New York City
People swarmed the streets like bees; huddled together as they crossed roads, running to hail cabs, brushing shoulders as they weaved past each other on the sidewalk. New York was home to thousands of lives and stories drowned out by the sounds of the city - no one paying attention, no one standing out.
A man pulled his car up on the side of a busy street before rifling through the pockets of his jeans and glancing in his rear view mirror to find the nearest parking meter. He counted the coins in his hand and opened the door, climbing out and closing it behind him with his foot. But after a couple of steps, a deafening crash knocked the wind from his chest, followed by the loud screeching of a car alarm. He turned around slowly, his mouth falling open as he laid eyes on his car.
It was crushed, the roof collapsed and contorted as if it were a piece of crumpled paper. Smoke billowed from the engine and the shattered headlights flashed as the alarm continued to blare. He took a step forward, his heart pounding as he laid eyes on a woman. She was lying on her back, completely still inside the cratered roof, as if she were a meteor fallen from space. He shielded his eyes from the sun as he looked up at the skyscrapers surrounding him, trying to figure out where she had fallen from.
Crowds began to form. Some screaming for help, some pointing their cameras, some backing up as if running for safety. Traffic halted; drivers climbed out of their cars as they called the police, while bus passengers pressed their faces against the windows with curiosity.
But the sound of the crowds changed when the destroyed car began to jerk and creak, and the fallen woman sat up, nursing the back of her head as if it were a hangover. She pushed herself up with shaking arms, climbing to her feet and standing on top of the car.
Her head was throbbing, her hands and arms burning as if pins had been driven through her skin. She was confused, the fog in her mind so thick that even the voice in her own her head was silenced. She looked down at the sea of people – the crowds forming on the sidewalks, the traffic halting in the road – and took a step forward, stopping suddenly when the people around her recoiled in fear.
"C-can... Can someone help me?" she asked feebly, letting her shaking legs carry her down onto the hood of the car.
People continued to retreat, while some screamed at her to stay away.
"Why?" she asked. "Why won't any of you help me?"
Suddenly, the faint sound of police sirens made her ears prick. She narrowed her eyes, straining to see the flashing blue lights in the distance, a barrage of police cars speeding towards the scene. She turned and took another step, feeling the metal caving in around her foot.
The crowd began to scream again. She looked down at them, cocking her head in confusion when a sudden intense pain travelled from the back of her neck down her spine. She clamped her eyes shut and gritted her teeth, the burning in her hands and arms growing stronger.
"This is the NYPD!" A voice bellowed through a megaphone. "Stay right where you are, do not move!"
"Please," she whimpered, reaching out her hand.
Then she saw it.
Her hand was glowing - a swirling golden matter surrounding it like a veil and travelling up her arm. She raised her other hand, flipping them over and examining them closely. Her heartbeat quickened as she turned around, looking at herself for the first time in the reflection of a store window. It wasn't just her arms. Her entire body was glowing, the light pulsing around her like a shield.
"What happened to me?" she muttered before turning back to the police officers as they climbed out of their cars. "I need help," she called out, taking another step forward.
The swarm of officers drew their guns as they approached her slowly.
"Where have you come from!?" one of them shouted.
"Identify yourself! What is your purpose here on earth!?"
"My purpose? I'm not-"
"Stop moving or we will shoot!"
They began to close in on her. She could feel her heart racing, head throbbing, hands burning.
"Why won't you help me!?" she shouted, feeling another jolt of pain down her spine.
"I said stop moving or we will shoot!"
"I'm not a threat!"
She flung her arms in frustration as she spoke. Suddenly, every window of every building and vehicle shattered, exploding like ice rain into the street. People began to scream, shielding themselves from the shards flying through the air. Her breath hitched, her mouth falling open as she looked down at her hands again.
"I didn't mean that," she said.
But it was too late. The police began to open fire.
"Stop!" She screamed, shielding herself with her arms.
They continued to shoot at her, over and over again with an unrelenting tenacity. She could feel the anger in the pit of her stomach, the rage in her chest. The glow surrounding her began to intensify; thickening, growing stronger and brighter as if fuelled by her fury. Bullets were bouncing off her, ricocheting into the air and clattering to the ground.
She lowered her arms and turned to them. "I said stop!"
There was an eerie quiet as everything became still. She glared ahead at the police who had stopped, frozen in place and groaning in pain as if they were being held against their will. Their bullets hung in the air, mid-flight as if time itself had stopped. She took a long, deep breath, and with the slightest movement of her hands, every bullet, every officer and every police car flew back down the street in a large, powerful blast.
In the sanctum sanctorium, Doctor Stephen Strange sat at a table in the library. He raised his hand and curled his fingers beckoning a book from the shelf and leading it through the air until it settled in front of him. He opened it, fanning through the pages until he found what he was looking for. He held his arms out in front of him, inhaled deeply and followed the spell until it began to materialise from his hands.
A loud crash stole his attention and the spell evaporated, fizzling out and falling from the air like embers. He turned his head, furrowing his brow as he listened carefully. Another sound echoed through the building. He stood up quickly and rushed out of the library, exchanging his T-shirt and jeans for his sorcerer's uniform as he walked. He followed the sound towards the large front door, his cloak following behind and attaching itself to his back.
The doors had been broken through, swinging on their heavy hinges. He rushed down the stairs, stopping at the bottom when he saw a woman. She was glowing. The light fading in and out like a flickering bulb, her hands at her sides surrounded by the same yellow energy.
Their eyes met from across the room and in one, quick motion, he armed himself with his own power; discs of light from his closed fists. She raised her hands in defence, ready to fight back.
"Who are you?" he asked calmly.
"I... I don't know," she replied.
"Okay then, what are you?"
"I don't know."
"Why have you come here?"
"Look, I'm just going to save us both some time - every question you have for me, the answer is going to be 'I don't know'."
He paused for a moment, tightening his fists and making the discs larger. "I'd feel a lot more comfortable talking to you if you put down the glowing hands."
"I could say the same to you..."
He turned his head to the side, talking quietly to his cape. "Find Wong, have him alert the Avengers."
The cape whipped off his shoulders and soared up the stairs. The woman watched in amazement before fixing her gaze back on him.
"My name is Doctor Strange-"
His eyes narrowed. "Yes... How do you know that?"
"I... I don't know. Something bad happened. I ran and I just... ended up here. It was like I was being drawn to this-"
A pain ran from the back of her neck to the base of her spine, like lava pouring down the side of a volcano. She let out a desperate, painful cry as bolts of energy exploded from her like a firework. Stephen blocked the blast and watched as she fell to her knees.
"I'm sorry, I can't control it," she said with a whimper. "Can you help me?"
Evening began to fall as neon lights and billboards illuminated the streets. Rain fell heavily, pelting the sidewalks and gathering in puddles as music poured from bars and traffic honked loudly in the busy roads. But inside the sanctum was quiet, as if it were tucked away and hidden - a secret pocket in the middle of the busy city.
She sat in a button-back leather armchair with her legs pressed to her chest, staring out the window as the rain speckled the glass. She wasn't glowing anymore. But she was tired. Exhausted - like a lightbulb with a burnt-out filament.
Stephen stepped into the room squinting through the dark. He pointed to a lamp in the corner and turned his hand until the light came on.
She glanced at the lamp. "That's a cool trick," she said plainly.
He sat in a chair opposite her, crossing one leg over the other. She looked up at him. It was the first time he'd taken a moment to really look at her - she was his age, perhaps a few years younger, slender and nimble, with green eyes speckled with gold.
"So, what are you?" she asked as she eyed the rich, red cloak cascading from his shoulders.
"I'm a mystic. A sorcerer."
"Is that what I am?"
"Oh... So what am I then?"
"That's what we're going to try and figure out."
"They're not here yet."
They sat in silence for a while. He spread his fingers apart and closed them into a fist, ready to defend himself if she tried to attack.
"People were scared of me," she said quietly. "I didn't understand why."
"Maybe it had something to do with how you were able to rip through an entire squad of police with the flick of your wrists..."
"I didn't mean to. They were- wait, how did you know that?"
"It's on the news. They're calling you an 'intergalactic threat.'"
"Well you fell from the sky so it's not a ridiculous claim."
She sighed. "I don't know what I am, but this," she held up her hand and watched as it began to glow. "This doesn't feel like it's supposed to be a part of me."
He sat quietly for a moment before standing up. "You should rest. Follow me, I'll show you to a room."
The light around her hand faded to nothing. "You're letting me stay here?"
"If you'd rather wander the streets until the authorities find you then by all means-"
She scrambled to her feet. "No, no. I just... I don't know how many people would be willing to accommodate a strange woman who broke their door down in the middle of the afternoon."
"Mm. Then it's a good job strange is something I'm accustomed to."
She followed him upstairs, stopping to look around at the artefacts that lined every wall. The large house felt more like a museum than a home, the hallways endless, the rooms empty and quiet.
"Do you live here alone?" she asked.
"Mm." He shook his head. "Wong should be around somewhere."
"He's a protector of this sanctum."
"It must be lonely; two people living in such a big place."
"We're never too far from the other masters - Magic doors. Fun, isn't it," he said sarcastically.
"Where you born... Magic?"
"I was trained," he began, stopping in front of a large door. "At a temple called Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu."
He opened the door and stepped aside, gesturing for her to enter. She stepped past him, her arm brushing against his for just a moment. She looked around the room; at the perfectly made bed and shiny mahogany furniture. It was clear no one had ever slept in there, at least not for a long time.
"I put an old t-shirt of mine on the side there," said Stephen. "I thought you'd prefer that over something like this," he gestured to his own attire.
"She picked it up and unfolded it, looking at the logo on the chest. "So you do wear regular clothes..."
He allowed a slight laugh and rested his hand on the door knob. "Rest," he said as he began to close the door.
"Sorry, right, Dr Strange. Thank you, for helping me."
"Just... Try and keep the powers switched off, for now?"
She nodded, waiting for him to close the door before peeling off her clothes and pulling the t-shirt over her head.
"We're losing her!" a voice echoed through the darkness.
She tried to open her eyes, seeing bright flashes of white light passing over her head.
"Stay with us, Juno," said the voice.
She tried to look around but she couldn't move. She couldn't feel her legs, couldn't speak. The only sensation was a searing pain travelling down her spine.
Everything went black again. She tried to scream but her mouth stayed shut. There were voices everywhere, shouting over each other as they prodded her with sharp instruments and dragged her around like a rag doll.
"How is she not dead yet?" someone said.
"Come on, Juno," another person cried.
"There's no time, I have to do it now."
She felt a cold slice on the back of her neck and finally, a bloodcurdling scream forced its way out of her throat.
She opened her eyes, looking around in panic at the quiet, safe bedroom. The door swung open. Stephen and Wong rushed into the room, fists armed with discs of magic. Stephen looked down at the woman as she lay in bed. His eyes widened as he realised her body had burned through it all. Through the pillows, the blankets, the mattress.
He stepped forward as plumes of smoke began to rise from the wooden bed frame, raising his hands and creating a sparkling ring of light above it. A gush of water fell through the open portal, extinguishing the fire and drenching the terrified woman.
She rolled onto her front, propping herself up on her hands and knees as she coughed and spluttered, spitting out water and hyperventilating.
"What happened!?" said Stephen.
"I don't know," she cried. "Something bad. Something really bad. So much... pain!"
Her body gave off a burst of energy, causing the two men to shield their faces. Her short hair was soaking wet and sticking to her face as she leaned forward, and as Stephen lowered his arm from his eyes, he noticed something on the back of her neck.
"What the heck is that?" he muttered.
"I know my name," she said between heavy breaths, the light around her beginning to fade. "I remember my name."
Stephen narrowed his eyes and took a cautious step closer.
"It's Juno. My name is Juno," she continued. "Did you hear me? I said my name is Juno."
"Yeah that's great, hi Juno, can you stop moving for a second?" he replied rudely.
He crouched beside the bed and took her face in his hands. She looked up at him, their eyes meeting in a mix of fear and curiosity. He turned her head to the side, peering over her to the glowing lump in her neck.
"Hold on a second," he said. "Is that..."