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DCFutures: Occult

by Tommy Hancock

DCFutures stories are fan fiction pieces theorizing events that may take place about a century into the future of the DC Universe. All characters of that era are creations of the DCF group, although they are based on DC characters and some DC characters continue into that era. THE DCFuture Underground Fan Fiction group acknowledges that DC Comics owns the concepts behind Dr. Occult, Rose Psychic and some other DC characters that may be used here, and ALL related characters and retains complete rights to said characters. These concepts are used WITHOUT permission for NO PROFIT, but rather a strong desire to peer into the future of the DC Universe. This also acknowledges that original concepts presented here are the intellectual property of the author.

ACT I: "Tricks and Truths"

DECEMBER 31, 1899-The main hall of the Golden Citadel in the Hidden Abode of the Seven.

The hooded members of the Seven stood in silence as Zator, the one true loyal to the Seven, gratefully walked out, carrying the two children he just minutes before saved from being sacrificed to the demon Koth. Zator was proud, betrayed by his wide grin, because the Seven had ruled his violation of their rule an acceptable one and that the infants would not die, but instead be raised in the light and knowledge of Zator and the Seven to stand again Koth and all other evil.

That was what Zator believed had just happened.

As the echo of Zator's hurried footsteps faded, five of the Seven nodded to all and vanished. The First Among Equals, the leader of the council, and one other, at home in the shadows of the walls, remained. The First pulled his blue hood and cloak off, holding them only briefly before they vanished. The one in the shadows did nothing.
"So," the First said, turning to a table laden with food suddenly appearing where vast space had been just before, "we have saved two infants…..and they will be raised to stand against Koth."
"Yes," the one in the shadows replied, "That will be but the simplest test for them."

The First nodded, pouring himself a goblet of wine. "Aye, that it will. For I saw it. In the boy…I saw the end."
"Or the beginning." The shadows shifted and played around the form of the one, even though there was not flickering light cast at all. "I saw it as well."
"Of course you did, friend. You are, after all, one of the Seven."
"Only when such events as this arise do I stand among the Seven." He stepped away from the wall, the shadows still clinging to him. "And even here, I still stand, as I do elsewhere, as a Stranger."

The First finished his goblet and placed the goblet on the table as it vanished once more. "In the boy, I found what I have only touched once before….such power, such duty, such responsibility that it will kill those not worthy…" He raised his hand to his left cheek as he turned to face the one, his thin fingers tracing the burnt flesh of the scar running from under his ear down the side of his face, a scar resembling a "7". "Or it will at least mark the unworthy."
"You played your part in it, O First Among Equals. You earned that title as well as found the power to form what the Magicks saw need of." The one in the shadows took two steps up toward an archway in the disjointed room, walls and ceilings scattered hodgepodge over various realities. "But what you say is true. To stand among the fires of all that is to come and not burn, one must bear all that is sacred…and profane. The boy-child…..he wears that blessed curse."

The First turned away. "And the girl-child? You felt the tie that bonded them?"
"It is a chain of silken steel. The boy holds all the answers and the questions that complete them, but the girl…..He is powerless and dead without her."

The First hesitated, the room rippling around them as he did, then said, "And you, do you take any comfort in knowing that now, finally, there is an end in sight for you?"

The one in the shadows took one step up, nearly under the arch. "I take no comfort in damning anyone to what this boy has been born into. And I know enough of beginnings and endings to know that one never knows what might start for him when all for him is done."
"Aye. But the boy is one who may one day undo all you and I know."
"If he does, then it is meant to be undone." The one in the shadows moved through the arch into the fathomless black beyond it, the shadows clinging to him falling away like dead petals from a rose, and his words echoing as he said, "All is meant to be that he does, for he is truly the soul of all that is needed…He is truly, in essence and mind the Occult."

DECEMBER 31, 1989-Offices of Spiritus Investigations, Metropolis

The lights in the rather large office were off, yet the room was filled with an eerie supernatural glow of so many colors melted into one another that there was truly no way to tell what color resulted from it. Rose Psychic, or Rose Spiritus as she was known now, stood near her desk, by the door, away from the table holding the artifacts that burned like candles all their own and cast that indescribable aura. She had no fear of the objects, she had held and used many of them herself. She stood clear out of respect for the man at the table, sorting through the objects and making room for one more. Her partner in business, in life, in destiny. The one man she knew better than anyone else did, yet she always felt she knew nothing about at all. They truly had shared a life, being saved at an early age from sacrifice and raised together in a world that existed only in dreams to come fight for all that is right in a world born from nightmares. He was her brother in a sense and her lover in so many ways that even they did not understand them all. Rose stood out of the way for him, for his completion of an act he had been years in finishing.
"Richard?"

Dr. Richard Occult turned his head enough to see her over his shoulder. "It's all right, Rose. I am all right." He reached into his tan trenchcoat and pulled out the cloth bundle. Unrolling it slowly, he thought of what Rose must be feeling. Letting those thoughts roll into words, he said, "It's all right for you to wonder, Rose. I've wondered about this a millennia of times myself. All those years ago, after we left Zator and the Seven, even after I fought off Koth the first time, my supposed destiny, even then I was collecting things. No rhyme, no reason, just mementos I thought. Remnants of adventures we had, but things I knew I had to keep." The cloth finally gave way to a tiny pendant, a black marble cross with an ivory serpent coiled around it. "And just like all the times I kept those things and didn't know why, I know now that this, Kulak's Cross, is the last one." He placed the cross pendant on a bare spot between the Tannarak Pendant and the Bridle of Victory. He paused, looking over the motley collection of things before him. Some of them, like Ra's ancient helm of Nabu, held awesome power, while others, like the syringe Occult himself took out of the Lord of Life's hand in the 1930s, bore no supernatural significance that he was aware of. He just had to keep them.

He turned away from the table and walked over to Rose. He smiled, that smile she always said that he stole from Errol Flynn, and held his hand out to her. "I know all of that just like I have always known…."

She took his hand. "Quiet, Richard. We've lived as we have far too long to rely on sentiment now. She pulled herself against him, leaned up, and lightly kissed him on the lips. "Happy Birthday."

He kissed her back, just as lightly. "And to you, Rose." He chuckled quietly. "You know, you don't look like you're 90 years old." He ran his fingers through her long ebony hair.
"Neither do you. Of course, I still believe you're older than me. We just mark our birthdays now because of when Zator saved us."

Occult laughed. He looked down into her inviting hazel eyes and, just for a moment, lost himself in them. "You know," he said finally, "with all that we have known, life with the Seven, destined to fight supernatural evil of all sorts, with all of that, you have been my only constant. My only real forever."

She smiled, hoping the darkness hid the blush rising in her cheeks. "We are tied, Richard, bonded at heart and soul. In all ways."
"Not all." He couldn't believe he was doing this. Years before, when she wanted it, he had felt they were both beyond that sort of human thing, but he had been foolish. Now he longed for it, for that symbol of the love they both never spoke of, but always felt. He longed for that and for the simple humanity of it, of asking her, of waiting at the end of church pews as she walked to him. The humanity of it.
"Rose," he started, his hand in his coat pocket, fingers fumbling for the box as badly as he was fumbling for words.

She felt it, she saw it in the insecurity and childlike nervousness of his eyes. In the same moment she could not believe it was happening and did not want it to happen now. She put her hand on his arm. "No, Richard. Not here. Not in the office."

He nodded. "Let me take care of the collection and then we will go somewhere away from here. Somewhere you can find it easy to say 'yes'."
"That place won't be hard to find." She kissed him again, longer than before.

He turned away from her, pulling his Symbol of the Seven, a pendant of white with a black Maltese cross in the center and reaching out to all sides, from his coat. Standing before the table, he held the Symbol out and passed it over the objects, expecting them to fade from reality for safekeeping.
"Richard. Walk with me."

Cursing only once under his breath, Occult turned around at the quietly thundering baritone voice he had heard so many times. The room faded from view, as had Rose. All that remained was Richard Occult, the table of collected pieces, and a man in a midnight blue fedora with a snapped brim and a cloak of the same color that the shadows around him flirted and played with.
"Hello, my friend." As used to suddenly having visitors, especially this one, and being on another plane as he was, Occult wondered if his friend knew….Of course, he did, but that did not matter to one who saw himself as a Stranger to the rest of the world.

Occult slipped the Symbol back into his coat. "What can I help you with, friend?"

Occult's friend ignored the question and walked across the dark to the table, the objects there still glowing, but that light no longer the vibrant aura it was. "I see…you have amassed a…collection….some would say an arsenal of some proportion."

Not one to wonder to himself about anything, Occult replied, "Interesting choice of words, friend. Is my…hobby the reason we are here?"

"Yes." Occult's friend started walking away from the table, Occult following closely. "And no."
"You are never without cryptic answers to straightforward questions." Not waiting for a response, Occult said, "Go on."
"There is a need for you, Richard. Now as always. But more than ever before."
"And the things on that table?"
"They mean nothing and everything, but no more or less than you yourself you do." Occult's friend stopped, turning to face Occult. "I know this makes little sense, Richard and I am aware that is often my way. But in this instance, I am simply telling you all that I can. You have always had a fate, a destiny, and obligations to that, both ones you were aware of and those you have never realized. One was your facing Koth for the Seven. That you knew of. One you did not was the calling you had to keep pieces of your life that, in some instances, should have been destroyed. Now that that is done, I must reveal to you another. You must be a guide, Richard, a guide to others learning of things unfolding for them on all realms. At the same time, a student, as you have always been, learning of life, death, and magicks of all varieties. Time is nothing for you now. This is the need I have of you and a destiny before unrevealed made known."

None of this was a shock to Occult. He had been at this point before. He did note, however, that his friend spoke with a hint of finality that Occult had never heard before. "I will help, as you knew I would." He hesitated. "And Rose? Can I go explain to her?"
"No time for that. You shall return to her. She is always with you, Richard." His friend paused, reaching out to touch Occult, something he had never done before. "Know that she is always with you."

Occult slipped his hand into his pocket, clutched the ring box for a moment, nodded to his friend, then followed him off into the shadows.

NO DATE, NO TIME, NO PLACE

Occult waited. He laughed. This always happened. He would feel the call, come to this corner of shadows, and wait for his friend, like some buddy on a street corner. He could use the respite though. He flexed his left hand, rubbing the soreness from it. He'd not known he could punch as hard as he had or that someone's face could be that resistant to a punch, but it had been. He had just finished dealing with a demon, a dealing that had taken him back to a small mining town in Arizona in the late nineteenth century. He chuckled out loud. The hand that was aching had shaken Wyatt Earp's hand, lifted glasses with Doc Holliday, and smashed into Jonah Hex's jaw. That was definitely one of his more enjoyable jaunts.

He had done much of that over the past few…..time had stopped meaning much to him. He played tour guide for a young mystic, a member of the Trenchcoat Brigade as Constantine called the four guides for young Tim Hunter. He stood alongside Earth's finest in the dark of what some called The Final Night. He found himself ending one "job," "mission," or whatever his adventures were, and instantly jumping into another one. very little time for Rose. Rose. He had seen her twice since….that night. The last time, he told her he would get back to her about that question. She smiled her glow of angels smile and said she knew he would.
"Richard."

He watched his friend bleed into view from the black Occult noticed something. His friend's face was different, thin, gaunt, but…..happy. And sad as well.
"I ….got your message." He smiled at his own humor. "We need to talk?"
"No." Occult's friend stumbled, Occult rushed to him, but he waved him off with a raise of his hand. Righting himself, he continued, "No. You must listen as I talk. I can say with no doubt, Richard, that time has come and it is of the essence, even in this place between and beyond time."

Occult's friend steadied himself. "You and I have spoken of and seen many destinies as they unfolded. We know that all beings have some sort of place in everything, pre-ordained or not. That is simply semantics We all fit into a scheme no mind or soul can grasp…and when our responsibilities are completed, we fit no more. I" He looked Occult in the eyes from the shadow cast by his fedora's brim, "I fit no longer, Richard."

Occult showed little reaction, but felt a pang of loss suddenly in his stomach. Of all he had seen, he never thought of his friend, whose origins were always clouded in mists and shades, would pass. "You are dying, then?"
"Not in any sense you understand. I am….retiring. I have earned my peace, a struggle I have undertaken through my own vices and weaknesses for millennia. And circumstances have changed. You have seen much, Richard, we have stood together facing many terrible and awesome events and sights. Yet nothing matches what is coming…what was started long before time and what saw new life in a time you know well, the time Dr. Occult first became linked with heroes and warriors. Nothing I have undertaken matches the responsibility you now have."
"And that is what?"
"Even I know fully not what is coming. Ancients termed it many things in many languages, but they all saw it as a melding, a joining together of magic, all magic into one force. Many believe that magic already exists in this way, that it is the user that determines the right and wrong, the black and white of magic."
"But," Occult interrupted, "You and I know that is not true. There are many magicks, some righteous, some not, some simply ambivalent to all."

Occult's friend nodded once. "This melding will end all of that. For eons mystics have predicted it, tried to monitor it, tried to cause it, and even tried to keep it from happening. We know nothing of what it will mean to existence. We know not if it will herald in some peace, destroy everything, or simply not have any affect at all. The power, however, that will result, will be phenomenal.
"We know now that the time of the Melding is drawing near. Magic is being corrupted and used, rewritten and cast again in new molds in a time that knows little of good and evil. Though we follow threats back through time, time does move on and it has Richard, on to the time of the Melding. On to the time of accepting what must be and learning what is to come. On to the time of you taking up a mantle born to you."

Occult raised an eyebrow. "What are you saying, friend?"
"From the moment you were conceived, your presence has rippled across all that exists. With that moment also came the rumors, the gossip, the powers, the move toward the Melding. You are of it all, Richard, you are of humanity, of magic, of tricks, of truth. From your first moments of existence, you have truly been all that is real and secret at once, you have truly been Occult. Now, you must in this new warped reality time and the children who play within it have created, you must find yourself, your purpose, and the Melding. You must learn of it, discover why and what it is to be, and determine if it must occur or must be avoided. You must walk again in reality, Richard Occult, you must mend your own soul and life and hope to heal the wounds that are now fresh and open for others."

Occult understood some of what was being said, but he knew from experience that the curtain had not even been halfway opened yet. "I knew long ago that I would spend my life as I have and I have no regrets," he knew his friend would not believe that, "but I fear I am not equipped with the knowledge to handle what you say I must do."
"The power has always been yours, Richard." His friend bowed his head, his body shaking, then raised it again. "And the knowledge will come from within also. You are now what you have always been and more than you ever thought you would be. I will pass you back into reality and for where I am sending you, I am forever sorry." He put his hand on Occult's arm and squeezed gently. "I am truly sorry."

Occult put his hands on his friend's shoulders. "Enjoy peace, my friend. It is due you. And don't worry." He smiled that smile he knew someone loved. "I have someone waiting on me."

Occult's friend looked at him one last time….and Occult swore as all faded from around him that he saw a solitary tear on his friend's cheek.

DECEMBER 31, 2111

Occult coughed, hacking from deep inside. He was on his knees, ground wet under him, rain slapping him hard in the back of the head. "Never…felt….like….." Talking to make sure he still could, Occult struggled to stand. He had never felt anything passing from one plane to another, especially not like he had just finished drinking nine pints of bad bourbon. Putting a hand on the ground in front of him, he felt mud rise between his fingers. He stood and shook his head, trying to get his bearings and shake fuzziness from his eyes. The sky was dark with storm and he could see very little, no light coming from anywhere. His eyes adjusted enough that he could see he was standing in a cemetery. Of all the places for him to put me, Occult thought. He put his hand out to lean against a tall tombstone. He raised his head as thunder screamed and lightning broke free almost at he same instant. And he read the stone.

ROSE SPIRITUS

BORN-?

DIED-DECEMBER 31, 2034

DYING AS SHE LIVED-FOR OTHERS
"NO!!!!" Stricken to his knees as if by the lightning, Richard Occult beat the stone hard with his fists, making them bleed. His torrent of tears mixed with the savage rain pelting his face. Time once more meant nothing to him, but now it was because he was lost to grief. Sometime in that stormy night, he threw his head back, his face twisted viciously by pain and anger, and screamed, "DAMN YOU, STRANGER!!!! DAMN YOU AND DAMN ALL!!!!"

END ACT ONE


ACT 2 "Corruptions"

Rain fell on him in steady flashes of lavender and crimson. Mud rose and fell around him in belches and breaths. He reached out and felt only cold, gray, dead, reality. He struggled to stand and simply fell farther into the past, into her, into Rose.

Richard Occult remembered the forever long moments he had spent away from his Rose since that night the Stranger interrupted his proposal. He ached for her, even though he knew he was doing what was meant to be. He burned for her, so much that he gave part of himself, part of his soul, to have her near him. He created her, surrendering his very essence so that in some part she could be with him. He didn't care that that nearly cost him his life more than once, like that escapade in the mental institution. She was so much a part of him, what he was, what he knew he could be. Now, he could not even resurrect that portion of his spirit that had been her so briefly. She was lost to him. In his own soul, in his broken heart, and in body.

One bloodied hand crawled its way up Rose's tombstone. His muddy fingers wrapping around a corner of the stone, Occult wrenched himself to his feet. Morning was trying to come, but furious storm clouds kept it beaten down, a gray glimmer being cast over everything. Occult didn't know if the gray was real or just the way his new eyes saw everything. New eyes. New power. New mission. New dimensions of loneliness.

He stood on solid ground that was not beneath his feet. He breathed air that was electric, sparking with fireflies of yellow and orange. A cold wind slid up and down his spine and a drowning sweat covered his body. Torrents of sheer, unadulterated force rolled and twisted within him, buffeting his weakened, dying soul back and forth. He struggled to control all that was happening, while dealing with the fact that nothing was different. Yet, at the same time, everything had changed.
"Dammitt," he thought to himself, stumbling away from the tombstone, weaving like a professional drunken derelict with no place in particular to go through the other markers in the cemetery, "I'm beginning to think like him now. No wonder he talked like that." Occult paused in his thoughts, wondering only briefly if the Stranger had truly understood what he had done to Occult. Then, in a fashion he always found amusing and slightly irritating from the Stranger, but one he could not help himself from doing now, he commented aloud, "He did everything that was meant to be, yet never should have happened." He laughed, angry, tear filled, tortured laughter.

He stumbled on out of the cemetery, down a deserted street. Buildings were empty, condemned, some looking out on the dead street with cavernous eyes, others with their windows boarded up, blinded by age and depravity. Not another person lived or walked on the street or any of the streets nearby, Occult could feel that as clearly as he felt his wet clothes heavy on his body. There was not another body on that street, except him. Yet, the street and buildings were teeming with people.
"They are here because of you, for what is coming." Occult stopped, recognizing the voice filling his ears as his own, deep, monotone, but his voice. It continued, "You have known at least in part where your ends and beginnings tangled together. You felt the magicks in your blood, incantations and chants echoing in your mind, black and white power cascading through your soul. You touched and walked your fate, Richard Occult. Though some you see here did the same, many of them never knew what they really were, never tasted the bitter nectar of their magick, the sweet confinement of destiny."

A woman moving toward Occult caught his eye. Slender, blonde, beautiful. "Joan!" Occult moved to her, one filthy hand out. "Joan Garrick! What….how…."

She never raised her head, never turned an eye to him. She kept walking, talking to someone he could not see. He heard her saying how she wished Jay would just hang up that silly helmet and retire.
"Nexus points, all of them." Occult's voice rolled on in his ears. "Reservoirs and doorways of power, eldritch and ectoplasm of life. Some of them, like her, only here in pieces, their power simply an essence that goes on after the flesh falls away. Some never rest again, holding that figure they wore in life. Others continually stalk, hunt, pass from life to death to magick."

Occult looked around as he listened, even though he had little choice. He understood as he looked, seeing others he recognized. On the ledge of a building, cackling as if he found existence funny, was Jack Ryder, now forever trapped in the pea green skin of the Creeper. Down the middle of the street with his hands out in front of him was a man in a red and white outdoors outfit, a spelunker's helmet on his head, its white light burning eerily. "It's so dark in this cave," he shouted as if to someone behind him. "I've been wandering for what seems like eternity." Over by a dumpster sat a shade of a man in a gas mask and a shredded sanitation engineer's uniform. He giggled like a demented child as huge rants bit at him and nested in his curly blonde hair. A husky man stood in the front door of an old store front across from Occult. He yelled out loud in ancient Latin, his golden gladiator's armor shining even in the gray light, his sword high above his head. In the building Occult was standing beside now, through the paneless window he saw a man in a judge's robe, a gavel in one hand, a .357 Magnum in the other, a nameplate floating before him that read, "Hon. Adrian Chase."

Occult also saw the ones who let go of their mortal selves, now representations of the magicks they truly were. A magnificent bronze colored tiger stealthily slinked from alley to alley along the street. In the distance at a four way intersection, Occult saw a familiar, evil face shrouded in a tumbling fog of stench and hatred. "The Mist," Occult muttered to himself. As those words faded, he felt someone call his name. He turned and saw nothing but a column of bright orange flame, about five and a half feet tall. he felt it again. It knew who he was. He peered closer, sensing he knew it, too. Sensing he knew her.
"Dannette! Dannette Reilly!" The flame shuddered, a nod of sorts, and moved on, recognition proving enough for the magick that had once been the second Nouveaux Romantic hero to be called Firebrand.

As the flame simply dissipated, Occult saw a man staggering from side to side in the street, snatching at remnants of reality and essence. His narrow arms were already piled high with these patches of existence. He muttered as he passed, "Got to collect 'em. Too many rags. Got keep gettin' 'em. Rags for a new suit. Rags for a new soul."
"Regan?"

The voice interrupted. "Still others exist here in some sense of reality. Many, like that weaver of rags, are of great substance, magnificent destiny, but now only know form in a mystic, ethereal sense." Occult looked around, at the man in all black perched on an ancient lightpost, a scarlet cape from his shoulders blowing in no wind. He knew him, too, once known as the Phantom of the Fair, in the early twentieth century, now nothing more than another magick on an empty street full of those like him. A cowboy walked by, nodded at Occult, saying in a long drawl, "Mr. Occult, Wayne Trigger. Nice to know you." And walked on. Above his head, Occult heard the whine of a rocket pack and looked up to see a man he came to know well in the mid Twentieth Century. Adam Strange saw him, waved, and then flashed out of sight as a turquoise beam of light shot from nowhere and cut through him. In the shadows cast by no lights in the alleys, Occult watched as a man in red, a blue full mask hiding his face, lurked and prowled, seeking the basest, most depraved malignancy he could find. Occult nodded. He always knew, alive or dead, Paul Kirk would be Manhunter.
"And for some,"

the voice drolled to life again, echoing to the point of pain in Occult's head, "they are here like you. Passing on to their own inevitability."
"Well," the voice behind Occult grated and rasped, like cold steel scraping leather, "Howdy, Doc."

Before Occult could turn, a scarred hand fell on his shoulder hard and turned him around fast into an oncoming fist. Occult yelled out, falling back, folding to the ground. Willing the pain away, he looked up into the rugged, weathered, half disfigured face of a man with his hand out to help him up.
"Hex." Occult said as he stood up, taking the offered assistance. "Jonah Hex."

The glottal snicker brought as much of a smile as Hex could manage with it. "Just owed you, Occult. That time in Tombstone, well, you rode me pretty fur and hard."
"Then you needed it." Occult rubbed his jaw, more out of habit than need, and asked, "Jonah, do you know why you're here?"
"Same as why I'm anywhere, Doc." Hex tugged on the brim of his ragged confederate gray hat. "Cuz I'm supposed to be. See ya again." Hex crossed the street slowly, fading from sight as he went.
"All right!" Occult shouted in his own voice. "I have no choice in this, that is clear! I am the protector of all mystic, the magick police. I will do, as always, what the damn Fates or whoever the Hades is in charge wants of me! For that, though, I will not listen to some disembodied voice of my own power giving me a guided tour of how botched the world on all levels has become!! I want to know all for myself. I demand to know, to feel, to open myself to the powers that play with me and with magick!" He thrust his mud crusted arms into the air above his head, "YOU WANT ME TO DO THIS?? THEN I WANT TO KNOW IT ALL!"

Occult's next painful scream unraveled in a calliope of colors and images, his body following it in frayed strands and jagged shards. Everything whirled around him as he spun madly in chunks and pieces of space about himself. Blood gurgled in his words and lives died in his throat. Bones snapped in his ears and old men cried like baby girls. Pain was the only pleasure he was allowed and it was sweet in its agony. Even in that instant that lasted longer than forever could define, Occult saw things, learned things. He saw eight shadows standing around a globe, fiery storms of sparks flying from it. He heard a man screaming to find himself and felt the brimstone tears shed somewhere by a demon. He experienced the birth of a child that killed everything it touched and from that brought life. He felt…no…he heard, saw, even smelled his heart about to literally shatter. Then a delicate hand touched him and he collapsed back into the pile and heap that was his body.

The stench of brimstone and the fragrance of orchids fled as his eyes opened. Through the blur he saw he was no longer on the street of wandering magicks, but where he was didn't look much different. A church towered above him, an old gothic cathedral. The power there was palpable, seeping out between the cracks in the stonework. He blinked once to clear his eyes and this time saw that the smaller blur kneeling beside him was a woman. The woman who had grabbed him, helped him back.
"Knowledge is necessary, Richard Occult," her voice was a stern, yet comforting litany of music and lightning, "but you know all you need for your journey on. Learning as you go is as necessary for you as knowing when you start. Rush nothing. It all will come."

He nodded, then squinted. "I…..I…." He searched her tanned, exquisite face, searched beyond it, past her emerald eyes, her soft skin, her tumultuous, stunning red hair. He looked deep into what she was and still could only manage, "I….I..know…you."
"A shade of me you once knew. And this aspect you will know." She stood up, her lithe legs encased in tight black leather pants. "Still, not now. What you seek to learn lies within." She walked away, her right hand gesturing at the church. His eyes followed her, still trying to decipher her words and her heart.

Occult watched the woman until he could no longer see her. Day was still wrestling with the stormy night before. The rain was gone, but clouds hung tight, strangling sunlight into gray. He stood up and looked down at himself. With a thought and a shrug, his body and clothes were dry and clean, just as if he was freshly bathed and they had been recently pressed. He smiled, a first hint of a genuine smile. Even though his first attempt at education in his new role was not pleasant, he now understood enough about his position in all the Stranger had told him about and what he needed to do. And he liked that, for if anything, Richard Occult had always been a man with a destiny. He started up the cracked, broken sidewalk to the church, an unearthly salmon colored light flashing through the paned, dirty windows.

end of Occult #2 Okay, here's the story on this issue. I started out and had so much planned for this issue…well..not like I didn't get a lot done in this installment, but not nearly what I planned. Then I thought I would include a little part about mystical connections throughout the dcu…well…that part is the above issue and means I have to make "Corruptions" a two part book……..so in Occult #3, expect to find out what's going on in the church, who the strange lady is, and more about Occult's wild whirlwind education and the visions he saw.

END ACT II


ACT 3: "Corruptions" Part Two

The heavy, rust-eaten door to the church was ajar, just enough to let the stench of human filth and rotting wood snatch Occult by the nose. He put his hand to the door, but it didn't move. With a slight push, the door creaked and moaned open slowly, paying no heed to who was wanting into its church. Occult tried to see what was happening inside before he walked in, but the images were muddled, all hazy with a pinkish fog. He saw why when he stepped inside.

The church, once a Catholic parish, was nearly gutted. Occult felt the decay of both the building and the spirits and souls that had haunted this dying hall. Echoes of perverted hymns shrieked in his ears, though the choir of human voices singing demonic tones was not present. But they had been there. Recently. And would be back. Occult heard the timbers in the ceiling groan under the weight of the rotting roof, the far end of it nearly collapsing under its own age. He listened as the concrete and bricks in the walls and foundations snapped and cracked, ancient bones of an old man abused far too much over the years. Occult saw it, the malignancy of those who had claimed the nearly empty church for their own. The black and red inverted crosses painted and scrawled on the walls and bare floor, graffiti from deranged, disaffected youth. Shreds of what had been church pews and tables scattered across the floor, splinters of what this place once meant, the gathering of spirits and hearts in worship. Not of death, but of life. Not of demons, but of angels. Occult tried to sort through all the names, all the black prayers, all the shed blood dotting the stones and steel around him, to find something to redeem this once-holy hall. There was nothing. Only depravity. Decadence. Death. And the salmon-colored lightning bolt in front of the black altar.

Occult saw it when he walked in. He felt it before then, but only as confusion, chaos. Now he recognized it. Or what it had been. A Bahdnisian djinn. An ally. Johnny Thunder's Thunderbolt.

The magick, the pink that had been the Thunderbolt as Occult had known it, had felt it, was still there, but it was altered. The thunderbolt had no form now, no longer looking like a pink man with jagged lightning bolts for hair. It was simply a shred of energy, a shred of Pink hovering before the altar. One moment it was still, lifeless. The next, it was its own fireworks display, shards of itself ricocheting off the walls and roof of the church. One instant, it stood from the floor to the roof, a bright, vibrant, angry Pink. Then it was barely there, a thin phantom, almost extinguished, but still as angry. And evil.

Occult reached out to it, both with his right hand and his mind. His hand felt nothing, but his mind screamed with a searing flame, orange, loud, crackling, a million hearts bursting into blood and bile all at once in the space of Occult's thought. He dropped to one knee, his hand still up, trying to raise power from within himself, but all he felt was Pink. Crawling down his fingers. Filling his veins. Clotting all of his blood. Pink. Killing him.

Then he saw beyond it. Beyond the pain. Beyond the power. Beyond the Pink.

Suspended off the floor behind the ebony altar. A clear box, about six feet long. No. Not a box. A coffin. A coffin holding a body. An emaciated skeleton of a man, his skin white and brittle, tightly wrapped around the bones. A man in a green suit, faded by nearly a century and a half, but somehow preserved, his trademark bowtie still tied around his nearly nonexistent neck. A man who, for all practical purposes, died of old age near the end of the twentieth century. A man whose eyes were open, clawing their way fervently into Occult's mind, ripping away at the agony there as they came.
"Hang on, Doc. Just hang on."

Occult nodded, trying to say his savior's name. It caught in his throat as the Pink slapped at him again, but pulled back under the near corpse's stare. Occult stammered, the Pink scratching at his soul trying to hang on, but the unyielding glare of its former master and now its prisoner beating it back, letting it know it was a prisoner as well. Occult slumped to the floor, unable to help in the fight, becoming only the battlefield for the war. The Pink bellowed soundlessly, finally slinking away, flashing into brilliance once more in its place before the altar. Occult coughed, breath at last coming without pain.
"Th..Thunder. Joh…Johnny Thu…Thunder."

Occult glanced back up at the body in the box. His eyes were still open, and his voice was still in Occult's head, but he didn't move.
"Yeah, Doc. It's me. Ol' Johnny."

Occult stood up slowly, then made his way to the coffin, walking a wide circle around the Pink. Using the altar to steady himself, he got up close to the coffin. It was suspended by nothing visible. Occult concentrated, his head pounding from the recent attack, but was able to lower the coffin to the platform he stood on behind the altar.
"Hang on, Johnny." Occult, not sure of anything that was happening, placed his hands on the seamless coffin, readying to will it open. "May not be able to fend off your t-bolt yet, but I should be able to get you out of here."
"Doc, don't." The voice in his head was firm. Occult stepped back. Johnny went on, "Time will come for that later. This visit ain't for me. It's for you."

Occult was lost in the maelstrom. That feeling had grown familiar recently. Suddenly feeling as if the power that surged through him only moments before outside the church was all but gone, Occult simply asked, "Johnny, what is going on? I thought you died. I was there."

Johnny laughed. "You're all jumbled up now, Doc. The full body wash the ol' T-bolt gave you will do that. Even to someone at the center of all magicks like you are now. Me, I fell victim to a new toy for would-be wizards and witches. You've heard about it, I bet. Corruption, they call it."

Occult nodded. It was a practice that he knew of only due to his new place in the realm of magic. "Mystics take a person whose soul is powerful, a strong energy. Using a variety of chants and spells, they capture the soul in the body near death. And they drain it. They get their power from it. As long as they keep the soul, the body lives. They have to keep it alive using part of the power they get. And it can be eternal."
"Yeah, looking that way already." Occult knew the words Johnny was saying were only in his mind, but he could almost see the pained humor on the nearly mummified face in the coffin. "Well, apparently my soul was stronger than my brain back then. I remember going into the hospital not too long after a visit from Jay Garrick. Wasn't there long, though. One of the nurses was a witch or something and knew who I was. Her group was toying with Corruption already, so they kidnapped me. They dummied up a double somehow, and you all wished your fond farewells to a me that wasn't!"
"Well, they did their nasty little ritual and sealed my body up in this thing. Marked it with invisible runes and all that stuff. Then they conjured up my soul. Kinda amazed them, and me, too, to find out that my little ol' soul looked like my T-bolt. Guess we were sorta one and the same after all. I got bounced around all over, even ended up over in the Iron Province for awhile. Wherever I was, the people drawing off my soul were the baddest of evil. And me, I was just kept off away, close enough for them to call up my soul when they needed it. When the Corrupters aren't around, I get able to do a little with my own power, especially when my users are idjits like the ones who brought me here. Been here for awhile. In the hands of some Nouveaux Romantic nuts gone wild. Been waiting for you."

Occult asked, "Waiting for me?" He knew he was supposed to be the great source on all things mystical, but at the moment he felt like an angry schoolboy who had played hooky one too many times. "Johnny, I don't understand. What do you mean you were waiting for me?"
"Just nearing the end of something that got started a long time ago, Doc. Being a jar for a trapped soul for several decades, you get a lot of times to think on things. And me, I've been thinking on just why I was picked by whoever throws the cosmic dice to play a role in what you're going through. Never figured out why, but I am damn glad to be doing it. Always knew everybody kinda thought I was a joke. It's nice to know now that I was needed for something. Even if I did have to be near dead and abused to do it."
"I'm sorry, Johnny." Occult slammed the transparent coffin with a clenched fist, his rage evident. "So much of this is out of control, so random, almost; I'm sorry you got caught up in it."
"Richard," the voice in Occult's head grew serious, not at all Johnny Thunder's well-known jovial sing-song of a voice, "there is nothing random about any of this. Not me, not the lady outside, none of it. You have a fate tailor-made for you, but one that requires some….training, some education. Everything's going to pieces, Doc, and for magic, that means something that has always been hit-and-miss is growing even more frayed. Strands of reality, of power, of people blowing in some mysterious, empyrean wind. Blowing us all toward the Melding, but no lighthouses to show us what that is. Nothing, but you. To do that, you have to know the condition of things now."
"And you, Johnny? You're going to show me those things?"
"Yeah, sure I am. Going to send you that way, anyhow."

Occult moved away from the coffin, still unsure about all that was happening, but trusting Johnny's words. He stood with his hands at his side as he said, "All right, Johnny. Do your bit, then."
"One thing, Doc." Pause. "Say you will come back when you know you are done with all your learning. Say you will come back….and let me go to rest."

Occult knew what he was agreeing to. "I will, Johnny. I swear."
"Then," the voice in Occult's head said happily, "I wish you greatest of luck on the journeys you are about to take now!"

A glimmer of pink, and Occult was gone from the church.

There. Able to see the nurses screaming at doctors through doorless walls for help with a head wound or an accident victim. Able to taste the scent of formaldehyde, ammonia, and sweat of patients and doctors alike all around him. But not there. Unable to touch the tiny baby to his left that was dying of a knife wound it did not deserve. Unable to get run over by the maniacally swerving gurney being ushered at breakneck speed down the hall toward him. Suddenly Dr. Occult knew what Scrooge must have felt like. Yet he had no ghostly escorts.

The man on the gurney was strapped down with kevlar straps. His body was full of sedatives, Occult saw the shifts in his body, in his aura. Yet he still fought like he was an army instead of one man, his long red hair flying about wildly, the white streak as prominent as it always had been. His fervor did not surprise Occult, for he had always known Jason Blood to be a warrior. What did startle, almost frighten him, was what Blood was screaming about.
"I have to find him!! Don't you understand?? If I do not find him, then Hell will come here! I have to find him, to rejoin him!!"

A pretty young woman walked briskly up to the gurney, holding her hand up to silently order the orderly to stop pushing. Her skin was beautifully pale, porcelain lain over an exquisite frame. She leaned over Blood's face and said calmly, "Sir, my name is Emily. Emily Thirteen. I am a doctor. Let me help."

Blood relaxed a little. It must have been the vibrations from her, the same ones that Occult felt, those abilities that linked her to her long dead relative. She went on, "You jumped from a building, Mr. Blood, nine stories up. You are very lucky to be alive."
"Luck has little to do with me!" He raised his head up and through gritted teeth hissed, "I have to find him, to rejoin with him!! I haveto!!"

Dr. Thirteen kept her composure. "Who do you have to find, Mr. Blood?"

Blood's voice grew quiet, but lost nothing in intensity. "Etrigan. Someone has him. I have to find the demon Etrigan."

Occult would not be on this New York street long. He looked fervently, unsure of what he was to find here. On his side of the street was a rather modern office building, all glass and alloy. Across the street was an older stone building, nondescript, empty. Neither of them revealed anything to him. Ornate street lights stood on each of the four corners, lights that no longer worked, long ago obsolete in this part of town. All of them unimportant signposts of the past. All but one.

Occult moved across the street, past cars. Only one honked, a taxi driver who had practiced Voodoo many years before. Occult slowed as he neared the lamppost, the only one with an ornate carving reaching from its base to nearly the long dead light itself. To most it was simply an oddly grotesque statue of a giant man, an ogre to some. To Occult, it was much more than that, much more. Yet its significance could be captured with only one word.
"Oom."

She laughed as he moaned, their motions fluid as he pushed harder into her. He knew he was dying now, his organs being butchered one by one from the inside. And he didn't care. Each tear, each rip made him thrust harder, faster. She let her bare breasts fall into his face, her left nipple dipping into the dark blood as it bubbled up in his mouth. His hands scraped at the air, struggling for life, then tangling in her long auburn hair, pulling her down on him. She kissed his bloody mouth, then looked up. She saw Occult in the shadows of substance around her. She smiled a girlish grin as she licked her lips sensually. She stuck her tongue out a bit, a glob of blood on the end. An offer for Occult to join in. He shook it off. She rolled the blood into her own mouth.

Through his own bile and blood, the balding man gasped, "For the love of God-"
"No, my dear priest," she purred, sex and sacrilege in every syllable, "You did not lay aside your collar for the love of anything, especially not of God. You came to me and in me freely, willingly. And you die the same way. Freely. You let me crawl in you. Willingly. You let me take it all from you piece by piece. You welcome me, don't you?"
"Yes….Yes!" he wheezed with his last breaths.

She howled in orgasm as he died, her own body alive with dark swirls of destruction and gray shades of a tarnished soul. She fell on him, exhausted from the moment, whispering to Occult, "And soon you will welcome me, Doctor. As all eventually welcome Nyola, the She-Death."

Occult stood among the folds of the tattered stage curtain. The performer's back was to him. The drunken, sneering crowd looked through him as easily as they did the holes in the curtain. The man on stage was dressed as Occult remembered him, in a top hat and suit, the basic outfit for a Twentieth Century magician. His mustache was gone, but it was him.

The magician stood beside his large, foul smelling volunteer from the audience. He looked up at him, saying, "You want to do this trick after all you've said to me tonight, my good man?"

The big man hacked something green from his throat, spitting it on the magician's hat. "Sure, anything to prove to my girl you ain't nothin' but a freak and phony! What've I gotta do?"

The magician smiled, not a malicious sneer, simply a staged smile. "Why, nothing at all, except look into my eyes."

The man nodded once, grunted, and set his stare on the eyes of the magician. Both of his eyes focused on the monocle worn by the performer. Nothing happened at first; several people in the audience began to moan for a singer or anyone other than the guy on stage. Then, suddenly, the big man's body shivered. Just once. A long, head-to-to tremble. And he was gone. Occult saw the look of utter terror on the man's face as he vanished, swallowed by an awesome set of jaws that only Occult, the volunteer, and the magician could see. The jaws snapped the man in one bite and vanished. The audience stood up and cheered, the now-dead man's girlfriend hollering, "I told you he wasn't fake, Denny!"

The magician smiled and took his bow. He turned to walk off stage, not even acknowledging Occult as he went by. He stopped to listen to the emcee say his name.
"Let's hear it again for the Master of Magic Magnificent! Zor!!!!!"

Occult stood on nothing. And leaned against everything. He had passed through here a few times before, but this was different. This place, this home of Order and Chaos and those who lorded over both, was dead now. Almost empty.
"They grew bored, Occult."

Occult saw the being before him, once a dazzling display of light, then a human form, then light again. "So, they did what, Nabu? They left?"

Nabu laughed out loud, forming into a disembodied pair of red lips as he did it. "No. Even with all the unrest in the universe, both sides wanted more. They grew hungry for more. For what the other had. For each other. So they ate one another."
"But not before they let you back in, eh, Nabu? Not before you were made a Lord of Order again?"

The lips twisted into a wild smirk. "Yes, not before that. Quite convenient, wasn't that?"
"Then why didn't you join in on the feast?"
"Because," Nabu said, the smile slipping into the humanoid form of Kent Nelson, "My appetites have turned to other things, other tastes. To humanity."

The young girl stood quietly, her hands down in front of her, clasped together and nearly hidden by the long sleeves of her white robe. Her head was bowed. Occult watched as she waited for the door behind the large desk before her to open. He was even more detached here than the other visits. No one, not even the strongest of mystics, would sense him here. He only wished one could when the door opened and an older woman walked into the room.

She was in a long white robe, much like the one worn by the girl, except for a thick black stripe that ran down the center of hers. Occult studied her, seeing little that time had scarred. Her face was still the most finely crafted visage of beauty. Her ebony hair was longer than he remembered it, a flame of white hair running through it, adding only to her magnificence. She moved with the elegance of an angel. In that white robe, one might mistake her for an angel from a children's story. Occult nearly did.
"Angelique," her voice was quiet, but echoed in the silence of the room, "you know why you are here."

The girl meekly nodded. "Yes, Mother."
"The other sisters of the Order have met and discussed your actions. They are all in agreement. Are you ready for their decision?"
"Yes, Mother."
"They have decided that you shall be restricted to your cell for the next three days. That is all."

The girl raised her head, a happy, glowing smile on her face.
"Some wished something more stringent, but they were persuaded that this shall show you that you must not leave the Hall without the others of the Order. You are still a novice, not voiced in the ways of the World. Will you ever do this again, Angelique?"

Her voice was a bit more vibrant. "No, Mother, never again."

The older woman smiled pleasantly. "That is good, my little sister. You may go to your cell now."

The little girl nearly bounced backward to the door. As she opened it, she gleefully said, "Oh, thank you, Mother Zatanna, thank you so much!!"

Occult wanted to watch her smile again, to watch her turn and leave, but he did not get that chance.
"I have not dealt with those….matters for some time now, old friend."
"I know, I know. But, as I said, this is different."

The two men walked beside one another between the ancient trees of the Black Forest. One was a resident of a nearby cave, a hermit by choice, a wise man to those desperate enough to seek him out. The other was a hermit by no means, a man who enjoyed finally for the first time ever living life, not for what he could take from it, but for what it gave him. Though he would still admit that he quite enjoyed taking from it, and others, at times.

Occult listened closely as he walked near them, still unseen even by these two whose very forms were pure magic. "It is different when each one comes to me, William. Each seeker of truth, each purveyor of knowledge. Each one comes for a different reason."
"To Skartaris with that, Wotan!" William Zard slapped the ground hard with the tip of his cane. Ever since Wotan had found his own way back from the petty evils both he and Zard once dabbled in, he had taken this holy man routine seriously. Sometimes too seriously. "I am not here to ask you the meaning of life or to tell you I saw 'Trigon' spelled out in my soup at lunch!! I have need of you, of your help."
"I am beyond that part of me, Zard." Wotan folded his green-skinned hands together, almost as if he meant to pray. "Evil and good are mere abstractions to me. I simply seek to dwell in the Magick, not use it for my gain."
"You must be daft with cave dust, you green guru!! I am not here to recruit you for a bank robbery. I have left all of that back there, too. The Wizard and all those failed coups and crimes are no more. I have come for a graver purpose. I could find no one else. The Stranger has passed on. Others are either gone, occupied, or simply insane. I need your help, Wotan."
"To what end?"
"To stop one of those that has gone the way of the lunatic. One you and I have both crossed with in our more reckless…" Zard laughed at his next word, "youth. He carries more power than he or even we ever knew." Zard put his hand on Wotan's arm, stopping him. "Now he means to damn all with his power and that blasted stick of his, the damned fool not even aware of what he's toying with. Or what day it is for that matter." Zard looked at Wotan grimly. "Wotan, I am asking you to help me. Help me stop, help me destroy Ibis the Invincible."

After another trip to New York (Check out the BIZARRO One-Shot for the full details on the subject of Occult's last visit), Occult found himself nowhere. Not quite nowhere, but….between. In the space between reality and illusion, between fact and fiction. He'd walked this corridor before, so he knew what being here meant. That his traveling education was now over.
"So, Doc," Johnny Thunder's voice came on in Occult's head again, "See the state of things?"
"Yes, Johnny. Although I have a feeling, several feelings actually, that there are other fragments I didn't see."
"Oh boy, are you ever right about that! But those will wait until you get back."
"Back? From where?"
"You've seen bits and pieces of what magic on the whole has become, Doc. The next part is for you to see why it is how it is now. Magic wasn't some great mass of power that has just decayed over eons or nothin' like that. No, destiny, chance, or whatever else there might be out there set things up to happen all the time. Same is true with all the magicks. Once they all existed together, or at least with one another. Going nowhere, except where they and their users wanted them to go. That has changed. And that change started long ago."
"And I have to go back there?" Occult asked. "To learn about when this change began?"

Johnny's voice grew solemn. "That, and to see if you can learn anything about what the Melding means and if you need to stop it. Cuz, if you do," a long pause, "then you may have to…make some changes yourself. Remove the people put in place that caused the great shift in all the magicks."

Occult thought he understood Johnny's last words as the crowded nothingness of between faded into four walls and a ceiling. Occult quickly realized why Johnny Thunder's words sounded so dark, so sad. Invisible to all, Occult stood in a room that he had only been in once before for a few moments. But this time, he was here at a historic, auspicious moment. And he could not believe it. He could not believe these people were the beginning of the shift in all the magicks. He could not believe that he might have to kill one, some, or all of them.
"No. This can't be."

Eight figures stood around a round table in the large room. They each took a seat, one after the other. Occult watched in awe as they all sat around the round table. A round table with words carved in the middle. Carved by the fastest hands known to man at that time. Words that said it all--JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA.

END ACT III


Intoxicating. Occult tasted it all in the air, the bittersweet tinge of power, coincidence, chance, and energy, tickling at his tongue, ravaging his psyche as it heaved and crashed within him. He stared in awe at the eight around the table, even at the young, addle-headed Johnny Thunder standing outside of this fabled circle of gods-to-be, from his place between moments and shadows, where no one, not even Dr. Fate or The Spectre, saw him spying. He had stood alongside each of the men before him many times, counting himself as an equal among them, a fellow mystery man, but this time, this moment was different, in ways that Occult just barely grasped. Of course, Occult barely grasped most of the past few -- had it been minutes, days, or centuries since all this had started? Time did not matter any more, at least it was not supposed to. It could not at the moment, for even though he still struggled with all he had learned in a wink of forever, he felt that he now stood at the pivotal point. The beginning of his destiny, this abstract mission the Stranger and others had recently told him about, gathered around the table that last he saw it resided in a glass case in the Smithsonian. The answers to so many questions and the inklings of still more questions rested silently within the mouths and masks of the legends, still so vital in their youth, before him. The end of all that was magick, and perhaps reality as Occult and others knew it, might very well be dancing about one or all of the men in the room, a flirty phantom of final destruction. Occult felt all of that here. All of that inevitability, that vitality, that raw force of will and spirit. All of that which might destroy all that was.

All of it was there. In that dark room in Gotham City. At the first meeting of the Justice Society of America.

ACT IV: "The Tarnish of Gold"

Occult had heard many versions of what actually occurred the night the Justice Society first met in November, 1940. Only once, from the Spectre, who could not lie, had he heard what he was now witnessing. The first meeting of the greatest group of heroes ever assembled together was little more than a roundtable storytelling session. Suggested by Johnny Thunder, the various heroes were sharing tales of their own exploits. The Flash started with a yarn of high- speed treasure hunting, and Hawkman was just finishing a story of fire beings living in a volcano. Occult knew he could simply stand gawking in the shadows no one saw listening in childlike awe to these fanciful flights, but there was that gnawing at his heart, an ethereal scent of something off. So much righteousness at one table, so much turmoil in the very air around them. That was why he was here.

He let his eyes fall into each one as he looked from man to man, peeling away the physical like a dead skin, peering underneath the Technicolor grandiosity into the black-and-white truth harbored in the darkness of each one. And in them he saw much to come… and much that had been….. Dr. Fate's trials with Nabu…. The Spectre's questions of faith and God… Hourman's addictions, his own creation first, then adrenaline later…. Green Lantern's heavy legacy and two children he would not know until they were adults… The Sandman's troubled personal life in and out of the gasmask… The Atom-s never-ending struggle to be better, brighter, and taller than all the rest and his blindness to the fact that he was already what he wished to be… The Flash's struggle as the father of a tradition and the losses that parenthood was to bring…. Hawkman's --
"You don't see it, do you, Richard?"

Occult jumped, even though he had watched Carter Hall, the famed Hawkman, excuse himself from the table just before the Spectre began his contribution to the meeting. Hawkman walked out of the room, not from one room to the next, but in between thoughts and time, removing his Hawk's head mask as he went, stepping into Occult's face.
"You don't see it. But you hear it, don't you?"

No longer letting surprise hold him in its thrall too long, Occult focused on Hawkman's words. He opened up his ears to all the sounds spoken in the room at present, past, and future. And he did hear something. Faint. Ominous. Not of the room. But of one of the men at the table.
"Yes," he said, his dark eyes narrowing on the man at the table haunted by the hideous whisper, "I do. Is that why I am here? To kill a founding member of the Justice Society because Hawkman hears a disembodied voice that I hear as well?"
"No." Hawkman smiled, no humor behind it at all, but a smile meant for comfort. Occult noticed that although he should be a man in his late twenties, the Hawkman before him wore the face of an older, perfectly fit, but older man. The Hawk's head mask was no longer under his arm, simply gone, and the wings did not appear to be held on his back by his trademark yellow straps, though they were still across his chest. He continued, "He is not the reason completely, and you will not have to kill him… but you will have to deal with… that circumstance eventually. And, Richard, it's not Hawkman. Not to you. Not now. I am simply.. Carter Hall."

Even as the questions bubbled up in his mind, Occult felt the answers rising to the surface with them. The advantages of expanded consciousness, he thought to himself. "You are here at the meeting… and here outside of this moment with me at the same time? I knew of your Egyptian lineage, Carter, but I never knew your abilities included… this."
"They didn't. Not in 1940, at least." Carter paused. "But, in a way, they did, because we are here now, aren't we?" Carter laughed. "Now I'm sounding like the Phantom Stranger. Tripping over my own riddles."
"Lately," Occult replied with a smirk, "I know the feeling." Letting the moment pass, Occult asked, "This, this concerns your involvement with the Hawk avatar, doesn't it? The banishing of the avatars of the Hawk near the end of this century?" (See issues of HAWKMAN:DCU for that horrible storyline!!)

Carter nodded solemnly. "It's not easy for me to explain because I am not aware of all the reasons for it myself, but as the battle of the avatars and the Final Banishing were happening, I….. was made over again. I had yet another Becoming. I transcended mortality as an avatar…. and transcended that, being reborn as… a force… a force of magick. Not as you were, not as one who holds all magicks around him, but simply as one of those magicks.

Occult nodded, but still asked, "One of which magicks?"

Carter's brow furrowed. "It is no longer that simple to clearly define the magicks. The best way to describe it is that I became… a primal force in magic. It was as if I existed everywhere I always had before, alongside myself at all points in my lives. And beyond." Carter noticed Occult's simultaneous confusion and realization. "I was saved from oblivion by an accident of the Melding. A random accident of magic."
"Is that what the Melding is, Carter?" Occult asked. "Is it just a series of 'random accidents of magic'?"
"From what you have seen, what do you think it is, Richard?"

Occult's face flamed with frustration. "For one who is supposed to investigate the Melding and determine whether it must be stopped or spurred on, I know little about it."

Carter shook his head. "You have had a difficult time of it, Richard, but you are a detective. You know that in order to learn how and why something ends as it does, you must know how it begins."

Occult nodded. "This is like no case I have ever known, Carter. There are signposts all along the way on this one. The Stranger, the street of lost magicks, the lady at the church, poor Johnny Thunder. Now you. I am starting to feel less like a defender of anything and more like some cosmic chess piece."
"And the sad part, Richard, is it is a game that you are a major player in. But the trip down the yellow brick road is almost done, Dorothy." A tiny grin split his usual stern expression. "I am your last guide. Your guide to why this one event," his hand gestured widely at the men gathered around the meeting table, that historic scene now frozen before them in an eerie tableau, an unfinished portrait in time, "is where the beginning of the end may very well have started.
"It's not a long lesson, just a convoluted one. Magic has always been, but there has never been simply one Magic. It is like a silken cord made up of strands of varying enchantments, sundry powers, many magicks woven into what is Magic. Never the same, but all coexisting together, all cutting the same cosmic path. Many of the magicks remained untouched, hidden to any mortal. Still others were discovered, their secrets revealed, and then added to the canon that many in the world refer to as 'Science.' And of course, there were magicks that across the universe some mortal, fortunate or unfortunate depending on what they found, stumbled into and became a master of. Even with all of that, the magicks remained as they were, all separate, but still a part of some ethereal whole.
"Magicks always had a natural tendency to move toward an end… that of completion, all the arts merging into one. And that was occurring as it was meant to by whatever God or omnipotent toy maker wound up the universe to begin with. Then something happened. Not an organized evil plot. Not a great cosmos- shaking crisis. Just a coincidence. Actually several coincidences."

Occult started to understand, his gaze wandering back to the men at the table. "Like hard water suddenly granting a man super speed. Or a bullet striking a policeman down and leading to his rebirth as a ghostly avenger… Or a stone powered with emerald energy falling to the earth…." He looked at Carter… "Or a man realizing he is an Egyptian prince reincarnated and gaining the power to fly. All of these things and others happened. And all of these things were somehow magick-related?"
"Don't sound so incredulous, Richard. You of anyone should know that all things are of the Magic. What ancient civilizations called magicks, we now call sciences and religions. These events occurred and were just as natural as the original intent of the magicks, some would say. Others might hold that these random happenings were not intended, but a corruption of destiny, karma, or some other force. Whatever the reason, they happened.. and the balance shifted."
"You mean, it just didn't stop at you eight. You all basked in the light of Fortune's smile, never knowing that what you were doing was unraveling the very fabric of what we call reality… the very basis of imagination, faith, and power…. And others came."
"And kept coming. We flew into our tacky suits and our adoring public's hearts, all the time spreading chaos unintentionally throughout order. Like children with several ends of one ball of yarn, we all pulled and pulled… until…." Carter hung his head… "it all finally came undone."

Occult saw it now. All out in front of him like a blueprint… but for what… destruction of all, or fulfillment of what should be? "It reached such a point after what you all…" He hesitated, suddenly feeling the burden of his unknowing part in this… "what we all did that there was so many magicks, not only the ones that always had been, but others, new one, variations and perversions of the old ones. And they were no longer winding together, but flying apart and into one another. And no one knew to do anything about it. So, as it always does, reality…. decided to take care of its own."
"Yes," Carter responded. "Magic started pulling itself back together. The year the Stranger placed you in is the moment that what began here ends…. and we move into.. the Melding. But all that was once flowing together is now so divergent, so very twisted and tangled… that it is not known what the Melding

will cause. This has been foretold by mystics and psychics since the mid-20th Century. What wasn't foretold was that the Almighty, or whoever does such things, knew that this was inevitable by the beginning of the 20th Century… and made sure someone was born to deal with whatever happened." Carter's eyes fell heavy on Occult.

Occult, lost in confusion, bitterness, and grief before, stood up straight, shaking his shoulders slightly, as if to throw off all that had been before. His mind was clear, his heart was howling in his ears, and his time had come. Just like that. An epiphany. A predestined moment. Or maybe just a man who gave up on understanding any of it and decided just to do what he thought was best. Whatever it was, Dr. Richard Occult had discovered all he needed to know, enough that he saw a need for what he could do, a need to set things right. And that had been his compass ever since his time with the Seven and all through his life with…..
"Rose."
"Richard." Carter saw Occult's eyes explode with hope and desire, a feeling he knew so well when he first found himself able to move through his own years freely, able to snatch glimpses of Shiera in her youth and radiance. And he had to admit to himself he had at times taken liberties and spent moments with her, loving her again as she slept, thinking him only a erotic dream after a night of passion with his mortal self. But Occult had no time for that. Carter knew he knew that, not only because of his nearly omniscient abilities newly granted to him, but most of all because Richard Occult was above all else a man of purpose and honor.
"I know, Carter. I have things to do." Occult closed his eyes, killing what light he knew had briefly burned there again.

Carter put his hand on Occult's shoulder. "Yes. But, Richard, know this. You and Rose….. are like magic. Unending. And you will find your way together again." He dropped his hand, his Hawk's head helmet reappearing under his arm. Taking it in both hands, he put it on his head, his youthful features returning as it slipped over his face. His wings detached from his back and found their way onto the straps again. He turned away, looking back to say, "I'll be seeing you again, too, friend." With his first step, Hawkman was moving back to the table just as The Spectre's story was beginning.

Occult watched and listened for a moment, taking in the momentous scene once more. He then closed his eyes, pursed his lips, and reached out across the time and world he now stood in and found her…. poring over books researching the fabled Green Arrow for a case they had… and he lightly laid a kiss on her lips. She felt little more than a passing tingle, but it was for him a kiss that he had yearned for for decades. He sighed, opened his eyes, and with an unnecessary theatric wave of his hand, moved himself back to 2112, back to the decimated church to keep a promise. As he vanished from one year to the next, he could still hear the hellish voice repeating the phrase that would curse one of the members of the Justice Society for the rest of his life.
"Tick-tock…. Tick-tock… Tick-tock… Tick-tock."

***********************************************************

Occult felt the future on his hands first, shifting from one existence to another, finding their way back to the near-lifeless church his journey had started in. His body began to follow, blown across time and space like crushed rose petals caught in the embrace of a firm, but gentle wind, but was suddenly slapped hard, every atom of his body struck by a bolt of salmon lightning.

His very essence screamed, scattered all about the hull of a building, collecting finally in a corner. He was slumped over, his entire self aching from the attack by the Pink. Raising his head, he saw that he and Johnny Thunder, still held in the clear coffin behind the altar, were not alone as before. Two men, one a rather short, fat man with a goatee beard wearing a scarlet robe, the other a rippling mound of muscles in an identical robe, fitting tightly over his biceps, stood in front of the altar, one on each side. The Pink shimmered and shattered between them, a kinetic burst of energy firing from one to the other and back.

Johnny's voice rattled again in Occult's head, now barely a memory's whisper. "Sorry… Doc… they got….. back… before you… did…."
"Don't worry, Johnny." Occult stood slowly, his words to Johnny unheard by the two men. "I'm only here to keep my word to you. They won't take long."
"You be better off on your back." The muscled man's voice popped out in short, bellowing blasts. "We just put you back there anyhow soon enough."

Occult chuckled. "I best warn the both of you that I've been in a bad mood for nearly two centuries now, and I've had nearly enough."

The fat man shouted in a nasal voice, "Blasphemer! You dare misuse the power of the Lightning of the Lord in His own dark house and still speak with insolence!"

Occult smiled. "There you go. That makes it enough."

Occult chanted quickly in a long-dead Arabic dialect as the fat man turned toward the Pink and threw his hands up high. A burst of white light filled the church as the Pink shot toward Occult in a frenetic ball. Occult squinted his eyes, his hands up, working the light he conjured, his fingers weaving the light around Pink, encasing it in a spherical cocoon of white.

The bigger man roared. "Forget magic! See what your powers do to Mojo!"

Scraping his foot three times on the floor like a bull coaxed into charging, the man charged at Occult, growling for blood.

Occult waited, giving Mojo his time, letting him get close, then stepped aside, delivering a crushing blow to the massive man's gut as he did. Mojo's black eyes widened, then slammed shut as Occult followed through with an uppercut, shattering Mojo's jaw.
"No!" The fat man screamed as his companion, and apparent physical protection, timbered to the floor with only a groan and a thud. The little man scurried like a rat realizing the cat has seen it from his place near the altar to the rear of the church. Countering him, Occult ran to the altar, eager to finish this.

The little man stood near the white sphere that the Pink was trapped in, shouting at Occult, "You don't get it, do you? You want to free our vessel so he can die, then do that. But know that his power will go on, uncontrolled!" He laughed in short chortles that made him sound like he was choking. "The focus will be gone, and the Lightning of the Lord will be free! To devastate, to destroy, and to one day, be contained again!"
"Fine." Occult looked over his shoulder at the pitiful excuse for Johnny Thunder's body suspended in a transparent box, then back at the robed man. Occult nodded that direction and the white light peeled itself away quickly, leaving the Pink floating around its master like a demented aura. "Then you better kill me now because I intend to free my friend and then fill you with so much of that pink firefly there that you'll fry from the inside out."

The fat little man's mouth curled into an insipid grin, the goatee making him look like a caricature of Anton LeVey. He said nothing, only gestured with both his pudgy hands at Occult. The Pink snapped into line, its sparks melting together into a jagged bolt of lightning, and leaped at Occult.

Hoping this trick would work twice in one fight, Occult let the Pink get within a second of him, then jumped to his right. The Pink bolt struck Johnny Thunder's coffin, splintering the enchanted box into shards of light and dust. Occult rolled up to his feet, firing a stream of eldritch at the fat man in the robe as he ran from the church, leaving his religion behind.

Occult rushed from one second to the next, catching Johnny's emaciated, withered body before it fell to the floor. What had been the Pink ricocheted madly around the church, slamming into beams and walls, leaving pink flames burning everywhere it touched. Occult cradled Johnny in his arms as Johnny's lips parted, shut, then opened again. His chest heaved, each time rising up as if it would break open, then sinking down as if it were about to cave in.
"Johnny," Occult said gravely, "I know what you want, but.." he hesitated, "if you do die, then…"
"Yeah…" Johnny's voice was still in Occult's head, his vocal chords long dead from no use, "the fat guy was right, Doc. One of the things about being Corrupted, I guess. Do what you have to, Doc. I could handle being around awhile longer, just as long as I'm out of that damned box." His paper-thin lips slowly wrapped up into a smile.

Occult nodded. Placing his hands on Johnny's body, he closed his eyes, focusing all the magicks at his call on making Johnny whole again. The Pink still shot about in chaotic frenzy, the entire church now nearly consumed in tongues of salmon colored flame. A halo of multicolored light surrounded Johnny's body, raising him up from the ground, but still nothing changed.
"His soul is the power, Richard Occult. It is his that you must contain."

Occult raised his head. At the back of the church, cast in an eerie rose colored glow by the flames, was the redheaded woman who first directed him into the church. Her emerald eyes saw all around her and at the same time read every thought in Occult's lifetime.
"Johnny," Occult said as he tore his eyes from the woman, "I need your help. Not in my mind, Johnny, but in your body. I need you, Johnny, to say your words. Take control of your Thunderbolt again. Say your magic words." He shook his head as Johnny's body quaked with excruciating effort. Occult knew even that would probably not be enough.

The woman knew that Occult was right. "More is needed, Richard Occult, more than even you have to give. Say my name."

Occult angrily shouted, "Who the hell are you?"

Johnny's frail lips cracked open as he started to say his magic words.
"You know, Richard Occult," the woman said. "Say my name."

Johnny struggled, saying, "…Cei…. U…" as Occult shouted the woman's name.
"SHAZAM!!!!!!"

The air sizzled as two bolts of lightning erupted from nowhere, one pink, the other yellow, both colliding into Johnny Thunder's chest, wracking his body with spasms of energy. Occult threw up his hands and fell back out of the way of the blasts. He watched as the lightnings mingled and merged, tendrils of power entangling Johnny's body, then suddenly exploding upward, a single strand of light burning through what was left of the roof, leaving only a burnt silhouette on the floor where Johnny's body had been.

Occult stood, knowing instantly that Johnny Thunder's story was surely not over, and quickly moved to the back of the church, following the woman out. As they both reached the sidewalk, the church trembled, pink fire engulfing it, and crumbled into nothing, its very structure consumed by the corrupted magick eating at it.
"So," Occult said, willing his clothes and body clean the second time that day, "you grew tired of being a movie double for God, did you?"

The woman, Shazam, replied, "The reasons for my presence in this form are many, Richard Occult, and shall be dealt with in time."

Occult smiled. "Yes. You are Shazam. Yes, you are."

Ignoring that comment, Shazam looked sternly at Occult and said, "And you, Richard Occult, what are you? Now that you know all that you can of what has happened to you and to the Magic of this universe, what are you?"

Occult looked back at her. "I'm the man who intends to set things right. Whatever that might mean to me and to the Magic."

The two stood in silence, slivers of pink eldritch still flickering on the once-holy ground behind them.

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