The Spear of Destiny

January 17, 2017:

After canvassing, background-checking and cross-referencing every occult-oriented business in Gotham City, Red Robin stumbles on a promising source of information on the Spear of Destiny: Gerald Craft of the Third Eye (first appeared in The Catalyst), an expert in mystical artifacts.

The Third Eye - Chelsea - Gotham City

A New Age/Occult store in Gotham.

Characters

NPCs: Gerald Craft (NPC'd by Zatanna Zatara)

Mentions: Giovanni Zatara, Zatanna Zatara, John Constantine, Bruce Wayne, Vicki Vale, Cassandra Craft

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Late nights are common for Gerald "Gerry" Craft, these days.

The proprietor of the Third Eye, purveyor of all things New Age and Occult in Gotham, is a gentleman of middle years; a humble, mild-mannered man by reputation, who has managed to somehow keep unsavory elements away from his shop, somehow avoiding all the protection rackets this side of Gotham is teeming with. If anything, the fact that he has managed to do so should be enough to alert those who are extremely savvy with the way the city's underworld works that whoever the man is, he is no ordinary, average joe in spite of his very convincing facsimile as one. In truth, however, it is less about what Gerry does, or what he can actually do, than the company he keeps - a small, but influential circle that involves the likes of Madame Xanadu and, perhaps the most famous, Giovanni Zatara. There is, in fact, a picture of him with the legendary magician, hands clasped in brotherly camaraderie, in a place of honor somewhere behind the counter.

It could be enough to ward off external, encroaching criminal elements. But things in his world have never really been as easy as that.

For starters, the man is blind. He shuffles around with a walking stick and he is old and seasoned enough not to bother with hiding his condition, or care about the discomfiture he causes when his customers realize that those pale, milky-blue eyes are staring directly at them in spite of his handicap. Only a handful of people know, however, that this man sees one thing, and one thing only.

The late hour manifests in his shop as living shadows, encompassing the shelves and containers that house his wares, shifting and their tendrils growing longer every day, and every time he sits on his stool to watch them, he becomes more uneasy, tasting that offness in the air and /knowing/ that something out there is moving - something too large for a simple shopkeep in Gotham to wrap his head around. Frost clings against the wide window panes and even while the city tumbles towards Spring, he feels the unseasonable cold in his bones, hears it sing ominously down to their marrow.

Nothing you can do about that, Gerry, he thinks, locking the register with a careful grope of his fingers. You're not as young as you used to be, and you have a daughter to think about.

—-

Gotham City is many things to many people.

For some, it's Hell on Earth; for others, a paradise in which they can indulge their worst impulses. It's a place of opportunity, a place to escape from, a place in which to disappear from the outside world.

To Red Robin, it is above all else 'home'.

Not that it wasn't nice to visit New York City for a little while, but that was purely a business trip, and it involved rather more magical cultists trying to kill him than he'd originally planned. He'd gained some answers, but more questions than anything else, and a sense of urgency that only grew. People were in danger. Lives were at risk, not just in Gotham but all over, maybe everywhere. But most prominently among them was a single life that seemed to be in the most dire peril. Not just her earthly existence, but whatever passed for an 'eternal soul'. Something wanted to not just kill her, not just destroy her, but to /possess/ her.

The other people who had died, Kazinsky's victims, people at the gala and no doubt many more, were something that drove him. But the costumed vigilante tried to avoid lying to himself: There was no shame in acknowledging that the danger to someone he knew, someone he cared about, bit deepest. That the thought of a pair of pale blue eyes moved him all the more fiercely.

There's no unusual sound as the caped and cowled figure of Red Robin stands half-shrouded in the darkness of the shop, nothing to announce his arrival… It would seem, really, as though he were simply not there one moment, and there the next. No magic, just delicate, precise care taken in every movement.

Though even that trickery, sleight of hand writ large, might not work on the blind but curiously attuned shopkeeper.

"Mister Craft," Red Robin says, his voice blurred by the device worn under the neck of his costume, lowering its register and giving it an electronic fuzzing. Nobody would be able to connect that voice to its true owner, not without some /extremely/ precise and astronomically expensive equipment. "Sorry about the late night visit, but this is important. What can you tell me about the Spear of Destiny?"

—-

He knows there is someone in the room with him before Red Robin announces himself. Some say that the loss of one sense heightens all the other ones, though he wouldn't be able to personally attest to all of that. It wasn't as if he wasn't unusual in his own right. But watching him react to this intrusion, one could believe it, when he remains on his stool and his unseeing eyes remain directed somewhere past the building, and away from Red Robin, regardless of the nature of his inquiry. He turns over his walking stick in his hands and for the moment, at least, he remains silent.

Finally, Gerry gets up. He carefully maneuvers around the counter and towards the door, fingers moving to flip the sign from OPEN to CLOSED.

"Strange days are afoot," he murmurs, though whether he intends it for his visitor or the empty air, nobody knows.

He turns around, finally, to face the cowled figure, resting on him. There's a small quirk on his mouth, the beginnings of a smile, though it doesn't quite manifest. "Not much for small talk are you, kid? Who might you be?"

He gestures faintly to the side. "Normally when people ask me about that kind of thing, they're from a particular community. The kind of world that leaves traces. You got none of that on you, son, so color me curious. Only fair, eh? When you're breaking into a poor blind man's store without so much as a by-your-leave."

His tone isn't overtly hostile, but it /is/ cautious…and his words are truthful. He detects no magic from the costumed young man before him, so the fact that he even knows to name the Lance of Longinus is curious enough in itself. It is famous, certainly, used as plot fodder in many movies, books and television shows, but the fact that the young man was /in this store/, specifically looking to speak to /him/ suggests at least a passing familiarity with his not-so-well-known expertise on items of like variety. The whole of it - history, origins. Things that may or may not be potentially useful to what Red Robin is looking for.

So he waits, patiently.

—-

"The sign said 'OPEN'," Red Robin points out, though he doesn't sound very defensive about it - it wouldn't be the first time he broke in someplace as part of an investigation, and it certainly wouldn't be the last, either. He's still a little put out that he went to all that effort preparing to sneak his way into the Triskelion the other day only for it to end up unnecessary, so maybe that's why he didn't just walk in like a normal person.

That, and it really wouldn't fit with the costume and the cape, would it?

"You can call me Red Robin, Mister Craft… And you're right, I'm not someone who moves in the sort of circles you're referring to, but I know some people who do. None of whom know I'm here right now," the young man elaborates, with a faint shrug of his shoulders. He wasn't about to call Constantine to get a Wizard Yelp review of the Third Eye, and given everything else he could hardly go asking Zatanna about it. Too dangerous to ask her as Tim Drake, and Red Robin surely wouldn't know how to go about contacting her in the first place.

"It took some work finding you, separating the wheat from the chaff… There's a lot of 'magical' bookstores in Gotham, but the word is that yours is the only one that isn't just crystals and nonsense." He says as much because he wants Craft to know that he had to work to get to this point. That he isn't here on a whim. He needs to impress the seriousness of his visit on the man. Too much is at stake for him to be dismissed. "A young woman's life is in danger, Mister Craft, and one of the individuals involved has some kind of history with the Spear of Destiny. Apparently, he was researching it when it was in the possession of the Nazis. Hermann Steinschneider, Hanussen… People who live longer than they should collect a lot of names, I guess."

—-

"And what's your connection to Zatanna Zatara?"

Gerry reaches out with practiced fingers to turn off the lights in the front of the shop - not like he needs them. Gesturing with his hand, he signals for Red Robin to follow him as his walking stick taps and clicks on the floor before him, swinging this way and that to remind him as to where everything is - not that he needs that either, considering how long he's owned this storefront. But as stated earlier, these are strange days. Dangerous days. Days when every level of caution ought to be taken and appreciated.

He reaches the back of the store, fumbling for one of his keys and withdrawing the ring from his belt. His thumb moves over each, identifying them by feel, finding the right one - it looks like tarnished brass, a symbol embossed on the end, and he fits this in the lock. When his wrist twists, the loud, echoing sound of multiple latches and tumblers fill the air, more cavernous than what ought to make sense in a cramped building like this.

The door swings open. The contents within do not look all too special - there are rows of old books, harmless looking knick-knacks and antiques. There is a strange construct at the very end, what appears to be a door and bound by yellow police tape. It is easily the most unusual thing in the room.

Gerry shuffles over towards one of the central shelves, where most of the books are kept. Fingers roll over the leather and gold-leaf spines.

"I won't pretend to know what's going on with that girl, these days," he remarks. "The last I saw of her, she was buying implements for protection wards, for a friend and his son. This was before the bits in the news, about some serial killer, and then showing up in the New Year's Eve….thing on the arm of Bruce Wayne." It was all over the society pages, thanks to Vicki Vale. "Not a detective or anything, don't even like police procedurals, but I know her father. When he moves, things follow. People, events, circumstances. Everyone in the community feels it. Must be in the blood."

—-

I shouldn't be surprised, Red Robin thinks to himself.

Zatanna is very much the Real Deal, as it turns out, and he can only assume that the deeper one gets into the ranks of actually being sorcerous, the numbers of people who qualify shrink. As the circles get smaller, the people who move in those circles must necessarily become more familiar with one another. Real recognising real, as it were.

Besides which, Zatanna Zatara does have a natural affinity for getting herself into trouble, he's noticed.

"I rescued her from a serial killer," Red Robin says, matter-of-factly, as he follows the blind man further into the store. "He had already killed twelve young women, Miss Zatara would've been his thirteenth and final victim, a sacrifice to Mammon. Can't say I believed half of this stuff at the time, but it's difficult to argue with what's happened since."

Behind the featureless white lenses built into the cowl of his costume, Red Robin's eyes narrow faintly at the mention of protection wards for 'a friend and his son', and a bit more with Craft's admission that he knows Zatanna's father.

Considering everything that happened in Switzerland, this understandably piques the cowled young man's interests.

"Her father… What can you tell me about him? It seems like his shadow hangs over all of this as much as Hanussen's, or Mammon's. Was he involved with the Cult of the Cold Flame, to your knowledge?"

—-

"I seem to remember the article mentioning you, now that I think about it." Gerry pulls a tome out of the shelf, looking through the pages. Given Red Robin's position somewhere behind him and the boots that elevate and disguise his height, he'd be able to glimpse the yellowed parchment from where he stands….and they are empty. There is no ink, no raised impressions that are consistent with braille. To a layman's eyes, they are simply blank pieces of paper. Either Tim Drake has managed to find himself with yet another Real Deal in the magical community, or, more worrisomely, a genuinely crazy person with delusions of magical grandeur, the kind that ought to be locked up in Arkham.

Though for someone who may have said delusions, grandiose or otherwise, he seems to be relatively content living the life of a seemingly average man.

"Many know him as the Great Zatara, though you can Google that yourself. I won't bore you with the particulars of his career in the entertainment industry, as I'm sure that's not what you're really asking." He lifts his head to focus those milky eyes on him. "Truthfully there aren't many out there who know what he's about. Giovanni and I are friends, and when he needs something inspected and analyzed he comes to me. But he's always been a private man. Most of what I know about his background, I heard from someone else….an old bird of his. Now /she/." He lifts a finger. "Is something else entirely. Disaster, that one. A right hot mess. But most seers with the track record she does usually are. She's never wrong, which is unsettling enough." And by the way he's speaking, he isn't talking about the woman Giovanni ended up marrying.

He blows the dust off a page, and flips into another one.

"From what I recall, things were moved around long before he was even born to produce the likes of him. Relationships, history…and I could think of around three, maybe four other people who could say the same. That's a very exclusive club, son, in my line of work. And the moment he was clued into what he was, he's been saving the world ever since. Frankly I'd be more comfortable with what's going on right now if he was around, because while everyone I know feels it when he moves, we also feel it when he's /gone/, and that probably means something huge is coming down the wire."

He shakes his head, muttering something under his breath, shelving the book and picking up another one. "As for the Cult, he was, indeed. If you mean in the context of some very egregiously personal conflicts. Giovanni's been kicking their asses for decades. He views them as a personal responsibility, considering one of his best friends founded it after he got corrupted by the very power he revered. He is their greatest enemy."

All the more confusing then, considering what Tim saw in Switzerland.

Or was it?

—-

Naturally, Red Robin has already long since googled the Great Zatara. He discovered the man's work as an entertainer and stage magician as a sort of collateral damage of his initial search about Zatanna herself, that first day she'd strode into class in the middle of the semester in her thigh-high boots and her little dress. The 'Youtube Magic Girl,' another classmate had called her. He never would've imagined that encounter would eventually lead to any of what's happened since.

Though at the same time, perhaps he shoudln't really be surprised.

He wasn't sure what he'd expected to get from Gerry Craft when he'd asked the question about Zatanna's father, and his potential involvement in the Cult of the Cold Flame, but it often feels like he's trying to make his way through a maze in pitch darkness when it comes to these mystical situations. Like he's the blind man, and Gerry Craft is the one with perfect eyesight.

"They had her blood," the cowled young man says. "The Cold Flame. A group of us, with the help of a man named Constantine who I'm guessing you've heard of, followed them as they took it to a stronghold in Switzerland. They were performing some kind of ritual, and they wanted Miss Zatara, so they could give her to Mammon. Their leader was her father, or someone who'd taken his name and appearance. Even Constantine recognised him, he seemed… Shaken. They were talking about…"

His memory has been carefully, thoroughly trained, his mind an even more finely honed weapon than his body. He can see it, hear it, the chanting, the robed figures, the talk about an innocent young woman's soul. And lost among those glaring details…

'What of the boy in Germany?'

'Our agents are watching him as we speak, to see if his great-grandfather makes contact.'

His great-grandfather.

Shit.

"/Shit/," Red Robin curses quietly, sharply, uncharacteristically.

—-

The mention of John Constantine earns a laugh from Gerry Craft. The sound, however, is hollow. Humorless.

"Oh, he's involved too, is he? Guess we really /are/ screwed."

Because while everyone knows John Constantine, and John Constantine knows everyone, there aren't many who are all that happy to see him when he does come calling.

The older man pauses when Red Robin mentions the blood, a slight stay on those fingers reaching for yet another book. While he says very little, his body language is enough to tell Tim that he knows the significance of this.

"I was never part of the front lines," he tells the masked youth, gesturing for him to take a seat at the lone table in the room, and if he elects to stand, the blind man moves to take a chair, wood creaking under his weight. "That was never my forte, my skills, my usefulness was typically more cerebral than anything. Research. Analysis. I suppose that served me well - I have a family to take care of, a daughter to raise. A daughter who I hope won't be mired in all of this…" He gestures vaguely to the side. "But I suppose she'll end up the way I do. Family business, and all."

That part would be true, from Red Robin's background check: Cassandra Craft, age eighteen, going to college somewhere in San Francisco, and born blind.

"Anyway. You ready for your history lesson? Even for someone like me, it's hard to determine what's true and what's not about the Spear of Destiny. But the most important part - that it belonged to a Roman soldier who pierced the side of Christ, /that/ is unfortunately true. You know much about the Bible, son? I'm afraid poor Longinus got lost in history until the Nazi occult division back in World War II decided to find his stuff. Rumor has it that they actually did manage to find it, and that it got lost in one of the bigger bombings during the war. Take it that's not how it all went down."

He scrubs the back of his neck. "The blood of God's son carries a powerful mystical punch," he continues. "Even I don't know what it can do, though I can hazard a few guesses. Christ supposedly rose from the dead in three days. Suppose anyone who gets hit by it would have the same ability, for starters. Dunno if you know many of the stories - wedding in Canaan, turning water into wine, healing the sick, feeding thousands with just a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish, casting out demons…/attracting/ them. Trapping them in a desert while you're tormented for forty days and nights? Magic."

He leans forward. "Your Steinschneider was a clairvoyant in life, if memory serves. That's an entirely different skillset. Great if you want to predict the future, but not so great for the /really/ serious mind-bending stuff that's been flooding Gotham lately. And that's probably only just a fraction of what you're signing yourself up for, especially with the Brit involved. So I gotta ask, son. You sure you wanna go down this road? You might not like what you see on the other side."

—-

Family business, he says.

Well, Red Robin knows how that goes.

He even gets it in more ways than just the one, as it turns out. Jack Drake had been an archaeologist on top of his business concerns, fancying himself a hat and a whip and some amorous coeds away from winding up on the trail of the Ark of the Covenant… And now, there's his son, trying to track down a quasi-mythological artifact, which is also of interest to a Nazi occultist. He has to keep himself from humming a distinctive bit of music, when his thoughts turn that way.

He's read the Bible before, of course - his atheism is the atheism of the lasped believer, of someone who looked into the face of human misery, human hope, human evil, human heroism and saw no God, no Devil. Nothing all-powerful, all-seeing and all-good could allow the things that had happened in Gotham and elsewhere, to his mind. And humanity needed no Adversary to tempt them into cruelty and malice.

Magic, Gerry Craft puts it, after describing the miracles of Christ, and that seems as likely an explanation to Red Robin as any: He's seen people do things which should by all rights be impossible, knows people who can do things that make no sense. Why wouldn't the stories of a mage, traded by word of mouth among people who sought to hope for something better in a hard world, turn into miracles, into a saviour?

"Someone has to speak for the people who've died, Mister Craft, and someone has to answer for it. Twelve young women, slaughtered like animals. The people at the gala who we couldn't rescue in time. Even the cultists who died, sacrificed so Zatara could absorb their power. I don't suppose I can throw a Prince of Hell into jail, Mister Craft, but Steinschneider has a long and bloody debt to humanity he needs to start paying off. And if that /is/ Zatara commanding the Cold Flame… Constantine said it 'was and wasn't' him. Whoever he is, I intend to see he pays for his crimes as well."

He pauses, consideringly. His head turns to the side, looking away from the blind man. Featureless white lenses, magnifying the light in the shop to help Red Robin see perfectly, aim slowly towards the floor.

"And Miss Zatara…" Red Robin can't give her proper name, like this. Red Robin doesn't know her, she's just the young woman he rescued from Kazinsky, the young woman he kept warm and safe in her drugged state until he could turn her over to the paramedics. The woman who'd gotten them out of Switzerland at the last moment, when they might've died for their impertinent assault on the Cold Flame's sanctum.

"…None of them are looking at her and seeing a person. She's just a tool to them, or a toy. I didn't get into this business to put away criminals and madmen, Mister Craft. I got into it to save lives."

—-

As Red Robin makes his case, Gerry remains silent and seated on his chair, those blind eyes fixed on the cowled young man and the empty book lying open in front of him. Fingers, long, reverent, scarred - suggestive of a life fraught with more danger that belies his earlier statements - drape lightly over the parchment, absently caressing the fibers. The sweeping gestures are contemplative, but restless in a way - those touched like the way he is can't help it. It's the magic in them. They can't sit still. Zatanna is very much the same way.

"If you knew Giovanni like I do, you'd know immediately that he would never be in league with those monsters," he says quietly. "Even in a dark business like this, he is as close to morally incorruptible as they come. But given that he is the Cult's greatest enemy, I wouldn't be surprised if they found a way, somehow, to yoke his strength, and use his image. I can think of a few ways that is possible, but all of them are worrisome. The Third of the Fallen, for instance, can take any form he desires, down to the molecule, down to the essence. Presumably he can grant the same to those willing to ask….and willing to pay the price. I'm hoping, however, that there's another explanation, though this entire business is all tits-up already, considering that you mentioned that this Steinschneider might have some arrangement with the Demon Prince of Excess. Mammon can be dealt with, if you're clever enough….but if the Third is involved, that is an entirely different game so I am /desperately praying/ that is not the case."

He takes a deep breath; Red Robin can see conflict on his expression - of a man willing to help as best as he can, but also one who is /well/ familiar with the risks and isn't quite certain whether he wants to throw his hat deeper into the ring. Concern as well, as he keeps his eyes on Red Robin. That look is also familiar, of an older, more experienced gentleman who /knows/ that this young buck has absolutely no idea what he is stumbling into.

Does it matter, though? He may be blind but something about all of this speaks of a more personal note.

"Like all mystical artifacts, the Spear can be bound to a place…and since it's very old, you can be guaranteed that unless measures are taken, Time will render its magic unstable. The thing is holy…it's powered by Grace, so my expertise lends me to believe that whoever has it isn't just keeping it stable, but knows how. Most probably a priest."

Gerry scratches his chin. "Probably on holy ground also, otherwise we'd be hearing all sorts of even weirder shit coming from Europe right now, where it was last spotted before it was lost and that's assuming it wasn't moved to a different continent."

—-

At the very least, Red Robin is wise enough to know that he's in over his head, that he has no real conception of the conflict he's stepping into.

But then, he's done exactly that before, the very first time he strapped on the red, green and yellow costume of the Boy Wonder. For the same reason too, after a fashion: He knew that Batman needed a Robin, someone to keep him in check, to keep him from going too far and forgetting what separated him from the very criminals and madmen he dealt with. Just as then, now he's motivated for concern for someone else, someone who understands this struggle better than he does.

He's not motivated by the need to stop the people responsible for all of this, not primarily.

He's driven by the need to save one life.

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst," Red Robin says quietly, an important mantra when your life involves swinging across rooftops and getting into fights with gangs armed with automatic weapons. But this has always been the arena he excelled in, rather than the aforementioned melees: Finding clues, putting them together. Solving the puzzle.

"Probably a priest, on holy ground," he repeats, after Gerry's musing about what would have to be done to keep the relic from becoming 'unstable', which sounds extremely unpleasant if it's something that powerful. "I have a hunch, but I doubt I'm that lucky," the cowled young man remarks, already thinking about the research he's going to have to do after he leaves. Tracking down Steinschneider's descendants might be time-consuming, and he'll probably find himself regretting the lost sleep when he goes to class tomorrow, but… Well, if the world ends in hellfire, he'd really regret not staying up and researching, wouldn't he?

"Thank you for the information, Mister Craft. If you think of anything else that might be helpful, I'm going to leave a card with a contact number on your counter."

It's in Braille, of course.

He always does his research.

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