Dedicated to my father – Ray,
my sister and I will always be your little amazon warriors.
Dezba crouched low to the ground examining the footprint in the mud that she and Nyx had been tracking for two days. The sound of wild nightlife was all around her as her barefeet dug into the dirt, her brown eyes searching the darkness within the Amazon. The only home they had ever known. Nyx stepped lightly ahead of her touching a nearby leaf. “Blood, he’s injured from when you struck him with your spear.” The eight pointed star tattoo of Ishtar gleamed a reflective silver around her right eye giving Nyx an eerie appearance against her black skin.
The star symbol of Ishtar was located on all of the tribe members in different spots on their body. Ishtar’s star was the star of life. A gift from the goddess, Ishtar to know that they belonged to her: the goddess of fertility, sexual pleasures, hunting, love and warfare. She made them disease free, warriors in the truest form, protected them, gave them hairless skin so smooth it was silk, beauty beyond comparison, a hunter’s skill that couldn’t be matched. She is their mother and creator.
Dezba admired Nyx’s looks with envy, wishing she had the same skin tone to blend in with the night, wishing she could wrap herself in shadow even now she had a hard time seeing Nyx amongst the trees. The only thing that gave her away was her startling sky blue eyes. She licked her cracked lips. “He can’t be far now.” Both women ran through the trees unafraid of the beasts that prowled the night seeking nothing but revenge for their murdered tribe. Out of the 2,200,000 square miles of nothing but rainforest, open country, grassland and shrubbery they might have finally caught him.
After an hour of straight running they found themselves right back where they started. “He’s playing his mind tricks.” Dezba said as frustration bubbled inside of her.
Nyx ground up dirt in her hands. “We had him! And he played us like fools. All that time wasted!” She smashed her spear against the tree causing it to shatter, her tall body shaking in anger and raw strength. “How is he managing to elude us? Three days and all we’ve caught were glimpses of the traitorous snake, and one well aimed throw leaving him with no more than a scratch! We’re better than this.” The vein near her neck bulged slightly, her long straight black hair whipping around wildly in the warm breeze.
Dezba knew there was no way to settle Nyx down when she was worked up into one of her firecracker moods. They were both disappointed in how the hunt had turned out. They had never lost a target. The Ishtar Tribe was brave and for one man to destroy their family was a feeling the huntress had never come across before. Fear. “Come on we’ll pick up the trail tomorrow we’ve been away too long. Pallas and Wanneta will be worried, we can’t cause them stress with the seed of life inside them. Even with my panther, Luna protecting them they can hardly feel comfortable.” Dezba said as she fingered her lion pelt that was covering her skin hoping Nyx remembered her place of status. That she was the one with most authority. Nyx was out for blood, Dezba was looking for answers even though most of the tribe was dead the same rules still applied. The person whose 1st kill was the biggest was the one in charge. Nyx was wearing snakeskin, a good first kill but not half as challenging as a lion. Nyx nodded once as they made their way home.
Dezba saw the familiar trail that led to the clearing, but no happiness rushed to her heart. This place was a constant reminder of what they had lost. It was desolate and barren, blood splatter still covered the ground as their straw and bamboo huts lay in tatters. All that remained was the tree house, where the “chosen” or “truly blessed” were housed. They had reconstructed their small worshiping hut where they made their prayers and sacrifices to Ishtar but it was in poor shape.
The story goes that Ishtar, Queen of the heavens, one day stared down at Earth watching her father, Anu, the wind God blasting away she wanted to see how loyal mortals could be to her especially after she gave them qualities from her very being. She created three of the most beautiful women in the world and put all her traits she possessed into them and then blessed only one of the three with childbirth. The star on their skin was a constant reminder that Ishtar is to be both feared and admired. If you were lucky enough she would choose you to bear her children but it could be years or months before she would decide to send the seed of life to one of the tribal members.
Dezba wanted to move away from this place but her and Nyx had been so caught up in the hunt that there was no time or energy. Luna, tail twitching growled in greeting as Nyx and Dezba climbed up the vines. It went against their whole code of life, once Ishtar blessed you with fertility no one but the appointed caretaker (Cammi) was suppose to tend, speak and care for them but Cammi too had died. All they had left was each other and since the two women were not allowed to leave the tree until the birth was complete it was now up to Nyx and her to keep them safe, content and comfortable. It was always an odd thing for Dezba and Nyx to see a swollen belly, for they had never seen it before. Ishtar’s daughters were supposed to have hard, flat stomachs no matter how much they ate their stomachs always stayed the same, the gifted ones had no muscle on their skin but a bright glow about them. Dezba did not try to understand the ways of Ishtar and her blessing.
She was unsure if given the choice she’d want the gift. It would be a great honour, of course but you would become vulnerable to the world, like a child. One would have to rely on someone for all their needs.
The merriment of new life into Ishtar’s Tribe was always a celebration that lasted two days. The babies were always born by the evening star and were always female. That was all she had thought existed in the world just her sisters and the Amazon. Excitement ran through her at the prospect of two little ones running around the camp. Dezba and Nyx worried about how the children were going to come into the world for they were never permitted to watch the birth they didn’t have the slightest clue what was going to happen. They were not the caretaker, but they would cross that bridge when the time came.
When they entered the tree house the two women were sleeping soundly dressed in nothing but white cloth to keep them cool during the afternoon heat. Pallas’s wavy brown hair was tucked over her one shoulder, her Ishtar star had stretched a little since it was over the belly button her baby bump getting noticeably bigger every day. She had her lips in her permanent cute pout she always did as she breathed soundlessly. Wanneta was sleeping on her side, as her blonde curly hair was in disarray, her star was located on the center of her chest and her belly looking as if it was about to burst.
Nyx noting them safe opened the fly net that surrounded the little fort and went to gather fruit and water. Two other beds were unoccupied covered with feather blankets. Dezba stared at the beds miserably as her throat tightened. Those were meant for the next blessed women not her and Nyx. They were not worthy enough. It was a single room not too big but cozy, very open, cushions surrounded the area. Dezba went to look out the window as the white flynets protected her from all the bugs buzzing around. There was no activity on the ground floor, no noise, no bodies, no laughter, nothing.
It was all her fault, she had brought him here and she blamed herself everyday for it. She still saw all their smiling stunning face: Maia, Isidora, Valdu, Xena, Cammi, Aloisia, Taymo, Molpadia, Delphinia, Zara, Beaudy, Selene, Sappheire, Pisto, and Kalllope. All of them dead because of her. Despair gripped the very being of her soul as she tried to keep her emotions in check, as she remembered back to the first time she had encountered the species they called man.
The anaconda Dezba had been chasing wasn’t hard to find, it left a trail of flat grass leading all the way to the waterfall. She found it sunning itself on a rock the water flowing rapidly downstream, as the mist and boom of the waterfall sounded from a ways off. Dezba searched the murky waters for any sign that an alligator or other form of dangerous creature was in the area, all she saw was a turtle floating lazily in the current. The bulge in the snake’s stomach confirmed that, that was where her missing sister had went. It was a beautiful creature its spotted brown skin glinting in the daylight but daft to mess with her tribe. Most of the tribe was out looking for Aloisia but she would never have gotten lost even though she was one of the younger tribe members. Dezba knew the truth, it was rare for the tribe members to go missing and when they did this was most likely the case. Maia would be more upset then anyone for she was the eldest and acted as a sort of mother to them all.
A sword hung on her left side and a knife was strapped to her thigh. She crouched low as she levelled her breathing. She would have to be quick. This anaconda was bigger than most. With no fear and making no sound she leapt at the creature wrapping both her arms around its thick, scaly neck as it’s body writhed and squirmed but its last meal had made it slow and clumsy. It managed to toss her hard against a nearby rock knocking the wind out of her. It came at her mouth snapping, spit flying as she rolled out of the way, the snake hissing in anger as her knife cut into the head as it reared back painfully not giving her time to pull the knife out. While it was distracted with pain she grabbed her sword and in one swift stroke sliced off his head.
Panting hard from battle she went to wash the blood off herself along with her knife and her sword, a little ways downstream. She froze. Something was down there. She moved closer expecting it to be an animal but it wasn’t it was a different kind of creature, it smelled different too. It looked similar to her body form but different; it had no weapons that she could see. She drew her sword and approached at a distance. Only drinking a few more times did it recognize a second presence and lunged for its bow that had been hidden amongst the bushes. Yelling a battle cry she jumped from a rock and flipped in the air landing right by the creature as she levelled her sword on its throat. “Don’t move.” She hissed. “Stand up.” It obeyed willingly, staring at her.
Dezba circled around it twice; same body structure, same skin color, firm jaw, no breasts, chiselled face, black short hair, bushy eyebrows, scruff shadowed his jawline and taller and stronger than she had ever seen of her kind. It was handsome, bare-chested; leather was wrapped around its knee caps up to its hip. “What are you?” She asked with scepticism.
“I’m Sethos.” He grinned charmingly unable to tear his eyes off the brown skinned beauty before him.
She jumped back alarmed at his deep voice, her brows furrowed in confusion. He smelled different too. After observing him more she went closer, she put away her sword and brought out her dagger. Strange things these Sethos are. I’ve never heard of them. She began touching Setho’s body trying to find some reason for its similarities. Her fingertips traced the V by its hips and heard Sethos intake of breath, his body tense. Maybe she had hurt it, maybe Sethos was hiding a weak spot under the leather. She started to remove the leather, dagger in position in case it was something dangerous, all her senses on high alert. She saw a cluster of black fur. Some kind of creature was hidden there. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He chuckled.
Alarmed she took a step back. “You are no woman I have ever seen. You have hair where there shouldn’t be any.”
“That’s because I’m not a woman.” He spoke strangely. “I’m a man.”
“Man.” Dezba rolled the new term on her tongue experimentally. Ishtar blessed every daughter with knowledge of themselves and what they were capable of doing, but this new term did not ring a bell as she looked at him puzzled. It could have a cheating tongue.
“Have you never heard of one?” He asked incredulously wondering if she was joking.
She scowled not liking that he knew more than her. “Of course. In stories,” she lied wondering why Ishtar had never mentioned it before. Maybe Pisto, the storyteller of the tribe could answer this mystery.
“Are there more of you?” Sethos asked. He liked when she got upset it brought out the gold in her big brown eyes, he loved how her long black wavy hair clung to the back of her waist perfectly. “What’s that star on your shoulder mean?” He asked trying to distract himself from her and her barely covered skin as heat burned in his body yearning for her. He had never laid eyes on someone more beautiful.
“Come.” Dezba said not knowing how much she should tell him or what she should do about him. She had never met a creature that could talk back to her in her own language. He could not be a type of animal and definitely not a female. He was something else entirely.
They trudged upstream and Dezba found him very unnerving the way he was staring at her. He made no sign of disgust as she cut through the snake spilling its innards producing the girl’s body. The star on Alosia’s forehead no longer shined. “She is with Ishtar now.”
Sethos made a move to carry the body but backed off at the glare Dezba directed at him as she hefted Alosia’s tiny body into her arms easily. “We may be blessed but we are not immortal. I pray her death was swift but I doubt it. Come I will show you my tribe.”
Sethos came as innocent and pure as he looked but he was the devil with the face of an angel.
Dezba went to bed, settling down for a sleepless night, always aware that she caused the destruction of her family, her tribe and her life.
Gathering sticks on the scattered jungle floor to start a fire Dezba heard the stampede of small hoofs headed her way. It wasn’t anything too dangerous, too small for a deer…her mind raced through the endless amounts of creatures that inhabited the Amazon. Warthog. Remembering previous battles, feisty ugly creatures with sharp tusks she decided against combat. There were too many. She quickly dropped her kindling and hopped onto a rock, if they attacked she’d swing up on the branch above her and wait it out until they got bored.
Six warthogs broke through the underbrush seconds after Dezba made it to safety. They were covered in mud, frightened they kept moving on not noticing Dezba, their eyes wide with panic. The last one barely made it into Dezba’s view when she saw a flash of silver as something embedded itself in the weakest of the group. It squealed out in pain and then silence as death took it.
Something in the manner of its death, so sleek and smooth with no grappling triggered a memory, a memory that had lived in her camp for a year. Her breath caught. Sethos. She found him standing over his prize about to skin it. Anger at what he had done became an inferno inside her as she tackled him to the ground, straddling him with her dagger to his throat, her eyes ferocious. “Why!” Dezba screamed at him, pressing the dagger closer as blood began to stain the blade. “You think you can just walk away?” She became ten times more hostile when he seemed to show no remorse.
“I didn’t know.” His eyes stared her down, no tremor in his voice made her want to hurt him to know she was not someone to be toyed with. “I was sent by Ishtar to go to that river where we first met. She came to me as a white dove. I didn’t know the bird was a God until Delphinia told me about her and—”
“Don’t you dare speak her name! You have no right!” Dezba gritted her teeth. “I knew you were an imposture the moment I set eyes on you.”
“Will you listen to me!” Sethos said forcefully allowing Dezba to focus on his green eyes. “She never told me it would have ended like that. Do you think I would have went had I known? At first I thought she was testing me to see how I’d behave around all you gorgeous women but in the end she was testing your tribe.”
“My tribe. That’s ridiculous. You didn’t exactly “behave” yourself at my tribe.”
Sethos grinned dreamily; Dezba could smell the pine tree sap that was in his black hair to keep it styled and in place. “It was a lot to overcome.”
Dezba spit in his face but it didn’t seem to bother him. “Ishtar would never kill her own children.”
“The second day staying at your tribe she came to me in a dream. She was beautiful. Her long straight black hair flowed down her naked body like a river of silk, the skin of the nicest cream. She wanted your tribe and mine to mix but only the strong willed could survive and allow no cheaters and liars. I was told to woo and seduce the tribe so she could see what they’d do and how they’d react. It was upon Ishtar’s request that I do so. She projected so much power I couldn’t deny a God in case something bad would befall me or my tribe. She said that someone who falls willingly into love are fools. You are no fool, I’m glad you survived. She has been telling you lies about herself. Your Ishtar is not so noble as you think. She talks to me in my dreams, sometimes she comes as a winged women standing on a lion or being pulled on her chariot drawn by seven lions, or pouring a vessel of overflowing water into a river, or fully naked her breasts displayed in all their glory and sometimes with serpents wrapped around her arms and the lotus flower in both hands.” Sethos had a wistful look on his face even he couldn’t escape Ishtar’s hold she has over people. “I don’t understand why but she tells me things, secrets that I have more reason to fear her above anything else. This is how she shows her love, you think you had it bad she has done things far worse…” Sethos recited. “Woe to him whom Ishtar has honoured, her love was fatal even to the Gods. Assur, God of war, Marduk, sun God, Nebo, God of writing, Tammuz, God of vegetation all of them she has loved and all of them have been left severely injured or close to death.
One day she asked Gilgamesh to marry her but he refuses due to her past history. He then goes to insult her saying. ‘You loved the many-colored roller, but still you struck and broke his wing. You have loved the lion tremendous in strength: seven pits you dug for him. You loved the stallion magnificent in battle, and for him you decreed whip and spur and thong. You have loved the Sheppard of the flock; he made meal-cake for you day after day, he killed kids for your sake. You struck and turned him into a wolf; now his own herd boys chase him away, his own hounds worry his flanks.’ Ishtar becomes angry and goes to her father Anu the high king of heaven and demands the bull of heaven to avenge her. Her father refuses her, she then threatens to bring up all the dead to mix with the living if she does not get her way. Ishtar then sends the bull after Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu fight and kill it throwing it at Ishtar’s feet. The bull of the heavens is then mourned and the Gods are angry at its death kill Enkidu. Gilgamesh soon learns how terrible it is to defy Ishtar.
If she kills her lovers, is it really that hard to believe that she wouldn’t blink an eye to kill one of you? The story of how you were created, the day she created the three blessed woman and chose one to have the seed of life was not because she wanted to see how loyal you were. It was because she was bored and now she is tired of her “pets” she calls your tribe and wants nothing to do with you. That is why she wants everyone to stay with my tribe. Ishtar enjoys all aspects of human life. The fact that she can take it away at anytime, that she can destroy or fertilize crops or cause floods that would wipe out an entire tribe or that she can make wars last years or seconds depending on her mood. Best of all she loves to drive any man or creature insane with lust and desire. She can be both dangerous and bountiful. ”
Dezba’s grip loosened at all the new information. She felt as though everything she knew and believed in was a lie. How could Ishtar betray them like that? I always knew she was a trickster but never like this. She felt her heart break. The tribe members could never know. She would not have their faith shattered like hers had just been. “You should have left the day that dream came and let us be in peace but you were greedy. My sisters were not prepared for lust and love. They had never seen a man before. You drove them to jealousy. They became hateful and bitter towards one another striving for your attention causing them to eliminate each other one by one until it became a bloodshed battle. You tucked your tail behind your legs and fled without a word. Isidora had won you and when you never came back she killed herself in her grief, she felt abandoned and alone. Nyx and I could only watch from afar for they could not, would not see reason.
When you mix the blood of a warrior with empowerment of love they fight for what they want. My sisters were not accustomed to such powerful feelings. We were blessed with these gifts but were never given amble opportunity to use them. They meant nothing until you came a long turning the blessing into a curse. Love may conquer many things Sethos but I never knew such a feeling could destroy.”
“It was a test they could not pass. Your sisters were strong in body but weak in the mind.”
“Do not speak!” Dezba yelled her fist rose as she punched him in the cheek, she quickly stood up pacing the ground back and forth, wanting to lash out at everything and anything. “How do I know you even speak truth?”
Coughing from the impact he wheezed out. “As you said before. Why would Ishtar betray you? Why has she never told you of man, of the places that exist outside of the Amazon or that there are others like you? You are not as alone as you think.”
“Show me.” Dezba growled her hand never straying far from her sword as she picked up her spear that had been lying on the floor.
Children’s laughter was ringing throughout the tribe, Dezba had never seen so many little ones as she peered at Setho’s tribe from a far distance. It had taken them two days to get there and the smell of meat roasting on a spit made her mouth water. She hadn’t spoken a word to Sethos, though he had tried to make conversation.
The living proof that others existed tore her to her very core. Ishtar had hidden so much, this tribe was smiling and laughing without a care in the world. They were relaxed where her tribe had been taught to trust no one, never let your guard down and to be paranoid all the time. Dezba was anxious and on edge. There were many men here, but the females all got along. No one was arguing it was peaceful. Dezba ignored the tightness in her throat. Ishtar’s tribe had been like that until Sethos came it had been the hardest year of her life. They could have had this if her sisters had been more prepared. There were no huts in trees for the blessed, here everyone was equal.
“We have at least forty-five people and we communicate with other tribes nearby back and forth. Do you see how much easier it could be for all of you?” Sethos voice intruded into her thoughts. “And we have dealt with many childbirths.” He hinted knowing that she and Nyx knew nothing about such things.
Other tribes? For once Dezba was at a loss for words. Her whole world had been turned upside down. This whole time she had hoped he was lying, but the reality of it hit her like a rock wall. She silently cursed Ishtar, for it had been her fault all along and not Sethos for her sister’s deaths. If she hadn’t found Sethos that day one of her other sisters would have, Ishtar would have made it happen. A bit of the guilt she had been feeling lifted from her shoulders. It did not get rid of her confusion and new awareness of the world. “I—I must leave this place. My tribe will start to worry about where I have gone.” Dezba turned to leave she wanted to run until she couldn’t think.
“I will not hold you prisoner. You are a free soul here. Just remember why Ishtar did what she did, for us to join tribes. If you don’t their deaths were all for nothing.” He bit on his bottom lip hesitantly. “Also if you stay here you—you must be wed.”
Dezba stared at the ground confused not liking the fact that they already were being forced to do something they knew nothing about. “What is wed?” she asked hating the new term already.
“It is where you would be joined with a man, you must live with him and you both take care of one another and come to love and defend each other. You can take no other man but the one you are wed with. It is our way we cannot have the women here fearful that you will steal their husbands. Even though you four survived Ishtar’s test, they will always be wary until you are joined with someone showing your loyalty. Pallas and Wanneta would be well taken care of, treated like queens. It would ease you and Nyx’s burden of having to care for them, they would have someone more experienced with pregnancy.”
Dezba nodded once, not liking the wedding idea already, to sleep in the same room with one of them horrified her. She would make sure that all her sisters kept a knife in their hands while they slept. She hated to agree that Sethos was right in every aspect but not wanting to think about it. She turned her back and took off at a sprint.