1964-08-16 - What Am I?
Summary: Harper visits Dr. Strange to see if he can tell her where her powers come from.
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harper strange 

O'Riley's Tea Shop. Harper isn't prone to visiting places as tame as this on her own, but she grew up in New Orleans. She knows all too well how the most unassuming of shops can hide the most interesting things. At least she doesn't have to be convinced that magic exists.

When she walks in, there's already a glamour about her. To the non-magical eye, there's nothing to see. Just a young woman with green eyes and dishwater blonde hair, unremarkable girl-next-door features. To the magical eye or trained senses, though, the play of light is easy enough to see. After all, she's never known that was something she might need to hide.

Stepping inside, she moves to one side of the door, scanning the room with a practiced eye. Entrances, exits, bottlenecks, patrons. Everything is noted in just a moment.

Admittedly, it's the curious streak within that generally formal and aloof personage that has him sitting in his usual spot within O'Riley's. He wears what he'd term as 'daily-wear', nothing at all giving the impression of owning the mantle of Sorcerer Supreme. A polo shirt in deep forest-green and black dress pants give that lean towards business-informal, for, after all, this is a business meeting, in a loose sense.

Meet his friend at the tea shop, said his son. Easy enough. He even brought a tome to read, something time-consuming in case the friend was shy, delayed, or never showed. The language isn't of this universe proper, of another dimension entirely. Nothing written on the cover of the book spread across his knee; he's got an ankle resting on the other knee. Details were vague, but as Strange raises his demi-tasse to his lips and sips at the delicate white-leaf brew, he chances a glance up. Ever caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of your vision? It's about like that, a gentle register upon his Mystical senses, and immediately, he blinks the frosted-lilac coloration of the Sight over his eyes. Ah — this must be her, so shrouded in a glamour that holds steady; to his experienced observation, it must mean an old habit — a trick long-practiced. She gets a slow once-over and if she manages to catch him at it, there's even the faintest little smile about the corner of his lips. A practiced illusionist, this one, he decides. No need to hide the glow in his irises — after all, she's a fellow user of the Arts herself.

Who in the room looks most like someone's dad? Harper knows how to pick a target out of a room, even if she's not entirely sure what 'the pointiest of pointy hats' is supposed to look like. The women are out. The people running the shop are out. Which leaves one old man, and Strange. Who seems to have some recognition, at least. There's no disguising the deep, bracing breath she takes first, but after that, she starts over toward his table.

"Hi," she greets as she gets closer, hands clasped behind her back in an almost military posture. Do magic people shake hands? Maybe not. Probably better not to try. "Are you Billy's father?"

What a prim show she puts on, this friend of Billy's and intriguing glamourist. One last look over, from head to toes and back up — it's a very impersonal cataloguing of what he can See, devoid entirely of any ramifications in flirtation — and Strange sets down his tea cup.

"I am." No point in contending it. After all, they do share dimples and a serious stubborn streak a mile wide when they dig their heels in. "You must be Billy's friend. Please, have a seat. Did you order tea?" He closes the book as well and sets it aside to interlace fingers in his lap. The mapping of red scarring from fingertips to nearly elbows is easy enough to set with the foreshortened sleeves of the shirt. The man seems completely at ease with himself and the next blink removes the glow from his irises.

"Ah, no." Harper looks back toward the counter, then raises a finger. "Be right back." She goes to put in an order, then returns once it's done, giving Strange's tea a brief look as well. Awkward isn't something she's used to. Undercover work means never being awkward, no matter what. But this…Right now, there is something very important she's trying to find out, though. Something that is, for once, personal.

"I'm sorry," she begins, smile flickering. "I'm pretty sure I know just enough about magic to know that it's not something to be toyed with. But according to Billy, I've been…toying with it for years. We were hoping you could help to clarify that."

Once Harper returns from her ordering, Strange gives her a friendly, professional smile, the very same he'd give anyone else who came to him for assistance.

"You're not incorrect," he begins, leaning back in his chair and eyeing her with a slight tilt to his head, intrigued as always with a new facet of reality and magic's mark upon the world around him. "It isn't something to be used lightly. What do you need clarified precisely?" He speaks quietly in order to be unheard by those around them. It's not terribly busy and everyone seems to have seated themselves beyond earshot of another conversation save for a raised voice, which is tantamount to insult here in the tea shop. Behind the counter, old Mrs. O'Riley busies herself with preparing the ordered tea.

Harper tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, hands folded in her lap. It's a proper posture, one that would do the nuns proud. But the sharpness in her eyes can't be hidden by any illusion. "Since I was ten, when I started doing this, I was under the impression that I was a mutant," she explains. "My entire life, everything that came after that, was shaped not just by my understanding that I was a mutant, but by the belief that others had that I was a mutant. How I use it. What I avoid. All of it. And then Billy shows up and says he sees math when I'm using it, which means it must be magic. Which is a problem for me."

She tightens her grip on her hand, the slightest suggestion of an aborted fidget. "If what I'm doing is magic, then it's subject to whatever rules and laws govern magic. And that means it's subject to failure under those laws, and I have no way to prepare for or prevent that. I need to know what it is, and why it is, and where it comes from."

Strange nods and exhales slowly. "I can attest that you are doing magic. Billy describes something similar when I utilize my Arts, this…mathing you reference. I would hazard to guess that each spell, each family of magics, they all appear as different functions and equations to his eyes. Your glamour is impressive." He glances up behind her to see old Mrs. O'Riley approaching them. A scarred pointer finger is briefly upheld to imply a momentary geas of silence on the matter.

"Your tea, lass. Do y'need anythin', Doctor?" The tea set before her on saucer and with accompanying napkin steams.

"No, thank you, Mrs. O'Riley. Just your tea and your smile." He gives the proprietor a very boyish grin. Of course, the charmer makes the old woman grin in return and she waves her hand at him.

"Yah keep yer flirtin' fer yer woman, Doctor. Yah know where I am if yah need me." Back to her corner and her crossword puzzle, as always.

"She's a gem," he comments offhandedly before collecting up his own cup of white tea. The Sorcerer then gets back to the main subject. "I get the impression that Billy implied me to be some all-governing power over the Mystical community. I am merely the Guardian of Fate and protector of Earth's reality." Merely. "What rules and laws govern magic govern common sense and basic morals. To utilize magic itself is but an ability. You can defend your loved ones with a gun or kill another in cold blood. How you wield it will determine the consequences, if any, of your actions. Magic itself has no moral compass." He takes a long sip of his tea. "Unless you mean to ask where your particular magic comes from…?"

"No, I get the…" Harper pauses for the tea, offering a polite smile and a murmur of thanks before she turns back to Strange, nodding along. "I grew up in New Orleans," she explains, the accent coloring her voice when she admits to it. "First in an orphanage run by nuns, then in…different surroundings. But you can't be born and raised in New Orleans without picking up a few things about magic. The rules are…Well, I'd like to know more about it." And it sounds like she means that. She's a deeply curious creature. "But priority number one is finding out where it comes from, so that I can avoid any dangers associated with it."

"Indeed. I imagine your first taste of magic in New Orleans may have been Vooduun." Ah, that particular flavor, full of Blood Magic and questionable intentions from time to time — of bargains made with gods at the crossroads and goddesses riding human forms for the joy of it.

"Tell me first of what you learned there, as a child, before I continue. I'd hate to repeat myself." His smile is still there, despite being fainter now.

Harper pours herself some tea, adding honey and cream as she considers the question. "In general, not much. That all magic has a price. That it requires bargains and agreements, and sacrifices. That one should be very careful as to how a request is worded, and know that sometimes what you get may not be what you expected. That the things with power aren't human, don't think like humans, don't value the things humans do, and that assuming they might is a good way to end up dead. Or worse. The rest I couldn't really say," she says, looking up from her cup. "I suspect it's equal parts superstition and truth, with no good way to tell the difference."

"I think, in the end, experience is the only way to gain clarity as to what is human belief and what is the actuality of magic's relation to the world," Strange finally replies. "Still, a good summary of the basic warnings given to me as an apprentice. You could count yourself as one of them…maybe." He looks thoughtful for a passing second before a minute shrug breaks the line of his shoulders and his musings.

"You asked earlier where it comes from. Magic is energy. I draw from reality itself to compose my spells and impart my passing will upon it. You could draw parallels to physics and String Theory, but that's a long discussion for another time. Unless you call upon a being's name, you usually don't risk incurring debts." Usually.

"No, not where does magic come from," Harper shakes her head, setting down the teacup. "Why can I do it? I've heard of people having gifts. Being able to see the future, or read people. Having the gift for magic, being able to learn it. But I've been doing this for almost ten years now. And yes, I've trained, but never in any way that had to do with magic, and for the most part it's been practice, not learning how to understand it or how it works. It's not spells, it's not…" She waves a hand, summoning a small ball of light above her fingers. "I know that this came from the ambient light in the room. I can create light from nothing, but there's a caloric loss. It takes energy."

Strange quickly looks around. Thank the gods everyone else is deep in conversation or in a newspaper. Even Mrs. O'Riley isn't paying a lick of attention, so involved in her crossword puzzle.

"Mind your magics, please," he says quietly and sternly, all mentor for a fleeting second. "Not everyone is accepting of a sudden werelight in midday in a tea shop." Another sip of tea and the demi-tasse makes a light clink onto its saucer. "You may have an innate grasp for the magics involving light manipulation, but I can tell most easily if you'll shake my hand."

Yep, one of those infamously-scarred hands. "I can get a brief glimpse into your powers and tell you more precisely what I can interpret from what they tell me via reaction. It goes both ways," he adds with a hint of apology in tone. He is the pointiest of hats; it'll be a bit of a jolt if Harper takes him up on the hand half-outstretched towards her, the gesture to be finished only if she does choose to shake hands.

"Sorry." Harper doesn't so much let the light blink out as twist her wrist, and for a moment, should anyone look, it appears as though she has a compact in her hand, angled such that it might have caught a reflection from the window. Nothing to see here, just a trick of the light. In more than one sense.

She tucks away the imaginary compact, then looks back to his hand, lips pursing slightly. Clearly she doesn't much care for not knowing what she's in for. But curiosity is far stronger than fear. The moment of hesitation lasts less than a breath before she reaches out to take his hand, unswerving.

Let there be light.

Just words in the bible. Imagined, perhaps, as the first sunrise. But for a moment, there's a glimpse of everything that was behind those words, behind what rung in the truth of reality when the voice of God spoke. Let there be LIGHT. Excited electrons, atoms crashing together, photons rushing across space. Light in its most elemental, most true sense, the deep truth of light that is what the sun has in common with a candle, and everything in between.

There's more, though. Ancient power, filtered through the lens that is humanity. The insubstantial bolstered by flesh. Divine fire, a rustle of wings almost heard. There's the slightest remove from the power - she isn't the source, merely a stream that's diverged from the whole, but there's so much more behind it.

The touch of one practitioner to another opens a two-way feed, of course, and while Strange balances on that fluidly-crystalline moment of appreciation for another's Mystical tilt in brightness on par with that of the Bright Lady herself, Harper receives another impression entirely.

A triplicate of godly power suffuses the celestine and citrine that engulfs her like a wave. The freshness and empowerment of life, smelling of sun-kissed dew and the warmth of a new spring day, ruffles across her soul, quickly followed by the low harmonious strums of cellos on a sonic scale to cross galaxies. Through it all, golden sandalwood and scarlet roses dance across the nose, so thick as to nearly be tasted.

The Sorcerer releases his grip on her hand and brings his hand back across the table. A slow sigh escapes him and he shakes his head, blinking hard as if to dispel after-light from his vision. His irises do shine brightly at the moment, on par with future's glow-sticks in lilac.

"You are touched by something beyond this world, young lady," he says with the same implacable calm of someone delivering a diagnosis. A little scoff, still more amused than mocking in the end. "Mind your magics indeed…"

For a moment, Harper is distracted from the actual answer by the fact that she's actually picked something up herself. Something new, that she certainly hasn't felt before. "What-" It actually takes her a moment to release his hand, as she tries to hold on to the feeling, tries to get a better grasp on it, before she realizes her grip's gotten tighter than it should be.

Only then does she release his hand - more quickly than normal - and hear the words. "What does that mean?" she asks, brows furrowing.

"Otherworldly…? Your answer is in the word itself. Beyond our world, beyond what the mundane consider normalcy. You mentioned beings of power. I suspect…" Strange peters off, giving Harper that emotionless scholar's contemplation again. It might be somewhat discomfiting given the weight of the Mystic Arts still within his eyes. One finger drags down the line of his goatee before he continues slowly.

"I suspect that your lineage contains a being of immense power. I hesitate to identify who it is because I won't make such an error based on incomplete information." Of course, that's implying he has an idea of who it might be and…he did visit a certain club one time with a pseudo-apprentice.

Harper's eyes narrow as she watches him. She knows how to tell when someone is using less than the full truth. Luckily for him, she's still treading carefully in the mystical waters. Cautious enough not to push too hard when it comes to what should or should not be shared. "Okay," she finally says, reaching slowly for her teacup. "Okay. Look. The important part is, I need to know what I should watch out for. Like…a severe silver allergy, or fairy circles, or mistletoe, or…You know. That sort of thing."

"I would be mindful of burning through your natural energy stores too quickly. It's a common mistake with young practitioners, knocking oneself unconscious by drawing from the soulfont instead of from one's surroundings. You may find that you deal with different variations on it…perhaps singeing nerves or giving yourself a Mystical sunburn." Strange smiles faintly, as if knowing that he hasn't given enough information, but he won't apologize for it. It's not in his nature.

"I'm being deliberately obtuse on some things because you don't need to be going about drawing conclusions from assumptions. Your weakness are also ones you need to discover for yourself, unfortunately. No one is precisely the same, just as no one carries the same fingerprint. Your aura and your magical signature is your own as are your weaknesses. I dislike self-fulling prophecies…"

"Hypoglycemic shock," Harper notes absently, reaching for her tea. "Been there, done that. Not for years," she adds quickly, taking a sip. "But when I was younger, yeah. While I was still learning my limits. I learned to use what was around me. Most of what I do is just a reapplication of existing light. Sometimes amplifying it, if I need more than is available in ambient light. On the flip side, putting out the lights can be energizing," she says, raising a finger.

She takes another sip of tea before she looks back at him again, dissatisfied with the answer. "I know my weaknesses. I've been- I've been doing this since I was ten. I've trained and prepared for everything that I knew could be an issue. It's just that finding out it's all based on magic and not on genetics opens up a whole new world of could."

"Mmm, no," Strange replies, shaking his head. "Hypoglycemic shock is another thing entirely. I'm speaking of the literal soulfont, the seat of your life-force — unless you don't draw from it? Hmm…well, no, perhaps you don't. Manipulation of light from the environment wouldn't necessarily require that level of supportive draw in turn." He sounds intrigued, truly, but reins it in visibly by settling back into his chair fully again.

"Magic is…all about impossibilities. 'Could I' very quickly becomes 'should I' when the skein of reality can be touched. The mundane would think us gods given enough hubris on our parts." The Sorcerer seems far too amused by this, indulging in a smirk before smoothing it back to near-formality again. "Billy knows well enough about how one should think before acting, especially with magic. Many of his lessons came from simply living in this world. I've been there to aid and teach him as the moments present themselves. He is an excellent source for learning how to live with such a new viewpoint on life."

"Billy thought it might be a combination of things," Harper suggests, giving her tea a stir. "There's more than just the light. I'm also strong, fast, tough. More than is justified just by training. He thought maybe the physical aspects were a mutation and the light was magic."

"Yes, your lineage, I believe. I suppose you could call it a mutation," he muses before sipping again at his tea. "I'd have to consider it further. I can say that the light manipulation, the glamours, they have a root in magic, yes. You're not half bad at lumomancy as it is. Practice will make you quite capable in the end."

Down to the dregs and Strange sets down his tea cup for the final time. "Would that I could tell you more, but as I mentioned before: I won't be creating self-fulfilling prophecies based upon guesswork. Take what you will from it."

"Thank you," Harper drawls to the compliment. Later she might actually think about it hard enough to recognize it for the compliment that it is, but in the moment, there's a bit more wounded pride. Perhaps another genetic trait. "I'll be sure to call you when not knowing bites me in the a-" Of course, there's the raised by nuns part, and she clears her throat. "Backside."

She takes a deep breath, setting down her cup and squaring her shoulders. "Thank you for your time, sir," she says more formally. "I appreciate it."

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