Years ago, Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon…an arrogant, ambitious man seduced by material wealth. But that was before an accident cut his career short…before he learned to transcend the physical realm…before he learned to wield the magical forces which still shape out lives! And yet, Stephen Strange did not turn his back on reality. For all that he learned, he still chose to live in the material world. He walks among us this very day, and no one realizes that the world’s greatest sorcerer is in their midst. But that may be about to change….
‘It’s you…Doctor Strange…master of the mystic arts!’ exclaims a man as he approaches Strange as he sits with Morgana Blessing in a café on the sidewalk. The man grabs Strange’s hand and begins to shake it as Stephen exclaims ‘Well, yes…I am Stephen Strange, but -’ he is interrupted by the man, who claims that he was just joking with him, before revealing that he was just heading towards Strange’s Bleecker Street “digs”, him and his girlfriend Bunni. He motions to a tall blonde woman, before introducing himself as Scott Montagu, an actor.
Strange tells Scott that he is pleased to meet him, before introducing his friend, Morgana Blessing. ‘The Morgana Blessing?’ asks Scott, before telling Morgana that he caught the excerpt from her last book in Esquire, and that it was awesome. Scott suddenly tells Strange that Bunni is into his “gig”, the hocus-pocus stuff, and asks if they can join him. ‘Scott!’ exclaims Bunni, as if her boyfriend was being rude, but Scott just grabs a chair and tells Bunni to get one herself.
Strange looks frustrated as Scott sits down and begins eating some bread while exclaiming that Bunni told him Strange is probably the top occult expert on the East Coast. Scott boasts that Bunni would make a great assistant or apprentice ‘Or whatever you call them’ as she can read a tarot backwards and forwards! ‘The only time he stops talking, it appears, is when he’s eating!’ Strange thinks to himself.
Scott exclaims that this is great toast and asks if this café bakes their own bread. Strange informs him that he has finished, and tells Scott he can eat the rest of his. Strange casts a small spell, which causes Scott to begin eating very fast. Bunni asks her lover what he is doing, but he cannot talk as he has his mouth so full. Strange tells the waiter that ‘The gentleman with the full mouth’ is picking up the check. As Strange and Morgana leave, Morgana asks Stephen what it was he did to that man, and Strange explains that he merely encouraged Scott Montague’s appetite with a minor spell, and it should wear off before the café turns out of bread. ‘I do hope he wasn’t on a diet!’ Morgana remarks that she thought wizards didn’t have a sense of humor, before telling Strange that even though he stuck Montague with the tab, she wants to thank him for inviting her to lunch. Morgana kisses Strange on the cheek, before telling him that she would like to stay and schmooze, but that she has to run.
Strange watches Morgana leave and he thinks to himself that she is a most intriguing woman - much like women he wined and dined when he was still a practicing physician, before deciding that she is much more open and forthright than anyone he has ever met in so-called “polite society”. Strange walks towards his home while recalling that there was a terrible void in his life when his beloved Clea left him, and had it not been for Morgana, he could not have adjusted to life so easily.
Suddenly, a look of horror spreads across his face as he sees a small mob gathering in front of his sanctum sanctorum, and he wonders if it could be part of some scheme concocted by an old enemy. Strange realizes that the crowd seems to be milling about in a peaceful manner, but decides that a cautious approach to his home would still be wise, so slipping into a deserted alleyway, Strange casts off the spell which had disguised h is fancy sorcerer costume, and is whisked into the air by his enchanted cloak of levitation. Strange skims the rooftops to circle the block and avoid attention, before slipping in through one of the side windows.
Inside, Strange calls out to his assistant, Wong, and asks him what in the name of the Ancient One is going on outside. ‘Thank Oshtur, you’ve returned, Master!’ Wong exclaims, before telling Strange that he could not convince the crowd to leave. Wong informs Strange that the entire crowd wishes to speak with him. ‘With me? But why?’ asks Strange, to which Wong reveals each of them has come seeking to become his new disciple! ‘WHAT?’ exclaims Strange, before Wong remarks that their clambering has grown so in the past few minutes that he as considering summoning the police.
Suddenly, Sara Wolfe enters the hallway and informs Wong that he wouldn’t have been able to get a free line, as the phone has been ringing off the hook all morning. Sara reveals to Strange that they have been getting calls from all kinds of crazies - ‘ex-moonies, ommies, cultists, you name it! They all want to be your disciple!’ The phone rings again, and Sara looks at it annoyed. Strange tells Sara to discourage them as graciously as she can, to which Sara remarks that she knew there were risks involved with being Strange’s social secretary, but that she never expected something like this!
Wong asks Strange what he is going to do about the crowd, to which Strange remarks that its very presence threatens the anonymity he requires for his work, therefore he will have to deal with it personally. Opening his front doors, Strange is greeted to an ambush of cries: ‘Look!’ ‘It’s him!’ ‘Wowee!’ ‘At last!’ Doctor Strange!’ ‘Hooray!’ ‘Doctor, make me your disciple!’ ‘No, pick me!’ ‘Me! I came all the way from Berkeley!’ Strange realizes that zealots such as these cannot be made to leave with a simple plea, therefore an enchantment spell is necessary. Strange begins to cast his spell: ‘By Munnopor’s Maze, still thy cries! From all-seeing light, turn thine eyes! All ye people, disperse! Lest ye fall fore curse - but let one from your number arise!’
Silently, and peacefully, the gathered crowd breaks and drifts away, leaving one lone representative behind. Strange asks the man to tell him what this is all about and why it is he came here. The man informs Strange that they all dabble in the occult and word got around that Strange’s disciple, Clea, had quit, so they figure he was looking for a new student. ‘You were mistaken. Be on your way!’ Strange tells the man bluntly. As the man leaves, Strange closes the door and thinks that none of them will remember being here, before deciding that he should have expected something such as this, as his presence has become too public in some circles. ‘But how on Earth did they learn of Clea’s departure?’
Meanwhile, on a small island in the South Pacific. ‘Sure, I heard tell of Doctor Strange!’ exclaims a man sitting at a bar, before remarking that he hasn’t stopped at a single port in this hemisphere without someone whispering the Doctor’s name. ‘He’s some kinda hoodoo man, the way I hear it!’ The old man adds that Strange has himself a long-stemmed partner to whom he is teaching the trade, and apparently she has hair spun like silver. Another man remarks that Strange’s woman isn’t with him anymore, as a bloke he ran into a couple of days ago said he heard the woman up and left. The old man remarks that apparently Doctor Strange can work miracles, and while he doesn’t know if it is true, but if he were a younger man and heard Strange had a job open, then he would be looking him up!
Elsewhere - in a dank and shadowy cavern in an isolated area of the Himalayas. A man enters the cavern and exclaims ‘Peace be with you, most honored one! I am a seeker of the truth!’ The old man levitating in the middle of the room asks the younger man why he has come, to which the young man replies ‘To study at your feet, o aged Genghis!’ ‘Ah, you wish to study feet! Excellent! The foot, my son, is the pathway to the soul!’ The young man tells Genghis that he misunderstands, for he wishes to study the separate realities of man’s destiny!
Genghis remarks that the young man must then want to learn the ways of magic, and informs him that he does not trouble himself with such things, and the man he must seek is Doctor Strange. Genghis reveals that Strange dwells in a land across the sea - amid canyons carved by man and jungles filled with two-legged beasts! Genghis adds that Strange has no disciple, and tells the man he would do well to find him, ‘I couldn’t do any worse than I already have!’ the young man thinks to himself.
Finally, in a lonely little valley in central Europe, more specifically, the tiny kingdom known as Latveria. There, in the massive castle, one of the world’s last reigning absolute monarchs pauses to give audience to a wandering gypsy. The young woman informs Doctor Doom that it has come to pass that Doctor Strange is without a disciple, and as a master of both science and sorcery, she thought he would want to know. Strange tells the girl that she has served her liege well, and beckons her to leave, adding that he shall not forget her, but he has much to ponder now.
Doom walks over to the edge of a balcony and thinks to himself that the man reputed as Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme is bereft of a disciple, however, it would be unseemly of Victor von Doom to acknowledge any man as his master - however, Strange does possess knowledge which might be of use to him. Doom thinks that there are secrets of sorcery which he might wrest from Strange if he were to devise the proper deceptions, but he knows that Latveria is still in the throes of reconstruction - still recovering from the rule of the usurper, Zorba.
Doom decides that he must not leave his people now, as they need his firm hand in this hour to guide them back to peace and prosperity. However, Doom decides that someday he shall meet this “Doctor Strange”, and then Strange will learn which of them is truly the master!
The next day finds Doctor Strange in the throes of troubled contemplation. Strange thinks to himself that the only ones who knew of Clea’s departure were Wong, Sara, Morgana and three followers of his old enemy, Baron Mordo. Strange recalls that those three renegade mystics consigned themselves to the Purple Dimension, while his three friends have told no one - and yet word has still circulated. Suddenly, Dr. Strange looks up in his darkened room as he senses a disruption in the mystic aura which surrounds his house - someone is trying to break in!
Strange’s Astral form is projected and is instantly drawn to the scene of the disturbance - where he sees the young fool who tried to become his student months ago, James Mandarin. Noticing Wong enter the room, Strange decides that it appears his intervention is unnecessary. Wong grabs James Mandarin, who tells him to ease off. Deciding Wong has the situation under control, Strange’s Astral form re-enters his body, knowing that Mandarin’s sudden reappearance bodes no good, so he must investigate it.
Shortly, Strange walks down to where Wong has the captive James Mandarin, and he asks him why he has returned, remarking that he should know he is not welcome in this house. Mandarin tells Dr. Strange that he is sorry he feels that way, and remarks that he knows he pulled a fast one on him last time - at least he thinks he did, for his mind is still a little fuzzy about the details, which he bets is Strange’s doing.
James Mandarin declares that whether his mental problems are Strange’s doing or not, he is still sincere about wanting to become Strange’s disciple, and tells Strange that this time he has no reason to deny him. ‘Your former disciple - that Clea chickie - is gone! And I’m a lot craftier than any of that bunch outside!’ Mandarin boasts. ‘Outside?’ Strange asks, before drawing aside a curtain and seeing the large crowd outside his home once more. ’Not again! How long is this going to last?’ Strange wonders, before turning back to Mandarin and asking if he claims sincerity, then they should test that.
With a thought, Dr. Strange releases the Eye of Agamotto from the amulet at his throat - freeing it to rise to his forehead where it comes a part of him - an all-seeing third eye! Strange recalls that when James Mandarin first entered his house, he gave himself over to a demonic force which called itself Satan, and declares that he now wants to know whose pawn Mandarin is this time. ‘You cannot resist the light of truth…who sent you here? Who!?’ Enthralled by the light, James Mandarin replies ‘No one…I came out of my own will and desire!’ before adding that there is power in Dr. Strange’s magic and that he wants some!’
The Eye of Agamotto returns to the amulet and Strange remarks that the intervening months have brought about little change in Mandarin, for he still lacks self-control. Strange is relieved though that this time Mandarin is not under the control of another, before asking Wong to see him out. ‘It will be a pleasure, master!’ Wong replies as he opens the front door, and lifting the surprised Mandarin up, he literally tosses him out into the crowd.
Closing the door, Wong informs Strange that the crowd is dispersing, to which Dr. Strange supposes that Mandarin’s exit has discouraged some of them, but for how long, he wonders. ‘What will it take to keep these would-be mystics away from our door?’ he asks, before telling Wong that they should count themselves lucky that no true magicians have come knocking.
But Dr. Strange has spoken too soon, as suddenly, ‘Greetings o honored mage!’ exclaims a young woman as she begins to materialize from the flames on a candelabra. The pink-clad woman with flowing blonde hair is none other than the X-Men’s close ally Amanda Sefton, though she introduces herself to Strange by her real name - Jimaine Szardos, and reminding him that she is the first-born woman-child and heir of Margali Szardos of the Winding Road, she bids Strange well.
‘What?!’ Strange thinks to himself, before the beautiful Amanda asks Strange to forgive her for using his candles as a medium for her entrance, but that when she saw the rabble outside, she thought it best to circumvent the normal channels of entry. Hands on her hips, Amanda declares that, at any rate, she has come to assume the rank of Dr. Strange’s new disciple…as is her right! ‘As…is your right?’ asks Strange, taken aback. ‘Of course!’ Amanda replies. Strange looks at Amanda, concerned, before thinking to himself that this is one problem which is not going to go away, so it will have to be dealt with - and the sooner, the better!
Strange announces that there will be a testing - three days from now. Amanda looks dejected and protests, reminding him that she is the daughter of Margali - she who is the Sorceress Supreme! Strange tells Amanda that he became quite aware of her mother’s power during their last encounter, before telling her that her bloodline gives her no special dispensation - that she shall be treated no differently than the rest. Annoyed, Amanda declares that she will go, before warning Strange to know that her future destiny is assured! With that, Amanda vanishes.
Strange turns to Sara Wolfe and tells her that he would like her to book a fall - a good sized hall - for three nights from now, and prepare a newspaper article to read: Dr. Stephen Strange, noted expert on the occult speaks out on Disciplehood - tonight only, Midnight at the Bottom End.
Three days later, at the “Bottom End”. Amanda Sefton sits in the middle of the room looking very bored, and annoyed with the two people that are standing beside her. Sara Wolfe pokes her head out from behind a curtain and informs Strange that the place is filling up rather fast. ‘What a weird bunch…long hairs, short hairs and no hairs!’ Sara remarks, exclaiming that there are guys who look like engineering students and folks that look like rejects from the Rocky Horror Picture Show - ‘Of course, they don’t look too out of place here!’
Sara apologizes to Strange for the fact that she couldn’t get a better hall, before informing him that they wouldn’t have even been able to get this place if the Flying Karamozons hadn’t cancelled at the last minute. Strange tells Sara that this will do, before asking if Jimaine Szardos is in attendance. Sara replies that she is, ‘Right in the middle of the hall - and drawing a lot of attention!’ Strange remarks ‘Good’, before telling Sara and Wong that he wants them to leave, as there is no need for the two of them to get caught up in this. ‘Caught up in what?’ Sara asks. As they go out the back door, Wong reminds Sara that it is not their place to question, as the master knows what he is doing.
Strange thinks to himself that he hopes Wong is right, for there is enough power behind Jimaine to allow her to penetrate the mystic barriers around his sanctum with ease - but he must face that power and best it - if he can. While this hall normally knows lout, amplified music and raucous laughter, but tonight, when Dr. Strange steps out onto the stage, the only response is subdued applause. Strange greets the wannabes in the audience and announces that most of them have come here tonight hoping to study under him - to learn more of the ways of mysticism and the occult, before telling the audience that there is more to that study than most of them might ever dream.
Strange reveals that in the mystic order to which he belongs it is written that practitioners of the magical arts must choose a disciple or disciples to insure the continuity of the struggles against malefic forces - but only at such a time that it is fitting and proper! Strange explains to the audience that he once chose a disciple before he had reached that time, and he has paid for that haste in recent days. Strange informs the people that his time has not yet come, and Vishanti willing, he shall one day chose a true disciple, but not on this night.
Suddenly, Amanda stands up in the middle of the room and shouts ‘Liar! You seek to deny me what is mine. By right!’ Walking onto the stage, Amanda reminds Dr. Strange that he said there would be a testing - and tells him that, by the Darkhold, there will be. ‘You shall be put to the test, Stephen Strange!’ Amanda tosses a bolt of power at Strange, who blocks it with ease, telling her that any novice in the mystic arts could ward off such a common bolt of bedevilment.
Dr. Strange informs Amanda that a true mystic can turn back the power, bending it and shaping it to his will. Strange demonstrates that ability and traps Amanda in mystic bonds, adding that she should know this if her power came from within - but he remarks that it does not.
Suddenly, a greenish haze fills the room, and a voice booms ‘You dare to humble the child of the Sorceress Supreme?’ Strange looks unsurprised by the arrival of his nemesis. ‘Mother!?’ exclaims Amanda. A larger-than-life Margali Szardos appears and informs Strange that she sent her daughter to him so she could further her growth in the ways of sorcery. ‘But you have denied her - and in doing so, you must face the wrath of she who is your better!’
Strange mutters that the true testing is at hand then, to which a furious Margali asks him how he dare to think he could test the power of Margali of the Winding Way. Strange replies that he does, and tells Margali that since their pervious encounter, he has secretly sought the source of her preternatural power - yet something has kept him hidden from it. Strange declares that now they shall determine the truth behind Margali’s might, ‘O “Sorceress Supreme”!’ he adds mockingly, before there is a massive burst of power.
Meanwhile, outside, Wong tells Sara that she should not interrupt the master, but Sara asks Wong what is wrong, as she heard a noise and noticed the whole building shake. Opening the rear door, she tells Wong that they need to check and see if Dr. Strange needs any help. But entering the back stage area, Sara and Wong find the entire “Bottom End” empty - Strange, Amanda, all the people, tables, chairs - everyone and everything is gone.
Elsewhere, on another plane of existence - that is where everyone has vanished too. Margali is in full form now and blasting Strange with power from her wand, she tells him that he cannot disorientate her in a manner like this - for the power of Margali is second to none! Strange calls silently to Oshtur, asking for protection, as Margali is as powerful now as she was when she swept him and the X-Men into her pseudo-Hades dimension, for even as he cast them onto this dimensional plane, Margali’s power has reached out and warped Strange’s own spell - so that everyone else was brought along with them.
Amanda, now free of her bonds, calls to her mother and asks her what she is doing. ‘Why did I ever leave Wisconsin?’ one man thinks to himself as he floats around. Strange sees the innocents in possible danger and knows that he must act quickly if they are to survive, so he casts a spell and strikes Margali with his power, reducing her to her true size. Strange’s suspicions are correct - Margali is not a true giantess, but the power she has tapped made her appear larger than life. Strange notes that the green-skinned woman’s sudden reversion to her normal size has taken her by surprise, so if he is to defeat her, it must be now!
‘By the mighty Vishanti, but the three over all - hear the plea of this mystic and bring my foe’s fall!’ Strange utters as he strikes Margali. The ram-horn wearing woman falls to her knees, surprising Strange, for his spell should have rendered her totally unconscious. Margali only needs a moment to recover, before, in a furious state, she screams ‘You have humbled me, mage. No one has ever done that! NO ONE!’ Margali lashes out once more, but Strange dodges her, for her decides that she is striking recklessly - not that her lack of caution makes her any less dangerous, for her power nearly destroyed his cloak of levitation - and it would have cut him like a knife if he did not move as quickly as he did.
‘By the road ever winding over which I hold sway - let my power keep growing, my foeman to slay!’ Margali exclaims as she unleashes a blast of power upon Strange. The beam of power heads towards Strange who wonders what kind of spell it was, for such an incantation should have gained her nothing - but her power shatters his seraphmic shield nonetheless. Strange casts another spell - ‘Before the deadliest power may my soul never yield - let the winds of Watoomb strengthen Seraphim’s shield!’
A pink glow begins to light up this otherworldly plane - the power of Margali as she tells Strange that it is too late, for now, by her wand ‘Shall you fall!’ Margali’s power strikes Strange in an awesome display, which results in strange being rendered unconscious. The crowd of wannabes looks on in shock as Margali declares that it is over, it is done. ‘Thus end all who dare to oppose the will of Margali!’ the Sorceress Supreme declares.
Suddenly, Strange declares ‘Wrong! This is not the will of Margali!’ and grabs Margali’s wand and tosses it aside, casting a spell around it, Strange exclaims ‘Circle of Cyttorak, hold beneath thy crest this artifact foul and save the possessed!’ Margali declares that she must save her wand, for without it, she is powerless. Her image transforms, from that of the green-skinned ram-horn wearing Sorceress Supreme into an old gypsy woman. ‘Without it I am…a mere mortal!’ Margali exclaims.
Margali begins to cry, now looking like an old woman she declares that the power has left her and her true form - her aged body has returned. However, Margali is relieved at this, and thanks Strange by all that is holy. A sobbing Margali tells Dr. Strange that she has lost count of how long that wand has used her and her family - turning her son into a murdering maniac. She tells Strange that he saw what the wand did to her daughter, and the things it made her do. Strange tells Margali that all will be well, as her ordeal is now over.
Margali looks at Stephen Strange right in the eyes and explains to him that when they had heard he lost his disciple, the wand compelled them to see him out that it might gain sway over him as well. Strange explains to Margali that he had suspected some outside force to be behind her power, and when he heard her “incantation” he knew she was drawing her energies from another source, adding that it did not take long for him to locate that source. Margali tells Strange that he too such a chance in challenging her - or the wand, rather. Smiling, Stephen reveals to Margali that he did have three days to prepare, and remarks that he did not lie when he told Jimaine there would be a test, however, the true test was his.
Dr. Strange casts another spell, and in moments, everyone and everything has returned to Earth. Strange sees that the restoration spell has even mended his cloak, however, he notes that the magical experience has left his audience rather drained - which is all the better for his purposes. Using the fabled Eye of Agamotto, Strange tells his audience to heed his words - that they shall remember nothing out of the ordinary having occurred on this night, that they shall go forth and spread the word that Dr. Strange needs no followers. A disorientated crowd all begin to leave the hall under Strange’s command.
Amanda is transformed out of her pink outfit into regular clothing as she asks her mother what happened, for she feels as though she just woke up from a bad dream. Margali, addressing Amanda as “Jimaine” like she always does, tells her daughter that it is all right now, that this nightmare is over and they have nothing to fear. Strange looks at Margali and thinks to himself ‘Yes, Mother Szardos…nothing to fear…ever again!’ and with that, he snaps the wand.
Suddenly, Sara and Wong come out from back stage and Sara asks Strange where he has been - where has everybody been - for just a few minutes ago, this entire place was empty - including the windows! Stephen Strange tells Sara to calm herself, ‘I know, I know, there’s no need to get excited!’ Sara exclaims, remarking that he and Wong are right, she should be getting used to this “magic stuff” by now, after all, she has worked for Dr. Strange for half the season now, and hardly one week has gone by when Strange hasn’t solved things by snapping his magic fingers.
Dr. Strange tells Sara that it is not quite as easy as she makes it sound, for although he has defeated a deadly force this night, he has one question that remains unanswered - ‘Who spread the word that my disciple had left?’