Chapter 28 - War
In the main conference room with its awesome panoramic view of Earth from space, the Martian Manhunter, in his true green-skinned form, sat across from three members of the original Justice League: Cyborg, Green Lantern, and the Flash. Joining them was a man dressed in green known as Green Arrow, his "significant other" Black Canary, and a black-haired woman in black spandex pants who called herself Zatanna.
The alien had just related the circumstances surrounding the death of the Trevor family. His chilling account left everyone looking (and feeling) disturbed and uneasy.
Barry Allen, who worked in a crime lab as his day job, had also seen the official reports, easily hacked by Vic on the Watchtower's computers.
"That's awful, what happened to his family," Flash said shakily. "But are you really certain that this is something out of the ordinary?"
"Even if it were not for the strange psychic residue I felt," J'onn J'onzz replied. "It is highly improbable that Steve Trevor would become homicidal towards his own family, given his prior positive relationship and psychological character."
"Um, this 'psychic residue' stuff," Black Canary spoke up, awkwardly. "What exactly do you mean by that?"
"I mean that I sensed the presence of a powerful entity in the house, or more precisely, that such an entity was present at the time of the killing."
"What kind of 'entity'?" Flash's eyes were wide.
"I could not determine this, but it was something powerful, alien, but of a kind I had never previously encountered, nor do I believe those here present have either. There was a strong yellowish aura about it..."
Hal Jordan sat up. "What? If Sinestro had something to do with this-"
"No, nothing of that sort," J'onzz mused. "Not that. It was something else. Not the power of fear, although I did feel something, it was…"
J'onzz fell silent.
"I…don't know," For the first time the Manhunter sounded uncertain. "It was extremely debilitating. I felt as if I was sickening, and my will was draining away," He looked sharply at Hal. "I do not know if it would have the same effect on humans. Perhaps it would be worse. Perhaps it also affected Mr. Trevor."
Cyborg had become the de facto head of the original Justice League, and for someone so young he had proven an effective leader. In the absence of Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Wonder Woman he had had to take the wheel quickly.
"Hang on," Cyborg interrupted sharply. "Are you saying for sure that Trevor did this?"
J'onn paused a long moment. "I…believe so. But not the Trevor we know. Something changed him. Now, the police are unable to find him, and we cannot either. I cannot be certain if he is even on Earth."
Everyone at the table exchanged confused, uncertain looks.
"I can't believe Steve Trevor would do something like this," Cyborg insisted. "Could it be some enemy, something like Darkseid, one that we don't know about yet? Maybe Trevor was framed."
"And for what reason?" Flash asked.
"Cyborg," J'onzz said seriously. "I truly do hope it was the case that Trevor had a psychotic break and committed this heinous crime. Otherwise, we are facing a threat the likes we have not seen," He leaned over the table. "The crime itself, while dreadful, did not seem to be the purpose for the entity's presence. Whatever the reason for its attack, it is yet to be revealed."
"Wow," Oliver Queen muttered. "What've I gotten myself into?" Black Canary stepped on his foot underneath the table.
The conversation broke up into several different people talking all at once. She glanced aside to the young magician, who was looking down at the polished surface of the conference table. Dinah didn't really know the young lady, but wondered if she was usually this quiet.
"Zatanna, isn't it? I caught your show in Vegas. You should be on the Strip, not off it!"
The pale young woman nodded. "Thank you. Black Canary is your name, right?"
"Yeah, but call me Dinah," She shook the young girl's hand. "So, you do magic for real?"
Zatanna nodded. "There are two types of magic. The kind that the general public sees, like in Vegas, and the other kind. That's when we put the k on the end of the word. I can do both!"
She made a motion with her hands and suddenly they were filled with silver dimes. Dinah's eyes widened.
Zatanna gestured for Dinah to hold out her hands, and she did so eagerly. She made another hard-to-follow motion and she saw she was holding a handful of multicolored Skittles instead.
"Oh!" Canary grinned. "I would have preferred money, but I'll take these!"
"If it were so easy to make money, I could live like Trump," Zatanna shrugged, but smiled. "Real magick is much more complicated."
"So," Canary shared the Skittles with her. "What do you think of all this? I mean, is it something…you could help with?"
During Martian Manhunter's talk, a memory had come to Zatanna, a very old one from when her father was still alive and she was a little girl. He'd died much too early, but he taught her so much, before the stroke claimed him.
She'd been in her father's study, going through her father's books of magic. She didn't recall which book she'd picked up, or what it was about, only that when her father saw what she was reading, he'd taken the book from her quickly, despite her protests.
"No, Zee," her father had told her, gently yet firmly. "Never those words. Those words were never meant to be used by human beings. They must never be spoken, either forwards or backwards."
"Then why do we have them, if we can't use them?" Zatanna was confused.
"So when we hear them, we must stop them from being used, whatever the cost, with all our abilities. That is part of our reason for being. Always remember this, Zee. Promise me you will never use them!"
"I promise, Daddy!"
"Maybe," Zatanna said slowly. "I need to know more though."
"So what're you girls talking about?" Arrow broke in, taking some Skittles.
"What we're gonna do about this mess." Black Canary replied.
"Are we going to do something then?" He looked surprised.
"Yes," She replied firmly. "We're going to Wayne Manor."
Themyscira – The Palace
After Philippus notified Cyanna of Diana's imminent condition, she'd then headed back to the Princess's rooms while the healer prepared her medicines. The birth might not happen for hours, or it could come quickly. Who could tell with the spawn of an alien demon? But after finding her bedchamber empty, and Diana and her attendant nowhere to be found, she knew she had to alert the Queen that Diana had fled. Philippus would have to send her women out to search for her. She found that she was not surprised by her onetime pupil's actions (some part of her even felt proud that she'd kept her wits about her). But before that, there was one more task she must accomplish.
Illythia was relaxing in her quarters, partaking of a sweet, slow-burning herb that grew near the eastern shores The intoxicating smoke gave the blonde Amazon a distinct feel of luxurious self-content. She barely noticed when the ebony woman stormed in.
"Illythia!" Philippus said harshly.
"Yes, what is it?"
Philippus thought her protégé was becoming too overfamiliar as of late, but there was no time to remedy that now.
"The Princess's labor has begun. It will not be long now."
"Has it now?" Illythia stood up and stretched. "The earth has not quaked yet. I suppose we are still secure."
"You remember what we discussed, do you not?"
"Of course," Illythia was now fully alert. "You would have me perform the deed now?"
Philippus nodded grimly. She opened her cloak and took out the long dagger with the black blade that Hippolyta had given her. She thrust it out, point towards Illythia, and the young woman's eyes widened.
"Then go to the cave. This blade is magicked, so it should slay even him. Bring me back his head and dispose of his body in the deepest pit you find there. Do not forget this weapon, we may need it again."
Illythia's pulse quickened. "I shall do as you command, my General!"
Philippus paused, and added in a softer voice. "Slay him swiftly, and as painlessly as possible. He has earned that, at least."
Philippus reversed the direction and handed the hilt to Illythia. She took it eagerly.
"What of the Queen?" Illythia couldn't help asking. "What of her word to Kal-el?"
"This is my order and I shall take the responsibility. I do this to preserve our island and Amazonia. Hippolyta will understand, as will the Princess…eventually."
Illythia nodded, her eyes glinting. "Of course they will, General," she said. "I am sure of it."
Themyscira – Outside the City
Through passageways known to a few of the senior Bodyguards, Selene led her Princess, supported by Lois and Vanessa, out of the Palace unseen and undetected. They emerged behind the Royal Stables and silently and swiftly the stalwart Amazon led them into the forests beyond the city, following an unmarked trail only she apparently could see.
"Where are we going?" Vanessa whispered.
"Berenike and I have a small hut in the forest which we use it as our hunting camp. We were going to spend some time there together after my watch," Selene added. "No one knows where it is but us."
"I hope it's not much further," Lois grumbled, her arm around Diana's thickened waist; she found herself in the unlikely position of supporting a superhero. She seemed unbelievably heavy.
"I'll make it," Diana said through gritted teeth. "The baby is taking its time, it seems."
"Why?" Lois said in an aside to her as they made their way through the heavy brush. "Why the hell are we doing this?"
"My baby, if it is a boy…the Amazons will…I thought you would know this by now, Lois," Diana winced as another contraction hit her. It felt like a punch from Darkseid. "You weren't…curious, about why there are…no boys… on Themyscira?"
Lois felt chilled. Would the Amazons really...? But with the horrific memories of the Iron Rite fresh in her mind, she thought, yeah, they really would.
"I have never seen such a thick fog before," Vanessa tried to see through the mist that had almost instantly descended down upon them and all across the forest floor. Fortunately, Selene knew the path like the back of her hand.
"It stinks of magick," Selene muttered. "Anyway, here we are. Let's get out of it."
They arrived at a small wooden shelter with a thatched roof, nearly invisible against the base of a small hill, and camouflaged against the surrounding rock and stone. Once inside, Selene lit some clay lamps while Lois and Vanessa carefully helped Diana onto the single bed in the corner, a simple wicker platform on which some ragged animal pelts were thrown.
Lois looked around in disgust. The place was extremely Spartan in its absence of comfort, or even basic necessities, she thought. There was a table next to the bed stained with what looked like dried blood, a couple of skinning knives on its surface. A pair of spears leaned against the corner, next to a dented shield, and a net. More pelts hung on the walls. The place smelled of dead animals and sour yourte. This was no place to bring a child into the world, Lois thought, even an Amazon kid.
Vanessa bent down to the small hearth, tried to get a fire going. "We'll need hot water, I know that much!"
"There's a stream nearby," Selene said. "I'll fetch some."
"Wait…Selene," Diana gasped, grasping the edge of the bed. Already the wood was splintering in her grasp. "I need you to go-go back to the Palace, fetch my… weapons…my lasso and…armor."
Selene did not hesitate. "As you command, Princess."
"I'll get the water," Vanessa said. "Lois, can you keep the fire going?"
"What?" Lois stared as Selene and Vanessa left. "Diana, what do you need all that for now?"
"Lois," Diana grunted, feeling the contractions coming on stronger. "I need them…I have to…once the baby is born, if it is a boy…" She gasped, rode the pain, and then when it was bearable, continued. "My mother will send others…to look for me…and the baby. They will…try to kill him."
"Over my dead body," Lois growled; suddenly she felt very defensive of Superman's baby, and why not? He was her friend.
But first, Diana had to have the baby. She suddenly realized she was all alone with a woman in labor. That was not a reassuring thought.
Lois tried to take Diana's hand but she flung it off.
"Don't!" Diana gasped. "I'll break all the bones in your hand! If I-" She scrunched her face, threw back her head and screamed.
Lois sighed. It was going to be a long, hard day.
Themyscira – Towards the Cliff of the Western Gate
lllythia traveled the path to the cave where she had imprisoned the Kryptonian, the magick-tempered sword on her belt. The fog that had come swiftly upon the island hampered her journey slightly, but she hardly thought twice the strange weather. Her mind was busy turning on other matters.
It should be easy with this powerful blade. One swift stroke, and the dog's head would be off his shoulders. She doubted even a creature of his powers could survive minus his head. But it seemed such a waste, Illythia thought. He was a handsome beast, if not the most cunning, but then again he was only a man. Perhaps she would have some fun with him before she dispatched him. He could be induced to beg for his life, perform for her even, if he thought his life would be spared. She smiled deliciously at the thought. Yes, why not enjoy him! There was no hurry; Clay would be in labor for awhile yet, and no one would be the wiser.
Afterwards, then either she or Philippus would take care of Clay's brat. Illythia wondered if it would not just be best to dispatch the child whether male or female. She'd known Clay since they were of the same age and training cohort. Always, Illythia had been suspicious of her - she'd always been different, not quite fitting in. Illythia always suspected she was not a true Amazon. The revelation of her true parentage only proved what a freak Clay really was. Surely such a one would bring down the gods' curse on the whole island. Now, with this ridiculous breaking of tradition – bringing in weak women from Man's World to play at being Amazons, getting impregnated by an alien creature – it only proved Clay's unworthiness to be heir to the throne of Themyscira.
Perhaps, Illythia considered thoughtfully, this blade should serve a dual purpose, to rid Themyscira of such unworthiness. Clay would never believe her son a stillborn, she would only cause trouble anyway. She would be doing the Amazon nation a favor. Yes, best to get rid of the entire problem then and ensure the throne would go to a more qualified candidate when the Queen died (perhaps, Illythia dared to think, that could even be hastened as well, the Queen's poor judgement regarding Clay demonstrating her failures). A candidate like Philippus…or even, possibly, why not, herself…
The fog was growing thicker as she approached the cave entrance, and once she thought she heard flapping sounds overhead, as if a massive flock of birds, or bats, were flying by. Then a noise, coming from ahead of the trail, interrupting Illythia's scheming thoughts. Then, another series of sounds, flapping and rustling, then absolute silence.
She frowned. Surely, there could be no one else out here, on the path to the cave?
"Who is there?" She challenged. "Reveal yourself!"
Nothing. But there was something out there. Her trained senses told her she was not alone.
She couldn't imagine it could be Kal-el. There was no way he could break his chains. Could it be a harpy? Very rarely did they come this far to the coast, but it was possible. The last thing she needed was to deal with some stupid harpy. But the sounds did not come again, although Illythia strained to listen. Curse this fog! She could barely see more than a few feet in front of her. A foul smell reached her nostrils, and she wrinkled her face. Something must have died up ahead on the trail, perhaps a deed deer.
Impatient with waiting to get to Kal-el, she started forward. Soon she started to run, urged on by some strange premonition, but she did not take more than a few steps before she collided with something. Something that moved and smelled like a dead dog.
Illythia froze in horror. The thing before her was not a bear, or a harpy, but just as tall as a man, but it was no man although it stood on two legs like one, but its canine muzzle with dripping fangs proved it was nothing close to man-like, despite its sunken, humanlike eyes, which stared into Illythia's shocked ones. She had never seen this on the island before. What was it-?
Then the thing spoke to her, but she barely heard it. More dark shapes materialized out of the fog behind it, and saw their glowing eyes.
"Got a good look at me?" said the thing that had once been the Bostonian artist Richard Upton Pickman. "I hope so, as it'll be the last thing you ever see."
Its arm - its foreleg - shot out, the thing's claws slicing through Illythia's throat, all the way back through to the spine. She didn't even have time to scream, as death flooded over her eyes and she collapsed to the ground, torrents of blood gushing from her severed neck, fountaining onto the ground.
The ghouls behind him glibbered delightedly and flung themselves greedily on the dead Amazon. Soon, Pickman knew, there would be nothing left, not even the bones. That was no surprise - some hadn't eaten since they'd left Alar. Time for a brief snack before the big push.
He sniffed the air while his underlings tore at the Amazon's flesh and dejointed the body, passing choice pieces to each other. They offered Pickman a piece of ulna, which he accepted and stuck between his teeth, chewing thoughtfully.
Save for this one, he could detect no other Amazons about. Very good, so far, other than this one, they were still unseen on the island, but the fog would dissipate soon. He waved his foreleg, and the ghouls disappeared into the mist.
Themyscira – The Capital
As Selene headed back to the Palace, she was well-aware that Diana's disappearance would be discovered by now. Hers also. Philippus would have raised the alarm, and no doubt the other Bodyguards would be combing the Palace and the city for them. She would have to be careful, as she made her way back through the streets and into the Palace.
But before she could reach the entranceway by the Royal Stables, two Amazon Bodyguards suddenly appeared before her, Melita and Callista. Their swords were drawn.
"Selene," Callista said coldly. "Philippus is looking for you. Where is the Princess Diana?"
Selene didn't move, her hand resting on the pommel of her sword. She saw the others looking at it, then at her.
"Princess Diana is safe."
"Where?" Melita demanded.
"The Princess is my sworn responsibility. I protect her."
"Selene, we know why you spirited her away! How can you do this?" Callista demanded.
"I swore an oath to protect the Princess and I shall do that," Selene drew her kopis sword. "Stand aside!"
The other Amazons braced themselves but before they could make another move there was a sharp whistling noise in the air and before Selene and Melita's startled eyes Callista fell, a glowing white-hot bolt of metal protruding on either side of her neck. Before her body even hit the ground it burst into flames.
"What is-?" Melita gasped.
Suddenly the air was filled with more of the deadly whizzing bolts which landed all around them. Screams echoed throughout the city as some of them struck Amazons. Then they heard the great bell that was their alarm for invasion.
Bong Bong Bong Bong
"We are under attack!" Melita screamed, disbelief clear in her voice. "How...?"
Selene rushed the Amazon, knocking her out of the way of a bolt that slammed into the side of the Stables, narrowly missing Melita's head. Immediately the Stables burst into flames.
"We must get the horses out!" Selene shouted. "Quickly!"
Melita and Selene ran into the Palace.
At the same time the night-gaunts carrying Carter, Titus, and Batman landed on the top of a small flat hill in the midst of the city, where it gave them an excellent overview of the action around them. It was the site of a small shrine to Aphrodite, and the irony was not lost on Bruce. Dozens of night-gaunts dropped down Alarian Guardsmen all around them, forming a protective cordon for what was becoming their own command HQ. Others hovered over them, still firing into the city.
As Bruce watched, a separate contingent of night-gaunts flew in the direction of the nearby Palace, and the sounds of fighting soon came from there. Bruce couldn't help but wonder if Diana was in there. He saw the Amazons below, dead or dying, the one still on their feet struggling to rescue wounded comrades, organize a resistance. Arrows flew in their direction but the night-gaunts easily zipped out of the way. Fire was spreading quickly throughout the beautiful city, igniting whatever was not made of stone. Black smoke billowed into the sky, obscuring the formations of night-gaunts.
Bruce looked around for any sign of Wonder Woman. He expected to see her in the air, fighting back, but there was no sign of her at all. Part of him realized this might not be a bad thing - if she saw him in the company of the invaders, he expected that her next logical reaction might be to stick his head on the end of her sword. He could hardly blame her if she did.
Carter alighted from his night-gaunt, Namash-Thah close beside him.
"The Amazons are taken totally by surprise, m'Lord," the walrus-like man told him. "But they are banding together to form a counterattack. There is resistance in the Palace itself."
Carter nodded. "That is to be expected. However, we have a good surprise prepared for them."
Bruce stared at them. "What now?"
Carter gestured below them. "You will see. This will eliminate any possibility that the Amazons can regain the initiative."
Bruce could only watch helplessly as the black-garbed Alarian Guardsmen began fortifying their location, and more and more of them landed in the city. Some of them were carrying something large, covered in dark tarpaulins, setting them down at the base of the hill. The shouts intensified around him. This could only end badly, no matter who had the initiative.
Outskirts of the City
Vanessa and Lois did their best to act as midwives while Diana moaned and cried, her body dripping with sweat. Definitely all thoughts of getting through this painlessly had vanished. The terrible cramping had seen to that. Now she could only hope that she would endure long enough to bring Clark's child into the world, and in the process not send Vanessa and Lois flying through the walls.
Lois herself was hoping she could get through this without fainting dead away. She was a journalist not a nurse. Still, this would be a helluva scoop - provided she could get through it!
"Keep breathing the way you are, Diana, you're doing fine," Lois said encouragingly, while Vanessa supported her back. The Amazon princess could only sob helplessly in response.
Clark, where are you? I need you here with me...even if only to cut off your rhombos with my sword!
Then that thought disappeared with another excruciating contraction, and all she could do was pant.
"Where the heck is Selene" Vanessa wondered. "She's been gone a long time."
Over the sounds of Diana's cries, they then heard the faint sound of a bell.
"What is that?" Lois asked.
Diana's eyes were wide in shock. "The alarm! That cannot be. That is only rung when-" Diana screamed, bit down on her lip. "When there are invaders on Themyscira!"
"Invaders?" Lois and Vanessa stared at each other in astonishment. "How is that possible?"
But the bell continued to sound for at least another minute, then it was abruptly silenced. Lois rushed to the door and opened it. In the distance they could hear screams and shouting. She thought she caught a glimpse of giant batlike things flying overhead.
"What the hell are those?"
Vanessa stared at her. "What are you talking about? What do you see?"
The fog had dissipated slightly and Lois thought she could see plumes of smoke rising into the air.
"The city!" Lois exclaimed. "I can see fire! What the hell?"
The sounds coming from the Capital grew louder, and they were unmistakably sounds of battle. A thunderous humming sound echoed several times. Every time it did, the cries grew louder.
"The Palace!" Diana cried out in disbelief and horror. "My...my mother! My sisters! I need to-"
Diana actually tried to rise but at this point she was so weakened even little Vanessa Kapatelis could hold her back.
"You can't do anything for them," Vanessa said, uncharacteristically somber. Diana glanced back at her and it was as if they shared the same, telepathic thought.
DOOM was coming to Themyscira.
And Diana was helpless to prevent it.
"You must push now," Vanessa urged. "Focus on the baby, not on...on whatever's happening out there. Your baby has to be born above all!"
Lois forced herself to turn away from whatever was happening outside the hut, and rushed back to Diana, tried not to faint at what she saw between her spread and trembling legs. "Okay, let's do this, Diana! Only a little bit more!"
She screamed again. The pain was too much to bear!
Far below the ground, near the ocean, a weakened, unconscious Clark Kent lay against the wet stone. He'd managed to get the leather hood off his head by scraping his face against the stone, but even his heat vision and chill-breath could not break his manacles instantly. They were pitted and scarred, but had not broken, just as Illythia had claimed they would not, would not even come free from the rock. They still held his chafed, bloodied limbs fast, and without the direct sunlight, he was growing progressively, if slowly weaker. Still, he'd conserved every bit of strength he had, drinking the drops of moisture that fell from the rock, scrabbling for insects even. He still held out hope he could get free, or that Diana would discover what happened...
A voice, faint and far, calling his name.
His eyelids flickered, and slowly opened. Still darkness all around him. But he'd heard his name, he was sure of it. Diana's voice, calling out.
"Diana?" he whispered in a cracked, hoarse voice. "Where...?"
Diana's voice, in agony, so imperceptible an ordinary human could not hear it, but he knew it was her. It could not be a hallucination caused by his condition. Diana was calling out, and he was stuck here in this damned pit.
"Diana!" Clark cried out, but in vain. In blind madness he yanked at his chains, but they still refused to give. His Diana needed him, perhaps she was even already in childbirth, and he was trapped like an animal, more helpless than any powerless human. Tears of grief and fury formed and dropped from his eyes.
Above ground and much closer than the Cliff of the Western Gate, something else heard Diana's cry.
It paused on its two legs, and sniffed the air curiously. It was one of the pickets of Pickman's advance guard.
So far it had not seen any of the Amazons, but that might change now. At last, perhaps it would find something interesting to do! This job so far was quite dull, when it preferred to be burrowing beneath a charnel ground, seeking out rare morsels.
It sniffed again, and licked its muzzle. Yes, a quite distinct smell, one which was very familiar to it. The smell of fresh blood. A delicious scent, albeit non-necrotic. It came from the direction of the cry it'd heard. Perhaps this was worth investigating, yes, it might be worth a diversion.
It loped off towards the scent, and disappeared into the brush.
[AN: The Capital has fallen (gasp!) but at least that beyotch Illythia is dead. Couldn't happen to a nicer person. Uh oh, Diana might have some company soon!
A shorter chapter here. I will probably finish up this story in shorter, random bursts since I wasn't able to finish before school starts, but it will get done!
Next up: The newer members of the Justice League get involved, with interesting results. DOOM comes to Themyscira!
As always, please review!]
[Oh yeah and if you want to join the R.U. Pickman Fan Club don't forget to read the short story "Pickman's Model" by Lovecraft, or watch the old 1970s Rod Serling "Night Gallery" adaptation of it. He is a CREEPY guy! ]