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GREECE 2814 B.C.
There was the chaos of combat, screams and smoke and the ringing crash of metal against metal. The battle had long since spilled from the city where the Amazons had once been slaves. Hippolyta fought fiercely alongside her sisters, their scattered allies rallying to their cause, but the combat was brutal, the soldiers they faced formidable. Savages, man and beast, minotaur, chimera, minor gods and demons... all had come to Ares's call and fought viciously against the Amazonian uprising.
Hippolyta caught brief glimpses of the fight, death and grace in equal measure, images there and gone in a blink as she, too, was caught in the fury, fighting for their freedom and her own life. A bellowing minotaur tore a sister from her horse; a bearded man fell to his knees, clutching the spear that impaled him; a woman screamed in bloodlust, hacking at a chimera's reptilian tail. The skies, too, rained blood, as winged horses and their riders swept and dodged, fighting Eris, the winged Goddess of Discord, and the horde of monsters who fought alongside her. But it was her brother Ares who had brought this misery upon the Amazons.
Hippolyta buried her sword in a snarling man's chest, then whipped it out again to slash another attacker's throat. To finally unleash her anger at Ares was exhilarating; in battle, her spirit soared, her reflexes danced...but she also recalled the words of Athena, who had warned her to be wary of revenge. Were it otherwise, she half-believed she could take on the army single-handedly, her bitter rage an eternal wellspring of strength. But as queen to the Amazons, she was responsible for her sisters. As well as they fought, too many had already died.
Less than fifty paces from her own position, Hippolyta saw a dozen of her sisters engaged with Deimos, one of Ares's terrible sons, who had been conceived with Aphrodite. He was a towering figure with a beard of live, hissing snakes. His powerful sword arm spun like a windmill with a vicious blade at one end. Bellowing, Deimos scooped up one of the Amazons, snapping her neck with one flex of his giant fist. He threw the corpse over his shoulder and it hit a passing rider, the throw hard enough that the horse rolled over the sister riding it. Even over the dull, ongoing roar of battle, Hippolyta could hear the crunch of bone; both sisters were dead. The horse, panicked, struggled to rise in a mist of sun-baked dust.
Hippolyta started for the horse. Another of Ares's soldiers leapt in her way, a massive, scarred battle-axe clenched in his meaty fists. He swung back, hefting the bloody axe, swinging it up and over. She stepped in to meet him, swinging her sword down and across. The soldier took the hit just beneath his chest plate, grunting in what seemed like surprise as his belly opened beneath the hammered blade. Blood and black offal spilled from the wound. He fell to his knees and she swept past him, taking the struggling horse's reins in one hand. She sacrificed a few precious seconds to calm the animal before mounting, determined now to put a stop to this insanity. She would find Ares, and kill him.
No easy task, she thought, but immediately negated that statement. He was the God of War, true, but her rage would find its way.
She rode across the battlefield seeking the object of her fury, her sword drawn. Her mount forged a path between the locked armies of Amazon and oppressor. The bodies of the dead flew beneath her horse's galloping hooves, their leather armor slick with blood.
Ahead, she saw a man pull his sword from a woman's crumpling form, saw him step out to meet her as she rode. His attention was fixed on her helmet, a feral grin crossed his blood-spattered face as he realized the Amazon queen was within his reach, and Hippolyta felt a renewed flush of righteous anger at these men who had murdered and enslaved them, had tricked her into sacrificing her trust, and more, anger at this man, smiling at the thought of her demise. She raised her sword, her rage spilling out in a wordless cry, and struck him down. She did not look back to make sure he was dead.
Hippolyta searched the field for where the fighting was most violent. Just north of her position there was a rise in the land with a few small stands of scrubby trees near the top. The viciousness of the combat there drew her onward, men shrieking in sadistic wrath as they beat their shields and brandished their spears. She urged her horse north, sure she would find her enemy there.
My enemy. Ares. How she hated him. For a brief time, she had thought better of him, had even thought him capable of contrition, but no more. She would kill him, or die in the attempt. He had become her captor and keeper, had done to her the most unspeakable wrong that a man could do to a woman. Ares was an entity, not a man, even when he clothed himself in mortal form, but Hippolyta would see an end to him at any cost. His bird was the vulture; his animal, the dog; and his name was a black pulse in her mind, his very existence the reason for the butchery that swept past on either side.
Even as she thought this she saw him coming to the crest of the hill on his war horse, looking out over the slaughter he had created when he sought to contain the Amazons for his own prize. There was a wide smile on his darkly handsome face, and his sword was sheathed in blood. Hippolyta gripped her own sword ever tighter, the hilt sweaty in her clenched hand, and rode to meet him.
As she neared, he laughed aloud, his eyes shining with sadistic pleasure. He called down to her, his voice deep and resonant, a god's voice.
"You seem as eager to meet me on the battlefield as you once were in the bedroom, Hippolyta."
That he would taunt her about his treachery caused her nearly to lose control of her senses, to blindly charge him with her rage as her only guide, but, surely, that was his purpose. She kept her wits.
"For your sake, Ares, I hope you prove less impotent as a warrior," she said evenly, and his grin fell away. He raised his sword and she charged.
Their blades came together, hard enough that Hippolyta felt her entire body vibrate with the blow, but she did not give way.
"You need not worry for me," he sneered, reining back to seek another strike, gesturing at the bloody struggle all around them. "This carnage feeds my soul. Every arrow shot and life wasted strengthens me, so that not even a woman scorned will save man from my wrath."
"You know their fate concerns me not," she said. "You murdered the last men I will ever care for. They will be avenged, when your head decorates my palace gates."
The look of contempt he gave her was matched by the fury of his next blow, and the next, and the next. Hippolyta's shield absorbed the worst of the assault, but she had to struggle to hold her ground.
Ares's voice was a roar, as relentless as his heavy sword, striking at her, battering her down. "You may be queen of the Amazons "
He struck again, and she felt his power, like a wave of heat and raw energy, and understood that she might very well be outmatched.
" but I am the God of War!"
Artemis of the Bana-Migdhall tribe prayed for rain as the heat of the battle rose around her in blood-stinking gusts, but her prayers were not answered. She prayed for victory, knowing that it was only herself and her sisters on which she could rely for a favorable answer. She prayed for strength, hoping, at least, that this prayer would be affirmed but if not, she would draw on her own reserves anyway, without the assistance of the gods. All of the Amazons had prayed when under Ares's control, and so few of those prayers had been acknowledged; only Hippolyta's pleas to Athena and Hera to grant the Amazons the means to escape after decades in captivity were finally realized. Artemis had developed a much firmer belief in the power of her sword and in her own skills than in the willingness of the gods to deign to assist the Amazon sisters in their trials. She worshipped them for having created her, but she knew better than to rely on them in time of need.
She drew strength from the combat, her consciousness retreating into the numb single-mindedness necessary in order to fight and win. She had ceased to hear the repeated crash of sword on shield. She had ceased to be aware of the blooming ache between her shoulder blades. Her armor was heavy, but she could scarcely feel its weight upon her shoulders. She was only half conscious of the screams and groans of the monsters and young warriors, the snapping of their bones and the pounding of their falling bodies as they hit the solid ground. She ceased to be aware of her own voice crying out in victory each time another adversary was slain by her own weapon. But she was very aware of her nearby sister Amazons, and where each was situated on this portion of the battlefield. She was aware of her own heartbeat, and how it seemed to throb in tandem with every thrust of her sword, its steady murmur insisting that she not hesitate for even one beat.
Persephone, poised and lethal, swung her weapons with both hands, her mace and dagger slamming into one combatant and then another, ready to turn and strike at one more as he came up behind her. Artemis's sword caught the warrior's blow before Persephone could.
"You are most greedy on the battlefield, Artemis," the beautiful Persephone remarked, her breast heaving with the effort of combat under her battle dress. Artemis yanked her sword free of the man's belly, his glistening entrails slopping down his legs as he collapsed.
Artemis grinned at her sister Amazon, almost relishing the ache in her muscles as she heaved the sword again. "My sword is thirsty," she told Persephone, losing no time between strokes, "I intend she gets her fill." Another clash as the flat of her weapon hit armor, but a second well-placed thrust and this man, too, fell at her feet, strangling on his own blood as it spurted from his mouth and throat. She howled in satisfaction, the battle quickly thinning all around her as each enemy warrior was dashed aside. The two Amazons continued to fight, side by side, killing man and monster alike with equal fervor.
They were soon forced apart as an onslaught of battle-ready men seemed to appear from nowhere, replenishing the legions that had already been slaughtered. Artemis raced toward a jutting plateau of rock beneath which the battle raged on at its thickest, an undulating sea of carnage moving below like a many-armed beast wielding a hundred clashing swords. She aimed for the tallest figure, a massive, horned Cyclops, and leaped toward him, landing expertly with her legs encircling his leathery neck. Before the monster could shake her off, her sword plunged deep into his skull, crushing through bone and tissue. She twisted and pried the blade upward, scrambling whatever might stand in for his brain. The giant screamed only briefly before his legs abruptly gave way beneath him, and he thundered to the ground in a massive heap of dead flesh. She sprang from his corpse in satisfaction, searching greedily for a new victim.
She did not have to look far, for a trio of combatants was coming her way. She killed one man, then another, and then her sword found an enormous minotaur to contend with. Not the true Minotaur, for only the fabled monster from Minos could bear claim to that title; this was but one of Ares's many grotesques who had joined the God of War in his attempt to re-capture Hippolyta and her Amazon warriors.
Artemis's blade ran through the body of the monster as easily as it would have a man's. She whirled, and with another fluid strike, she managed to sever another oncoming attacker's legs almost completely from his body. The fountain of blood that spurted from his mortal wounds pleased her immensely, fueled her on to the next kill, which came in the form of a man this time, an oaf with a stupid, ugly expression, with his spear headed right for Artemis's throat. She blocked him with her sword, using every reserve of her strength to push him away. With a savage, downward strike, his body was cleaved in two, the shine of his split ribs glowing white for a half-second before the cavity of his mutilated body was filled with blood. Artemis relieved him of his spear, deciding the weapon was to her liking, and paused to survey the progress of the battle.
The mob that had once surrounded Artemis in battle lay dead and dying; twitching, visceral lumps on the blood-soaked ground. She began to move back toward the thick of the fighting some meters away, but in her peripheral vision, she saw something that made her pause. Alexa, her sister by parentage, as well as tribe, was struggling in single combat with a wounded monster. It was one of the bull-headed creatures that resembled the fearsome beast of Minos. Any other Amazon would have made short work of this one; he was fighting with a significant injury across one side of his chest.
Alexa fumbled clumsily with a short sword, wielding it as if it were too big for her. She was mostly hiding behind her shield on unsteady legs, looking this way and that, her pretty eyes tight with fear, her nose twitching like that of a frightened field mouse. The monster's blows rained down on her shield again and again, but she scarcely fought back, seeming more to want to run away from the threat than to hone in on the kill.
Two sisters could not be less alike. Artemis had long condemned Alexa for wasting time with books instead of sword or spear, for choosing to read when she should have been sparring, for studying the words of philosophers, poets, and writers instead of the tutelage and techniques of warriors and soldiers. Now Artemis's warnings and admonitions were proving true; on the battlefield, Alexa was useless. "No wonder I find myself doing the killing for two people," Artemis muttered.
The bull-man roared and Alexa stumbled, losing her helm in the process. She rose to her feet, taking advantage of the massive cloud of dust that had been kicked up from a blow of the creature's axe, and began to run for a nearby ridge, taking refuge behind a fallen chariot. Artemis surveyed her surroundings to ensure there were no enemies near, and hurried to Alexa, as the monster now nearly upon her sister. As Artemis drew nearer, she could hear her sister's frightened voice drifting from behind the chariot, chanting as if to calm herself from the mayhem:
"As a rock on the seashore he standeth firm
And the dashing of the waves disturbeth him not..."
Artemis leapt up behind the fearsome monster. He snorted and tossed his great, horned head from side to side, his broad, sinewy shoulders stretched taut from the effort of lifting his axe. He prepared to bring the heavy weapon down upon Alexa's huddled form. Artemis lunged at him with her sword, and the strike sliced him sideways through his already bleeding back and chest. He protested, but only as a man who had been bitten by a mere insect. He was distracted enough to drop his axe, and Artemis leapt forward to pull her sword free. She cut him again and again while he struggled to retrieve his weapon, until finally the gristly muscles in his body began to go limp, and he fell.
Alexa was still mumbling to herself, scarcely aware of what had just transpired.
"In the instant of danger the courage of his heart sustaineth him
And the steadiness of his mind beareth him out..."
Artemis stepped around the ruined chariot, her shadow falling across her sister's crouched body. "I assure you, Alexa," she interrupted curtly, clutching at her sister's wrist, causing her to emit a startled little cry, "a sharp blade and a strong arm will do more good now than a quote from some dead philosopher."
Alexa tried to pull away as Artemis began to drag her out toward the thick of the fight. "I do not belong on this killing field, sister," she protested. "I am no warrior."
Artemis frowned sharply. "That you are not," she admitted. "But I will not allow you to bring shame upon our parents." She pushed her sister toward the battlefield, where she would be forced to confront the question of her own honor. "If you cannot fight like an Amazon," she called as Alexa stumbled forward, "then at least you will die like one!"
Enemy troops had advanced once again, and Artemis plunged back into battle, her attention somewhat divided from the business of killing by the specter of her ineffectual sibling spinning almost directly into the path of an enemy sword. Artemis spared a few seconds to look after her sister, but she could not let her guard down long enough to ensure the other's safety. She did not want her sister to die; she did not want any of her sisters to die, but she firmly believed that the threat of death would force Alexa to rise to the occasion of killing. To teach her sister this lesson was a far better gift than to repeatedly come to her rescue.
Artemis did her best to forget Alexa and focused on the fight, tirelessly cutting down the stripling fighters, planting sword and spear through muscle and bone, then pulling her weapons back out to kill anew. Blood streaked her helm and breastplate, her vision was mottled with red, her nostrils burned from the sickly sweet smell of death. She fought on, pivoting and dancing to face each armored warrior as they came at her from all directions. She did not hesitate until she saw Alexa, her arms wrapped around her head, wincing as she fled the oncoming sword of an enemy soldier
and then he struck. But it was not flesh that slowed his blade rather, the battle-worn blade of Persephone's sword. The soldier struggled with the Amazon as Persephone forced him backward, gifting Alexa with the opportunity to squirm away from the carnage once again.
Artemis heard Persephone call out wryly to Alexa, "How fortunate that I was an only child!" Persephone brought her foot up to deliver a swift blow to the soft parts between the soldier's legs. He staggered backward, his eyes bulging like boiled quail's eggs, and fell to his knees. Persephone sheathed her sword, then flicked out her dagger, opening the soldier's throat from ear to ear. Before he had time to bleed out, his head was cleaved in two by the force of her mace. Alexa, cowering nearby, cried out in horror as the impact exploded into splinters of bone, flecks of brain, and gore. Persephone did not acknowledge Alexa's aversion and silently retrieved her weapon from the broken skull of Alexa's would-be killer.
From behind Alexa leapt another monster into the battle, brandishing a sword in each hand. This was Phobos, one of Ares's many unsavory offspring; he was the embodiment of dread and panic itself. His mere countenance was the very description of evil he bore the face of a grotesque, a demon and his power in combat was great. Alexa did not stand a chance against him.
Artemis cried out in warning, but she was too late, for her sisters could not hear her. Alexa stood her ground for only a moment before she lost her nerve and leapt aside, leaving Persephone, her back turned, directly in the path of Phobos's blades. He slashed at her, one blade catching the side of her face just as she became aware of his presence. She screamed in pain and rage, crumpling to the ground in agony before abruptly going still.
Artemis rushed the attacker from behind. Before he could turn to meet her assault, she was upon him, lifting her spear high above her head. She drew back the weapon and thrust the tip through the back of the monster's neck, the sharpened point forcing its way through his windpipe, followed by a geyser of thick, dark blood. As he dropped his swords, gurgling and clawing at his throat, Artemis leapt upon his back, forcing him down, her feet pinning his body to the ground. His arms and legs were still jerking, but after a moment he lay still, and she worked the spear free from his torn, bloody flesh.
The battle had died down again, the smoking ground devoid of life for almost as far as the eye could see. The sisters were alone. Artemis could not even bear to look at Alexa, who was bent over the prone form of Persephone. She gently turned the wounded Amazon over to reveal a gash that traveled the length of her face. The cut split across one eye, which was hidden behind an oval pool of blood, shining a deep ruby red. Her hair was soaked crimson, and her lifeblood bubbled into the ground beneath her head, turning the dust to red mud. If she was not yet dead, it was likely that she would be soon.
"Persephone," Alexa cried in a strangled whisper, clutching at the limp shoulders of her dying protector.
Artemis could not conceal her disgust and disappointment. She felt overburdened with shame to be the sibling of such a craven. "She now wears her courage," she said darkly. "Where is yours, sister?"
Alexa raised her head, her face a mask of reproach, but both women jerked their heads in response to the sound of a sudden cry, a horrid, earsplitting roar that rocked the ground beneath them and seemed to come from the very underworld. This was not a sound that Artemis could ignore, not another cry of death or triumph that blended into the cacophonous sounds of the battle.
From the farthest point of the battlefield, they watched in stunned silence as the mutilated bodies of Amazon fighters were hurled into the air left and right, tossed from the points of this new giant's weapon a battle-axe whose breadth was twice wider than Artemis's shoulders. Artemis watched in horror as the giant mowed his way through the battle lines, killing one Amazon soldier after another.
Alexa had wasted no time in fleeing the scene, but she was not the only one who preferred to avoid tangling with this particular adversary. Artemis scooped up Persephone's body in her arms and began to look for a safe place to guard her sister Amazon.
This was a creature barely human, a killing machine that would cut his way through the Amazons as a sharp blade cuts through rotten fruit. He was the ill-begotten seed of Ares and Hippolyta. Thrax was the most feared of Ares's children, for his very conception was based in deceit. He was a cursed soul who could make even Artemis, brave Artemis who had been named for the Goddess of the Hunt, tremble and retreat.
Artemis sped away with her sister Persephone's form hanging limp in her arms. Persephone struggled to speak, likely compelling her sister to return to battle and allow her to die with honor, but Artemis hushed her with a single word.
"Thrax," she whispered, and Persephone's wounded body went slack in Artemis's arms.
Somehow, the harlot queen was still alive. That she should even have escaped was outrage enough, but Ares could scarce believe that she and her Amazons had lasted this long. This was the work of Hera or Athena, always meddling, always lending strength to those who did not deserve it.
How else should they fight so well? Ares blocked a blow from Hippolyta's sword, parried a thrust. Hippolyta had strength and beauty; he'd chosen well for the mother of his favorite offspring. It was only proper that his son be borne of regality, that the mother be of good blood. Hippolyta was not technically a goddess, but she had been designed by the gods, which was in some ways even better. He'd had to execute a somewhat complicated plan to subdue her, of course, but the effort had been more than worthwhile....
Thrax was more than any man; taller, stronger, his strange face and brute strength marking him as unique and magnificent among gods and mortals. Ares had many fine sons, but surely the world had seen nothing like Thrax. Certainly these mortals and half-breeds who cowered before him now had never faced such a glorious foe; they should be honored to be destroyed by such a creature. As Ares and Hippolyta looked on, their son met with a handful of the female warriors. Thrax smashed into them, his weapons finding flesh, his bare fingers rending and tearing, his teeth ripping. He roared his battle cry, a sound that filled Ares with pride and fire. That the screams of his victims drowned out the feral sound only made Ares more pleased.
"Listen to the song of death Thrax plays," he said, his heart full. "Is he not a virtuoso? Hippolyta, though I ache to see the innards run from your belly, I will forever be grateful to you for this child you gave me."
She loathed his tone of mocking disdain. "I gave you nothing," she spat. "It was you who forced him upon me, like a curse!"
Ares spared their splendid son a final glance, and Hippolyta seized the opportunity. As he turned his attention back to their skirmish, she was already bringing her sword down, a blow that he had neither seen coming, nor guessed her capable of. He brought up his shield too late, his arm not locked high enough to weather the impact
and was knocked from his horse. When her blade struck his mount, the animal reared and trumpeted before galloping away. Surprised, Ares leapt to his feet, sword still in hand, aware that he had lost an advantage and that he would not rest until this Amazon witch was nothing but bone and pieces. He should have strangled her to death the moment his son had drawn air, the moment Thrax had crawled from her womb.
"A curse I will not allow my sisters to endure as well," she finished, wheeling her animal back and away, turning toward Thrax.
Ares blinked, then stood up from his crouch, the shock of understanding washing through him as Hippolyta raced toward Thrax.
"Stay away from him, Hippolyta! Stay away! He is your flesh and blood, too!"
He spun around, searching in vain for another horse, but most of his soldiers were afoot. The nearest mount was too far away, the cavalry mostly engaged well behind him. Hippolyta would be upon Thrax in seconds.
Kill her, Ares commanded telepathically, and all of the warriors nearest Hippolyta turned and charged and threw themselves at her rearing horse, sacrificing themselves to the power of his energy. Ares could feel the heat of his desire radiating from him, inflaming every sensibility on the field, inciting ever-greater acts of aggression. Ares absorbed this violence, made it stronger, channeled it back into his thought. But Hippolyta rode fiercely, her sword a spinning silver shadow, drawing bursts of red and ichorous black from every man or beast who tried to stop her. Her ride to meet Thrax was unimpeded.
KILL HER! he thought, willing this to his son. Hippolyta was almost there.
Thrax pulled his mighty sword from the body of an Amazon and turned. Time slowed. Hippolyta had already drawn her blade back. She swung even as Thrax raised his own
and metal met flesh. With a single, powerful slice, Hippolyta cut Thrax's head clear from his body. Thick droplets of blood flung from her sword, pattered to the earth. For one dreadful second, Ares could see his son's stunned eyes as his head arced through the air, the flesh behind his faceplate already going pale. Thrax's headless body folded, twitched, and lay still.
"No!" cried Ares.
Impossible! He was Ares, he was a god and yet he had been unable to stop Hippolyta. His magnificent son was dead. Ares charged, screaming, his sword ready to take apart the Amazon queen, his wish to spill her blood a sudden, all-encompassing need, but he was overpowered by his anger, lost to it. Even as he reached Hippolyta, she had composed herself to fend off his blind attack. She wheeled her horse aside, striking his sword from his hand, beating him down with a crash of her shield. Ares sprawled to the dirt. Consumed by the helpless rage that coursed through him, the paralyzing sense of loss, Ares knew that she might kill him, but was too overcome to care, to want anything but to kill her.
He turned on his back to face the witch, she who would kill her own child. Hippolyta jumped from her mount, standing over him, her face gleeful, triumphant.
"Beg for your life, lover," she sneered.
"And appeal to you for what?" Ares said, his chest heaving with his hate for her. "Mercy? Clemency? All the very womanly virtues you lack?"
Hippolyta raised her sword, her expression darkening. "Then lest you brand me uncompassionate as well, allow me to reunite you with your son in Tartarus!"
She let out a keening battle cry and brought her sword down.
The sword was hot and heavy in Hippolyta's hands, her arms still vibrated from the slaughter of Thrax and the power that swept through her, that knotted her gut and flushed her veins as she stood over her enemy, ready for the kill. It was the stuff of life, of her deepest ambition as an Amazon... and as Ares's former prisoner. She had counted on his astonishment at the death of his misbegotten son, knew it was her best chance to defeat him, and the strategy had paid off. She wished she could stop to savor the moment, to enjoy knowing that this man who had so wickedly deceived her, had forced her to bear his child, would no longer draw breath. But his death was also the end of this bloody battle, and she did not hesitate as she brought the blade down.
"Yield, Hippolyta!" called a thunderous voice.
She might have finished her strike regardless, but the voice, the resonance, was a force in itself. Her killing blow was stopped cold, as if she'd struck stone, but there was nothing to be seen. The God of War was hand spans beneath her sword, and she could not finish him.
Nor was she alone. Behind and around them, warriors from both sides lowered their weapons, turning to find the voice's keeper.
A large crow had appeared among the clouds, glossy black, its beak the color of ripe tangerines, eyes red as ruby flame. The bird-shape flew down from on high, and the armies of the air fell back to make way for him. Many on the ground dropped to their knees, and no one, it seemed, spoke. In the sudden silence, Hippolyta could hear only her own breathing and the rough gasps of her downed opponent. Ares lived. Her frustration could not have been greater.
"Stay out of this, Zeus!" she called, her jaw clenched, her muscles aching against the invisible force that had stopped her sword.
The crow swept closer and lit upon the branch of a stubby tree nearby. He fluttered his shining wings, tilted his head to look at her. "You will spare my son's life," he said. This was no question, no plea; he was telling her.
"Spare his life?" Hippolyta turned to look at him, unable to believe that he would interfere in this way. Was he not the supreme ruler, purveyor of justice and order to man and god alike?
She gestured at the chaos spread out across the bloody ground. "How dare you ask such a thing! Look at this battlefield, stained red with the blood of my sisters, enslaved for decades! Women who have long been loyal servants to you!"
Ares had crawled to his knees, and Hippolyta stepped back and grasped his hair. She jerked his head up, slid her sword against his throat.
"I am only carrying out the death sentence he signed the day he betrayed me," she said, speaking her heart, her passion. The thing she wished for most was the freedom of the Amazons, but Ares's blood ran a close second. For long years she'd dreamed of these things, of this day, this moment
The crow opened his beak and the earth shook, trembled with the roar of his voice. "Do not challenge me, child!"
Hippolyta did not cut, but she did not release Ares, either. Her heart pounded with rage, and she felt sweat cold in spite of the heat of the day trickle down the small of her back. Zeus could strike her down for daring to challenge him so directly, but her death meant nothing; she would gladly sacrifice herself to see Ares dead. There could be other reprisals, however. Zeus was the father of the gods, he had defeated the Titans and divided the worlds. He would not be ignored, and there were punishments harsher than death.
Harsher than we've already endured at Ares's hands? This was hard to imagine. Undecided, she held the blade very still, her entire body shaking with the effort to contain herself. She could not defy Zeus, but she could not let Ares live. Her hatred of him was paralyzing.
A strong, lilting voice suddenly called out like song in the strange silence. A white dove descended from the heavens and flew effortlessly toward Hippolyta on tapered, delicate wings.
"My dear Hippolyta, do not let my husband anger you," the dove said. "He can be a stubborn fool sometimes."
The crow cawed a sharp, unpleasant sound as Hera flew to another branch, perching lightly. She was so white that she almost seemed to glow against the dull dust of the earth. "But we must respect his wishes," she added. "And while Ares will be allowed to live, I understand that his... transgressions cannot be ignored."
The dove's tone of voice made it clear she was speaking of her husband as well as Ares. Zeus was renowned for his own dalliances, and Hera was a jealous goddess.
"Which is why you will be allowed to keep him as your prisoner," she finished.
At once, twin branches of brilliant lightning crashed down from the clouds, striking Ares. Hippolyta was close enough to see the silver bands that formed over each of his wrists. Ares cried out and Hippolyta stepped away from him, finally lowering her sword.
"These bands will prevent him from drawing power through the psychic energies of war," Hera said, "rendering him, in effect, mortal. They can only be removed by another god."
The dove hopped down the branch, turning its slender head toward the crow. "And I assure you, my husband knows that such an action would not be in his best interest."
The crow abruptly took flight with an ugly cry of irritation. The soldiers on the battlefield bowed their heads as he flew high over the stilled grounds of war, back into the clouds.
Ares sat back on his heels, clutching at his new shackles in disbelief.
Hippolyta appealed to Hera, unsure if this solution would be enough to satisfy her or the rest of the Amazons. "But my people, Hera, they have lost so much our men, our homes... and now our chance for retribution."
The dove's voice was soothing. "Yes. But as Athena gave you the strength to deliver yourselves from slavery, together with my sister-goddesses I shall now give you a new beginning."
Hippolyta stepped closer, and as Hera continued to speak the Amazon queen could see images of the goddess's words, unfolding in the air like reflections on water.
"A new home," Hera said, and Hippolyta saw water, saw the rich green waves of the peaceful Aegean, "on an island paradise, where your people will be shielded from the chaotic world of man."
The illusory waters seemed to move, and sweep under Hippolyta. She had the sense of traveling far, far away, over the sea, and then she saw an island, with sand and trees, a vast green expanse of hills and valleys, rise up before her. It was beautiful, and Hippolyta felt the battle fall away all around her as she studied the island.
Themyscira. The word was a whisper in Hippolyta's thoughts. The island was named for her home, the magnificent city-state of the Amazons that had been so cruelly taken from them under Ares's treachery.
"There you will be protected from the ravages of time and allowed to create a utopia so that you might reclaim yourselves," Hera continued. "Your purity of spirit."
Hippolyta gazed at the island, finally knowing that what she felt was hope. Listening to Hera's soft voice filled her head with dreams and possibilities. A home of their own. The Amazons were fighters, it was how they were made, but they could be so much more.
Survival... food and shelter, recovery from our wounds ... a new beginning to be sure, but we can build, we can create for are we not women? Hippolyta imagined their new lives, each dream visualizing before her, each realization more inspiring than the last. Protected from time... the wisdom they could gain! There need be no men at all, if they did not wish it and after so many years of slavery, forced to endure unwanted violation by any man at any time, she did not think men would be a necessity for any of them. They would form a society of strong, immortal women, working together to create a place where they could rest and train and grow. Hippolyta saw gardens and orchards, fine buildings and arenas; she saw a future that did not involve blood, and this future called to her, drew her to it.
Hera's gentle words addressed Hippolyta's only lament. The goddess knew, somehow she knew. Hippolyta was not sure if she was hearing Hera's voice with her ears anymore or if the goddess was speaking in her thoughts.
"And then, the time will come," Hera said, "when your ancient prayer for a child, one not created through unholy union, will finally be answered." Hippolyta could see this, too. She saw herself walking on this Paradise Island's beach. Saw rain coming down, stirring the sea, saw the ground beneath her grow thick with water as a storm took hold. She saw the dream Hippolyta fall to her knees and begin digging in the island clay with her dagger as thunder crashed and lightning struck.
"You will form your heart's desire from the clay of Themyscira," Hera whispered.
Hippolyta felt a chill. The oracle Menalippe had once told her this thing, that she would make a child as she herself was made and she watched, dreaming, as she formed a babe from the raw earth. In the dream, Hippolyta cut her own thumb with the dagger, slicing deeply, then drew a star of blood on the clay figure's forehead.
"Your blood will make her your flesh," Hera affirmed.
The sky opened, and lightning struck the dream child. The blood and clay ran together, dripping to the ground as Hippolyta lifted the baby, held it up to the pouring rain.
Not it, she thought, her. She watched in wonder as the water came down, washing away the rough clay. Beneath was the soft, firm skin of a baby girl. The infant began to cry, a strong, healthy wail, clear even over the roar of the storm. Her wisps of hair were black as night, her eyes the color of the sky at dawn.
Hippolyta had dreamed of vengeance, but no more. This was her new dream.
Themyscira, home of the Amazons. And...Diana. My own daughter, Diana.
The image disappeared too quickly, gone in a breath, and all at once Hippolyta was returned to the battlefield, where Ares still crouched at her feet. Hippolyta looked around at the torn and broken bodies that littered the field, saw the soldiers looking to her, or Ares, or Hera, for some direction. As Hippolyta observed the supine Ares in his newfound state of shame, she knew. The Amazons would go to this place and make it their own.
The Queen of the Amazons sheathed her sword. The battle was over.
Copyright © 2009 DC Comics