRANGE!” The voice came from his right. It was one he recognized. Immediately he turned to face the god Heka in full robe and headdress. “Ru nu peret em heru!” Heka repeated to Strange over and over again.
Strange looked around him after the words from the Egyptian God of Magic and Medicine came. He realized he was no longer in New York. He was in England. The sound of Big Ben erupted all around him. There was darkness all around despite the flaming rocks that continually fell from the sky. Big Ben stuck midnight: The Witching Hour.”
Strange’s eyes thrust open. He was barechested wearing nothing but his cotton pajama bottoms when he sat up in his bed. It was a dream. Heka had reached out to him in a dream with a warning. His right hand moved to cover his face rubbing downward trying to wake himself up more. It was obvious he wasn’t going to get any sleep again any time soon. He moved toward the center of his bedroom and assumed a lotus position. Angeled fingertips touched as the Master of the Mystic Arts began to reach out on the Astral Plane to Heka.
His astral form resembled him as it emerged from his body. “Heka! Invading my dreams now? What’s going on?” He asked curiously and with an irritated tone. He walked slowly in his astral form toward the god who was sitting on a throne in the Astral Plane. “That passage you quoted was from the Book of the Dead.”
Heka turned his visage upon the only human he felt had the ability to adequately be his human avatar. It was a shame that Stephen Strange kept rejecting him. He would just have to continue to invade the dreams of the Sorcerer until he could see the value in such a partnership between the two. “Indeed I did Stephen Strange. The Book of the Dead is no longer under guard of the mortals who found it in my temple years ago. It was stolen last night at Midnight from its protection in The British Museum. You need to get there as soon as you can. If the wrong hands get a hold of this text, the Dead will Walk Again.”
“The Dead Will Walk Again?” Stephen started to bicker with Heka, but soon found himself on the receiving end of the god pushing him back into his body back in New York. Stephen’s eyes opened once again as he lurched forward. He steadied his body before finally standing to his full height. It was time to see all this for himself.
Standing in the main lobby of the Sanctum Sanctorum, Stephen started the spell that would open a portal directly to London. Wong approached him as he was carving the portal out with his sling ring. “Are you alright? You’ve not said two words all morning.”
Stephen looked to Wong. “Apparently something’s happened to the Book of the Dead. I’m going to the British Museum to see for myself.” Once the portal was finally opened, Stephen turned to Wong. “If the Book of the Dead was really in the British Museum, why wasn’t it actually here? Magical texts with that sort of power shouldn’t just be lying about for anyone to take.” He had plenty of undertones about the Darkhold as well but said nothing. That was already a situation that they had already resolved.
Wong said nothing to Strange. “You’d better check it out. I will look into it from my end.” His jaw clenched as thoughts assaulted him he kept to himself rather than divulge to Strange. “This could be highly dangerous, Strange, especially if someone has the Book of the Dead and tried to use it to revive a dead loved one.”
“There are necromancy spells in the Book of the Dead?” Stephen asked. “Of course there are Necromancy spells in the Book. Of course it wasn’t just a prayer book for the passage of the dead to the afterlife. Nothing could be that easy now could it?” He shook his head and walked through the portal.
Stephen Strange stepped through the portal and into the chaos of the British Museum. He arrived in the middle of a destroyed Egyptology display. He floated over to get a better look at what was unfolding in front of him. “What’s going on here?” Asked Strange. He already knew what the answer was going to be.
The Museum Director approached Dr. Strange. “You mean you don’t know?” The man was absolutely beside himself with worry. “The Book of the Dead was stolen last night at Midnight. There was also a few more priceless relics that were stolen. The entire list iof stolen relics ncluded was the dagger of Tutankhamun. The dagger was made of a metal that is not native to Earth.”
Stephen felt all the color leave his face. It was far more serious than even Heka or Wong told him. “You’d better get me that list.” He was going to need help investigating what was going on here with this break in. This was going to be more than what he could handle on his own. Stephen stepped away from the Museum Director. Stephen’s left hand started to sparkle as he tried to use a spell to see if magic was used to break into this facility. He’d be able to pick up on that fairly easily. With his right hand, he started to type out a message to someone that he could count on to help him. “How fast can you get to London? There’s a huge problem that’s about to get worse if we can’t stop it FAST.” The message went to Captain America Steve Rogers.
Strange hoped that this wasn’t going to result in the unleashed Apocalypse that Heka had shown him in a dream. Who was he kidding? of course it would, afterall, this was the end of all things they were talking about here.
Was he a fool? Of course he was a fool. He was straightening his tie while looking in the mirror. His jacket was hanging behind him. Flying around behind him was the Cloak of Levitation attempting to get his attention. The tail of the Cloak was poking him in the back repeatedly like a petulant child. “Yes, Yes. I know you want to go with me.” Stephen muttered. He didn’t really have much choice in the matter. If he didn’t take Cloaky with him, he would cause a scene. This day was all about Christine and all the bad choices that Stephen had neglected to make while he still had the time.
Stephen pulled his jacket over his broad shoulders and fastened the buttons. Cloaky was still spinning around him like a child demanding attention from a parent. “FINE!” Stephen immediately thrust out his hand catching Cloaky by the collar. He started to fold the magical relic down to the size of a pocket handkerchief. He stuffed Cloaky in there with an amused huff. “Now, try to behave PLEASE.” He knew it was impossible, but he had to say it anyway. He was the fool going to the wedding of the only woman he’d truly loved to another man.
Stepping to the side, he began to open a portal to the wedding venue. The portal opened in a secluded area. He stepped through closing the portal behind him in the process. He didn’t hide his identity and what he was from the general public. Everyone knew he was a sorcerer and a member of the Avengers. He tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. He could feel Cloaky stirring in his pocket. Stephen pinched the relic as it wiggled in his pocket. “Behave!” He hissed through clenched teeth. He plastered a smile to his face as he walked into the chapel.
By this time, Cloaky finally did settle into his place as Dr. Strange’s pocket handkerchief. This made Stephen breathe a sigh of relief as he tried to be just another attendee of this wedding. He found a nice pew where he took a seat. Everything was going well so far; until Nick West sat down beside him. Stephen could feel his jaw muscles clench as the man who saved his life by butchering his hands in the process. Pleasantries exchanged between the two former colleagues led to Stephen finding out that West had disappeared in the Blip just as Stephen had. He felt a twinge of remorse over the fact that West had suffered so much loss after returning to life. Stephen didn’t hate the man. The man did what he thought was right in terms of saving Stephen’s life. The sorcerer stole a glance downward at the ugly scarred hands that were unable to hold a scalpel any longer. He had other ways now to breathe life into mankind as a whole now. A faint hint of a golden glow emanated from his fingertips as those scarred appendages were resting between his legs. Nick West had actually given him a new life after all. It wasn’t anything that Stephen had anticipated, but everything had worked out for the best. At least Stephen kept telling himself the same thing even as Christine came down the aisle all dressed in white. She should have been marrying him, but she wasn’t.
Stephen took a seat to watch the ceremony just like the other guests. He kept thinking how breathtakingly beautiful Christine looked in that moment. There was a time that Christine was his whole world. He could only see that now after he’d come to the startling realization that she was saying the words, I do to another man. His selfishness and arrogance cost him the most important person in his life. That was a mistake he was going to have to live with that from this moment forward.
Stephen was mesmerized by her beauty. She was so perfect and so brave. He knew her better than most people. He felt a bit of his old arrogance cloud his judgment when he assumed that even her new husband knew her like he did. He knew his pride wouldn't go down too fast without a fight. Stephen had watched as the minister made his pronouncement. Christine Palmer was now another man’s wife. Stephen’s heart fell to his stomach. He only had himself to blame and he knew it.
The reception was sufficiently pleasant. Stephen couldn’t help but make his way to the bar. He heard Christine’s voice beside him asking for a drink. He extended his right hand and spoke softly. “Here allow me.” He told her. A minor parlor trick from the Sorcerer turned her water into the alcoholic beverage she wanted.
“Stephen. Thank you. Thank you for coming.” She lifted the glass to her lips. She sipped a generous portion of the liquid. The visible signs of the overwhelming anxiety of planning a wedding were finally leaving her. This made Stephen happy to see her in good health and happy. “...You’d like him. He’s actually a huge fan of yours.” Christine told him. Stephen had not registered the first part of what she’d said because he was still enamored of her. “Are you truly happy?” She asked him pointedly.
Mustering up the most handsome smile he could, he looked right at the woman he loved and spoke the most bold faced lie he could imagine. “Yes, of course I am, Christine.” He had to put on a brave front for her because she had the right to be happy. He knew he couldn’t make her happy in the way she deserved.
A loud commotion came from just outside the wedding venue. Stephen raced toward the sound of the noise. He pushed his way onto the balcony. There were automobiles being tossed around like toys at the screaming populace of New York. This was where Stephen Strange the man had to become the Stephen Strange the Sorcerer once more. He casually leaped from the balcony and began to fall to the ground. He pulled Cloaky from his pocket allowing the Magical Relic to fully expand and wrap around his body. The suit he wore to the wedding disappeared and the garb of the Avenger and one of the most powerful magic wielders on Earth covered him once more. He saw Christine with her new husband as he flew toward the direction of the problem. This was how it should be, he tried to convince himself. He was holding the knife again. It was obvious he’d never let it go.
Being called upon to help the gods, was something Stephen Strange had never imagined. The Egyptian pantheon was having some difficulties with their human avatars after a colossal battle involving Khonshu and Ammit. Even though the god Heka was their magical deity, Stephen was completely and utterly human. "Your assistance is greatly appreciated, Stephen Strange. " The Egyptian god of magic nodded in reverence to the natural magical skill that Strange possessed.
Stephen placed his right fist into his open palm and bowed in respect. "It was my pleasure. Your avatars should fare better in the long run."
The suntanned features of the Egyptian turned upward into a handsome smile. "You'd do well as my avatar, Stephen Strange. You should consider it."
Having taken a few steps away from the god, Stephen grinned sheepishly. He began to open a portal back to the Sanctum Sanctorum. "With all due respect Heka, I'll stay as I am. That's enough to keep me busy for ages to come." He chuckled as he stepped into the portal.
Stephen stepped through the portal into the salon where the main steps to the Sanctum led upstairs. "Wong?" Usually there was some kind of noise that came from somewhere. This quiet was very unnerving. Stephen crossed his arms in a battle ready pose. His hands radiated with the glowing magical runes as it always did when he was ready to fight. "Wong?"
His call was met this time by a ninja covered in dark clothing with his eyes barely revealed. Stephen met the kick of the would be assassin with a well placed block that tossed the man to his feet. The ninja raced away from Stephen only to disappear in a puff of smoke. This had been a diversion intended to keep him occupied. Terror etched into his features deeply. Where was Wong?
Stephen lowered his hands and propelled himself magically through the floors one by one until he finally arrived at where the Sorcerer Supreme was locked in battle. There was a group of four ninjas that where all using various weapons on him. Strange fired a bolt of magical energy at one that was attacking Wong from behind. The energy struck its intended target, sending him to the heat of the desert right at the feet of Heka. Stephen fired another blast at yet another ninja sending yet another to Heka.
Wong was weary in his battle yet never faltered. With Strange back from Egypt, the battle was nearly won. The Sorcerer Supreme bound one foe with a magical chain to the closest wall. The last was set to attack Wong but found a perfectly timed roundhouse kick to the jaw that knocked him unconscious. "It's about time you showed up." Wong scolded Strange. "Where did you send the other two?"
Strange let out a snort that marked his amusement. "I got back as soon as I could. Khonshu and his avatar may have stopped Ammit, but she got her licks in against Horus and the other. They should be back on track again with no problem. As for our two house guests, I sent them to Heka. I think the Nile crocodiles are hungry this time of year."
Wong looked as though he was proud but hid it poorly. "I have these two here and they will be punished for attacking the Sorcerer Supreme." Wong took his position seriously. It was too serious on occasion for Stephen who simply smirked at him.
"Do you know where they're from?" Stephen asked curiously. There were plenty who would want to kill the Sorcerer Supreme, but there was something about all this that told Stephen there was much more to the story.
"Yes. I do. Merlyn sent them." Wong held up a hand to stop Stephen's question. "Malcolm Merlyn found his way to Kamar-Taj as a young man. He had lost everything. He was searching for peace, or so he told The Ancient One. Needless to say, that was a lie."
"This is personal with Merlyn isn't it?" Stephen surmised. It was obvious by his vocal infections that this Merlyn had meant something to Wong.
Wong bowed his head and closed his eyes. "Malcolm Merlyn and I were in Kamar-Taj at the same time. We were like brothers." They undertones told Stephen all he needed to know.
"Where is he?" Asked Strange. He had just gotten back from Egypt, but he was ready to go anywhere for his friend and mentor Wong.
"Last I knew, he was in Star City. He was the new Demon's Head of the League of Assassins." Wong took Strange's arm. "Please be careful."
"Aren't I always?" He replied with that irritating yet charming grin he always had. Strange stepped away from Wong and started to open a portal. Star City was on the other side. Stephen had no idea what he was walking into, but he usually never did. He had to see this Merlyn for himself.
All was quiet in the Sanctum Sanctorum for now. Stephen Strange sat in his lotus position within the walls of the Sanctum using his astral form to visit various dimensions in order to keep the peace. His list of multi-versal threats tended to be rather long these days. Loki was not the only one being on this list. Most beings on this list had a command over magic that would threaten the fabric of reality. There were some who had a gift with science that made them just as dangerous as any sorcerer on this list or even a few gods. One of those people that Strange kept an eye on was Lex Luthor. Most often that not, Supergirl had him in check. Dr. Strange never had to intervene. Ever since Luthor found himself banished to the Phantom Zone by his own machinations, he’d been considered contained by Strange. This was unfortunately about to change.
The Astral Form of Doctor Strange had made his way into the Phantom Zone. Covered in an aura of blue, he could view that Zone and not experience it first hand since his physical form was not there. The Phantom Zone was as desolate and barren as he’d known it to be. Silent footfalls were followed by the Astral Form of Doctor Strange being carried further into this dimension that had been created by the destruction of the planet Krypton. The beings trapped there were lost in their despair and agony. His heart did go out to them, but this was a sentence that they’d instilled upon themselves. They were lost to the hopelessness and despair of this situation. They were paying for this in ways that were unfathomable to any being with a heart or an ounce of dignity. That was when Strange made his way around the next outcropping.
There he was. Alexander Joseph Luthor in all his glory was far from the man that Stephen had seen on television and in his personal appearances. The man was wearing what used to be one of the finest suits that money could buy. Stephen had seen many suits of the same material worn by Tony Stark on occasion. But there was more to this scene of this genius lost in this hellish place. Luthor was digging in the dirt with a stone tool that had much of the same feel as a tool that one would have found in a cave in Northern France while looking through caves with primitive markings inside. Stephen tried to get closer, but couldn’t. He was stuck in place.
This shouldn’t have happened. Stephen felt the quagmire envelope him as his body was back on Earth. The next thing that happened shocked him even more. Luthor himself turned to look at Strange's astral form. “What have we here?” A smirk crossed the lips of the evil genius. “Stephen Strange. I never thought you’d come out here to pay little old me a visit here in hell.” He set his jaw firmly. “Tell Supergirl I’m coming. This is all her fault and I’ll make her pay.” With the declaration from the villian, a band of energy wrapped around him and expelled his astral form from the Phantom Zone.
Back in the Sanctum Santorum, Doctor Strange was jolted back into his own body. He landed unceremoniously on the ground. Cerulean hues opened. The surgeon’s scarred hands covered his body. He was back in his own body. The reverberations from the Phantom Zone were starting to be felt by him on Earth now. This was something he was going to need help to solve. If the Phantom Zone collapsed, then those stuck there would undoubtedly die. Strange immediately flew to the window of the Sanctum to look to the skies.
There was a jagged tear in the skies. The rip in the fabric of space and time was miniscule at first. It was visible enough that Doctor Strange knew it was there. He knew he had to find Supergirl. That meant his next stop would be to the DEO. As Sorcerer Supreme he had ties to all the secret government agencies. This one would hopefully lead him to Supergirl.
Mirror Dimension Magic: After his training at Kamar-Taj, Doctor Strange is able to manipulate Mirror Dimension Magic. Strange was notably able to access the Mirror Dimension and transport himself, Karl Mordo, and the Zealots within the parallel reality with ease. Additionally, Strange was also capable of conjuring a construct of the Mirror Dimension in the form of crystalline fractals that acted as a shield, absorbing an energy beam from the Power Stone, and was also able to send the fractals at Thanos. Strange can warp space within the Mirror Dimension, as demonstrated during his skirmish with Spider-Man within the dimension.
Astral Projection: Strange is capable of separating his astral form from his body, gaining access to the Astral Dimension. He notably was able to assist Christine Palmer in operating on his physical body, demonstrating being able to make himself visible to her at will, using the use of the Mirror Dimension as a medium. Strange's astral body could also make his physical body glow from the inside out by putting his hand through it and touching it, which he used to allow Christine to better see his wound when she operated on him. As the Ancient One was dying, Strange was able to use his astral form to communicate with her astral form before her physical death. Notably, Strange found that as Palmer defibrillated his real body, his astral form would send out a blast of energy, which he used offensively while grappling with Lucian Aster's astral form, ultimately destroying it and killing him.
Conjuration: Strange was able to make an umbrella stand appear in front of Thor for him to put down Mjølnir, which had been disguised as an umbrella, as well as make a tea cup appear in Thor's hand. He also was able to hide the Time Stone after secretly removing it from the Eye of Agamotto and later made it appear between his fingers, allowing it to float over to Thanos. He was also able to make red wine appear instantly in Christine Palmer’s glass during her wedding. He also conjured two massive hands to grab a pole to use it to defeat a giant monster.
Transmutation: During his meeting with Thor, Strange was able to turn a cup of tea into a large mug of beer that was also able to magically refill itself, much to Thor's pleasant surprise. After Bruce Banner crashed through the roof of the Sanctum, Strange was able to seamlessly transform the normal street clothes he was wearing into his blue robes.
Teleportation: Strange, while in the New York Sanctum, was able to transport himself and Thor around the building with ease, which was heavily disorienting to the Asgardian. At one point, he accidentally caused an entire bookshelf that Thor was leaning against to be brought along with them, before returning it and Thor to its previous location.
Time Manipulation: Using the Eye of Agamotto, Strange could control the flow of time or be it on a small or massive scale, notably to turn back something to a previous state, accelerating its time in order to apply changes that have not happened yet, or to lock in a time loop, with time resetting over and over until he stops its effect. Despite having safely and effectively handled the Time Stone's powers, Strange still concluded that he was not ready to use it liberally yet and decided to return it until he was ready to use it again. By the time of the Infinity War, it seems that Strange has mastered the Time Stone's powers, as he was confident he can use it safely in battle. Apparently seeing that the only future that led to victory involved the Snap taking place first as well as Iron Man's survival, Strange willingly surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for sparing Iron Man's life, losing the ability to use it. He first tested the ability on an apple, rewinding time on it to make it whole and then forwarding time to make it rot, despite not actually eating it to that point beforehand. If interrupted while using this ability, time freezes until he resumes the spell. He even used it to make a reconstruction of the stolen pages of the Book of Cagliostro and read from it, though he seemed to be unable to make the page real and only could reveal what had been there before. Strange notably used the ability to trap Dormammu himself in a temporal loop, which would reset each time he killed Strange, keeping Dormammu from leaving his dimension to invade Earth until he agreed to leave Earth for good.
Parachronal Cognition: He was able to use the Eye of Agamotto to peer into various futures just like the Ancient One did, so as to gain insight into all the results of the upcoming conflict against Thanos and his ferocious crusade. Strange saw that there was only one future where he and his allies won while over 14 million more was that they lost against Thanos. Seeing all the scenarios for how the Infinity War could end required him to exert an immense amount of energy, as he had to physically live them and then die in each one and right before he dies he has to reset and repeat, and took notes as he went.
Necromancy: Strange was able to possess the dead body of his variant in order to fight against the Scarlet Witch.
"I've got a photographic memory. It's how I got my M.D. and Ph.D. at the same time."
Genius-Level Intellect: Strange has a photographic memory and perfect recall had originally greatly aided him in medical school, helping him to earn both his M.D. and Ph.D. simultaneously, going on to become one of the world's most renowned neurosurgeons, and later proving himself equally prodigious in the study of mystic arts. During his mystic arts studies in Kamar-Taj, Strange managed to master entering the Astral Dimension, despite Wong not believing him to be ready. When Strange used the Eye of Agamotto to restore the missing pages from the Book of Cagliostro, he only saw the page for about 15 seconds, but was able to learn about Dormammu, the Dark Dimension, and the ritual for eternal life as well as work out the ritual and deduce how the Ancient One has remained alive for so long. He proved to be capable of intellectually sparring with Tony Stark and Thanos.
"No one could have done better." "I could have done better."
Master Physician: Strange was one of the world's most renowned neurosurgeons. His genius surgical skill allowed him to flawlessly perform extremely complicated surgeries with little to no mechanical assistance. Indeed, Strange's skills were superior to those of his colleagues Christine Palmer and Nicodemus West, as he was able to notice a cause of injury in a patient while neither of them could, thus preventing West from killing the patient. Strange's perfect record and reputation with the craft reached such a point that ultimately, he developed a penchant for undertaking only the most challenging but still viable of operations, in order to boost his huge ego. Despite losing the ability to perform surgeries after his hands were damaged beyond repair in a catastrophic car accident, Strange still kept his profound medical knowledge, which allowed him to give out directions to Palmer and West during surgery on the Ancient One. During his surgical career, Strange was able to develop entirely new techniques for performing highly complicated surgical procedures that he claimed would significantly advance medical practices for years to come. Strange was even able to perform surgery during the extremely stressful Battle of New York.
Expert Tactician: Strange's tremendous intellect contributes to his already incredible tactical insight. A highly ingenious strategist, Strange relied on pure wits to stop both Kaecilius and Dormammu himself due to his lack of experience in fighting supernatural forces. He used the Eye of Agamotto to trap the primordial entity in an endless time loop while using tactics of psychological warfare to mentally torment Dormammu instead of stopping him with magic and, as a result, ultimately succeeded in forcing his foe back into the Dark Dimension, taking the Zealots along with him.
Master Martial Artist: After studying under the guidance of the Ancient One and training with Karl Mordo for months, Strange became proficient in martial arts, both armed and hand-to-hand combat, with his skill being great enough to allow him to fight off and evade many of the far more experienced and extensively trained Zealots sorcerers attacks while trying to escape the New York Sanctum, overpower and kill Lucian Aster, and even managing to hold his own against Kaecilius himself reasonably well, with Strange notably managing to fight Kaecilius almost to a standstill in their last altercation by using the reconstructing landscape of Hong Kong to his advantage, although he was ultimately overpowered and only defeated Kaecilius by outsmarting him rather than defeating him in pure skill. Eventually, as he further practiced and trained, by the time of the Infinity War, Strange's skill and experience in fighting had improved significantly to the point that with help from Drax, Strange was even able to fight against Thanos himself in close-quarters combat, lasting longer than Drax, although Thanos only had the use of one eye due to the other being blinded by a webbed cotton and is quick to overwhelm Strange soon after beating back Drax. However, Strange's hands still suffer from severe nerve and bone damage as a result of his accident, further exacerbated by the unsuccessful surgeries made towards restoring his dexterity, meaning his hands are delicate and prone to intense pain should he attempt to directly strike something or someone, thus leading his technique to consist mainly of a combination of parries and the use of spells. During his fight with an alternate Karl Mordo, he proved himself capable of blocking, dodging and countering his attacks as well as effectively landing his own when neither one of them were using their magic, despite his hands still being injured.
Bilingualism: Strange is fluent in his native English, and becomes proficient enough with Sanskrit during his months in Kamar-Taj to enable him to study advanced books Wong deemed him not ready for, including the Book of Cagliostro.
The silence of the Sanctum Sanctorum was deafening. It wasn’t unusual for the Sanctum to be so quiet. The planes of existence that the Sanctum existed in was something that the mere human mind couldn’t comprehend. Stephen Strange had been a sorcerer for a few years now and put in charge of the New York Sanctum in the process. Unfortunately Thanos and his possession of the Infinity Stones put a damper on all of anyone’s plans. Half of all existence vanished into nothingness. Stephen Strange had been one of the countless number of denizens across all the galaxy that vanished.
He sat in the lotus position deep within the walls of the Sanctum trying to clear his mind. This crossroads between dimensions was a plane that only a handful of people could reach. “Strange?” The voice of Wong carried through the vast expanse of this astral plane reaching the former Sorcerer Supreme in the middle of it all. “Are you coming out any time soon?”
Stephen unfolded himself from the lotus position and drifted for a bit. He started to walk slowly toward the source of Wong’s voice. From Wong’s perspective, Strange was walking upside down. “What is it?” He asked. The insane amount of guilt that overwhelmed him. Tony Stark was dead all because he told him that there was only one way that they could win. Life and death was supposed to be something he treasured and valued. This realm was now deprived of its greatest champion. Why? It was all because there was no other way out. Bending time as he did, Strange should have been able to see something where Tony Stark didn’t have to die! His unusual silence and less snarky comments had a bearing on the general atmosphere between Strange and Wong both. Wong had taken over as Sorcerer Supreme since Strange had vanished for five years. In his own mind, Stephen thought of himself as a failure.
“You can’t just stay here in the crossroads all the time.” Wong insisted. “The world needs you now more than ever before.” The first real friend that Stephen had made when he’d first arrived at Kamar Taj appeared to be concerned about this well being. He stood there with his own position the same way that Strange had his. They were polar opposites of each other in more ways than one.
“Can’t I?” Strange asked. He folded his legs over one another, allowing his body to levitate upward just a few degrees. It was his slight act of childish disobedience that gave Wong hope that the Strange he knew all too well was still in there somewhere. The guilt still ate at the very core of the man that Stephen Strange had become since that fateful day several years ago. The old Strange wouldn’t give a tinker's dam about what had happened to anyone. As long as his bank account grew, that was all that mattered to him.
“Now you’re being ridiculous.” Wong folded his arms over one another glaring at Strange like a parent would his petulant child. “Am I going to have seal the crossroads AGAIN?” He muttered with an agitated tone. He’d dare not admit that seeing hints of the old Strange he knew since they both settled here was a good thing.
“You know I’ll find a way around it… AGAIN.” A slight smirk played at the corner of the lips of the former neurosurgeon’s smile. Here in the solitude of this space where time had no meaning, it had given Strange the necessary respite to deal with this guilt. Stark was just like everyone else who walked on this plane. Everyone had their time and then they were a part of the greater story at large. Stephen himself had more to do before his story was fully written. It was time to get about that business.
“FINE!” Wong left Strange to his little outburst turning to head back out of the crossroads the same way he’d entered. Strange would come out when he was ready. Wong felt it was best to let Stephen know that his absence was missed in his own indomitable fashion.
Stephen righted himself and faced the same direction that Wong did as the other male walked toward the door. “I can’t believe you gave up so easily. You’re paying for the cheeseburgers this time.” Strange smirked knowing that little chiding from him would agitate Wong slightly, but nothing that the older sorcerer couldn’t handle.
Wong pursed his lips into a thin line before grumbling under his breath. Stephen was back. Would the world really be ready?