by Earth Elemental 99, Doc Quantum, and Martin Maenza, partially adapted from Swamp Thing #50 by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch, and John Totleben
John Constantine, like the others, felt the loss but did not have time to grieve. “Occult, the circle!” The trench-coated detective nodded, dived across the table, and took Zatanna’s free hand while still keeping the other holding Sargon the Sorcerer’s. It was uncomfortable, but he knew the circle needed to remain strong or else.
Mento’s mind was focused on the battlefield. A figure of white with a green cowl and cape appeared. “The Spectre! He’s in Hell, facing the thing. It’s too big. Too massive. Even for him.” Mento recalled how the Spectre was able to expand his size during the Crisis on Infinite Earths to speak to all the captive Earths at once. “Wait, he’s getting bigger.” And, in doing so, it allowed Mento to have a better understanding of the opponent they were battling.
“Is he fighting it?” Doctor Occult asked.
Mento nodded. “Yes! He’s fearless!” Indeed, the ghostly guardian used whatever means at his disposal to pound at the shadow beast. But even his efforts were not enough. Mento frowned. “Wait, I’ve lost him! He’s gone.”
“So much for that idea,” Sargon said.
The powerful and avenging archangel of God himself, the Spectre, had arrived and sought to best the darkness. He grew himself taller than a skyscraper and beyond, his head reaching into the clouds above. He became taller than Earth’s tallest mountain and was yet still smaller than the Darkness. After a momentary battle with the Primordial Shadow, he, too, was finally absorbed into the Darkness. It spoke to him as well:
“LITTLE THING… MY HUNGER FOR UNDERSTANDING GROWS LARGER AS MY PATIENCE DWINDLES. SHALL MY QUESTION BE ANSWERED, OR SHALL I SNUFF OUT THE LIGHT AND BE DONE WITH THE ANGUISH ITS PRESENCE CAUSES ME?”
“No! I forbid you, by the Voice that speaks in all things!” shouted the Spectre as he continued to try to fight the thing from within.
“IT DOES NOT SPEAK IN ME. IN ME, THERE IS ONLY THE HATEFUL NAGGING OF INSOLUBLE QUERY. TELL ME, LITTLE THING: WHAT IS EVIL FOR?”
The Spectre answered him defiantly: “Evil exists only to be avenged, so that others may see what ruin comes of opposing that great Voice and cleave more wholly to its will, fearing its retribution!”
“AND WHAT OF THE TORTURED EONS I ENDURED, UNABLE TO BROACH THIS MADDENING BRILLIANCE AND QUIET THE PAIN IT WOKE IN ME? DO THEY NOT DEMAND RETRIBUTION? LITTLE THING, YOU HAVE TAUGHT ME ONLY VENGEANCE… BE GONE, THAT I MIGHT SAVOR IT IN SOLITUDE.”
And the Spectre was spat out of the Darkness. He had been humbled as never before.
“I have him again!” Mento said, his view clearer thanks to an adjustment in the helmet. “Oh no! It’s dropped him. The Spectre’s failed! It’s beaten him! That was our last shot, and we blew it! The shock wave leaving him — it’ll burn away all of us!”
Constantine was still focused on the view of the Earths. “The apex is almost at Earth-S,” he announced.
“Almost isn’t good enough!” Mento cried. “The fire’s coming now!”
“Shut up, Dayton!” Constantine ordered. He turned to the woman in the room. “Now listen, Zatanna. We need to push the brunt of the blast upward into the apex, straight onto Earth-S. It’s bound to go on past us, if you can redirect it.”
“I don’t know,” she started to say.
“You can do it, missy!” Sargon the Sorcerer encouraged. “We’ll be there to back you up.”
“Yes!” Doctor Occult agreed.
Nodding, Zatanna closed her eyes and choked back all the sadness. This was what her father had always taught her to do. She couldn’t let his sacrifice be in vain. “OK. Here goes everything!” She began a backward incantation, so long and so fast that it was barely decipherable by those seated at the table.
The entire room burst into flames, the mystic fire dancing all about them, while the whole place had a weird, eerie green glow to it. But it was mystic fire, targeted and having a purpose. Baron Winters’ home would not face any damage from it — it was here for the occupants of this room alone.
Constantine gritted his teeth. Come on, girl! You can do it!
Suddenly, the fire swirled violently about them and then expelled itself. A burst shot through the cosmos and beyond where it consumed itself harmlessly.
Zatanna fell back in her chair. “Was that enough?” The others were cheering; she got her answer and smiled slightly. But the victory was bittersweet.
From his vantage point on the Rock of Eternity, Shazam watched the burst of mystic fire streak across the heavens. The bearded old wizard just shook his head silently. The fools! They actually managed to accomplish something despite my warnings.
He turned his attention back to the mystic barriers between worlds, ensuring they remained intact and strong.
The group had dodged another bullet, but the battle wasn’t over yet. “What about the Swamp Thing? What’s he doing?” Constantine asked.
Mento gasped. “You don’t understand. That thing has beaten the Spectre! The Swamp Thing can’t do anything against it!”
Constantine looked flustered. “Damn it, Dayton! This is what I prepared Swamp Thing for! This is why I told you I was so interested in him. To understand both the Crisis and this resulting aftershock from it!”
“Swamp Thing is just standing there alongside the Phantom Stranger,” Mento replied. Indeed, the muck-encrusted man-creature stood next to the mysterious one in the dark blue suit and flowing dark blue cape. “They are both gazing up at the shadow. They’re standing right in front of it. No way to escape. The Stranger is so uncertain. He’s turning away, afraid to look. But the Swamp Thing… he’s walking right into it! He’s gone… inside of it!”
Constantine breathed a sigh of relief. “Now we wait…”
“Wait for what?” Sargon asked. “For the shadow to spit him out, too? Wait for the energy we’ve just given Swamp Thing to come back here to fry us, because we’ve used up all our chances?”
Constantine smiled. “You’ll see.”