by Christine Nightstar and Dan Swanson
In a place not far separated from the mortal realm, two beings sat across from each other over a board with several hundred pieces on it, with a lot still hidden from view, even from those playing the game.
“That was an interesting move with Lois Lane Kent, my friend. I was going to have her removed from the table,” said the brightly lit figure with the long, flowing beard to the figure in the black hooded robe across from him.
The black-hooded figure made no gesture or sign that he had heard his host and opponent and just looked at the pieces intently, taking in everything.
The bearded figure offered his guest and adversary a refreshment, but the hooded figure just shook his head.
“Well, I must admit your use of the pieces is good for a mortal,” the bearded one said to the hooded figure. “I can see how you won your freedom so handily. But I am not beat yet.”
The host circled the board another time before he sat down again and drank from a goblet that was taller than his hand. “Using the Shade to motivate Garrick was a master stroke as well, but I don’t see what you gained from freeing Vandal Savage. He’s one of my pieces, and you allowed him to escape, my friend.”
The figure in the hooded black robe didn’t say a word, allowing his host to talk as he waited for his host’s next move.
“You do know that since you won your freedom you can be reincarnated or revived anytime you want, but still you stay, my friend.” He waited for a response but got none from his opponent.
“I know, I know. ‘Shut up, Zeus, and make your move.’ First I will make things a little more interesting for Miss Lane.” Zeus moved another security guard toward the piece resembling Lois Lane Kent. “Delay her boys from helping her by intensifying the situation they are currently in a bit.” His hand drifted to the Vandal Savage piece. “Speed Vandal Savage’s recovery along more, despite his killing the doctor.” His hand then moved to the Shade piece and moved it closer to the Jay Garrick piece. “And with that I am done. Let’s see you counter that.”
“Very well,” said the figure in the hooded black robe. “I trip the perimeter alarm at where Lois is, with Mary and Super Robot L.” The hand moved. “I move Commander Steel closer to Vandal Savage, putting pressure on him. I move Dick Grayson into closer proximity to Jay Garrick as well. Plus, I activate one of my hidden pieces in Nebraska. It will take three turns before it can be revealed.”
“What in Hades’ name are you up to now?” said Zeus. “I knew you had something planned when you didn’t reveal your hidden pieces earlier in the game, forcing me to reveal all mine with your incessant common pieces.”
“For an immortal, you sure don’t know much about patience or strategic planning,” the black-hooded figure, said pulling his hood back. He was Bruce Wayne, the Batman.
“The game isn’t over yet, my friend,” said Zeus. “It’s far from over. You put too much faith in your friends.”
“While you put too much faith in your machinations and manipulations, Zeus. I’ll take some wine now.”
In the mortal world, Lois Lane Kent was about to be discovered in her investigative reporting when Super Robot L and Lois’ daughter Mary left the Secret Citadel to look for her. Elsewhere, Commander Steel’s search for Vandal Savage started to tighten around the area where Savage was thought to be held, while Dick Grayson and the Shade were placed in closer proximity to Jay Garrick than they had been before, and somewhere in Nebraska, the unseen piece had gained the energy it needed to be reactivated.
Unknown to Lois Lane Kent, another investigator had managed to make his way inside the building, and he had seen enough. There was more going on here than simply a tabloid newspaper. A year and a half ago, Vandal Savage had tried to summon the ancient god of evil, Cthulhu, to the mortal realm and had come dangerously close to succeeding. One immortal evil demon was more than enough for any single planet. As a fellow immortal, Jason Blood had long been aware of Savage and his schemes, but it wasn’t until now that those schemes had risen above the level of an annoyance. It was time for Blood to become involved, and when Blood began an investigation, demons were let loose.
In a locked storeroom, an eerie ancient ritual was occurring.
“Yarva Demonicus Etrigan,
Change, change the form of man.
Free the prince forever damned,
Free the might from fleshy mire,
Boil the blood in heart of fire.
Gone, gone the form of man,
Rise the Demon Etrigan!”
Jason Blood, a tall, sturdy man, disappeared as he chanted those ancient words, to be replaced by a veritable demon. It was short and broadly built with orange skin, horns, red eyes, and ears resembling bat wings.
“This place is filled with Savage lies;
The stench of ancient evil fills the air,
Power lust which never dies,
Turning hope to foul despair!
“Eternal evil is my right,
I will not share with any man;
I’ll rend his life this very night,
I, the Demon, Etrigan!”
Suddenly, Etrigan’s body stiffened. He tilted his head as if listening intently. And in a way he was, although he was listening with mystical senses unavailable to mortal men.
“Jason Blood, a fool you are;
Your will has been usurped this day.
A secret power from afar
Has charged you with a part to play!
“Who would dare make me a tool,
And try to bind me to his plan?
Will soonest learn he is a fool!
None may make a slave of Etrigan!”
He paused in thought, once again employing magical senses beyond human comprehension, and the cadence of his rhymes changed.
“It was my double nature that saved me from this power;
The demon inside Blood could not be bound.
There is another dual like me they also have enslaved,
The opposite of all that I expound.
I go to free the one I hate;
A more unlikely pair could not be found.”
He disappeared in a flash, leaving behind the stench of brimstone.
On Mount Olympus, Zeus turned to Bruce Wayne and said crossly, “You are not allowed to deploy your agents during my turn.”
Bruce looked puzzled. “Etrigan? Not one of mine. Since it was your turn, I assumed he must be one of your pieces.”
A rare look of worry flashed across the god’s face. “I think we may be in trouble.”
Jim Corrigan and his family were having a cookout when Corrigan’s magic senses flared with a warning of incredible danger. An evil force nigh as powerful as the Spectre was approaching. Although Jim’s human form limited his powers of perception, and he wasn’t quite able to identify this approaching evil, there were only two evil beings he knew of who had this level of power and who regularly frequented Earth, and Satan had been dormant for a while.
He instantly summoned the Spectre, and the ghostly guardian quickly shunted Jim’s family into a previously prepared, strongly fortified pocket dimension where they would remain in stasis until he had once again inevitably triumphed over the approaching evil.
Then, like a bolt of lightning, arrived Etrigan. The Spectre was poised, ready to respond to any attack — in fact, to any action by his foe, any action, except what Etrigan actually did — which was nothing. After a second, the ghostly guardian spoke.
“What evil purpose brings you here, Demon?” said the Spectre, refraining from speaking his name, for to speak a demon’s name in his presence was to grant him power. “Have you perhaps grown bored in your immortality and come to me to hasten your return to primal nothingness?”
“Your banal bluster mean nothing to me.
One thing our endless years have taught:
You can’t best me, I can’t beat you;
It’s been this way each time we’ve fought.”
“You shall never best me, Demon, though it is also true that, though we’ve fought through ages past, I’ve also not beaten you.” The Spectre realized what he had just said and looked stunned. The Demon cackled with glee but said nothing.
“You didn’t break into my life in order to taunt me, Demon, or to socialize. State your purpose or leave. Regardless of past history, I would not advise you to risk my wrath.”
“It astounds me
That you fail to see.”
The Demon then halted his speech and waited.
The Spectre started to respond with even more anger, then halted. His posture was eerily similar to that adopted earlier by Etrigan as he sampled the world with senses far beyond those of mere mortals. “I sense that Jim Corrigan, and many other mortals, have been living under a spell,” said the ghostly guardian, “a spell that replaced their free will with the will of others, forcing them to act as pawns in an unholy game!”
The Demon winced at the word unholy but then rallied and responded, as usual, in verse.
“You and I are much alike, though it pains us both.
Our dual natures set us free of this vile spell.
I propose we find the fool who bound us,
Dismember him and send him straight to hell!”
“Though the humans around us are still bound by this spell, deep inside them, their inner selves cry for vengeance,” agreed the Spectre. “Those are cries I cannot ignore. I agree to join you for this purpose, Demon. Our ancient battle can be rejoined at our leisure, as we have all the time in the universe.”
Far away, in a game room in a grand palace on Mount Olympus, Bruce Wayne turned to Zeus and said, “I take it the Spectre is not one of your pieces, either?” When Zeus didn’t answer, Bruce shook his head and said, “You’re right. We are in trouble.”