They had tried everything. Were still trying everything, for that matter. Earth was about to go the way of Krypton, and no few people were trying to follow Krypton's example in sending up every possible 'lifeboat' with every possible technological advantage, even those previously thought too risky for use.
But Earth as a whole? And the billions of ordinary people on it? That was doomed. There was nothing to do. No last minute plan, no way around it, no power, no prayer, no hope.
Superman and Batman had looked for technological solutions, even working with Lex Luthor and others to try to avert the disaster.
The Flash and his various successors and partners had gone to the past, trying to divert the events leading up to the instigating event.
Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel had petitioned the gods, their patrons, for aid.
Cyborg, Mr. Miracle, Starfire, Martian Manhunter, and others who had experience with other planets had considered the possibility of evacuation via teleportation.
The JLD and other magic users had pored over tomes and rituals, working spells and summoning demons and beings from their darkest nightmares.
The world was ending, and there was nothing they could do about it.
The clock ticked past the twenty-four hour mark, and all the superheros still in the Watchtower were acutely aware that this had been their self-imposed deadline. Twenty-four hours, and if they still hadn't made any progress, still hadn't come up with even an inkling of a workable plan, something with the barest sliver of a chance of success, they would go home and spend their final day with their families, loved ones, pets, books they hadn't read yet, bottles of beer, or attempts to save at least themselves.
None of them wanted to admit defeat.
Constantine took a long drag on a cigarette. Smoking wasn't allowed on the Watchtower, but, at this point, who cared?
"Y'know, there's one more thing we might try," he said.
It was a bit disconcerting, feeling the eyes of a few dozen superheroes on him all of a sudden.
"Didn't want to say anything before, because it's definitely a last resort kind of thing. Waving at Darkseid and inviting him to conquer the planet kind of thing, you know? Don't want to be the guy to make that decision."
"Death or slavery?" clarified Batman, as quick on the uptake as ever.
"Yeah," said Constantine, bringing his cigarette to his lips again. He looked around the room, watching the heroes think, chew their lips, bite their fingernails, pray. "If slavery is even on the table. Might just wipe everything out instead."
Superman stepped forward, expression grim but determined. "Where there's life, there's hope. We've defeated Darkseid before. We can't fight death."
"That's sort of the problem. This guy kind of is death."
Zatanna inhaled sharply. She was always quick on the uptake, too. "You're talking about summoning the King of Ghosts. I thought all copies of that ritual were destroyed."
"All but one," said Constantine, pulling a thin and battered tome out of an inner pocket of his duster. "Never doubt the House of Mysteries."
"What is this King of Ghosts like?" asked Batman as Zatanna pulled the book from Constantine's hand.
"Brutal," said Captain Marvel before Constantine could answer. "Power hungry. Proud. Ambitious." He crossed his arms as he came to stand next to Superman. "He's got the power to back it up, too. He wanted to conquer the multiverse, but he couldn't enter new worlds without an invitation. Are we sure we want to give him one? This is bigger than just the Earth."
"So is this disaster," said Martian Manhunter. "If it is allowed to spread unchecked, feeding on life..."
He didn't have to finish the thought.
"Odds are this guy will just laugh at us," said Constantine. "Proud, like you said, and we don't have a lot to offer him. Plus, guy's name is Pariah Dark. Not exactly sociable."
Captain Marvel seemed to consider that. "If you're sure," he said, finally.
"We'll need to start right away," said Zatanna, snapping the book closed. "And we'll need all your help."
Superheroes, when properly motivated, could move fast. Soon, the largest continuous space inside the Watchtower, one of the more serious training rooms, had been converted into a summoning space that would make any practitioner of the art envious. Assuming they even cared anymore. End of the world and all.
"Are you all ready?" asked Constantine. Even if Pariah was amenable to their request - as amenable as someone like that could be to anything, anyway - he'd probably want payment up front, and that payment would almost certainly be... messy.
Constantine would pay it himself, but he rather doubted he would be enough.
One by one, the heroes nodded, some with more trepidation than others. Fair enough. It was one thing to lay down your life fighting criminals or even facing down armies, and another thing entirely to offer yourself up as a sacrifice to a monster.
"Let's get started," said Zatanna, standing on the other side of the circle.
Considering what was being summoned, the chant was surprisingly simple. The hardest part of the ritual was drawing the circle and the symbols, and with a speedster on hand, that had been the work of a moment. Some materials had been tricky, too, but, again, speedster, end of the world, none of those museums were going to actually use that stuff, etc.
They walked around the circle, once, twice, three times. The candles placed around the circle flared and started to burn green. Four times. The temperature dropped. Five. The electric lights started to flicker. Six. A breeze picked up. Seven-
The circle abruptly had an occupant.
Constantine stopped. "Who the hell are you?"
He asked, because this wasn't Pariah Dark. That wasn't to say that it wasn't someone who was also dangerous, but there was no way that Pariah Dark would appear as some Batman-bait kid in space-themed pajamas. Some demons might go that route, but Pariah had always been too powerful to need to resort to that kind of trickery.
"Who am I? Who are you?" The kid - the thing that looked like a kid - rubbed one of his eyes and brushed his hair back out of his face with an annoyed attitude. "Didn't you just summon me?"
"We were aiming for someone a good bit bigger."
The kid scoffed. "Yeah? Who? Pariah Dark?" He looked from Constantine to Zatanna. "Oh my gosh, you were trying to get Pariah Dark. You're so lucky this is completely the wrong ritual for that."
Constantine... sat down.
"What?" said the kid. "What did I say?"
The Flash cleared his throat. "Do you not know about the whole end of the world thing, or...?"
"This isn't my world. Were you really looking for Pariah Dark for help? That's kind of messed up."
"Considering we didn't get him," said Zatanna, "I don't suppose you'd introduce yourself."
"Again, you guys summoned me." He pointed at the ground. "You summoned the Ghost King. You got him." He yawned. "Punched old Pariah in the face with these hands and everything. So... What kind of apocalypse are we talking about here?"
"You fought a guy Constantine was comparing to Darkseid," asked Flash with a touch of skepticism.
"I don't know who that is," said the boy. "But, sure."
"Appearances can be deceiving," snapped Constantine. Even if he was a bit skeptical himself.
"Are you willing to help?" asked Zatanna, who was much better at staying on task.
"I mean, I guess? If it's something reasonable. I might not be able to do anything about your problem, though. Seeing as I don't know what it is."
It was better than nothing. "It's like this," he started.
"Yeah," said the boy. "I can't stop that. Your planet is going to blow up. Sorry."
Well. That was that, then. At least this Ghost King wasn't going to amuse himself in the interim by skipping rope with their intestines or driving them all crazy.
"Hey, stop that. Just because I can't stop it doesn't mean I can't do anything. There's still a way to save everyone."
Constantine lifted his head to stare. What did that mean?
There was a shuffling sound as Batman approached. "What do you mean?"
The boy shrugged. "I'll just move them."
"Well... That's where it gets complicated. Sort of complicated. A few universes over, there's one that's almost identical to yours, except that the heroes there couldn't stop this one dude from turning everything living on the Earth into dust a couple days ago. It's just a nice, empty planet, ready for you to move in. I can just replace everything that was there with stuff from here. To everyone else in that universe, it'll just look like you guys were all resurrected or something."
"What's the catch?" croaked Constantine, too raw from the roller coaster of hope and despair to hope again.
The boy shrugged. "There'll be a lot of ghosts there. Since, you know, everyone there died. And..." The boy sighed. "Moving things like that isn't exactly easy. I'd need something in return. A lot of somethings. Magic rules, you know? And I need the energy boost."
"What kinds of somethings?" asked Constantine.
"Well..." The boy's face scrunched up in thought. "You're not going to be using it, so... Every non-living thing on the Earth that has value."
"Oh," said Constantine, wondering how the hell they were going to do that in... something like fifteen hours. "That's all, then?"
"Everything in orbit, too," added the boy. "Since that'll be affected by the apocalypse, too. Why? What's wrong? I thought you guys were, like, 'authorized to do anything to prevent the destruction of the Earth,'" he said, quoting part of their explanation regarding said destruction.
"It's more of a logistical thing," said Superman. "We just wouldn't have time to give you all that."
"Okay, so? You don't have to. As long as you have the right to let me take it, we're good. I am proposing teleporting the living population of an entire planet, after all. Location is not much of an issue."
"Then... we have a deal?" said Constantine, feeling lightheaded.
"Yep, sounds like a deal," said the boy, and Constantine felt the magic settle into place.
"I'll break the circle and let you out, then," said Zatanna.
"Oh, no need," said the boy, stepping over all the protections they'd put up with the hope of delaying Pariah Dark like they were nothing. He turned back and smiled at them. "You can call me Danny, by the way. And- And we're in space, right? If one of you show me to a window, I think I can get started."
The whole peanut gallery came forward, eagerly, and swept 'Danny' out of the room before Constantine could even get off the floor.
Constantine... laid down. That had to have been one of the most benign and straightforwardly useful summonings he'd ever been part of, and he almost hadn't done it. He covered his face and started to laugh.