"If you choose Magic, you will never be able to return to the life you once lived. Your world may be more... exciting... but it will also be more dangerous. Less reliable. And once you begin to walk the path of Magic, you can never step off it." - The Phantom Stranger to Tim Hunter, The Books of Magic" - - - Ten years ago... The sun set on another quiet day in a desolate suburb. A little girl, the only person in sight in the area, stood atop a swing, rocking mindlessly back and forth. Gemma Masters was not a happy girl. Her childhood had quickly sunken into a mundane and boring existence. She had few friends, since her parents tended to move around so much. Her father was not much of a presence in her life. He just seemed to be... there. All mum ever did was tell her DON'T do this, DON'T do that. There had to be more to life than this. There was, actually. Her uncle John told her of far-off places she'd never see, and brought back neat... things. A toy crocodile from a faraway tribe, a gemstone from a forgotten city, a frozen teardrop of an angel (or so he claimed). There was an amazing world out there, and it was out of her reach. At that moment, Gemma sealed her fate with a thought. I want it too. I want to see those other worlds. I want to see what nobody's ever seen. I want to be just like Uncle John. I want the magic. - - - Modern day... A drink. John needed a drink, several drinks if possible, and in a place where her appearance wouldn't be too weird. There was only one pub he knew of that would fit the bill, the place run by the Lord of the Dance. With her spirits already low, John slouched through the doorway and took a seat at the far end of the bar. "Oi, pint'a Guinness here." "Coming right up." The barkeep finally turned around. John took one look, and was nearly speechless. The Lord of the Dance was normally a stout fellow, tall, muscular, with a manly beard and clothes that would somewhat resemble that of viking furs. The creature standing behind the bar had that same bearded face, though now it was in an irritable scowl. The rest of him, however, was far from normal. The first thing he noticed was that the man was shirtless, and in these silly black tights. His body was now lean, thin, and rather hairless, with bits of black and green body paint forming patterns on either side of his belly. "Jesus, what the hell happened t'you?!" she blurted out. The Lord of the Dance took a step back, surprised. "Er, do I know you, miss?" "Take a friggin guess, mate," said John. She lit a cigarette and adjusted her trenchcoat. "John?" She nodded. "And I thought I was having a bad time of it. What happened to you?" "Long story. What happened to YOU?" The Lord of the Dance sighed. "Reconfiguration, John. It's a right bitch sometimes." John nodded. - - - Reconfiguration was what happened to the deities when the beliefs of man changed over time. The Norns and the Yggdrasil were prime examples of configuration. Once, long ago, the Yggdrasil was a tree, and the three goddesses were its gardeners. Now, the Yggdrasil was a massive computer, and the Norns were maintainers of the system. Reconfiguration was known to do odd things to deities. Cupid, for example, had gone from a dashing figure from Roman myth to a sickeningly cute cherub with little wings. His most recent change was the most ridiculous: a rotund bearded gangsta wielding a machine gun which shot chocolate bullets laced with love potion. He was the 'Gangsta of Luv'. Reconfiguration was something to fear indeed. - - - "It's because of some bloody prancing wanker tourin' around the world, John!" raged The Lord of the Dance. He pulled out a poster, featuring a young man, bare-chested, in black tights, in a dramatic pose on a stage full of similarly clad dancers. The name of the show was "The Lord of the Dance". "Oh, Jesus, THAT thing," said John. "Yes, THIS thing," spat the Lord of the Dance. "Thanks to this Irish capering pansy tap-fairy, I'M LIKE THIS!" John smirked and lit a cigarette. "Well, mate, do not go gently into those black tights. Rage, rage against the wearing of the tights!" The Lord of the Dance gave John a flat look. "Veeery funny, Constantine." "Well, at least you still got yer balls," said John. "Tightly squeezed as they may be in this silly outfit," muttered the Lord of the Dance. "Now how about you, eh?" John told him. There was a moment of silence as the Lord of the Dance absorbed this information. "Sailor Hellblazer, eh? Sounds kinda catchy, actually." "I am NOT going about super-heroing, right? No way." "And y'know, as a girl, y'look quite interesting," said the Lord of the Dance with a chuckle. "Keep on that line of thought and I'll rip your balls off. I haven't changed THAT much." "Heh, so I guess." The Lord of the Dance sat back and polished a glass, as many a barkeep tended to do while talking. "I must say, John, perhaps you should've let Gemma take the thing." "No." "I mean, you've not only taken a magic that was meant to be hers, you've actually stolen a part of her. That could have bad side-effects, my friend. Did you think about that?" John sighed and thumped her head on the bar. "Shit. No. All the more reason for me to try and sort this mess out as soon as possible. There HAS to be a way out of this without spoiling Gemma's life with magic." There was a tap on John's shoulder. She turned around. "Yeah?" A demoness, blond and clad in black leather, grinned wickedly. "Wow, the boss wasn't kidding! WAHAHAHAA! Oh, this is rich!" John turned around, grumbling. "Sod off, Mara." "Oh, no!" said Mara gleefully. "We must SHARE and ENJOY this moment! Say cheeeese!" -click- Mara walked away cackling wickedly, with camera in hand, leaving John Constantine simmering at the bar. She wagged her cigarette at the Lord of the Dance. "This day just keeps on getting better." "Are you really prepared t'spend the rest of your life as a woman, Johnny?" asked the Lord of the Dance, genuinely concerned. John took a long chug of her Guinness, sighed, then slumped on the bar. "It's Gemma's life, y'see. She's... she's the closest thing I'll ever have to a daughter of my own. I'll do _anything_ to make sure her life's better than mine." The Lord of the Dance nodded solemnly. "Yeah, I know how that goes, Johnny." "Lemme tell you," said John, digging into her trenchcoat pocket. "I will NEVER let Gemma waste her life by getting her hands on this stupid..." She suddenly stood up and began digging furiously in her pockets. "What the... where did I put the fucking thing?! Shite!" "John? You okay?" "The stupid magic wand! Where'd I put it?! Where... where... where..." She paced around, trying to think of where she could have lost it. And then realization struck her. The argument. The hug. "GEMMMMAAAAAAAAAA!" - - - She used to frequent this playground, back in the days when she and her mother came to visit Uncle John. It was a nice park, back then, and even now. It was always a quiet place, where she could think clearly. Gemma looked at the magic wand in her hand nervously, biting her lower lip. She had a decision to make. The rod felt comfortable in her hand, as if it was meant to be there. Then again, it WAS meant to be there. A part of her, born over 25,000 years ago, held it once. She thought on the words of her uncle on the matter. Once you walk the path of magic, there's no turning back. No turning back. One more time, she held the rod before her. She smiled. "HELLFIRE POWER, MAKE UP!" - - - *BAMPF* "What the... I'm..." John checked himself briefly, making sure that certain parts of his anatomy were gone, and other parts had returned. He laughed, slightly, in relief that he was once again part of the human race that used urinals. "HA! I'm a MAN! Ha-HA! YES! I'm a MAN! A MAN! A... a..." And then he realized what it meant. "Shit. Damn. Damn damn damn damn DAMN!" He kicked a barstool in frustration and slumped back down on his own seat. "John... what's going on?" asked the Lord of the Dance. "It's won," he said sadly. "The magic's won. Another generation tossing itself to the old Constantine curse." He covered his head with his hands and sighed. "All this, and her mom's gonna kill me." "There now, John," said the Lord of the Dance. He patted John on the shoulder, trying to comfort the man. "Look, magic might've royally screwed your life, and the lives of countless other Constantines, but surely there's an exception or two?" "There was Johanna Constantine... but she was one total bitch." "Y'know, Johnny, I'll wager that Gemma'll do all right. Besides, the worst is in the past, right? How can you top blowing up a planet?" "Hey, she's a Constantine," reminded John. "If there's one thing we can do, it's royally fuck up repeatedly." "Look, John. Take'er under your wing. Teach the girl the ropes, show her the scene, guide her. If you leave her on her own, she just might make the same mistakes you made, or even worse. Be there for her, man. I think she'll need you now more than ever." "Hrhm." "Besides..." said the Lord of the Dance, with a twinkle in his eye. "She's off to an interesting start already, eh?" "Hm? What do you mean?" "Why, she's out-tricked the trickster." John mulled that fact over, took another swig of Guinness, then snorted. And then he snickered. And then he let loose with laughter. "Aheh, yeah, so she did. Yeah. Heheh." The Lord of the Dance raised a glass filled with ale and raised it up. "Here then, John. Let's have a toast, eh?" "A toast? To what?" "To the future, friend. To the future." John nodded and raised his own glass. "Right then. To the future." "Cheers!" - - - A thousand years into the future... He walked. A tiny shining light in the night shone behind him, the shining city that was Crystal Tokyo. It was supposed to be an utopia. It was a sham. Oh, yes, Crystal Tokyo was a bloody nice city, with its nice people and its nice weather, and everyone with nice, agreeable attitudes, and everyone bein' coddled so much they didn't realize exactly how fragile their position in life really was. Without the protection of the Queen, they'd be helpless, dead in hours. Clueless sods. A right and proper world should be where every man and woman would be able to guide their own destiny, not be under the shackles of a matriarch government. They tossed him out for being a 'heretic', for being a 'disruptive element' disagreeing with the royal witch. They'd regret it. He'd show them. He had the will. He had the magic. With his schemes and his dreams, Jon Constantin set out to the wilderness of the world, to make his own destiny... - t h e e n d - next up: writer's notes and the outtakes. dedicated to my loverly niece, may she never know what a sailor fuku is in her life. -rod m. to the keep rats, always remember- blame mike loader. -david t.