Crowley was very old, not superhuman in any sense, but he did not look his years. There was no denying age, but it was ambiguous as to just how old he was. His stark white hair and the deep lines on his face showed a long life, but he had the step of a much younger man. Always dressed as a gentleman, he wore an Edwardian suit and tie, harkening back to the turn of the century.
He stood in their headquarters at the top story of the Tribune Tower. A single note of clarity in a symphony of abandoned hope, one of the few buildings left standing. Racks of dusty machinery, old towers of copper coil, and hundreds of cables dangled in the dark surrounding him. He sometimes felt his eyes could still see this place in all its glory. Before the storm it hummed with life as lightning arced from point to point, images flickering in static-and-gray glass tubes, and the miracles of science blasphemed against practical thoughts. Crowley sighed at the dusty mess that it had become.
He had lived in war and peace, and the things that happen in between. He had known heroes and dictators and had even himself fought in the sands of Arabia and the Savannahs of Africa. He had seen the world change from what it was to the glorious pinnacle of a new enlightened age. As man began to harness the forces of life, so too did he see the consequence of that knowledge. For all the light and ease that the modern prophets brought forth, there was always a counterbalance. This one was called: Dr. Death.
Death’s true name was less intimidating. Truman Artemis LaCroix was one of the brightest minds the world had ever known. Crowley had sought him out years before, curious to know more of the man who had promised to cure all disease. Crowley found him a bit odd but could never have imagined the insane mind that would eventually destroy Chicago. He never dreamed that years later the Great Crusader, Sigil, and himself would be in a fight against the maniacal genius.
The two great minds teamed up to help change medicine. Magnetics, electricity, and radio waves were used to influence various enzymes, chemical compositions, and the very cells of life. LaCroix understood the biology, Crowley the electric universe. Together they would change the world, but their journey was cut short. LaCroix’s wife died in childbirth and he withdrew from the world. Crowley recognized his own hand in Dr. Death’s plan.
The entanglement went further. LaCroix and Crowley had created the serum that was the source of Sigils’ power. It was their experimental serum that saved the young boy cursed with polio. When all other doctors had given up hope, left Casey to his fate, they found a way to heal him. Without LaCroix’s cure, Casey Connor, the Sigil of justice, wouldn’t exist. On that fateful night when the Great Crusader almost met his end, ultimately LaCroix and Crowley were part of saving him.
Crowley found himself furrowing his brow at the curious web of connections. He tugged on his beard and sighed.
The wireless chirped and he turned to make his way across their dusty headquarters. He found the Marconi box on the worktable, flicked a few toggles and spoke.
“Master Casey, where are you?” Crowley asked.
“I’m outside the stadium. There’s a horde of people,” Casey replied.
“The living dead tend to congregate there.”
“No, they’re alive. They’re fighting. They’re trying to get in, but they aren’t doing well.”
“Are any of them wearing a large helmet or hat? LaCroix will need something like that to control the dead, if you see one get it off their head. His henchmen may have them too,” said Crowley.
“Just people fighting monsters. I don’t see Dr. Death.”
“Master Casey, you must help them.”
“It won’t make a difference. They’re dead already, they just don’t know it,” he said as he wiped black desiccated ooze from his Marconi box.
“You’ve been sneaking into the fortress for weeks now, planting bombs, getting ready to end this. They have more days ahead. Give them hope and it will—”
“Don’t. His way didn’t work. It can’t work. We’re almost done, and these aren’t the last of them.”
“As you wish, Sigil,” Crowley said as he set his box down.
Casey carefully wiped away the sticky black ooze that covered his Marconi box. He pulled back a small protective cover that prevented an emergency call button from being pressed. The button was set to the frequency of the bombs and would detonate them early were he to be caught. He wanted to make sure it was clean so that if he needed— it had to end one way or another.
He turned away from the desperate plight of the living, this wasn’t a skirmish in the street. He wasn’t fighting a few undead. This was an all-out battle, and most of them were going to die. He didn’t fear for himself, but if he had to watch it again…he just couldn’t.
The makeshift warriors swung homemade swords and axes and created a putrid torrent of infected black blood and undying parts. The living became mired in the sticky black ooze, and knee deep in dead bodies. They were forced to rip apart their fallen companions or face them again in moments. Casey bit his lip and clenched his fists and sunk down into the safety of the wrecked train car.
The Chicago Mercury Train moved passengers from Chicago to Detroit, with all the luxury of the finest night club. Now, it was like the rest of the city, burnt and tattered. There was a sun-bleached magazine that survived the fire on the floor. Its cover showed an Egyptian exhibit was debuting, two years ago, one no one would ever see.
The Death storm created a wall of violent winds that swept around the outskirts of the city, and any who entered joined the ranks of the living dead in minutes. No one had come through, no planes, no people, not even a radio transmission. As far as Casey knew, they were all that was left of the world.
When he first started fighting crime it was just thugs and pimps but the criminals soon changed. They started wearing costumes and using needlessly elaborate plans. The Pharaoh dressed like King Tut. He had his thugs done up like mummies and stole only sheets from department stores. Then, there was Professor, a mad villain, who wore a cap and gown while robbing libraries of their bookmarks. The corner of his mouth twitched towards a smile as he looked at the magazine cover which featured four beautiful sarcophagi.
They were mostly silly mad men. Simply sick confused people driven to despair by the economic depression. As the crime rate fell and the economy healed, more costumed criminals appeared. Most just wanted to get into the papers, a few were just lost, but always the cops let the Great Crusader catch them. By the time of the Death Storm, most criminals they captured were already surrounded by cops and reporters. All that was left to do was deliver a good wallop on the jaw of crime and take a nice photo of the two handing the criminals off. It continued with unusual regularity. Same great time, same great papers.
He remembered when the Crusader fell. They had just finished fighting a gang of clowns. The jokers weren’t dangerous, they didn’t even carry guns. It was all just spectacle. There had been pictures in the paper of the two heroes punching clowns all week and people were just buying it up. It wasn’t even hard. It was that, Casey thought, which made them soft. They weren’t ready for Dr. Death.
There had been whispers of a new boss in town, a creepy man who kept stealing scientific items. Tesla coils, relics, chemicals, and finally test subjects. Morgan and Casey had found a lair below the city and uncovered the first of the undead. These weren’t just guys in Halloween make-up. They were corpses that tried to eat him alive. Casey was so scared that he had pissed himself.
Casey wanted to run home after that, but the Crusader found a blueprint to something called the Necro-tron. They had no idea what it did, just that they needed to stop it. Dr. Death had set up his device under the Chicago Stadium, and was planning to activate it that night.
Casey remembered his hands shaking and the smell of his own urine.
“Sigil, you head back to the tower. Get these plans to Crowley and let the cops know what’s going on,” said the Great Crusader.
“I should stay with you,” Sigil replied, his hands shaking, his breathing erratic. Brave didn’t mean unafraid.
“I’ve got this kiddo. Crowley will figure this out. I’ll call on the wireless if I need you.”
“I need to change anyway, I cant fight crime covered in my own piss!” Casey said jokingly, but he really wanted to leave.
Casey wiped the snot from his nose as his dark technicolor daydream ended. The howls of the recently dead echoed over the silence. No living screams were left to challenge them. He popped his head carefully from the car and saw that the battle was over. They were all dead and only the unliving walked outside the stadium.
In one painful moment, Casey’s soul split. Standing amongst the undead horde was the remnant corpse of the Great Crusader. Casey’s eyes swelled, his throat tightened, and his stomach turned. He grunted with pain, gritted his teeth and turned away. Rage and shame tore through him. He should never have run, he should have stayed by Mal’s side.
And with only faint embers of hope keeping him on track, he snuck away to finish what he had started.