[Finally, the last, longest chapter!]
Chapter 52 – Last of the Amazons (Part 2)
Clark flew as fast as he possibly could through the dark, spectral skies of the alien city of Carcosa. His mind was aware - rationally aware - that at the speed he was going he must have spanned several of Earth's continents many times over at least, but he feared he had not actually gone anywhere. Glancing down he saw his fears confirmed: he the strange city was still beneath him. It didn't make any sense- yet he still sensed something pursuing him, and he didn't dare stop.
I promised Diana I'd bring our son home, Clark thought, I won't fail her. Bruce had sacrificed himself in order to help him - he would mourn later, but first he had to find a way out of this nightmare.
Clark, a disembodied, yet familiar voice suddenly said in his head. Turn around.
"Bruce?" Clark's heart jumped at the possibility that his friend could still be alive, but how could he be communicating with him?
"Bruce, is that you?" It sounded like him, but it was distorted somehow.
Turn back around and fly into the portal!
Yes, it was definitely Bruce's voice; although it sounded...different. How could that possibly be?
"But...that thing behind me," Clark gasped. "I can't-"
It isn't what you think...it's not real, noncorporeal...for now...pass by it and enter the portal while I have Cassilda distracted, it's your only chance!
Abruptly, the connection broke, and the voice was gone.
Clark couldn't be sure that Bruce - or perhaps Cassilda, controlling him - wasn't deceiving him. To head back into Carcosa?
Clark glanced down at the tiny creature in his muscular arms: so soft and fragile, although much stronger than a human baby. The baby's deep blue eyes were open and looked back at him with a wide, curious expression. Totally unafraid.
His son. Diana's son.
Although he appeared physically okay, Clark could tell he was weak. He needed the sun, just as he did. He had to get out of here. What other choice did he have?
None at all.
"I'll get you out of here, Jon," Clark heard himself whisper. "I promise."
Jon? The name had just come naturally into his mind.
"A good a name as any," Clark grunted, and spun around in the air, reversing direction and sped back towards the portal. He saw the chaotic vortex of clouds and light ahead of him, and its dark center. His vision couldn't penetrate that cloud, and it stood between him and the portal. No matter.
He flew towards it.
Hal Jordan gaped (along with the others he supposed) at the incredible thing rising above the agora. It glowed with an eerie luminescence like the supernatural portal. It made him dizzy to look at directly. He threw up a gloved hand to shield his eyes. The Amazons around him cried out, with dozens of them began praying to the various deities of the Olympic pantheon. He didn't understand their language but whatever they were saying, it didn't seem to make a bit of difference.
Iridescent spheres bubbling, pouring into the sky from the ground, the patterns within each one of them shifting into indescribable shapes, the impossible angles...
"What the hell is that?" Barry stood on his own shakily, testing his formerly injured leg, looking up at the sky with Hal.
"Can you stand?"
"My healing ability's working, but it doesn't feel right somehow," the Flash complained. "Like it set wrong. I think something here is interfering with it."
Hal glanced behind them. "The portal - look at it!"
The rift did not seem to expand so much as to bloat, it was like an ugly scar in the fabric of reality, and what lay beyond it seemed to match the movement within the spheres: dim, and suggestive of strange shapes that didn't invite closer inspection, but it seemed to keep a distance from them.
"My God!" Lois gasped to no one in particular. "Do you see that?"
"What is it?" Diana was desperate for any sign of her husband and child, she could see nothing clearly.
"I-I don't know. But I thought it looked like a person...a woman."
"Cassilda," Diana's hand tightened on her spear. "That damnable prophecy of doom on our tribe! This is going to end here!"
"What are you talking about?" Lois was alarmed at the sound of her voice. "That thing in the sky-"
Diana shook her head. "Whatever this is...it is all part of Cassilda's revenge on the Amazons. I must stop her. I'm the only one here who can."
Clark...if you're really gone...then I have no reason to live...
"What's taking Cyborg so long?" Hal whispered aside to Barry. "He should have been back here by now. I have the feeling Diana's going to do something...drastic."
"I'll go find him," Barry said determinedly. "Just try to stop her if she does."
"Oh yeah, right, I'll do that. Be careful," Hal clenched his fist, waiting, but the conglomeration of spheres in the sky didn't move, merely expanded and contracted, seemingly randomly but Hal thought there was some intelligence there. It was waiting, he was suddenly sure. Hal realized with something like horror that the spheres were trying to pulsate synchronize in time with the portal.
"You don't have to tell me even once." Barry replied and sped off.
The Temple of Ananke
Flash raced on his partially mended leg through the rubble, passing unhindered beneath the ugly mass of hazy globules. As he saw them closer he noted that they included many interweaving tendrils connecting one to the other, like cilia, but he didn't waste time looking too closely at it; he had the unpleasant feeling the would drop down on him, and that would not be pleasant experience. He had to find Victor and Zatanna, and quickly. He hoped that nothing had happened to them. Like Hal he felt the onrush of impeding disaster, and that it was connected with those unearthly spheres and whatever was behind that portal.
However, he wasn't exactly certain how they could stop it. He just knew they had to.
They needed to get Superman back.
Barry rounded a collapsed building and found them, but what he saw he did not expect. Victor was standing only 20 feet away, unmoving like a metal statue,and he saw why: thin golden spines penetrating into his armor from what looked like another...cyborg? Before him stood an older, bearded man, but his chest and arm were composed of some gleaming golden metal, composed of hundreds, perhaps thousands of whirring gears like a delicate old-fashioned stopwatch. Next to him stood the magician Zatanna, standing stiff and staring, also like she was paralyzed. None of them appeared to have noticed him.
Flash didn't hesitate. He rushed forward, knocking the other cyborg away from Victor. The white-haired man grunted and fell backwards, surprised. The spines whizzed and withdrew quickly from Cyborg's body. Zatanna gasped and blinked.
"Get away from them!"
Freed from the download, Cyborg flailed, his human eye twitching spasmodically. Barry caught him as he stumbled. "Victor! Are you okay?"
"Download incomplete," Victor droned in a metallic voice. "Information...information will be..."
"Snap out of it! Zatanna, are you all right?"
"Yes, yes I'm fine, but what happened?"
Her attention was suddenly distracted by the thing in the sky. She stared at it in shock.
"No, no...it's not possible..."
"Idiot boy! Do you know what you've done? Of course not!"
Flash whirled about, faster than the human eye could see. The old cyborg was glaring at him, approaching him with long, angry strides.
"Who the hell are you?" Flash demanded, standing his ground and raising his fists. "What have you done to my friends?"
"'Done?' I, or we, rather, may be the one to help you and your 'friends' leave this place alive."
Superman sped towards the city, giving a wide berth to the luminescent whirlpool of clouds that now hovered directly above the city. He could not see into it but he knew that there was something within it, observing him minutely, although how he could know that he didn't know. Even the thought of what could be hidden behind those unnatural clouds made him shiver as never before. He had to trust Bruce.
"Batman! Can you hear me?"
Then he saw the portal directly ahead, a terrible glow of yellow light in the blackness of the cursed city. "Bruce!" He called out again.
Suddenly an image flashed into his mind, which nearly sent him reeling. No, that couldn't be him...that monster, that thing...
He forced it from his mind with great effort. Whatever was in this city was affecting his friend. "What's happened to you? Hold on!"
No, damn you! While I have her...distracted...get out of here...NOW!
In horror, Clark shut his eyes against the vision. He concentrated instead on the portal, it was there ahead of him, and open.
Bruce saw Clark dive into the blazing rip into space/time. Perhaps 'saw' was not the right word, since he could no longer see with his human eyes. But he could see nevertheless. He could see everything, and everything had that tint of unnatural color...
I am an inhabitant of Carcosa...
In the same manner he heard Cassilda shriek, and turn her attention away from him, intending to prevent Clark's escape. Her elongated and inhuman hand snagged the edge of Clark's cape, and he reeled backward like a caught fish. His head whipped around and crimson light cut through the fog, but splashed harmlessly around Cassilda. Raging, Clark, struck out at her again, and again, but they had little effect. Bruce's cloak, no longer black, swirled around her, acting as another appendage of his form. She struggled with him.
No! Her voice was no longer human either, it was the voice of the city itself, alien and incomprehensible.
"Let him go," Bruce pushed his protuberance of a face against the Cassilda-thing. "I am the King now."
"Not until the stars have risen, my dear Aldones. Until then, I reign here. And I WILL have the sacrifice."
Bruce felt his strength, his will, beginning to falter. He was not quite Bruce Wayne anymore, just as Steve Trevor had not been himself, after reading the play. Bruce had never read the play. But he had read other things, the books in his library. And he had a photographic memory.
"Clark, get out of here!" Bruce shouted desperately, no longer knowing if his friend could even hear him. He thought he could see/sense his friend fighting with the Cassilda-thing, desperately trying to pull away from her, but she was growing stronger, even as the portal was expanding.
Expanding into Themyscira, and the whirlpool was closing in and downwards, fast.
He had to end this, at any cost.
The Temple of Ananke
"I don't know who you are or what game you're playing here, but you'll be sorry if you attack us again!"
Barry had put himself protectively between the old man and Victor and Zatanna, displaying a bravado he did not exactly feel. Victor still didn't seem to be all there. If he wasn't more than 1/2 metal, Barry would have thought his friend was either hungover or exceedingly drowsy. His eyelids kept drooping and he would stutter, uttering nonsensical words: "Ertguln, kadath, vulutulumm, aklo aklo..."
"I didn't 'attack' you or your friends, young man," the old cyborg replied impatiently. "On the contrary, I attempted to transfer my knowledge to him. I hope that he can process some of it, with his limited mainframe. However, I am the least of your problems right now."
He looked up at the sky. "Carcosa is our problem."
Flash was about to retort angrily but Zatanna gripped his red-sleeved arm.
"He's right, Flash. He's not our enemy...but he's not quite our friend either," she whispered. "But we need his help. Let me talk to him."
If Barry had thought she looked nervous before, now she looked as if she was running on low-grade frantic, especially after she had glimpsed the thing in the sky. She pointedly avoided looking at it. Zatanna stared at the strange man and said loudly.
"I am homo magii. I am Zatanna Zatara, daughter of Giovanni Zatara, the son of Zkauba Zatara. Does that name mean anything to you?"
The man paused, and nodded. "As I thought. I never thought I would ever see one of your kind again."
Flash thought the way he said 'your kind' was borderline insulting but Zatanna didn't react. The man continued.
"Mr. Carter would like to make your acquaintance. But first, we must close the portal, right away."
"Not until we get Superman and Batman back!" Flash looked back and forth between them.
"There's no time for that!" The old cyborg looked both angry and agitated. "We must close it now! If your comrades were foolish enough to go in there, then there is nothing to be done for them. The play must reach its conclusion, one way or the other."
"No," Zatanna stepped forward. "There is another way."
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Hal shouted.
Diana did not reply to him; she had put on her crested helmet, took her spear and shield from a white-faced Selene. Her own face was composed and set in grave determination. The Amazons around her silently, in awe, watched the age-old ritual of an warrior preparing herself for death in battle.
"You can't be thinking of going in there," Hal continued to protest. He stepped in front of her but Diana only looked at him once. He was suddenly reminded of the time when Trevor had been kidnapped by Graves - it was like that only ten times worse.
"You won't stop me, Hal," Diana said in a toneless voice, which frightened him for its lack of emotion. "I will join my husband in battle - and in death, if need be."
"I can't believe I'm hearing this," Hal got up in her face. "From you, of all people! Where is your hope? Or have you just given up too?"
Diana's eyes flashed, and Hal knew he'd gotten through to her, at least a little. He pressed her. "Flash and Cyborg will be back soon, I'm sure of it, if we can just wait-"
Abruptly a brilliant flash of light startled and blinded both of them. The portal erupted into wild, violent colors; Hal averted his eyes, crying out involuntarily; when he could see again, he saw that the tear in space/time had fully quadrupled in size. It had stopped pulsating and now hung there in the middle of the air glowing with an eerie yellow light. He looked up. So had the spheres in the sky stopped moving too, even they seemed to hover, waiting. For a single second an ominous pause descended upon the agora.
The shouts of the Amazons rang out. He was puzzled, until he saw what they were looking at. Something was there, in the portal.
Something was coming out.
"Batman? Superman?" Hal shouted hopefully.
"What is it?" Lois yelled. She had drawn her ebony blade in her hand, although she didn't think it would do much.
"I don't know!" Hall raised his clenched fist, ready to blast..something. His mind raced through what he could possibly create. This situation called for creativity, if any did.
What came out was something neither Hal nor Lois recognized.
It was Queen Hippolyta was the first to understand. Cassilda was now barely recognizable as human, only her beautiful face, which had once enthralled Hippolyta, and her long pale arms which once embraced her, were still the same. The rest of her was indescribable, and it was pushing through the portal. Her very being radiated the sickly yellow aura, as did her gown, her flesh.
As if hearing her thoughts Cassilda's face turned towards the Amazons, and she seemed to see Hippolyta. She thought she saw her lips move, but whatever she said, it was lost in the black hole of sound that surrounded the immediate vicinity portal.
"Cassilda," Hippolyta murmured. "So you've come back to have revenge on us all."
She wasn't alone.
"What is it?" Diana shouted. "What is that?"
Hal stared in horror at what he saw, or thought he saw - behind Cassilda, a great humanoid shape that had fastened itself onto the yellow woman like a great black...bat? Whatever it was, it was trying to pull Cassilda back into the portal but the unearthly woman was relentless in proceeding to the entrance of the portal, dragging the bat-like thing with her to the island itself.
He couldn't see Superman.
"My God, Batman!" Hal shouted. "Is that you?"
A reply seemed to be beamed directly into his mind.
I can't stop her...Superman is trapped here with me...you must...stop her before...
Hal wasn't sure if he had heard him, or if it was in his head, but he didn't need a confirmation. Hal shouted and raised his fist. A giant green palm burst forth from his ring, aimed at the creepy woman, but to his shock the construct evaporated, as ineffective as mist against her.
"Your powers won't work here, Hal, this is the most powerful magick I've ever seen," Diana hissed behind her helmet's cheekpieces. "You cannot stand against it."
"Magick, my ass!" Hal was now righteously pissed. "Let me try again-"
"Princess we must retreat from the agora!" Ismene screamed. "Look at the sky! The thing in the sky is descending upon us!"
Suddenly Hal was sent sprawling on his back in the dust. Furious, he was about to really curse Diana out, but then he saw that she wasn't the one who shoved him.
Queen Hippolyta stood above him. She had come between him and Diana; now she faced the portal, and the thing that was trying to emerge into the world. She held some kind of huge, golden battle-axe in her hand. For a second Hal thought she was going to attack him with it but she paid him no attention, her back to him. She spoke only to Diana.
"You cannot stand against it either, daughter, divine though you are. You will be destroyed by it just as a goat is cut down by a butcher. Cassilda wants but one thing of the Amazons."
"Mother, what are you doing?" Diana protested. "Are you mad?"
"Perhaps I am," Hippolyta laughed then; to Hal, still sprawled ground, he thought she sounded quite nutty herself. He had no clue what was happening. He looked up, saw that the spheres were indeed rising higher, reminding him of a wave before it crashes onto the shore.
"Oh, shit," he muttered. "Cyborg, Flash, hurry up."
"The prophecy was true - the gods have abandoned us and we pitiful humans must make our own way in the world. We Amazons...we made our own way with blood and slaughter, just as men did. Truly we were no better than them...and now retribution has come in the form of the demons of the past. It wants me," Hippolyta turned her helmed head to her daughter. "But it will not have you, Diana."
"Diana, we have to get out of here!" Hal warned; he shot a second construct out of his ring, a giant Y-shaped fork, into the sky but like Cassilda it had absolutely no impact on the spheres, passing through it like water. He couldn't understand it. "Let's go!"
"Wonder Woman! Green Lantern!" Lois' strong reporter's voice rang out. "Look!"
They saw where she was pointing. A lone woman, standing on the remains of a retaining wall of the Palace, her arms raised to the sky. Her dark head was thrown back, and her mouth was wide open, ball lightning crackling dramatically around her. She was shouting at the skies. He couldn't make out what she was saying but it sounded like absolute nonsense.
"Who is that?" Boudicca stared.
"Zatanna?" Hal yelled up to her. "What are you doing?"
She either didn't or couldn't hear him. "Ot eht etag, esolc eht etag, Ai! Ai!"
"Wonder Woman!" Hal shouted. "Are you seeing this?" But Diana wasn't paying attention to him either.
"Mother, this is madness!" Diana reached out and grabbed her mother's arm, holding it tightly. "You cannot fight her either!"
Hippolyta didn't pull away. Instead she reached out, pulling Diana's forehead to hers with both hands, and stared intensely into her daughter's face. Stunned, Diana didn't resist, looking into her mother's eyes.
"I shall fight. Consider it my repentence, perhaps my sacrifice will deflect the prophecy away from your son."
"What are you talking about?" Diana gasped. "What does the prophecy say about-"
"Live forever, my moon and stars," Hippolyta whispered. "May you - and your family - have the blessings of the Goddess, forever."
With a shock, Diana knew what she was going to do. She tried to hang onto her mother, but then the ground gave a great heave, and she fell away, losing her hold, then everything seemed to happen at once.
The ground started shaking, the pressure from the descending thing in the sky as it dived towards the portal; powerful winds buffeted those still in the agora. Hal realized the wind wasn't coming from the sky but out from the portal. Carcosa was emerging.
Cassilda stepped foot onto Themyscira.
"Hippolyta," it said. "I see you at last."
Zatanna shrieked even louder.
"AI! AI! HTOHTOS-GOY! ETAG ETH! OT!"
Hippolyta pulled free from her daughter, letting herself be drawn away, the winds tearing her away from her daughter's grasp, to go flying into the roaring vortex that had swallowed up whole the agora, and was beginning to swallow up the surrounding area.
"Come then, Cassilda!" Hippolyta shouted to the monstrous figure as she flew through the air to the thing in the vortex. "Taste my greeting!"
Hippolyta leapt at her with the pelekus raised high, and then the both of them were swallowed up by the swirling storm. In shock Diana realized that it would be the last sight of her mother. She leapt for her, but an oversized green hand pulled her back.
With a defiant roar, Hal pushed out the last full construct of his formidable will. This time he had a different strategy. The glowing emerald light propelled Hippolyta into Cassilda with additional force, as she brought the axe down towards here one-time sister.
"You are too late, Queen of the Amazons!" Cassilda roared in an inhuman voice. "You have lost everything!"
A different voice, a male voice, rang out. "Not everything!"
With the last strength remaining to him Clark struck Cassilda in the back, hard, driving her into the blow of Hippolyta's blade, splitting her head in two. Clark tore Bruce away from her body; it made a gruesome sound, like a leech being pulled off its host.
For a split-second, Clark's eyes met Hippolyta's as they passed by each other. He was too exhausted even to speak, even if there had been time. Her eyes only seemed to say to him:
my daughter..take ca...
Then she was gone, as she and Cassilda fell backwards down and into the black city. Clark felt his strength fail at the last; he only had the power to hold onto his son, and to Bruce, to prevent them from falling into the city after. He looked up, saw that the vortex was nearly on them. He almost thought he could see what was past the clouds...and faintly, in his mind, the suggestion of an intelligence reaching out to him...on the edge of his mind...
Then, something bright and green pulled him and Batman away from the edge. They flew through the air and landed next an equally stunned Hal Jordan in the dust.
"There you guys are," he grunted. "Where the hell have you two been? Never mind," Hal looked at the sky as the spheres shot down towards them. "I guess this is it."
Clark didn't hear him, he looked around desperately, then saw Diana, who was staring in disbelief and shock then she saw him, and what he held in his arms.
"CLARK!" she cried, and ran to him, throwing her sword point-first in the ground. Clark embraced her in his arms.
"Rood eht esolc!" Zatanna screamed, above the howling winds. "ROOD EHT ESOLC!"
The spheres collided with the portal to Carcosa; instantaneously the spheres in the sky suddenly glowed brightly, and exploded and vanished in a flash of light and an unnatural thrumming noise BOOMED out that could not be described as anything anyone had heard in their world, Earth or Themyscira. The portal shuddered, then slowly dissipated, and vanished. There was no sign of the portal, or of Cassilda, or Hippolyta.
The door had closed.
Zatanna collapsed to the ground, unconscious.
For a moment, there was almost silence in the agora, only punctuated by a faint, distant rumbling noise, like the aftermath of a thunderstorm. For a moment, Hal was completely disoriented. Then he saw Batman, lying half-conscious on the ground. He looked normal...well, as normal as Batman could be. Then he saw Clark and Diana, huddled together in each other's arms, the baby between them. The look on their faces...Hal felt as if he was intruding on something very private so he turned back to Batman
"Are you all right?" Hal asked.
"I...seem to be," Bruce said slowly. He was dizzy, and felt like he'd just woken up from a powerful sedative. "Is Superman-?"
"He's here, he's with Diana, they're alive" Hal said quickly. He looked around. No sign of the portal, or those weird bubbles...a ton of dust had seemed to be thrown up though. It was the only thing that suggested that something had even happened in the agora. "But that Amazon Queen, Diana's mother...she's gone."
"I know," Bruce said woodenly. "I saw what happened."
The Amazons, realizing what they had just witnessed, began a funereal wail of anguish and loss, which resounded to the sky. The sound galvanized Hal into action from his stupor.
Hal flew through the air to where she was lying on the ground, but to his relief, her eyes were opening. He took her in his arms carefully. She felt very soft, he thought.
"I'm-I'm okay," she replied shakily. "Is it, the door...nothing came through?"
"Just Batman, Superman, and the kid, all the right things," Hal replied.
"Yes, the door is closed," a deep voice boomed above them. "You and your friends did very well, considering."
Zatanna and Hal looked saw standing above her, his golden gears still whirring and clicking. Hal glared at him.
"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.
"It's a long story, Zatanna said.
"Where's Cyborg and Flash?"
Some distance away, Barry stumbled down towards the agora through the rubble of the Palace. He was helping Cyborg down, clearing a path as he did so, since his friend still seemed to be a little dazed.
"How are you doing, Victor?" Barry asked. "What did you make of that light show?"
"I...I don't know," Cyborg sounded more like himself, there was a metallic note of confusion in his voice. "I couldn't really make it out."
"Never mind, I thinking it's all over - we'll be out of here soon, get you looked at. I hope everyone else is okay," Flash said. "Hey! What's that?"
Cyborg tried to clear his optic sensors. "I see someone...someone's down there. Someone alive."
Flash saw a person collapsed into a crevasse between two rocks. He raced down there, and pushed them out of the way. To his surprise, he saw a middle-aged man, covered in dust, dressed in an old-fashioned suit, half-lying dazed on the ground. He didn't think there was any other man here. Who was this guy?
He reached out his red-gloved hand. The man looked at him curiously and grasped his as he helped him up. He was surprisingly strong, Flash thought.
"Where did you come from? Are you okay?"
"I...yes, I think so," Even more surprisingly, he spoke with a cultured, New England accent. His voice sounded a bit familiar. "Thank you for your concern. I trust everything is settled down now?" He casually brushed the dust from his coat.
"Um, yes," Flash was thinking this was becoming as strange was what he'd just seen. "Who are you?"
The man straightened, and looked him in the eyes. There was something familiar about them too, and he suddenly remembered where'd he'd seen that look before.
"My name is Randolph Carter. And yours?"
Batman staggered wearily to his feet. He quickly checked himself to see if he was still...the same. Whatever had happened to him in Carcosa...it was no longer affecting him, as far as he could tell. He wasn't quite sure what had even happened. But he would make certain later. For now...
He tested his legs, and when he realized he could walk without difficulty, he made to talk to Superman and Wonder Woman, still kneeling on the ground and clutching each other. He saw that Diana was holding her son tightly to her breast. He regretted to interrupt them, but they weren't out of this yet.
"Diana," Bruce said in his harsh rasp. "I'm sorry for your loss," he glanced over his shoulder. "But we're not out of here yet."
Diana lifted her head, and Bruce saw the grief and anguish in her face, mixed with relief at finding her son and husband still alive. But she too had heard the Amazons bewailing their Queen.
Laodice and Eurydike also came up, their faces drawn and pale. They hesitated, then bowed deeply to Diana.
"Queen Hippolyta is gone," Laodice said. "You are the Queen now, Diana."
Diana stared at them, stunned. Some of the other Amazons had left off their wailing, and were looking at her. It was dawning on them also, Bruce thought. He wasn't sure what would happen next, and from Clark's expression, knew that he thought the same.
"No, no," Diana murmured. "My mother...my mother is..."
"Princess," Laodice was the first to speak. Despite her great grief, her voice was steady. "Hippolyta has departed for Elysium. You indeed are Queen now."
Diana glanced at Clark. He looked just as stricken as her, she supposed it was a mirror of her own face. She glanced down at her son at her breast.
"I'm sorry," Clark pleaded. "I couldn't save her."
"I know," Diana whispered. "It was...her choice."
Diana slowly stood up, gently and reluctantly handing her son to Clark, although her heart felt as heavy as the densest stone. More than anything she wanted to be alone with her husband and child, but Batman was right...they were not safe yet.
The Alarians were still here.
"I grieve with you, Diana," Boudicaa came up to her, bowed her head. "Hippolyta was my friend. You will rival her glory."
It was an old Amazon phrase and she understood it. Diana grasped her hand. "I know what I must do."
The other Amazons who heard her raised their swords to the sky. "Long live Queen Diana!"
The cry was taken up by the rest. "Queen Diana! Queen Diana!"
Their cries echoed across the ruins of the city, and did not go unheard by those that were not of Themyscira.
Pickman raised his muzzle, sniffing the air. His lieutenants clustered around him, nervous and twitchy.
"Isss..is Carter dead?" one of them asked.
"No...of course he isn't," Pickman snapped. "The play is not yet over. It is time for the final act."
Batman bent down next to Superman, who sat on the ground with his son in his arms. "Are you all right, Kal?"
"I should be asking that of you," Clark didn't look up.
"I'm fine," Bruce said shortly. "But we're not out of it yet."
Batman looked up at the sky - there was nothing there, but it was still overcast. Not enough sun.
As if reading his mind, Clark said. "I'm not at 100%...but I'm not quite dead yet."
"I hope it'll be enough. My cousin is still out there."
Clark looked at his wife. She looked pale, exhausted, barely acknowledging the acclamations of the Amazons and the Getai. She was Queen now...what would that mean for them?
"Diana!" Selene's voice cut through the other Amazons' acclamations. She pointed above them. "Look."
Silence descended upon the agora as Diana and the others saw.
The black-uniformed Alarians had emerged from wherever place they had been hiding. They were ringing the agora, staring down at them. They held their weapons aimed down at them. Their black-and-gold pennants with the strange curved star in the center flapped at intervals among them. They waited, silently.
"Were these the guys you were fighting?" Hal saw them too. Here maybe was someone they could fight!
Diana nodded. "The men of Alar."
"We're surrounded, Princess...I mean, Queen Diana," Penelope whispered. "Look behind us!"
They heard it before they saw them. A flapping of wings and the glibbering of not-quite-human voices.
"The night-gaunts and the ghouls are behind us," Ismene said. "Many of them."
"One last battle then," Laodice growled. "Blood for Hippolyta's ghost! Our Queen, lead us!"
Batman strode up to the Amazons, who looked at him quite unfriendly.
"If they wanted to fight you, they would have attacked by now."
"Haven't you done enough, man?" Ismene said bitterly. "Let us alone!"
"Look at them!" Batman shouted. "You can end this without more bloodshed."
"Who says we want to?" Laodice looked as if she might run Bruce through with her own sword. "Revenge for the sisters we've lost to those bastards!"
"Hasn't there been enough death and destruction?" Batman insisted. "Enough madness? Stop this!"
"Not until they are off our island," the Amazon councilwoman growled. "Tell him, Diana!"
Diana said nothing for a long moment. Puzzled, the Amazons stared at her.
Clark watched his wife with quiet desperation. He wondered how much she could bear, and it frustrated him that he could not help her, not this way.
"I will go talk to them." Diana finally announced. She looked at the Alarians carefully, but they hadn't moved their positions.
"My Queen, you cannot, what if they take you again?" Eurydike pleaded.
"They won't. I will make them leave."
"Wait!" Hal said excitedly. "It's Cyborg and Flash! I see them!"
Batman turned and looked to see where Hal was waving. He cursed inwardly.
"Damn it, Barry," he muttered to himself. "What are you doing?"
Barry Allen stared at the middle-aged man, seeing him a bit differently now. Now he could see the family resemblance, especially in the eyes. But he didn't look anywhere near as intimidating as Bats.
"Yes, I am a kind of cousin. He's quite an interesting man, Bruce is, isn't he? Such issues! I would like to help him with them. Hopefully, the Amazons will not kill him. Have you met them? They're quite a violent bunch, aren't they?"
"What are you going to do?" Zatanna blurted out. "They're no threat to you anymore."
Carter looked at her, and Flash thought he saw her tremble, but only very slightly.
"Your name is Zatara, isn't it? I knew your grandfather. A learned man, if not a wise one. I hope you don't take after him."
"I know what you did today," Zatanna said in a low voice. "I know what my grandfather tried to do, what you finished for him. I know who you are."
Carter nodded gravely.
"So do I, young lady."
The Flash saw the Amazon army forming into defensive lines. "That doesn't look good," he said. He turned to the man beside him. "What are you going to do?" he asked apprehensively.
Randolph Carter thought for a moment. "I'm going to talk to Diana."
"Someone's coming!" one of the Amazons shouted. "It's their King!"
Bruce whirled around. His eyes caught Clark, who was standing now, but still looked not as 100% as he'd claimed, but Bruce knew that he would die rather than lose the child again.
"Is he going to try to take the baby?" Clark asked him. "If he tries...I think I would kill him."
"No, I don't think it will come to that," Bruce looked at Diana. "If Diana and her Amazons don't start something."
"They didn't start it," Clark growled. "The Alarians attacked her people."
"Clark, listen," Batman hissed. "Steve Trevor precipitated this whole thing, he began to open the gate to let...something in, that much I know! You and I knew Trevor, do you think that sounds like something he would do, even if he knew how?"
Clark stared at him. "What do you mean?"
"Someone else is behind this, whatever Trevor did, someone else motivated him to do this. We have to find out who that is...but first we'd better get out of here alive."
"What about your 'cousin?'" Clark stared warily at the small figure coming down the trail Flash was instantly clearing for him. "What if it was him."
"No, I don't think so."
Randolph Carter walked towards Diana and the Amazons, Cyborg, Flash, and Zatanna with him.
Hal joined Bruce and Clark. "What do you think? Should I give them a shot from the ring?"
"No, damnit! Don't do anything at all, Lantern! Do you understand me?"
Hal grunted and folded his arms. Bruce walked quickly over to Diana, ignoring the glares of her sisters.
"What are you going to do?"
Diana's face was still cold. "Stand aside, Batman. I have this."
She walked away from him before Bruce could say anything else, followed by four of the Amazons. Annoyed, Bruce followed. Clark watched him.
Victor estimated that his systems were nearing optimum performance, but he still turned to Barry. "Is that Diana?"
"Yes," Barry answered. "And she looks plenty pissed."
Ismene lifted her spear as Carter and the others came closer.
"No further, Ilek-Vad!"
Carter lifted his palms. "I only want to parley."
Selene lifted her spear too. "As our Queen once did, you are not to be trusted!"
"Where is Hippolyta?" Carter asked. "She is no longer with you?"
"My mother sacrificed herself so that she could drive the demon Cassilda back into the depths of Hades," Diana replied. "That must gladden your heart, Alarian."
"On the contrary, I am sorry for your loss," Carter nodded. "I know you don't believe. But believe me when I say that I have no designs on your island or your people."
"Why should I?" Diana spat. "When you attacked us, killed scores of our sisters, and brought this evil to us?"
"This evil was started by your people long ago," Carter said. "But that is over for now. I propose a truce...now that Hippolyta is gone," Carter looked at Wonder Woman. "There is something you must know..."
"We will never surrender!" Selene snarled. "Every woman here will die fighting rather than be dragged off to be your slaves!"
"No I don't think that is necessary," Carter said. "I only propose that I will take my army and leave your island. As long as you do not leave your island, then there is peace."
Diana eyed Carter carefully. If only she had her rope, she could know for certain, but it was buried somewhere in the rubble of the Palace.
"You do not dictate terms to me, man. You and your army will leave my island at once," she retorted in a cold voice. "And you will never come back."
"I will agree, if your sisters do not attempt any violence on the Dreamlands, in any city under my protection in particular, then I will not take any action against them," Carter replied. "If they wish to leave their island and visit peacefully, then they must comport themselves in an acceptable and peaceful manner. I believe that's not too much to ask."
"What guarantee do I have that you will not return to devastate our island again?"
"I have something for you," Carter reached inside his dusty overcoat, and Diana braced herself. But what he removed surprised her.
It was the Rope of Hestia. He held the golden coils loosely in his hand and held it out to her. Diana stared at it, and him, expecting some sort of trick, but there was nothing.
"I see you recognize this," Carter said calmly. "This is yours. So, then, you know I tell the truth: I will not attack the Amazons again unless they attack Alar, or any realm of the Dreamlands. That is all."
Diana carefully reached out and touched her familiar lasso. As she did so, a healing warmth spread throughout her, which she welcomed with relief. Then she realized, Carter was still holding onto the other end of the lasso. Before he let go, something came to her.
"There is more, what is it you are not telling me, Ilek-Vad?" Diana demanded.
"Yes, there's one more thing. Too much has happened between his world," Carter glanced towards Batman. "Between Themyscira and the Dreamlands. The boundaries have become diffused. So: I will, I must, close them, forever. There will be no more gateway between Themyscira and 'Man's World' as you call it. Do you understand what I mean?"
Diana and the Amazons stared at the Alarian. "You cannot!" Ismene blurted.
"I control the gate, I am the gate," Carter said dispassionately. "But it's really not my own choice. If the gate is not closed, then much worse could happen than what we just witnessed. No, Themyscira must be closed off from the rest of Earth. It's for the greater good, if you wish to think it so."
Carter glanced at Bruce. "Would you not agree, cousin? No more Amazons raids on ships, no more disappearances at sea."
Bruce said nothing. Carter looked back at Diana. "The gate will be closed in one hour. If you wish to leave with your 'Justice League' friends, you have that long to decide."
"You lie!" Selene grated. "You dog-"
"He's not lying," Diana said numbly. "Cyborg?"
"He's telling the truth. He...I can't explain, his Vizier downloaded information into my system somehow, but he's right. It's like a another dimension has swallowed up this one. We won't be able to get out by the time it closes."
Diana suddenly realized the choice before her, and she staggered back. Alarmed, Clark flew to her, supporting her. Angrily Bruce pushed past the startled Cyborg and Flash and grabbed his cousin by the arm.
"Do you understand what you're doing?" he hissed.
"You needn't worry, Bruce, they are effectively finished as power. They won't trouble your world again. Themyscira belongs in my dimension now," Carter said reassuringly. "But as for that flying creature…"
"His name is Kal-el of Krypton, he's my friend and if you call him thing or creature again then this conversation ends here."
"Very well. Yet, surely, you must have considered the…danger that, ah, your friend represents. Perhaps he should be left here?"
"I know who he is," Bruce replied shortly. "I'm not afraid of him. But it seems like you got what you wanted." Batman accused.
"Was this not your intention also, Bruce? To stop the Amazon danger to your world?"
"Not like this! And what of your intention?"
"My only intention was to prevent the arrival of Carcosa, which was started in your world."
"I know, I'm going to find out who did it."
"There's another option."
"Stay here," Carter offered. "Here in the Dreamlands."
Bruce stared at him. Carter continued.
"Surely, you must know that you and your, ah, friends, will never be tolerated for long, not in your world. Not that they will ever appreciate what you do for them. You are just wasting your considerable talents on the rabble, including your...alien friend especially. They will always fear him, I'm sure you know that. That is the strongest and most powerful emotion of mankind. It rules everything."
"No," Bruce said thickly. "I don't believe that. I refuse to."
"One day, they will find a way to kill him. Once they find that way, they will try. If you choose to protect him, they will kill you too, and your Amazon, if she chooses to not stay here. You see, the people in power were blind and stupid when I left, and from what I know of since then," Carter nodded towards Titus, who had joined them. "They have only gotten worse. No, remain here with us. Your talents as a leader will be respected and valued...I know just the place for you, a little kingdom, Sona-Nyl. You would find it more attractive than Gotham City."
"No," Batman said firmly. "I will never abandon the people of Earth like you did. I am not a coward."
Carter didn't appear to take offense at Bruce's slur. He seemed to look more than ever like a schoolteacher trying to teach a recalcitrant pupil a difficult fact, he thought.
Diana pulled away from Clark and approached Carter, who stood calmly, his hands at his side. Batman stepped away.
"You've gotten what you wanted, haven't you?" Diana said in a voice only the King could hear. "You have destroyed the Amazons."
Carter shook his head firmly. "No. You did that yourselves. You should have passed on into history 3,000 years ago. This was the only outcome."
"There's only one outcome for this moment, too."
Carter's eyes widened. "What-"
He didn't get to finish his sentence. Diana swung a classic roundhouse punch to Carter's face, her fist making a solid and audible contact. He collapsed solidly onto the ground, his hand flying up to his shattered nose. She stepped over him, stared down fiercely at the prostrate man ignoring a rather unsurprised Batman, as well as the cheers of the Amazons.
"If ever I see you in Man's World, your head will decorate my spear and no one, no one will stop me," Diana threatened in a voice that would make Hades freeze. It was uncertain if Carter heard or understood her, as he was sprawled on the ground, his hand up his gushing nose, while a couple of Alarian aides rushed to help him, but Diana didn't wait for a reply. She turned on her heel and strode past Titus and the other guards, who didn't move to stop her.
Diana joined the crowd of Amazons, who stared at her uncomprehendingly, their voices dying away.
"I will leave now," she said. Her voice was low and composed.
"Queen Diana-" Ismene began but she shook her head.
"No. I have made up my mind. I will return to Man's World."
"You would abandon your sisters at the hour of their greatest need?" Laodice was stunned. "Abandon your duties, your queenship? For a man?"
Diana raised dark eyes to the Amazon, and they did not waver. "For my family."
"Your family is here-!"
Boudicaa placed an arm on Ismene's shoulders. "Whist, now. She has made her choice."
"Boudicaa, then you must assume leadership, if our so-called Queen chooses to abandon us!" Laodice insisted but her voice was more astonishment than anger.
"No," Boudicaa said firmly, staring at the angry Amazon. "I made a promise to my people, and to Hippolyta, centuries ago, that I would never take up another crown. I will not break it today. The Amazons must govern themselves from now on."
Diana rose into the air so all the Amazons and Getai could see her. She took off her helmet, letting her black hair flow free. Lois would remember this moment and try to put it in her writings later, but she would not be able to do it justice, she would later believe.
"Amazons! I address you for the last time as Queen! My mother led you for over 3,000 years. For 3,000 years we preserved our ways by raiding and isolation. Now all that is ended. Man's World will be forever cut off from us. You must find a better path. Preserve the Amazon ways, forever. That is my last royal order to you."
Diana floated back down to the ground again and faced Selene, who stood as stunned and bewildered as the rest.
"Remove my Queenship, Selene."
"No, my Queen," Selene said in a low, choked, voice, tears running down her weathered face. "I cannot do it."
"You must," Diana said unwaveringly. "This is my Royal Command to you. My last order," she whispered. "Do it before I falter."
She bowed her head.
Selene steeled herself. She raised her sword high. The Amazons watched with bated breath.
"Diana: By Hera, Queen of Heaven, by Black Persephone, by Goddess Athena, and by the Triple Goddess of the Badb, I strip you of your title, and the diadem. You are no longer Queen of Themyscira. You are exiled from this land, never to return. The Sisterhood between us...is broken. Depart forever from this land."
Diana stood. Selene dropped her sword and embraced Diana tightly.
"We will never forget you, sister. Fare you well in the belly of the beast."
Then she pushed her away.
Lois knew, that this practice among the Amazons would include the warriors shouting their support of the banishment, and even violence, but none of the Amazons moved, or spoke. Most looked stunned, grieved, only a few looked angry but even those mostly showed the anger of confusion. Diana herself said nothing, her face a mask of stoicism. She stood stock still, watching the Amazons slowly leave. Stiffly, slowly, she turned, and walked away from the Amazons, who said nothing at all to her. It was their custom. But their faces said enough.
Ismene, Penelope, Laodice, Eurydike, and the others turned and left the agora. They did not look back, averting their eyes. Soon only Lois stood there, unhappy and wondering what to do.
Diana did not look back. She did not look at anyone, except her husband and the child in his arms. She stopped in front of him, and he looked down at her, giving her time.
"Let us go," she whispered so that only he could hear. She took a deep breath, then looked at him in his eyes: "Let's go home."
"Let's go too," Bruce said quietly. "Hal?"
Green Lantern nodded, unsure what else to say. He created a transport plane before them.
"We must get all the female visitors to Themyscira off," Superman said. "Tell Lois, I'll rescue 'Clark Kent' if she asks."
Hal nodded. "We'll see you in the Hall of Justice." It was partly a question.
Clark nodded. "You will. We're going home," he held Diana and his child in his arms. "All of us."
The sleek black Alarian corsairs sailed back to their home port over a smooth sea, undisturbed. Vizier Titus strode across the deck, to join Carter where he was standing at the prow, the ghoul Pickman hunched next to him. Titus thought Carter would have looked quite the returning conqueror, only the look was spoiled by the sticking plaster across the bridge of his nose. Carter turned to look at him as he approached.
"So," Carter said, in a slightly nasally tone. "Quite a success, I would say! The Amazons will no longer be a problem."
"That was not why you came here," Titus said in a mildly remonstrative tone. "About the Amazons."
"Well...perhaps not the primary reason, but still, a positive result nevertheless."
"And if they come to the Dreamlands?"
"If they do wish to come to any of the Dreamlands, they'll have to behave themselves then. No one will put up with that business. But I doubt they will. They'd rather die out as a people than lose their violent uniqueness. Ennui will conquer them eventually. That was always the true power of the Yellow King, you know," Carter added in a confidential aside. "But of course I will honor the agreement I made with their ex-queen. I am a gentleman, after all."
"Perhaps Nais may have some ideas," Titus suggested.
Carter's face softened. "Oh...yes. I forgot. I should pay a visit to Ulthar sometime soon, it's been such a while since I've been there. In any case, that is a good example of how an Amazon woman may behave, Burgomaster Noth is a most congenial man."
I wonder, Titus thought. He had been there too, and he knew who was the real ruler of Ulthar, and it wasn't Noth.
"I'm not concerned about the Amazons," Titus said. "But about that alien being..."
"Oh, yes, Bruce's friend. I saw into his mind, you know, his memories. He's quite harmless."
"Harmless?" Pickman looked round in indignation. "That bastard hit me! Look at what he did to me!" He opened his jaws, revealing a missing eyetooth, and a gaping cavity where it had been. The smell from his muzzle was atrocious as usual.
Carter winked at him. "Mostly harmless!"
Pickman turned back around and continued to grumble, but Titus wasn't convinced.
"Harmless he may be...to us," Titus pointed out. "But to the people of Earth, no, he could be quite dangerous. Those powers were like nothing I've seen before."
"Yes, he does have some remarkable abilities. Though I must say, from what I learned, he seems an amiable enough, ah, person," Carter described what he saw to Titus in his mind-exchange. "I daresay he doesn't even know half his power, even now, or what he might be truly capable of."
"Even if he doesn't, no doubt some do," Titus stared hard at Carter. "The people of Earth will have noticed by now, or suspect. That could cause...problems. I heard you talking to Wayne, but he didn't understand you."
"No, I'm afraid he didn't," Carter said after a long moment. "No matter. Bruce is an intelligent young man. He will learn, eventually, how the universe really is."
"Oh, I think he already knows."
Titus shook his head, and he pulled at his beard, which Carter recognized as a sign his friend was agitated. "What is it?"
"It's difficult to accept...all those years I spent with the ERG to try to develop a methodology to prevent alien contact and invasion, and this is what happens! It's as if it was all for nothing."
"So, I see you haven't forgotten your old life, my friend," Carter chuckled. "But the past is best left where it belongs...in the past. If only the Amazons had remembered that. Still, Bruce can manage, I'm sure. He's a talented and brave young chap as well."
"What, with that absurd outfit he wears?" Pickman glibbered again. "Running around dressed like that! No, I'm afraid your cousin's quite mad, I'm sorry to say. But that flying creature...that is really too much!" Pickman stalked off back belowdecks, barking at some other lounging ghouls to get out of his way.
"Yes, well..." Carter said thoughtfully after he'd left. "In any matter, I believe Bruce will know what to do, should it come to that, if his alien friend turns, as you think he will."
"If it does..." Titus paused and shook his head. "Well, perhaps you're right after all, Randolph. It's all in the past. The Earth will have to look after itself, I'm afraid."
Carter nodded. "That's as it's always been, and always shall be. Yet," Carter placed his hands on the railing and stared deeply into the vast ocean. "I don't believe we have seen the last of Mr. Wayne."
Far away from Paradise Island, in Another World...
Together, Clark and Diana flew through the dusk. Further away, a green plane flew towards North America. The baby Jon was secured to Diana's chest by tightened straps of cloth, but nevertheless she kept both hands tightly yet gently pressing the warm bundle to her. Clark kept her in his peripheral vision, waiting for the moment he knew was to come. It wasn't long; she faltered, her head drooping. Clark caught her up in his arms, and holding both woman and child in his arms, flew them both home, their home, to the Fortress.
[A/N: The Super Family is FINALLY going home, I'm happy to report. It could have only ended that way for Hippolyta, maybe she's done just a little bit of self-redemption by closing the gate. The Amazons will have to decide on their own destiny, too, but they will do it without their Princess.
Well, that's the final real chapter of this fix, but there's still the epilogue to come. Some things still have to be wrapped up, and there may be yet a few surprises. Lois will be there, and we'll see how Diana copes with the loss of her mother and banishment, and how she will look to the future without her sisters. Randolph Carter will have a little more to say to Bruce, too. And Lois. Plus maybe a hint of the sequel to come! Hopefully will have this done before end of May! Thanks for putting up with this epic (length that is) fic, and please stay tuned until the end!