Crowley was older than most knew. Not superhuman in any sense but he did not look his 90 years. There was no denying age, but it was ambiguous as to just how old he was. His thin white hair and the deep lines on his face showed a wizened age, but he had the step of a younger man. Always the gentleman, he wore a suit and tie, hearkening back to the turn of the century.
He stood in the center of the headquarters at the top story of the Tribune Tower. A single note of clarity in a symphony of abandoned hope. 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 the glory and splendor it once had. A time when 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 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 had a name: Dr. Death.
Truman Artemis LaCroix was one of the brightest minds the world had 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 entanglement went further. LaCroix was the source of Sigils’ power. It was his experimental serum that saved the young boy cursed with polio when all other doctors had written him off. 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 it was LaCroix who saved him. Crowley found himself furrowing his brow at the curious web of connections.
The wireless chirped and he turned to make his way across their dusty headquarters. He found the radio box on the worktable, flicked a few toggles and spoke.
“Master Casey, where are you?” Crowley asked.
“I’m outside the stadium but I can’t get in. 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.”
“Master Casey, you can help them.”
“And jeopardize the last four months of planning? Dr. Death thinks I’m dead. Showing up would put him on alert.”
“You’ve planted almost all of the charges. We only need the last ones in place around the Necro-Sanctum. It’s the control center of the Death Storm. You can help them,” Crowley insisted.
“Is there any more from the wireless?” asked Casey.
“No, just that one signal.”
Casey put the radio back on his belt. He took in his surroundings. He was in the rusted remains of a train car. At one time it probably held freight from the piers, destined for some city in the Midwest. Chicago was now cut off from the rest of the world. Dr. Death had seen to that.
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 from the outside and Casey wasn’t sure there was a world out there to go to. He had never tried to leave. When the storm wall formed, his fate was set.
He and the Crusader had been fighting crime for nearly a year when suddenly the ante was upped. At first it was just thugs and pimps, but soon after his debut, the criminals changed. They started wearing costumes, and using needlessly elaborate plans. The Pharaoh who dressed like King Tut and had his thugs done up like mummies. Then there was Professor, a mad villain who wore a cap and gown while robbing libraries.
It was true mad men, sick confused, people driven to despair by the economic depression. As the crime rate fell and the economy healed, these new 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 time of the Death Storm, most criminals that they captured were already surrounded by cops and reporters, and all that was left was for a good whallop on the jaw of crime, a nice photo of the two handing the criminals off, and the sweet dream continued on every week. Same great time, same great papers.
Casey watched as the small army began to whittle down. Makeshift warriors swung homemade swords and axes in a putrid torrent of infected black blood and undying parts. The living became mired in the sticky black ooze, found themselves knee deep in dead bodies, and ultimately overcome. They were forced to rip apart their fallen companions or face them again in moments. Death by gnarling gnashing bites, and if enough remains, to rise again infected with the insanity of it all.
Casey turned his head from the fight. 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, 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 his face.
Casey might have run home after that, but the Crusader found a Blueprint to something called the Necro-tron. They realized, with Crowley’s help, it would transform anyone within five miles of it into one of these undying creatures. Dr. Death had set up his device under the Chicago Stadium, and was planning to activate it that night. Casey, being only 14 years old, was so scared he pissed himself. The Great Crusader sent Casey back to headquarters. Casey didn’t fight him.
That day, the football game packed the stadium full, but he didn’t remember which teams were playing. The Crusader went in to fight Dr. Death alone. Letting him do that was Casey’s one mistake, his cowardice, the source of his self-hatred. It was just as he returned to headquarters that the city exploded into the Death Storm. Only half the people turned, but it was more than enough. The end had come to his beautiful Technicolor dream.
Casey wiped the snot from his nose. He wasn’t going to cry, not for things that lay in the past. He couldn’t change it, and now all he could do was fix it or die trying.
The band of the living, that had tried to fight, still moved, but none of living will. It was now time to move to the subway which had a path into the Stadium that Dr. Death didn’t know about. Casey had been using it to plant the bombs that would destroy the Necro-tron for weeks now. As he approached the entrance he looked back onto the battlefield. Undead creatures strolled about eating the few that hadn’t yet turned.
In one painful moment, Casey’s soul split. Standing amongst the undead horde was the Great Crusader. Casey’s eyes swelled, his throat tightened, and his stomach turned. Mal would have wanted him to end whatever suffering might be had, but Casey could barely look at his former mentor. He still could not do what needed to be done. He grunted with pain, gritted his teeth and turned into the subway. Dr. Death would pay for this! First the bombs and then Sigil was going to squeeze the life out of the man, slowly and with great joy and revenge.