DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

Foster Those Forsaken
by Toby Kernan and JM de Joya

Florence, Italy


"What is it my dear Zatanna?" asked Spencer Zatara, shaking the haze of meditation from his head. For nearly every day of his life, he had come to this garden in his ancestral home. For many generations, his family had called this castle home. Once it had been home to the most powerful magic in all of Europe. Now time had taken it's toll, and both the home and family lay dwindled and dilapidated.

Recently, his only daughter, the one that now stood before, had made the decision, which would cast the final lot of the ancient home. She didn't want the old castle. She was soon moving to the blaring lights and loud sounds of Las Vegas in the United States. She would ply her magician tricks and magic there, in the 'city that never sleeps'. Spencer was less than thrilled at the decision, thinking it silly that such a powerful young mage such as she would be performing silly tricks three times nightly for money in front of tourists and drunken gamblers.

"Father," said Zatanna, a very serious look upon her face, "something is very wrong. Can't you feel it?"

With the fog of concentration lifted, Spencer could indeed feel something in the air. Something was wrong, something very unnatural. Then they noticed the morning sky. It was crimson red. While this normally occurred at dawn, it was now well past eight in the morning. Also there was a stench in the air; smelling of darkness and decay.

Spencer stood quickly from his spot. "Hurry child, there is serious evil afoot. We must depart."

"Well, this is certainly working well," proclaimed Mephisto happily. He sat there, upon his throne, in his citadel of evil. He smiled as he rolled the Materioptikon around in his hand, trying to think if there were other ways he could now spread more of his evil influence.

Beside him stood his favored assistant, the demon N'Astirh.

"This has been far too easy," said N'Astirh, always the pessimist. "The humans have been chasing their tales and running around in circles. Heaven and its kind have been blocked access to the realm. There has been no real challenge, no real effort. It seems strange, and I don't like it."

"Oh relax, N'Astirh," cried Mephisto, smiling as he pulled a bottle of wine to his lips and drank deeply. "Things have been easy because this is my destiny. This is my realm. Certainly the threats have been minor, but then the creatures of this realm are petty, foolish things . . . "

"Those 'petty things' thwarted you once before," said N'Astirh slyly.

"That was because Asmodel didn't do a good enough job keeping The Presence in check. I have eliminated that problem." said Mephisto, defending himself.

"What of the original bearer of the gem you wield? Using it this much could attract his attention," said N'Astirh. He watched Mephisto carefully, making sure he didn't push the point too far, and anger his master too greatly.

"Morpheus, and the rest of his Endless ilk do not bother me. They are far too often caught up in their own petty machinations to bother with that which happens upon this mortal plane. They have their own schemes and realms to contend with."

"What of the Other Son?" asked N'Astirh. He could see this time he had pushed the questions too far. At the mention of the Fallen, Mephisto's face momentarily contorted in fierce anger. Then the moment passed, and Mephisto laughed deeply.

"Let him, and his rag-tag band of conjurors and illusionists try and stop me. I will eliminate them all, and final victory will be mine."

Jonah Hex shook off the disconcerting feeling of the transport spell. He didn't like it at all. He had traveled via magic countless times, but for some reason, perhaps because of all the magic protection surrounding this home, coming here always seem to take a more strenuous toll.

Hex looked around, shaking his head. He found the whole 'gothic-magic' motif, which the Sorcerer Supreme kept his home decorated as, very outdated. Everything was black or crimson or some other horribly dark color. Too much velvet and too many shadows. The place really needs some natural light and some plants. Some air fresheners wouldn't hurt either.

Hex made his way to the meeting room and flung the doors open, taking a view of all the inhabitants inside.

"Hail, hail the gang is all here," sung Hex as he made an inventory of the inhabitants of the room. There was the enigmatic Phantom Stranger brooding by himself in a corner of shadows. The Blue Devil, redeemed villain and wild man, sat leaning on his magic trident, trying to keep himself from falling asleep. Black Orchid, New Orleans' finest dancer and tantrik mage, stood talking to Donovan Cain, master of Voodoo and necromancy. Not far away stood the mysterious Omen and the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Steven Strange.

Black Orchid turned from her conversation with Cain to greet Hex.

"Just like old times, huh sugah? Sentinels back in action."

"Yeah, great," said Hex sarcastically. He hadn't been gathered with the other Sentinels for years now. Not since they had been forced to kill his lover, June Moon, the Enchantress. The memory was far from pleasant, and Hex suddenly felt the urge to leave the room.

Strange turned from Omen. "Let us begin . . . "

"Where are all the others?" blurted Blue Devil, noticing that several of the magic-wielders he had expected were not present.

Strange frowned, annoyed at the interruption. "The deviltry outside has spread worldwide, wreaking havoc, which has spread our ranks thin. A Hell Portal has opened in Wintergate Mansion. Deadman, Devil-Slayer, and Daimon Hellstrom are trying to stave off the flow of hellspawn from the site. There are also problems at the Nexus of Realities in the Everglades. Phantasm, Mortigan Goth, and Madam Xanadu are there to aid the Swamp God. Mr. E and Doctor Occult are in New Salem. Brother Voodoo and Ghost Rider are fighting some creature known as the Skin Dance in Miami. Black Crow aids Forge and others battling demons in Arizona. This onslaught of evil is taxing our ranks."

"It is everywhere," spoke Omen. "I have received reports from nearly every continent now. Demons and evil are everywhere now, and the world has been plunged into darkness."

"That which hasn't been corrupted is being destroyed. The group in the Everglades says the Parliament of Fire has been corrupted and is now spreading the flames across the South. The Parliament of Trees and Water are still with us, but they are losing ground as the flames, aided by this Hell magic, seem to grow."

Doctor Strange hoped to inject a little good news. "Spencer Zatara will be here soon, and he brings with him his daughter, Zatanna. Also, John Constantine is with us, and currently is on a very important mission which may aid our cause greatly."

Blue Devil decided to play the 'devil's advocate'. "And where is your apprentice Clea?"

Devil felt the sharp daggers pierce him from Strange's fierce gaze. "Clea is no longer with me. She has gone to find her own destiny. I do not wish to speak of her anymore. I have taken a new student under my tutelage. He is Timothy Hunter."

Strange made a conscious effort to change his attention to the task on hand, "Enough of this doddling. Mephisto has used his magic to bring Hell to Earth. We must stop him. It has fallen into the hands of the SENTINELS of MAGIC!"

"Then I guess we made the perfect time to make an entrance," replied Spencer Zatara. His daughter stood beside him as the puffs of smoke dispensed themselves. The two had made a flashy entrance, teleporting into the middle of the meeting.

"Spencer," said Strange, bowing slightly in greeting, "it has been a while, old friend. I wish this meeting could be under better circumstances."

While all of this went on, the Phantom Stranger sat sulking in the corner, silently. He was thinking. He knew a confrontation with the Prince of Darkness would be soon. He doubted that even this assembled group, quite powerful in it's own right, was enough to stop the evil which had been released upon the Earth. He knew no fear, because he had no soul to fear with or for, but he did not like the idea of Mephisto winning this war. It was not the way things were to be. Phantom had seen glimpses of mankind's future. The MagicWars which would one day come. It was too early, yet Mephisto always seemed to defy logic and attempt to blaze a trail all his won. He must be stopped.

Meanwhile, as Strange and Spencer spoke, Donovan Cain made his way close to the ear of Jonah Hex, and whispered, away from the prying ears of the others.

"I have heard a rumor that you plan to hunt down the pieces of the Darkhold, and find Her. Are you mad?"

Jonah smiled., "Perhaps I am indeed, old friend."

Cain nodded. "What do you think will happen, if we stop this, and you resume your quest, and the others learn of this? Fate scattered the pieces for a reason."

Hex shrugged, smiling at Black Orchid, who he noticed was trying to hear their whispers. "I do not know. But it is something I must do. I am partly at fault for her descent and demise. I need to make amends. Will you stand against me, old friend?"

Cain said nothing, but turned away from the conversation as he saw Omen move to the center of the room. Something was wrong, her movement jerky, as if not of her own volition.

She stood, cocked her head, and spoke:

"A change has risen, the eternal night will follow,
Divided from the paladins and fools, the magicians will fall,
One of their greatest will fade into memories,
And the Stars of the Morning will be revealed."

Before the room could respond, they all felt it. They were being watched. Mephisto was aware of their combined presence.

Strange spoke first. "We must depart. If we stay, soon the demons will be here. We must take our battle to The Beast."

The group came out of teleportation, much worse for the ware. Mephisto's magic was disrupting the natural laws of this realm. Spells, which once were simple, now were having unusual side effects. The laws were being twisted and defied.

Once they arrived, things got really weird. There were no demonic hoards waiting for them at Mephisto's citadel. In fact, there were no guards at all. They were given free reign to enter as they please. That made every last one of the Sentinels suspicious.

The group of seven magic-wielders walked right up to the doors of Mephisto's chamber, and cautiously threw them open. There they found Mephisto sitting calmly upon his throne, N'Astrih standing beside him. No other demons or creatures were in the room.

"Welcome," said Mephisto, throwing open his arms. "Old enemies . . . old friends . . . old relatives. It is good to see one and all. Come to join me, I assume."

"Old relatives?" wondered aloud Hex, curious.

Blue Devil spoke first. "Hardly 'boss', we come to stop you. Why don't you hand over the little trinket, let us return everything to normal, and slink back to the fiery pit you belong in. I am sure the other Arch-devils will be real happy to see you. I'll bet they might even give you a seat on the big council back, if you ask really, really nicely."

Strange looked around at the fellow Sentinels. He noticed several seemed to be sweating, though it didn't feel very warm in here. Black Orchid and Cain especially seemed to be having some sort of hot flashes.

Suddenly, Orchid screamed, a flow of dark magic slamming into Hex, pushing him against a nearby wall. Cain pulled a magic dagger from his coat and plunged it into the shoulder of Spencer Zatara. Blood began to flow.

Strange now understood. This was why he hadn't needed guards or attackers. He was using the power of the Materioptikon to turn the Sentinels upon each other.

"Do you like Strange?" asked Mephisto, as he relished the look in Steven's eyes. "I have corrupted even you. Your 'weaker' members fall easily, seduced by the powers of eternal darkness."

"!me ot nokitpoiretaM eht gnirB" cried Zatanna, casting her spell, trying to ignore the fact that her father had been wounded.

For a moment, it looked as though her spell might work, as the Materioptikon seemed to pull itself forward, trying to escape Mephisto's hands. Mephisto figured what was happening, and concentrated on his tool, dispensing the spell.

"Nice try, girl," said Mephisto. "Now try this . . . "

Suddenly Zatanna felt the blunt side of Blue Devil's trident crash into the back of her legs. She bucked and fell to the ground.

Strange looked around him, and saw things were going very badly. Blue Devil, Cain, and Black Orchid were corrupted. Omen had disappeared, and Phantom Stranger seemed to be doing simply nothing.

Then things went from bad to worse.

"Are you all right, dear?" asked Spencer, going to aid his daughter.

"Daddy, NO!" screamed Zatanna. Her father had let his guard down to see if he could aid her. It would cost him greatly. As he bent over to protect his child, Blue Devil plunged his trident into him. It penetrated his magic defenses and pushed deep into the magician. It pushed it's way through, blood splattering all over Zatanna.

Strange tried to move to his old friend's aid, but found himself overwhelmed by Jonah Hex, Black Orchid, and Cain.

"Well, this was a disappointingly quick game," replied Mephisto, looking rather annoyed. "I had expected my 'brother's little legion' to put up a better fight than this."

Phantom Stranger came forward. "We stopped being brothers a very long time ago, Mephisto."

Mephisto laughed. "Please 'brother'. You can mask yourself in this human guise, with your silly hat and trenchcoat. You can act all mysterious and ominous. In the end you are still him though. You are still Lucifer Morningstar, first of the Fallen. His former brightest and best, just another of the disgraced, thrown from the Heavens. Join me brother, and you can have a place in the empire . . . "

Strange could scarcely believe what was transpiring. It was over, and now, there was nothing that could be done. Mephisto would win, and Hell on Earth could not be stopped . . .

To be concluded . . .