Posted on May 31, 2009 by Flames
Meet Mel: Business owner. Dedicated mom. Natural-born Amazon.
It’s been ten years since Melanippe Saka left the Amazon tribe in order to create a normal life for her daughter, Harmony. True, running a tattoo parlor in Madison, Wisconsin while living with your Amazon warrior mother and priestess grandmother is not everyone’s idea of normal, but Mel thinks she’s succeeded at blending in as human.
Turns out she’s wrong. Someone knows all about her, someone who’s targeting young Amazon girls, and no way is Mel is going to let Harmony become tangled in this deadly web…
Flames Rising is proud to present the first chapter of Amazon Ink written by Lori Devoti. Lori wanted to express that she’s very excited about the debut of Amazon Ink and wanted to thank her readers for their support. When we asked Lori about what readers can look forward to, she said that you’ll read about “the story of a woman coming to grips with who she is while battling an unknown and deadly adversary. Plus magic and action and some truly tough chicks of all ages.”
We hope you enjoy the first chapter of Amazon Ink!
My gaze darted around the old school yard, searching for whoever had left the dead teenager on my front porch.
I was hoping the intruder was still nearby, close enough to catch and deal with myself—right now and for good—but the acre of grass and trees that surrounded our home and business was quiet.
No more than a minute or two had passed since the rattle of stones thrown at my bedroom window had roused me. I knew—this time—to go to the front door. But there was nothing. No cars. No autumn wind. Nothing. Even at one in the morning, at least an occasional car should have been zipping down the street that lay only a football field’s length away. My home was a little over a mile from the University of Wisconsin campus and it was a Saturday night, Sunday morning, technically; a few drunken students if no one else should have been traveling along Monroe Street, but the night was silent—deadly so.
I glanced down at the girl lying on her back on my front steps.
I almost stepped on her. There was something particularly disturbing about that. My hands shaking, I shoved the hair back from my face, tucked it behind my ears, and knelt next to her.
Maybe this one is different. A thin hope at best, but I clung to it, my fingers wrapping around the tiny wolf fetish that hung from a cord around my neck. The stone figure in my hand offered a small amount of reassurance, calmed me.
Maybe my first impression was wrong . . . maybe she was still alive. Maybe, unlike the first girl I’d found dead on my doorstep only weeks before, this one still lived. I repeated the words in my mind: maybe she is different. . . .
A prayer to Artemis leaving my lips, I reached out, ready to lay my fingers against her throat. As I did, I couldn’t help but take in her youth, her closed eyes. So innocent. So like Harmony.
My fingers curled back into my palm and my heart pounded; the words echoed through my head. Harmony. A flash of panic, then forced calm. It wasn’t Harmony. My daughter was asleep, safe inside. I stood anyway, started to turn back to the wide double door of the old school behind me—to check—but I stopped myself. My need to see her was just maternal instinct pushed into overdrive. I had to stay calm, controlled. I couldn’t leave this girl alone, not yet. I glanced back at her.
I took a deep breath and kneeled again, but even as I did, I knew I was lying to myself. There was no heart beating inside the body beside me.
Still, I pressed my fingers to the girl’s throat.
Her neck was stiff, hard to my touch. I ran my fingers down her arm, met with the same cold, unresponsive feel.
She wasn’t alive, hadn’t been for hours.
A curse formed in the back of my head, but I tamped it down. Whoever, whatever this girl had been, she’d suffered enough indignities. I had no right to add to them. My duty now was to ease her passage, not soil it with my own anger, frustration, and fear.
I lowered my chin to my chest, reflected for a minute, and tried to slow my racing mind enough to draw on my past, my training. I didn’t practice the skills taught by my Amazon high priestess grandmother, but they were still a part of me, as impossible to deny as the horrible truth of this girl’s death.
Pretending the moisture threatening to escape the corners of my eyes didn’t exist, I took one more calming breath, then did the best I could to fold the girl’s stiff arms over her chest, touched my thumb against the bridge of her nose, and murmured another prayer. This one asking for free and peaceful passage of her spirit—that whatever took her life wouldn’t hold back her journey from this world to the next.
I tried to steel myself for what came next, but it was just as hard this time as last. The girl’s body sighed, not audibly, more of a feeling, a whisper of energy as her soul slipped from her form and wafted away, hopefully to join whatever loved ones had preceded her in death.
The ritual drained me, a piece of my own spirit leaving with hers, accompanying her. I’d recover, but not until her soul found peace. By performing the rites, I’d promised her that.
Normally, I would have been myself again in a matter of minutes, hours at the most, but I had yet to recover from the last one.
Which meant something was terribly wrong.
Like finding two dead girls on my doorstep wasn’t wrong enough.
I rested my weight back on my heels and stared down at her.
Just like the first one, she was young—under twenty. Older than Harmony, but not enough that I didn’t still fight the urge to go check on my sleeping child. I forced myself not to, though. Harmony was fine. No one had intruded our home. Only the yard . . . the steps. That was as far as my visitor had got.
After successfully reassuring myself, my attention went back to the girl.
Did the similarity between the two dead teens stop with their age? Only one way to know.
I gently rolled the girl onto her side and pulled her thin T-shirt up, baring her lower back to the night air.
A tattoo of a leopard snarled at me. What appeared to be a telios, the Amazon symbol of their family clan.
My lips thinned to nothing more than a line. Not the same, but similar. Now the hard part. I lowered the girl onto her back and again adjusted her shirt, this time to pull it low, down to the top of her right breast. A round circle of skin about the size of my balled fist was missing—the cut precise, even, and unending. Done with either great skill or care.
I stared blindly. The coincidence was too great. The tattoo on her back—a leopard, one of the twelve totems of the Amazon tribe. The other girl bore a bear. And both had the missing skin—exactly where a givnomai, personal power tattoo, would be. Removed either right before or right after their deaths.
Please, Artemis, let it be after.
The girl’s blond hair caught in the breeze, tangling across her face, the motion in the dim light of my battery-powered lantern making her look alive for just a second.
I lowered my chin to my chest again and let emotion I’d denied earlier waft over me—sorrow, frustration, then anger. Someone was killing these girls . . . Amazon girls . . . and leaving them on my doorstep. A threat? Some kind of twisted gift? Or a warning?
Did the killer know the symbolism of the animals on the girls’ backs and of the fetishes hanging from their necks? All Amazons did. Thoughts that had been nagging at me, that I hadn’t let fully form in my brain, forced their way forward. Two dead girls, both Amazons. Could the killer be an Amazon—or just someone the tribe had angered? If another body were to show up, would it bear yet another of the twelve totems? Was there a plan to target each family? If so, it would mean the killer had to be an Amazon. No one else knew about the tribe and certainly not the significance of our totems.
Pure cold rage shot through my body and, like the first time, I fantasized about hunting the killer down, exacting revenge for the young lives unjustly ended. Vengeance was as much a part of being Amazon as our worship of Artemis. Within the tribe, a band of warriors would have been chosen and none would have rested until the killer was found and destroyed. Her soul released, but not in the gentle manner I’d used with these girls. No, it would be torn from the killer’s body, then grounded to earth. Cursed to stay locked for eternity in one spot, her only conscious world the moments of her own death playing over and over.
But then reality settled down around me—again.
I was no longer part of the tribe. A fact I didn’t regret, but for these girls’ sakes, for my family’s . . . for a moment I wavered. Amazon justice was hard and fast. A tempting resolution to this ugly dilemma. But I had left that world, and even if I wanted to return, they wouldn’t accept me back easily.
In fact, they would view any approach from me with suspicion, perhaps even enacting their hard and fast justice on me before bothering to gather tiresome details. And they’d be back in my life, in my daughter’s life. My daughter, who knew nothing of her heritage, didn’t even know Amazons were real and that she was one.
It was why I hadn’t done anything about the first girl—or not much anyway. I’d released her spirit, then left her body where the police could find it.
It had been something, but not enough. I cradled my face in my hands . . . not enough by a long shot. The dead body beside me proved that.
What now? Nothing had changed. I couldn’t do any more this time.
But hard as I tried, I couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t just stand up and cart this body off like I had the last. Forget her . . . or try to.
What about their families? Their mothers wondering when their daughters would come home . . . expecting them . . .
Amazons were seminomadic. Here in the U.S., they traveled from one “safe camp” to another, much like gypsies. Also, like gypsies, Amazons tended to skirt the edges of the law—thinking nothing of conning the humans they encountered out of property and money—my grandmother was a prime example of that way of thinking.
And because of these tendencies, Amazons, even those still fully immersed in the tribe, might not see each other for months. A mother could easily not hear from her barely adult child for that long and think little of it . . . have no idea her daughter had been left, dead, on my doorstep. Their mothers could still be sitting at some safe camp, waiting, expecting . . .
My hands formed claws at my sides, my fingernails scraping against the concrete steps.
And what about the others—those not missing yet? Could my silence be endangering other young women? What if the Amazons had no idea they were being preyed upon—that there was a killer in their midst?
Two, then three fingernails broke down to the quick. I breathed out through my nose, ignoring the pain—forcing it and the nagging guilt building in the back of my brain out of my consciousness.
Flattening my fingers against the concrete until my knuckles glowed white, I forced myself to continue weighing my options. Choices—there had to be choices. . . something better than just ignoring all of this and praying it wouldn’t happen again.
I focused, away from the current situation and the dead girl by my side, and toward the bigger picture: how to stop more girls from dying.
The next logical step, if anything about my life was logical, would be going directly to the police, but there were problems with that solution too.
I was an over-one-hundred-year-old Amazon. Something I hid, not only from society, but my own daughter. I’d spent ten years pretending, and so far I’d succeeded. But my mother and grandmother, who also lived with me, already raised eyebrows. They tried to hide their heritage, both to humor me and to protect the tribe I despised, but their efforts wouldn’t hold up under close study. Not to mention that bringing the police into the picture would also mean bringing in my mother and grandmother. They would realize—just as quickly as I had—that the girls weren’t normal runaways. They were Amazons. And they would insist on informing the tribe.
Bringing me back to problem number one.
So, calling the police, like any normal grown adult human would do when faced with a dead body on her porch, was out.
I was trapped by my own lies, and it pissed me off.
My gaze dropped to the body beside me, zeroing in on a thin strip of leather barely visible beneath the hair covering her neck.
I reached out and let the thong run over my cupped hand until the tiny stone figure I knew would be attached to its end landed in my palm. A leopard, black, his lips pulled into a snarl. I could almost feel anger pulsing in the tiny creature. This girl, like the first, like me, wore her family totem on her back and around her neck. It was the only piece of out-of-the-ordinary adornment aside from the tattoos that both girls had worn. I’d taken the first girl’s for that reason.
I lifted her head and slipped the totem free.
With the tiny leopard tucked inside my pocket, I felt a little better. I had a plan, too late for this girl or the previous one, but maybe it would keep there from being a next.
Still, I muttered an apology as I pulled the corners of the old blanket on which the girl lay over her body and bundled her like a newborn infant. I would perform what Amazon burial rites I could and leave her corpse where the police would find it—hopefully, soon.
It wasn’t much, but this time—I patted the lump of stone resting in my pocket—it wouldn’t be all I’d do. I couldn’t—wouldn’t—reveal myself to the Amazons or the police, but I also couldn’t sit back and do nothing, not again.
This time I’d do my best to let both know something was wrong, that someone was preying on teens.
I glanced at my watch—almost two a.m. I had three hours before my grandmother arose and addressed the sun. I could make it to Milwaukee—or close to it—and be back before anyone noticed my absence. But I wouldn’t have time to complete the second task—not tonight. The Amazons would have to wait. I’d need a full night to make it to the northern Illinois woods where the closest safe camp was located and be back home before dawn.
After taking one last moment to mourn her death, I flipped the girl’s body over my shoulder and trudged to my truck.
At some point I was going to have to try and interpret what message the killer was sending me by depositing the girls on my front steps, but for now I had an even more solemn job to complete.