Chapter 44 – Doom
Themyscira – The Amazon Camp
The Amazon army prepares to march on their capital, now occupied by invaders. The warrior women are courageous and tough, but not a few of them feel the tendrils of dread inexorably penetrating their souls. A sense of impending doom is approaching, although there is not one among them who could explain why. They look at their Queen – and at their Princess – and only feel the dread grow….
"Our child," Diana gasped, as she stood before her husband, still reeling at Vanessa's news. "Our child is in the capital, he is a prisoner of the Alarians!" She clenched her fists so tightly that her nails were digging into her palms, causing pain, which was a good thing. She needed it to focus her mind or she would descend into blind panic.
Clark shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe Bruce would allow that."
Diana yanked free the xiphos attached at her thigh as if she would hit the nearest thing. "What can we believe, Clark? Maybe he is possessed or he has gone mad…I don't know! Why else would he take him? Why did he go to the Alarians instead of us? What could they want with our baby? What if they harm him, what-what if they've already…?"
The sword was shaking in her hand as Diana's voice broke. Clark grasped her arms.
"Shhh, it's going to be okay," Clark tried to reassure her, wishing he felt as confident as he tried to sound. "I'll find him, I promise!"
"If something happens to him, I'll never forgive myself!" Diana trembled in Clark's hold, her face white with anxiety.
"Don't talk like that!" Clark was shaken to see his Diana so upset. "Vanessa said Bruce was headed for the Capital so he'll be there. I will find him."
Clark heard hoofbeats and turned to see Queen Hippolyta and the Amazons of her surviving Bodyguard, including Ismene and Penelope, ride up. Clark glared at the Queen - he blamed her, but not as much as he blamed himself, for what had happened. Hippolyta only watched him with an unreadable expression, saying nothing.
What is she thinking? Clark thought. Is she upset that she failed to keep me imprisoned? What else did she plan to do to me? However, whatever scheme she was thinking up even now, it didn't matter – his son was what was important, his…Clark's eyes suddenly widened in shock.
Good Rao, I haven't even thought of a name for him yet! It was true - he and Diana had been so caught up with the family drama that they hadn't even decided on names. Diana had been so sure it would have been a girl, and he would have been happy with that too.
Clark clenched his fists. Even when he had been a lost orphan in the dark between the stars, heading towards an unknown home, he had a name...
He is a son of El, Clark thought. And he will have a name before all this is through!
"If…if the Alarians have him, then it is for a reason," Penelope spoke up timidly, before anyone else could say anything. "Perhaps...perhaps they hold him as hostage against our attacking them? If we move against them now…would they...they might hurt the child?"
Hippolyta glared at Penelope and she blanched. Mixed fright and rage swept through Diana. Instinctively she glanced at Clark, who looked dismayed.
"Penelope speaks true," Ismene added unhappily. "Their King is a devious man. I would not put it past him to use an infant as a shield. He will use it to parlay."
"Parlay?" Diana's face contorted in pure anger. "I will see him dead first!"
"But if Kal just flies into the city, the Alarians will see him, no matter how fast he is," Ismene pointed out. "The King is a creature of many wiles."
Diana strove to think through her rage and terror. There was truth to what her sisters were saying. She looked at Clark, saw from his face that he was thinking the same thing. The urge to rescue their son struggled with their fear over what might happen to him if they made the slightest wrong move.
"Princess," Ismene said carefully. "I know you want to rescue your child…but you must consider the possibility…"
Stunned, all eyes turned to the Queen, it was she who had spoken. She was seated astride her powerful black mare Atalanta, clad in full Amazon war-armor, her battle-axe in her hand. She looked magnificent, the very image of a warrior-queen, even Clark thought so, although the thought didn't make him feel any different about his mother-in-law.
"Kal must do what he must do," Hippolyta announced, to their surprise. "Though the odds be great. You, daughter, your place must be at my side when we attack the city."
Diana was about to angrily retort that she would instead fly with Kal to the city – if he was flying into another trap she would be there with him this time – and be damned, but Hippolyta added:
"Your only hope of saving your man-child may be if we distract the Alarians and their King long enough for Kal to rescue him. It is a slim hope, but mayhap your only one, and besides," Hippolyta added without a trace of emotion. "If the King really desires the child's life, then it is gone already."
Diana realized that there was a kernel of truth in her mother's words. By now, her son could be dead, and if not…
"She's right, Diana," Clark conceded reluctantly. "I don't know what this Alarian King's powers are, but if there's a chance he could hurt our boy, then..." he looked at his wife in desperation. She could see that he didn't want her to fight, especially after all she'd been through.
Diana shook her head. I mustn't show weakness, not now.
She saw the Amazon host gathered behind her mother. They were clad and armed in whatever armor and weapons they had managed to scrape together, some were still wounded, but still ready and willing to march and fight again, although all of them knew the odds were great. They were watching her, expectantly and hopefully. They wanted, expected, her to lead them. She was their Princess.
Diana took a deep breath. "I will march with my sisters," She didn't look at her mother, only looked at Clark to see if he would accept this. He had a harrowed look on his face, but he nodded in agreement.
"Then, we better make sure our plan of attack is a damn good one."
Themyscira – The Outskirts
Selene, Berenike, and Lois Lane trudged cautiously once again through the thick Themysciran jungle-forest. The waning light cast weird shadows across their paths.
"What exactly are we going to do when we get to the city?" Lois asked. She kept a wary eye out for anything that might jump out at them, which she thought might happen at any moment.
"Kill the King," Berenike muttered darkly. "That is one sure way to end this war."
"I thought you said we needed to find out some things first," Lois muttered. Training to be a warrior was all well and good, but to actually shove some sharp piece of steel into a person...she thought she could do it, but she prayed she wouldn't have to...however, staying out of that kind of trouble seemed highly unlikely.
"That too," Selene added. "Though I suspect that might be the easy part."
"Selene, you told me that you and Berenike met this King years before," Lois said. "Why did Queen Hippolyta agree to that meeting?"
It was a moment before she replied. "Ilek-Vad killed our sisters when they ventured out into your world for our mating ritual," Selene looked at Lois. "You know about that now, don't you?"
"Yes, and it's horrible. It makes the Amazons no better than Hercules' men," Lois replied grimly.
"What would you suggest we do?" Berenike said. "Invite men to come here? The last time was our destruction. The tribes that did not come here with us vanished into history, becoming like..."
"Like us 'weak and silly' women?" Lois shook her head angrily. "Not all of us just lie down in submission to men. All my life I've never taken crap from anyone, my mother taught me to be proud of who I was and never use sex as an excuse." She suddenly thought of Ellen Lane, and wondered if she would ever see her again. "There has to be another way."
"Perhaps for you and your tribe, Lois, but men have always hated the Free Women for who we are," Selene said. "That is why Ilek-Vad sent his ghouls out into your world to hunt our sisters down."
"What?" Lois stared at the Amazon. "He can do that?"
"There are ghouls here and in Man's World. They are part of both worlds. Queen Hippolyta knew this and bargained with him to make him stop."
"Why didn't she just go to war with him?"
Berenike shrugged. "It would have meant leaving our island to make war on Alar, this we cannot do. Besides, we are not as warlike as you think we are, Lois Lane."
Lois looked skeptical but she asked, "What happened after that?"
"She agreed to give him access to our Library. We loaned him books from its archives."
"It seemed a trifle, if he would let us alone. We never heard more from him. But now I think that all along he was preparing to attack us, and waited for the right moment. For some reason, that time was now."
Lois felt alarm. "I wonder if it has something to do with Superman?"
"I do not know, but-"
Selene suddenly froze, and Lois and Berenike immediately followed suit. At first, there was no sound, and no sense of movement Lois could detect, but she knew that Selene and Berenike's senses were more highly attuned than hers. Then she thought she saw something, far ahead through the thick trees. Just a glimpse of something, perhaps a person, a flash of yellow, perhaps a sleeve or a cloak...
Lois wondered if it was the strange woman, but something, some instinct, warned her against calling out, against letting her - it, whomever - know where she was. Usually when she had an instinct like that, she followed it. Lois felt like a small animal that freezes when the shadow of a predator overhead falls on it, and she couldn't understand why it was like that. The Amazons paused, waiting, their weapons held at the ready.
Then it was gone.
"Who...what was that?" Lois asked no one in particular. She felt sick for some reason, as if she'd come into contact with something radioactive.
"I do not know," Berenike whispered, peering ahead. "But there is nothing there."
Selene held her sword out in front of her. "Come on, we're losing time."
Lois stared up at the sky. The light was dimming faster, there was no doubt about it. But it seemed too early...
"Wait...if there's anything to find out, then it must be in the Library," Lois said. "Whatever the King wanted from your Library..."
"It will tell us what is going to happen," Selene looked at Lois. "Maybe how we can end this, one way or the other."
Themyscira - The Capital
The army of Alar were pulling back from the walls.
"What are you doing?" Bruce stared at the black-uniformed Guardsmen. They were falling back into the city, taking up defensive positions around the Palace. The huge, ornate cannons which had been used to devastating effect in the initial assault were placed at high points surrounding the battered edifice, which would project their sonic firepower on the attackers below. It would be another bloodbath, he thought, unless he managed to prevent it.
"A dramatic final stand," Carter remarked, keeping one eye on his troops, the other on the sky, as if expecting to see something there. "The Amazons and your friends will strike at the Palace, the seat of their former power."
"What of the entity you mentioned?" Bruce didn't know how much he could believe of what his cousin said. His intuition told him that he was still not being told the whole truth. "Where is it? When will it attack?"
"Out there," Carter replied. "Somewhere. But it will be here soon. So will Hippolyta. Then we shall see." Carter added cryptically.
"Is that what you hope?"
"I don't hope for anything, cousin..." his attention was diverted as an Alarian officer approached.
"Sire, scouts report the Amazon army on the move."
"Very good. Recall all scouts. Prepare for the attack."
"Yes, Sire," the officer paused just a second. "And...Mr. Pickman?"
"Pickman and his force are on their own," Carter didn't elaborate. "They will be engaged elsewhere." The officer departed following his orders.
"Let me try to talk to the Amazons, to Diana," Bruce picked up the baby, who was whimpering softly at the unfamiliar sounds about it. "With her help I can end this conflict, then we'll-"
But he then saw that Carter was not listening to him. He was staring at something in the distance and Bruce turned, following the direction of his eyes.
There was a woman, standing at the edge of the woods beyond the walls. She a tall and imposing person, yet almost skeletally thin; she was dressed in white, in a style of dress that was neither Amazon nor anything that Bruce had seen anyone ever wearing before. He couldn't explain it, but somehow he knew that it a style of dress no one on Earth wore. Bruce had good eyes, but something kept him from being able to see her face too clearly. She wasn't alone.
The person standing next to her was even harder to define. He (he?) was dressed in tattered remnants of what might have been a robe, or some even some kind of hospital gown. They were of a pale yellowish color, which for some unpleasant reason reminded Bruce of stale urine in hospital rooms. The man's (man?) face wasn't visible, hidden by strips of bandage of the same yellowish material. They were staring back at them, but he couldn't make out their expressions, and they weren't moving at all. There was something...intangible about them, and he blinked, as if he were seeing some kind of mirage, but they remained as motionless as stones.
Bruce suddenly felt the unfamiliar chill of fear, a primordial feeling of dread.
"Who are they?"
"Don't look too closely, Bruce," Carter advised quietly, not quite answering his question. "I would suggest you take that child and go into the Palace, for now...no, go the Library. Less danger there, probably. That is, if you want to protect this infant," he added. "They are the ones who would be most interested in it."
Bruce continued to watch the strange pair. They made no move, only watched silently and motionlessly. He had the strange feeling he had seen them before, but where? The disguised figure in yellow, it was on the edge of his mind...he had the feeling that they were watching him.
"They see you," Carter said ominously. "They know of the child now. You'd best get out of here."
"What will you do?" Bruce demanded again. "What will happen when the Amazons attack?"
"The Amazons are a minor distraction. They can't see beyond taking back this city. They don't see the danger we are all in. Their narrow viewpoints have always been their Achilles' heel."
"When Superman comes here," Bruce warned. "And he will, he will be looking for you, for his child. I can protect you, explain what happened..."
Carter looked at Bruce and for a moment he thought the family resemblance was never stronger than now, the same stubbornness, and the hint of dangerous purpose, which Bruce didn't quite understand.
"I can take care of myself," Carter replied mysteriously. "As for your friend, well..."
Carter turned back around and Bruce saw that the strange pair were gone, without a trace. Bruce didn't feel at all reassured.
"You don't know his powers, Randolph," Bruce pressed. "He'll be angry, and you don't want to see Superman angry."
"If you want answers, Bruce, you will find them in the Library. Hawberk is there, he can help you," the King of Alar said. "Now, I must go and see to the defenses," He turned to leave but he looked at Batman. "I truly don't know what role you and your friend may play in this drama...all I will tell you is that you must do as you think best."
The Library was not far from the Palace, and it had suffered relatively little in the first attack. Bruce held the baby close to his armored chest as he made his way through the empty streets of the Amazon capital. He only saw a handful of Guardsmen, as they were all being pulled back to the environs surrounding the Palace. They didn't spare him a look as he passed them, as if a tall muscular man dressed as a giant bat and carrying a newborn baby wasn't anything particularly unusual to see. In all his time in Alar, he had the feeling the people there were not quite human, or at least that they didn't quite act as the people of Gotham City or Metropolis did. They all seemed to be listening to some inner voice only they could hear, as if their lives weren't really their own. They didn't question any of their King's actions, nor did they seem to act like they had total free will.
However, he was not an Alarian. He wondered if he had done the right thing in bringing the child back to the city, but if that strange pair was out there, who wanted the child as Carter had said...that sense of danger and foreboding he'd felt when he first saw them had not completely left.
"Clark," Bruce said aloud. "If you can hear me, I'm in the Library. The baby is fine. You must come here first. Don't...don't engage the Alarians."
Bruce paused at the steps of the ancient Library, before entering he stared at the sky. This time he had no doubt.
The sun was dimming.
It was still high above the horizon, but it seemed like it was failing, somehow. How could that be possible?
Batman rushed into the Library, lit by oil lamps. He didn't see anyone around. The baby had quieted down, falling back into an uneasy slumber.
"Hawberk?" Bruce called out the secretary's name. No response. Nothing but silence.
The Library was a huge place, and it was possible that the fat man was somewhere in its long corridors and chambers, but Bruce suddenly felt his preternatural feeling for danger kick in. Something was not quite right. There was danger here. His nostrils caught the scent of freshly spilled blood, and his instincts kicked in several gears higher.
Bruce saw the source of his alarm, lying nearly out of sight behind a drift of spilled scrolls. He crossed over to the body, pushing aside the yellowing papyri. It was the fat secretary, Hawberk, lying on his back with his throat cut from ear to ear. His sightless eyes gaped up at the ceiling, as if he couldn't believe what he had seen in his last seconds. The floor beneath him was stained black with blood.
Holding the tiny breathing bundle in the crook of his left arm, he slowly backed away, scanning the shelves and tables carefully, listening for any movement, until he caught something quick and fast to his right, and he spun, his cloak whipping about, but the attacker was quicker and he felt something cold and sharp strike him along his right side, cutting through even his tough Kevlar-reinforced armored skinsuit. Only Bruce's martial art skills and animal-like instinct for self-preservation prevented the blade from cutting him any deeper than it had. He leapt backwards and felt himself, tumbling down a short fight of stairs. All the time he pressed the baby, taking the hard impact of the stone on his body so that it wouldn't be injured. Pain echoed throughout his huge frame. He felt warmth along his ribs and knew that it was his blood this time.
A tall, dark-skinned Amazon loomed over him, following him slowly and relentlessly as he scrabbled backwards, turning so that the baby was away from her. He felt his consciousness dimming and fought to stay awake. The Amazon warrior stared down at him from a face in which only a single eye gleamed malevolently, the other was missing from the side of her face scored with bloody claw marks. Her body was just as scarred and mangled from whatever battle she had managed to survive. But there was no mistaking how she'd done it - the sword in her hand was stained black with blood, her armor torn and battered.
"Who are you?" Batman rasped.
General Philippus glared at the black-clad man, her sword glistening with red. The pain that was like a constant pounding of a drum had not ceased since she'd managed to claw her way out of the pile of corpses the ghouls had left her buried under. She did not know how she had fought her way free of the demons...but perhaps she had not. She had wandered back into the capital, somehow, but it wasn't the city she had known. Perhaps this was the pit of Tartarus itself. It could not be anything else than that, seeing her blessed city once again in flames, overrun by men, despoiled and conquered...in her delirium, she wondered if this was once again Greece, and she was doomed to repeat the destruction of Themyscira, only now Hippolyta and all her friends were dead...She had failed in her duty to protect Themyscira and this was her punishment...
No, not quite Tartarus and Hades yet, not while she still had the power to send the hated enemy, men, there and she had managed to keep fighting. She would fight until the last drop of blood in her body!
She had slain the cursed Alarian before he'd even saw her coming, and now this man-creature whom she'd seen with the invaders would be next. The tiny infant in his arms, she knew what it was. It was the netome, the damned thing that had befallen her Island! It was the manchild who portended doom for the Amazons. Death could not come too quickly for it...and the hated man-thing who held it.
Screaming, she raised her sword high...
To be continued...
[AN: Finally an update! Hopefully the next one won't take two weeks! I have to plan out the battle scenes coming up, although it may not be quite the battle Diana is expecting...and is Supes going to be flying into a trap. Don't worry about the Batman because you know he is the Batman ;) But what is going to happen to the baby? Stay tuned for the next chapter...yes, this will end soon, we are coming close to the climax of the story! As always, your reviews are so much appreciated! I hope everyone is having a sane holiday season!]