by Dan Swanson
On Earth, the Spectre and the Demon Etrigan vanished. In human terms, the trip from Earth to Mount Olympus was so fast as to seem instantaneous, but human terms meant little to beings such as these. In the short interval between leaving Earth and arriving in Olympus, the two near-godlike ancient enemies had plenty of time to chat. No mortal observer would have recognized them during this short time; it was as if they could let their hair down with each other as they could with no others.
“Well, cousin, you seem astoundingly lucid today.” The Spectre’s voice was, as usual, as cold as the depths of space, but there was a trace of something unidentifiable in his voice. It was certainly not friendship, but perhaps familiarity. “The recent binding with Jason Blood must agree with you.”
“When Blood does deign to summons me,
My soul retains his strictures for awhile.
And during that while it seems that I am sane,
But sane for long I cannot be;
My maker filled me with excessive bile;
Sanity passes, Etrigan I remain.
“For both our sakes I do suggest
A quick conclusion to this little jaunt;
As sanity goes my power grows,
I more than overmatch an ancient haunt!”
Though the Spectre had never in human history displayed any discernable sense of humor, a human observer might almost have thought him amused.
“We’ve the two of us battled since the dawn of the universe, Demon, and your greatest successes have barely been draws. Your threats are meaningless.”
“Listen to me, Ghost of Vengeance;
My warning, not merely a pretense,
My insanity grows,
My power explodes,
Into madness for which you’ve no defense!”
Did the Spectre wince? He closed his eyes, at least, for a second. During that second, Etrigan found himself awash in powerful mystical forces, but he immediately sensed that they were, at least this once, benign.
“I see the truth of your words,” said the Spectre. “Your forced binding with the human Blood is painful. His sanity tears at what passes for your soul. That pain increases your madness, and in your madness you use your powers with less restraint than ever before. Blood knows this and thus only rarely looses you. I would relieve you of that pain and your madness if I could, but the powers of your maker far exceed my own.
“Still must you know this — the binding pains Blood as well,” continued the Spectre, “and ere long he will seek his freedom, regardless of the awful cost. As for your unnatural concern for me, regardless of whence it came, know that in some ways the binding with Corrigan has had a similar effect on me. The restraints of his soul remain with me for some time after I am released, and during that time, my behavior is more human than has been my norm since our ancient birth. Perhaps as a reaction to being restrained, when the restraints fade, I also am more powerful than ever.
“Still, when my powers were at lowest ebb, even then were you unable to best me!” the Spectre quickly added. “Remember the battle in the Nendromanda Proto-Nebula? I had just finished one of my most momentous and draining battles (with foes other than yourself), banishing the World-Eater to a lesser universe. I was at my weakest when you struck most treacherously — and failed — though you destroyed the entire Proto-Nebula and several thousand future races who never had a chance to evolve ‘neath the stars you so casually erased.”
“I would not say it failed, oh boastful ghost;
I’d say, in fact, that you were toast!
I caged you away for eons on that day.
Inside of a sun where you had run,
I still remember all the fun,
You’ve forgotten, eh, your mind does you betray.”
“My point is that you have not the power to destroy me. I continue to live. I did escape, and we still do continue our eternal battle.”
“Fine by me, I must admit,
If you were gone, you piece of spit,
I’d miss our everlasting war.
There has been none
Near half as fun,
For me to use to wipe up the floor!”
This was starting to sound more like the Etrigan he knew. He hoped the Demon would retain his newfound sanity long enough for their upcoming confrontation. This figure calling himself Zeus himself would be little problem for either of them, but Zeus could summon powerful allies. And even though he was but a ghost, and a human ghost at that, the spirit of Bruce Wayne was no mean opponent to be underestimated.
The Spectre was still musing when their brief journey ended, and he and the Demon Etrigan materialized in one of the magnificent game rooms in Zeus’ Mount Olympus palace. And none would ever know what passed between these two ancient enemies during that oh-so-brief and private moment.
The two arrived with a boom, literally. The magical power Etrigan had used to transport them exploded around them, an explosion that would have devastated any mortal abode. But Zeus was no mere mortal — in fact, no mere god, but the king of the gods. The massive blast of energy had no more effect on anything nearby than turning on a lightbulb, except that Zeus was livid.
“How dare you invade the domain of Zeus? Begone instantly, and I will ignore your impertinence. Tarry longer and face my wrath!” Zeus’ words rumbled like thunder, shaking the foundations of that mighty palace. The concussion disintegrated the nearby servants, while the ones farther away fell screaming with the agony of burst eardrums. Annoyed, Zeus discorporated the bunch of them with a snap of his fingers; he could easily make more later.
Totally ignoring the livid king of the gods, Etrigan moved to the sideboard and examined the various bottles. The Spectre addressed Zeus directly.
“Have a care, godling. Remember who you do address. The age is long past when you can with impunity play games with human lives.”
Etrigan broke in loudly and spoke his piece.
“Ouzo, mead, ambrosia, absinthe, Bacchus wine,
No vodka or tequila to be found;
Only horrid circumstance makes me drink this slop,
A battle with a godling makes my thirst profound.”
He reached out and his hand grew larger, and he swept all the bottles, jars, and containers from the sideboard. He tilted his head backward, and his mouth opened grotesquely, stretching wider than several manholes. He dropped everything in, and his mouth returned to normal size. He chewed once, and there was the sound of various containers crunching, and then he swallowed — and belched.
The belch was as loud as Zeus’ voice had been and had much greater effect. The wall he was facing exploded away from him, blasting through the beautifully tended garden outside. What plants that were not destroyed by the blast immediately withered to brown as the gas expelled by Etrigan billowed outward.
“Not too bad, I must admit, though without much bite;
Now that I am fortified, let’s begin the fight!”
He snapped his fingers, and sparks flew from his clashing talons, igniting his waste gasses into a massive fireball. Unlike the explosion that heralded their entrance, this one was effective — the palace of Zeus was blown apart like a house of cards in a wind tunnel. Zeus roared with anger as the beautiful ancient marble rained down around them, bouncing off protective bubbles thrown up by the various combatants. Bruce Wayne had no such power and had to move quickly closer to Zeus in order to remain unscathed.
When the dust cleared, the scene was literally unearthly. Zeus’ palace had been surrounded by miles of carefully tended parkland, throughout which had been scattered a number of smaller buildings. In the direction of the sun near the horizon stood the city of Olympus. The former parkland resembled nothing so much as the ground surrounding an atomic explosion — nothing but piles of rubble, fires burning sporadically where flammable debris had been rammed into piles by some more durable feature of the landscape. For miles around them, nothing lived.
The devastation had not reached the city of Olympus — it was not that Etrigan hadn’t tried, but the Spectre had stepped in with an attempt to keep the rest of the Greek gods out of this battle. Still, it was an impressive display of power, even among the present company. Zeus was avidly cursing in the language of the Titans, which could not even be translated. But the gist was something like the following:
“You barbaric idiot! You’ll pay dearly for this!”
He hurled the lightning that suddenly filled his hands. Etrigan must have been expecting this kind of attack — it was Zeus he was fighting, after all. The bolts exploded before they reached the hell-spawned Etrigan, and even though he was prepared, the power of those explosions staggered him. But this round of lightning had been nothing more than a distraction. When the bolts stopped flying and exploding, Etrigan and the Spectre were both facing hideous monsters well known in Greek mythology.
The Spectre was confronted by two giant monsters with extra heads. A three-headed dog, larger than the largest elephant, snarled and charged. An even larger Hydra with hundreds of heads on long necks breathed magical fire. The hound Cerberus, a creature of the underworld, ignored the magical flames splashing on his back and leaped for the throat of the ghostly guardian.
Before Cerberus reached him, the Spectre was suddenly much larger than the giant dog and still growing. He casually kicked the hurtling, snarling dog aside. Cerberus smashed into a pile of rubble, then rolled and turned, ready to charge again. The Spectre spoke, his voice lashing out in a thunderous command, “Sit!” The mythical dog’s roars changed to whimpers, and he sat — and didn’t move again until well after the battle was over.
The Spectre turned his attention to the Hydra, which by now was no taller than his ankle. He reached down with one hand and plucked the hapless monster from the ground. “The monstrous Hydra of legend — cut off a head and two more will take its place. Yet how will you respond to this?” He squeezed and then shook his hand violently to clear it of the grotesque goop that was all that remained of the horrific monster.
Etrigan smiled as he turned to the Gorgon who was approaching him. At least, we must presume it was a smile. Whatever it was, it altered his face, which quickly became more hideous than anything ever witnessed by earthbound mortals. The Gorgon, whose visage was so terrible it turned those who gazed on it to stone, screamed at the horror in front of her as she met a similar fate, while Etrigan laughed at her own power. Her body turned to sand and was quickly dispersed by the violence of the combat around her.
When Etrigan turned, he was struck again by lightning. The Cyclops were the smiths of Zeus and created his lightnings, and this Cyclops brought with him the best products of his millennia-long labors. A barrage of bolts exploded in the Demon’s face, which momentarily knocked him off-balance and had the added benefit of preventing the Cyclops from viewing Etrigan’s face.
The Cyclops was frantically grabbing bolts from a pile and throwing them, but once he had their measure, Etrigan seemed to ignore them. He strode through the barrage like a man through a light rain, and as he approached he also grew. The Cyclops was a giant by human standards, and Etrigan matched his size. Seeing that the lightning was having no effect, the Cyclops drew his mighty sword — the blade of which was a leashed lightning bolt — and slashed at the Demon with a mighty blow. Etrigan’s hand morphed into a sword, and he easily parried the lightning sword, though sparks flew when the two blades crashed together.
“A little sport is all I ask;
Slaying you, a simple task.”
His sword arm flashed forward faster than the eye could follow, and he skewered the Cyclops through the chest. The mystical creature vanished in a puff of greasy smoke. Etrigan turned to his partner and mocked him.
“This growing tall to awe a foe,
A paltry trick to wow the rubes;
I’ve seen it all before.
I think that in six billion years,
You would have learned some better spells;
Sometimes, you’re such a bore!”
“Now whose mind has gone?” said the Spectre. “In perhaps our third battle, when we were younger than a million years and I sought vengeance for an entire race whose star you had extinguished, you first used that paltry trick on me. And you used it again and again until I figured it out myself.”
“Ah, but how superior is an original to the copy,
The shiny, new showroom special to the beat-up old jalopy?”
Both had returned to human size, and as they spoke they ignored Zeus. In turn, Zeus was furious with Bruce Wayne. “Ghost of Wayne, in this you are my ally! Why have you not aided me in this battle?”
“I’m… sorry, Lord Zeus.” His voice was so strained, it sounded as if the Cerberus was ripping his words from his throat. “Something restrains me.”
Zeus did a quick check. “There is no magic restraining you,” he thundered. Save mine own, he thought. “It must be base cowardice, something I would never expect from you, who are the most renowned of human heroes. The mighty Batman? Pfaw! More like the cowardly kitten! Know that you have good cause for your fear, ghost — after my allies and I destroy these two intruders, I will have time to deal with you correctly!”
He turned back to the attackers and was joined by several other Olympians who had come to seek the cause of the destruction. Zeus and Hephaestus, god of fire and the forge, advanced on the Spectre, while Ares, god of war, and Hades, ruler of the underworld, advanced on Etrigan.