Animal Mystic #1

ANIMAL MYSTIC #1

A busy issue, with tons of story to tell and D1's pencils at their most dense and muscular. The first 20 pages introduce our heroine, Nikki Ranoakke - scholar, pagan, orphan, heiress, trained martial artist (regarded as the best fighter in the Order of the Glass Mantas), passionate eco-defender, skilled armorer and weaponsmistress, latent telepath, and all-around California-blonde uberwoman whose destiny is catching up with her fast...

Nikki wakes from a strange, vivid dream ("I feel like someone is using me as a receptor for messages from space") and dashes off - late again - to her archaeology class. Her instructor, a wizardly-looking old cove named Prof. Burack, lectures on the explorations of one Chester Finnegorn, who in 1849 claimed to have found a surviving "Atlanto-Egyptian culture" in the jungles of the Amazon. Seeing Nikki's intense interest, Burack privately shows her his astounding trove of artifacts - scrolls, weapons and more - from said culture. (When he says the name "Finnegorn" it's in quote marks, and his possession of this extensive collection raises the suspicion that he himself was the mysterious explorer.) The most intriguing item is a magickal device called the Hydromid, so powerful that just studying a drawing of it puts Nikki into a trance. (It also just-so-happens to bear a resemblance to the eye-in-pyramid pendant she wears.) A voice seems to speak her name - Nikki - and another name - Jatarri.

Talking with Bronn, a friend and fellow Manta, she admits she's stressed out. Coping with the loss of her father (whose death she suspects was no accident) and the task of taking over his business has added too much burden to a life already busy with school and her rigorous martial-arts training. He suggests she needs a vacation and she quickly decides to take it in South America. (Bronn seems to know something - as she jogs off he thinks, "So it begins. Be careful Nikki. For all our sakes."

Reaching home, Nikki opens the door on a vision ("Sacred spirits, man!")--her living room is filled with a panoramic desert vista in the center of which stands a huge centaur-like creature holding a tremendous battle-axe. Nikki calls out to it but it stares a moment, then gallops off - and the living room is back to normal. Our heroine is understandably stunned: "By the gods! I am fucking losing it!"
--Studying a wall map of the Ranoakke Trust's Brazilian land holdings (now her own), she suddenly wonders if her property and Finnegorn's explorations share any of the same ground...

Felix at "Kill Time Prototypes" calls to say he's finished her new weaponry. Delighted, she suits up - an impressive high-tech set of custom-designed body armor, also made by Felix to Nikki's exacting specs - and drives over to try out the gear. On the way she hears a grossly violent rock song by a band called the Spigmodites and reacts with disgust. The weapons are WAY cool - hydro-electric-powered nunchuks that jittery Felix calls "Megachux" - and after an explosive demo run, Nikki happily pays off and takes them home. No aliens there this time, but there is a return call from Jhen, apparently her boyfriend (they call each other "honey" and "baby") - a freelance warrior employed in the high-tech surveillance/mercenary field as well as in fantasy art (D1's character stand-in maybe?). He already knows she's going somewhere, and wants to see her as soon as possible before she goes, saying it's important. (Everyone seems to know more about what's going on with Nikki than she does...)

Nikki does some reading in the Finnegorn book she borrowed from her professor and is rewarded with a weird dream in which she's underwater, a web-fingered, water-breathing version of herself, conversing with a strange little creature who's inside the Hydromid. Its name is Mota and it already knows who she is. She has no trouble understanding its alien language but disagrees with just about everything it has to tell her. She does not want to be a messiah or the savior of the universe, she does not agree that she has no choice in the matter, and she most especially does not like the name it gives her: "Animal Mystic? I'm a warrior, a scientist and a pragmatist...and this is a dream. Sorcery is an abusive perversion of natural law!" (Sure, right. Scientist/pragmatists always swear "Goddess!" and "By the gods!" and "Sacred spirits!"...)
--Left with visions of warring armies, strange temples and giant sea monsters - and the knowledge that someplace called "Antackia" is in danger - she wakes in a sweat and makes her decision: "Time to go. NOW."

Nikki meets with Dan Fischer of Fischer Finances, the financial agency charged with managing - in reality, grossly mismanaging - her late father's property and holdings. Charging him with ruthless plunder of ecological resources and waste of capital, she tells him she's assuming full control of the Ranoakke Trust and cutting all ties with his company. Needless to say he doesn't take this well. They argue; she pulls a knife on him and accuses him of arranging her father's murder. He says her father had already signed all the papers he needs to continue the "Rainforest Project" ("a cynical sell-out to the lumber industry" charged Nikki) but she says that as executive director she can personally go to the site and shut it down. She'll be facing a lawsuit when she gets back, he says. Fuck the courts, she says, I'll see you in hell.

Fischer calls an operative in South America and tells him to stop Nikki.

Nikki, from her Lear jet en route, calls Jhen on her cell phone. No, he's not angry that they had no chance to meet before she left: he's always known this day would come. He's just sorry she didn't get to see his latest work. When I get back, she says. Hmm, you don't get it, he says...but he'll miss her and he loves her...Nikki can't figure why he's talking as though she's leaving for good, but Jhen's looking at his artwork, all portraits of Nikki in triumphant battle poses and alien war paint. He's foreseen it all...

The Project has assigned a detail of men to conduct her safely to the site, but Nikki dismisses them and travels alone in another of Felix' contraptions, a solar-powered, communicative "Terra Tank". Which is promptly attacked by an assault chopper. Nikki shoots it down but now wonders if anyone at the Project site is still loyal to her father and herself. They encounter more Project staff, this lot poaching some local wildlife - a gigantic white tiger - and Nikki, outraged, guns them all down: "Putrid defilers! I am the wrath of this sacred forest! You will all die." Saving the cat, she instantly connects with it telepathically, and names it Minguss - Hungarian for "white beast" . Waiting until night she raids the Project site - an awesome high-tech Amazon on tigerback with the tank providing covering fire. Wiping out all but a few of the crew and leaving the rest to die, Nikki hardly has time to catch her breath before ...

..a force of armed, painted warrior women steps out of the jungle. "I know them. By the gods, I know them!" cries Nikki and one of the warriors - Namtha - also thinks, "It's her." Their Queen, Kendja, demands an instant battle to the death, but Namtha intervenes, insisting that for the sake of honor and ritual Nikki must be given time to prepare. Nikki doesn't want to fight her at all - "I came to this jungle to be with you," she protests - but Namtha tells her that all's well and they must go to Thalk Temple. "You know I could kill you all with just a few words?" growls Nikki (referring to the voice-activated Terra Tank, which is still within command range) and Namtha stops her in her tracks with a stunner: "These warriors would run you through in an instant. You would die dishonorably and destiny would not be fulfilled. And you'll never see Jhen again."

Nikki can't imagine why they'd want to kill her and thinks they're defending the Project, but Namtha explains that their scripture says that the one who comes in the company of the sacred white beast will be Queen - hence the immediate challenge from Kendra. (Thus Namtha reminded her that she must fight the duel with due ceremony or be in disrespect of tribal law.)

"I don't want to fight her! I don't want to be Queen!" wails Nikki.-- "Do not lie!" snaps Namtha...

and of course Nikki cuts Kendra to ribbons, wins the hearts of the Amazons, and stands triumphantly over them with bloody weapons upraised - exactly echoing the last painting of Jhen's we saw.
("I can't believe it," she grins to herself, "wait till I tell Bronn.")
"My queen! How shall we address thee!" cries one.
"What do you call the sun at night?" asks Nikki.
"She is Jatarri, Goddess in the night star."
"So be it."
And the cheer goes up - "Long live QUEEN JATARRI!"

...go on to Animal Mystic #2.