A man wandered through a desert.
A place where slopes of sand rolled on much farther than they should have. Where the heat was so oppressive it stamped out any bit of physical energy that one could muster. It was a place where nothing survived. A Hell created specifically for the purpose of keeping him trapped or driving him insane; whichever came first.
But the man would not let this place, or its maker have the satisfaction of doing either.
He knew the secret to this Hell. He could recognize it in the burning sand beneath his feet; in the hot, dry air around him; and in the blistering sun above.
Magic was at work here.
Something he happened to know a fair bit about. For this man's name was Kent Nelson and for most of his life he was the Lord of Order known as Doctor Fate.
Was being the operative word.
With time Kent's body grew old and not even magic could sustain it. He and his wife, Inza, grew old together and eventually left the plane of the living…
With the thought of Inza thought his mind instantly snapped into lucidity. Had he been taken from the afterlife and placed in this place of magic? Had, somehow, he been intercepted and never made it to the afterlife? Then what of his precious Inza?! Had she also been brought to this hell?! His heart ached as the questions stacked upon each other and not a single answer was remotely within sight.
"Whoever you are, hear me now: YOU WILL NOT HOLD ME!" Kent screamed at the top of lungs before collapsing in the sand.
Maybe this place would hold him, maybe he would perish here. No, he pushed the thought out of his mind. The image of his lovely Inza appeared before his mind's eye.
I have to keep moving, he thought.
If Inza was also here he needed to be strong enough to get her out of this place.
He could recognize the type of magic that was at work. The environment was designed to bleed its victims of their life force. Ultimately, draining the soul away into nothingness.
The pain of the place echoed through his body as he lifted himself up from the scolding sand. Nearly every bit of him wanted to give in and relinquish to the heat, but every time he thought he had nothing left he would think of Inza. She fortified him. She always had.
"One foot…in front…of the other…"
Kent muttered to himself as he staggered forward.
He reminded himself that the desert wasn't real. That he had no mouth to be parched, no body to be fatigued. It was all just an illusion.
One designed to break him.
He had to keep moving.
The plan was simply survival. Means of escape were unknown, but Kent had faith that if he continued to hold on those means would present themself.
He was right.
A light rose from the sand in front of him and bled into the horizon, blinding Kent with an intensity that surpassed the sun overhead. It shrank into a small sphere and then began to change into a form that was unmistakably humanlike.
Even before the details finalized Kent knew exactly who was standing before him.
"Nabu! Why am I here?! What has happened?!" Kent shouted as he threw his arms out toward the illuminated figure.
The voice bellowed throughout the vast emptiness of the place.
"Magic has been fractured. The universe has changed, and so again shall Fate. This place you are in, is, as you may have guessed, an artificial environment, magic in nature. Secondly, no, Inza is not here with you. I knew that her status would be a pressing matter for you, so I attempted to locate her presence, which I could not. I have been wounded, defeated even. I can take you from this place, but only on a condition."
Conditions were the foundation of their entire relationship. It was always a losing battle with Nabu. A give, give, give and never get kind of relationship. In his years he had learned that there was never an alternative when Fate came knocking.
Kent gave a nod of agreement, to which Nabu continued with his proposal.
"In my current state I will not be able to hold my form on your plane any longer, but a new age of magic must be reined in and order must always be strong enough to take control of the Chaos. My proposition to you is a merger of souls. My knowledge, power, and resources – the essence of a Lord of Order - would become one with your being. No longer would Nabu or Kent Nelson exist, but a combination in harmony that the world shall once again know as Fate."
Kent hung his head as Nabu finished speaking.
He didn't like the thought of losing a part of himself. Hadn't that been his entire life? He had sacrificed everything for Order, even Inza.
Was that not enough?
Now, was he not even allowed to pass into infinity with this beloved wife?
He let out a heavy sigh. There was simply no choice.
If he refused the merger not only would this place press him out of existence, but Nabu would fade away, leaving the world unprotected from the elements that he, as Doctor Fate, had fought to keep away for so many years.
"As always, Nabu, I am forced to submit to your will," Kent said numbly.
He had accepted his fate the day he and his father had unearthed Nabu's tomb.
"It is not my will, Kent Nelson. It never has been. It is simply your FATE."
And with that, the beam of light that had been projecting Nabu's figure increased infinitely in intensity; flooding the endless landscape of sand in a perpetual blanket of white light. As the brilliance of the light began to fade away one could tell that the setting was suddenly much different. No longer did sand litter the landscape, but the immediate space consisted of a large torch-lit room built of stone.
The place was familiar. It was home.
The comfort of having left the endless hell was short lived.
Nabu was gone, Kent Nelson was gone. Who remained? What remained?
The man who stood in this room of stone looked down at himself. He was wearing a recognizable variation of the Doctor Fate garb. He paused for a moment before removing the large, golden helmet that had been seated over his head. Unintentionally, catching a glimpse of his reflecting in the helm's perfectly polished surface. He looked much like a young Kent Nelson. Though his hair was darker, and quite a bit longer than Nelson had ever worn it; his features slightly more chiseled; and his eyes a deep, unnatural kind of blue.
For a moment he mused on the memories of both Nelson and Nabu.
He could recall very intimate events from both of their lives, but with a kind of detached indifference. The memories were there, but felt so foreign. So this was the price of the merger. A man who had lived two lives, yet neither were his own.
Fate could deal a cruel hand, he thought as he slid the golden helmet back on.
He would make use of his unique position. Nabu's sacrifices, and more importantly, Kent Nelson's sacrifices would not go in vain. This new age of magic would be ruled by Order.
Doctor Fate would see to that.