Chapter 49 – The Light That Is The Darkness
Themyscira – The Library
Dismayed at what she had witnessed, and lacking the power to have stopped it, Lois collapsed on the ground, sobbing. The child, Superman's child, was gone. She had never felt closer to despair since the invasion of Themyscira started.
Searching through the ruins of the Library the other Amazons, Selene, Berenike and Cyanna quickly found her. They had lit torches to see in the gloom, and when they saw her they ran to her aid, thinking she was wounded. "Lois! What happened?"
"That thing," Lois cried. "That ghoul, whatever it was…it-it had the baby! It held it…in its jaws. It actually looked at me. Then it ran off, it just ran off, I couldn't…." Her voice broke.
The Amazons exchanged stunned looks. It seemed that all that all the efforts they had made to try to protect the baby were in vain. They had not managed to fight off the invaders either, and they were all injured as well.
Selene clenched her fists in helpless rage. "Then...then there's no hope. The child, everything, is lost…"
"Not if I can help it!"
Startled, they all turned to see a black-gloved arm claw push up through the rubble, shoving the scattered bits of stone and papyri aside.
Lois leapt to her feet, her eyes wide. "Batman!"
She rushed to help pull the dark-caped crusader free of the debris, while the Amazons looked on in surprise.
"I thought you were dead!" Lois gasped.
"So did I," muttered Bruce, as he stood between the gaping Amazon warriors, dusting himself off.
It took him only a moment to assess himself. The last thing he remembered, the light went out in the library, and he knew he had only a second to escape. Then, the reek of stale blood and rancid flesh was horrendously close and he knew Pickman was next to him. Before even his finely honed instincts could kick in, he had felt a tremendous kick and he had blacked out. It was the same when he was first attacked in the Arkham caves. He simply had not been physically able to respond fast enough, and that galled him almost as much as the knowledge that the baby had been stolen from him.
"I-I thought that thing had killed you," Selene said to him as he stood to his full imposing height. Her tone was almost accusing.
"He…could have," Bruce said thoughtfully. Despite the blow to his ego, and plenty of bruising, he was otherwise unhurt. He knew Pickman could have disemboweled him in a heartbeat, but instead it wanted something else – the baby. He looked around. "Where did that damned thing go?"
"I saw it," Lois said hurriedly. "It had the baby in its mouth, then it ran off…Batman, what are we going to do?"
"I go after it," Batman said flatly. "You go find what's left of the Amazon army and stay with them."
"The hell!" Lois felt a rush of adrenalin surge through her. "I'm not giving up that easily, neither are the rest of us!"
The Amazons vocally asserted their wish to keep fighting. Bruce clenched his jaw, and for a moment he knew exactly how Clark felt. He also knew that it was a waste of time to stand around arguing with someone the likes of Ms. Lane.
"Then, let's go, and stay behind me! I think I know where he went."
The Temple of Ananke
The Battle went on.
The Amazons and the Getai had redoubled their assault on the Alarian stranglehold on their capital city, yet the men's army had held even against the fierce female warriors. The Alarians had entrenched themselves and made a defensive line in a sharp semi-circle by the ancient temple of the Goddess of Destiny, which stood between them and the Agora and the fallen Palace. The foreboding and grim temple, rarely visited, someone seemed fitting. The Alarians held the high ground and from their position, their inhuman allies, the ghouls and night-gaunts, could rain down projectiles and other terrible weapons of death upon the besiegers. The corpses of many warriors lay before the cold marble temple of the old goddess. Then the Palace had collapsed - the Amazons were shocked, and demoralized, falling back away from the descending ash-and-debris cloud. They assumed the invaders had blown up their majestic citadel, ready to destroy all that was left of their once-beautiful city.
Boudicaa had discarded her chariot, and fought on foot with her Shieldmaidens, her own personal bodyguard of warriors. For a few harrowing minutes they were surrounded by the night-gaunts, who tried to carry them off in their long-nailed black hands. Several of their number were slain that way, screaming as the monsters dropped them from high in the air. Rallying the Getai, Boudicaa beat off the remaining demons with her great two-handed longsword, swinging all about her wildly.
"For the Morrigan! For Themyscira!" Boudicaa roared.
Echoing her cry, in defiance they fought through a strategic retreat, keeping in close battle order, until they joined Queen Hippolyta and her warriors back to where they had withdrawn by the old bodyguard barracks. Anger and desperation showed in every face, except the Queen's, which continued to remain a stoic mask. She strode up to the Getai queen, addressed her peremptorily.
"Boudicaa. Why have you broken off your offensive?"
The old warrior stared firmly at her. "The Alarians have dug in by the temple of Ananke, they cannot be dislodged. We need your daughter to fight for us...and your son-in-law too, Hippolyta."
Hippolyta said nothing, but some of her Amazons closest to her stirred angrily. "The Amazons have no need of saviors!" Laodice snarled. "If we cannot be back the invaders on our own, then we have no honor!"
"We need every help we can muster," Eurydike replied. Half her face was bandaged, blood seeping through the cloth, but she had not lost any of her fierceness. "Enough with your foolish pride!"
"We need no strangers to fight for us!"
"Princess Diana is an Amazon! And we need Superman's help! Yes, I said it!" The battle-wounded Councilwoman looked around the assembled Amazons and Getai. "We were looking for enemies in the wrong places, all this time! We thought Superman was our enemy, when our greatest enemy was on our very doorstep - Alar! We have been blind!"
"The Alarians are not our enemy," said a high, wheezy voice.
All eyes turned to the Crone, who stood hunched in her black shawl, with her staff, off to the side. The Amazons looked at her uneasily, even angrily, puzzled at her pronouncement.
"What are you talking about, old woman?" Laodice snapped. "How can you say such a thing?"
"DOOM has come to Themyscira," the Crone stabbed a horny finger upwards. "Look at the sky! Is that not an unnatural dark? Do you not feel it, the strangeness of this night, the force of the the evil among us?"
"It is but the Alarians' black magick," one of the Amazons spoke up, hesitantly. "Their King did this to..."
"Yes, a King did this," the Crone's eyes narrowed to slits. "But not theirs."
Eurydike stared at the seeress. "You can't mean Diana's man..."
"Hohoho! If only it were so! No, no, this is not the work of a mere man. There is an ancient magick that reaches out to us, it is an unspeakable power that seeks a way into this world. It is something even the Alarians fear, mayhap they even covet its power, but which they want to confront and draw to themselves, so much so that they were willing to invade our island."
"Speak plainly, Crone," Boudicaa urged. "How might we defeat it?"
The Crone's slitted eyes swiveled towards Hippolyta, who returned her stare without emotion. "I sense that there is one amongst us who knows truly how to fight this evil power, if it can be fought, and it must be. Ancient secrets...must be unveiled and revealed in the harsh light of truth," she cackled, softly. "Is that not so, Peace Queen?"
Hippolyta said nothing. The warriors, Amazon and Getai alike, felt no more enlightened than before, and they muttered in confusion, until Hippolyta waved her battle-axe, a gesture demanding silence.
"What mean you to do, Hippolyta?" Boudicaa asked quietly in the lull that followed.
"We find my daughter and her man," the Queen of the Amazons replied calmly. "Where were they last?"
"My lady," Penelope reported nervously. "Diana was engaging the Alarians by the Agora. Her man...her man was last seen in the Palace...and the Palace is-"
"We go to Diana," Hippolyta said. "Then...we shall see."
Clark struggled to rise from his knees, he found that he no longer had the strength to stand up. Somehow, the night had fallen over the island so quickly, but it was strange - even at nighttime, the sun's radiation should still be stored in his body's cellular structure, continuing to give him strength and sustenance, but that wasn't happening. He felt tired and weak, a feeling that was unnatural and rare for him. He wasn't physically sick, like in Kryptonite poisoning. For some reason, he felt like a battery that was blinking in the red.
I have to find the sun! Clark thought desperately, but there was no sun that he could see...but there was still light, from somewhere, but it wasn't helping him. He could still see Diana beside him, staring in shock.
Diana stared at the two figures standing between her and her child on the half-column. One was a tall and slender woman with whitish-gold hair and a young-old face, wrapped in a pale yellow gown but it was her eyes in that white face which were like nothing she had ever seen before. They were dark and they burned with an ebon light. She stood watching her, motionless, a shadow of a smile playing about her lips. Diana didn't recognize her. But the one beside her...he was wrapped in a tattered and ripped yellow robe, so that his form was concealed...but no matter how the cloths fluttered in the thin wind, she could not see the body beneath, as though there was some blurring effect. But the face of the thing...even though the face was likewise covered, she could see his eyes, the only part of his face unconcealed, and for some reason, she knew instantly who it was.
Of Titus and the ghoul, she did not see them.
"St-Steve?" Diana whispered.
The figure turned towards her, fixed her with that flat gaze. Without doubt, those were Steve Trevor's eyes, but...she couldn't understand it: why was he here? Who was that woman? He looked at her with no feeling, no recognition. She felt stupefied by confusion, quite unlike her. Her hand reached down to her thigh, but her sword was gone, lost in the scuffle with the ghoul...
She felt jolted back to the present. That creature! Her baby! As if cold water had been thrown on her face, she suddenly realized she'd been standing here frozen like a striping in her first battle, while her child lay helpless beyond, and her husband...Clark was still on his knees, unable to get up, and grimacing as if he were in pain, though there was no mark on him.
"Diana," he whispered. "Our baby...where is he? I...I can't see..."
"He's there! Beyond the Agora!" Diana cried out. "Steve? Steve! What's happened? Speak to me!"
With a tremendous effort, Clark staggered to his feet. He wasn't sure he'd actually comprehended what Diana had said. Steve Trevor? Here on the island? Something in the back of his mind seemed to tell him that something was wrong, terribly wrong. He made a huge effort, and his vision cleared, and he saw the two strange figures standing on either side of the half-pillar where his and Diana's child held in a glowing orb. Although it was dark, there was some kind of yellow light coming from behind them...and it was growing in intensity, providing the only illumination other than the random fires burning throughout the devastated city. He steadied himself, forced himself to focus.
"Is that really him? Who is that woman with Steve?"
Diana shook her head. "I do not know!"
But somehow Diana felt that she did, deep down inside, although there was no way she could have explained that. It was something primeval, from the ancient past, and she shivered. But she clenched her fists.
"Something's wrong with him!" Diana shouted to Clark. "He's not answering me."
Clark hardly heard her; he saw his baby there and he launched himself into the air. He flew into the air towards the pillar which held his son, but he had not hardly gotten into the air when he felt himself paralyzed. He realized he'd not gotten halfway across the clearing to them. He looked up and he saw, clearly, the yellow-clad figure staring at him, but he hadn't moved at all. He was held in the air, unable to move. He tried to get a bead on Steve - if that was truly him - and focus his vision.
Seeing her husband halted mid-air, Diana rushed towards the pair, but something, some force, sent her sprawling to her knees. It was like being immobilized in putty or glue.
"Who are you?" Diana shouted. "Why are you doing this?"
For the first time, the woman's eyes turned towards Diana. She thought she heard a voice, but the woman did not open her mouth.
"To reclaim my city."
What? "Just-just give me my child," Diana heard herself saying. "I don't know who you are, what draws you here...just..."
The strange woman's eyes turned from Diana; to her horror they focused on the baby. "Your child...is the price of admission."
Diana's fear and rage forced her back to her feet. "Give me my child! Or you will die!"
The woman looked back at her...and smiled, as much as it was possible on that ethereal face. "Then you must come get him."
There was a thud beside Diana as he husband dropped to the ground beside her. She turned to stare at him, and saw on Clark's face a mix of horror and rage and disgust, an expression she had never seen before.
"What is it?" Diana demanded.
"Steve...his body...under those robes...that-that thing..."
With an incoherent roar, Clark's eyes flashed and blazing red light shot towards the yellow-robed man before Diana could say or even think. For a moment he seemed to glow and burn, and for a moment she thought he would burst asunder. Then she felt herself enveloped in wind and dark, lifted into the air. She struggled, unable to see, her limbs flailing, then she felt Clark's arms come around her, grab her tightly to him. She felt the both of them slam into something hard, which shattered to rubble.
Diana opened her eyes, saw that she was lying half on her husband, that they had been flung away from the Agora, far enough away so that all they could see was the glowing yellow light that radiated from there. Quickly she looked at her husband, who was was lying stunned on the ground, but almost distraught with near-panic, she pulled on his arms, dragging him to his feet. He half-leaned on her, and she supported him.
"Kal! What did you see?"
"Diana...that's not Steve, it can't be. Not with that body..." Clark had a shocked look on his face.
"They're going to take our baby!" She stared back at the unearthly yellow light. "Why? Why would they-?"
"For blood price, young Princess."
Diana whirled around, saw the old Crone of the Getai hobbling towards her. Behind her were the Amazons, including her mother, and Boudicca. They all stared at the light.
"Are they with the Alarians?"
The Crone stubbornly shook her head. "No, young Princess. They are much older than they. They want only one thing...and it seems they have it."
Batman raced towards the Agora, towards to glow of light. Lois tried to keep pace with him, but she was no match of course. The other Amazons, hampered by their injuries, followed behind as best they could.
"Damn him!" Lois muttered, pausing to catch her breath. "He's going to get himself killed!" Like I'm going to make it out of here alive, she thought glumly.
Selene came up beside her. "That glow in the sky," she wondered. "That is no light of fire."
"Magick?" Lois stared. "I hope it's not some weird Alarian secret weapon."
"I think not," gasped Cyanna. "Do you not see how the light curls, and spins? It is no ordinary light. If it is magick..." she shook her head. "If only Menalippe were still with us."
"We waste time here," Lois said. "Let's go, or we'll never catch up!"
But they did. They found the Batman standing at the edge of the Agora. Backlit by the yellow light, in his black cowl and cape, somehow it sent a shudder through Lois.
He didn't seem to hear. The other Amazons hesitated, unwilling to approach him. Lois rushed to his side, as she did at the Library. "Batman!"
She actually reached out and shook him, realizing too late she might be risking a sock in the jaw. Nobody, the stories went, took hold of the Dark Knight of Gotham. She didn't know how much of that was true, how much was just hype, but he didn't move. He seemed to be staring at the heart of the light, where it glowed the most intensely.
"Batman!" Lois shouted, practically into his face.
"I've seen this before..." he rasped. "I know what this is."
Diana approached the Crone, her eyes radiating danger. The Amazons wondered if she meant harm even to an old woman, even though it was the seeress of the Getai, and no ordinary Amazon.
"What are you saying, old Crone?" Diana demanded.
"Have you not noticed there are no Alarians around us? Surely they would be attacking us with this diversion, eh? No, they have holed up, waiting to see what happens next."
"What is going to happen?" Clark staggered towards the bent woman, his arm clutching his side. "What is going on?"
The Temple of Ananke
From his vantage point at the old temple, Vizier Titus watched the growing glare while the Alarian High Command stood behind him, as always attentive and silent. The night-haunts and the ghouls huddled in the back of the ancient building, not liking the bright light, and even they were fearful, the old man noticed. Only Pickman stood with him, his bloody muzzle grimacing.
"Where the hell is Carter?" The thing said. "One of his damned fainting fits again! Now of all time!"
"There is nothing we can do," Titus said slowly. "Not now. It is the Amazons' time."
"Then..." Pickman's voice lowered. "Then...have we failed?"
"I...truly don't know."
"Your mother, young Princess," the Crone said quietly. "Your mother..."
"Enough, Crone!" Hippolyta stared at her daughter. "Where is your child?"
"He...he was in the Agora! When those two came, Steve...and that woman...I didn't recognize her."
"Queen Cassilda," the Crone whispered. "The War Queen has returned."
Hippolyta's face went white. Even in the dark, Diana could see how the Crone's words affected her mother.
"You lie, old woman!"
Clark stared from his wife to the Amazons. "What is she talking about Diana?"
"This is madness!" Diana shouted. "I am going back there to get my son! To hell with you all!"
"This, child," the Crone whispered, her eyes wide. "This is no longer Themyscira - it has become Carcosa."
With a cry, Hippolyta did something no Amazon had ever dared to do - she raised her free hand and struck the Crone, knocking her to the ground. The Getai rushed forward in outrage, but the Queen's Bodyguard held them back. Diana stared at her mother in shock. Her mother was trembling all over, fear in her eyes. It radiated from her now.
"Mother," Diana gasped. "Have you lost your senses?"
Only Boudicaa was able to regard Hippolyta with calm, as if she had known this would happen.
"Hippolyta," the chieftain said. "Tell her...before it is too late, for all of us."
In the Agora, Lois stared at Batman as if he had sprouted actual bat ears.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"That light - do you see it?"
"Of course I see it! I can hardly see anything else!"
"It's a portal," Batman said. "I should have anticipated this, right from the beginning. Carter practically told me this would happen."
"Lois!" Selene shouted. "Do you see it! Come away! Please!"
The yellow light was indeed spreading, slowly, its center was mesmerizing to witness, it flickered like a flame, but its animation was so lifelike...
"There's something wrong here," Lois said urgently. "Let's get the hell out of here, the baby's not here! That's what we came for."
"I put a homing device in the baby's wrappings," Batman explained patiently. "I know where it is. It's in there, through there."
Lois gaped at him. "What...what is there?" Hearing the Amazons crying out in warning behind her, she grasped his arm and tried to budge him. It was like trying to move rock. "We've got to get away! Can't you...can't you feel it?"
Batman pulled away from Lois.
"No, the baby was my responsibility. I took it. I came here to stop something terrible from happening, and that's what I will do."
Before Lois could reply - if she could even think of anything to say to that - Batman had already turned his back on her and walked calmly towards the glowing light. She saw his tall, powerful black form outlined against the spiraling light. Lois shouted desperately after him, but if he heard her, he choose not to respond.
Without another word, Batman - Bruce Wayne - stepped away from the world and into the city of Carcosa.
[A/N: My superpower is I have any free time for writing! But it IS drawing down to a conclusion - Will Batman be able to rescue the baby? What will Clark and Diana do to fight the Queen? (no, not Hippolyta) Thanks again for reading everyone, and yes, this WILL be ending soon! Thanks for reading as always, and please review!
PS: Chapter title is borrowed from a book title by Laird Barron - scary story!]