This issue continues the origin story of The Cheetah as related by Chuma to the poisoned and paralysed Wonder Woman.
This issue continues the origin story of The Cheetah as related by Chuma to the poisoned and paralysed Wonder Woman.
In the Mediterranean Sea, somewhere near Alexandria, Eygpt, a naval patrol boat pulls up alongside a seemingly deserted freighter still smouldering from an onboard fire. As the crew climb aboard to investigate further they recognise the vessel as a Libyan Smuggling ship they have been pursuing. Seeing the signs of a struggle they assume somebody had got a little too greedy and started a fight for the booty.
But as one of the officers steps inside he finds a scene of bloody carnage. It appears as if the crew has been torn apart by some sort of wild animal. As there are no signs of the creature now they assume it has gone overboard and surely drowned. At least the captain hopes so, as any creature that can do that to an entire armed Libyan crew is not one he wishes to face any time soon…
Meanwhile, back in Barbara Minerva’s castle in Nottingham, Chuma continues to relate how he came to be in the service of the Cheetah while a seemingly helpless Amazon, riddled with poison, lies on the floor unable to do anything but listen.
He tells Wonder Woman how the great Temple of Urzkartaga which had stood for centuries before memory, had become a ruin, desecrated by the grenades of the attacking barbarians. All Chuma could think of was the broken body of his Cat-God laying at his feet. As he had stared down the barrel of Barbara Minerva’s revolver he was almost glad of the death that was sure to follow.
Barbara, for her part, had asked the pygmy to give her one good reason why she should not blow his brains out! He had calmly replied that he had no reason to live and that it was over for him. The Cat God was dead and he had killed her. He had then pleaded for Barbara to shoot him dead and, as he explains to Diana, at the time had not understood why the professor had not done so. As he thinks back to those events now, he realises that as Barbara’s face had broken into a sly smile, it had been a sign from the great and merciful Urzkartaga, giving him another chance!
Barbara had told Chuma that she wanted some answers and asked him to tell her about the blood ritual he had been performing. What was the history of the Cat God ceremony and who was the old woman lying dead at his feet? She had looked pretty human as far as Barbara was concerned. Chuma had replied that the woman was human – now that he had failed her. But once, she had been a God who protected the Great God. She had been the child of the blood vine – Urzkartaga’s favoured. She had been the Cheetah!
A disbelieving Minerva had scoffed that he had really expected her to believe such a story – that the withered old carcass was the Great Cat God whom the Boatengan tribe had been living in fear of for all these centuries? Chuma had asked her that in all her travels, surely she had encountered that which she could not explain scientifically.
An angered Barbara had snapped back that she had indeed heard of the legend of Urzkartaga, the “Vine of the Blood” and this co called immortal Cat God. But why had his mighty Cat God not defended her tribe against the attackers? And why, if the tribe wanted isolation, had Chuma lead her safari party here in the first place? He had replied that it was an act of desperation. The Cheetah had done her work too well. So powerful was the fear she had instilled that for many years not even the most fool hardy dared venture into the jungle of the Cat God – and bring her new blood. But Urzkartaga had to be appeased as the tribe had pledged their lives to sustain the favoured of the vine.
So years ago the faithful had begun sneaking into the outside cities, luring the drunk and infirm into the jungle. Beneath the full moon the Cheetah had then feasted on them. After a few years though the other tribes had learned of the Boatengan’s clandestine raids and some had organised into bands of armed assassins, vowing to destroy the cult of the vine. As a result many cultists had been captured and tortured horribly. But none had ever betrayed their God – all except one spineless insect. He had been weak and his spirit had crumbled under torment.
The traitor had led the barbarians into the jungle under a full moon. When they made camp the traitor had made his escape but Cheetah had made him pay for his sins. When the others had found his mauled carcass they realised the Cat God was stalking them! As they prepared their weapons she had struck without mercy, slaughtering nearly all of the tribesmen. Two of the men though had managed to escape and had later led the return party to avenge their comrades, resulting in the attack on the village and the subsequent death of the Cheetah.
However, weeks before that had happened, the Boatengan tribe had learned of the death of the traitorous one. In all the centuries the Cheetah had never killed one of her own followers. Despite the priests assertions that the man had been a traitor to the tribe, the other cultists had taken it as a bad omen. The tribe had panicked and began killing the priests, feeding them to the great Cat God and in doing so had corrupted the sacrament. Chuma had tried to warn them that the Mark of the Cult forbade them to serve themselves to the Cheetah, but they would not listen. He had been forced to perform the rituals under pain of death and watched as his beloved Cheetah had grown weaker and weaker by the tainted sacrifices.
Finally Chuma was the last priest left. At least one priest was needed to perform the ritual and the followers had begun to see what their blind panic had done. Chuma had prayed for a miracle and it was then that he had learned of Barbara’s expedition. The blood of her and her party would be the salvation of the Cheetah and it would be like the night when Urzkartaga had first taken his bride. She had been a maiden from the village who had honoured Urzkartaga above all else and in sacred ritual had given herself to him. She had dined on her first kill and had shared herself with the Great God. The marriage was thus consummated and she became the Bride of the Vine – its champion and servant.
Barbara had been intrigued by all of this and was amazed that the old crone lying at Chuma’s feet was actually centuries old. The blood vine had kept the Cheetah supple, strong and youthful for all time. But soon she would be dust, dry and worthless and not long afterwards so would Urzkartaga himself. Chuma had begged for Barbara to end his life too, but she had replied that it would not suit her needs. She wanted instead to know how the ritual would have ended if the raiders’ attack had not interrupted him.
Chuma had then led the professor deeper into the Temple and had explained that the climax of the ceremony would have seen the Cheetah drinking from the chalice in which the blood of the vine and the human sacrifice had been brewed together. That is what made the Cheetah immortal. The priest had then shown Barbara Urzkartaga himself – a large plant resting on an altar. Barbara had told Chuma she was going to give him a chance to make his God happy. She then demanded that he make her a potion and make her immortal! He had responded that he could do no such thing as the plant needed the blood of a human sacrifice – from a fresh kill – by her own hands.
She had cursed the fact that apart from Chuma, who would be needed to perform the ritual, there was nobody else inside the Temple with them. The greatest discovery of her career – and it would be thwarted by some superstitious loony with a grenade! But she had been determined not to give up and suddenly she had heard a voice outside calling her name. It was Tom Leavens who had arrived at the mouth of the Temple to try and save her. She had told him to go to Chuma’s hut, where the priest had confirmed Leavens would find some of the explosives the tribe had confiscated when they had ambushed the expedition.
Leavens followed her instructions and soon the blast had cleared the rubble from the mouth of the temple. Of course, the noise of the blast had also alerted the raiders who had been moving away from the village. They had turned around and headed back towards the direction of the blast, while Leavens helped Barbara and Chuma free from the Temple.
Realising they did not have much time, Barbara had grabbed a knife and without warning stabbed Leavens in the back, killing him. With the fresh kill lying at her feet, Barbara had told Chuma to proceed with the ritual. The priest had replied however that the blood had to be shared by the betrothed. If she wanted to be immortal she would have to drink leaven’s blood! Knowing that the raiders were closing in on the village, Barbara Minerva had bent down, dug her fingers into the stab wound and pulled the skin apart. She had then scooped deep into Leaven’s body and feasted on the hot, rich blood!
Back inside the Temple, Chuma had then begun the sacrament. Barbara had undressed and had lain naked on the altar. He had then cut through her wrist and drained some blood into a bowl containing the blood of Leavens. He had stirred the blood and offered it to the plant god – who accepted the offering. Chuma had then dressed Barbara in the skin of the Cat God and painted sacred designs on her face. Outside, he could hear the sounds of the approaching raiders but he had focused on the task at hand. The priest had then plucked a leaf from Urzkartaga and mixed it with secret herbs in a bowl until it had liquefied. Trembling, Barbara had then drank from the bowl as outside, the raiders discovered Leaven’s dead body.
As the raiders wondered who could have killed him, they suddenly heard a guttural growl and had turned to see the Cheetah glaring down at them from a tree branch. The shocked men could not understand how their quarry lived and breathed once more, but had no time to ponder this fact as Barbara had ripped into them, slaughtering all before her. When dawn had broken she was like a drunken woman – the wine of power had intoxicated her and she was now addicted!
After setting fire to the village, she and Chuma had taken the Plant God back to England. That one night of slaughter had been sufficient to sustain both the Cheetah and Urzkartaga for many moons. But there was one tragic flaw that Chuma had not been prepared for – what Barbara referred to as “side effects”. The original ceremony called for Urzkartaga’s bride to be a virgin which Barbara was not. The Plant God is very jealous and spiteful in nature and so between cycles of the moon, Barbara’s body had started to deteriorate. It became brittle and weak. Only as the Cheetah was she strong.
The initial potion containing Leaven’s blood had eventually run out but the Cheetah needed more to survive – and the Plant God needed Cheetah. Hunting down new sacrificial victims to keep both of them alive became the centre of Barbara’s world – until of course she had found a new treasure to possess – Wonder Woman’s magic lasso.
But when she had finally gained possession of it from Diana something strange had happened to Barbara. Even Chuma was baffled by it. The Professor had researched the lasso for many nights with an obsession that rivaled the hunger of the plant god. It was almost as if the golden rope was controlling her – eventually sending Chuma’s mistress away.
Standing over where Wonder Woman still lays, Chuma tells her that when Barbara had heard Wonder Woman was coming, she ordered Chuma to stop the Amazon but not let Diana die ignorant of the Cheetah’s origin. Now he has finished his story and he must care for the plant. As he picks up his bag and turns away, Wonder Woman calmly asks him if that is where he is going now. Puzzled, he replies yes and suddenly notices that her speech is no longer slurred by the paralysis. Too late he realises she has tricked him as the Amazon Princess leaps to her feet and grabs him.
He cannot understand why the poisoned tea had not killed her and she replies that ever since her mother and her sisters had been drugged and enslaved centuries earlier, the Amazons had worked to master the art of herbology. They learned to identify the most toxic herbs by simply smelling – even through the most powering brew.
Wonder Woman then demands to know where Barbara is. As the tiny old man struggles in her grip, refusing to speak, the contents of his bag spill onto the floor and Diana spots a plane ticket. She picks it up and sees that it is for a flight bound for Eygpt…
A short while later a tracking station in Libya picks up a fast moving object on their radar. They assume it must be some sort of new American fighter jet as it streaks across their screens heading for the Egyptian border. But before they can even react, it is gone. Surely no plane can travel that fast? And they are right!
Wonder Woman, now wearing her costume, arrives over the Pyramids after racing all the way from England. She feels she is definitely on the right track. The lasso is close by. Suddenly a sandstorm whips up from nowhere and a wailing sound seems to beckon to her. The sensations she has felt are stronger than ever, emanating from within the whirlwind. Hestia’s lasso must be inside! She dives head first into the maelstrom and finds herself tumbling under the onslaught of the violent, unyielding winds. Pulverised rocks, blasted by the heated squall, batter her bronzed skin, stinging the exposed flesh again and again and again. Her beautiful blue eyes redden as torrents of grit scratch them without mercy. She pleads with her Gods to give her strength, as she cannot fail now having come so far. She must get through..she must…
At last she bursts forth into clear air but her momentum plunges her down towards an ancient looking city below. She falls straight through the glass ceiling of one of the buildings. As she tries to get her bearings she looks around at the architecture and guesses that the building is some sort of middle eastern mosque. She slowly makes her way along a dimly lit passageway and is shocked to discover two dead women, dressed in battle armour, lying on the floor in a pool of their own blood. It appears to be the work of the Cheetah and as she bends down to investigate further she takes a closer look at the bracelets they are wearing. The symbols seem very familiar and as she ponders whether it is merely a coincidence, her reflexes spring into action, saving her from a hail of gunfire aimed her way.
She finds herself suddenly surrounded by more warrior women, armed with automatic weapons. Wonder Woman realises they must think she is the one responsible for killing the two guards. As they yell at her in a foreign tongue, she picks up that the language is a strange hybrid of Arabic, ancient Greek and…Themysciran! The symbols on the armband were not a coincidence after all! They are Themysciran in origin!
As the warriors close in all around her, Wonder Woman realises these woman are Amazons – and they intend to kill her!