This has been kicking around my head for two years, so I decided to put it to paper in time for Halloween. For background, this is post-Japa. Mistophene, aka Myst, is a young amazon traveling with Gabrielle from a prior story.
Jim Yuen, FBtE, Oct 2002
"By the gods, Gabrielle. That was scary. I never heard the full story of the Bacchae before." the young amazon said as she looked in awe at the storyteller standing across the table.
"Hush, Myst, speak kindly of the departed...even the gods. This happened a long time ago and most folk don't remember the events. To them, I'm just an itinerant storyteller and not the same Gabrielle that fought Bacchus with Xena."
Myst watched as Gabrielle sat down and ordered their free dinner, payment, along with a night's lodging, for her storytelling. The inn was full of folk, just rousing from Gabrielle's mesmerizing account of the rescue of young maidens from the god Bacchus who changed them into Bacchae, the shape-changing, dark-loving worshippers of his cult. "How does she do it?" mused Myst. One moment the murmuring crowd was joking and eating; then Gabrielle, sitting atop a table, started to speak as if conversing with the crowd. And a stillness ripples out as images and events, evoked by soft-spoken words that capture and enthrall the listeners.
This is the very inn that bordered on the Bacchae Woods. The same place where Xena and Gabrielle defeated Bacchus. In a strange quirk of fate, the town capitalized on its history and now hosts an annual Bacchae week. Daylight fairs vie for customers with the nightly Bacchae Bash, the drum-throbbing, sensuous dances by torchlight. Folk from neighboring towns crowd the few inns and innkeepers entice bards and minstrels with free room and board for a crowd pleasing performance. That the festival is timed after the last harvest only encourages the populace to celebrate the upcoming winter rest.
Gabrielle didn't intend to stop here, but too many rocky campsites made the inn very attractive. Now, with a good dinner stored away, she grinned "Wanna check out the Bash? The moon's out and it'll go on for hours yet."
"Sure" laughed Myst, "it's time to shake off some of the road dust. You coming?"
Gabrielle smiled ruefully, "Nah. I'm tired. I'm for bed...but you go...just watch out for the Bacchae."
"Don't joke like that. Your story gives me the creeps. No way am I going to let anyone close to my neck. Umm,...could I borrow a few dinars?"
Gabrielle checked her amazon bag and pulled out a pouch, extracted some coins for Myst and said "Don't stay out too late. And don't wake me up when you come home."
"OK, grandma" Myst snickered impishly as she scooted out the door.
"Kids" Gabrielle sighed and headed up the stairs to their tiny room.
Two hours later, Gabrielle woke up suddenly. A sound, a whisper, a flitter. There. Something moved. A whisper "sssherr". "Be calm, listen, see" she repeated mentally as she slowly scanned the moonlit room. Myst is still out, her bed's empty. A cool breeze from the open window. Flit, "sssherrr". Ah there, She chuckled, "A bat". A bat with a rippled wing. An accident? But the wing edge made the swishing sound so like a whisper. Mystery solved.
But Gabrielle was awake now. "Ah, well. Let's see what's happening now." She slid out of bed and walked to the window. Looking out, she could make out the flickering torches and hear the soft but insistent beat of the drums from the bash a few blocks away.
"I bet Myst's still there, dancing her heart out. What is it with amazons and drums...must be in the blood." and smiled at the memory of her first night here when the drums enticed her to join the Bacchae dance. "If I hadn't danced, I wouldn't have become a Baccha, and I wouldn't have bitten Xena, and if Xena wasn't a Baccha, we couldn't have defeated Bacchus. What a weird chain of events. Did he die? We never found the body the next morning. Enough! Time to sleep." And with that, she toddled back to the cozy bed.
"It's her." Gabrielle started awake. "It's her." That whisper. "Gotta be the bat." She mumbled and got up to chase the bat out the window. But there was no bat. No Myst either. "Damn, that girl will stay out all night. I better find her."
Gabrielle quickly dressed, slipped her sais into their holders, looked out the window and noted the dim torch glow and soft solo drum beats from the town square. Quietly so as not to wake the other guests in the inn, she slipped out and jogged to the drum beat.
"It's her." That whisper. Gabrielle quickly scanned the street, but couldn't see the bat. "Must be hallucinating. That ale's strong stuff." she mumbled as she hurried to the square.
A long drummer slowly palmed a soft syncopated beat by torchlight as a dozen or so girls dressed in black danced and swayed to the rhythm.
Goose bumps popped all over Gabrielle's skin as she thought "By the gods, it's like deja vue. OK, OK, calm down. They're just in costumes." But the bumps stayed as she heard "It's her." Her hands were halfway to her sais before she chuckled to herself "Gods, I'm getting spooked by my own story."
But she noted that the dancers seem to be quietly eyeing her. "It's her." ...that whisper again.
"Where's Myst? Where is that girl? " Moving quickly, but carefully, she walked toward the dancers, intending to see if Myst is beyond them.
Just as she reached the dancers, the drum crashed with a BOOM. The torches exploded in an eye-searing flash of light. Blinded by the light, Gabrielle suddenly felt hands grab her. She lashed out with her arms, but more hands grabbed at her, at her arms, her legs, around her waist and neck. She tried to crouch down to get leverage, but then the bodies piled on her. She heard a whisper "It's her." just as her head exploded and she slid into darkness.
"Yesss, it's her." The soft voice slowly leaked into her consciousness. Gabrielle kept her eyes closed as she assessed her situation. Rustling... people moving, more than one. Click, echo...big hollow place. Flicker...fire or candles, maybe still night. Arms...can't move. Legs...same. "Tied up. Damn!"
"Yesss, it's her. Wake her up."
SPLASH. Gabrielle sputtered as she tried to shake off the cold water. Eyes open, she stared at Myst's face. But Myst's face was pale, eyes a glowing yellow. Myst smiled, blood red lips with white teeth and two small, but very sharp fangs.
Glancing around, Gabrielle found herself tied down to a stone slab, an altar of sorts centered in a large cave with sputtering torches and black clad females.
"Welcome home, Gabrielle." Gabrielle shifted her gaze to a much older woman, the same pale face and yellow eyes, dressed in flowing black.
"You don't remember me, do you? Of course not. You and Xena were too busy killing Bacchus. You were going to save us all. Poor village girls, forced to become Bacchae." she smiled as she lightly caressed Gabrielle's cheek.
Gabrielle jerked her head away and said "Who are you? What do you want? Why am I tied up like this?"
"I'm one of the girls you and Xena rescued. But I didn't WANT to be rescued and you and Xena spoiled my one chance to be immortal, to be powerful. You KILLED my chance. But now you're going to help me get it back. Bacchus will live again. And I would have earned my name, Bacchaena"
"You're crazy!" Gabrielle turned her head toward Myst "Myst, what happened?" But Myst only turned toward Gabrielle with a hungry look, and slowly, lightly licked her fangs.
The older Baccha smiled "Myst is it? What a lovely name. She came dancing and got, umm, carried away. They said she was so mesmerized with the music that she didn't even feel the bite. But let's not talk about her. Let's talk about you, because, my dearie, you will bring Bacchus back to life."
Bacchaena clapped her hands and two Bacchae carried a silver bowl over and place it next to Gabrielle on a tripod. "But let me continue the story. When Xena killed Bacchus, she only killed his body. His spirit fled as he was dying and entered into this bowl of his blood. When you and Xena left, I hid the bowl and sipped it over the years to keep my power. But, alas, in time it dried."
Turning her head Gabrielle peered into the bowl and could see the dark caked dried blood that, at one time, would turn a bitten maiden into a true Bacchae. "'Then it's all over. Don't you see? You could be human again and live life as it should be lived."
"No, No, NO!" Bacchaena screamed. "I WILL be immortal and your blood will make it so. I've waited for years for this opportunity, never dreaming that it will come on the anniversary of Bacchus' death." She leaned over Gabrielle's face, and said "You can't mix water with the blood. It would dilute it and lose its potency. But you can mix Baccha blood with Bacchus' blood. And, you, my dear, still have Baccha blood in you even after all these years. All I need to do is slit your throat and drain your blood into the bowl, mix it with the dried blood and drink it. Then...then, I will have the power of Bacchus all for myself and I will create new Bacchae and slowly extend my power until the world bows before my feet. Too bad you won't be alive to see it."
"But why wait? My new initiate will do the honors. Won't you, Myst?" Bacchaena clapped again and the bacchae gathered around Gabrielle. Four held her body tightly, two grabbed her head and twisted it so her neck by the edge of the altar while another positioned the bowl and tripod below her head.
Gabrielle tried but just couldn't move, tied and held down as she was. With gleeful anticipation, The old Baccha handed a silver bladed ceremonial knife with a carved dryad bone handle to Myst. "Yess, it's her. Do it!" Slowly Myst took the blade and turned to Gabrielle. Slowly raising the blade to position it for the downward stroke across Gabrielle's throat, she glanced at Bacchaena. Just as slowly, Bacchaena smiled and nodded her head.
Gabrielle looked up at Myst and shouted "Myst, don't! Wake up! Wake up!"
The blade flashed down.
"Myst, don't! Wake up! Wake up!" Gabrielle shouted as she thrashed against her remembered restraints. One arm whipped across and barely missed Myst's head as Myst jumped back.
"My queen...I mean, Gabrielle! Wake up! Are you OK? Are you OK? Wake up! You must be dreaming!" as Myst tried to hold her down without being pummeled.
Gabrielle's eyes popped open, gasping for breath as she tried to make sense of her surroundings. "Gods! Was that a dream?"
Sunlight. A concerned Myst, all tan and buff, with brown eyes and normal teeth looked down at her. Bed. Room. The inn. Deep breath. "By the gods, what a dream!"
Gabrielle sat up and looked at Myst. "But, what happened to you? Where were you all night?"
Myst looking abashed "Well, I stayed up kinda late. The dance was lots of fun. All kinds of girls dressed up. And the drum rhythm is so cool! I've got to learn it and try it at the next amazon festival. Anyway, I didn't get back until way late and you were sleeping, so I slipped into my own bed. Yeah, and there was this funny bat with a crinkled wing that flew around. Sorta makes a sound like someone whispering."
"The next thing I know, you were shouting and thrashing around. Gods, did that woke me up fast. That must've been some dream."
"Yeah, I think telling about the Bacchae last night and that bat 'whispering' fired off my overactive imagination. Well, we're up, so let's wash up, get some breakfast and get on the road again."
Myst grinned "Breakfast. That's a great idea." and reached for her washcloth.
"Don't forget to wash your neck, Myst, looks like two spots of blood there."