Kent Nelson was in a nightmare. “Inza, please don’t make me fight you!”
The shining goddess his wife had become looked at him with love and warmth, then reached out a radiant hand. “Oh, Kent, I know I’m doing the right thing. Why don’t you trust me?” Her touch was cold, so cold. With her other hand, she sent a small blast at the now-cracked-and-dull-looking helmet that was Nabu’s receptacle. Kent flinched as pain lanced through him. Inza’s eyes looked suddenly disturbed. “Hurt you? Didn’t want to do that. Let go of him, you immortal bastard!”
“You will hurt him… and yourself far more if I do, Inza Nelson.” Nabu’s echoing tone seemed to be all around them, to fill the air. “You are mad at me, and… I do deserve it.”
“Of course you do! Manipulating my husband, manipulating me! Well, I think it’s time you tasted a bit of that oh-so-holy Order power you toss around!” Lifting Kent into the air with a levitation spell, Inza’s aura of glory grew blinding.
Back in the part of his head that wasn’t in denial over this, Kent Nelson studied the makeup of his wife’s spell-weavings. They weren’t chaotic, but in a way even worse — it was Nabu’s Order magic in reverse. Anti-Fate that gentleman Inza called Barter had said. He felt his stomach lurch as a tearing sensation started, leaving him feeling diminished. Inza grew in size, and Nabu’s presence seemed to weaken in his mind. Gaps were starting.
“I won’t be manipulated by false sympathy,” Inza said. “I know a part of your mind now, Nabu, and I know you feel… feel… sad?” Inza choked at that last bit; her radiance seemed to flutter. Hell, the whole proximity around the tower seemed to flutter, as if reality had just hiccuped. Only Barter seemed unaffected, watching the whole sordid affair from a distance. Kent knew now that for all that both Inza and Nabu were both saying, one thing was true: the link of Nabu’s power, now somehow shared by all three, was being stretched and twisted as it blasted itself, growing and breaking up. This was very bad.
“Inza Nelson, if I truly was uncaring of you and your husband, I would never have come onto this plane of existence in the first place. I know your anger is great, but I must tell you that this will lead to disaster. You are killing me… and Kent… and yourself.”
“You lie. You’re only sad because the Lords of Order will have to find someone else to play hero games with. I could have had a real family, Nabu! I could have had a life. Let your cursed power die now. And, Kent, I’m doing this for us.”
“You’re doing th-this because you’ve been hurt for t-too long, Inza — lonely because of what my career as Fate d-did to your… to our l-life. Don’t do this. The p-power’s all wrong, can’t you feel it?” Tears were streaming out of Kent’s eyes as he said this. Nabu was telling him something inside his head — an apology?
I blame myself, Nelson. The Lords… I wanted Fate to be totally controlled. I thought I could win Kali Yuga if I had my hosts underneath me. You and Inza were destined to be Fate. As the years went by, I saw the strain I was causing, but Lords of Order are set in our ways, and my refusal to withdraw had already branded me as a rebel. And I had no one to turn to but my mission. And now I will pay, and we will perish, and this whole world will suffer if your wife cannot be stopped in her rage.
Can’t you summon the other Lords to help? Don’t any of them still care?
The only Lord who was as unorthodox as I was Terataya, and she was banished long ago. The Lords of Order are the cause of this thing. I perceive from the fate of this Barter that he was hired by them to destroy me.
We need time to reason with her, time we don’t have. Kent’s thought was cut off as he felt that wrenching feeling again. Inza seemed to be larger than the tower now. She outshone the sun and was in pain.
“Stop fighting me, Nabu. So sad, why are you so blasted sad. Oh, Kent, I didn’t mean to… to — AAAH! It hurts, it hur–” She flung out her immense arms, and all trees and grass in the vicinity of the tower turned to ash. The very ground turned, twitched, and dissolved. The sky behind the tower flashed odd colors as it traveled through countless dimensions, uncontrollably.
In the fifth-dimensional land of Zrfff, an imp munched on popcorn as he watched the proceedings. “Gotta admit — one heckuva show!”
Barter stood serenely a distance away, certain now of the battle’s conclusion.
“When the full force of Kali Yuga hits this world, I am sure to gain many customers. It’ll more than make up for the lost business caused by the multiversal barrier block. Life is so pleasant when my deals go well. The Lords of Order will be rid of their most notorious radical and stop meddling in this plane altogether, no doubt, and Kent and Inza will be united without Fate at last, just not in mortal life. A real win-win scenario, ‘cept for Nabu. Ah, well, no deal is perfect.”
Satisfied as to how the affair would conclude, Barter got the key to his shop ready for his imminent departure.
Inza, now blinded by her own radiance, clutched wildly around her. She grabbed Kent, grabbed what was left of Nabu. Cold, sickly light poured out from her grasp into both. The wrenching feeling was all Kent felt now. Inza’s grip seemed to be at one moment as adamant as iron, then as insubstantial as mist. Nabu’s presence was failing, almost melting, growing diffuse.
“Aaarrrgghhh! Make it end! End it all!” Inza screamed as the light blew everything into particles going in and out. Kent was losing consciousness.
He gathered what will and magic he could still control. To his dread, it was no more than a whisper, but he’d have to make it count.
“Jim! Alan! Anyone! Save us! Uhh…”
Jared Stevens, the newly empowered champion known as the Scarab, was flying in the sky toward the hidden land of the bird people of Feithera. (*) He was quickly gaining confidence in the business of flying, for his initial unease that one could get lost in the Earth’s vast sky proved groundless. He just seemed to know where to go.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Showcase: The Book of the Scarab.]
“I wonder how those who don’t have special senses handle it?” He was not long into pondering this thought when the mystic blue scarab that now was a part of him filled him with a sense to wait. Startled, he paused. A strange pull could be felt in the air, as well as an urgent notion that he should follow that pull. He changed direction but didn’t have far to fly. Suddenly, all around him was light — light that seemed to avoid his immediate presence, but the same couldn’t be said for the landscape.
A tower appeared on the desert sands, and where it set down, the sands seemed to burst and turn. How odd. He could see the explosion as if it was in slow motion, and this was like no explosion he’d seen in slow motion recorded on cameras. The strangest part was that the way each particle of sand moved seemed to be orderly. That was nothing compared to the impact of seeing a woman the size of a giant weeping glistening tears as she gripped a man wearing a costume — one Jared recognized.
“Doctor Fate, without his helmet, being attacked. This can’t be a good thing!” Jared muttered. “Time to see if the Scarab can lend a hand to the world’s greatest sorcerer.”
A hand clamped down on Jared’s shoulder. Jared really didn’t want to turn around. He sighed. It was shock after shock today. He turned around to see a heavyset man in a suit glaring at him, a bearded face that seemed very irritated.
“I would advise you leave now, sir,” the gentleman said. “Marriage spats are not for the eyes of the public. Call me a traditionalist.” With that, the gentleman pulled out a gem and pointed it at Jared. It flared. Then, as his hand blistered, the man said a word that definitely was not magical. “Just who the devil are you?!”
“Call me the Scarab,” Jared said smirking and got ready to clock one to this obvious mystic baddie of some sort. Magic immunity was a wonderful thing. Before his fist could connect with the man’s jaw, he was tossed back. He felt like a magnet that had been turned against another of a same charge. “The hell?”
“It would seem we have something in common… Scarab, was it?” The fat gentleman pulled out a cigar and lit it, seemingly now at peace with Jared and unconcerned with the increasing surges of power behind him. “My name’s Barter, and it’s a pleasure to meet a fellow being who is a member of a rather exclusive club.”
Jared thought that this sort of thing was usually an epic battle, not small-talk. What was he getting into? The Scarab on his body pulsed.
“We share a magical immunity, I see. Ah, the blue scarab. Interesting…”
The mighty Scarab and the well-manicured gentleman known only as Barter stood on the sands of a desert. Behind them, the strange, slow-motion crucible of Order magic turned against itself continued unabated. Scarab was gritting his teeth with exertion as he sought to dispel the strange barrier Barter had erected around them all. Barter looked very unhappy, flinching with the effort.
Barter gazed deep into Jared’s eyes, as if trying to reason with a very slow person.
“I’ve told you several times now this isn’t your affair to meddle with, little avatar of a beetle god.” Barter sneered. Deep inside he grew worried; if his barrier failed, it might attract more unwanted attention — that of Kent Nelson’s allies. The Green Lantern was easily enough blocked by wood, but Barter was in no hurry to test his ancient geas against one such as Jim Corrigan served.
“All I see is some sick old man trying to murder a hero!” The Scarab tattoo over Jared’s eye seemed to gleam with power as Jared redoubled his efforts. Barter was genuinely surprised.
“Murder?! A-ha… a-hoo… a-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” Barter’s guffaws seemed to echo for a good while.
“You are new at the magic game, aren’t you? I’m carrying out a sentence. Doctor Fate’s own — call them his people, I suppose — have judged him, and they dealt with me to be the tool of bringing about that justice. I am in the right, fool!” Barter advanced on the Scarab now, and Jared stepped back involuntarily. “Oh, why don’t I explain the easy way. Fate has failed. He’s carrying out a mission with no meaning. What does the normal world care about Chaos and Order’s petty cosmic battle? It means nothing. Let me do my duty — now!”
He lunged. It was a incongruous sight — a businessman and a trenchcoated mystic grappling like kids in a playground fight, not using magic, just their own fist and weight. Above it all stood a man in a purple robe, a book chained to his hand, who flipped the pages.
The robed man turned. Behind him stood a young woman, paler than the palest white.
Inza Nelson was in a nightmare. She kept trying to tear Nabu apart, but it wasn’t working. Her mind was playing tricks on her. Every time she thought she had torn the blasted helmet apart, she saw Kent’s face being torn instead — or was it her own? Nabu was weeping, she was weeping; the world deserved her and Kent — or did they deserve Nabu? Inza was in a nightmare. She wished she could wake up. Maybe Barter could help.
“Barter, come here.”
Barter was with her, along with a man in a trenchcoat.
“Can you help me, Barter? I think I n-need help.”
“Blast you!” screamed Barter, losing his composure. “Blast the spell that keeps me from being attacked, but not summoned!” Barter was not being very helpful. Suddenly, she noticed Kent sending his thoughts to her.
He doesn’t want to help you, Inza — he never did. He wants to kill us. I don’t blame you for hating Nabu, but I love you. I’ve always loved you. And I want you to trust me. This is wrong.
Inza pondered that for so very long, it seemed. She felt Kent’s love, deeper than ever before. He was in her mind, her heart; she wanted more of that. It was almost like they were one.
“No!” screamed Barter.
Yes, said Nabu, rejoicing.
“This may be a bad time, but I just destroyed your barrier, Barter,” said Scarab, smirking.
“It is time,” said Destiny.
Nabu’s helmet took in all of the angry, sad glint that the Anti-Fate had spewed, and out came a golden, shimmering glow. Kent and Inza were embracing. And suddenly, the two were one, as if it always was so. Fate was, and it was good. Jared got great satisfaction from stomping the crud out of Barter when the guy tried to fight.
I am glad for you, my friends. But I cannot remain with you. The joy of the new being called Fate turned to surprise. The effort of this joining, after the battle, was too great. I leave you, but I must… give you a gift.
Fate was swept up as the knowledge and experience of an immortal Lord of Order filled up her/his being, and suddenly, for an instant, he/she could see the future — the fate.
Fate saw Kali Yuga, but it was not what the Lords of either principle had supposed. That vision faded before it could be understood. Fate saw a large dragon tenderly caressing a topaz amulet as if it were a loved one. Fate saw the multiverse flooded with energy left over by the Crisis that worked odd and perilous doings on the worlds. Fate felt a coming attempt to alter the future, but that too came and went quickly.
With sadness, Nabu left Fate, no longer able to stay on this plane, his essence poured into the newly joined being, or gone. He felt himself drift, but he was quickly caught. Oh…
“Hello, Nabu. It’s been… what, since the beginning of this universe?” Death smiled as she gathered Nabu’s intelligence to her. “Good job. I knew you could do it.”
Good job? But I’ve lost them. They will face the attempt to dissolve the universe without me.
“Which was their destiny all along. Ask my brother. And you are one of the few Lords who fulfilled yours,” Death said, smiling.
There was only questioning silence until Death spoke once more.
“The others forgot long ago that taking a stand against something that seems inevitable — that adapting and causing new things to occur instead of repeating old patterns — can be a part of Order, just as beauty and wonder can come from Chaos. It’s something both sides forgot. But in the end, you were willing to change.”
I… begin to understand. What happens to me now? Death is not natural to me — no offense.
“None taken. Let’s find out, shall we?”
Below, Barter was in a panic. His deal had gone sour.
“You!” he barked at the Scarab, his face going red. “You ruined my deal. You distracted me, allowed me to be summoned by that witch. Oh, gods.”
The sand beneath Barter’s feet began to churn, and arms reached up, pulling him down, down, down.
“This isn’t over, punk! Agh. Oh, my master, forgiveness! Please. I’ll come back, Scarab. I always do. Oh, gods!” Barter’s face disappeared beneath the sands.
The Scarab reached out his senses, but it was as if no disturbance had ever happened here. All seemed in order.