Hecataeus had only just managed to stay out of what the mortals were calling the first world war thanks partly to Therodamas and her pack staying to enforce his power after they'd sealed Dracula before proceeding to claim his former territory as their own and partly due to his time being spent setting up a runic archway in the catacombs as a way of transporting to and from Aeaea. Working with his mother, they'd managed to partially unravel the magic that bound the curse of Acteon to them: allwing the pack to morph into half-man half-wolf creatures akin to the other beastmen of the island who'd then proceeded to welcome them without a second thought.
They'd sworn their loyalty and their pack to the power of his blood forevermore for that. His mother was inordinately pleased at his accidental recruitment, especially when he explained about how they'd assisted him in banishing a befouling presence from the world of men. Though claiming the castle had also brought with it an unexpected bonus. For after speaking with his mother and Lady Hecate extensively about the possibility, he'd been pleased to inform his cousins the sirens that since the portal connected the former castle of Dracula and his mother's manse on Aeaea, they could technically leave the island without drawing the attention of Olympus by traveling through the portal: keeping in mind that they could never try to leave the castle itself.
His lips had tingled for two days after the ecstatically grateful kiss Celandine had given him when she first watched the setting sun illuminate the dense foliage from atop the parapets of a castle in a land she'd never imagined she'd see whilst Demeter's curse remained in effect.
The nearby villages had soon noticed that the darkness Dracula had once infected their homes with was dissipating even as the world at large lost its mind in the conflagration of war. The sirens kept to the castle and the villages kept their speculation about the castle or whoever may have occupied it to themselves, speaking nothing of it with their government nor any outsiders who passed through. And if occasionally one of their young men heard the singing of what he claimed to be a heavenly choir beyond the dark tress of the forest and disappeared for some time afterward before returning home in an entranced daze, well…so long as they had no more red-eyed wolves waiting to savage any who sought the castle without permission or wailing families lamenting the loss of their children and their elders to the insatiable appetite for living blood the undead lord and his unholy concubines possessed, it all seemed a fair enough trade.
With this second world war, there had come word that there was a new warrior of seemingly supernatural power fighting against the Nazis: a woman only ever referred to by the codename of Valkyrie. Hecateaus could honestly say he never would've suspected the woman the allies called Valkyrie to be Queen Hippolyta herself had his mother not recognized the description of her.
That was when the Lady Hecate had told him that now was the time to strike at the Amazons and show the strength of the titans was not gone by assassinating the one who was meant to be ruling them in her stead.
Hecataeus knew that if he were a better person he would be more reluctant to do this.
It was true that he'd been taught to kill, to murder, to take life as a way of living. He'd never seen it as a reprehensible thing however: after all, the Titaness Hecate had always taught him and his mother that the true power of magic came from sacrifice. In many ways his life with the hashashin had been a more mundane example of that idea in practice.
But what Lady Hecate was asking him to do now was different.
Master Malik's teaching of the hashashin creed had never spoken of pre-emptive action against enemies. His mentor had been quite definite on the point that if there was a peace in place you were not the one to shatter it. For to do so would also break the third tenant of the creed and compromise the brotherhood.
Taking the fight to the potential enemies and seeking their blood before they had thought to seek yours: that was always closer to Ammar the traitor's interpretation of the creed.
Yet more than anyone else besides his mother he was bound to the dictates of his Lady Hecate. If she commanded, he knew he must obey.
And so, he had swallowed his hesitation and prepared himself to find the mystical sanctuary of Themyscira to strike a crippling blow against the last bastion of true Olympian power in the mortal world.
He knew there would be no hope of taking the entirety of the Amazons on his own: for every one of them was trained for war from the time they could walk like the spartans of old. And that was before factoring in the personal favor bestowed upon them by the goddesses like Athena, Artemis and Hera. No, if he was to kill Hippolyta's chosen replacement, he would need to separate her from the other Amazons and make sure they didn't interfere when he completed the task set for him.
And who better to present a challenge to the amazons than themselves?
With that basic idea driving his preparations, Hecataeus practiced for weeks and hashed out his plan of attack as best he could for never having seen the island before. When he felt he was as ready as he could be he departed in the dead of night under the empty sky of a new moon to avoid any possible chance of the virgin huntress seeing him make his way to the island.
To travel, he summoned a Hippogriff: having learned during his preparations that he had not yet earned the right to summon their more powerful sires the Griffons until he had sufficiently proven his strength of will.
They flew across the churning waves of the ocean to following the directions Lady Hecate had given him. Just as the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon, Hecataeus felt the tingle of magic that signified he was approaching the barrier that shrouded the island from sight of the mortal world.
With an incantation meant to resonate himself and the hippogriff with the same energy as the barrier, they passed through it as the bottom-most curve of the sun at last was entirely above the horizon.
Knowing that time was of the essence from this point forward, he urged his mount toward the highest point he could see on the island: a snow-capped peak that seemed to watch over the settlement that rested in its shade by the shore. This worked well for his plans, allowing him to approach from above and weave the largest web of magic upon the unsuspecting amazons and catch them by surprise.
The hippogriff showed its prowess as a mount by landing some ways up beyond even the highest part of the mountain the settlement extended onto, a narrow ledge that allowed him to look down upon it all with a minimal chance of them seeing him.
He nodded his thanks to the magnificent beast, feeding it a large chunk of meat he'd brought with them for the journey before instructing it to stay there. The creature's intelligence shone through as it trilled an affirmative noise, settling on the peak to eat and wait even as Hecataeus made his way down the cliffside, relying on the grey cloth of his hashashin gear to let him blend into the snowy stone up this way.
His heartbeat thumped loudly in his ears as he made his way behind what looked to be the great temple of worship adjacent to what looked like the royal palace. If the chosen heir was anywhere, it'd be here. He climbed the columns to the back of the temple carefully, picking up the sounds of waking and bustling just beyond his view, knowing that meant he had to get to the roof before any patrols came by.
Once he reached the peak of the temple roof, he brought forth a raven feather from his belt, biting his thumb hard enough to draw blood and smearing it across the feather. Calling upon the power of the Titaness, he summoned a medium sized raven to his right hand. He recognized this particular raven for the slightest hints of grey among the black and flecks of brown in her feathers and the unwavering hesitation with which she'd followed his commands as he scouted the forests of Europe seeking the trail of Dracula and his abominable ilk. The raven, whom he'd named Epagellia on a whim, cocked her head as she looked at him; a low warble emerging from her beak in a questioning tone.
He carefully placed his left hand atop her head, left thumb placed between her eyes just above where the beak met the face.
"Four eyes, one gaze. Two minds, one purpose." He intoned in the ancient tongue, the sensation of being both within his own body on the roof of the temple and within the feathered body of Epagellia a strange one even after his days spent practicing it on her and her brethren.
"Fly!" Emerged from both their throats, his in a single word and hers' in an answering caw. Now secure in their feathered body, Hecataeus and Epagellia flew up high: their shared emerald eyes taking in the center square below.
The predominant metal was bronze, with only a few bits and pieces of iron scattered as pieces of the armor on the guards. The pair looked to the shiny metals they could see, trying to see if perhaps there was a concentration that might prove vital in identifying the queen's replacement.
A moment later they discarded that idea, seeing too many armors around the square to reliably say that they were concentrated anywhere. Besides which, what did the amazons have to fear on their own island in their own settlement? This was not Jerusalem where the leaders of crusader and muslim forces alike had to be guarded against each other and against the violence that might break out. This was all one faction, one people here upon a land mystically hidden from sight of mortals. If anyone should expect to be safe here it was the ruler of the amazons.
They landed atop a potter's stall: their wings folded back and eyes searching the nearby faces to see if one looked even vaguely like the description of Valkyrie.
"Get out of here you pest!" Came an angry female voice from below him.
They looked down, taking in the brown hair and brown eyes of the woman below them, her chiton flecked with dried clay from her work. Neither was willing to take such treatment from a single potter. So, they answered her with similar rudeness: cawing derisively and taking a single hop to the left and then to the right on the edge of the awning above her wares to show that she couldn't force them to do anything without resorting to physical force.
The anger grew on her face, infinitely amusing them as she appeared to contemplate using her own work as a projectile against them.
"Is that really necessary Silendre?" Came the soft-spoken question from nearby.
The sorcerer and the raven he inhabited turned their shared head to look and see who'd spoken. Copper colored hair. Intelligent brown eyes. A rolled-up scroll in her right hand, a bronze xiphos in its sheath at her left hip. And was that…
They cocked their head to look closer. Yes, it was the rudimentary beginnings of a magical aura. Who knew the amazons had one who studied magic among their number here?
They cawed once in greeting before gliding down and settling on one of the jars in front of her. Hecataeus and Epagellia cawed again to see if she would prove a good shield against the angry Silendre.
A warm smile came to her lips then, as she held out her left hand as an impromptu perch.
"My, aren't you a talkative one?" She asked rhetorically as they hopped onto her left hand. They warbled an affirmative as she brought their feathered body close to her eye level.
"You cannot be serious Alexa. Why are you coddling that thing?" Silendre rebuked, crossing her arms beneath her chest as if disappointed she could no longer argue with them.
"Why can I not be serious: because I think you're acting ridiculous by feuding with an errant bird?" The copper haired young woman asked in turn as she placed the scroll in her right hand through the cloth tie of her chiton before bringing her now empty hand up to stroke their chest feathers.
Their head cocked again, taking in the full measure of her magic. Under-developed but practiced. Only one or two spells done before but she'd practiced them enough that her aura had begun developing even without access to more that could expand and further it.
The chest stroking felt nice, forcing an involuntary sound of satisfaction from their throat. The young woman known as Alexa started to walk with them still on her hand.
"Come. Let us see if we can't find you a treat to send you on your way with." She cooed softly.
As the unsuspecting woman walked through the marketplace as his unknowing escort, they gradually migrated from her hand to her right shoulder, allowing her to draw the scroll from her side and bring it up to study again. They noticed that their bronze maned perch was getting more than a few askance looks as she walked a route that seemed as automatic as breathing without her eyes ever leaving the scroll in her hands.
Out of curiosity, they looked to see what scroll she was reading and were surprised to discover it to be one of the scrolls written by the philosopher Pelagion that Hecataeus'd once been instructed to read as a primer by his mother. Judging by her line of sight and furrowed brow, this Alex'd reached the part where Pelagion talked about the role of divinity in spell casting and when higher powers would likely need to be called upon to enhance a casting.
They wondered if she believed the lie the huntress had spread about how she had chosen to take up the mantle of mistress of magic from Lady Hecate.
"I know you tend to get caught up in your scrolls little sister, but this is a bit much even for you." Said an amused woman. Hecataeus, Epagellia and Alexa looked up to see who had spoken.
It was a woman of similar lineage as their scroll reading perch but obviously older and, judging by her stance, a much more skilled fighter. She was accompanying a younger woman roughly Alexa's age with features that easily matched Hecataeus' cousins the sirens for supernatural beauty. Hair almost as black as the night sky and clear blue eyes that seemed to belong to the unclouded day rather than on a human yet attached to a body that could've almost been crafted by Pygmalion himself.
They cawed in surprise as they realized that by sheer chance they'd been brought right to Hippolyta's heir. Especially when they found that looking at her was almost like looking directly at a burning fire. Her magical aura was almost too strong. And yet it was obvious that it hadn't come from anything she herself had done.
It was one of the most confusing things they'd ever seen. The closest reference point they could think to equate it to was the time Hecataeus had successfully learned to create and animated a rudimentary golem but found he couldn't see the point in pursuing it further when he could just take care of whatever the problem was himself.
"I found Silendre losing an argument with it and thought perhaps it could be good companion to talk to about my scrolls." Alexa answered, seemingly happy to recount their encounter from a few minutes ago. An amazon who found more pleasure in reading about things rather than hitting them. Would wonders never cease?
"You could simply talk to one of us Alexa." The black haired young woman said.
Alexa shook her head, causing some of her copper hair to flutter on and around Hecataeus and Epagellia.
"I know how you feel about anything that does not relate to combat or battle tactics princess." She answered as she brought the scroll to her chiton's cloth belt again.
"If I wanted someone pretending to fall asleep so they wouldn't have to talk about the words of dusty old philosophers, I'd simply ask Artemis again." She continued.
"It's an older sister's duty to pull her younger sister's head out of the clouds when she begins to lose herself in them." The now identified Artemis answered unashamedly.
"You could practice with us." Hippolyta's heir suggested, undeterred by Alexa's unspoken wish to be alone.
Hecataeus and Epagellia cawed loudly as they flapped their wings to get up and hovered over to Hippolyta's replacement. Taken aback, the girl briefly took a step and a half back as they landed on her slightly upraised arms, green eyes looking directly into her blue.
"What is it doing Alexa?" The one called Artemis asked, leaning toward the princess as if ready to attack them if they proved themselves unfriendly. They had to be quick here if they were going to get what they needed.
"It is a simple raven sister. What harm do you imagine it could do to your apprentice?" Alexa asked with a touch of mirth.
The slight laugh in Alexa's voice had seemingly broken the princess's concentration on the impromptu staring contest she'd gotten into with Hecataeus and Epagellia as well as reminded her that she was seemingly startled by an ordinary bird.
She straightened out the left arm the twin-minded raven had settled on and stepped forward again, seemingly content to let them do as they pleased.
"Do you imagine a lowly raven could bring me low Artemis?" She asked the older bronze haired woman.
"Of course not Diana." She answered immediately. Diana. So that was the name of Hippolyta's chosen. Was she her Daughter? No that couldn't be right: there was no hint of any father in her. And besides which, it didn't explain the saturation of magic though her whole being that they were seeing now. Unless she was a demigod? That could explain some of it but not all. Demigods often had some of their godly parent's strength but none so full of the aura yet able to exude none of to their surroundings. It was like she was drawing strength from the island itself. Was it something to do with Hippolyta designating her the princess in line to become queen? Perhaps they would have a better chance to figure this out if they saw her in action. The longer they lingered the likelier it would become that the Olympian would alert them to their presence.
They had to act quickly. So, they hopped their way up Diana's arm and pecked their beak in her midnight hair a few times to obtain some strands before any had time to react. Then as the princess expressed her outrage at the sudden intrusion, they took flight again, taking off for the rooftops and making their way toward the temple again.
As they made their flight over the rooftops and began to approach the temple again, they could only hope that the answers would not prove to make things more difficult than they had to be in the face of the doubts that were creeping in the back of their mind.
Author's Note: Long time coming, finally out. Next chapter will be exclusively Diana. Hope people like it.