One minute they were bidding Mr. Roarke farewell, and the next, Brian Walker and Doctor Fate were standing on Nathan Road. Following the thoroughfare through Tsim Sha Tsui, the commercial center of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district, the two men proceeded, seemingly unnoticed by the general throng of people. Every few minutes, Brian would stop and allow himself to seek out the innate mystic energy that was attached to the slip of paper Roarke had given them.
“This way,” he said, pointing to a side street.
The streets became a veritable maze. Buildings, each indistinguishable from the one beside it, were a dull gray. Despite the uniformity, however, Brian continued unerringly toward their destination, befitting his nickname of Tracker. After several minutes of walking, the two men arrived outside the gates of a small school. A small gong and mallet hung beside the gate in a small alcove.
Brian took the mallet and tapped the gong; seconds later, a small door built into the gate swung open. The two men stepped inside and were greeted by a young man barely out of his teens.
“You are here to see Master Lao Jen?” he asked.
Fate nodded. “Yes.”
The young man led the guests up the stone walk to a large building. The outside walls were gray plaster, and the roof was covered in half-circle terracotta tiles the color of the setting sun. A long covered porch dominated the front of the building. Along the wall, oak shutters were open to allow as much of the sun as possible to filter in. The young man led them through an open door.
Inside, the two visitors found themselves in a large practice hall. Almost two dozen children, both boys and girls, ranging in ages from five up to eighteen, were lined up; each of them seemed to be frozen in place, some in what were apparently very uncomfortable positions. One of the children, a boy around the age of eleven, suddenly began to sway. From out of the shadows behind him, a small old man stepped with a switch and struck the uncooperative leg twice. The boy fell, but did not cry out.
“The strength in your legs grows much slower than your ability to control your emotions,” the old man told the boy. To the rest of the children, he said, “This exercise is finished. Pair off and begin sparring.”
He then turned his attention to his visitors. As he approached, he spoke to their guide. “Lead the students in their sparring while I speak with our guests.”
“Welcome to my school,” the man said. “I am Master Lao Jen.”
Both Brian and Doctor Fate were caught off-guard by the teacher’s appearance, although Fate’s helmet made concealing his surprise a lot easier.
Master Lao Jen stood right at five feet tall. He wore his long, white hair in a braid that fell down his back to his waist. His build was mostly concealed beneath a loose pair of white trousers and a green sweatshirt that bore the phrase Party like it is the end of the Year of the Rabbit. Black slippers and a pair of mirrored, octagonal sunglasses completed his outfit.
“Thank you for taking time to see us,” Doctor Fate said.
The teacher merely gave a slight nod of the head in response. “Would you care to join me in a cup of tea?” he asked.
“We would like that,” Brian replied.
Master Lao Jen led them across the practice hall and through a door. The three men walked down a long, narrow hallway. Along the walls were curtained openings that were where the students slept. At the end of the hall, they arrived at another door. The old man pushed open the door and stepped into the school’s dining quarters.
A short, slightly overweight woman quietly rushed around preparing the evening meal. At the appearance of her master, she retrieved a small kettle from where it hung over the fire — without the aid of a potholder. Brian noticed and approached a low table. As the men seated themselves on low stools, she poured three cups of tea.
“You come seeking knowledge concerning the mirrors,” the man said to his guests.
Doctor Fate removed his helmet and took a sip of tea. “I take it that Mr. Roarke has contacted you?”
Lao Jen smiled. “I sensed the calamity. Even though our mission is generally of little consequence to this world’s master wizards, I knew that such an occurrence would soon draw your attention.”
“We have reasons to believe that our friends are in danger,” Brian said. “The damage at Mr. Roarke’s had made it impossible for us to reach them. We were hoping that you could help.”
The man looked at the detective. For a brief second, Brian thought he saw something reflected in the master’s glasses.
“I can provide you with passage through the mirrors, if it is your intent to seek your friends.”
“It is,” Doctor Fate assured Master Lao Jen.
“You must know this, then,” the master said. “Although our roles are essentially the same, each of the guardians access different worlds beyond the mirrors, and for different reasons.
“My role has been to track down demons and return them to the hells that spawned them.” He glanced at Brian. “You noticed the reflections in my glasses. Your eyes did not deceive you. What you saw was, indeed, demons that I have trapped. Few demons suspect that the glasses of a blind man are actually the portal to their private hell. Rather than send them back to their places of origin, they are trapped right here.” He tapped his glasses. “And I draw upon their power to retain my sight.”
“If you only access Hell,” Brian asked, “then how can you send us to find our friends?”
Master Lao Jen shook his head. “You listen, you hear, but you do not understand. I said ‘hells,’ not ‘Hell.’ You must journey through the underworld to seek your friends.”
“Once we enter the underworld,” Doctor Fate asked, “how will we find our friends?”
“You must find the Repentant One,” the master said. “He will open the portal you seek.”
“Then perhaps we should be on our way,” Fate said.
“And let good tea go to waste?” Lao Jen asked. “Trust me when I say that a few more minutes will not make a difference.”
This whole situation was starting to make Brian nervous. True, he was traveling with Doctor Fate, one of the most powerful members of the Justice Society, but he still couldn’t shake the doubt that things were still going very wrong.
“Tell me, Professor,” Doctor Occult said, “what gives you the ability to travel through the mirrors?”
“I originally used a device to produce Z-rays, which allowed me to use mirrors as portals to this world,” explained Professor Van Ish. Over the years, exposure to the rays has brought about a mutation that now allows me to open the portals without them.”
“But for some reason, you weren’t able to return to your own world,” Occult added.
“And you say that this Morgauth appeared shortly after you became trapped in this dimension.”
“Yes,” the professor replied.
“Somehow,” Richard said, “Morgauth did not remain in his original dimension after the Crisis. When this dimension and the one originally attached to our world switched places, this monster managed to remain where he was and let the new dimension form around him.”
“Or,” T.J. Dalton suggested, “it could have been somewhere else and just returned here afterwards.”
Doctor Occult looked at his young friend. “That is also possible.”
“And when it sensed me accessing a mirror passage to your earth,” Van Ish added, “it was drawn here. Of course, I should have realized that.”
“Obviously, we can’t permit it to be turned loose on Earth,” Lazarus Lane said, firing another successful shot at the monster.
“And we can’t leave it here, either,” Kelli Lockhart said.
“Professor,” Richard said, returning his attention to Van Ish. “Can you open a mirror to any other dimensions besides Earth?”
“Theoretically, it is possible,” the professor said. “Do you have somewhere particular in mind?”
“Not yet,” Richard confessed. “However, I do have an idea. If we can find a suitable place, I might be able to use my magic to make it appear to be Earth.”
“And then we can lure Morgauth into that dimension, where it can’t cause any harm,” Kelli said, realizing where Occult was going with his plan.
“How will we know which dimension to send it into?” T.J. asked.
“If the professor can travel through the mirror,” Doctor Occult said, “then I’m betting he has the ability to see what’s on the other side before he makes the trip.”
“I am certainly willing to try,” Van Ish said.
Brian and Doctor Fate stood in front of a large octagonal mirror. Lao Jen had asked them to wait there until he returned. As he stared into the mirror, Brian’s own mystical abilities, as minor as they were, were allowing him fleeting glimpses into the world beyond. What he saw didn’t make him feel any better about the journey.
“Here you go,” said the reflection of the old master.
Brian turned around as Lao Jen handed Fate a basket. The basket was about two feet tall, but only about eight inches deep from front to back. Leather shoulder straps were attached to it so that it could be worn like a backpack.
“You will need this on your journey through the underworld,” Lao Jen told them. “It contains a couple million in Hell notes.”
“Hell notes?” Brian asked, as he accepted the basket from Fate and put it on.
“It is the money of the underworld,” Lao Jen explained. “Almost everyone in the underworld can be bribed. With some, all you need is clever words, but most will prefer the notes.”
“What about the Repentant One?” Doctor Fate asked. “Will he require bribing?”
“No, he won’t,” the old man said. “And if you are fortunate enough to meet Kao Chien-Li, know that he, too, will aid you without requiring recompense.”
“Thank you for your assistance,” Doctor Fate said, bowing to Lao Jen.
“And for the tea,” Brian added, also bowing.
“Perhaps there is hope for the West, after all,” Lao Jen said with a grin. “Now, if you are ready, step through the mirror.”
Instantly, the two men were standing on a cut stone path just outside an archway. Stretching out infinitely on either side of the opening, a great stone wall towered twenty feet into the unnatural gray sky.
“Move along, travelers,” a guttural voice said.
They turned and saw a suit of empty obsidian armor pointing toward the arch with a silver-tipped spear. Doctor Fate nodded, and the two men entered what they quickly discovered to be a labyrinth. When they looked back, the opening was already gone.
Doctor Fate looked at the three possible directions they could take, shrugged, and then started up the middle path. He stopped and looked back when he realized that Brian wasn’t beside him. The detective had his eyes closed and was holding the sides of his head.
“Are you OK?” Fate asked as he returned to the man’s side.
“I’m just trying to focus,” Brian replied. “If I can sort through the negative energy this place has, I might be able to find the shortest path to the Repentant One. Surely a being of good would stick out like a sore thumb in Hell.”
“Good thinking,” Fate said. Rex had told him about the detective during his short time with Doctor Occult’s new team after their first mission together. (*) He had seemed impressed by what he had seen and heard.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Doctor Occult and the Seven: Forgotten Legacies.]
“Well, that’s a surprise,” Brian said.
“I’ve found three bright spots in this dismal place,” the detective said.
“Then lead on,” Fate told him. “After all, you’re the one they call Tracker, not me.”
“This way,” Brian replied. He started off down the path to the left.
It didn’t take long for the two men to realize what Lao Jen meant when he said that a few minutes wouldn’t matter. Thanks to their mystical affinities, they both could sense that time here was completely different than what it was on Earth.
They had only been walking for about an hour, as they judged time, when Brian put his hand on Fate’s shoulder. “Wait a second.”
“Have you lost the trail?” Fate asked.
“No,” Brian assured him. “I am sensing a large build-up of negative energy two, maybe three, turns ahead of us.”
“Let me take the lead,” Doctor Fate said as he stepped past his companion.
Sure enough, after three turns on the path they must take, the two travelers found themselves facing six bandits. To both men, those who blocked their way seemed to be little more than undernourished demons in Chinese peasant rags.
“Begone from our path,” Doctor Fate told them, his voice projecting more authority than what Brian had heard since he had been in the man’s company.
“Not until you return what you have taken from the treasury,” one of the demons hissed.
“We have taken nothing, demon,” Fate replied. “Let us pass.”
“We could try bribing them,” Brian suggested.
“Bah,” Fate said. “These malcontents would demand much more than they could ever be worth.”
“Give us the amulet you wear,” one of the demons said, “and we won’t flay the flesh from your bones.”
“Flay this,” Doctor Fate said, flinging hands out to his side. The space between his palms began to fill with arcane energy.
The demons realized, too late, that what they faced was more than just a wayward wraith.
“I said begone.”
The power of Order’s magic seared away the layers of the demons’ existences before Brian realized what was happening. When at last he spoke, it was in an awed whisper.
“When you say ‘begone,’ you really mean begone.”
Doctor Fate looked at Brian, and somehow the detective knew that there was a grin beneath the helmet.
“Let’s continue,” Fate said, “shall we?”
Brian returned the smile and nodded. “Let’s,” was all he said.
“We’ve been at this for over an hour,” T.J. said. “Are we any closer to finding someplace where we can send this monster?”
“For years,” Professor Van Ish said, “I have used my powers to steal. During all that time, before this Crisis event occurred, I never took an innocent life. That’s one thing I tried to avoid. On my world, most of us held life in high regards. That is why, now, I will not willing send Morgauth to a world where innocents run the risk of being killed.”
“I understand that,” T.J. replied, “but it doesn’t answer my question.”
“No,” Richard said, “we’re not.”
The young man started to say something, when he felt a touch on his arm. He glanced over and saw that Kelli had come up beside him. She kept her hand on his forearm.
“Lazarus said that Morgauth seems to have decided to back off for the moment,” the girl said. “Apparently, he has done enough damage to the creature to make it think twice about continuing its attack.”
“Good,” Richard said. “That should…”
“I think I found a place,” the professor said.
The others gathered around the full-length mirror that Van Ish was peering into.
“I haven’t seen anyone, or anything, moving around so far,” he said, “but I’d still like to be sure before we send Morgauth through.”
“I agree,” Occult said.
“If you want,” T.J. offered, “I can go through first and scout around.”
Doctor Occult held up a finger. “Hold that thought. Professor, what can you tell us about this dimension you’ve found?”
“The air is breathable, and the gravity is very similar to here.” He looked at Richard. “Basically, it is habitable.”
“That’s good enough for me,” T.J. said.
Everyone turned to see Robbie the Robotdog enter the room.
“I’d like to accompany the boy,” the robotic dog said. “After all the time I’ve been cooped up in that dungeon, I definitely need some wide open spaces.”
“All right,” Richard said. “Professor, where can we get some supplies for these two?”
Van Ish glanced over at the guard next to the door, an eight of diamonds, and motioned it over. “Take this young man to the kitchens, and tell the cook to prepare him some victuals for his journey.”
“I’ll come, too,” Kelli said, following T.J. and the eight of diamonds out the door.
As the trio walked through the halls toward the kitchen, the playing card offered a few words of advice. “When we get to the kitchen, you must not take anything until the cook offers it. Also, don’t touch anything unless the cook tells you to.” Less than a minute later, they were entering the kitchen.
“The master wishes for you to prepare enough food for this one for a journey,” the eight said.
The cook turned to face the invaders of its territory. Kelli and T.J. were surprised to find themselves face to face with a large, almost cartoony, purple octopus. So surprised, in fact, that both of their mouths hung open wide.
“Oh, yes,” the eight said, as it turned back to face them, “there’s one more thing.”
“And that would be what?” T.J. asked.