The wind howled in Marie of Worth's ears, matched only by the joyous cries of the two children sitting behind her.
"Do another dive!" Bruce yelled through his laughter.
Smiling, Marie gently pulled the reigns of the direraven. The giant avian swooped steeply; with another tug, Marie had the bird pull up just before they would have plunged into the dark waters of Mystery Lake.
"Again!" Julia cried, her auburn hair slapping against her giggling face.
"We'll be late for the feast," Marie laughed, turning the raven back towards the Roost.
The children groaned, which made Marie laugh again. "Don't be so dramatic. I promise we will fly again tomorrow."
"Thank you, Mother!" Marie felt Julia's arms squeeze her stomach.
"Careful! You aren't a little girl anymore, you'll break me!" Marie teased the girl of eleven years.
"We really appreciate you taking us out, Marie!" Bruce yelled over the wind.
"Of course!" An idea flashed in Marie's mind. "Would you like to fly us back, Bruce?"
"Really!?" Bruce said.
Marie veered the direraven down to a rock outcropping. The bird landed with a gentle thump. "I think you're old enough," Marie said, jumping down so the eleven- year-old could slide forward.
Bruce happily took the reigns. Julia put her arms around Bruce's waist, while Marie hopped up and wrapped her own arms around her daughter. "Now remember," Marie cautioned. "Gentle movements."
Bruce gently tapped the bird's back with his feet. Nothing happened.
"Okay, maybe a bit harder than that. She needs to know you're there, after all!"
Bruce tapped the bird again, and the raven took off with a sudden whoosh. Marie was impressed by Bruce's control of the direraven. His movements were a bit choppy, but he got them to the Roost in one piece.
As the three of them dismounted, they saw Martha coming across the bridge from the reception hall.
"How'd it go?" Marie asked.
Martha gave Marie a tired look as she hugged Bruce.
"That bad, eh?" Marie said as she retied her red hair.
Martha shook her head as they walked back across the bridge. "Their leader is unsettling. He acts as though he wants to be allies, but it's obvious that his true intentions are much darker."
"So you think war is inevitable?" Marie asked, her eyes fixed on Julia racing Bruce across the bridge.
"Yes." Marie saw Martha's own eyes were locked on Bruce.
"They can't be here when it starts," Marie whispered. "Especially if Goth goes the way of Star's Bay."
"Is surrendering an option?" Martha asked.
Marie's jaw clenched. "Metropola made that mistake. Now Luthor sits on a throne made from the bones of the people he's supposedly protecting."
"We could always end up winning," Martha offered hopefully.
Marie didn't answer. The cliffs of Goth would offer some protection, but the Demon's Host had air power, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, and a fanatical willingness to kill and be killed. Hippolyta had told her terrible stories of what she had endured during her time as a prisoner of the Demons, but Marie hadn't believed her sister. Then she had seen the atrocities for herself; the Coastal Wastes, the Central Plateau. She didn't need to see Star's Bay to know what had happened there.
I can't let that happen here, Marie thought as she and Martha entered the reception hall. But if it comes to war, what choice do we have? We can't surrender, we'd be killed. Our children would be killed. But if we fight, we will probably be killed.
"What if we leave?" Marie said slowly. "Just take the children, Alfred, Thomas, and go. We could find refuge in Themyscira." Even as the words left her lips, she cursed her cowardly thoughts.
"Goths don't run." There was an edge to Martha's voice Marie rarely heard, at least towards her. "And we certainly don't abandon our people. Whatever comes, we will share the fate of our people."
"You're right, of course. But what about Bruce and Julia?"
"What about all the children of Goth?" Martha countered. "What makes Bruce and Julia more important than them?"
Martha's brow furrowed as they approached Thomas, Alfred, and the Demon delegation. "We'll talk about this later," she whispered.
Marie embraced Alfred, and was introduced to Joseph, the leader of the Demon delegation. She instantly understood Martha's concern; Joseph had predatory eyes, eyes that wanted to devour her. Marie wished she had worn her armor. She felt too exposed in her tunic and trousers; Joseph's gaze fell to her plunging neckline more than once.
"Did I miss anything?" she whispered to Thomas, trying to keep herself talking to anyone but Joseph.
"Martha broke Joseph's wrist," Thomas whispered back with a chuckle.
Marie fought the urge to laugh as she looked over at Martha conversing with a pair of Demon archers. "I'll bet you enjoyed that, didn't you?" she told Alfred, nudging him.
Alfred smiled grimly. "It would have been better if he hadn't used his sorcery to heal himself."
"Sorc..." No. She strode over to Joseph, popping her knife out as she did so. She put the knife to Joseph's throat.
The Demons drew their weapons, but Joseph held up a hand. "I...seem to be doing all the wrong things tonight," he choked out lightly.
"Where did you learn your magic!?" Marie hissed.
"Oh...haha. It was a gift."
Marie wanted to slice his head from his shoulders. "A gift? There's only one civilization on this world that has that kind of power. Mine."
Joseph's eyes lit up. "You're a Themysciran? My, you're a ways from home, aren't you?"
"Answer the question!"
Joseph sighed. "Fine, fine. We had a Themysciran guest a few years ago, and she was kind enough to teach us the ways of your people."
"Was her name Hippolyta?"
Joseph scrunched up his face, as though deep in thought. "You know, I do believe it was."
The blade dug deeper into Joseph's throat. "She was my sister."
"I — ack — don't really know what you're so upset about," Joseph gasped. "She made her way back to you, didn't she?"
"Only after she escaped the torture you inflicted upon her!"
"Escaped?" Joseph tried to chuckle. "My dear, we let her go."
"That's a lie! She told me how she had to fight her way through a thousand guards, commandeer a Demon ship, and blast her way through an entire armada!"
"Very true. Like I said..."
Marie stumbled back. "Why would you...?"
Joseph shrugged. "The Head felt Hippolyta was of better use to us back at home."
"Why?! What did you do to her?! Make her a mole? Some kind of sleeper agent?!"
"Wow...paranoid little thing, aren't you?" Joseph chuckled. "I don't know why the Head wanted your sister at Themyscira. I just did what I was ordered to do, and that was to release her."
The knife was back at his throat. "Were you the one who tortured her!?"
"No, no, no. I just received the reports from her...interrogations. Well, and occasionally I...ah, but that's personal."
That was all Marie could take. She let out a growl and plunged her knife into the sorcerer's throat.