"THE THEMYSCIRAD"

ONE : THE MURDERER

"Hilde Sheffield was a model, only twenty-three years old and pulling well over a six-figure bi-annual income. She worked with designers in Beriln, Milan,

Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris and most recently with a radical black-and-white fashion photographer right here in London. Very modish stuff, extremely high-end.

She never got in front of a camera for anyone less than top brass when it came to creative staff, not once since her miraculous debut in Paris fashion week in

2003 and her following appearances on the covers of both Vogue and Nylon magazines as the industry's most dazzling young newcomer. She'd been

nineteen at the time, still a little old for the game, but nonetheless unstoppable. All issues featuring her wearing her signature looks from the runway in the

shadow of the Eiffel Tower cleared the racks faster than the printers could produce them. Unstoppable; no history of addiction or sex, no forgery, no wild

parties, just a workaholic who loved the camera and had potential to spare even after practically touching the stars with her bare hands before turning

twenty.

"She was found with her throat slit on the second-floor balconey of her country house in Tuscaney, drowned in her own blood. The estate's caretaker didn't

find her until a week after the birds had picked the corpse almost clean. She had to be identified by her dental records.

"Maggie Springsteen wasn't quite as much the Pollyanna, but she did spend just as much time in front of cameras." The tall woman paused to take a sip from

her sparkling pink pomegranate martini, not swallowing immediately but running the rim of the glass along her tongue, careful of losing a single drop. Her

companion stifled her laughter, already feeling the buzz of her Manhattan on the rocks burning in the hollows of her cheeks. Go figure, mortals succumbed to

the drink faster. She'd have to chug these sticky little concoctions by the dozen to catch up - Greek liquor was stronger - but she wasn't here to get drunk.

"Chuckle if you must, Linh," she chided kindly, smiling and tossing the cascading wave of her lustrous black hair like a waterfall of living ink. "You come from a

war-torn country where women and men alike are forced to turn to worse daily to feed their families and clothe their children. Consider the world today and

tell me if pornography is the most laughable thing considerable - it isn't just Vietnam where people beg in the street for scraps of rice and pork lard."

"You're not being fair, Diana," said the smaller woman, her eyes glassy as she raised her frosted glass to survey the damage she'd done. Her sharp Eastern

features were tightened in emotion, her intoxication peeking through her coy smile. "There's suffering everywhere, is that what you're trying to say? I get it,

there are people in pain - losing babies, dying - in every city, on every continent, on every planet, in every galaxy and you've seen most of it up close. Isn't

that a little too... oversimplified? What should I feel? Guilt?" She extended her ring finger to display the obscenely brilliant canary diamond shimmering like a

field of stars at her knuckle. "Most of us haven't been to the center of the universe and back, or carried it around with us, as a matter of fact. No offense."

She meant offense. She meant it. It was there in her gesture, in her carelessness, a bristle in her posture. Diana smiled. Cynicism. The word didn't exist in

her native tongue, but the meaning? Universal. She was still young enough to appreciate it. Her mother would have balked. But queens are quick to

indignation, aren't they? And she was not her mother.

"Linh, I'm not a god," she said. "I don't... I don't aspire to their beliefs. That's why they cast me out."

"That's not what I meant," Linh said. "I mean, God, you've stood shoulder to shoulder with the gods, that's the point! Jesus, Diana, Superman alone. And,

you've died! Did that just slip your mind, just another fond memory of adventures past? You died and we all cried out together, we all wept together, the

entire world. We cried for you and it was like the gods heard us - really heard us - because they brought you back. You... You matter in a way few other

people in all of creation ever have or will." She faltered, unsure, afraid, then pushed on. "It's hard to imagine you don't judge us, just a little-"

"Sister," Diana interrupted. "I once worked the daily lunch rush at a taco franchise."

Silence. Reverence. Respect.

Sister.

Linh had shut the door on the discussion, accusing. Diana reopened it with the graceful good humor of a great diplomat. They sipped their drinks. They met

each others' eyes.

"Maggie Springsteen was born in downtown Metropolis, poisoned in the dregs of the city where drug warfare and human slavery were too petty of crimes to

catch his eye. The Man Of Steel was too busy with intergalactic wars and evil scientists to parry some of the baser parasites within his city."

Linh sees it, then; a spark of arrogance, judgement. Royalty - haughtiness. Human royalty. She was criticising Superman. Linh cowed. This was unreal. She

was having cocktails with Wonder Woman, and the woman was, seemingly, everything the Enquirer and Time had described her as and even more gorgeous

than her pictures. You could really have a goddamn conversation with this chick, a real talk. They'd been here an hour and talked about so much; everything

from mythological warfare (events Diana - she preferred to be called that - claimed unarguable truth upon, swearing to her gods that her mother had even

met the legendary Herakles milliennia ago) to crop failure in the Midwest and the migrational patterns of North American swallows. She could have been a

professor at Yale or a bloodthirsty warlord. Or, yes, a goddess. It was all true, Linh couldn't sense a speck of lie in the woman. What the hell was she doing

here, in this derelict drunk tank in downtown London where the patrons were doing lines off the counters in the shadows and scrawling bawdy one-liners

about superheroines on the men's room wall?

Diana went on. "Her mother was a prostitute, her father a cocaine runner who left them when Maggie was six."

"You really do your homework, don't you?"

The amazon winked, a startling and pleasurable little gesticulation. "I have a close friend who insisted I study the skills of the detective when i first arrived

here. I've found it isn't much unlike tracking a stag in a storm, a stalwart hunt though the prints and spore have been washed away by the rain."

"Here?" asked Linh.

"Patriarch's World," said Diana. "We call it that on Themyscira. I understand some women here in the 'outside world' consider the term a little sexist, but I

come from an island populated solely by women..."

"Say no more, I read the tabloids too," said Linh. "Now, tell me more about Batman."

"How did you know...? Never mind." Diana smiled again. She was always smiling, always so goddamn kind. No amount of cynicism or flack could put a dent in

her. What did it take to get this woman riled up? Linh sipped her drink, savoring the sweet honeyed whiskey. "We can talk about Br - er - Batman some

other time. You're in danger, Linh. I want you to know why."

Linh sighed. "Alright, but I'm holding you to that. Next time, the drinks are on me, and you're going to dish to me about which of these super-dudes is

packing a bigger Batmobile."

"Cross my heart," said Diana. She took a breath, finished her drink, and continued.

"Maggie had a problem with authority. She was caught a total of eight times by local authorities after running away from home, arrested twice for possession

of methamphetamines before she turned sixteen, jailed once, released at eighteen and arrested once after for soliciting an undercover police officer for sex.

She began a relationship with Duncan Lively at twenty-one and starred in his first movie that year. She was a runaway sensation in the adult movie industry

overnight due to her unconventional short brunette hairstyle, her multiple tattoos and bodily piercings - listed; seven in each ear, two industrial, one

twenty-gauge in each earlobe, one septum, one nostril, one eyebrow, two surface piercings beneath her cheekbones, not one of them erotic - and her

zealous attitude."

"How charming, an alternative pornstar. You're sure it wasn't the smut-producing boyfriend that killed her and not the same guy that iced the model?"

"Positive. I visited Mr. Lively during the initial stages of my investigation. I... I interrogated him a little too fiercely, I'm afraid."

"Did you use the lasso?"

Linh could see it there, hanging from Diana's belt loop under the table, practically glowing like the purest of golds it was purported to have been forged from

by the Smith God, Hephaestus, right there at the hip of her supple leather miniskirt; The Lasso of Truth, the Golden Lariat, The Neverending Circle. She'd

heard it called a dozen different names. She knew what it could do. The entire world did, no one would ever question its authenticity the way they did five

years ago. This woman, she had cured the world's cynicism alongside the entire Justice League the day she stood up alongside those six men and said

"enough", her sword flashing victory on every television screen on the face of the planet and the shining golden loop noosed around the enemy's neck.

"No." Diana's expression shifted, conveying a certain amount of regret in her soft blue eyes - not much, mind you. "I used my fist and led with my sword, the

way an amazon would. But that way, it doesn't always... What is it you say? It doesn't always fly with your authorities here. Even if he had done it, I couldn't

have made his confession stick in court. Not the way I went about it. I snapped the man's arm in half. I couldn't bear his ill-gained arrogance and the way he

spoke... The way he spoke to the women, to the men, to everyone around him. The way he treated everyone around him like... ornaments. I couldn't bear it.

I couldn't."

Shame. Such shame. Look at her, thought Linh, just look at her hurting because she fed this creep every scrap of pain he deserved. Or, did he? Maybe he

grew up ugly, just like little Maggie Springsteen.

God in Heaven...

Linh's eyes opened. Her soul opened, or maybe it was just the Manhattan. Empathy for a predatory son of a bitch; how did she do that? God...

"Regardless... Mnggie Springsteen was torn to pieces, surgically taken apart in an alley in Metropolis and pegged another Jane Doe in one of countless

prostitution murders. They thought she was a prostitute. They overlooked her, like so much refuse. They thought she was killed by a sadistic John. No one...

No one cried for her. I shed a tear for her in the morgue when they allowed me to study her corpse. The interns laughed."

Another pause, another stab of regret - repentance. As if she could make up for all the wicked smallness in the world with the sadness in her face.

"But, I'm digressing," said Diana, tossing her hair again. "Chastity Babcock was a broadway producer."

"How could that be connected?" said Linh. "It happened in America?"

"In New York," said Diana. "In Times Square, in a crowd, on New Years' Eve. She shouldn't have been there.

"Chastity Claire Babcock was picked off out of a crowd for her stunning Nordic features and hair like spun gold and her refusal to take her top off when the

ball fell. She'd just staged a groundbreaking revival of 'Bye-Bye Birdie' with her partner, Maxwell Petrillo, an Italian Englishman whose ancestors had

migrated to Brooklyn almost a century ago."

"Please, don't say, 'They had lot of livin' to do...' Wait, how do you know she was killed because of her looks?"

Diana shook her head. "You'll understand. Chastity Babcock was discovered by her partner crucified on the shelf she used to display her nine Tony awards

and her tenth-grade drama trophies. There was one iron railroad spike embedded in both her wrists and both ankles, pinning her to the structure like a

butterfly under glass."

"Oh, sweet Jesus..."

"You understand, now, yes? They, themselves were almost nothing as people in the conventional term. They were overlooked, they would have been

forgotten, but they were beautiful and female and strong - known."

"It can't be just me," Linh said, speechless. "There have to be others. Are you watching the other ones? I mean, Angelina Jolie alone..."

"Is under the watchful eyes of both Green Lantern and The Flash, who both volunteered most vigorously for the trial," Diana said. "You are not the only one

we believe could become a potential target."

She saw it in her mind's eye when Diana said it. Linh saw herself sawed in half with one of the fake chrome bayonets on the set of "When Gods and Men

Change Places". She was starring as a girl who chose between her children and her heritage in North Vietnam during the war, but Jesus! The writing was

awful, and she was doing kung-fu. God, she was playing a female guerilla fighter during the Vietnam War who fed her kids squid and frog legs by day and

fought the Viet Cong by night.

"Diana..." said Linh. "Diana, I don't want you to judge me for what I do, this awful movie... My mom hates it. My grandmother disowned me. She lived through

the war and she disowned me, but I don't know how else to live..."

Ten minutes; that's what it took. Ten minutes, and she was spilling her soul. Ten minutes, and she was telling her deepest secrets. Ten minutes, and she

was more vulnerable than any felled villain bleeding on the linoleum while spewing a plot to turn the world's magnetic poles on their heads. Ten minutes.

"I don't judge your art," said Diana, soothing, balming with her words the way she did. Goddess. "Like Maggie - and please, don't take this the wrong way -

you had to do what you had to do. The Western World sees people like you in a different way. I think you should be proud they see you as the warrior they

watch on television. I think my heart would burst... Sometimes, I think the way they look at you - all of humanity at mortals on a screen - is sweeter

contemplation than the way I once looked at the gods...

"But murdered, Linh. Murdered each, each in a terrible way, each because they were women, because they were beautiful, because they were successful; I

am here because of you. I am here to protect you. This isn't just serendipity, I am here for the League, and mostly, I am here for you. I can't sit on my hands

and watch another sister butchered. And Batman doesn't think there's a connection - Batman doesn't think there's a connection - but, I do. They did this for

me, they're all staging this global watch because I asked it of them.. They reached out across continents for me..."

Linh watched, as she couldn't help but doing. She watched Wonder Woman, accepting herself, accepting the Justice League, accepting brothers. This was

just as much a revelation for her as it was for this... this Super Woman, this Wonder.

"Lord," Linh thought, breathless, "She's shaking... She's... She's so... hurt. Her gods have led her astray as much as ours has us..."

"Another round?" Diana offered. Linh shook herself from her silent reverie.

Yes, another round. It was just the drink, nothing cosmic about it. It was just the drink.

"Someone is targeting women like you, Linh Truong. Women like you, and I don't care if Batman sees it or not, I will not see anyone else fall. I will not, on my

honor as an amazon and my mother's daughter." She grew grave, like she was putting flowers on a headstone. "I swear on all of my gods, deceitful though

they might be. I'm sorry. It's what you would call a schoolgirl fancy, the way I talk of my gods..."

"Fifty years ago..." thought Linh.

"Long story short, we believe you might be the next. I'm here representing the Justice League of America, but more importantly to safeguard your life. I am

your Wonder Woman in every way you need me to be."

"Than could you help me find my way to the pisser? I think I'm going to vomit."

XXXXXXXXXX

"Wonder Woman is holding my hair back. My mother would shit. Did you see a flash out there? This creep from The Enquirer has been taling me since

Liverpool."

"All I saw was a man in a long coat slipping a wad of bills to a hooker for a gram of heroine," said Diana, removing an elastic band from the pocket of her

creamy blazer. "Hold still, let's get that pretty hair tied back so you don't get anything in it. That toilet is filthy"

"And you just watched? I thought you were supposed to take care of stuff like that. Like, arrest them, you know?"

"And ruin our night?"

"You're joking, right? Oh, you are. Wow - erp..." Linh buried her face into the stained porcelain again, heaving foam and liquid that hit the fouled water with a

sickening, heavy slap. "Oh, jeez. I am so sorry, Diana."

"Ever been covered head to toe in centaur bowel? This is nothing, and don't ask how I came to be covered head to toe in centaur bowel."

"I saw the picture in Newsweek," Linh giggled.

"I guess we share that problem with the press," said Diana. "And no, I wouldn't have arrested them even if I could. Do you realize how many people in this

place are hopped up on at least two kinds of narcotics right this moment? I can hear somebody snorting in the next stall even as we speak. I'm not a cop.

Truth be told, I don't like policemen very much."

"Truth," said Linh. "'Truth, Justice and The American Way' - that doesn't extend to London, for you?"

"Even when I was living in Boston, I wasn't exactly able to extend my influence over pimps and drug dealers," Diana explained. "It isn't like battling a hyrdra

or lassoing a minotaur, you know? Well, maybe it's a little something akin to a hyrdra - you put one dealer away, you beat up one pimp mistreating his girls

and two more take their place on the same corner the next night. The bigger aspects of drug warfare aren't in the JLA's jurisdiction. We have no official

standing. I guess I shouldn't have been hard on Kal about that before - Superman, I mean."

"Didn't the U.N. offer you a position as an ambassador?"

"For a nation of less than five hundred women who dress in stag hides and cook over fire? Themyscira barely qualifies as a country, and it has little to no

impact on the outside world or vice versa."

"Is that why you left?"

"That's... A long story."

The woman in the next stall snorted again, long and sharp. Diana's keen hunters' nose could detect the drug cocktail wafting on the stale, smoke-filled air.

She didn't recognize it - not meth or coke or painkillers. It was something plant-based, barely processed, practically raw from the leaf. Great, a new brand of

poison for the locals to destroy themselves on. Perhaps she should investigate?

"Sister?" she called. "Are you well?"

"Peachy keen," said Linh before she realized Diana wasn't speaking to her. There was no answer from the next stall. Just a litany of ragged breaths and

then, another snort and a deep, contented sigh. "What's with homegirl? Think she's overdosing?"

"Shh..."

Linh suddenly became aware of the silence in the dingy bathroom. There was no rush of water from the faucets, no flushes, no chatter. She hadn't noticed it,

the sound of her own retching had drowned out everything. And there was a fragrance rising above the stench of urine, vomit and industrial cleaner, sweet

and smoky like jasmine and incense and something else, a metallic perfume. Like blood. She thought she could hear the rhythmic pounding of drums,

somewhere far off.

"I've missed something," Diana breathed. "Something's... I don't want to alarm you, Linh, but... I think something's happening. Right outside."

The breathing from the next stall became heavier, more labored, and the amazon tightened.

"I don't have my sword... Sister?" she called again. "I say again, are you well?" No answer, just another snort, another sigh, and she could hear the ecstasy

building in the guttural moan that followed. She peeked under the stall to see a pair of bare feet turned toward each other, the toes clenching. Convulsing.

Gods. She tore off her blazer, rose to her full height and put her hand on the stall latch, the ancient fluorescent lights glittering off her silver Bracelets of

Victory and throwing the light in a kaleidoscope around them. Linh's heart was pounding through her body, her breasts rising and falling in a fearful staccato.

"Stay here, Linh. No matter what happens, you don't move from this spot."

The drums got louder.

"Diana," Linh said, "What's happening? There's blood. Oh, my God, it's leaking under the door. What the hell is happening?"

It was rusty brown, already drying on the dirty linoleum and not at all like the stuff they smeared on her in the movies. They hadn't heard a thing, not a

thing, just the breathing from the next stall. Mother of God, there was so much blood. It smelled like an abattoir in here now. They hadn't heard a thing, and

she could tell that the woman in the next stall wasn't there anymore. She hadn't heard the door creek open, but she had the most horrible feeling...

The drums got louder, deafening.

"Stay down. STAY DOWN!" Diana threw the door open.

It was like the crack of a thousand guns. Linh screamed and fell into the corner of the stall, seeing nothing but Diana's heels slipping on the congealed blood

on the floor as the stall door shattereed inward like a bomb had gone off outside.

The debris littered them both. There were wood chips in her hair, crashing against the lids of her eyes. She screamed, and she heard Diana's cry of

astonishment and fury over the madness.

"What in gods' names!"

"Diana!" Linh called.

A flash of tawny skin, gleaming and spotted... No, not skin! Hair, a speckled pelt, rippling with the flex of muscle and sinew beneath. She glimpsed the eyes

burning red, hot with murder, the teeth flashing like knives, the claws extended, pulsating with the unearthly power that had battered down the door just as

Diana was going to open it. Then, nothing.

The thing was there and then gone! Faster than... It was faster than Diana. She hadn't seen it disappear, either. She'd rushed out of the stall and was

sweeping the scene with a frantic eye.

"Diana!" Linh gasped again. "What is it? Where did it go!"

"Stay. There." Diana hissed. "It's... It's still here. It's out in the bar. Can you hear? They're screaming."

Yes, she heard it, too, the shouts and the sound of breaking glass. A gunshot rang through the cacophony. And the bodies...

There were two of them, two girls stuffed under the sinks, their broken limbs twisted across their mutilated faces. Linh threw up again. She didn't make it to

the toilet bowl this time.

"It's so fast," said Diana. "Almost as fast as The Flash. What in all Hell...?"

"It's here for me, isn't it?" Linh sobbed, hacking to clear her throat. "You were right. Diana, I don't want to die!"

"Nobody else is dying! Nobody!" the amazon snapped, fixing those steely blue eyes on the woman cowering on the floor. "Alright. Stay behind me. Get up

and stay behind me, sister, no matter what. You can't be here alone, stay behind me. I smell old magic on this creature, old gods. It couldn't have killed

these women without my notice elsewise. By the Bow of the Huntress - Artemis, preserve me - it's so fast."

"What is it!" Linh begged, bracing herself, getting up, too scared to question Wonder Woman's command. "What is it!"

"I don't know," said Diana, exhaling through her nose, impatient, not averting her stare. "But I'm going to find out, and then I'm going to stop it.."

She reached for the bathroom door handle, wet with blood as it was, and wrenched. The door came off its hidges and she tossed it aside like one great

feather. It crashed against the wall and snapped in two.

The bar was vacant. The bouncer was dead. Diana couldn't count any other casualties as of yet. The floorboards were littered with glass, torn up in some

places, and across the room the rafters above the mantle had been thrown down and dessicated with inhuman strength.

The creature sat cleaning itself in the center of the room - licking the blood from its hand - leaning on the pool table beneath a swinging neon light and raking

its claws casually, almost unassumingly, across the felt and boring deeper through the wood with each stroke. Linh screamed again and its eyes rose to

meet them, hot with awareness and hunger. Hot with glee. Its breasts were full and high, the almond nipples pert - aroused. It was a woman, some sort of

freakish chimera. It had the graceful features of a predatory cat about its brow and wicked snout, which sat above a snarling grin jeweled in pearly fangs

and bordered in soft pink lips. Behind it, a thick muscled tail snaked along the edge of the table in a bizarre display of enticement. Demon. Diana took a

stance.

"Can you speak?" she demanded, shifting her weight to her right leg behind her and crossing her bracelets over her chest. She received no answer, only the

creature began to lick its opposite hand, lowing and purring deep in its throat. And then, it laughed.

She heard Linh begin crying again behind her. She wanted to weep herself, for all her warrior's bravado. Gods, that sound! That unimaginable laughter,

hideous and beastly yet so coarsely human in its inflection. She was being mocked by a monster spraying saliva and gore from its teeth. The thing had veins

and bone chips stuck to the fur of its face and it was laughing at her. Athena help her, why hadn't she brought the damn sword?

"Amazon. Give me The Neverending Circle. Give me the lasso. The girl can live if you surrender it to me."

Diana had heard much of the voices of demons. This creature could have bowed The Boatman with that husky drawl. And the accent was unmistakably

British, though guttural due to the animalistic shape of its maw. She couldn't detect a dialect, just sedition and malice within each syllable. It sounded almost

cultured.

"Why are you doing this?" Diana growled. "It was you in Tuscany, in Metropolis, in New York, you killed those women. The wounds are the same as the ones

you left in your victims here, except the Springsteen girl was half-eaten. What corner of Tartarus spit you out?"

The creature stopped licking its hand and straightened, then threw back its head and laughed again, exposing a downy white throat. Taking a single step

forward on a taloned foot, it crouched.

"Nevermind," it whispered. "I'll just throttle you with it before I swallow her beating heart whole like a bundle of grapes." It cocked its head toward Linh and

smiled wider. "My mouth is watering at the mere thought, Princess."

It sprang, clearing the room in a single bound even as it kicked the pool table through the bar behind. The strength of it was immense for its litheness, and it

truly might have been able to land a wound upon The Flash at that velocity. Those claws like iron screeched against the mirrored surface of Zeus' aegus,

crafted from the hide of his wetnurse, the great goat Amalthea, and reforged into the amazon champion's bracelets. Diana's arm had moved to parry the

blow with the fleetness of a striking viper, and her bones screamed at the impact. The claws slid from the blessed metal and slit a trench in her wrist. She

had to bite her tongue to keep from crying out.

Deflected, the creature pulled back and leapt, kicking like a bird in takeoff and pummeling Diana in her throat and midsection with enough force to leave her

fighting to draw breath. Her blouse tore, the claws digging furrows in her belly and slashing her face. It left her dizzy. She wasn't used to bleeding, or rather

not so easily. The damn thing was so fast, and so strong. This monstrosity could have shaken Kal with that kick. It may have been feral in appearance, but it

was making calculated, almost surgical blows. She'd recognized that kick. It was taught in the Isreali Special Forces. Anyone less sturdy than she would have

been coughing up their spinal column. Cultured, indeed, this beast. She thought she heard drums. The air was foggy with black magic.

"The speed of Hermes, was it?" the creature cackled, licking the blood from its knuckles. Its eyes widened and its hackles rose then. "Oh, Princess, I had no

idea. Not just amazon blood! It's like ambrosia. I can practically taste their holiness in you, like flowery notes in fine burgundy - the gods! So the stories are

all true, all those outlandish things you claim at press conferences and high school basketball games - although, who am I to talk outlandish? You were

conceived by gods - you, Diana dear, are a one-of-a-kind vintage! To think I'll only get to partake but once. After all, you can only die once. Now stand still,

you're not being a very good sport about this!"

Linh was praying to Buddha, praying to her grandmother, praying to God and Diana's gods. The warring figures danced before her, their ballet of fist and

teeth hotter than a Vegas sunset. Diana slid out of the cat's reach again and again, sweeping her feet around the cluttered arena and circling to her right;

trying to stay just one tiny step ahead of it, and her strain was showing. Her wound was bleeding a little too much to not be concerned, and her taste in

bras was awf - wait... She wasn't wearing the goddamn armor under there! Presumably, one would want a little extra padding if most of one's life were

spent being shot at.

"'Molded from mystical clay on the shores of an island untouched, unheard and unseen by the male race for millennia; given unnatural life and godly powers

by five renegade goddesses and the god of Messengers,'" the creature said, its incredulity plain. It was quoting a five year-old issue of Time magazine, the

first interview the princess had ever given in Patriarch's World. Diana threw a roundhouse punch that would have knocked a man's head off his shoulders

into the cat's stomach and it crumpled only to spring to its feet in seconds, howling. "It's all true, then! You make me feel - and forgive me the sentiment - as

if I'm not quite so alone in divinity on Earth, Diana."

"What are you!" Diana bellowed, snapping the leg from a barstool and brandishing it like a club. She asked again, "Why did you murder those women!"

"To draw you out," it said, simply.

"What?" Diana swung and smashed the cat against the side of its skull, reducing her makeshift cudgel to kindling. The thing staggered. A thin trickle of blood

seeped from its tufted ear. So, it could bleed, too, much good that it did. It had righted itself again, grinning like a ravenous Cheshire Cat.

"To draw you out!" it yowled again, pouncing. This time, it caught her off guard - she hadn't thought it would recover so quickly from such a blow to the head

- and knocked her off her feet. Diana fell, barely snatching at the creature's wrists as it made for her face with its claws. It gnashed at thin air above her,

going for her throat with its teeth as they struggled together. Its jaws came together with a sound like a steel trap snapping shut. "I never imagined it

would have taken only three dead mortal whores, though. You really are as much of a bleeding-heart as I'd thought you'd fooled the world into thinking you

were, aren't you? Ha! Nobody will miss them, Princess, they were damned from birth to be lambs for the wolf - only human! Look how you mourn for them.

You want to kill me for the things I'm saying, I can see it in your eyes. Pathetic. I thought you would be something a little more like me, a little different!"

"What sick god birthed you and what do you want from me!"

Diana strained, pulling back until the creature's drooling mouth was only inches from her face, and threw it off, restraining herself just enough to prevent

pitching it through the roof. The ceiling shuddered and cracked at the impact of the spotted body smashed upward against it, and Diana rolled and leapt to

her feet as it began to fall toward her.

"Urzkartaga isn't like your gods," the creature said, lashing at her with its tail upon landing with the expect catlike grace, almost dainty. Diana dodged and

the heavy appendage made the air crack where it struck. "I am not his offspring, rather his mortal bride, wedded to him in a bath of hot blood and entrails.

Our wedding feast was a platter of scalped heads, the eyeballs still turning in the sockets when I licked them out and squeezed them into jelly between my

teeth. The consumation of our union is made in the climax of each hunt, when I drink the blood of my prey still hot from the artery in sacrement to my

husband's divine thirst!"

"Then you are little more than a succubus!" said Diana. "We tell tales of the Lamia where I come from, the woman-beast that sustains itself on men's blood

when Apollo's sun falls to the glory of the stars. I've killed vampires before, demon. Tell me what you want of me and put an end to the bloodenings, and I

will extend to you every mercy I am capable."

The creature gamboled away from her fist and exploded with laughter.

"Mercy! Mercy, indeed! And it's not just men's blood, Diana! Oh, no, women do just fine. As for what I want? Must I repeat myself? I want the lasso, that gift

from the gods that allows you to force mortals and gods alike to lay their souls bare to your petty whims. I want to peel it from your corpse after I'm sated

on your immortal blood. You have no idea of its true power, not just the mere ability to bypass a Pleubian lie."

"I don't care," the amazon retorted. The anger was rising in her breast, building in vehemence like the molten earth churning in the base of a volcano. The

fire of Olympus roared cobalt blue in her eyes, stolen by Prometheus down the side of the mountain and entombed in her mighty gaze for mortals to behold,

awestruck. "Have it, then."

Linh watched in awe from behind the bar as Diana unlooped the brilliant golden rope from her belt, almost too quickly for the eye to register.

"Impotent threats," the creature purred, readying itself for the next assault. But then, it was caught.

Diana had snared it within the length of the lasso in the breath between heartbeats. She tied the knot close, pinning the cat's arms to its sides and forcing it

to its knees in submission.

"Treacherous bitch! You dare-!"

The cat's head snapped aside and back, pulling its neck high. Its body actually came off the ground and fell in a shuddering pile at the amazon's feet. Diana

had struck it so hard with the back of her hand that it would have flown through the wall had she not been gripping the lasso in both hands. If the monster

could take such punishment without dying than far be it for her to hold herself back in fear of killing it. This thing had taken life with joy. It had threatened

her friend, it would have killed Linh and joked about it. No more mercy, no more pulling punches. She remembered the words of Lewis Carroll, twisted in her

rage; "I've seen a head without a cat, but a cat without a head..." What sheer luck for this beast that she hadn't brought the sword.

"You will - !"

"You will shut your damned mouth!" Diana roared. "I haven't heard of your disgusting god of blood and I will hear no more of your insanity! You think I don't

know what this lasso can do? They sent it by arrow to Themyscira over fifty years ago; the gods! It was before I was even born. The Huntress - Artemis

herself - pulled the bowstring while the rope was still hot from the smith's fire. It burned a crater into the earth at my mother's feet. The queen was the first

to weild it - we call it Hippolyta's lasso, a tribal fancy if you will. My mother was the first Wonder Woman, decades ago when the world was just as torn by

bloodlust and war as it is today. She came to Patriarch's World thinking she could change it, thinking she could convince them all to cease the bloodshed

before the world collapsed on itself like a dying sun. She herself taught me how to use it, she herself taught me its every secret. Do you know what I could

do to you if I snapped your wretched neck in its confines? You know, don't you?" She tugged hard. "Answer me! No more of your falsely sinister reticence, I

compel you through the power of the gods themselves to answer me! NOW!"

She slapped the creature again, hard against the same cheek. Blood and spittle splattered from between its lips. It turned back toward her, vengeance in its

glare, and then...

"Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

"By Her grey eyes..."

"Intriguing, isn't it!" the cat crowed. "You haven't heard of my god, you say? All the better then, that you don't understand his power! You once felled the

God of War himself with this trinket, didn't you, and all I feel is a tickle in my soul."

"No... It's not possible..."

"Carry on all you like, Princess, and I will abide!"

Diana tore her skirt and broke her heel as she stomped into the creature's chest, feeling the breastbone shatter beneath her foot. The creature only

coughed.

"I'll kill you! Do you understand me, monster! I will kill you here with my bare hands and rip your soul out of your body with this lasso! That is its true power,

you think I don't know? I will see you burn in whatever Hell you believe in - I will send you there myself - and never think of you or your evil god again!"

"Evil is a relative term," the cat rasped. "Hate, however? Hate is the same in every language, every faith. Know well that I hate you, Princess, that I would

give my own dread life to see you fallen from grace."

A dire silence fell, unbroken for heartstopping moments.

"Pity the latter won't proceed the first," said Diana, finally. She took the creature about the head, one hand firm beneath its whiskered chin, the other wrung

around the back of its skull, ready to separate its neck from its spine. "Tell your god when you see him that Diana of Themyscira sent you into his arms. Have

your communion before I destroy everything you ever were in Hestia's fiery circle - before I harvest your spirit and scatter it like embers from a sepulchre.

This is my mercy. The glory of Gaea be with you, sister."

"Presumptuous slut! Amazon whore! Tell my god yourself!"

XXXXXXXXXX

"What the hell happened?" Linh gasped, crawling out from behind the devastated mahogany bar. "It's gone again! Where the hell did it go!"

Diana wasn't moving. She just stood there with the lasso hanging limp at her feet.

"Why didn't I bring the sword? Athena, why didn't I bring the sword? She undid the knot. How...? What the hell have we gotten ourselves into? She undid

the knot. Hephaestus said no one would be able to undo the knot, no one but an amazon chamption. Gods!"

"Diana!"

"I can't hear it anymore," Diana said, turning a reassuring and almost sad eye on her companion. "I can't smell its musk anymore or sense it lurking in the

darkness somewhere. It's gone, sister. It undid the lasso's knot and fled - no one and nothing should have been able to undo that knot! At that speed, the

thing could have almost cleared the city limits by now."

"For God's sake, Diana, we need to get out of here!"

"No one... No one and nothing..."

"Diana!"

The amazon princess stiffened, clenching her fists.

"I have to call Julia. She will know what this... What this abomination is, how to stop it. Is there anywhere in the area that I can place a long-distance phone

call? I'm going to go home for a time, I have to, but first I have to make some phone calls. Olympus, what have we gotten ourselves into?"