Not even a week after Stephen Strange arrived at Kamar-Taj, the whispers of another American student arriving to the sanctuary began circulating through the halls. Stephen didn't concern himself with what he overheard; he was here to learn, not socialize. However, a few of the things he overheard, admittedly, piqued his interest from time to time.
"Another American?" someone would murmur. "Did they come together?"
"No," came the reply. "Master Mordo told me they come from very... different schools of thought. This girl apparently already knew of the mystic world before coming here."
Another group of novices had the same spell casting theory class as "this girl" and had rather unpleasant opinions about her attitude.
"No, she can't be related to him; she's modest, at least in a material sense. But when it comes to spell casting, she's as arrogant as they come. They're two sides of the same coin, that Strange and Grace."
"You'd think the Ancient One wouldn't have let them in at all, after all that's happened recently."
"I hear she was a Pagan before coming here. Wiccan, most likely."
"Yes. I have no earthly idea how she managed to gain favor of the Ancient One by going on and on about three-fold laws and sexual freedom."
"Well... that is all well and good, but there's no place for that here. At least she doesn't spew that nonsense in class. Imagine something like her learning here, ascending the ranks amidst all of us. She'll be gone in a week, I guarantee it."
And why were these students so driven to gossip about this girl? Well, when Stephen caught his first glimpse of the girl, he understood why she was so compelling. She was in his spell casting class. He didn't realize it was her at first because she was neither incompetent enough nor prodigal enough to stand out in class. No, her compelling behaviors began outside of class during her free time.
Stephen finally recognized the strange new student while he and Mordo were walking by the lower courtyard between classes. The girl perched on a bench beneath a tree that had blue flowers on the crown. She picked quietly at a shamisen in her hands, stopping every now and then to look up.
"I don't think it's that bad," she was talking. Talking to whom? No one was there, at least not that Stephen could see. "They fear her because she's so powerful. She's cool; I wish I could talk to her. But she's busy a lot, so I don't want to bother her. What am I supposed to say anyway? 'Hi, I'm young and questioning my sexuality. Wanna grab a Starbucks at two in the morning'? Be reasonable." She narrowed her eyes and stared up at the branches of the trees. "What would you know about it?"
"Is she talking to a tree?" Stephen squinted at the girl. Mordo followed his gaze for a moment.
"Yes," the master replied. "At first, we considered scolding her for it; although she may be unaware, she's using magic to encourage the plants. It's outside the natural law and a trifle fancy, surely, but the Ancient One had only nice things to say about it, so we leave her be."
"So, I take it she's the Ancient One's favorite?" he asked, shifting his eyes off the girl. "She seems pretty magic-savvy, but she's cocky. Why is her magic working for her, whilst mine is still indefinite?"
"Everyone learns at a different pace," Mordo replied. "And the Ancient One favors no one; Hazel is simply a... special case."
"I'm sure you've heard your fellow students talk about Hazel's magical background?"
"Yeah, she was Pagan, wasn't she?"
"In a way," he shrugged as they continued walking. "She couldn't conjure anything, but she could manipulate the world around her in very subtle ways—keeping a cup of tea hot for several hours, for example. She came here to learn more about magic to temper her fundamental talent for it, but she only has a short time to learn here, so we're working around her schedule as needed."
"Oh?" Stephen could tell Mordo was leaving something out—something vital. "I didn't know summer classes were a thing here."
"They're not, usually. But as I said before, Hazel wishes to learn, and if we'd turned her away, she would've sought counsel from other magical practitioners who may or may not have... an ethical moral code. The Ancient One thought it best to help her for a season rather than let her go astray."
"And you don't think Hazel manipulated her?" Stephen questioned. He didn't know the Ancient One as well as he wanted to, but he didn't think she'd take on a student for a mere summer for a reason like that.
Mordo chuckled. "The Ancient One can't be manipulated, let alone by someone as meager as Hazel Grace. However, I must say, Hazel was quite charismatic, in her own way. She knows very old customs, and knows her boundaries almost too well."
Whatever that meant, Stephen didn't care to dwell on it. He had other things to worry about.
Hazel had arrived at Kamar-Taj a couple days ago. On that day, Daniel Drumm, Master of the New York Sanctum Sanctorum, located Hazel Grace in New York and brought her to Kamar-Taj through the gateway. The girl was younger than he'd expected, but she was over eighteen and as such could do as she pleased without causing any trouble legal or otherwise. The man she was staying with over the summer—an arrogant prick with a rather high standing in the world—was the one to see Hazel off. They agreed to keep this between them, and not involve the girl's parents until the end of the summer.
Mordo collected Hazel at the gateway. She was withdrawn but polite when she greeted him, but there was a look to her. Perhaps in her wild hair or the way her sharp brown eyes took in the world around her as if she saw it the way no one else could. There was something young and strong in her, something that could become quite powerful when well-tempered. Mordo would be eager to teach her, if the Ancient One found her worthy.
She was brought to the Ancient One promptly. The girl surveyed the courtyards and corridors thoroughly. Kamar-Taj wasn't lavish or fancy, but in Hazel's mind, the beauty and finesse and age of the place outshone any structure she'd ever seen. On the other hand, a sort of life and flexibility imbued the air. She watched the students and masters, children and adults, pass them by.
"It's evening here," Hazel stated, watching the setting sun out the windows.
"Yes," Mordo nodded. "The time change from New York to Kathmandu can be sudden when traveling by gateway. Are you doing alright?"
He knew apprehension haunted the girl. Actually, many newcomers startled at the disorienting changes between Kamar-Taj and the rest of the world.
"Just don't leave me anywhere," Hazel murmured.
Mordo wasn't sure what to think or say as he showed Hazel inside. When he escorted Stephen Strange to Kamar-Taj a few days ago, he knew Strange thought he knew everything there was to know about where he was going. Now, Hazel seemed to be the complete opposite—she acted like she wasn't sure... and yet she knew. She was shy, but Mordo could tell she knew Kamar-Taj was a powerful place, yet she didn't grovel like a naive child who believed in palm-reading and paper fortune tellers. She knew magic, even if she didn't believe she did.
The thick scent of incense somehow reminded Hazel of a binding ward she'd seen once. Powerful magic pervaded these halls, and Hazel knew better than to act proud in the shadows of such a place. Her uneasiness only grew in the presence of the Ancient One. She allowed her coat to be taken, but didn't speak. She took her cup, but didn't drink. She looked among the others, but never looked to their eyes. All these master sorcerers were so powerful; she couldn't locate the strongest one. Even then, perhaps the strongest practitioner wasn't the leader. Who was she here to see? She stared at the ground, waiting for someone—anyone elder to her—to speak.
Then someone filled her cup with steaming, lightly fragrant tea. Hazel still didn't drink. Her gaze drifted up, as if she couldn't help herself. Pale, slender hands, willowy arms disappearing into the sleeves of a grey robe. A shaven head bent over Hazel's cup. The head raised, revealing aged features, pointed but not pointy, like icicles catching rays of winter sun. And her eyes—almond-shaped, not quite blue, not quite green, not quite grey.
"Don't be afraid," the woman said. "We won't attack you, without reason."
Hazel stared at this woman as if she'd never seen the sun before. Her hands felt numb and light, but she was as steady as ever; she felt relieved, excited, awed, and absolutely terrified. She opened her mouth, as if to speak, but quickly held her tongue and glanced back at Mordo. The man nodded and introduced them.
"The Ancient One," he said, even though he was sure she already knew that. Hazel quickly looked back at the woman, her lips sealed patiently shut. The Sorcerer Supreme wasn't anything like Hazel had expected, but that didn't change the fact that Hazel stood before a very powerful, very real sorcerer. A ghost of a smile graced the Ancient One's lips.
"I'm glad to see you, Hazel Grace."
Hazel exhaled, her shoulders sagging slightly, as she spoke up.
"Did you call me here?" Hazel asked, watching the woman move to a low table to prepare another cup of tea.
"I was expecting you," the Ancient One corrected gently. "If that's what you mean."
"I-I appreciate you seeing me," she bowed her head.
"You're very welcome," the other returned before preparing another cup of tea for herself. "You waited for the elder to speak first. Not many who seek me out know to do that. Most are surprised at one thing or another."
The Ancient One's eyes found Hazel's, and the girl felt herself blush. She couldn't even stutter out a reply before the elder continued speaking.
"Of course, not many who seek me out are already learned in the mystic arts."
Hazel still didn't drink, but her smile was coy. "Then you know why I'm here?"
"Yes," the Ancient One seemed disappointed for a moment, then remembered herself. Of course Hazel didn't come all this way for some idle conversation with an old sorceress. "You have a magical problem that you think I can fix."
"Can you?" Hazel asked.
"It depends," the other glanced up at her. "What do you want me to do?"
"Well..." Hazel followed the Ancient One with her eyes as the elder moved to hand Mordo a cup of tea. The other two looked at Hazel expectantly. "That's... kind of a long story."
The Ancient One smiled. "We have time. Would you be more comfortable if we sit down?"
She motioned to the low table. Hazel agreed, and once they were all settled, she took a deep breath and began her long story.
"Ever since I can remember, I've seen things that no one else does. Otherworldly creatures, for one. These... things would appear and disappear at random, but I usually saw them when I was alone, so I thought it was an effect of social isolation, maybe depression, but I didn't think they were real. However, at the beginning of the summer, my cousin, who I'm staying with, told me that there were unidentified heat signatures showing up around the house, in the showers, under beds, anywhere that I would see one of these otherworldly things. Knowing they were real didn't change much. In fact, I wasn't going to do anything about it, but it's recently gotten out of hand."
Hazel extended her arms and rolled up her sleeves, showing bruises and scratches on her soft flesh.
"Some of these things have always acted violently. I thought they were just nightmares until now. These things are... they... Do you know what sleep paralysis is?"
She waited for the others to nod. Her heart raced, her hands shook. She felt completely stupid—did they even believe her?
"It always happens when I'm asleep. I sleepwalk, I lucid dream, whatever. Then these things attack me, they... it feels like they take me somewhere else. Somewhere like our world, but... I mean, I thought they were just nightmares is all..."
She trailed off, lowering her arms and wringing her hands uncertainly. She shouldn't have come here. She didn't have a place here. The Ancient One surprised her by continuing the conversation.
"Then you stabbed yourself," the woman prompted. Hazel looked up and nodded.
"When I'm asleep, the only way to wake up from these dreams is to kill myself," Hazel explained slowly, certainly. "Then one night, I was being pursued by these things. I found out I wasn't actually asleep. That's why my cousin has been looking for someone to help me."
"Why come here?" Mordo asked. "If you wanted to be exorcised, I'm sure there are several able and easily accessible—"
"Not to be rude, but don't mistake my reason for coming here," Hazel shook her head quickly. "For every bad experience, there are ten good ones, I promise. Sometimes, I invite things into my house as Guests. I prepare tea and entertainment for them—I read or sing or play a game for them. If I gain their favor, they're really nice to me and show me how to do cool things."
"'Cool' things?" Mordo raised his eyebrows. The Ancient One smirked.
"Like how to keep tea warm for a long time?" she pointed to Hazel's cup, which was still steaming despite being untouched for several minutes. Hazel nodded.
"Atashan morah," Hazel murmured, her voice lilting as she spoke in a tongue foreign to Mordo but distant and vividly familiar to the Ancient One. Divine patience, it meant. An enviable philosophy to see in one so young. "Patience. Exude it, encourage it, ask for it politely, and the tea will soon forget to cool down."
Mordo examined the cup of tea more closely.
"I don't want to exorcise anything," the girl concluded. "I just want to know how to control the Guests and myself, so I could maybe pick and choose who comes to see me or defend myself if something hostile attacks me again. So, what can you do for me?"
The masters exchanged a glance, then the Ancient One retrieved a book from a stack on the table. She flipped open to a page displaying the Eastern map of the body. Hazel didn't look bored, but she knew that already.
"Of course, you already know that much," the Ancient One grinned as she flipped to a pages on acupuncture, MRI scans... hedgecraft. Hazel visibly straightened. "As you can see, even your previous experience has a place in my teachings. Every page of this book is a part of the whole. That is what I teach. With this, I can teach you a new understanding of magic; I could teach you to conjure portals and shields, wards for protection and banishing. That, and, under the tutelage of the masters here at Kamar-Taj, you could come to know more about magic than you ever could on your own."
It sounded too good to be true. Hazel squinted. "If I stay here, what will you do to me?"
Mordo and the Ancient One looked confounded by her question.
"I'm sorry?" the woman asked.
"Initiation?" Hazel prompted. "Blood sacrifice? Demonic rituals? Drinking the blood of the Kamar-Taj mascot?"
As Hazel went on, the Ancient One glanced at Mordo in horror, only to find the man staring at Hazel in an equal amount of concern. The woman made an effort to calm herself before addressing Hazel's... outlandish concern.
"This is a sanctuary, not a cult. With your past experiences, I understand your wariness, but please disregard it. Our teachings focus around peace, healing, and protection; there's no place here for drinking the blood of monkeys and practicing demonic magic of any kind here."
"And when will I be able to leave?"
"Normally, I ask my students to devote their whole being to our practice, but I'm willing to make an exception in your case. You're a medium, and a quite powerful one, but I think after learning what you need, you'll be free to return to your old life whenever you wish."
She said it with unmistakable disappointment. Hazel felt her stomach sour with guilt. She wanted to apologize, but she couldn't devote herself to just any group. The Ancient One knew that; that's why she didn't push the matter. She didn't want Hazel getting scared off. She knew that if she was even vague about Hazel's ability to leave, the girl would be running for the hills. She'd been in too many ill-fated situations of that kind to even entertain the idea.
Hazel's shoulders sagged. "Thank you. Really."
That was the first time Hazel dared to establish a debt owed. She'd stay. The Ancient One nodded to Mordo.
"Master Mordo, will you show our new student to her room, please? She's had a long journey; I'm sure she'd like to settle in."
"Of course, Ancient One," Mordo bowed his head and led Hazel away.
"You'll be in a room by the student's dormitories," he explained as he guided her through the halls. "Kamar-Taj is surrounded by protective wards, so your... Guests shouldn't be able to breach the property on their own. Any that you invite, however, will be your responsibility."
The room was modest. Exposed brick walls and old furniture made up the space. A window with incense on the sill on the right-hand side of the room allowed light to illuminate the earthy room. It was perfect. Hazel saw altars, pedestals, and hiding places in every corner.
"Dinner will be in two hours, if you're interested," Mordo informed her. "In the meantime, rest, settle in. Meditate, if you can."
He glanced up at her, a match still lit in his hands.
"My apologies," he tried to appease her, even if he wasn't wrong about anything. "I thought Wiccans also practiced expanding one's conscious though meditation."
"They do," Hazel stated. "But I'm not Wiccan." She perched on the bed with one leg tucked under her and turned her head elegantly to look at him. "Expanding my consciousness is a one-way ticket to another hellish attack. Not yet."
"I see," Mordo bowed his head. Maybe he had been wrong about her. "Then rest. Here."
He handed her a slip of paper with the word 'Shamballa' written on it.
"A fancy bookmark," Hazel smiled in exaggerated enthusiasm.
"The wi-fi password," Mordo corrected her, turning to leave. "We're not savages."
She waited until he'd closed the door behind him before muttering, "A fancy bookmark..."
Hazel looked out the window. A dog padded around the alleyway below. It was no country view, but Hazel couldn't deny that she felt an odd sense of content in the ugliest place she'd ever lived in.
"H.E.R.M.E.S.," she took a device from her pocket and spoke to it. It spoke back.
"Forgive me, Miss Grace. The sudden change in coordinates confused me. Is it nighttime now?"
"Yes," Hazel nodded. "Tell him I made it safe and sound and I'll be staying here for a while."
"Yes, Miss Grace. And you parents?"
"Hi, Mom," Hazel mocked. "Guess what? I'm a witch and I followed some complete strangers to this Tibetan cult dojo where I'll be learning how to control demonic forces. How does that sound?"
"Message sent," Hermes confirmed.
"Only joking, Miss Grace. Your mother won't hear a word from me."
"That was mean, Hermes," Hazel made a sound as her chest trembled, but she couldn't call the sound a laugh.
"I assume our new student has settled in?" the Ancient One asked once Mordo returned to her. The woman was kneeling at a table, scribbling in a large book.
"Yes, she's... quite the character," Mordo remembered Hazel's change in behavior, how she went from timid and reserved to slightly arrogant simply by leaving the presence of the Ancient One. She knew power when she saw it, but asserted herself as if she had power of her own.
"You're surprised at something..."
"I'm surprised at several things," Mordo corrected her. "First, this... thing comes to find us—a thing neither human, nor witch—and then she's allowed to live among us without a promise to adopt our ways. Secondly, I expected more from you."
He looked amused. "Well, you rarely take in a student of her disposition without either amazing or terrifying them first."
The Ancient One smirked, remembering just a few days ago when she sent Doctor Stephen Strange careening through a vortex of dimensions. "In truth, I didn't want to scare her away. You heard her perception of us—drinking blood and the like. She's shy, but she has a raw power inside her that I wish to refine. A power like hers in the hands of any other... might cause destruction."
"She couldn't level a wobbling Jenga tower with her power," Mordo argued. "What would really be at risk if you let her go?"
Re-upload A/N: I removed the story on accident last year and finally got around to picking it back up. I decided to refine some of the grammar and formatting, (cleaning up all those em dashes, if you know what I mean), while reuploading. Just taking advantage of the opportunity. Anyway, I'll get the rest up soon. I'm not very active in the Doctor Strange fandom anymore, but you can browse the doctor strange, this one summer, my fanfic, etc tags on my tumblr (ink-asunder dot tumblr dot com) if you want some finely aged memes about my story. I also published a number of spin-offs and one shots from This One Summer on there as well, so go check it out!