From the journal of Lazarus Lane:
I, or rather, El Diablo, encountered the spirit of Wise Owl last night. Although it delayed my/his quest for eternal peace, El Diablo sacrificed the time to speak with him again.
The news the spirit carried was not good.
I have walked into this new century, this age of wonder, and marveled at the seemingly endless bounds of man’s scientific imagination. I see carriages without horses — or automobiles, as these contraptions are called — fill the streets, telegraphs are slowly giving way to telephones, and man has begun to join the birds in the air. While there is nothing wrong with these and other inventions in and of themselves, they seem to have allowed man to expand the boundaries of his own atrocities.
Wise Owl has told me/him of a coming evil, one with ramifications so horrendous that the entire world will be plunged into darkness.
“Oh, sorry Richard,” Detective Brian Walker said as he entered the office. “I didn’t figure anyone was here.”
Richard Occult looked up at the detective. “Come in, Brian. Have a seat.”
“The power’s off at my place, so I thought I would sleep here tonight,” Brian said.
Richard glanced over at the small couch. “You don’t plan on sleeping on that thing, do you?”
“Ah, no,” the younger man said, somewhat embarrassed. “Actually, I was going to sleep on the Torpedo. When Kelli did the refit, she made sure it had a decent sleeping area.”
The older man detected a hint of admiration in the detective’s voice, but said nothing. He was certain that T.J. Dalton also had designs on the young woman and hoped that neither of the two men did anything that jeopardized the unity of the group.
“So,” Brian said, “what are you doing here at this late hour?”
“I discovered this old journal in a new and used bookstore, and thought it might make for some interesting reading,” Richard told him. “I didn’t feel like going home, so I decided to come here.”
“And is it?”
“Most assuredly so,” Occult said. “Did you ever hear of the old west mystery-man known as El Diablo?”
Brian thought for a second. “I can’t honestly say that I have.”
“According to this, Lazarus Lane was struck by lightning and left unconscious for a couple of days. While he was out, an old Apache shaman called Wise Owl found him and used a variety of herbs to try to heal him. Something unexplainable occurred, and when Lazarus awoke, he found that his ‘soul had been split asunder.’ From that time forward, while the part of him that was Lazarus Lane slept, another persona, El Diablo, would take control and ride through the night, righting wrongs and delivering justice.”
“That does sound interesting,” the detective agreed. “Does it say how he died?”
Richard gave his friend a smile. “No, it doesn’t. An earlier entry mentions a mission to combat evil and not being able to achieve eternal rest until that mission is complete.”
Brian realized what Occult was getting at. “You mean to tell me that you think he’s still alive?”
The older man just cocked his head to one side and gave his friend a smile.
“And we’re going to see if we can find him,” the young man added.
From the journal of Lazarus Lane:
16 June 1914:
Had anyone told me that I would be travelling across Europe when I was younger, I would have thought they were touched. Yet here I am. Then again, I never would have believed I would quit aging in my early thirties, either.
I have been “on the continent,” as the Europeans are fond of saying, since 6 June and have been slowly making my way towards my destination. Although there is a language barrier, the people I have met have been kind; I have not gone without a hot meal or a dry bed since I landed.
27 June 1914:
I reached my destination last night. The city is crowded, even more so than I would imagine, considering tomorrow. I found myself sharing a room with three other gentlemen.
Sometime during the night I was awakened by the touch of a hand on my shoulder, although I am certain the whole thing was a dream. I found myself looking into the face of Wise Owl; he was not alone. This was the first time I had ever seen El Diablo while not in his persona. It was a bit disconcerting.
The shaman repeated his warning to me, and reminded me how it important it was that I succeed. El Diablo simply told me that I would not be alone.
I awoke this morning with the sense that El Diablo was close, like a bullfrog just below the surface of a pond, watching, waiting to leap forth in an instant. I was still in control, but there was a certain measure of confidence I drew from his presence.
28 June 1914:
I have failed.
I thought my mission was complete and lowered my guard. I should have realized that my previous actions had been direct enough to stop the attempt and remained vigilant. Now, I fear, the darkness that Wise Owl warned me about will surely come to pass.
Will this mistake prolong my time here? I am beginning to believe that I shall never complete my quest for eternal peace.
“What the…?” Brian said after listening to Richard read the passages from the book. “You mean this guy was trying to stop World War I?”
“Apparently so,” the older man replied.
The detective shook his head in disbelief. Had it not been for the fact that he recently discovered that he had certain abilities, and these abilities had brought him into direct conflict with a werewolf, he would have passed off what was written as the ramblings of an old man’s vivid imagination. (*) Slowly, his mind began to allow itself to accept the possibility of what he heard.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Doctor Occult and the Seven: Forgotten Legacies.]
“So,” he said, all thoughts of sleep now gone from his mind, “have you figured out where Mr. Lane is?”
“Not quite. I’m hoping the journal will give us a few more clues.”
Brian grinned. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just cast a spell or something?”
Doctor Occult returned his friend’s smile. “Now, surely, you recognize the need to do some things the old-fashioned way.”
The detective agreed. “Well, keep reading, then. Let’s see what else the man was involved with.”
From the journal of Lazarus Lane:
15 December 1917:
Surely this accursed war cannot continue much longer, or else the world shall find itself deplete of young men. I have seen tens of thousands of bodies since it began, and can hear each one of them crying out my failure to the heavens. So much blood has been shed from that day until this, and all of it is upon my hands.
I do not know when I last slept: I mean a night when he did not come forth, at all, and I remained abed until sun-up. During the days, I, though not a soldier, battle in the trenches alongside of young men who are here for no other reason than that their country called them. At night, El Diablo stalks the battlefield, his cloak billowing around him. To the American doughboys, he is an omen of good fortune, for they know they have no worries of ambush or surprise attack.
I have recently acquired the habit of carrying cigarettes with me. Although I don’t smoke, so many of the soldiers do. Something else I seem to have acquired, though I think more from his efforts than my own, is a gold cigarette lighter. There is a phrase engraved upon it in Latin that says Qui Vindicet Ibit — the Avenger Shall Come. The phrase haunts me.
20 December 1917:
Christmas is five days away, and it is snowing. If one were to close his eyes, he could, during a lull, almost picture a peaceful, snow-covered field. Unfortunately, there have been no lulls, and the stark reality is that the field is churned up and resembles little more than a mass grave waiting to be covered up. I am starting to think that even the snow is turning to mud, or blood, before it reaches the ground.
The fighting has been fiercer these past two days than since the start of the war. Early this morning I scrambled into a shell crater, where I discovered a doughboy doing his best to tie a bandage around his arm.
“Have you seen a corpsman?” I asked.
Since he had one end of the bandage held tightly in his teeth, the young man shifted his gaze to just behind where I had landed. I turned and saw the body. After seeing what was left of the man’s mangled face, I prayed that the first bullet had taken his life. I turned my attention back to the living, and helped the doughboy with his bandage.
“Thanks, friend,” he said once his mouth was empty. “Name’s Barker.”
“Lane,” I replied.
For the most part, first names were rarely used, especially by those of us who had lost friends to the enemy. It didn’t make the loss any more bearable, but at least we couldn’t put names to our ghosts.
That never stopped the men from occasionally opening up. I had never thought about how important it was for a man to talk about his family, but I guess that’s what kept most of the men sane in the midst of the carnage.
“I’ve got this little niece, Claudia, back home,” Barker told me. “She’s my brother’s kid. She’s only two, but, Lord, how that child cried the day I shipped out. They had to nearly pry her off of me when it came time to go. Lord knows I didn’t want to let her go.”
He looked away, and I saw him wipe a tear.
They say grown men don’t cry, but in war, everyone cries.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a cigarette, which he readily accepted. Barker patted his pockets before asking if I had a lighter. I smiled and handed him mine.
Then all hell broke loose.
25 December 1917:
I awoke to the sound of singing, and for just a brief moment, I thought the mortar shell had sent me, at last, to my final reward. I lay with my eyes still closed and listened a bit longer. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the song, “Silent Night,” was being sung in several different languages: English, French, German, and a couple more I wasn’t familiar with.
I opened my eyes and found myself looking up at a German doctor. “Am I a prisoner?” I asked.
I heard my question repeated in the man’s native language and turned my head slightly. A man dressed in the uniform of a British soldier smiled down at me, then took a drink of something in a tin cup.
“No, lad. Yuir still a free man,” he told me.
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do we, mon ami.”
“Then I shall explain it to you,” the ranking German officer said in English as he approached. He was accompanied by his counterparts from the British, American, and French forces.
“Officially,” the German said, “we are at a stalemate. Neither side can gain the advantage.” He smiled at his counterparts. “Unofficially, we have agreed upon a Christmas truce, much like the one that occurred three years ago. Every so often, you will hear gunfire; that is just part of the deception.”
“Tomorrow,” the British officer added, “we get back down to the business of making war on each other. For the rest of today, however, we enjoy the peace.”
“Has anyone seen Barker, the soldier in the crater with me?” I asked.
“When we found you, there was no one else alive,” an American told me. “We’ve already sent his personal belongings to his family.”
“He had my lighter,” was all I could say.
“Well, how about that?” Richard said, grinning.
“What?” Brian asked.
“I’ve seen Lazarus’ lighter before.”
Doctor Occult had a faraway look in his eyes as he told the detective about the lighter. “During my brief time with the All-Star Squadron, it was shown to me by a fellow mystery-man. Talk about prophetic.”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” Brian admitted.
“The hero that had the lighter, the one who told me that it was a part of his inspiration, was the Crimson Avenger.”