Xe finds It on the shores of foreign soil.
Xe had been meditating, looking through space and time and reality for a successor to train, the same way xe’s predecessor had done. Xe had been waiting for a call, something so strong and strange that it would shock xe out of meditation, and then xe would know. It was the only hint xe’s predecessor had given, when the title had been passed.
And xe has felt something strong and strange and shocking, but xe knows in an instant that this is not what was meant by the hint.
It is human-shaped, dripping blood and water. It is surrounded by another human-shaped body, and when xe steps closer, xe can see that It has desperately torn upon the other’s rib cage and now is frantically scrabbling at bones and muscle and heart, a keening cry echoing around. Yet the cry is not of sorrow, but of rage. Infinite burning rage.
Another step, and It raises its head. It has eyes that burn, and sharp teeth that it bares at xe.
It is a Firstborn, but when xe reaches for it, xe comes to a startling realization.
“Where is your Namer, Firstborn?” xe asks.
The Firstborn’s response is only a loud snarl as it plants itself over the carcass, fierce and protective and dripping in blood. And not all of the blood belongs to the poor human at its feet, either.
This is not what xe came seeking. A Firstborn is not a candidate for the title of Sorcerer Supreme. Yet even though Firstborns are on par with the elders of the universe, they are still part of it. And this universe is xyr’s responsibility. Since this Firstborn has been Named, and therefore bound to this universe, it too is xyr’s responsibility.
So xe sighs and takes the feral Firstborn home.
Names are always important. They dictate who someone is or was or will be, and many times, knowing a name is having power over a thing. That is why many who come to study with xem guard their names fiercely or change them to better reflect who they will be. Xe xemself has changed xem name, many times, and now has no name at all, only a title: Ancient One.
For a Firstborn, names are even more important. Every Firstborn has no name, really, only names they wear and discard to pass as whomever they so choose. They are cosmic forces, joy and rage and power and all the extremes tumbled into one fierce explosive package.
Except a Firstborn can be Named.
Everything has a true name, of course, and true names have power. But Firstborn aren’t like everything else. Whereas true names for, say, mortals are names that they discover as already belonging to them, like money stashed away in a dusty jacket they haven’t worn for ages, true names for Firstborn are binding yet voluntary, in a way. A Firstborn who chooses to allow to be Named is choosing to become something new, to adapt, to change for someone else. It creates a bond that cannot be broken, not even by death, as for the rest of eternity that Firstborn will answer to that Name, whomsoever calls it.
This Firstborn’s Namer has been killed, and that, xe explains, is why it is so feral.
Mordo takes it in stride. He coaxes the Firstborn to change its clothing and stop growling at everyone, and even offers food as a bonding experience. Firstborn don’t usually need to eat, but with the shock of a dead Namer, Mordo understands the concern xe feels about ensuring that the Firstborn will pull through.
Some Firstborns waste away when their Namer dies.
Others are the horror stories of horror story monsters.
Finally, though, Wong is the one to break through to the Firstborn. He taunts the Firstborn until it finally attacks, and after a grueling fight that ends with a few broken bones and a very bloody Wong, the Firstborn pins him and nearly rips out his throat with his teeth.
Wong, though. Wong pats it on the head, and says, “See? You don’t need your Namer, Firstborn. You were blind, and they opened your eyes, but now you can see. So see.”
The Firstborn disappears for a day, after that.
When it returns, it goes straight to Wong and says, “I have chosen a name.”
The entire room stares. The Firstborn hasn’t spoken the entire time, but now it is dressed in clean practical clothing, hair neatly tied back, hands and face washed clean of blood and grit. Beforehand, the Firstborn hadn’t cared about its life, much less its appearance. Now, though, it seems calmer, steadier. More human, to fit the human shape it has taken.
“What is your name, Firstborn?” Wong asks, and he understands, just as xe does, that it is a chosen name, a title to wear for now, because now that its Namer is dead, it will probably never speak its Name again.
“I am Kaecilius.”
Xe almost smiles at that, and Wong definitely does.
Kaecilius means “see”.
In a sleepy little land far away in another reality, a young man rubs a genie’s lamp. But no genie comes out – instead, just a tiny little wisp of smoke, lighter than spider’s silk and so transparent that the man loses sight of it under the sunlight.
It’s only when he looks up and up and up that he realizes that the little wisp of smoke has gathered itself and grown bigger.
Now, it is a little red dragon.
He would think it’s cute, but he still needs a genie, so he tosses aside the lamp and quickly forgets the entire thing.
Xe and Wong take turns training Kaecilius in the mystic arts after that. As a Firstborn, it has no need to learn the mortal ways, but xe imagines that with its Namer gone from this reality, it might choose to live and die the human way, and be re-born with another chance at finding a Namer.
In either case, learning human ways seem to settle it. Kaecilius no longer shakes the mountain in anger and his hands grow steadier, his eyes softer. With every passing year, Kaecilius becomes more human, probably, xe thinks, to honor the human who was lost.
Yet obviously what happened is still traumatic.
Wong asks, years later, what happened when xe found it, and when Wong tells xyr the story, he seems shaken and sad. “Kaecilius says that his Namer gave him a Name,” Wong recalls, “and they tumbled off a cliff. Kaecilius was so lost in the binding that he failed to realize his Namer was slipping away. When he returned to his new self, his Namer was already gone, like dust in the wind.” He pauses. “He wants to search. Again.”
Xe does not frown, but xe is troubled. “Namers are not reborn. Each Firstborn finds a new one, or is reborn themselves for a new one.”
“He believes that his will be.”
“It has never happened before.”
“Training a Firstborn the mystic arts has never happened before,” Wong replies. “It might be safer to let him search. It will expend his energy. Maybe it will allow him to come to peace.”
Or maybe, xe thinks privately, it will allow Kaecilius to exact revenge in whatever shape he thinks is best. Firstborn are forces of power, not reason or sensibility. They do not forgive or forget, and oftentimes, they stand at war or at peace. There is no middle ground for a Firstborn. Many have razed entire universes because of an ill-spoken insult.
Xe would know. Xe fought one. Xe only survived because xe put up good enough of a fight that the Firstborn, who was attacking due to boredom, decided that it had been sufficiently entertained and left.
Yet in the end, it does not matter. Although xe and the others do not teach him or encourage him at all, Kaecilius does have access to all of the books and, most importantly, has no need for sleep and an incredible amount of raw energy and power. He learns how to create portals, and begins searching immediately.
Xe does not tell him to stop.
Deep down, xe hopes that he will find what he is looking for. Sometimes even Ancient Ones need a reason to hope.
A young herbalist finds a little red dragon curled up in the eaves of her window. He is breathing heavily, with a jagged rip in his right wing and a bloody scratch across his snout. At first, when she approaches, he snarls at her and beats his wings, despite the fact that it clearly causes more pain than any intimidation. It takes four days of leaving food and water out before he even lets her come close enough to get a good look at the wounds.
Strangely enough, though, unlike every dragon she’s ever known, he refuses to eat the civets that roam freely around the property. Most injured dragons are insatiable and will gobble down any little bit of meat, but not this one.
She finally manages to get him to eat when she offers soft boiled eggs, which, again, strange. But soon after she sees him stretching out to catch rats, so maybe he was just being peckish.
He heals extraordinarily slowly for a magical creature, though, and every once in a while, she can hear him keening and crying. It’s not a cry for comfort or warning of danger, but simply a call. She doesn’t know who or what he’s calling for, but every day when there is no answer of any kind, he grows more restless, pacing back and forth and scratching anxiously, threatening to reopen the slow-healing wound on his wing. She tries to distract him, but it’s to no avail. He grows anxious, grinding his teeth and flapping his wings constantly, pushing and pushing, until finally he manages to take off and flap around the garden.
That night, she sets out a neat little bundle of finely chopped meat sprinkled with scrambled eggs, and in the morning, he is gone.
Her thought upon seeing that is, I hope you find what you’re looking for.
Eventually, though, it all comes to naught.
Xe finds xyr successor, but even as Stephen Strange is training, Kaecilius is sinking deeper and deeper into darkness. The skin around his eyes grows cracked and dry, flaking away to reveal his true nature as his human disguise begins to falter and fail, and students stop talking to him or even being able to look at him. When xe finally leaves Strange long enough to talk to him, xe sees the truth.
Kaecilius is not just searching.
He has visited a psychiatrist in one reality, and upon finding it empty, he burned it to the ground. He has visited a cult in another reality, and upon finding the leader different than what he expected, he tore everyone to sheds. He has visited medieval knights, and upon finding a knight that was not what he wanted, he razed the entire land. Most recently, he went to a little house by a stream, one he called a guiding light in a storm, and when it was empty, he destroyed the entire world in revenge, gleeful and bloody.
“No more,” xe tells him, and xe is proud that xyr voice is firm.
Kaecilius looks at xe.
Xe looks at Kaecilius.
“Then this world will burn,” Kaecilius says simply. “Will you die protecting it?”
They’re in the middle of the battle, everyone with blood drawn and half of New York bent out of shape, when a huge bloody dragon climbs out of a portal and heads straight for them.
Bloody, because it’s so big it’s taller than most of the buildings.
And bloody, because it’s actually covered in dripping and steaming blood, splattering all over the ground, as if it had been recently born and ripped itself free of the protective membrane of its birth.
Kaecilius’s followers step in, but the dragon bites one in half and slashes at the other with its tail, screeching so loud that the air itself becomes pain in his ears. Even Kaecilius is on the ground, hands clenched into fists and eyes twisted half-shut with agony.
And yet, Kaecilius makes no move to cover his ears. He doesn’t even flinch.
Which is when Stephen realizes that the dragon isn’t screeching, it’s whining. Like a petulant puppy. Whining and scraping its claws and slashing its tail in a version of a dragon temper tantrum. Except that the dragon throwing the temper tantrum is bigger than Mount Everest, and with each pass of a tail, an entire wall of cars goes sweeping sideways, and with every scrape of its claws, half of the road is clawed up.
When Kaecilius remains silent, the dragon droops. It droops so much that it seems to shrink in size, and slowly it raises its wings to fly away.
Which is when Kaecilius blurs, moving so fast even Stephen can’t track, and suddenly he’s halfway in the air, hand out, shouting, screaming actually, loud as the dragon itself, “DON’T YOU DARE! I NAME YOU – ”
Stephen hears the word, but at the same time, he doesn’t. It’s the strangest dichotomy of knowing the word that is spoken to the depths of his soul like the first word he’d ever spoken and yet knowing it’s something he’s never heard before, in a language no one speaks, forgotten and buried under the ruckus and chaos of creation. He couldn’t even tell you how many syllables it is, but it’s beautiful and angry and pure power, so much that it makes the hairs stand up on the back of his head.
The dragon throws its head back, slamming its tail down upon the concrete with a joyous screen, and for a second, Kaecilius and it are one creature, a lopsided yin and yang of a riot of colors, before suddenly the circle begins to spin so that it’s lopsided the other way, and Kaecilius grows bigger as the dragon grows ever smaller.
The final burst of light sears his eyeballs, and when he looks back, an enormous stag stands before them, its body patterned with dark brown fur and black raven feathers, a crown of dripping blood red antlers and eyes of liquid amethyst. It radiates danger, and although Stephen raises his shield, the stag merely lowers its head, and that’s when he sees the little mongoose at the stag’s feet, a luxurious rich brown with shining sapphire eyes. The stag nuzzles at the mongoose, so gently, and the mongoose chitters at it before scampering up the stag’s legs to curl up in the crown of antlers. The stag snorts, but only carefully turns its head to slowly begin to walk away.
“Two Firstborn,” Mordo breathes, sounding awed.
“Each Firstborn is bound when Named,” Mordo explains hastily. “And we thought Kaecilius’s Namer had perished when we found it. But . . .”
Stephen sighs. Sometimes the problem with sorcerers is that they get caught up in the wonder of reality bending and forget that you still need to speak to pass the time sometimes. “But?”
“But we never considered that a Firstborn might Name another, and each take on the role of the other’s Namer.”
Which, okay. Great. Wonderful. Also not the greatest concern. “Does that mean that Kaecilius will stop trying to destroy this world?” Stephen asks. He doesn’t have much hope. It’s going to take weeks just to restore New York, never mind whatever else havoc Kaecilius wreaked in the temple.
Mordo shrugs. “Kaecilius has been the cause of many firsts. Maybe this is another one.”
Stephen closes the portal the stag and the mongoose left behind and says, “Well, they can be the first pair of Firstborn universe-destroyers somewhere else from now on. That’d be a lovely first for them.”
“You mean us.”
“What, you haven’t had enough of Firstborn temper tantrums?”
“I’m not the one who has to clean it up this time, Sorcerer Supreme.”
Stephen doesn’t say it, but his first impression was entirely accurate. Mordo is one of the most sadistic, sarcastic, and cryptic people ever. Kaecilus though – he definitely takes the cake for the whiniest temper tantrum.
“No one will ever top this temper tantrum.”
“Don’t jinx it, Strange.”