by Earth Elemental 99, Martin Maenza, and Doc Quantum, partially adapted from Swamp Thing #50 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben
When John Constantine finally rejoined the others in the study, he noticed a large table had been set up. Sargon the Sorcerer and Mento were placing the chairs about it while Zatara and his daughter Zatanna were conversing with another newcomer.
Constantine moved over to Mento, who had donned his special helmet as he was instructed. With a whisper, he said to Dayton, “That bloke’s Doctor Occult, visiting from Earth-Two. I don’t know him very well. I had hoped he would bring some big guns with him. Could you check him out for me, Steve?”
Mento frowned. “I’m trying,” he whispered. A bead of sweat formed on his brow beneath the helmet, and he wiped it away. “He’s genuine enough. I can tell that, at least. I sense great age and power from him.” He paused. “Incredible! He’s aware of my presence and shutting me out of his mind!”
Constantine nodded silently. The man did have a reputation; he was pleased to see it was up to snuff. Perhaps they would be fine as long as the others were in place. “All right,” he said, clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention. “If you would all take a seat, we can get started.” The six gathered around the table and sat. The Englishman could feel the tension in the room, and they hadn’t even begun.
He had hoped for a larger number, but he decided this would have to suffice. Seven was an optimal number for magical circles. But they were one short — would that cause the problems down the road? He cursed Winters. The man had offered his place but somehow made himself scarce. Just like him to let others do all the dirty work.
Constantine shook his head. They had best begin before things got too far along to be halted. “If everyone would clasp hands…”
“Beware!” a voice boomed in the room, seemingly coming from everywhere but no body was associated to it. “You tamper with things that do not concern you!”
The others looked around in surprise and amazement at this.
Constantine held his ground. “Who are you?” he called out to the air.
“I am the wizard Shazam and keeper of the mystical barrier between the Earths! I warn you again — tread carefully lest you bring about more trouble than you bargained for!”
Constantine was not about to be ordered around by someone who didn’t even bother to make his appearance known. Still, if this wizard had the power to speak to them from across the worlds, he would consider the warning. “Point taken. We’ll be careful.”
There was the sound of rolling thunder that seemed to move through the house. And, as quickly as Shazam’s voice came, it was gone.
“All right, then,” Constantine said. “Let’s take hands and begin.”
For over an hour, the six mystics combined their talents to peer into the magical dimension beyond the worlds. They were starting to grow weary, but their leader edged them on. “Let’s continue,” Constantine said. “Enough looking around here on Earth-One. Those spirit dimensions, outside the five Earths.”
Mento continued to doubt his being with this group. Then he squinted at the swirling cloud above the table as something came into focus. “I see a bird. A crow flying over Hell.” At least, Hell was what the place looked like. Then something came to him in his mind. “My God, it used to be a woman! It’s got a black pearl in its beak, made entirely of shadows, dreads, and fears.”
Doctor Occult scowled. “I know. Kind of reminds me of that Obsidian kid in Infinity Inc. back on my Earth.”
“I wouldn’t know,” Mento replied. Something was happening in the image. “The pearl. It’s fallen.” The six watched it plummet, the image remaining focused on the small object until it reached the floors of Hell.
“There’s a giant mass rising from Hell’s black ocean!” Zatara announced. “It’s huge — monstrous!”
Constantine gritted his teeth. “It’s time!”
Sargon rolled his eyes at the man’s dramatic way. “It’s about time. Are we truly ready to do something more than be a bunch of peeping Toms?”
Constantine started to explain. “I suppose so. I’ve worked out all possible outcomes of this conflict from a merged Earth. Things would not go so well at all if that were so, but seeing that we exist in the first of five universes, all of them touching the single afterlife, that gives us five different lifelines, instead of just one.”
Mento shook his head. “Forget the explanations! Just tell me if you’re sure this is going to be safe?”
“As long as Baron Winter’s house stays grounded here on Earth-One, Steve, we should be,” Constantine said. “I know the others trust me.” He glanced about the room, but the looks were hardly that reassuring. He figured there was no point in polling the group.
Time to act. “Now here is what we shall do! The five of us will send out combined mystical energies and focus them through Dayton’s helmet. In turn, the energies will go to our champions I sent to Hell to fight the Primordial Darkness.”
Zatanna was surprised by this. “Champions? Who’s there?”
Constantine ticked off the names. “Swamp Thing, Deadman, the Phantom Stranger, Etrigan, Doctor Fate, the Spectre…”
Doctor Occult nodded knowingly. So that was where Fate was off to. Still, he voiced a concern. “Science and sorcery combined can be an explosive combination. I hope you know what you’re doing.”
Constantine kept his cool. “If there was only one Earth, I’d worry. But seeing as how we’ve got five chances to get it right…” The group glared at him. “Can’t anyone take a joke?”
Mento felt more concern. With recent events up to and after the Crisis, he had been through his very own personal hell. Now his so-called friend wanted him to face an even bigger one. “I don’t know if I’m up for something like this. I mean, Hell itself?”
Constantine gave the man sitting next to him a reaffirming squeeze. “It’s only the Shadowlands, Steve. It can’t kill you, but it certainly can trample over Heaven’s light, destroying it.”
Mento felt a surge in his head, a pain like before. “Please don’t make me go on with this,” he begged softly.
Zatanna chimed in. “He’s serious, Constantine!” She only called him by his last name when she was angry with him, and her face showed that. This was a far cry from when they had been involved years ago. It appeared that they would unlikely ever be that close again. “My father and I changed our minds about not coming to your aid, and we both agreed with you and went along with all of this. But you can’t force Mr. Dayton to go on. Not when he’s clearly so scared!”
Mento gritted his teeth as his head throbbed further. “I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.”
“A man is as strong as he will let himself be,” said Doctor Occult. “That is the first truth of magic. And the very reason I was capable of making my journey here to Earth-One.”
“And you did it all without the help of Rose,” Sargon chided. “Where is that pretty little thing these days, Occult?” The detective merely scowled at the turban-wearing sorcerer.
Mento swallowed hard and choked back the pain. Here he was, a man respected in the world of business and industry. He had these great mental abilities, albeit focused through the special helmet he wore upon his head. He wasn’t about to let a group a stage show sleight-of-hand magicians think less of him. “All right! I have no real choice now, do I?”
“That’s the spirit!” Constantine praised him.
In the vision, a yellow-skinned monstrosity dressed in red with a purple cape leaped into the fray. Savagely, the demonic figure mowed down everything that tried to stay his advances. It soon set to work on the main target. “Etrigan’s charging the thing!” Mento relayed to the others. “Killing every demon that gets in his way. Now he’s going into it. So cold…”
“Feed Etrigan our combined energy, Steve!” Constantine ordered. “He needs it to fight back!” Indeed, the mystic energies swirled about the room to Mento’s helmet and then broadcast to the battlefield worlds away.
In Hell, the Swamp Thing and his allies, an army composed of both angels and demons, had lined up against a large army of demons seeking to ally themselves with the Primordial Darkness.
A great deal of time had passed before the unimaginably huge darkness finally began to rise into the air out of the churning sea of chaos as both sides watched in awe. After it had stopped its advance, the two opposing armies had fought each other for a while, with casualties on both sides.
Now, a few brave souls decided to face the Darkness head on; unfortunately, the Demon Etrigan only succeeded in getting himself absorbed by it. It now spoke to him:
“LITTLE THING? LITTLE THING, YOU ARE IN ME… AND I HAVE A VERY GREAT NEED. BEFORE LIGHT, I WAS; ENDLESS, WITHOUT NAME OR NEED OF NAME. THEN LIGHT CAME. WITNESSING ITS OTHERNESS, I SUFFERED MY FIRST KNOWLEDGE OF SELF, AND ALL CONTENTMENT FLED.
“TELL ME, LITTLE THING. TELL ME WHAT I AM.”
“Your name…” said Etrigan, “…your name is Evil; absence of God’s light, his shadow-partner, locked in endless fight.”
“THE FIGHT IS TO BE ENDLESS, THEN. AHH.
“LITTLE THING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME FATALISM. YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME INEVITABILITY. THEY ARE NOT THE THINGS I NEEDED… YOU ARE NOT THE THING I NEEDED.”
And the Demon Etrigan was spat out of the Darkness.