Chapter 37 – Retribution
"As I gradually steadied myself and got readjusted to this second room of deviltry and morbidity, I began to analyse some of the points in my sickening loathing. In the first place, I said to myself, these things repelled because of the utter inhumanity and callous cruelty they showed in Pickman. The fellow must be a relentless enemy of all mankind to take such glee in the torture of brain and flesh and the degradation of mortal tenement."
- Pickman's Model, H.P. Lovecraft
Randolph Carter stared down from the upper Palace window (the same one Hippolyta had stared out of months ago, at her returning daughter and son-in-law), as his Guardsmen cleaned up the courtyard after the Amazons' escape. His only thought at the moment was that they had left the place in an incredible mess. There was a gaping hole in the Palace itself, where some force had imploded outwards. He wondered at how that had been done. Perhaps...
Someone coughed behind him, and he turned around to see Vizier Titus. His bearded and black-robed friend looked rather more serious than usual, if possible. He seemed to share that trait with Carter's cousin, Bruce Wayne.
"Twelve dead," Titus reported. "Thirty Amazons have escaped, including Queen Hippolyta."
"Mmm," Carter mused. "Then they will attack in force as soon as they are able."
"That outcome was inevitable," Titus remarked. "You know they will never give up anything of theirs, not to men, and certainly not to us. Ah, that reminds me, we've lost a valuable asset."
Carter's eyes widened. "I hope not young Mr. Wayne!"
"No. General Namash-Thah. Killed by a flying javelin."
"A pity," Carter shrugged. "He was an able soldier. Known him for years. Well, we must make do. Where is Bruce, by the way?"
"Having his bite-wound seen to by Hawberk. I imagine he's still somewhere in the Palace. I certainly hope he will not take off again unannounced," Titus frowned slightly. "What is your intention now?"
"Now? Now we wait. The Amazons will show their hand soon. Then, we will know their answer."
"I doubt we will know soon enough. As I said it is unlikely they will help us, even if it is in their best interest to do so - their hatred is too strong. We don't have very much time. The barriers between the worlds are weakening, you know that as well as I do. If your cousin can get through, then his friends in his League or whatever it is called will be able to also. If they come through now…"
"I am doing all that I can, old friend," Carter said. "I had hoped to use Hippolyta to bend the Amazons to our will, but now it looks like we have nothing except their city."
A voice suddenly came from behind them, a thickened, glottoral voice glibbering loudly.
"Not exactly 'nothing,'" Pickman announced mockingly. "The Amazons left something behind!"
The monstrous ghoul chief loped into the throne room, followed by four of his lieutenants, the Alarian Guardsmen clearing a wide space for the mould-caked doglike creatures. To Carter and Titus' collective surprise, they had a firm hold of the Amazon Princess.
She doesn't look particularly regal at the moment, Carter thought; she was bloodied and battered, but she was conscious and staring at them with a hot single-minded hatred.
"She was in the Palace, trying to fly away from us, the little bird," Pickman said. "I clipped her wings."
Diana heard the men - the men and the thing - talking, once again, infuriatingly as if she couldn't hear or understand them. She had grappled with the ghoul chieftain, but he had proven much stronger than she had supposed; she realized she was still weakened from the birth-travail, otherwise even it would not have taken her so easily. But it had an inhuman strength, and they had crashed to the ground. She had momentarily lost consciousness, until she felt herself being dragged back into her mother's Palace. Her eyes darted around, but she didn't see Bruce anywhere. She held herself in readiness; despite her injuries, she was still prepared to fight...
"Well, that is something at least," Titus said. "Perhaps the Queen might bargain for her..."
The thought suddenly dawned on her that her mother and the other Amazons would be back at the camp by now. Hippolyta would see her male grandchild for the first time then.
Diana knew her mother, in many ways they were much alike. She knew Hippolyta would place duty and tradition above all, even over her ties to her daughter. It was not only the Amazon way, it was the way of royalty. To be a Queen, Hippolyta had always told her, meant you placed the people you ruled above your own personal needs. Diana knew then that her mother would not hesitate to do what she felt to be her duty to the Amazons. And there was only Vanessa and Selene against the Queen's will and those of the Amazons.
No, not my son, not when even his father hasn't laid eyes on him! I must get back to him!
She caught another part of their conversation, then, and her heart pounded in her chest.
"Perhaps we should not wait for the Amazons to come to us," Titus suggested. "We should make the first move, now that we have the Princess."
"Fah! Do you really think this whore will make any difference?" Pickman threw up his forelegs, sounding exasperated in his inhuman voice. "I know where the rest of the Amazons are. Let us take the army there and eliminate the nest. Find out where the singularity is, destroy it, and then that will be that."
Carter nodded. "Yes, perhaps you are right, Richard. We will take the battle to the Amazons and eliminate them as a force once and for all. Every last one. Give orders to..."
With a sudden burst of energy, Diana flung herself forward, breaking the grip of the surprised ghouls who held her, her only thought to destroy the dark king who had attacked Themyscira and had evil intent towards her family. She saw the king's startled eyes as her hands clasped around his throat.
"Ulp!" Carter gasped.
"Ilek-Vad!" Diana roared. "Die!"
Diana flung the Alarian King backwards, raging in fury, but before she could throttle the bastard to death, the ghouls were all over her.
Pickman grabbed Diana and pulled her off the prostrate Carter, and slammed her hard against the stone floor, which shattered in cracks around her body. Gritting her teeth she struggled to fight back, striking out in rage, but the other ghouls piled on her, and she fought fiercely but in her weakened state she could not fight off these preternaturally powerful creatures. She felt their hammer blows against her ribs, her skull, and felt her consciousness flickering away. Finally she fell, no longer able to move
Carter staggered to his feet, coughing a bit. Titus just shook his head. He stepped forward, until his boots were directly in front of Diana's eyes; Pickman's hindleg was on her back, preventing her from moving. She glared up at him.
"How did Bruce manage to co-exist with such a one?" Carter wondered. "She's incredibly violent!"
Pickman squatted down, until his face were level with Diana's face. He made sure the Princess could see him clearly, his sunken eyes inches from hers.
"Yes, quite violent...and dangerous," Pickman glibbered. "There's no need to keep her alive anymore, and it's almost time for supper..."
"Mmmm..." Carter thought for a moment. "No, let's not kill her...just yet."
Titus and Pickman looked at him, the former with trepidation and the latter with impatience. Carter was unmoved, and quite relentless in his decision.
"Crucify her by the breach in the walls, where the Amazons escaped. They will come there. There, they can see the results of their folly. Then, we will receive a reaction."
Themyscira - The Wilderness
Lois rested against the trunk of a tree, exhausted and out-of-breath. She had tried to put as much distance between herself and the...the thing, whatever she saw, as much as possible. But now she could hardly remember why she was so scared, or exactly even what she had seen. Only that it was something terrifying in the most primal way, and Lois had experienced fear before, but not anything like this. It was like the fear one had when one saw the ticking down of the nuclear bomb time-clock to one, and knowing one could do nothing about it. But it wasn't anything she could wrap her mind around about what it was that she saw, only that she thought it could have been Steve Trevor, but that didn't make any sense either. What would he be doing here?
The sound of something else moving through the forest interrupted her hazy thoughts and she tensed, slowly drawing her sword, her eyes narrowing in anticipation. But what she saw next sent relief coursing through her exhausted body.
"Alicia! Shaniqua!" Lois cried, and she rushed into the arms of her friends. They were looked as bedraggled as she felt but they embraced almost tearfully. "Where the hell have you all been?"
"Probably the same as you," Shaniqua gasped. "Running our asses off. Trying to find the other Amazons."
Lois suddenly realized there were only two of them. "Where's Maggie?"
Alicia and Shaniqua's drawn and haggard looks gave Lois the answer. "Oh...oh no..."
"She went down fighting, like the Amazon she was," Alicia said, her voice shaking. "We were heading back to the barracks when something, I don't know, something like giant dogs attacked us. She just picked up a sword and started swinging, yelling for us to run. We tried to fight but there were so many...we had to, I-"
Tears were running down her face, and Lois realized, hers too. Roughly, she wiped them away.
"What happened to you?" Shaniqua asked. Lois told them about Diana, the birth of the baby, finding Clark Kent, and what she had seen since then.
"Where is Wonder Woman now?" Alicia wondered. "I haven't seen anyone else."
Shaniqua shuddered. "I hope we aren't the only survivors."
"No," Lois said firmly. "We can't be. We'll find the other Amazons, and we'll fight! I'll be damned if I'm going down like this!"
"What are you thinking?"
"I need to get help for my friend," Lois said firmly. "We've got to find the other Amazons. Then, we'll fight the monsters."
Alicia looked around the empty wilderness. "I don't have any problem with that, as long as we get the hell out of here. Where to, now?"
"What would you do if you were the Amazons?" Lois said. The others stared at her. "You wouldn't run away from the battle, you'd run towards it. We go to the fight, sisters. Are you with me?"
Alicia nodded, as did Shaniqua. "What are we waitin' for, shit," she said. "Let's go."
Themyscira - The Palace
Bruce did not flinch as Hawberk flushed out the exposed wound in his arm with some sort of medicinal water. He waited impatiently while the obese secretary flitted about with the bandages. He wanted to get back to the throne room as quickly as possible.
"You are very fortunate you weren't injured worse," Hawberk said, examining the wound. "She might have bitten out your throat!"
"My throat is armored," Batman rasped, glaring at him. The secretary nervously nodded. It was evident he didn't believe Bruce was entirely in his right mind.
"Yes, well, even so...why would you allow this harridan into your 'Justice League?'" Hawberk wondered. "Well, if she fooled you, you would not be the first."
Batman was about to make a defense of Diana, but then he recalled his deception. Then, it brought him into the unpleasant realization that Hawberk was at least partially right - Diana had never told him about the true nature of the Amazons. But something the man said...he stared hard at the man, who clearly felt uncomfortable in his presence.
"What do you mean, I am not the 'first?'"
Hawberk shrugged, as he finished bandaging Bruce's forearm. "The Amazons tell many stories about themselves and their origins. I imagine you've been told such also. Most are lies, as discovered by our learned King. The fact that Hippolyta was not the only Queen of the Amazons..."
"What?" Batman was astonished. "What do you-?"
Hawberk raised his plucked eyebrow. "Oh, perhaps you do not know that part? Mr. Wayne, why do you think you are here?"
"What I think," Bruce growled, suddenly looming menacingly over the effete secretary. "Is that someone is keeping something from me, and I do not like that. What is going on here?"
"Ahh...perhaps someone else of a higher, more informed status could tell you..." Hawberk quivered, but Batman persuaded him to enlighten him there and then. Ten minutes later, the dark-caped man rushed up into the throne room, barely taking time to refasten his armor over his bandaged arm.
However, the throne room was empty. Batman looked around, but there were only a few Guardsmen on duty. He approached one.
"Where is Carter...your King?" Batman demanded.
The bug-eyed Guardsman stared blankly at him, but replied. "He has gone to the city walls, to oversee the defense of the city."
"What are you talking about?"
"The Amazons will come to rescue their own. They will give the King what they want when they see that their hopes are lost."
"To rescue...?" Bruce wondered. Did Diana not break her mother out? Did something go wrong?
"Their Princess," the Guardsman replied stonily. "She dared to assassinate the King. She will witness the destruction of the Amazos from the city walls..."
But the Guardsman by then was speaking to a whoosh of air as Batman rushed out of the Palace.
Bruce rushed to the city walls, seeing the gaping hole in the outer wall of the Palace, ignoring the Alarians around him. Then he stopped and stared in shock.
Diana was pinioned on an X-shaped beam, on a mound high above the exposed gap in the wall, secured with strong ties by her outstretched wrists and ankles. Her head was hanging on her chest, her dark hair hanging limply over her face, so he couldn't see if she was alive or dead. She was guarded by a squad of the Alarians, whom he proceeded to shoved aside in his anger, not hearing their indignant shouts.
"Diana!" Bruce carefully touched her neck, feeling the pulse. "Diana, can you hear me?"
"...Bruce..." Diana's voice was faint and barely audible, her lips barely moving. She tried to raise her head, but then she slumped back into unconsciousness. Batman examined the bonds and it was something of Alarian manufacture, meaning nearly impenetrable. Bruce whirled around.
"CARTER!" Batman roared.
He saw him, standing on the top of the surviving wall, his arms folded, and staring into the distant forest, as if waiting for someone. He had donned his white turban again, but he did not have his sword; he was unarmed. The slender man turned his head slightly at the sound of his cousin's voice.
"So you've rejoined us, cousin," Carter said. He sounded, as always, unperturbed. "I take it you are displeased with my method."
"Release her immediately," growled Bruce. "The Amazons will never capitulate once they see her like this!"
"You sound very certain of that," Carter said. "This is our only option, Bruce. We need something from the Amazons..."
"You vowed no torture!" Batman approached threateningly, causing the Alarians to move closer, but Carter made a gesture and they stopped. He looked at Bruce, and he saw that Carter had guessed his deception.
"Sometimes, being in charge means you may have to undertake some unpleasant tasks," he said. "I think you may understand what I mean. Have you not done something very similar in your world?"
"This is not the same!" Bruce raged. "You are risking total destruction by this!"
"Young man," Carter replied, mildly reproachful. "We are already on the edge of total destruction. Not of just Themyscira, but of your own world as well. You this know by now, don't you?"
Before Bruce could speak - and he wasn't sure of what he would have said - all of them heard the abrupt sound of something descending fast, like a projectile. Carter's head shot up; it reminded him of the sound of an incoming shell. Before any of them could speak a massive explosion shook the ground, stunning everyone, and blinding them with an enormous cloud of dust.
As soon as the smoke cleared Bruce saw a massive crater between the city gates him and the Alarians, who picked themselves up off the ground and stared curiously at the hole. Carter and Batman, who had fallen on the opposite side of the wall, regained their feet. Suddenly, the Alarians backed off, quickly.
Rising from the smoking carter was a man, huge and nearly entirely black with grime and clotted blood, and only the lurid red eyes allowed Bruce to recognize him. He stared at them with those glowing red eyes, his face contorted with an uncontrollable rage. He remembered the last time he had seen this, just before the battle with Darkseid.
"What is that?" Carter stared, puzzled, looking genuinely surprised, perhaps for the first time.
"Superman," Bruce whispered.
[AN: Bit of a grim chapter, but that's how I'm feeling right now in the midst of midterms \ This may be the grimmest it might get! Seriously though this all is part of the story...Batman is learning what Carter knows about the Amazons, and Diana's nightmare from several chapters previously has emerged in a distinctly strange way, and yes, Supes is going to be in a high state of pissoff for quite a bit, at just about EVERYONE. But there's going to be some other wild stuff coming up...stay tuned for next week...or week after! Justice League gets into the act. Please review and let me know what you think should happen...]