Doctor Fate surveyed the spread of the universe. The galaxies, with their multitude of stars and matter, spread out in a seemingly endless pattern on the fabric of space-time. The pattern resembled fans of bubbles — a peculiar thing for something so grand to resemble, mused Kent Nelson, while Nabu, the other part of Fate — one vastly older — formulated which spell he should use.
“Of course, we have made this into something more comprehensible to our perception,” Nabu intoned. “The reality of the universal order is something hard to convey.”
That said, Kent/Nabu stopped admiring the view and began to summon the forces of Order, hoping to reveal the strange block that prevented travel or even viewing this universe’s siblings, vibrating at just so different a rate.
Fate gestured and appeared on the plane of reality where Olympus resided, hoping the more powerful forces of magic would aid the spell.
Limbo, with its lost souls and freedom from physical limitations.
The shimmering Realms of Order, where thought defined reality and the Lords of Order not only understood universal law, they defined universal law. Nabu’s power was nearly supreme here.
Well, this approach is fruitless. Nabu, maybe the problem isn’t the vibrational border — maybe it’s the universes themselves! Who knows what changes the Crisis wrought in their nature?
We will know, soon enough. Your human nature of query and changing assumption serve us well, Nabu thought decisively. We will journey to a place where such changes may be perceived.
There was a wrench of feeling as the straight angles and hard radiance of order gave way to angles that made no sense at all. All sides seemed to be present at once, and time seemed to be absent. Fate was in the fifth dimension, a place not favored, due to the chaotic nature of its inhabitants.
“Well, well, well, a Lord of Order. Your type isn’t common here. Interesting.” A ridiculous-looking, impish bald man wearing a derby smirked at the Doctor.
“Mxyztplk, I have nothing to do with you,” Fate said in a warning tone.
“Oh, sob, I know,” heaved the little man. “You don’t write, you don’t call… I wrote a letter to that Abby chick about it — she cried!” The imp snickered. “You give me good openings like that, and I might switch from ol’ big blue to you, Fate!”
“I have no use for pranksters. Begone!”
“Prankster?! That was the other guy. You think I don’t know what yer up to, Fate? You Lords of Order are so smug — you don’t know what real power is. You want to observe a change in the universe? Here’s one to warm up on!” The imp snapped his fingers. “Witness the star called Lifegiver by the inhabitants of the single world it inhabits. They look kinda like blue jellyfish, but they write good poetry. Now watch as the temperature of the star is risen, oh, let’s say a thousand degrees.”
Doctor Fate flinched as he time compressed, and he saw billions of living, feeling beings perish in agony.
We have to save them! Kent thought in near hysteria.
We will. Powers, join my will, save the innoce–
Fate froze. The star and world were normal. The unnatural time compression had never happened. Mxyztplk grinned at him. “What do you say you leave now, Fate, before I get the urge to put you in your place again. If you want to understand this new status quo, stop relying on yer vaunted might and perception, ’cause in some cases yer order don’t mean a fig!”
The imp turned his gaze to the three-dimensional world, munching on a Fig Newton that had materialized.
Silently, Doctor Fate left.
Well, that was out of character from him. And what is he hiding that would drive him to those lengths?
We will find out. We must.
Kent’s consciousness felt cold as he realized Fate was trembling.
“The fact of the matter is, Mrs. Nelson, not only can I give you the life you want, but I can reveal to you the reason the life you currently have is, shall we say, not pleasing to you.”
“And assuming you even have the information and power you claim, what is this price you mention? I’ve been around magical types for years, and the prices they demand usually aren’t worth paying!”
“To be sure, the nature of my being, my dear, is that I cannot give information, aid, or power of any kind without a trade involved. If I gave anything freely, the results would be… distasteful.”
“One of those ancient geas bits, huh?”
“What would you ask for? If it’s anything that is important to my husband’s mission, my ankh talisman will make you wish you’d never come into this tower.”
“It is my hope that you won’t find it needful, more for your sake, though. My first price is… your permission to tell you certain truths — your leave to do so.”
“Truths?” She sighed again. “You have my leave… for the moment.”
“Surely you must wonder why you chose Kent Nelson as your husband.”
“What kind of question is that?!”
“You knew what he was soon after you met him — Nabu’s mortal host, the vessel of a Lord of Order. You knew what his life was. You even traveled with him on his dangerous missions — the lover and eventual wife of Doctor Fate, as Nabu styled his new form. Even though such a life has made you miserable, you couldn’t seem to leave him.”
“I love Kent. It’s what gives me strength to deal with Nabu.”
“But love — even love, no matter how strong — can be battered, can be hurt. Your link to Kent Nelson goes deeper than that.”
“I — I sense you — you’re right. But what does that mean? It makes no sense!”
“It makes perfect sense. You stay with Fate because you are part of his power!”
She gaped in disbelieving silence.
“Oh, yes. Nabu never let you or Kent in on that little gem of knowledge, did he? Fate’s power and mission was meant for both of you, and the mystic pull of that calling has kept you linked, even with Nabu’s half-truths keeping you from realizing your true destiny!”
“You — you lie! Nabu isn’t someone I love, but he’s a hero, a Lord of Order. He’s… he’s… a liar.” Her voice choked up as she sobbed, “A liar. All these years… why?”
“Control. The being does not want to merely guide Fate, he wants to control Fate.”
A few moments passed in silence as Inza fought with her thoughts. As much as she hated to admit it, this all made perfect sense. It explained why she’d always felt that there was something fundamentally wrong about the life she and Kent were forced to share with Nabu.
“Are you interested in my deal, Mrs. Nelson?”
A crackle of mystic energy, and Doctor Fate materialized in Fate’s Tower. He had been gone longer than he had planned. After leaving the fifth dimension, he had met with the Spectre, and the two had combined their mystic might with that of Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt to pierce the barrier to Earth-One, but even that had not been enough. (*) Still, it had put the mind of both Kent Nelson and Nabu at ease, at least for the moment.
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: Crawling from the Wreckage, Book 1, Chapter 2: Rich With Hope.]
Thus they now returned to the tower. Kent wanted to spend some time making up for his long absence with Inza, while Nabu planned to puzzle over the motivations behind the encounter with Mr. Mxyztplk.
“Inza, I’m finally back!” Placing the helm on its pedestal, Kent looked around. “Inza?” He noticed a note by the pedestal.
It read, “Had to leave to run an errand. Love you. –Inza.”
“An errand?” Nelson’s pondering on what his wife could have gone out for did not last long.
Kent! Our tower — it has been violated!
The helm you used for a time years ago — the half-helm — is gone from its place.
“But the tower can’t be robbed. The only way to take one of your objects would be with your permission, from someone the wards didn’t shield against–” Kent broke off there, getting an intuition that sickened him.
Everything was a golden, translucent haze. Inza Nelson couldn’t tell which way was which. Every direction seemed to be merely away from her. But Barter had told her it would be this way at first. She concentrated, visualized, knew, and she was on a field covered with grass, a brilliant blue sky overhead.
“Not bad. Not bad at all,” said Barter, puffing on that cigar that never seemed to burn out. “Here in Fate’s amulet, everything is responsive to your thoughts and desires. Here you can begin to know your true power without Nabu meddling.”
“I wish Kent could know what I’m doing — that I’m doing it for us, for what we could have had if that cold-hearted immortal know-it-all hadn’t gone on a power trip!” As Inza said this, the air about her seemed to crackle with building force. She knew she could use this force if she wished. She smirked as she imagined blasting Nabu’s helmet to slag, then flying off with Kent — finally free. It was a pleasant fantasy, and soon she would make it a reality.
A stray thought occured to her. “You’re sure that Nabu won’t figure this out? He is nearly omniscient, and we’re right in his amulet.”
“I’ve arranged things so that he’ll be preoccupied. He’ll be looking everywhere for something important to him that’s gone missing, so that you can arrange what’s important to you.”
Inza pondered that. Barter had given her this chance to make her dreams come true, and he claimed that all the payment she would need to give him was to do this small task. She should have felt guilty, at least a little, since the cosmos would be without an agent of Order to defend it. So let the Lords find some other puppets to manipulate, she thought. And as for Barter, if he was lying, Kent and soon she herself would be more than enough to take him out.
“Someone’s about to cut those strings you love to pull, Nabu,” Inza said to her longtime protector-turned-betrayer. She perversely hoped he could sense that.