Kent Nelson levitated toward the tower without doors. Time didn’t matter much to Kent Nelson, not usually. His days were usually so full of experiences beyond belief that he rarely cared to make special note of its passage. Lately, though, it was constantly on his mind. No matter how he tried, he could not find Inza. In fact, he was starting to suspect that Inza did not want to be found, which did nothing for his piece of mind. He and Nabu joined to become Doctor Fate daily and did the usual — fought evil demons invading through the Bermuda Triangle; kept the cult of Typhon, the Lord of Chaos, from gripping a small town in Texas; stripped a necromancer of his power; rooted out several vampire enclaves in Eastern Europe. It was depressingly routine.
During that time, Doctor Fate had also become involved in a less-than-routine war between Heaven and Hell, one that had involved not only the mystical heroes and villains of Earth-Two, but also Earth-One. Doctor Fate and the Spectre found themselves battling the demons of Hell itself, including Earth-One’s Etrigan the Demon, until the real threat appeared — the gigantic tip of an immensely huge hand made of pure darkness, apparently representing ultimate evil. Both Doctor Fate and the Spectre entered into it, only to be spat out moments later. It was only Earth-One’s Swamp Thing who managed to enter and freely leave.
Meanwhile, a group of mystics from both Earth-Two and Earth-One — including Doctor Occult, Zatara, and Sargon the Sorcerer — lent their support to Doctor Fate and the others, though there was no way to tell if it had done any good at all. The hand reached up toward an equally gigantic hand of pure light descending from Heaven, and the two hands embraced. The world was the same, yet it was also changed forever. (*) In the aftermath, he and the Spectre once again made an unsuccessful attempt to reach Earth-One, but it appeared that once it was over, all congress between the denizens of Earth-One and Earth-Two was also over. And Doctor Fate was left to puzzle over its implications.
[(*) Editor’s note: See John Constantine, Hellblazer: The War of Darkness and Light.]
But Kent felt so weary lately, even as Doctor Fate. He was starting to have suspicions about that. No — so… weak, he thought suddenly, beginning to panic.
Nelson! Your link with me is breaking! Hold on to it, hol–
The helmet of Nabu suddenly writhed like the living thing it was and fell off Kent’s head.
WHUMPH! Oh, heaven, it hurt — felt like his entire side hit the ground. What was going on?
Kent looked up toward the sound of a throat clearing, and he saw what looked for all the world to him like an Orson Welles look-alike.
“Not feeling so well, Mr. Nelson? No, don’t answer, I can see by the look on your harried brow. Poor man. But being lied to all your life so that Order can have a controllable slave does take its toll. Heh.”
“If you know anything about me, you know that I’m not one to get angry!” And with that, Kent cast a warding. Strands of golden filaments picked up the portly gentleman and tossed him a good ten yards away.
“Not, uh… not bad,” muttered the man. “You live up to your rep. Nabu found the right persons. Too bad he didn’t use both of you to your full potential.” As the man blathered on with that nonsense, Kent began to drag himself to Nabu’s helmet. He could feel the link tingling; it was almost remade.
“Ahhh… burning!” Had that fat idiot tried to counter-spell him? Kent raged as his hand blistered from a sudden blast. Turning around, he saw the fellow was still knocked on his seat, but smiling slightly at him. The man slowly made his pupils rise, as if saying, “Up there, guy.”
Kent glanced up, then gawked. Floating above him was a goddess.
“I’m sorry, love,” said the radiant figure. “I’m not about to let you join with that liar again!”
He sensed that the well-manicured Orson look-alike was now standing by him.
“Allow me to reintroduce you to someone you know well, Nelson,” the man said, sounding like a proud father. “Inza Nelson, though now you should call her the Anti-Fate, and you just know that a lady with a name like that has some scores to settle with your employer. Hope it doesn’t inconvenience your plans for today, but it’s all part of a deal, and my deals are always settled.”
The time was just after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, shortly before Barter’s appearance at Fate’s Tower.
Barter’s shop was a small-looking place, very cluttered. A sword inscribed with runes was stuck in a stone at one corner. Numerous masks, statues, and knickknacks in the shape of odd beings covered the shelves nearby. Barter himself was carefully opening a box packed with tissues. As he pulled the paper away, he uncovered a human face in the box. It opened its eyes and screamed. Smiling slightly, Barter gently lifted the face and placed it in a cabinet.
He then absently stroked a cat sleeping on the counter as he began to arrange a selection of charms in a display case. The door to his shop opened, and outside all was mist and light. A customer came in.
Barter glanced up and set the charm aside. He moved to the front counter.
“Good day to you, sir.”
“Do not exchange pleasantries. They mean nothing to such as we.”
“I see. Well, then, I know why you are here.”
“It’s the age of Kali Yuga. The recent Crisis may have distracted the powers from the coming withdrawal of Order and triumph of Chaos, but even that ended, and now a few… obstacles remain to your goals.”
“Obstacle?! No, just that fool, Nabu. He still clings to his mission, long after he should have given up. His attachment to the earthly sphere shows he has spent too long among men!”
“If you think that, then you are the fools.”
“You… Beware how you speak to us, mortal–“
“You can’t touch me, not unless you want to call down forces that were old before Chaos and Order were a glimmer in the eye of creation! Can it be that you still don’t realize just how important Earth is to how Kali Yuga will go? Humans are one of the few species in the entire cosmos with the ability to choose what they believe — to choose what they think and feel. That is why Earth is constantly the focus of so much conflict between opposing forces. Victory means something there. But you didn’t come here to debate philosophy.”
“No. We have a deal for you, salesman. Get Nabu out of the earthly plane for good, and we will give you information on those who will need your wares in the coming war.”
“Ah, now you are reaching me. To be given info from your level will truly be a goal I’d like fulfilled. Nabu is a wily one, though. I understand that I have a chance because he doesn’t know me and can’t destroy me, but how to keep him from knowing. If he lives up to his rep, he’ll be next to impossible to surprise.”
“He can be distracted… and hurt, through his mortal hosts.”
“Don’t you mean host?”
“No. Inza Nelson, the wife of the mortal Kent Nelson, also is his host. We can give you the details.”
“Interesting… most interesting. Already I get an idea. He must be distracted, though, for me to make my pitch to her. Perhaps I can call in that favor the fifth dimensional land of Zrfff owes me. They would be powerful enough to put a scare in the old immortal for a while. Heh.”
“But grudgingly? Ah, well. I suppose it’s to be expected that the Lords of Order would not like that kind of help. The fact that you’ve come to me to turn against your own shows just how desperate you are.”
“Nabu has gone mad! Kali Yuga is preordained. Order must cease, and Chaos must be allowed to reign ’til creation comes to our liking again!”
“Sure, sure. Nothing you hate more than someone who doesn’t follow the same program as everybody else. I’ll take the information now, please. You know the rules.”
Wordlessly, the shimmering presence of the Lord of Order placed a crystal upon the counter. Barter smiled a particularly smug grin as the Lord dematerialized. Barter picked up the crystal and stroked the cat again, contemplating its depths.
“So much to do, so little time.”
The cat purred while above Barter grinned contentedly.