DCM Vertigo


Return of the Gods

An End To Nothing
by Toby Kernan

Wesley Dodds, John Walker, Father Craemer, and Oliver Queen quickly ushered themselves into New York's Sacred Heart Hospital. Despite the fact that all around them there was chaos - nurses running, patient's screaming, the occasional demon or slithering monster scuttling by - they could not sway from their mission. Not just these few people, but the entire world is at stake. As they raced up the stairs to another level, Oliver Queen just hoped that the person they hoped to see was still here, and had not be mauled by a demon or moved by her over-protective guardian.

Quickly the four men made their way to the sixth floor, where Oliver had remembered the patient had been kept. They rushed through the door, and found an entire floor of elderly, ill patients, crying for aid, and no nurses or doctors in sight. Had they the opportunity, they might have felt the pangs of sadness, or the urge to aid them, but now just wasn't the time. The fate of the entire reality of existence was at stake.

Oliver slowed the men down to a cautious, quiet pace as they made their way towards the door of the room they wanted. Oliver opened the door, and was suddenly on the ground, a huge black panther standing on his chest, teeth barred, prepared to rip his very throat from his body.

"Raven, NO!" came a feeble scream from inside the room, and the creature suddenly stopped.

As Oliver watched in horror, the vicious feline transformed into a familiar female with dark blue skin and long red hair. Oliver pushed her off him, noticing the sly smile, which stayed across her face. Oliver knew "Raven" well. She was Mystique, a mutant shapeshifter who works occasionally for the government, and more often for her own personal needs. But, Oliver was satisfied, because her presence was indeed an indication that the person he had come to see was within the room.

Oliver walked into the room. There, lying in the bed, was the elderly form of Irene Adler, the woman known as Destiny. Blessed as the bearer of the powers of the Sisters of Fate, she was the most powerful prognosticator on this planet, and right now, the world needed her very badly.

Oliver sat down on the bed beside her, as Mystique and the other three men slowly filtered into the room.

"It is going badly, isn't it Oliver?" spoke Irene, matter-of-factly.

"Yes, Irene, it goes very badly. Mephisto's power grows stronger by the moments. Soon, all will be overcome."

Irene got a very harsh look upon her face. "It will get worse. Many will die, and the outcome is unforeseeable, even to me."

That isn't what Oliver wanted to hear, but her tired his best to continue. "What can we do?"

Irene paused for a second, and bit her lip. "You must go seek out someone from your recent past, she may be the key to turning the tide."

Oliver was now confused. "Who?"

"She is the one who is not what she seemed. An enigma who was an ally, but whom you never truly trusted. A secret who was a secret, even to herself."

Oliver thought for a moment, then recognition overcame his addled brain.


Irene managed a feeble, unconvincing smile, "Yes. She has recently learned her own secrets, and has not taken it well. You can find her in Hell's Kitchen. Go to her, she may yet turn the tides."

Oliver reached out to hold Irene's hand, and thank her, when an explosion and a sickening sound from the group behind him made him turn his head. He turned and saw a giant, smoldering wound burning in the abdominal flesh of Father Craemer, who fell to the ground dead. The other inhabitants of the room scattered as the doorway was blown with a second explosion. Oliver pulled Irene off the bed and over to him as the explosion sent fiery pieces of wall across the room.

As Oliver watched, forms began to come into view from the gaping hole into the hallway. Worse still, Oliver recognized the forms. One was the psychotic killer Bloodsport. Another was the demonized assassin Demogoblin. Finally, someone who Oliver knew intimately, Oliver's long-time enemy Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow.

Scarecrow spoke, his eyes burning demonic red. "Well . . . well . . . well. Seems the boss demon was right. Oliver, old 'friend', it is time to DIE!"

Zatanna stared at Mephisto, her face contorted in a twisted display of torture and pain and loss. Moments ago, the combined, corrupted forces of Blue Devil, Black Orchid, Jonathan Cain, and Jonah Hex had murdered her father, Spencer Zatara. His blood now stained her clothes, his lifeless body on the ground beside her. Once allies in 'Sentinels of Magic', they were now all under the demonic influence of Mephisto and his Materioptikon.

"NOMED LLEH OT NRUTER!*" Zatanna screamed, spittle flying from her mouth, her hands twisted in the throes of a powerful spell.

*(Return to Hell, Demon! - for those of you who can't read backwards)

Mephisto stood there, smiling. "Silly girl. We are already in Hell. Earth is now Hell. Now and forever, MY HELL!"

Mephisto, enthralled by Zatanna's grief sickened display, had momentarily forgotten about the room's other inhabitants. Dr. Strange, fearing for his own life after the murder of Spencer, threw a knowing gaze towards Phantom Stranger, whispered an incantation, and disappeared into nothingness, teleporting himself away.

"What?" said Mephisto curiously, seeing the Sorcerer Supreme suddenly disappearing from the arms of his former comrades turned captors.

Phantom Stranger made his own move as well, stepping forward and placing a hand upon Zatanna's shoulder. Suddenly the two heroes began to fade away from existence.

Annoyed, Mephisto began to shout, "FINE. LEAVE 'BROTHER'! Go try and rally some more troops. Soon, it will not matter. This world is now mine. MINE! YOU CAN'T STOP ME!"

With the two gone, Mephisto looked towards his possessed evil magic wielders.

"Should we search for them?" questioned Blue Devil.

Mephisto, calmer now, smiled. "No, Blue Devil. There is no need. I know where they are going. It will not help them. Soon, all will be on my side or will dead. They are too late. They don't have the power to stop me."

Things were going very badly, to say the very least. Oliver Queen looked around the hospital room. Father Craemer was dead. Bloodsport was also dead, his throat ripped out by Mystique, shape-changed into some horrific creature. Oliver feared she had finally succumbed to the evil that was consuming everyone. John Walker stood, bravely battling Scarecrow, but Oliver could see some nasty gashes from Scarecrow's scythe across his chest, and he feared the worst. The close quarters were making the heroes sitting ducks, and Oliver wasn't sure how much longer he could protect Irene.

"You must leave now, Oliver," Irene replied, as if she could hear his thoughts.

"Leave," questioned Oliver. "How? I can't leave you to die."

"You must," said Irene, stroking his hand. "You have to find Duchess. If you don't the whole world, the entire universe may end."

Oliver didn't like it, but he knew she was correct. Mystique and Demogoblin were now tearing each other apart and Scarecrow was winning his battle with Avatar, and Oliver knew he couldn't beat the victors of the battles. He quickly, almost without thought, made a dash for the window, quickly threw the glass open, and leaped through, escaping to the ledge outside.

Oliver wasn't quite sure where he was going to go, standing on the ledge of the hospital, six stories up.

"Oliver, where are you going?" he heard the eerie voice of Scarecrow say from inside the room. "Don't go to far. As soon as I kill this feeble crone here, I'm coming for you, my dear, old friend. I owe you, and I am going to pay you in spades. Or at least in scythes."

Oliver winced as he heard Scarecrow laugh, knowing right then that Irene Adler was dying at his hands.

Suddenly, Oliver felt a rush of air, and saw a most peculiar sight beside him. The mystic John Constantine and the immortal Vandal Savage, sitting on a large Persian rug, were floating in the air beside him.

"Come, Oliver Queen," bellowed Savage. "We have no time."

Oliver shook his head, almost in madness. Things could just not get any crazier, he thought, as he boarded the carpet and floated off into the sky.

It was one of the most impressive assemblies of New York's super heroes ever. They all stood, in the vast Avengers League meeting hall, planning a course of action. Avengers League members Batman, Martian Manhunter, Captain America, Flash, Wonder Woman, Hawkeye, and Iron Man. X-Men members Beast, Superman, and Jean Grey. Young Justice member Magik and her mentor Red Tornado. Sentinels of Magic members Zatanna, Doctor Strange, and Phantom Stranger. Solo heroes Thor, the Shadow, and Spider-Man. The world's greatest heroes assembled in a last, desperate hope to stave off Mephisto's ever-closer reality of Earth and Hell merged.

"Is there any other choice?" asked Hawkeye, not liking the decision that seemed inevitable as the meeting wore on.

"I can't see any," said Captain America, bleakly. "It seems the only option left. Full, all-out assault on Mephisto's castle. It seems the only option left is to strike, pray that someone breaks through, and gets lucky enough to strike at Mephisto and grab the Materioptikon from him."

"Tis a worthy way to go," spoke Thor, with brash bravado that he hoped would inspire those with doubts. "We shall either claim victory or die in a battle most glorious. If we are unsuccessful, then the whole universe is done. The day of judgement hath come. Hell shall face no fury like that of the god of thunder."

"Well, maybe a few more gods might help . . . "

Everybody turned to see Quasar and someone else floating in the air beside him. Captain America watched Thor tense up, recognizing the god beside him. It was Set.

"Oh, and there are plenty more where he came from," said Quasar, smiling . . .

Oliver Queen, John Constantine, and Vandal Savage found the mysterious woman known as Duchess, where Destiny had said she would be, in the seedy Hell's Kitchen. Oliver was surprised though, because it hadn't taken any searching. In fact, Constantine seemed to know exactly where the woman could be found.

Oliver could tell Duchess was in a very bad way, a pale comparison to the unstoppable juggernaut she had been during her tenure with SHIELD. Something bad had happened, he could tell. She looked devastated. He began to walk towards her, as she sat there upon the dirty street, her clothes in rags, smelling as though she had not bathed in weeks.

Oliver was surprised when Vandal Savage moved in front of him, and took center stage in front of Duchess. With one movement he pulled her from the ground, slamming her hard into the wall behind her. Oliver quickly moved to stop him, but found himself restrained by Constantine.

"Stop Oliver," John said. "you don't understand. Just watch, there are things at work here you don't get, bud."

Oliver watched as Savage slammed Duchess into the wall again, then was awed as he began to scream at her as well.

"WAKE UP FOOL," Savage bellowed. "Is this all you have become good for? You remember now, find your way back . . . "

Duchess looked at him with lost, glazed eyes, seeming unfazed by the assaults against the wall.

"For what?" Duchess asked Savage, barely able to utter the words.

"By the gods," cried Savage. "What have you become? Did Mephisto's spell do that much damage to you. Have you become nothing more than a lamb, waiting for your slaughter? Have you let that demon ruin you? Control you? How pathetic you have become. Your father would be so ashamed."

The mention of father seemed to bring a faint sparkle into the eyes of Duchess, and a curl of anger to her lips.

Oliver was more than confused. It seemed that Vandal Savage and John Constantine knew the identity of Duchess, something her had been unable to decipher after years of working with her.

"My father," Duchess spat, "abandoned me here. He left me, after the spell, to walk this world without memory, in this form, for all there years. My father can rot in he . . . "

"Then," Vandal said, slamming Duchess again against the wall. "Join us man. If revenge need be your motive, then so be it. Come back. Do it for revenge on your father. Revenge on Mephisto, who started all this . . . "

Recognition dawned in Duchess's eyes. "This whole evil manifestation. The skies. The demons. This is Mephisto's doing?"

"It is," replied Savage.

"And he is here, in New York?" asked Duchess.

"He is."

Vandal stopped slamming Duchess on the wall, and watched her stand proudly. Oliver was amazed. Savage's plan had worked, because the Duchess looked like the warrior she had always been. But, there was more. It was in the eyes. There was a new, powerful, burning fire there.

Duchess smiled. "It is time. Mephisto will pay tonight. For thirty years I have been trapped in this form, devoid of memory, deprived of my proper power and heritage. ARES, The GOD OF WAR has returned!"

Oliver could do little to keep his jaw from dropping in amazement.

Mephisto watched in annoyance as Etrigan burst into his throne room, a barricade of demons spilling into the room behind him in an almost comical display.

"Why do you disturb me, rhyming demon?" asked Mephisto, unable to hide his contempt.

"There is a problem,
A fire ignited,
For outside your castle,
Stand many heroes united!"

"Ah," said Mephisto, a new smile crossing his face. "The grand battle is about to begin. finally, all will either join me, or die. Assembled the troops. The demons far outnumber them, they will be slaughter long before they can ever reach me. Thanks to my spell-casters, I have made this room teleportation proof, so none can enter this chamber that way. So just go kill them all and be done with it."

Suddenly, large crashes could be heard outside, coming from the opposite direction from where Etrigan had indicated the heroes were approaching.

"What else?" cried Mephisto.

From the stars they came, striking at the demons that protected Mephisto's citadel from sky. Zuras, Sersi, and the other Eternals, returned from their new home in the stars. Here to help save their Earth, and their Universe. Seeking revenge from the loss of Thena and all the others who died in Mephisto's last assault upon the Earth. They struck with great passion and savagery, plowing through the demons with the zeal of those that know if they do not succeed, then the entire universe might well succumb into total chaos and destruction.

N'Astrih flew into Mephisto's chambers.

"What the Hell is going out there, N'Astirh?" cried Mephisto, annoyed.

"It seems," spoke N'Astrih, "that you have pissed off some old enemies. The Eternals have returned from their new home in the stars, and they are very, VERY angry. They are mowing through the demonic legions like a hot knife through butter. For every one of theirs that fall, we are losing thirty, forty, fifty, or more. They fight as though this is the end of time."

"What else could go wrong now?" cried Mephisto.

The heroes were staging a glorious battle, but the death toll had begun to rise. Already the Shadow, Beast, and Hawkeye lay bloody and dead upon the ground. Thor watched as Oliver Queen, Vandal Savage, John Constantine, and a mysterious woman entered the fray. He swelled with pride at his allies as he watched Oliver and Savage join the fray, Oliver picking up the enchanted arrows that Hawkeye had wielded and began the fire them at demonic opponents. He also watched as Savage and the mysterious woman were confronted by Phantom Stranger and Zatanna. Soon the four made their way to Quasar and Set, who were crushing demonic troops, and the six made their way to Thor.

Phantom Stranger spoke as the six approached him. "Thor. We must go now, and strike at Mephisto in his chamber . . . "

"I can not leave the others with these overwhelming forces. They cannot last . . . "

"We know Thor. That is why we must go now. Soon, no one will be left."

"Aye," said Thor, unpleased, as the seven made their way to Mephisto's inner chamber.

Mephisto was not pleased. Suddenly, things were going badly. The Eternals were winning their battle and getting closer every second. Now word was coming that seven of the heroes outside were making their way to his inner chamber. The seven were filled with some of Mephisto's greatest enemies, including Set, who had somehow been freed from in dimensional prison in Shadowrealm. The fact the Set and Thor could co-exist together did not bode well for Mephisto at all.

Mephisto decided it was time to use his Materioptikon to rid himself of these enemies once and for all. He reached for the item around his chest, then was shocked to feel an invisible hand pull it from the chain around his chest and throw it across the room. Suddenly, he saw the form of Jonah Hex, casting a spell from the corner of his eye.

"How," cried Mephisto as he leaped towards the device, as did every demon in the room, "did you do that? You were under my control . . . "

Jonah Hex, "I was NEVER under your control. Oh, and I would do anything to get back my love Enchantress. Even fake corruption."

Suddenly, the wall exploded as the seven heroes burst into the room. Seeing the situation with Mephisto, Hex, and a pile of demons scrambling for the Materioptikon on the side of the room, they reacted quickly. Duchess leaped wildly for Mephisto, caring nothing for the device, while the rest of the heroes scrambled for the Materioptikon. All seemed destine to reach it when suddenly, the Phantom Stranger appeared before all of them, and grabbed the device.

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" screamed Mephisto as all of the world turned to the nothingness of white light . . .

Morpheus turned from the book he was reading as he felt the presence enter the room. He had found in hard to put the fascinating book down, but he knew his attention was needed.

"Hello, Morningstar," he said lazily, smiling as his gaze met the one known as the Phantom Stranger.

Phantom Stranger nodded, stoically, then held out the Materioptikon to the Lord of Dreams.

"I believe this belong to you."

"Indeed," said Morpheus, as he held the item, then extracted the gem inside of it, and reincorporated back into his own essence.

"So, how is the book?" asked Phantom, seeing the tome resting upon Morpheus's lap. The title of the tome was Hell on Earth and the Return of the Gods.

"Very entertaining," he said, smiling. "Except I haven't seen the ending yet . . . "

"Well," said Phantom, "let me finish it for you. The Materioptikon is used to return almost everything to normal. The human world and the humans have be restored to the way they were before Mephisto stole the device, all lives restored, with no memory of the events that transpired. The only ones who remember are myself, Set, and Ares, the latter two both returned to their powers and selves they had before Mephisto stole their identities those thirty years ago. I hope that their anger towards Mephisto will keep his from returning anytime soon. The balance has been restored to Earth and Chaos no longer threatens the Universe.

"And Mephisto?" asked Morpheus.

"At home, in Hell, where he belongs. I am sure that his Arch-devils will keep him in check for awhile. He has been trapped on Earth, and has lost his powerbase there. It will take him a while to reestablish that."

Morpheus thought for a moment. "Fascinating. But, you said almost. What has gone wrong?"

"Spencer Zatara. I could not 'bring him back'. His soul was not there."

Morpheus was curious. "Really? Where has it gone?"

Phantom Stranger looked puzzled, a rarity from one as enigmatic and knowing as him. "I do not know. But I fear that his daughter will not take it well."

"Indeed," said Morpheus. "Old friend, indeed."

The End