by Doc Quantum, Earth Elemental 99, and Martin Maenza, partially adapted from Swamp Thing #50 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben
The Swamp Thing stood and looked at the fallen form of the once-mighty Spectre and considered things. And then the Swamp Thing simply walked into the Darkness, allowing himself to be absorbed. The Darkness spoke to him:
“LITTLE THING… LITTLE THING, YOU CAME TO ME WILLINGLY. AND WITHOUT WRATH. IN THIS EXTRAORDINARY PLACE, YOU ARE EXTRAORDINARY. WHAT HAVE YOU TO OFFER ME?”
“I… have nothing,” the Swamp Thing said. “I came… in resignation… Whatever you are… I cannot fight you… but I cannot… stand and watch…”
“THEN WILL YOU ANSWER MY QUESTION? LITTLE THING, WILL YOU TELL ME THE PURPOSE OF EVIL?”
The Swamp Thing answered him slowly, “I… cannot. I am not… the one you seek… I have tried… to make sense of that darkness… and I have failed.
“I have seen evil… its cruelty… the randomness with which it ravages… innocent… and guilty alike… I have not understood it… I asked… the Parliament of Trees… whose knowledge is older… greater than mine… They seemed to insist… that there was no evil… but I… have seen evil… and their answer… was incomprehensible… to me… and yet…
“And yet… they spoke of aphids eating leaves… bugs eating aphids… themselves finally devoured by the soil… feeding the foliage. They asked… where evil dwelled… within this cycle… and told me… to look… to the soil… The black soil… is rich in foul decay… Yet glorious life… springs from it… But however dazzling… the flourishes of life… in the end… all decays… to the same black humus…
“Perhaps… perhaps evil… is the humus… formed by virtue’s decay… and perhaps… perhaps it is from… that dark, sinister loam… that virtue grows strongest? I… do not know. I do not know… what they meant…”
“LITTLE THING… LITTLE THING, I SENSE A GREAT AND FINAL END APPROACHING. I WOULD BE ALONE. LEAVE FREELY, AS YOU CAME.”
The Swamp Thing walked out of the Darkness unharmed.
The room was silent for a moment. All eyes went back and forth between the leader of this circle and their conduit. Finally, the latter one gasped. “You were right!” Mento exclaimed. “It didn’t eat him like the others! He walked out of it unharmed. But he didn’t do any good. It’s rising up out of the ground, ascending toward Heaven!”
“What now?” Doctor Occult asked.
Before anyone could offer a suggestion, Mento continued. “The Spectre sees it. He’s down on his knees, with his hands together. He must be praying, asking for God to forgive him for his failure.”
“What of the shadow?”
“From the light, I see — a hand made of light! It’s bigger, more brilliant than Heaven and Hell put together. The Spectre knows what it is! He’s speaking its name. The Presence!”
Mento watched and conveyed what he saw next. The right hand of the Presence descended, as the Primordial Shadow also formed a right hand of its own, reaching upward.
In Hell, both of the assembled armies waited in fear and despair for the inevitable to happen. As the Spectre wept in despair, the Darkness rose, and rose, and rose, and as it rose, everyone could see that this tip of the darkness was merely the tip of a finger, which was on a massively large hand. This hand rose to meet its counterpart, a great hand of light that came from Heaven.
They reached toward each other.
The hands clasped, and…
“I don’t understand!” Mento cried.
John Constantine knew what it meant. “Steve! Put your head down on the table.”
The pain throbbed now from all sides. “It hurts!” Mento then did as his friend asked.
“Good,” Constantine continued. “Now, I want you to slide your head out of the helmet. Hurry now!”
Mento did as he was instructed. His hair was damp from sweat. He looked up at the others. “Is… is it over yet?”
“Almost,” Constantine said. “The final shock wave’s not here yet.” Suddenly, Mento’s empty helmet began to spark and then eventually explode harmlessly on the table before them.
Constantine stared up in the air and spoke as if someone above was there. “That’s it? No big explosion killing us all? After Newcastle, I’d have expected more.”
“That would be my doing,” Zatanna said. “I opened the apex and sent the final burst of our energy over Earth-Four.”
John Constantine could hardly say he was surprised. He knew the woman had incredible resolve. She was a strong, independent woman. She had survived so many years alone while searching for her father. He knew that she would now survive again now that Zatara was gone. That part saddened Constantine slightly. Zatanna was strong and thus would have no need for comforting from him. But in some ways that was part of the reason he loved her.
Sargon picked up on the Englishman’s melancholy look. “If you love someone, set them free,” he said quietly. Constantine winced at the statement.
Doctor Occult consulted his mystic amulet. “The mystical energy seems to have discharged itself. We can release each other’s hands now. The circle has served its purpose.”
The last of the magical enclave’s combined power burned into a dark, deserted canyon. The event went unseen by human eyes and therefore went unreported. But did that account for the opening of a sizable dimensional portal hidden in the canyon — a portal leading from Earth-One?
The portal vanished within seconds, but it existed long enough for a single person to pass through it into this world. Lady Quark hoped that she would be able to put the heartbreak of the destruction of her world of Earth-Six behind her as she began anew on this one.
Baron Winters entered the room. The dark-haired man stared about at the place with a disdainful eye. “Quite a racket you make, Constantine. Remind me to charge you more next time you wish to disrupt my home.”
John Constantine reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out his pack, and lit a cigarette. He had been dying for one of these for quite a while now. “Put it on my tab, Winters. We’ll settle up another time.”
“What about my helmet?” Mento cried, seeming even more unbalanced by his experiences in this room. “It’ll take me ages to rebuild the damn thing!”
“That gadget could have exploded on your head, you know,” Sargon reminded him. “Count yourself fortunate.”
Zatanna rose from the table and left the room. Their business here had ended, and the crisis had been averted. She no longer felt the need to sit about with these men. It was time to mourn the passing of her father.
Constantine let her go instead of running after her. She didn’t need that. Besides, Dayton was still going on about the helmet. “Steve, look at it this way — at least you’re alive.” A joke came to mind about Mento being fresh and full of life, but it seemed tasteless in the wake of Zatara’s death, and he kept it to himself.
“Fine!” Mento said, grabbing the remains of his equipment. Surprisingly, it was cool to the touch, and he began to consider that it might be salvageable after all. “I’ll just go home to my mansion and try to forget this whole thing ever happened!” And with that, he stormed out of the room.
Doctor Occult stood. “It is time for me to part as well. I have duties back on my own world, and I have no wish to further incur Shazam’s wrath by remaining here.” And with that, he made for the door. He gave Baron Winters a slight bow before exiting. That left only Sargon and John Constantine to help tidy things up on the material plane before departing as well. But Constantine’s student still had things to do.
The Swamp Thing awoke sometime later in confusion, and he asked the Phantom Stranger what had happened.
“Happened? Nothing has happened,” the Stranger said. “Everything has happened. Can’t you feel it? Everywhere things look the same, but the feeling… the feeling is different.”
“Yeah,” said Deadman, who was among the allies, “you’re right. Everything’s sharper, more distinct, like the air after a storm…”
“A storm that had been brewing since the universe was formed,” added the Phantom Stranger. “Perhaps the atmosphere had grown more charged and oppressive than we realized.”
“But the nature of good… the nature of evil… they have not changed?” questioned the Swamp Thing.
“Perhaps not… but I suspect a different light has been cast upon their relationship. In the heart of darkness, a flower blossoms, enriching the shadows with its promise of hope. In the fields of light, an adder coils, and the radiant tranquility is lent savor by its sinister presence. Right and wrong, black and white, good and evil. All my existence I have looked from one to the other, fully embracing neither one. Never before have I understood how much they depend upon each other.”