The darkly clad figure walked along the edge of the cliff, his scarf blowing gently in the wind. The brim of his black hat fluttered slightly, shading the cool eyes beneath its protection.
He had been asked to deal with a serious problem by the collective monitors of five Earths. It was something they felt that he was uniquely suited to undertake with some degree of success.
The Mysterious Traveler hoped he could do what was expected of him, not only for the man he was going to meet, but for his world.
A purple-haired man sat on a cliff where few men dared to go. He shook uncontrollably as the wind blew his tattered green cape around him. He looked up when his visitor’s shadow fell over him.
“Who are you?” the man demanded, his purplish gray hair stirred by the wind. He rose to his feet with what seemed to be considerable effort.
“I am known as the Mysterious Traveler,” said the visitor in black. “I have been asked to help you with your problems, Kell Mossa.”
“How do you know that name?” asked Pariah, desperation and lost hope dominating his face.
“We have never met,” replied the Traveler. “But I know your story, and I have been asked by the Monitors — they who watch over the last five Earths — to help you with your current problem.”
“What do you know about it?” demanded Pariah. “Why should I believe you?”
“What I say is true, Kell,” said the darkly garbed wanderer. “As I said, I have heard your tale, and I can help you if you choose to accept my help.”
“How?” said Pariah, still disturbed by the use of a name that this stranger shouldn’t know.
“Shall we walk?” the Traveler asked, gesturing back the way he had come. “I think that will keep the disruptions to a minimum.”
Pariah nodded, and fell in beside his new guide.
“Let me recount events as I understand them,” the Traveler said as they walked. “That will allow me to clarify your situation in my own mind.”
“Go ahead,” said the sole survivor of his universe. “I already know it well enough that another retelling won’t hurt the way it used to.”
“It is a terrible burden to have destroyed your universe, even when you later discovered that you were not responsible,” began the Mysterious Traveler, the wind blowing against his ascot and coat. “You were the most brilliant scientist of your Earth.” As the Traveler spoke, Pariah saw the past come to life around him, as if invoked by the memories he possessed.
“In your quest for knowledge, you had learned everything there was to know — except the answer to one question. What was the origin of the multiverse and the antimatter universe? You designed an antimatter chamber from which to observe the event, never dreaming of the events that would unfold next.
“As you studied, antimatter swept through your universe, destroying it, and trapping you in your chamber for millions of years, until the Monitor sent you forth to bear witness to the deaths of a thousand universes. You felt guilty as you watched first the destruction of your own universe, and then the many that followed. Each one was your fault, you knew in your heart, even if indirectly.
“Finally, with a mere five universes left in the multiverse, you became privy to the Monitor’s real plans to save what remained of the positive universes. You participated in an audacious attack in the antimatter universe against the Anti-Monitor, which led to the death of Supergirl, the Flash, and others.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Beyond the Silent Night,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (October, 1985) and “A Flash of the Lightning,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (November, 1985).]
“All of this is true,” said Pariah. “How do you know of it?”
“It is my duty to know,” said the Traveler. “The world breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the Crisis was over. Then the Villain War began. The heroes of the free Earths had to fight on this Earth and two others. You were drawn away during this conflict.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “War Zone,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 (December, 1985) and DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Villain War.]
Pariah shuddered at the memory. He had been pulled to the dawn of time itself and held prisoner by the Anti-Monitor in a scheme to make the anti-matter universe the supreme and only result of the big bang.
“Many heroes assisted the Spectre in the Anti-Monitor’s defeat. All that were at the dawn of time were returned with their memories to a single Earth. (*) That was when the Anti-Monitor launched his final assault, and was defeated by the heroes of the combined Earth. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Death at the Dawn of Time,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #10 (January, 1986) and “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]
“That very long day passed, and then the one Earth became five once again. (*) Your life became somewhat settled on Earth-One. You were glad to finally have something of a peaceful existence with people you could call friends after a lonely existence over countless millennia of watching Earth after Earth die. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See DC Universe: The Rock of Eternity, Chapter 1: The Gathering and “The Challenge of the Volt Lord,” DC Comics Presents #94 (June, 1986).]
“Then you were captured by the race known as the Dominators. Supposedly, they did experiments on you, altering your DNA. You believed yourself a radiator of entropy, bringing bad luck to those close around you. You decided to sacrifice yourself by boarding the mother ship. Your new ability caused the ship to explode, causing everyone but the wizard Shazam to believe you had died. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Captain Comet’s Rehab Squad: Strange Visitors.]
“Inexplicably finding yourself here on Earth-Four, you decided to remain after learning that another only survivor of her universe now lived here: Lady Quark, who had already found her way here last year through a quirk of fate. (*) But your guilt over being unable to save your friend’s family when you saved her has prevented you from reaching out to a possibly friend and ally who might help you deal with this new power you view as a curse. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See John Constantine, Hellblazer: The War of Darkness and Light, Chapter 5: Contact and “And Thus Shall the World Die,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July, 1985).]
“However, you are mistaken on one important count,” continued the Mysterious Traveler. “I’m afraid the Dominators did not cause your new power, after all. This was something you have always carried with you.”
“That can’t be true!” Pariah said. “I didn’t cause disasters with my presence before I was captured.”
“You are immortal and invulnerable,” said the Traveler. “You also teleport to where you are needed. The most important thing about you is the fact that you have been linked to the antimatter universe for a long time.”
Pariah paused, the mind he had used as his Earth’s greatest scientist rapidly considering the possibilities of this new information.
“You are saying that the Dominators did not change me because they could not in any fundamental way? All the trouble I have been having is because somehow I lost some kind of internal restraint because of what they tried to do? That it just served their purposes to try to use the enhancement to help their alien invasion? You have to be kidding.”
The Mysterious Traveler and Pariah regarded each other, thinking about what they had discussed. The Traveler seemed as cold as the wind, whistling through the mountains.
“Let’s say you are correct in your summation,” said Pariah, finally. “I admit that I did have some control over my wanderings between the Crisis and my capture. How do I get that back?”
“Training,” said the man in black. “All things need practice. This is nothing but the same.”
“Where shall we begin?” said the wanderer.
“We shall visit some places that might have need of your particular talents,” said the Traveler. “Shall we go?”
“After you,” said Pariah, gesturing with one hand.
As the two walked along, reality began to distort around them.
When the energy wave cleared, Pariah found himself walking in a dark forest. His companion stood at his side, his hands folded behind his cloak.
“Where are we?” Pariah asked.
“A divergent timeline, where fairy tales are the norm, and magic is plentiful,” said the man in black. “What happens next is up to you.”
“That’s a big help,” said the last survivor of his universe. A howl sounded in the distance, and Pariah frowned as he listened. “Was that a wolf?”
But the Traveler was already gone.
“I guess I’d better get on with my training,” Pariah said as he trudged forward, watching the shadows shift under the twisted trees.
As Pariah walked along, alert and wary, he wondered about the entire chain of events that had brought him to this point. Had he really allowed himself to become such a victim? It seemed hard to believe that he had been a pawn for one force or another for nearly the entirely of his very long existence. Now he wondered if he was a pawn again.
“Hey, mister,” said a voice from above. “Could you give me a hand? Please?”
Pariah looked up. A small boy was entrapped in some kind of net, hanging from the branches of trees standing close together. He was dressed in pajamas and slippers.
Frowning at the strange sight, Pariah allowed himself to take flight. But as he grabbed the sticky strands in his hands and pulled on them with all of his strength, he found that the net would not give.
“Please hurry, mister,” said the boy, looking over his shoulder. “Something’s coming!”
Pariah concentrated on the web. Some piece of entropy struck the web, severing it in several places. As the boy began to fall, the wanderer grabbed him by his shirt.
Then a man-sized spider appeared from the leafy branches. It chittered nastily at the two.
“Gonna have fly-guy stew,” the spider said squeakily.
Pariah and the little boy stepped back from the spider. The boy tugged on his arm, signaling him to flee from the thing. Pariah swung the boy up onto his shoulders, then felt a familiar tugging as his power began moving them elsewhere. They vanished a moment before the spider’s web could strike them.
“Damn, I missed!” the spider chastised itself with a snap of its finger-like projections at the end of one arm, then looked around to find that his prey was already. “Well, if that don’t beat all.”
“That was so cool!” the little boy said after they’d reappeared safely much farther down the path. “My name’s Danny. What’s yours?”
“It’s Pariah,” said Kell Mossa quietly. “How did you get into such trouble?”
“I’m following my friend, Kupkake,” said Danny. “Some ogres took her, and I’ve been trailing ’em ever since. Running into that spider was pretty bad luck, though. Lucky for me you came along when you did, mister!”
“Yes… lucky,” Kell said, though he wondered whether it had been just as lucky for him as well.
They went along the path slowly, watching for signs of the ogres’ passing. A feeling began to draw Pariah forward; recognizing it from his centuries of wandering, he welcomed it for the first time, and seized Danny’s hand. The pair vanished in a swirl of his tattered green cloak, then reappeared in the camp of the ogres.
“Smooth move!” Danny said, kicking one of the bestial humanoids in the shin.
Pariah grimaced, staring an ogre into catching itself on fire.
“I must admit, she’s not exactly what I expected,” Pariah said, sweeping a green-haired mermaid into his arms, then gathered Danny close again.
A moment later, they were gone.
Soon Pariah was watching as his new comrades Danny and Kupkake the mermaid ran toward where she lived with others of her kind. Then the fairy tale world around him disappeared, and he found himself back in familiar surroundings alongside his new guide.
“A job well done,” said the chilly voice of the Mysterious Traveler. “How do you feel?”
“I feel… good,” said Pariah. “I actually helped someone on my own without any threat to me, and it felt good. I never felt like this when I helped save the last universes during the Crisis.”
“It wasn’t as personal, perhaps,” said the man in black.
“Perhaps,” said Pariah. “Is the lesson over?”
The Traveler made no response, but everything distorted in a heat-mirage pattern, then refocused. “Perhaps not,” said the cold voice out of the air.
Pariah raised his hand for a moment as if to protest, then let it drop, knowing it wouldn’t do any good. The Traveler was already gone, leaving him stranded in another forest without a guide. Or was that part of the learning process as well? Was he supposed to find his own guide?
Concentrating, Pariah extended his awareness outward. He had been drawn to evil randomly before, while tracking the progress of the Anti-Monitor, but this time he wanted to be drawn to evil purposefully, so that he could find someone to guide him out of this dark forest.