[I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas...now back to the mayhem!]
Chapter 45 – Slaughter
Themyscira – The Library
Philippus advanced on the fallen, black-clad man before her, her sword raised high to slay him. The hated man-child, the spawn of the alien demon who had dishonored the princess, was held protectively in his arm away from her. Even now he was trying to protect it, shielding it with his body. It was no avail – once she had killed the man she would kill it next, and then the curse to her land would be ended.
Just as Philippus raised her arm, Bruce flung a small round object at her, which bounced off her cracked breastplate harmlessly. She blinked in surprise then snarled.
"Fool! What is that thing you-"
There was a loud pop! Then the room was enveloped in thick, blinding gray smoke. The Amazon General staggered back, momentarily dazed, and coughing.
"You will not escape, bastard!" Philippus screamed, swinging her sword wildly, hoping it would strike home. She heard the demon child crying, and she spun towards the sound. "You cannot hide long from my blade! I will find you!"
Batman, however, had other ideas. He'd used the diversion to duck into the shadows in one of the dozen alcoves set in the recesses of the Library. He reached into his belt again and brought out an ampoule of mixed painkiller/coagulant, jamming it into his side. A hiss of air escaped through his clenched teeth but the pain and bleeding subsided… at least, for the moment. The baby in his arm was wailing and, although he considered his mind very precise, he didn't quite know how to make it stop. He knew he couldn't stay hidden for long.
"I'm not your enemy," Batman shouted, projecting his voice. "Put down your sword! Let's find a way to stop this madness together…"
"Stop this? When you were the one who brought it to us!?" Philippus's good eye swept round the smoke-filled library, searching out for the source of his voice. The baby's crying came from somewhere near the empty shelves, but the man's voice was diffuse and hard to place. No matter, she would eventually find him. "Your tricks will avail you not!"
"No tricks," Batman knew he had to keep talking to distract the crazed Amazon. "I want to stop this bloodshed."
"You lie! I saw you with them! You came with the invaders to kill us! I shall carve you open like I did to-"
"To the sailors?" Batman's hand reached for the last batarang in his belt. "The innocent men you and your people murdered?"
For a moment Philippus was stunned. "How did you-?"
"I have my ways. If I know, so will the rest of the world. You can't stay hidden like you have, forever," Bruce paused, added. "I know Diana told you about the Justice League. You let Kal come to your Island, you saw what he is like. Believe me, if he wanted to put the hurt on all of you, he would have, a long time ago. We mean no harm to you."
Carefully, Bruce placed the baby in a carrel, shielded on three sides. It wailed in its snug blanket, then quieted down, for which Bruce breathed a sigh of relief. He turned, keeping himself positioned before Philippus and the child. He would only have the one chance, he had no more projectiles.
"Please listen to me - there's a greater threat to your Island than men," Bruce said urgently. "We're all in terrible danger! Surely you must have noticed-"
"No more of your tricks! Prepare yourself for death!"
Philippus concentrated on hunting him. The tiny microball gas bomb had finished discharging its thick but harmless smoke. It still obscured the air, but it was starting to dissipate. She could no longer hear the baby. No matter, they would not escape. She would avenge her dead sisters. She did not know what had happened to Hippolyta, or to Diana, but she feared the worst. One way or the other she would end this nightmare. She would listen to no more lies, that's all men could do.
Batman circled the Amazon, listening for the sound of her movements. He caught sight of her as she approached the carrel, and flung his batarang at her. Philippus whirled around, her blade deflecting the metal throwing weapon. She saw him and rushed at him.
Oh shit, Batman thought.
You are dead, man!" Philippus roared triumphantly, and raised her sword again. Batman braced himself to try to disarm her using an aikido move, but he didn't get the chance.
Philippus flew at the bat-clad man, and drew back her sword arm. But when she tried to swing it forward her nerves didn't respond, and nothing happened. She saw the bat-man's eyes widen behind his cowl. Puzzled, she tried to strike him again. Instead, she saw her arm fall to the ground. Puzzled, she stared at it, and then she heard the glibbering noise behind her. Slowly, she turned around.
Pickman's mottled black eyes were the last thing she saw as he ripped her throat out.
Themyscira – The Capital
Lois, Selene and Berenike crouched behind the battered stone wall that once stood between the capital and the forest. They listened and watched intensely, but saw no one. There were sounds, but they were distant and scattered.
"How far is the Library?" Lois whispered. Her heart was thudding in her chest, she half-imagined that it was loud enough to give them all away, but she felt paradoxically calm all the same. She wondered if her father ever felt like this, before the start of battle.
"It is in the center of the city," Selene replied, looking around carefully. "I see no one. The damned men must be concentrating in the southwest quadrant."
Lois stared at the Bodyguard. "That means they know where the Amazon attack will come from!"
Selene nodded. "Yes, they will, but there is nothing we can do about that."
"We should have waited for Superman," Lois muttered, then almost instantly reproached herself. She couldn't spend the rest of her life waiting for Superman to rescue her. She needed to handle this herself.
"Who knows what might happen? We must trust in Princess Diana's divine power to overcome the odds," Berenike said. "Come on, we waste time here."
Stealthily, the three women rushed into the city. The smell of burning still lingered. Although she had spent time as a war-correspondent in many countries, the scenes of destruction still sickened Lois, all the more now so since she felt connected to this place and people. It no longer seemed strange to her, that if an Alarian Guardsman appeared, she would fight to the death. Lois and the Amazons darted from building from building, but still no one opposed them.
"What do you think we're going to find in this Library?" Lois asked. "I hope it's something to get rid of these guys."
"We may find what the Alarian King is really up to," Selene said. "Also, the Library houses some very powerful, ah, relics."
"Weapons?" Lois was intrigued.
"Let's just say that they could be a great benefit, that is, if the Alarians haven't gotten them first. They...get down, get out of sight!" Selene pushed them back behind the side of a building.
"What is it?" Lois gasped.
"A shadow...someone is coming down the alleyway!"
"I couldn't tell," Berenike whispered. "Let us grab him, he can provide us information."
They waited until they heard the footsteps come closer. "Get ready!"
As the figure turned the corner, Lois and Berenike jumped the person and dragged it back with them just as Selene raised her sword to strike but then froze, as they all did.
"Lady Cyanna!" Lois exclaimed, relief shooting through her.
The Amazon healer looked as exhausted and bedraggled as any of them, but as far as the women were concerned, the sight of her was wonderful.
"Sisters!" Cyanna gasped in joy and surprise. "You are alive!"
"We thought you were dead!" Selene grasped the older Amazon's arms, all distinctions of rank forgotten now. "How have you managed to stay alive?"
"Only by the blessings of Gaia. I was trapped in the House of Healing when it collapsed, but it kept me hidden for a time. Which...which others have survived?" Cyanna asked anxiously.
Selene bowed her head. "Kwaian and Adaeze are dead. Philippus we do not know. Mara has fled to the Getai. We thought you dead too, since we had not seen you since."
"Our sisters, gone," Cyanna closed her eyes in grief. "What-what of the Queen and the Princess?"
"They are alive, they are coming to re-take the city."
"There are so many men here, and their ghouls and nightgaunts also. When the assault came I was preparing to see to the Princess' childbirth..." Cyanna stared at them. "And what...what of the baby?"
"Diana had the baby," Lois said carefully. "It's alive."
Berenike and Selene looked at each other. "The Alarians have taken it. It must be here in the city, somewhere."
Cyanna looked shocked. "'Taken' it? Why would they...is that why you are here?"
"We were heading to the Library," Selene said, and explained about their flight from the Amazon camp with the baby, and their encounter with the strange woman. "She was not an Amazon, I think," she added. "But she was not one of the invaders."
"Wonder Woman and Superman will take care of them," Lois insisted. "This is all going to be over soon." I hope, Lois thought.
Cyanna glanced upwards at the darkening sky. "I don't know...there is something...there were portents in the days before. I feel that there is something about to happen, something terrible..." She looked at the others with renewed purpose.
"Come, daughters, then we must go to the Library. Perhaps we will not be too late."
Themyscira – The Library
Bruce heard the gruesome, visceral sounds of flesh ripping, the liquid sounds of blood splashing on the floor, and shuddered. Batman was relieved to no longer be threatened by the Amazon General but he would have preferred to have seen almost anyone else rather than the ghoul chieftain. The one thought foremost in his mind was that now the ghoul was between him and the baby.
Pickman dropped the corpse of the Amazon to the ground. "Old and tough," he grimaced in disgust. "Hardly worth it!" The smoke was now almost completely dispersed, and Bruce could see him clearly. How could this creature have once been a human?
"Wayne, what are you doing here?" Pickman demanded, but before Batman could respond the baby choose the worst moment to start crying again. Startled, Pickman swung towards the baby with inhuman speed.
"What is that? What is it doing here?"
With speed that belied his ordinary humanity, Batman rushed past the ghoul and firmly placed himself between it and the child. The pain flared up momentarily but the drugs were doing their work.
"No," Bruce said.
"Wayne, don't be an idiot!" Pickman snapped. "Whatever are you doing with that creature?"
What does he mean? Batman thought, but he only answered, "This child is my responsibility."
"It's not a child!" The ghoul loped a few steps closer to him. "Why do you think we came all the way here, eh? To play at soldiers? The gates are opening everywhere, and this creature is the thing responsible!"
Batman stared at the ghoul. "What the hell are you talking about? It's just a baby."
"Have you ignored everything that you saw in Alar?" Pickman came closer. "Or what Carter told you? You know what has to be done."
"I'm warning you, Pickman, I will let no harm come to him!"
Batman braced himself, swinging his cape around him as Pickman advanced but a sudden rattling by the entrance made them both turn towards the sound. A band of three ragged Amazon warriors were standing there, staring at them in shock. Bruce recognized two of them.
For Lois, this was like the repeat of a bad nightmare just recently woken up from, but somehow worse. This ghoul standing in front of her was bigger and uglier than the ghouls that had attacked them earlier, and what was especially nauseating somehow was that its doglike face radiated a particularly hateful intelligence. The fact that it was standing there by Batman didn't seem to help matters.
"Lois! Get the hell out of here!" Batman roared.
Selene, Berenike and Cyanna rushed forward, to the body of the mutilated Amazon on the Library floor. "Philippus!" Cyanna cried, falling to her knees by her friend. "No!" The others stared in horror at what was left of their foremost Amazon warrior.
Lois ignored the Batman's warning, rushed forward to stand next to the Dark Knight.
"What are you doing, why did you take the baby?" Lois demanded, carelessly pointing her sword at him, with all the force of a reporter demanding an exclusive. Both Bruce and the ghoul stared angrily at her.
"Who the hell are you?"
Startled, Lois jumped, whirled around. She hadn't thought the monster was capable of speech.
"I've seen uglier than you!" Lois snarled. "I'm not afraid of you!"
"Your smell tells me otherwise," Pickman sneered. "You also appear more palatable than the other food there."
"Lois, get out of here!" Batman grated.
The Amazons looked up from mourning the dead Philippus. Forgetting their own pain, they rushed at the ghoul, and so did Lois.
The Library was engulfed in chaos.
Themyscira – The Amazon Army
The Amazon host moved swiftly and purposefully through the forest. They were silent, disciplined, their faces set in the hard expectation that most of them would die today. But if that was the price of driving off the invaders, then they were willing to pay it. What gave them hope was seeing their Queen and Princess at their head. Queen Hippolyta and Princess Diana rode at the head of the army, astride their war horses. Both had on their full Amazonian armor. Hippolyta held the great battle-axe, the pelekus, in her arms. Diana's xiphos was secured to her thigh. Her round shield, emblazoned with a stylized eagle, was slung to one side, and she held a long spear in her other hand. The other Amazons saw them and felt heartened, especially with Diana fighting with them, they had a chance of victory.
Diana knew what the Amazons were thinking. Her mind was also on the upcoming battle, but not in the same way. As a child, Diana had listened enraptured to the stories of her tutors, of the battles in ancient times. She had daydreamed of fighting in war alongside them. She had watched her mother on the practice field, sparring with her Bodyguard, and hoped for the honor of one day riding into battle together with her.
Childish daydreams, all of it, Diana thought now. Her experiences in Man's World showed her how war wasn't the same as the old stories. Even though she still possessed a warrior's heart, she didn't think of war in quite the same way anymore…and not after meeting Clark. But she was still a Princess of the Amazons. She had to defend her people and her land, and there was a part of her that longed to spill the blood of the Alarians...especially that of their King. But it was not what she had thought it would be like as a girl. And as for her mother...
"Many a time I have thought of a day like this, when you and I would ride out to war together," Hippolyta said. "But I never imagined it would be like this."
Diana glanced sharply at her mother, but her mother wasn't making idle boasts – she was staring straight ahead, her face distant and troubled in a way Diana couldn't make out. But she wasn't in the mood to talk, especially not to her mother after what she'd done to Kal, but she replied curtly.
"We shall drive the Alarians off our Island," she looked down at her wrists, encased in the silver bracers. "If I have to use my divine power, I will."
"King Ilek-Vad will know we are coming," Hippolyta said, as if she hadn't heard. "He will know you are coming."
"What of it?" Diana let something of her irritation show itself. "I have a score to settle with him, and his foul servants."
She was thinking of the way he had displayed as a prize above the walls, to lure out the Amazons, and anger burned in her.
Hippolyta looked at the sky, her face growing more apprehensive. Diana wondered what was wrong with her.
"The King is devious, full of tricks, this has been known of old," she muttered. "You must be careful, my daughter, not to fall into his trap again. The prophecy-"
Diana bristled, as if she were a six-year old again. Hippolyta always knew how to 'push her buttons' as the people in Man's World put it.
"Hades take the prophecy! I can take care of myself, old woman!" she growled, but her mother didn't even notice the disrespect, continued staring at the sky. "What is wrong with you?"
Eurydike and Laodice rode alongside them, also clad in their armor. Diana was glad of a distraction, but the Councilwomen had also noticed Hippolyta's unease.
"The Queen is right," Eurydike said. "The Alarians will be expecting us."
"What of it?" Laodice said. "We fight in the charge, the old-fashioned way."
"Many will die that way."
"We are Amazons, we are warriors!" Laodice asserted. "If that is the price to be paid to save our land!"
"No, there is another way," Diana spoke up. Eurydike and Laodice looked at her. "I will ride out first."
"No, Diana," Hippolyta said. "I know you have divine power, but the Alarians have great magick. We must fight as one."
"No!" Diana stared at all of them. "Not when Ilek-Vad still has my child! I will lure out the King. Kal will then make him give up our son. That is the plan."
"Then, we drive them from our shores."
There was a flash of blue and red and the man Kal stood before Diana's horse. The other Amazons rode up to hear what he had to say.
"The Alarians have surrounded the Palace," Clark said. "They've created a bottleneck so that there's only one way into the city."
"What of our son?" Diana cried.
Clark shook his head in frustration. "I couldn't see him, he must be in the Palace." At one point he thought he had heard Bruce's voice, but it was faint, indistinct, he couldn't tell where it was coming from.
Laodice stirred irritably astride her horse at the mention of the man-child. Other things were more important to her. "What of the others, the ghouls, the night-gaunts, man? How many of the Alarians are there?"
Clark glared at her, uncomfortable at being used as some intel source, but he replied, "They still outnumber you 3 to 1."
"Good odds for any Amazon," Laodice shot back. "We must attack as soon as we can, before night falls. The darkness will only aid them."
Diana clenched her fists in fury. Clark hovered closer to his wife, watching her worriedly. He knew her moods almost as well as she did. There seemed to be no way to avoid violence and killing. In truth, when he thought of what the Alarians did to her, he felt on the edge himself. They looked at each other and nodded.
"Let's go," Diana told him. "Let's go get our boy."
Themyscira - The Palace
Carter stood watching the narrow street that led to the Palace from its second floor window, thoughtfully stroking his wispy goatee. The other streets leading to the Palace had been blocked with rubble. This was the road the Amazons would have to use to take back their city.
"Unless Princess Diana chooses to fight alone, the army will come through here," Vizier Titus said. "Or that flying man."
"Why do you think they have not appeared before now?" Carter said rhetorically. "The Amazons think they can fight the old-fashioned way and use force to make us leave. They have ancient pretensions of honor and all that. In any case, we will have more than the Amazons to worry about shortly."
"Where is the...singularity?" Titus asked.
"Bruce has it, in the Library. The Amazons will not know where it is...nor will the Queen."
"Hippolyta will not care about that child."
"I am not speaking of her."
Titus looked at Carter. "Then she is here!"
Carter nodded slowly. "If she is here, then the King is too."
Titus looked greatly alarmed. "Then, we are too late!"
"Not yet," Carter's eyes narrowed. "Everything depends on our hold on the singularity...and whether we can get ahold of Hippolyta."
"Her!" Titus snapped. "Must we go through this charade!"
"I'm afraid so," Carter said. "Bruce will not let go of the singularity and he is too single-minded to listen to reason. So we need to-"
A noise from the forest interrupted them, and their attention turned back towards the street, where the Alarians were massed at strategic points along its thoroughfare. A thunderous, overpowering roar of defiance and bloodlust that would send most men quaking with fear. The battle-cry of the Amazons. They were not within sight yet, the noise came from deep within the forest, and they could seen no one, but their presence was unmistakable.
"They're finally here," Carter remarked. "So we will let this farce play out."
The Alarians manning the sonic artillery turned towards the noise too. The artillery captain in charge, a man with a bristling handlebar mustache beneath protruding grey eyes, raised his binoculars to his eyes to scan the ground. There was movement.
"Look alive, men!" He shouted. "Someone's coming!"
The roar had died down to be replaced by a profound silence. Then the sounds of horses' hoofbeats, approaching relentlessly. It echoed loudly through the dead city. Then the rider turned a corner, a collapsed wall of brick and stone, and rode into full view of the Alarian Guardsmen. A single Amazon warrior. For a moment she made no movement, just sat astride her horse, staring at the Guardsmen, her spear held upright. She wore no helmet, but the waning sunlight flashed off her tiara.
From atop an abandoned house in the capital, Clark kept under cover and watched Diana closely, not daring to lose sight of her again. His heart was pounding in his chest, although he knew her fighting capabilities, he didn't want any surprises. But he also watched the Palace. He and Diana bet that the King would show himself, if only to watch the Amazons die. He needed that one slip-up to happen.
From within the Palace, Carter peered at the solitary figure. "Is that-?"
"Yes," Titus replied. "But where are the rest of them?"
The Amazon's heels barely touched the horse's flanks and the mare began trotting forward, then faster, until it was galloping onwards towards the Alarian cannon. The Amazon lowered her spear in a charge. The Alarian artillery captain sneered under his moustache, and ordered his ensign,
"Aim for her!" the Alarian officer pointed at her. "Give her a round!"
The ensign aimed his crossbow rifle at the moving target. He waited until she was centered in the crosshairs, and fired, the fiery bolt dead-on the charging Amazon. It would knock her clean off her saddle, and send her sprawling onto the street. But something else happened instead.
Diana shot into the air, the cross bolt missing her by millimeters. Then she dove at the startled Guardsmen from above them. With a piercing scream she roared the ancient Amazonian battle-cry.
"For Themyscira! Kallinike!"
She flung her spear with all the force of her arm, it shot clear through the chest of the Alarian captain, impaling another of his comrades behind him, the five pound steeltip protruding from his back. In the next moment she broke the cannon free of its moorings, then sent it crashing to the ground, then spun and yanked her spear free of the corpses. She rose into the air and thrust her spear in the air.
With a roar, the Amazon army rushed into the city, towards the Palace.
Carter and Titus watched the events below. An Alarian was shouting, "Fire at will!" Crossbow bolts flew through the air, glowing in the gloom.
"It seems we are under siege," Titus said drily. "I will go see what I can do."
"You should wait here, you'll be needed here most." Carter advised.
Titus shook his head. "It would not do. I must go below. If Hippolyta is with them, I will try to talk with her."
Carter's expression showed that he didn't think much of those chances, but he only said, "If you think best."
When Titus left, the clamor below grew louder. Carter stepped onto the balcony for a better look.
Clark watched as Diana attacked the Alarian artillery defenses. She was knocking down the Alarian Guardsmen with her spear, another charged her and she split his head open with the rim of her shield. One of the soldiers drew his saber and cut the spear-shaft in half, and swung at Diana, clipping her on the shoulder. Whatever weapons these men had, they were capable of cutting her, it left a red gash on her bicep, and Clark's heart leapt in his throat as he saw her grimace in pain. But in the next second, Diana had drawn her xiphos, and thrust its point through the man's shako into his brain.
He decided he couldn't wait on this rooftop anymore, he had to go and protect her. Then he saw someone step out on the balcony. He remembered the white-turbaned man he saw standing next to Diana as she hung on that cross and he felt his eyes burn. He rose into the air and flew towards him. He saw the man turn towards him, and then in the next second he had grabbed the man by the scruff of his coat and they went flying back through the Palace, smashing through doors and walls until they'd reached the far end. Clark had managed just enough self control not to break the man's spine as he did so, he needed him to talk. The thin man squirmed and struggled in his grasp. His eyes still flaring hellish red, he grabbed him by the throat and roared.
"Where is he!?"
Titus was standing in the courtyard of the Palace when he saw a flash of blue and red streak past, and a whoosh of air. Startled, he saw something sweep Carter off his feet and backwards into the Palace and heard the smashing of breaking wood and plaster. The Alarians around him had formed a defensive square, as the Amazons who had survived the cannonade tried to charge into the Palace. Volley fire kept them at a distance. He saw an imposing horse and rider approach, waving a battle-axe. Screams and shouts filled the air.
"Hippolyta!" Titus shouted.
"You will die, man!" The Queen of the Amazons roared, her horse rearing as a bolt struck its flank. "Even now, your King is fallen!"
Titus shook his head. "It is not my King you should worry about."
Hippolyta snarled as her Amazons fired their arrows into the square, deflected by the oblong shields of the Alarians. One stuck into Titus' black coat. He grunted, and snapped it off.
"You should worry about your head! It will not stay on your shoulders for long!"
"And you, Queen," Titus shouted back. "Should worry about your throne. Or have you forgotten your fellow Queen, the one called Cassilda?"
Hippolyta froze, unmoving. Titus continued.
"She is here. She is on Themyscira."
"You lie!" Hippolyta screamed.
"Hippolyta," Titus said ominously. "The time of reckoning is at hand. The King in Yellow is coming to place Cassilda on the throne again. What will you do?"
"Cassilda," she gasped. "How do you know about her?"
A hail of crossbow bolts answered the Amazon Queen, two struck her in the shoulder and chest and she toppled off Atalanta.
From high in the air, where she was attempting to enter the Palace, Diana saw her mother fall to the ground. Her eyes widened in shock.
"One more time! Where is he?" Clark roared.
Carter stared at the giant young man with the glowing red eyes. This must have been who Bruce had been talking about.
"The...singularity..." Carter managed to gasp out, trying to twist out of the Kryptonian's grip.
"He's my son! What have you done with him? Where is Bruce?" Clark squeezed, making the man turn purple, and slammed him against the wall again. "I'm not someone you can control, I'm not human," Clark growled.
Carter's eyes rolled back in his head, and he seemed to go stiff and unmoving. Alarmed, Clark suddenly wondered if he'd killed him. He quickly scanned his body...but he couldn't read him. Something...something wasn't right.
Clark looked up quickly as Carter's eyes opened again. Like Clark, his eyes were glowing, but his were jet black.
"No you are not human...and neither am I."
[AN: What the hell is happening? You'll need to read next chapter to find out, when Cassilda and the King in Yellow (aka Steve Trevor, sort of ) will explain all. So will Carter, as best he can, since he's preoccupied. I promise, this all WILL end, next year ;) Thank you all for reading this, this far, and as always your reviews are welcome and appreciated! I already have the ending set, but how do you think it will end? Or should end?
Have a happy new year everyone :) ]