by JSAGL, Earth Elemental 99, and Martin Maenza
To the casual observer, it appeared to be nothing more than an ancient house in Georgetown, originating back to the earliest days of this country. Some said it was haunted, while others said it was cursed. Most locals knew to steer clear of it just the same. For this place was the residence of the mystic known as Baron Winters, and it served as a base of operations for his group, known collectively as the Night Force.
But the house had another peculiar trait to it as well. It was built upon a dimensional nexus, a gateway between worlds. In most recent times, it took on a special purpose, for the house appeared in the exact same spot on all five of the remaining Earths. And while it acted like a bridge between worlds, it also came with a limitation. When a person left the dwelling, they returned back to the Earth from whence they entered. It was for this reason that John Constantine asked his fellow mystics to meet him there, for the threat coming could easily jeopardize more than one Earth.
Sargon the Sorcerer’s mood had changed by the time he and Constantine entered the old Gothic manor. “Again, I ask — why should I help you? During the Crisis, I stood before the dawn of time to aid humanity and preserve five Earths. Haven’t I done enough?”
John Constantine shook his head. The sorcerer was every bit as moody has he had heard. The guy flip-flopped his attitude at the drop of hat. He could use one of those bloody mood rings from the ’70s just to figure out which way Sargon was facing now. He hoped the mystic ruby that the man used wasn’t affecting his brain again as it had in the past. They needed all the help they could get.
“We’ve been over this,” the Englishman sighed. “We need someone mystically adept of your experience. You’ve noticed how the psychic atmosphere’s changed this last year — outbreaks of lycanthropy, vampirism, reanimation, you name it. The Brujeria did that as a prelude to the annihilation of everything good.”
Sargon scoffed. “Good? What do I care for good? In my life, I have embraced both good and evil, so my knowledge of both could be complete. Sargon the Sorcerer does not play favorites!”
“You’ll fit right at home here, then,” Constantine said as they crossed the hallway. “Neither does Baron Winters. But he offered us the use of his house without question.”
Sargon stroked his chin as if pondering something. “Winters did?” He glanced about the finely decorated structure with a keen eye. “Hmmm… I should like to see all of the interior of this fascinating house. He guards its secrets so jealously.”
“No time for that,” the Englishman cautioned. “We’ll be getting into some dangerous territory once things start happening.”
“Dangerous?” Sargon scoffed. “Please, young man. Don’t concern yourself on my account. I’ve been there many, many times and have been doing this type of thing since before you were in diapers.”
A man entered from the front foyer. “Is there a problem here? I heard raised voices all the way down the walk.” The newcomer wore a gold and blue costume. His long, wavy brown hair and beard were scraggly. He held something under his one arm.
“There’s nothing to worry about, Dayton,” John Constantine assured the arrival. “We’ve got it all planned out.”
Steve Dayton, known as Mento, shook his head. “Sure, Constantine. That’s what you said about the five Earth dimensions merging together into one whole universe a while back. You saw how long that lasted.”
Constantine lit a cigarette. The smell of that particular brand of cigarette filled the air. “OK, so I was wrong about that. It was a far-fetched, knee-jerk scenario, anyway. Five Earths. One Heaven. One Hell. That’s all you need to know to deal with this problem.”
“You’re a real hellblazer, aren’t you, Constantine?” Sargon commented. “They ought to produce a television series about you — John Constantine: Hellblazer.”
“Ha-bloody-ha,” Constantine said flatly.
Mento suddenly grabbed his temples and groaned slightly.
Sargon looked at him curiously. “Are you all right? You don’t look well.”
“I’m fine!” Mento snapped.
Constantine placed a hand on Steve Dayton’s shoulder. “Are you sure?” he asked, knowing how eccentric the fifth richest man in the world had become in recent years. And since the Crisis, he seemed to be following in Howard Hughes’ footsteps. The Englishman wouldn’t be surprised if Dayton next began to wear tissue boxes on his feet.
Mento paused, noticing the watchful eye of Sargon. He then leaned in closer and dropped his voice to a whisper. “My mind, John. I… I don’t know if I can take this kind of pressure.”
Constantine tried to ease the mind of his old friend. “Relax. There’s no worry. Earth-One made it out of the Crisis intact. We can certainly make it out of this spot of trouble, too. You did bring the helmet like I requested?”
Mento nodded. “Yes,” he said, “of course. I don’t see why you need my helmet, though, with these various magic types about.” Noticing a dark-haired beauty enter the building dressed in a blue and white costume, he recognized her instantly as Zatanna, a member of the Justice League.
Constantine frowned at her arrival but kept talking to Dayton. “Magic isn’t everything. Believe me, your helmet is a major factor in our strategy.”
Zatanna walked coldly past the three men without saying a word, the only sound her heels clicking on the hard wood floors. She entered the study at the end of the hall, obviously familiar with the place.
Sargon waited for her to pass out of earshot. He then turned to Constantine. “I guess she marches to her own tune, eh, John? No wonder why you two never lasted long as a couple.”
The Englishman ignored the comment and turned back to Mento. “Come, Steve. Let’s do go on and test out your helmet.” The three headed for the study as well.
Before they could step three feet in the door, John Constantine felt a firm hand grab him by the right arm. “A word with you, Constantine!” said the usually calm and collected John Zatara. The trim older man dressed in a stage magician’s tuxedo with top hat was surprisingly strong for his build. He pulled the Englishman into the alcove of the room to speak with him in private.
“Zatara?” Constantine said. “I know what you’re about to say–”
John Zatara could barely contain his rage, and he roughly shoved the blond man to the floor. “Damn you, man! You promised me!”
Constantine attempted to keep his cool despite the situation. The last thing they need right now was a blow-up to send everyone packing. “Look, I’m sorry,” he started to apologize.
“You promised me that my daughter would be spared this!” the magician continued. “You said Tannarak or the Justice League would keep her too busy to be involved, yet there she is — in that room!”
Picking himself up off the floor, John Constantine straightened his jacket. He reached into the inside pocket and pulled out another cigarette. At this rate, he’d be through the pack in no time. He placed it in his mouth and lit the end. “I’m not too happy about that myself, guv’ner,” he said. “I… care about her, too, but you know how headstrong she can be. I didn’t exactly see you booting her out of the room, either.”
Zatara’s face barely contained his anger. “Rettahs!” Energy crackled as a bolt of pure magic released from his fingers, brought on by his reverse-spoken magic spell. It shot past Constantine and crumbled one of the statues in the corner. All that remained was a pile of dust.
Constantine was surprised by the near-hit attack. “God, Zatara!” he exclaimed. “Winters will have a fit if we go and trash the place!”
The magician scowled. “Winters will be the least of your problems!” He leaned in close, his eyes seething. “You gave me your word, Constantine, and you failed. If anything happens to my precious Zatanna this day, I will kill you myself! Of that, I hope you have no doubt. Niojer srehto!” In a flash of light, John Zatara vanished, returning to the gathering back in the study.
Constantine took a long drag on his cigarette and exhaled, blowing a smoke ring that turned into a pentagram. As he exited the alcove, a tune popped into his head. “King of Pain… I will always be King of Pain…”