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* * * Disclaimer * * *

The characters Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Velasca, Ephiny, Solari, Mayem, Siri, et al. belong to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. All modifications made to the characters beyond that described in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess are strictly that of the author’s own imagination.

Baccha Moon Rising is the first story in a three story trilogy, "Worlds in Collision," detailing an epic conflict between Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry, and the Amazon nation. The story does contain some violence, profanity and sexual themes. If any of that is disagreeable or illegal where you live, please select another piece of fan fiction to enjoy.

The "Worlds In Collision" trilogy is a so-called "lost" adventure that takes place immediately after the second season X:WP episode "The Quest" and immediately before the second season X:WP episode "A Necessary Evil." Furthermore, Velasca is alive and well at the beginning of the trilogy, and not an insane goddess trapped within a hardened lava pool with Callisto. It also introduces some characters from the fourth season H:TLJ episode "Prodigal Sister" because while they weren’t known to viewers of the Xenaverse during X:WP’s second season, they were known to the Amazons.

Above all, enjoy the story. If you have any constructive comments or suggestions, please feel free to contact me, M. Keck, via e-mail. The address is: By the way, thanks for reading my work -- it’s greatly appreciated. All of my writing comes from my heart.


Velasca, the former queen of the Amazon nation, treaded carefully among the numerous tree trunks that crowded the Baccha Woods. A wanted woman, she had fled here to avoid the hunting parties that had been dispatched by her Amazon enemies. And if that wasn’t enough, she was also being tracked down by every warlord in Macedonia because of the ten thousand dinar price placed on her head by the Amazon nation. As far as she could tell, the best destination was the Baccha Woods, where no man dared to go unless he had no intention of coming out alive. And so she found herself in these notorious woods, listening to the soft music of Orpheus while running for her life. I’m a warrior, but even warriors have their limitations, Velasca thought. And in my book, those limitations become obvious when you’re outnumbered and outgunned by your opposition. She paused, thinking. Devotion to a cause is commendable, but not to the point of suicide.

She squatted by a broad trunked tree and began cleaning her sword, which was still encrusted with the blood and gore of the last mercenary who had tried to capture her alive. Velasca contemplated the woods around her, Orpheus’ soft lilting music fading to the back of her mind. It’s my destiny to make the Amazon nation a great power again, she thought. By Artemis! All I have to do is get Ephiny and the others to see the light. We were meant to rule the world, not be the butt of jokes and the victims of rampaging warlords and slavers.

Velasca’s thoughts were interrupted rustling foliage nearby. She stood, her sword held out defiantly. Her honed senses were focused on the unseen threat. "Who goes there?" she challenged. "Who dares to disturb the thoughts of the great Velasca, Queen of the Amazons?!"

"You mean the former queen, don’t you?" a woman’s voice replied smoothly.

Velasca stared at the woman who had stepped out of the foliage. Full black hair flowed down to her shoulders, highlighting a pale face inset with a refined nose and emerald green eyes. A full crimson mouth curved upward in a mischievous smile, revealing a mouthful of perfect white teeth.

Velasca sheathed her sword, sensing no immediate threat from the stranger. "What are you doing here? I was under the impression that these woods were somewhat isolated from nearby towns and villages."

"These woods are my home," the woman cooed. "I appreciate the isolation and serenity. It gives me the solitude I need to contemplate my future."

Orpheus’ lilting music rose in volume; the woman winced and covered her ears. Velasca’s alert senses took note of the strange reaction. "You don’t seem to appreciate the music too much," she commented dryly.

"It disturbs my thought processes," the woman agreed. She reached into her tunic, pulled out two lumps of wax and carefully filled her ears with the pliable material.

She offered some to Velasca, but the Amazon shook her head. The music was loud, but it didn’t disturb her like it did this strange woman. A distinct feeling of foreboding washed over Velasca. Something isn’t right here, she thought. She reviewed her information about the area, but found nothing interesting. Xena and Gabrielle destroyed the Bacchae and Bacchus himself nearly a year ago. Since then there’s been no reports of any unusual activity in the woods besides Orpheus playing his lyre. But he wouldn’t have to play his lyre unless ...

The woman’s warm touch snapped Velasca out of her thoughts. She was still offering the earplugs to Velasca. "I told you, I don’t need them. I enjoy Orpheus’ music. How often do I need to repeat that to you?"

The woman frowned pensively. "But you’ll need them soon. I know because Orpheus’ music is an irritant that makes even the worse headache seem bearable."

Velasca tried to move away, but the woman reached out and held her with an iron grip. Her senses screamed a warning and Velasca unsheathed her sword with her free hand and swung it in an arc at the woman’s head. The woman batted the sword from Velasca’s hands and laughed maliciously. She stared imperiously at Velasca and hissed, "It’s your initiation time, Amazon. You’ll make an excellent follower for Bacchus!"

Velasca became painfully aware of razor sharp talons pressing into the flesh of her arm. She glanced at the woman’s face and moaned at the sight: Her face had turned chalky white and her eyes had turned into mesmerizing golden orbs. The woman’s swollen, crimson lips parted to reveal a pair of long, sharp fangs. By Artemis! I’ve been captured by a Baccha, Velasca raged helplessly. This can’t be! It wasn’t supposed to be this way! I’m destined to rule the Amazon nation -- not to be a mindless, bloodsucking minion of Bacchus!

As if sensing her thoughts, the Baccha growled, "And you will rule the Amazons and make them great again. But you will do so as one of my lieutenants. By the time you’re finished with your sisters, they’ll all be Bacchae!"

Velasca stifled a screech of pain as the woman plunged her fangs into her throat and began sucking, drawing spurts of blood into the Baccha’s mouth. Velasca’s vision began twisting and warping as a warm tingling sensation began spreading slowly over her body and into her mind. The last thing she saw before fainting was a towering nightmare figure with cherry red skin, black twisted ram’s horns, gold eyes and elfin ears.

It was laughing and offering her the earplugs she had refused earlier.

* * *

Velasca peered through the bushes, keeping her targets centered in her shifting infra-red vision. Three women picnicking in the Baccha Woods. The concept seemed alien to Velasca’s Baccha mind. Intelligent women, as these three appeared to be, weren’t supposed to do stuff like that. And, ordinarily, they wouldn’t. But these weren’t ordinary times. As far as the women were concerned, Xena and Gabrielle had ended the threat of Bacchus and his Bacchae. Besides, these woods offered a nice haven for a romp with some friends.

"The wine’s beginning to get to me," Eribas laughed as she handed her empty mug to her girlfriend, Caria. "It’s going through my body so fast that I’ve gotta take a piss. I’ll be back shortly."

She laughed wildly and stumbled into the woods; it wasn’t long before she found a sheltered spot. She wasn’t aware of the golden orbs which tracked her every movement. Eribas pulled her skirt up and squatted, feeling relief as her bladder emptied itself, fertilizing the ground in the process.

Hidden in the bushes, Velasca realized this was her chance. She leaped from her hiding place and pounced on the vulnerable young woman. Eribas didn’t even have time to scream before a taloned hand clapped over her mouth and twisted her head sideways. Eribas looked up at her attacker and let out a small gasp when she saw her assailant’s crimson mouth descending toward her neck, fangs glimmering wetly behind the lips. She averted her eyes as a sharp pain lanced into her neck. The pain was brief and was soon followed by a warm tingling sensation. Eribas moaned with pleasure.

That’s the first one, Velasca thought, propping her initiate against a tree. It’ll take her a minute or two to complete her transformation. Afterwards, we can nab the others.

* * *

Caria was the first to greet Eribas when she got back from the woods. She didn’t notice the quickly healing wound on Eribas’ neck, but she took apprehensive stock of the stranger Eribas had brought back with her. "Where did you pick up your new friend?" Caria asked anxiously. "Is she here to help us finish off the leftovers?"

Eribas’ distant, dreamy look didn’t go away. She merely smiled enigmatically at Caria. Velasca noticed this and took up the slack. "No, I’m not here to help you with leftovers. I was enjoying a stroll through the woods when I ran into Eribas doing, um, her business."

"You were out in the woods by yourself?!" Lara chimed in. "Isn’t that kind of idiotic?"

"Why?" Velasca asked. "I’m an Amazon. If trouble arose I’d be able to defend myself because I’ve been trained in the art of warfare." She snorted derisively. "You three are a different story, though."

"You have a point," Lara admitted, observing Velasca’s black, metal-studded leather armor. "We probably wouldn’t be able to defend ourselves against somebody, say, like you. Or against the Bacchae."

"But we don’t have to worry about Bacchus anymore," Caria added. "Especially after word got back that Xena and Gabrielle put a stop to his plans. And even if there’s a few renegade Bacchae out there, Orpheus’ music is more than enough to keep them under control!"

Caria and Lara stared pensively at Velasca, silent. I’m sure I’ve seen that woman somewhere before, Caria thought. But where? And when? Eribas took advantage of her friends’ inattention and moved in closer. Velasca saw what she was doing and smiled encouragingly.

"Now I know where I’ve seen you before!" Caria cried out. "It was a few years ago in Pella and you were with an Amazon war party. You’re Velasca! But the last I’d heard you had been ... ,"

" ... deposed as their queen," Lara finished. "That’s why you’re wandering out here alone! The Amazon nation has a price on your head!"

"That’s right. Ten thousand dinars ... that would make anyone rich!" Caria hissed, pulling a dagger from her tunic. "And the Amazons don’t care if you’re brought back dead or alive." She lunged at Velasca, who deftly sidestepped to avoid the uncoordinated attack.

"Too bad you’ll never collect that reward," Velasca snarled, ripping the dagger from Caria’s fingers and tossing it into the foliage. She smiled and leaped at Caria, knocking her to the ground. Velasca reached down and jerked the terrified woman to her feet and smiled again, exposing her needle sharp fangs. Moments later she sank her fangs into Caria’s neck and savored the hot, swift flow of sweet blood. Caria’s pained moans died away as her body began to contort and quiver as a warm tingling sensation spread through it and over her mind. Velasca dropped the newest initiate unceremoniously to the ground. Two women in less than an hour. Am I good or what, she thought, turning to a numb Lara. "Now it’s your turn," Velasca hissed.

Lara spun from the horrible scene and scampered into the woods. Velasca laughed and crooked a finger at Eribas. "Go get her. I’ve had enough to eat for the moment," she said. "It’s your turn."

The woods spun crazily around Lara as she continued her headlong flight from the carnage that had started out as an innocent picnic. She spied Eribas in the distance and slowed to a stop near her friend. "Eribas! Did you see what happened to Caria after Velasca bit her?!" Lara gibbered. "By Zeus, she was turning into a Baccha! But it can’t be --everyone knows that Bacchus was killed by Xena!"

Eribas smiled and opened her crimson mouth, revealing her own pair of sharp fangs for Lara to see. "Don’t always believe what you hear," she commented dryly, advancing on her friend.

"You’re one too?! But, but when?" Then it dawned on Lara. "Oh, no. Velasca got you while you were doing your business, didn’t she?"

Eribas nodded. "Now it’s your turn. You’ll enjoy being a Baccha, Lara, trust me! It will only hurt when I nip you, but afterwards you’ll live forever, wild and carefree!" She grabbed her friend. "You’ll never have to worship another god or do anything a man tells you to do. Ever!"

Lara stalled for time, pleading with Eribas. "Please, just let me go. I promise I won’t tell anybody about you or the other Bacchae! You might like being one, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t." She looked deeply into Eribas’ brilliant golden eyes. "I’m asking you as a lifelong friend, Eribas. Let me go."

"I don’t think so," Eribas said, frowning. "You see, Velasca didn’t give me a choice. She just bit me and the next thing I knew, I had fangs and a bad attitude. Since I didn’t get to choose, neither will you. I’m going to give you the gift of eternal life and I’ll be damned if your little petty mortal concerns are going to stop me!"

Eribas slammed her Lara against a tree and twisted her head to expose her neck. Lara whimpered as taloned fingers swept her thick brown hair aside and gently massaged her neck. Suddenly a bolt of pain lanced through her body as Eribas’ fangs pierced the tender skin of her neck. Lara swayed unsteadily as Eribas’ loud slurping filled her ears. Her vision flashed infra-red and a warm tingling sensation spread across her spasming body. Several minutes later, Eribas withdrew her bloody mouth from Lara’s chalky white neck and propped her friend’s trembling body against a tree. Lara’s body spasmed again and her eyes snapped open, focusing on Eribas. Growling softly, Lara opened her swollen, crimson lips, exposing her newly-formed fangs. Her pain had quickly faded away, replaced by an intense pleasurable sensation as the transformation took hold.

Eribas pulled some wax earplugs from her tunic and smiled at her initiate. "You’ll need these to keep out that irritating music that Orpheus is so fond of," she said softly. She tousled Lara’s hair and smiled encouragingly at her questioning face. "See, I told you it wouldn’t be that bad once the pain went away."

"Oh, how touching," Velasca said sardonically as she walked out of the foliage. Caria was right behind her. "We have to return to the catacombs and see what Bacchus wants us to do next." Velasca smiled coldly. "Bacchus isn’t alone anymore now that he’s got us. And we’ll keep multiplying now -- soon there will hundreds, then thousands, of Bacchae at Bacchus’ beck and call!"

Eribas helped Lara to her feet and followed Velasca and Caria as they spread into the woods. They didn’t bother hiding the picnic’s remains. There were bigger and better things to do.

* * *

Bacchus stood regally on his throne ledge and looked down at the chamber’s vast floor. Dozens of young women danced slowly and hypnotically to the strains of eerie music. All of them had been transformed into Bacchae by Velasca, Caria, Eribas and Lara over the past week. The happy scene reminded Bacchus of an eerily similar picture from not so long ago. This time I won’t screw up, Bacchus thought. I’ll destroy Orpheus before he becomes aware of my resurrection. And this time, Xena and her friend will join the ranks of my Bacchae again. Permanently.

He turned to Velasca and growled, "It’s time to end the threat that Orpheus poses to us. Select a hunting party and find him. Once you locate him, take him out before he becomes a thorn. I want him dead, you hear me?!"

"Do you have any idea where Orpheus might be, milord?" Velasca asked.

"Orpheus doesn’t maintain a permanent residence," Bacchus replied. "Follow his insipid music. The stronger it becomes, the closer you will be to him."

Velasca nodded and moved away, but Bacchus restrained her. "I don’t care how you complete the mission, but try to keep it simple and straightforward. Nothing fancy, you hear? Find Orpheus and destroy him. Show no mercy!" he rumbled. "Don’t come back until he’s dead, or it will be your head on a platter, not his!"

Velasca nodded curtly and flew from the ledge, alighting among the other Bacchae. She selected seven of them and waltzed off into the gloom. Bacchus counted over two dozen Bacchae still dancing across the floor. He smiled maliciously as an entertaining thought crossed his mind. The recent disappearances are bound to be getting some attention by now, just like they did the last time, he thought. I think a misinformation campaign is in order. That should put a halt to any rumors before anybody begins to take them seriously.

Bacchus summoned Eribas to the ledge with a mental command. The Baccha flew up and looked up reverently at her lord. "What do you require of me?" she asked. Not all the Bacchae had the honor of receiving an order from their lord.

"While Velasca and her hunters are busy with Orpheus, I want you and Lara to return to Macedonia’s capitol, Pella, and carry out a misinformation campaign," Bacchus instructed. "There’s probably some unsavory speculation concerning the recent disappearances in the Baccha Woods. I want you to quash those rumors before they accidentally stumble upon the truth."

"What about our friends and families? When we reappear, they’ll wonder where all the other women are," Eribas said. "What do we tell them?"

"Tell them you became disoriented and found yourself in Bacchus’ abandoned catacombs," Bacchus said. "And if that isn’t enough, just wing it. I’m confident that you two can keep the mortals in line. But remember one thing: Keep your stories simple; if you get too complex, you’ll stumble and frenzy, exposing your true nature."

Eribas nodded and flew from the ledge. She alighted next to Lara and whispered in her ear. Lara nodded and followed Eribas away from the torch lit chamber into the darkness. Whatever happens, don’t lose control and frenzy. If that happens, no cover story will keep my resurrection a secret, Bacchus thought warily.

* * *

A dozen young men and women danced wildly around the blazing bonfire to the rocking beat of Orpheus’ lyre, oblivious to the world around them. The impromptu party was taking place in one of the numerous clearings that dotted the rugged Baccha Woods and had been going on for over an hour already. The pounding music rose to a fevered and then crashed down as the song came to an abrupt end. Orpheus absent-mindedly pulled some of lyre’s strings, producing discordant twangs, as he looked out over his small crowd of admirers.

"Well, what did you think of that piece?" he asked. "Pretty hard rocking, huh?"

"Play your song ‘Rock the Night!’" a woman chimed eagerly. "Isn’t that the one that tells the story of your victory over Bacchus?"

Orpheus smiled. He received a lot of requests for that particular song. They just love heroic songs, don’t they? he thought. That song’s so popular that it’s even on the Mount Olympus Top Ten Hit List. "Whatever you want, darling."

The dancers resumed their frenetic pace, the pounding melody of Orpheus’ lyre filling the clearing and drowning out all other noises. Invisible drums joined the lyre as its lyrics soared high and then low. The music was so loud that neither Orpheus or his admirers noticed the eight pairs of gold pinpoints that surrounded the clearing.

Caria clutched her taloned hands over her ears, the pounding music penetrating through her earplugs. She glanced around wildly, trying to contain her desire to frenzy, and saw the other Bacchae resisting the same urge. Only Velasca appeared to be in control of herself, and she didn’t appear to be too happy with the situation. "That music is driving everyone nuts," Caria grumbled after sliding up next to Velasca. "Why don’t we just frenzy and attack them now. By Bacchus, there’s eight women in that crowd! Eight potential initiates!"

"We’ll wait until everyone’s in their proper position," Velasca replied quietly. "Then we pounce on my mark. This has to be done right the first time around, because we won’t have a second chance." Not against a god, at any rate, she thought coldly. If Orpheus is alerted to our presence before we’re ready, it will make it just that much harder to nail him.

Several minutes passed before Velasca was satisfied that everyone was ready to go. She smiled, her exposed fangs bathed in the pale light of the moon. "Remember that Orpheus is our primary objective. After he’s gone, we can transform his followers into Bacchae," she purred. Caria nodded and passed the word to the other Bacchae.

The murderous music rose even louder as it approached its climax, even causing the air to vibrate noticeably. Velasca could barely hear herself thinking. She glanced around and saw the others experiencing the same predicament and thought, We’re going to have to make our move -- and soon, before this music drives us all insane.

* * *

The rumors started after searchers found the abandoned picnic site, along with signs of a brief struggle. Depending on who you talked to, the missing women had either been kidnapped by a band of marauders or had been taken by sex slavers and were now nothing more than drugged prostitutes in Athens. It never crossed the mind of the gossips that Bacchus might be behind the recent disappearances. That possibility didn’t come up until other women began vanishing at an alarming rate in or near the supposedly safe Baccha Woods. When the local people heard that the Amazon war parties had lost track of Velasca in the Baccha Woods as well, they began piecing the clues together. And the dreaded words nobody had ever hoped to hear again were once again spoken: Bacchus and his Bacchae.

Women were especially disconcerted by the shattered sense of tranquillity that the rumors brought about. They had grown accustomed to traveling through the woods, especially after Bacchus had been defeated by Xena and Gabrielle. Everyone knew what happened to women who were unfortunate enough to encounter the Bacchae in the woods. They disappeared. And then they came back as bloodsucking monsters forever bound to serve Bacchus. As for the men, they simply got killed. For the most part, their suffering ended with death. But for the women, there was no death. Only eternity as a Baccha. Needless to say, it was one of the rare circumstances where the women actually found themselves growing jealous of the men.

It didn’t take long for the rumors to cover all of Macedonia and seep down as far south as Athens and Corinth. And as before, the dark rumors got the attention of Xena and Gabrielle. It didn’t take long for the warrior princess and her protégé to show up in Pella, asking questions.

"According to your estimates, over thirty women have vanished in less than two weeks?" Xena asked, staring imperiously at Pella’s governing council. The old men shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

"Ten women from Pella and another twenty from the surrounding villages," said Gorgas, the leader of the council. "It all started when some women never came back from a picnic in the Baccha Woods. Then an Amazon warrior, Solari, told us that her nation had lost track of Velasca, their former queen."

Xena waved her arms. "I know all about Velasca and her shenanigans," she sighed. "And you say you haven’t heard a word from Orpheus about the disappearances?"

"No. He’s been entertaining the young people out in the woods lately," Gorgas said. "I guess he’s trying to make people less afraid to enter the Baccha Woods." He yawned and then added, "I don’t think Orpheus is taking the situation too seriously. He probably thinks the disappearances are the result of wanderlust -- you know, women getting tired of taking care of the kids, screwing their husbands and maintaining the home. To be blunt, of course."

Xena shook her head and looked over at Gabrielle, who shrugged helplessly. She was missing something here. Something that could explain the disappearances.

"Poor Xena. Don’t you realize that only a Baccha can kill me?" Bacchus taunted. "And you’re not one of us ... yet!" He pointed at Xena. "Bite her!" And Gabrielle soared up toward the ledge ...

She was snapped from her thoughts by loud pounding on the council doors, which were shut tight. Before anyone could respond, the doors flew open and a young man rushed in, breathing heavily. "They’ve come back! They’ve come back!" he shouted, falling to his knees in front of Gorgas.

"Silence, peasant! Now, who’s come back?" Gorgas inquired forcefully.

"Some of the women who were the first ones to disappear. I think their names are Eribas and Lara," the man replied quietly. "I thought you’d like to know so I came here to ... ,"

"That’s very generous of you," Gorgas interrupted kindly, smiling. "Now get out of here. We can handle the situation from here." He glanced at Xena and Gabrielle. "You’re both more than welcome to come with us. We’re going to ask the women where they’ve been."

Xena nodded. "It sounds like a game plan to me." She followed Gorgas out of the council chamber, Gabrielle tagging along behind her.

* * *

The warrior princess and her protégé followed the council members to the town square, staying a discreet distance behind the old men. The pair didn’t want Eribas and Lara to recognize them and possibly change their story. It wasn’t long before the group arrived at the square, where a small homecoming party was already in progress, welcoming the missing women home. Gorgas didn’t waste any time, nodding at two burly young men. The men vanished into the milling crowd and reappeared moments later, leading the women from the suddenly quiet crowd. Both women smiled when they saw Gorgas, but began to look worried after seeing the thunderclouds gathering in the council leader’s eyes.

"Where in Hades have you two been?" he rumbled. "And I thought there were three of you who went missing. Where’s the third one at?" Lara began mumbling, but Gorgas cut her off, shouting, "We’ve had search parties roaming the countryside for over a week now! Surely you must have realized the furor that your disappearances would have caused, especially among the women!"

Gorgas began trembling, his fury was so great. He was preparing to launch another verbal assault when another council member restrained him. "Give them an opportunity to explain themselves, Gorgas," the man said softly.

Xena watched Gorgas, her interest piqued by his unusual reaction to the women’s reappearance. She turned to Gabrielle and whispered, "It’s obvious that he’s not happy about the turn of events. I think Gorgas wanted to blame the disappearances on Bacchus, but he can’t do that now."

Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. Now he’s got to find the true culprits. Probably some pirates or, Zeus forbid, sex slavers." She paused, thinking. "If that’s the case, maybe we can help Gorgas out."

The two friends focused their attention on Eribas, who had picked up where Lara had left off. "We were captured by some slavers and sold to some Roman centurions. We were supposed to be their sex slaves," she said quietly. "But it never happened. The Roman camp was attacked by a band of marauders and we managed to escape under the confusion that the fighting generated."

Xena followed Eribas’ story carefully, nodding the whole time. Her explanation is certainly plausible, she thought. The Roman Empire has been expanding and growing stronger since the rise of Julius Caesar began. But why would a bunch of centurions set up camp in Macedonia, much less in an isolated spot like the Baccha Woods?

Eribas glanced at Lara and cued her in. After a tense moment of silence, Lara added, "After our escape, we wandered around for a couple days before finding Bacchus’ abandoned catacombs. We used them as a navigation point and found our way back to Pella."

Gorgas stared imperiously at the two fidgeting women, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Your story sounds solid to me, but ... ," he moved aside, revealing Xena and Gabrielle, who were both glowering, " ... let’s see how your story holds up under the warrior princess’ and her protégé’s questioning!"

"You still haven’t mentioned your friend’s whereabouts," Gabrielle said casually, beating Xena to the punch. "What ever happened to her?"

Eribas and Lara ignored Gabrielle’s statement and stared nervously at Xena. They began twitching, but managed to resist the urge to frenzy. Not now, not here, Lara begged silently. She was becoming accustomed to her new lifestyle and dietary needs, but the ferocity of how quickly it could overcome her mind still shocked her. She glanced at Eribas, who seemed to be holding her own against the dark tide as well.

"We didn’t want to talk about Caria," Eribas replied grimly. She spotted Caria’s sister, Thalia, in the crowd and sighed. "She didn’t make it out of the Roman camp alive. She took an arrow through her heart." The crowd remained quiet, the silence broken only by Thalia’s quiet crying. "We wanted to tell her family in private, but your stupid question just torpedoed that plan."

Gabrielle shrunk back protectively against Xena, trying to avoid the cold looks the crowd tossed at her. My first question and it turns out to be a home run. Not exactly what I was counting on, she thought bitterly. Xena ruffled Gabrielle’s hair softly, reassuring the young woman that she hadn’t done anything wrong.

"I think that’s enough questions for one night," Gorgas abruptly announced. "I thought that Bacchus might have been behind the disappearances, but that can’t be now that Eribas and Lara have returned." He looked sadly at Thalia’s tear streaked face. "They speak the truth. Now’s the time to comfort Caria’s relations and to welcome our women home. Hopefully more will show up now."

The crowd started up again, but Xena wasn’t done yet. She walked over to Lara and grabbed the young woman by her shoulders. Xena looked deep into Lara’s eyes, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. "When you were in the centurions’ camp, were there any other women there besides yourselves?" she asked softly.

"Um, yeah. There were at least six other women in the camp. Why?" Lara replied evenly.

"Because you three weren’t the only women to disappear from Pella," Gabrielle interjected. "Several others from Pella and a lot of others from the surrounding villages have also vanished into thin air. We’re just wondering if they’re going to magically reappear as well."

"How in Hades would I know?" Lara hissed. "Eribas and I barely escaped alive from that hellhole of a camp. I’m just thankful to be alive. Now, please, leave me alone."

Xena looked at the ground pensively, ignoring Lara as she waltzed back into the crowd. But she didn’t miss Lara’s indifferent shrugging off of Thalia, who had tried to find out more about Caria. To make matters even worse, Eribas appeared and pushed Thalia away from Lara after she refused to leave Lara alone.

"Did you see that?!" Gabrielle whispered incredulously.

"Yes. And something doesn’t look right here. We’ve got to find some answers, and quickly!" Xena said. She stalked off towards the city walls. Gabrielle grabbed Argo’s reigns and quickly caught up with her brooding friend.

"What do you plan to do?" she asked.

"I want to find Orpheus and ask him some questions," Xena explained. "He shouldn’t be too hard to find if his little group is making a ruckus in the woods."

Two hours passed and the early evening gave way to a brilliant night sky dominated by a full moon, which shone pale light on the road, which was really nothing more than a path now as it neared the chilling Baccha Woods. Xena’s ears perked up as they caught the faint strains of Orpheus’ melodious music. She veered off the path and marched into a copse of trees. "This way," she announced triumphantly.

* * *

Orpheus never stood a chance. His lyre was smashed from his skillful hands by a nightmare vision from the past. He stumbled crazily backward and stared in helpless horror as his beautiful lyre was shattered into a dozen pieces by the crimson lipped woman. She looked agreeably at her handiwork and then glared coldly at Orpheus. She smiled, exposing a pair of saliva slicked fangs, and advanced toward Orpheus, her taloned hands reaching out in a grotesque parody of friendship.

"It’s time you leaped off this mortal coil, Orpheus!" Velasca hissed. "Your life ends here!"

"Not if I can help it," the god responded, raising his arms. Energy crackled ominously around his hands and lanced out in two searing bolts of energy. "Bacchus isn’t going to win this time."

Velasca dodged the first blazing bolt of energy, but the second one connected solidly with her chest. Any mortal would have been vaporized by the blow, but Velasca wasn’t mortal anymore. She was a Baccha! A wounded Baccha, mind you, but very much alive. She gingerly touched her scorched skin, but it was already healing. "You’re going to have to do better than that, Orpheus!" she hissed, resuming a slow advance on the enraged god.

Orpheus grimaced and loosed three more bolts of energy, which sailed harmlessly passed Velasca. She actually dodged them! Orpheus raged silently. By the gods, the Bacchae are fast! His attention was shattered by a gurgled cry of pain from one of his most devoted followers, Lana. He whipped around and sobbed with rage when he saw Lana pinned helplessly beneath a slavering Baccha. The fanged woman grinned viciously and plunged her fangs into Lana’s neck, savoring the hot flow of sweet gushing blood. She’s turning Lana into one of the Bacchae, Orpheus thought helplessly. Lana’s pained cries died away and were soon replaced by low pleasurable moaning. Her body was already becoming mottled with patches of rapidly expanding chalky white skin.

Velasca and the other Bacchae took advantage of Orpheus’ inattention and charged him, knocking him to the ground. Velasca and Caria roared triumphantly and grabbed the downed god’s arms. There was a sickening crunch as the arms were ripped from their sockets. Ha! No more lightning bolts to worry about, Velasca thought as she smashed a fist into Orpheus’ face, tearing it wide open. She ignored the god’s pained cries and buried her taloned hands deep into his gut. She exerted her muscles and screamed in triumph as Orpheus’ belly split open, spewing intestines, gore and vicious fluids.

"Please, please stop it," Orpheus moaned through a hazy cloud of pain. "I’ll do whatever Bacchus wants me to do. Just don’t end my existence."

Fortunately, Orpheus didn’t see the scattered remnants of his followers. There was nothing left of the males except for desiccated corpses while the women were being bitten one by one by the victorious Bacchae. It wasn’t long before the number of chalky white faces outnumbered the normal faces. Lana’s confused gold eyes roved over Orpheus’ devastated body and her thirst asserted itself as she spied the gore and blood. She wasn’t quite fully aware of her new body or desires and didn’t realize that Orpheus was dying. But it wouldn’t matter in a few minutes anyway. By then, she would be a full-fledged Baccha forever bound to Bacchus.

"It’s too late for you, Orpheus," Caria hissed. She grabbed his head and twisted it so he was looking at her fanged mouth and gold eyes. "Look what happened to me. You knew Bacchus wasn’t truly dead, but you didn’t bother to tell anyone about that! And we got turned into Bacchae because of your sloth! You deserve to die."

She’s right, Orpheus thought miserably. I knew what Bacchus really meant when he said only a Baccha could kill him. He meant only a Baccha who’d already drunk his blood. Sure, Xena and Gabrielle were Bacchae, but they hadn’t ingested any of his blood. I should’ve told Xena that Bacchus wasn’t really dead ... but I didn’t want to rain on her party.

"Now it’s time to finish this little charade," Caria added. She began pulling and twisting Orpheus’ head, and an ominous creak sounded from the base of his skull. "When you see Hades, tell him that Bacchus will be paying him a visit soon!" She pulled harder and Orpheus’ head snapped off, held in place by thin strands of muscle tissue. His mouth worked weakly as his life bled away. There was nothing magical about this decapitation. "Tell Hades to prepare for a flood of the dead!" Caria roared as she gave a final tug, freeing Orpheus’ head from his body.

Orpheus’ death scream filled the night sky as his battered soul fled down to Tartarus. His final scream was heard by all of the gods from Mount Olympus down to the imprisoned Titans in Tartarus’ eternal blizzard. It wasn’t often that a god died, even a minor one, but when it happened, it was spectacular. Bacchus’ resurrection was no longer a secret to the gods of Olympus.

* * *

Alerted by the terrible scream, Xena and Gabrielle stumbled into the clearing several minutes later. Too late to do any good, the pair could only observe the carnage left by the rampaging Bacchae. And the eight women slumped against each other in the bright moonlight. Xena moved slowly into the clearing, trailed cautiously by Gabrielle.

"It’s too late to do anything for these women," Xena announced, slowly backing away from a dozing Lana, who had completed her transformation into a Baccha. "They’ve all been turned into Bacchae."

"It’s the same story for the men," Gabrielle commented, observing the desiccated corpses scattered haphazardly across the clearing. "Except they won’t be coming back to terrorize anybody."

Xena and Gabrielle edged slowly toward the forest. "Those women weren’t bitten more than twenty minutes ago," Xena explained. "You can bet your horses that the Bacchae who bit them will return to check on their newest initiates any time now."

The warrior princess was only partially right. The Bacchae never abandoned new initiates, and this time was no exception to that rule. Velasca had sensed the footfalls of the rapidly approaching intruders and had gotten her hunters dispersed into the woods just in time to avoid detection. Her fury at the intrusion during the Bacchae victory celebration had been greatly tempered when she realized that the intruders were Xena and Gabrielle. And now she crouched at the edge of the clearing, lost in thought. Is it just me, or does it seem ironic that two former Bacchae are inspecting the scene of a great Bacchae victory? Velasca thought. Her ruminations were interrupted by the approach of Lydia, an initiate who had been transformed a couple weeks ago while picking herbs in the Baccha Woods.

"That’s the warrior princess and her protégé! They’re the only ones to ever reject the Bacchae!" Lydia whispered unnecessarily. "Doesn’t our lord have a vendetta against them for betraying the cause?"

Velasca nodded vigorously, thinking. She was trying to piece a plan together, and fast. The initiates in the clearing were beginning to awaken and they needed guidance. "As soon as Xena and Gabrielle are far enough from the clearing, you and others will help our newest initiates orient themselves," she ordered. "Caria and myself will follow Xena and her lackey and transform them back into Bacchae. We have to nab them before they can return to Pella and inform anyone else about our activities!"

Velasca grinned wickedly at Lydia. "When we return to the catacombs with ten new initiates, two of whom will be Xena and Gabrielle, we will be rightfully hailed as conquerors." She paused, great visions flashing through her mind. "Who knows what kind of terror Bacchus can cause with Xena at his side as a loyal, bloodsucking Baccha!"

Lydia moved off and Caria slid in next to Velasca, waiting. Finally Velasca said, "Let’s go." The two Bacchae slipped swiftly and silently into the woods not far behind an unsuspecting Xena and Gabrielle. The hunters were tracking the prey down, and the prey wasn’t aware that it was being hunted.

* * *

The first indication that something wasn’t right came when Xena noticed the utter silence of the woods. Even at night the insects buzzed, animals moved and birds chirped. Not tonight. The wildlife hadn’t made a single peep in the last fifteen minutes. And that was beginning to unnerve the warrior princess. "Gabrielle, stick close to me. I think we’re being followed by something. Probably the Bacchae." Xena whispered furtively.

Gabrielle gulped. "If we’re attacked, I don’t think we’ll be able to hold them off all the way back to Pella," she whispered, sidling up to Xena.

"I know. Walk fast and stick to the middle of the road," Xena replied. "It might give us a few seconds of leeway if we’re jumped."

Suddenly the waiting was over. A chalky white figure appeared in the road directly behind Xena and Gabrielle and advanced on the pair, snarling with anticipation. Caria was looking forward to this. Gabrielle swung her staff up into a defensive position and cried, "Xena, I think we got some unwanted company!"

Xena grinned mischievously at the slavering Baccha and unsheathed her sword. She couldn’t kill the woman, but she could take her out long enough to allow her and Gabrielle to escape. "Come to mama, honey," Xena cooed temptingly, driving Caria into a Bacchian frenzy.

Gabrielle stood back and watched Xena and Caria leap at each other. The Baccha wrenched Xena’s sword from her fingers, but the warrior princess quickly improvised, smashing her fist into Caria’s nose. Blood sprayed from her nose and Caria stumbled away, disoriented. Xena took advantage of her foe’s distraction and closed in for the knockout blow, but Caria recovered her equilibrium and slashed out with her leg, tripping Xena and sending her plummeting to the ground with an oomph. The tables suddenly turned, Caria jumped on her enemy’s inert form and pummeled her incessantly. Xena roared with indignation and began wrestling with the Baccha, desperately avoiding the woman’s fanged mouth as it sought her exposed neck. This went on for several minutes before Xena finally got the best of Caria and balanced herself on top of the woman, pounding away at her.

Gabrielle cheered wildly as Xena knocked the daylights out of Caria, who stared defiantly at her conqueror, bloodied and dazed. "Yeah, you rock girl!"

Xena glanced up at her friend and smiled triumphantly. Then, for good measure, she turned back to Caria and ripped the Baccha’s black silk top off, exposing her swollen milky white breasts to the pale moonlight. Xena noticed Caria’s erect nipples and felt her own body beginning to get aroused. She resisted her sexual impulses and grinned savagely at Caria. "Nothing like adding humiliation to defeat, huh?" she drawled lazily.

Gabrielle was laughing gleefully when she felt the hairs on her neck rise instinctively. She whirled around and found herself staring into a pair of glittering golden eyes. And the eyes belonged to none other than Velasca. All in all, a nightmare vision from the past. Velasca growled and clamped a taloned hand over Gabrielle’s mouth, silencing her before tossing her into a nearby clearing off the path. Velasca stalked into the clearing and spied Gabrielle lying on her back, staring with ill-hidden fright at Velasca. She wasn’t laughing now.

"You certainly seemed to be enjoying Xena’s little shenanigans with Caria," Velasca hissed ominously. "Although you turned my life upside down, I’m going to let bygones be bygones. You see, I’m going to give you the gift of eternal life ... despite what you did to me!" She opened her fanged mouth and advanced slowly. "Now I’m going to bring you back to the wild and dark ways of the Bacchae! Xena won’t be able to save you this time."

Velasca reached down and jerked Gabrielle to her feet. She twisted the bard’s neck to expose her carotid artery and grinned, letting a whimpering Gabrielle see her needle sharp fangs. Then she bit deeply into Gabrielle’s neck, savoring the swift flow of hot, sweet blood as it gushed into her crimson lipped mouth. Gabrielle felt the warm tingling sensation flowing over her body, warping and twisting it into that of a Baccha. Soon a tidal wave of dark orgasmic emotions overtook her mind, filling it with fantasies. Fantasies of suckling Xena’s swollen nipples and lapping at her hot, lubricated vaginal lips. Gabrielle was so lost in her fantasy that she never noticed her rapidly elongating incisors or the expanding patches of chalky white skin spreading like wildfire across her twitching and convulsing body.

* * *

It didn’t take long for Xena to realize that Gabrielle’s hearty laughter had vanished. She turned around and commented, "Don’t worry, Gabrielle. I’m not going to do anything kinky with this Baccha. I’ll save that for you when we get back to Pella."

Then Xena realized that her friend wasn’t standing where she had been only moments earlier. She scrambled off a dazed Caria and scanned the road for any sign of Gabrielle. Then she saw a path of beaten down grass leading into a nearby clearing. Dammit! I shouldn’t have become so absorbed in dealing with that Baccha, she thought, feeling guilty. It was nothing more than a diversionary attack to separate us. And I fell for it hook, line and sinker!

Soft whimpering from the nearby clearing got Xena’s attention and she sprinted across the road and plunged headlong into the clearing. She spied Gabrielle crouched over in the grass, holding her head in her hands and groaning in obvious pain.

"Gabrielle, who knocked you out and ... ," Xena paused, and halted her approach. "Are you all right?" Gabrielle straightened and looked directly at Xena. Shocked at the sight of the bard’s glittering gold eyes, Xena jumped back just in time to avoid the taloned fist that sailed past her face. "Oh Zeus, you’ve been turned back into a Baccha!" Xena whispered sadly.

Xena ran out of the clearing and back to the path, only to be confronted by Caria, who had recovered quickly from Xena’s attack. The warrior princess spun around, looking desperately for an escape route. She was confounded again as Gabrielle slinked out of the woods and parted her swollen crimson lips in a lurid smile, exposing her saliva slicked fangs. Caria and Gabrielle closed in on Xena’s position; it was obvious what they planned to do to her. I’ll be damned if they’ll turn me back into a Baccha, Xena thought angrily. I’ve got to get out of here and warn the outside world of Bacchus’ renewed threat!

The warrior princess feinted left and went right, squeezing past a hissing Gabrielle. Then a third Baccha appeared directly in front of her and slammed her fist into Xena’s face. Xena crumpled to the ground, but she managed to roll away and jump back to her feet. She stared incredulously at her newest opponent. "Velasca!" Xena cried. "I suspected your disappearance from the Baccha Woods wasn’t coincidental!"

Velasca narrowed her gold eyes and stared imperiously at Xena. "My, you’re a perceptive one. Too bad it won’t do you any good now." She grinned coldly, savoring the moment. "There’s no escape for you, Xena. We’re going to transform you back into one of the Bacchae! But I’m going to do it differently with you -- these neck bites are so boring! That’s too easy and too quick. You would be a bloodsucker again in only a few minutes."

Xena was making efficient use of Velasca’s meaningless prattling, using the time to move her hand closer and closer to her chakram. If she keeps harping about how high and mighty the Bacchae are, I should be able to knock out Gabrielle and the other Baccha with my chakram, Xena mentally calculated. Then it’s only a matter of dealing with Velasca. The sudden emergence of shadowy figures from the trees distracted Xena from her escape plan. She looked closely at the figures and groaned mentally. Her plan had been ruined and there was nothing else she could do.

Lydia emerged from the trees along with three other Bacchae, including Lana, and made a beeline for Velasca. She noticed that Gabrielle had already been nipped and that Velasca was taunting an entrapped Xena. "We got the initiates oriented and sent them to the catacombs," Lydia said as she sidled up to Velasca. "We figured that you might need some reinforcements, so here we are!"

"You thought well, Lydia. You’ve gotten here just in time to witness Xena’s return to our ranks," Velasca replied. She turned her attention back to Xena, who remained stoic and silent. "I witnessed your little adventure with Caria. You really enjoyed ripping her top off and seeing her full breasts and erect nipples, didn’t you?" Velasca smiled wolfishly and licked her fingers seductively. "Oh, how I bet it was hard to choke the temptation to suckle Caria’s nipples and dip your fingers in her hot, moist vagina."

Xena shook her head stubbornly, but Velasca merely smiled and issued a curt order. "Everyone, take your tops off. We’re going to get Xena hot and horny staring at our beautiful bosoms!"

Several minutes later Xena was surrounded by half naked smiling Bacchae, including an aroused Velasca. Gabrielle was also staring lasciviously at Xena, gently massaging her nipples into erection. They’re enjoying this little game of theirs, Xena thought bitterly. Even worse, her own hormones were beginning to percolate dangerously. Finally it happened. Velasca stepped forward and grasped Xena’s breastplates, ripping the armor and leather off her chest and tossing it to the ground. Xena breathed heavily as her full, sensuous breasts drank in the pale moonlight, nipples slowly stiffening to attention. Then Velasca grabbed Xena’s head and pulled the warrior princess’ mouth down to her own full, firm breasts and shoved an erect nipple into her mouth. Xena tentatively suckled the pliable nipple and heard Velasca’s soft, pleasurable moans. Xena realized what was happening and spat Velasca’s nipple out in disgust.

Velasca smiled tolerantly, her assumption about Xena’s sexuality just proven by her actions. Xena glared into her face and upped her one more time, saying, "You think I like women, but you’re partially wrong. I like to have fun with men as well."

Velasca motioned to Lana, who had held back until now, and the young woman slinked forward. Both women closed in on Xena while the other Bacchae watched expectantly. Velasca and Lana parted their crimson lips, exposing dagger like fangs. "Since you apparently like having sex with other women, I assume that this method of initiation best suits your desires," Velasca quipped.

The Bacchae grabbed Xena’s glistening tits and bit deeply into them; Velasca had the right breast and Lana was on the left breast. Xena’s strangled screech of pain quickly died away as the Bacchae lapped the gentle, pulsing flow of blood from Xena’s breasts. Then Xena felt a dreadfully familiar warm tingling sensation that spread over her quivering breasts and across her body as Velasca and Lana finished their bloody initiation meal. Xena looked out on a world through vision clouded by a reddish haze, her clear thought patterns becoming increasingly disrupted by churning waves of dark, orgasmic desires. They bit me! Oh Zeus, I’m beginning to revert back into a Baccha! I don’t want to experience the transformation again -- please! I can’t resist it a second time around! Xena raged silently. I nearly lost my mind the first time it happened to me! The gods didn’t reply to Xena’s mental pleas; they had better things to do with their time.

Enraged by the blatant violation of her body, Xena screamed like a banshee and broke free of Velasca’s expectant grip. She grabbed her breast armor and ran headfirst into Lydia and Gabrielle, knocking them to the ground. Xena slipped into the woods on a desperate run to Pella. I’ve got to warn the outside world before my transformation becomes permanent! Xena thought madly. The warm, tingling sensation had faded away by now and she was able to think clearly. For the time being.

Caria and another Baccha tried to take off after the initiate, but Velasca stopped them with a terse order. "Let her go. Xena doesn’t know it yet, but she’s well on her way to rejoining our bloodthirsty ranks! She’ll become a full Baccha by dawn’s first light!"

Gabrielle climbed to her feet and snarled at Velasca. "Why is her transformation taking so long?! By Hades, she was bitten twice!"

"She wasn’t bitten on the neck or wrists, that’s why," Velasca explained patiently. "We nipped her twice on the tits, so it’ll take some time for her body to complete its changeover. There’s not as much blood in the breasts as there is in the neck, anyway. That’s why it takes longer to complete the transformation."

"But she might remain unchanged long enough to warn others and give them proof of our reemergence," Lana whispered softly. Xena had provided Lana with her first taste of blood, but the young woman was still unaccustomed to her new body and desires. "I don’t think Bacchus would approve of that."

Velasca smiled at the new initiate. "Our lord has already executed plans that take that possibility into account," she said smugly. "While we were busy taking Orpheus out and turning other women into Bacchae, he sent some of the others into Pella and the nearby villages to conduct a misinformation campaign. Xena will encounter them before anyone else; they’ll hold her until she becomes a full Baccha!"

Still smiling at the night’s good turn of events, Velasca spun around and led her hunters back toward the catacombs. They ransacked a campsite en route, capturing and turning three other women into Bacchae and leaving their lovers behind as desiccated corpses.

* * *

After realizing that she wasn’t being pursued by the Bacchae, Xena slowed down to a brisk walk. More than once she doubled over from the powerful cramps that rolled through her slowly changing body. I wish they would have just bitten me on the neck and gotten it over with, she thought bitterly as she leaned up against a tree, resting. Xena unclasped her chest armor and stared speculatively at her exposed breasts. The puncture wounds had already healed, leaving no trace of their existence, but Xena knew better. She knew because the skin on her breasts had already turned chalky white; the effect was centered around where she had been bitten. The effect was spreading so fast that Xena estimated she had less than an hour before her entire body turned chalky white. She was a strong and independent woman because she had to be growing up in Amphipolis with an absentee father, a strong-willed mother and having to watch her brother die at the hands of an invading warlord. Xena resumed walking, thinking, Gods, I don’t want to become a Baccha again. But Velasca’s already made that decision for me and now there’s nothing I can do to stop this damn transformation. Perhaps I’m fated to become one of Bacchus’ minions.

Xena shelved that disturbing thought, but it refused to stay buried, coming back to haunt her again and again. And the waves of wild, orgasmic emotions were beginning to batter her mental defenses into rubble. Several hours passed before she caught sight of Pella’s city wall and trudged into the rising sun, her emotions dark and wild. Why am I even coming here? Pella’s never done anything for me ... why should I warn them? I’m a Baccha and my reward will probably be death, Xena thought coldly. Nonetheless she marched resolutely into the city, shielding her gold eyes from the brightness of the morning sun, her swollen crimson lips set in a grimace. The city guards, recognizing her from the previous night, let her pass unmolested. It wasn’t long before she encountered a young woman and grabbed her in a vise-like grip.

"You’ve got to take me to Gorgas," Xena pleaded, her grip unyielding. "I’ve got to warn him about ... ,"

"Shh. Quiet down," Clete replied. "He’s probably at the public baths. Let me take you to him." She stared curiously at Xena, noticing her weird eyes and chalky white skin. "You don’t look good. Are you sick or something?"

The warrior princess didn’t reply. She was too busy looking longingly at Clete’s neck, sensing the swift flow of rich, hot blood. Xena opened her mouth, hissing lowly, revealing her slowly elongating and sharpening incisors. A rare moment of clarity suddenly stopped her. No, not yet. I can’t do it. But it would be so easy ... just a quick nip and this insane thirst would go away!

Xena was able to control her thirst, sparing Clete the horrible fate of becoming a Baccha. But in her haze, the warrior princess failed to notice that Clete was leading her toward a large villa where several dozen women lounged about. The ornate villa had once been a brothel, but that had been prior to the arrival of Eribas and Lara. Now the residence was Eribas and Lara’s headquarters and its women had all been turned into Bacchae. Xena also failed to notice Clete’s chalky white skin and her crimson lips, which kept a pair of needle sharp fangs hidden from view. The Bacchae had multiplied exponentially since Xena and Gabrielle had left the night before; Eribas and Lara had been busy seducing Pella’s women with the siren song of the bloodthirsty, eternal Bacchae.

* * *

"This isn’t Gorgas’ home," Xena muttered, scanning the dimly lit room from her spot on the floor. Besides Eribas and Lara, there were fifteen other women in the large room. All of them had gold eyes and chalky white skin.

"You’re pretty observant," Eribas said quietly, looking intently at Xena. Her smile revealed a pair of sharp fangs glinting in the subdued light from the rising sun. "It looks like you and Gabrielle encountered Velasca and her hunters while looking for Orpheus. And it appears you weren’t able to save Orpheus or yourselves from Velasca’s fangs."

Xena frowned. "It appears that none of you are the innocent young women you appear to be," she announced, realizing that none of the women were hiding their true natures. "Humph. Looks like you were doing more than partying while I was gone."

"What are you implying?! We were just as innocent as you once were!" Eribas snapped. "Do you really think any of us volunteered to become Bacchae? By Hades, no! We were hunted down, cornered and nipped. Just like you!"

"And now that we’re Bacchae, there’s no reason not to enjoy the experience," Lara interjected. "Bacchus set us free from our mortal bonds. We’re his followers now and nobody can make us worship or obey them if we don’t want to. No more leering looks from males who know what we are and we have eternity to enjoy life’s forbidden fruits! Being a Baccha is the ultimate in women’s liberation!"

"What do you mean I’m not innocent anymore, that I didn’t have a choice?" Xena asked, confused.

"Don’t you get it? You were bitten by a Baccha while romping in the woods. You’ve joined our ranks, Xena. You’re a Baccha again," Eribas explained gently. "You’ll get to meet your lord, Bacchus, when you return to the catacombs tonight!"

Xena’s mind shattered as chaotic memories overwhelmed it. She was standing triumphantly over a defeated Baccha, not realizing that Gabrielle had vanished. Then she found the bard, only to discover that her friend had been transformed into a horrible monster. Naked breasts with swollen, erect nipples bathed in pale moonlight. Sharp shooting pain as the Bacchae punctured her breasts, drawing blood from her. Changing her into one of them. Running wildly through the woods, her body contorting and cramping as the transformation continued toward its inevitable conclusion. Xena’s mind snapped back into focus and she felt an undying sense of loyalty to Bacchus and a maddening thirst for rich, pulsing blood. I’m one of them again. I’m a Baccha, Xena thought, staring at her taloned hands and chalky white skin, really noticing them for the first time. She ran her soft tongue over her teeth and felt her warped incisors, long and razor sharp. Eribas produced a small mirror and let Xena see her face and its glittering golden eyes and swollen, crimson lips.

"I’m thirsty," Xena announced. She climbed to her feet, aided by Eribas and Lara.

"We know. The initial thirst is the worst," Eribas said. "That’s why we have a captive who will satiate your need. I believe you’ve been trying to find him and give him the good news."

The Bacchae escorted their initiate across the room toward a doorway guarded by two women. Xena entered the dimly lit room and perceived a small, diminutive figure huddled up against the far wall. The man’s arms and legs were bound tightly together; he wasn’t going anywhere. Lara lit some torches, throwing light on the mysterious man.

Xena’s sensitive Baccha vision quickly identified the bound man: it was none other than Gorgas himself, Pella’s council leader. Xena ignored the man’s name and advanced on him, sensing the churning blood within him. She parted her crimson lips, needle sharp fangs dripping hot saliva. Gorgas moaned when he saw the fangs and the maddened look in Xena’s gold eyes.

"Please, don’t do it, Xena. I know you’re an honorable woman and that even being turned into a Baccha wouldn’t change that fact," he whispered fearfully. His begging was lost in Xena’s frenzied mind as she crouched next to him.

"He came right up to the door, so we nabbed him," Lara chirped. "He probably had a mistress that he was looking forward to screwing. Too bad she’s one of us now, though."

"He probably didn’t advertise his sexual adventures, so nobody knows where he’s at, or what happened to him!" Eribas hissed, laughing maliciously.

Suddenly the urge overpowered Xena’s restraint and she bent her head forward, plunging her fangs into Gorgas’ exposed neck. The doomed council leader saw the attack coming and did nothing to avoid the fang-filled mouth as it tore into his neck. "May Zeus forgive you, Xena," he coughed, watching his life drain down Xena’s undulating throat. "Because I already have."

The last sight he saw was of several Bacchae surrounding Xena, pointing their taloned fingers at him, laughing and jeering. As the memories screamed past him, Gorgas experienced his entire life in a matter of seconds. His own birth, and being held triumphantly by his long dead Amazon mother. His first day as a soldier in Alexander the Great’s army. His wedding day, his lifelong love looking lovingly at him. Battle scenes from Babylon and India. And finally, bouncing his two daughters and son on his knee when they were young and innocent. There was a great white blinding light as his lifeforce merged with something much greater and all encompassing. When the light faded away, Gorgas found himself in the Elysian Fields. His mother was walking toward him with outstretched arms, smiling.

Xena removed her bloody mouth from Gorgas’ neck and tossed his lifeless carcass aside. Oh, yeah! That was better than sex, yes! Any day of the week!

Eribas looked at Lara meaningfully. "I think we’ve landed a whopper here, Lara. I have a good feeling about this." Lara nodded and the women hurried over to Xena, hugging and lightly kissing her on her lips and cheeks.

* * *

"I believe that the Bacchae are behind some of recent disappearances," Xena said without fanfare. She was standing in front of Pella’s town council, which had fallen silent upon hearing the dreaded words. "Although I believe Bacchus is dead, three or four of his followers must have somehow survived his death -- and they have to be stopped before their numbers expand beyond my ability to contain and destroy them."

"Just how strong are these renegade Bacchae?" Amplitron asked. He was in charge of today’s meeting since Gorgas hadn’t shown up for some inexplicable reason.

"I suspect that they’re still weak. Dozens of women have vanished, but I personally think that the Bacchae are responsible for perhaps six or seven of those disappearances," Xena replied coolly. "Gabrielle and I have access to Dryad bones, so we should be able to put a stop to the Bacchae before the infestation spreads any further."

"Where’s Gabrielle anyway? I thought you two were inseparable," another council member commented.

Xena didn’t bat an eye. "She’s gathering the Dryad bones we need to kill the Bacchae. She’ll link up with me once I reach the Baccha Woods." Xena turned to leave, but was stopped by another question. Don’t they ever shut up?

"What about the men that have been killed? Are the Bacchae behind their deaths as well?" the elderly man asked.

The warrior princess sighed. "I’m sure the Bacchae are behind some of those deaths as well. But I wouldn’t rule out unfortunate encounters with pirates, warlords and marauders either. Some of those men probably witnessed something they shouldn’t have."

"You’re positive that you and Gabrielle can handle the Bacchae threat by yourselves?" Amplitron asked. "Pella has a decent army that can assist you in your hunt, should the need arise."

Xena smiled, but shook her head. "We destroyed Bacchus by ourselves, so we should be able to snuff out these little surviving flames by ourselves. Thank you for the offer, though." She spun around on her heel and started to leave, but then turned back to the council, fire in her blue eyes. "By the way, I know why Gorgas didn’t show up for the meeting today. When I came back to Pella this morning, he was being attacked by what I thought was a madwoman. Unfortunately, it was a Baccha and by the time I reached him, it was too late. He was dead." She paused, thinking. "But if it’s any consolation, I managed to kill the monster with my last Dryad bone."

Amplitron rose from his seat, shock etched into his craggy face. "That’s terrible news. Why did you wait so long to tell us?!"

"If I had told you earlier, you would have had your army out in the Baccha Woods fighting a futile war. More men would have died," Xena said tartly. "And I wouldn’t have welcomed their interference. This mission is personal; when I’m finished with it, the Bacchae will never again terrorize Macedonia or the rest of the known world."

Amplitron nodded in understanding and Xena stomped out of the council chambers. Those are fighting words coming from someone who was once a Baccha, he thought. I’m glad we’re not on the receiving end of her ire!

* * *

"Do you think they bought your explanation for the disappearances?" Eribas asked after Xena arrived at the villa.

"Hook, line and sinker!" Xena crowed triumphantly. "And they promised that Pella’s army won’t interfere with my mission. They’ve entrusted Gabrielle and myself to hunt down our fellow sisters!" She laughed, her slender, needle sharp fangs glinting in the midday sun. "Stupid morons! At the rate we’re initiating other women, it will be too late for Pella to do anything once the council realizes they’ve been lied to and that I’m one of the Bacchae! And if Pella’s helpless, then the other villages and towns across Macedonia are even more helpless. We’ll take all of Macedonia in one fell swoop and then the rest of Greece will fall, just like the dominos they are."

Clete snorted. "I still think it was a terrible risk to even reveal our existence to the council, even if our actual numbers were greatly deflated," she opined.

"I wouldn’t worry about that, Clete," Lara chimed. "We’ve got over one hundred Bacchae already and Bacchus has been revived for little over a month. I’m sure he plans to bring thousands of women across to join our ranks before he’s satisfied. Then there’s the warlords and mercenaries we can negotiate with to assist us if the need arises."

"There’ll be so many of us that nobody will ever be able to completely vanquish us," Eribas added. "If we play our cards right, our future’s unlimited!"

Their animated discussion was cut short by the abrupt appearance of a young woman standing timidly in the villa’s main doorway. It was Caria’s younger sister, Thalia, and she terrified by the attention that Xena and the others gave her. "I, I know Caria’s dead, but I just wanted to know how her last hours passed," she quavered. She gazed at Eribas and sobbed, "You were with her in the Roman camp. Please tell me she died peacefully."

Eribas’ face softened as Thalia kept crying. She motioned the raven haired woman over to her and whispered, "Actually, Thalia, your sister is still alive. She didn’t die at the hands of the Romans."

Thalia looked incredulously at Eribas while Xena and Clete crowded in behind her, watching Caria’s sister closely. "She escaped?! And she’s wandering around out there with the Bacchae running wild again? Why didn’t she come back to Pella with you?"

Eribas held Thalia’s wrist in a deceptively gentle grasp. "Caria’s wild and carefree. She doesn’t have to obey the gods anymore or ever fear what a man might do to her body."

"I don’t understand," Thalia whimpered. Then it dawned on her and she looked down at the hand holding her wrist. It had sprouted inky black talons and turned chalky white. She whipped her head around and gasped when she saw Xena’s parted lips, exposing a set of nasty looking fangs. "You too, Xena?! But you promised the council that you were going to kill the Bacchae!" Eight other women streamed into the room and Thalia realized she was surrounded by a lot of the supposedly mythical Bacchae.

"Gabrielle and I were looking for Orpheus in the Baccha Woods last night, but we got caught by some of the Bacchae and were transformed into them," Xena explained. "I tried to fight them off ... ," her grin stretched even broader, " ... but I obviously failed to save myself. Besides, my lord wouldn’t be too happy if I kept hunting my sisters down now that I’ve joined their ranks."

"Now it’s your turn to join our ranks," Eribas hissed. "Just hold still while we nip you. It will hurt at first, but afterwards you’ll understand that we did you a big favor." She reached over and twisted Thalia’s head so her neck was fully exposed. Then she nodded at Xena who moved in, hot saliva dripping from her exposed fangs and splashing on Thalia’s neck.

Thalia screeched as Xena punctured her neck, savoring the swift flow of hot, sweet blood. Several minutes passed before the warrior princess withdrew her fangs from Thalia’s chalky white neck. The young woman looked up at her sisters, her eyes slowly turning into brilliant, golden orbs. She parted her swollen, crimson lips and hissed softly as her incisors sharpened and lengthened into a pair of deadly fangs. Thalia’s questioning eyes looked over the room and fastened on Xena, who broke the silence.

"Welcome home, Thalia, to your new family. You’ll get to see Caria later tonight," Xena said, helping Thalia to her feet. "And don’t worry about that maddening thirst. Once we get some blood in you, it won’t bother you as much as it does now."

* * *

Hours later, Xena led her small band of Bacchae through the neatly concealed opening in the sheer rock wall. Before them lay a maze of torch lit passages that meandered toward one destination: Bacchus’ vast throne chamber. The warrior princess and her entourage instinctively navigated their way through the maze of dimly lit passages; it wasn’t long before they entered a long vestibule awash in brilliant light. Beyond the vestibule lay the wine god’s seemingly endless throne chamber where over a hundred pale women danced slowly and seductively to wafting, hypnotic music. A giant blazing bonfire dominated the center of the room and a giant cauldron sat at below Bacchus’ throne ledge. It currently sat empty, dried traces of wine and blood in its interior. Although Bacchus could feed his blood to his followers at any time he wanted to, he always waited until the arrival of the Baccha Moon, which was three months away from its zenith. The vast cavern was highlighted by the stupendous throne ledge, which rose above everything else in the cavern. Bacchus sat contentedly on the ornately carved stone throne, surrounded by thick vines heavy with nearly ripe grapes.

Two figures separated from the swirling crowd of Bacchae and ambled over to Xena and her entourage. "Glad to see that you made it back, Xena," Velasca said warmly, hugging Xena tightly. The warrior princess tentatively returned the affection. "And I see you’ve brought some other initiates back with you. How thoughtful."

Spying her sister among Xena’s group, Caria interrupted the touching scene. "Thalia? Is that really you? It is! I’m so glad you came home -- I thought I’d never see you again!" she cried, rushing into her sister’s outstretched arms. The two exchanged hugs and planted their crimson lips on each other’s cheeks. "There’s so much to tell you about the Bacchae and I want you to meet some of my friends," Caria gushed excitedly as the two merged back into the swirling mass of dancers.

"So how was your journey back to Pella?" Velasca asked, a trace of irony in her voice. "You didn’t succumb to your, ah, thirst and frenzy, did you?"

Xena’s gold eyes focused on Velasca, wild energy dancing in them. "I made it just fine, thank you. But I have to be honest ... after the hours of torture I went through while turning into a Baccha, I wish you would’ve just bitten me on the neck and gotten it over with."

"We don’t always get what we wish for," Velasca mused. "But enough about your transformation woes. That was in the past and we don’t care about the past. Only the present -- and the future!"

Xena nodded her agreement and walked into the swirling crowd with Velasca. It wasn’t long before she loosened up and found herself dancing with Gabrielle and several other of her sisters to the slow, seductive music of the Bacchae. "When we’re done, all of the women will finally be forever free of their dull mortal bonds," Velasca whispered sweetly as she waltzed by Xena.

* * *

Bacchus was immensely pleased with the tactical situation he was contemplating. It had been three days since Xena’s return to the catacombs, and it had been nothing but good news since then. Lara reported that the Bacchae in Pella had initiated dozens of more women into their ranks, in addition to dozens more from towns and villages surrounding the Macedonian capitol. At this rate I’ll have followers in every single Macedonian settlement within weeks -- and they’ll lay the groundwork for my masterstroke! Bacchus thought. And the number of males capable of fighting was dwindling at an alarming rate around Pella, thanks to predations by the Bacchae. Pella still believes in the abilities of Xena and Gabrielle. What fools! If they only knew the truth, Bacchus mused, it would make this game so much more interesting. Except this time it’s no game -- I’m playing for keeps!

The wine god looked down across his vast, crowded throne chamber and spied his chosen ones dancing slowly and rhythmically among their sisters. Bacchus sent a mental command and Velasca, Xena and Gabrielle soared up to his ledge. Three pairs of golden eyes gazed questioningly at Bacchus.

"It’s time to make our move against the Amazon nation," he rumbled. "Our first priority will be to infiltrate their capitol, Themiscrya, and initiate it into the ways of the Bacchae." His momentous announcement brought no immediate reaction from his followers; they were transfixed by the fire burning in Bacchus’ golden eyes. "There are well over a thousand women in Themiscrya alone. Women trained in the arts of stealth, warfare and seduction. Once they’re turned into Bacchae, and we initiate the Amazons in the outlying villages and encampments, we’ll have the power to back up our designs on Pella and the rest of Macedonia!"

"How do you plan to execute the operation, milord?" Xena asked. "The Amazons are smart and tenacious and nobody screws around with them unless they’re stupid. They won’t fall for any lameduck ruse that gets them turned into mindless bloodsuckers!"

Bacchus grunted. "I’ll leave that to your enterprising minds. After all, the three of you know the Amazons better than a lot of other people." The wine god gripped Xena’s shoulders, his seriousness apparent. "You must succeed because we’ll need the Amazons to enforce the rule of the non-Amazon Bacchae after we take over. Once I know the Amazons have joined our ranks, I’ll unleash the Bacchae on all of Macedonia in an open assault. They should be able to keep any efforts to organize effective resistance at a minimum until the Amazons arrive to cement our rule!"

"Why unleash our sisters in an open assault?" Velasca hissed. "Macedonians, especially in and around Pella, know that Xena is hunting down the Bacchae and destroying them. Why ruin the story before its usefulness is at an end?"

"Because no matter how efficient we are, it’s only a matter of time before even those boneheads in Pella realize that something isn’t right," Bacchus explained. "I’m ordering a halt to all attacks and initiations starting tomorrow at dusk and I’ll send the women here back to their villages and towns. The sudden end to attacks and return of many of the missing women should convince Amplitron and other Macedonian leaders that Xena was successful in her bid to end the Bacchae threat once and for all. Use the time that action buys to ensure the full transformation of the Amazon nation!"

"And when we arrive on the scene with thousands of transformed Amazons, the anarchy in Pella and the other towns caused by our other sisters will enable us to conquer Macedonia without too much trouble," Gabrielle finished, a smug look of triumph gleaming in her eyes.

Bacchus nodded, beaming. "Exactly. And once our grip on Macedonia is solidified, the rest of Greece will be easy prey. We can use mercenary armies to wreak havoc while the Bacchae follow behind them, initiating women into our wild and carefree ways."

Velasca smiled in anticipation, her crimson lips twisted to expose her slim, needle sharp fangs. "Perhaps our successes in Macedonia and Greece will persuade our mortal followers in areas afar to rebel and foment trouble as well. Perhaps we’ll one day rule everything from the Iberian peninsula through Scythia, Egypt and India!"

"We’ll cross that bridge when it comes," Bacchus rumbled. "Now go, my faithful minions. Bring the Amazon nation into our ranks and watch the world tremble before us!"

* * *

"The reports don’t look promising, Ephiny," Solari announced. "The last hunting party has returned from their expedition with no additional sightings of Velasca. It’s been over a moon since a hunting party sighted Velasca, much less get a chance to grab her."

The Queen of the Amazons and her advisors fell silent, tacitly recognizing the bad news. "That’s not good. We’re going to have to find another way to capture Velasca," Ephiny said. "She must pay for her crimes against the nation." She looked out over the small sea of faces, studying them. "Very well then. Is there any other news that might affect our affairs?"

"Yes. Our trading party that was in Pella recently overheard a rumor that Xena and Gabrielle had returned to hunt down some of Bacchus’ surviving bloodsuckers. Apparently they’re suspected in a large spate of recent disappearances," Solari reported. "Pella’s city council supposedly even guaranteed that the pair would encounter no unwanted assistance from the city’s army."

"Why would the council make such a shortsighted promise like that?" an advisor asked. "By Artemis! The Bacchae are nothing to sneeze at -- you have to destroy them before they multiply. Besides, our scouts in the Baccha Woods haven’t seen anybody trying to hunt renegade Bacchae down."

"What are you implying, Diana?" Ephiny asked quietly.

"Two things: One, Pella’s rulers are idiotic and two, Xena and Gabrielle can’t possibly handle the Bacchae by themselves, even if there’s only a few of them," Diana explained. "Xena’s vendetta against them has led her to bite off more than she can chew! She should have accepted Pella’s assistance, even though they are only men!"

Ephiny jerked at the accusation. "Vendetta?" she rumbled quietly. "If that’s the case, then Xena and Gabrielle have a damn good reason for being bitter. They were turned into bloodsuckers against their will and still they managed to kill Bacchus and escape! They have ... ,"

"I’m not questioning Xena’s integrity, Ephiny!" Diana exclaimed. "I just don’t understand why Xena and Gabrielle thought that they could destroy the Bacchae by themselves."

"Explain yourself!" Solari interjected.

"Our roving scouts estimated that they witnessed over a hundred suspicious women scattered throughout the Baccha Woods," Diana replied. "Any number of them could have been Bacchae! And it doesn’t take into account the women our scouts didn’t see. The warrior princess and Gabrielle barely made it out alive the last time around; I just can’t envision them having enough Dryad bones to kill all the potential Bacchae by themselves!"

Ephiny frowned, thinking. "So you think Xena and Gabrielle mistakenly underestimated the number of Bacchae? And that they’ve walked into a hornet’s nest of bloodsuckers?"

Diana nodded vigorously. "She’s assuming that she and Gabrielle can do the job by themselves and don’t want any interference. Even if it’s well intentioned."

"That doesn’t sound like the Xena I know," Ephiny murmured. "It’s just not like her to make a tactical mistake of that magnitude. Especially when it puts her and Gabrielle’s lives on the line."

"Humph. The Bacchae would probably love to have Xena and Gabrielle among their ranks again," another advisor grumbled. "Artemis knows, who wouldn’t want that pair on their side."

Ephiny stood and stared speculatively at her sisters. "Well, it’s just one more mystery we’ll have to keep abreast of." She glanced back at Solari. "Stay on top of the situation with Velasca as well. We’ve got to rein her in, and soon, before she builds another power base to attack us from."

* * *

Velasca, Xena and Gabrielle were exhausted. The three day journey from the catacombs to the border of the Amazon nation had siphoned off their energy reserves. Mute testament to this fact was the saddlebags on Argo’s back. They had been filled with a dozen goatskin pouches filled with blood. Bacchus’ moratorium on initiating women into the Bacchae and killing men had forced the three women to rely on the blood reserves to keep their nagging thirst at a reasonable level. Without the blood, they would’ve been unable to think clearly long enough to accomplish their mission. In short, they would have gone berserk without the blood filled goatskin pouches.

The small group spied the shimmering spray from a nearby river and slowed down. They had been traveling through territory home to several bands of marauders, but the warlords hadn’t disturbed the adventurers. They had better things to do than harass travelers, especially when they appeared to be Amazons. "Another hour or so and we’ll arrive at one of the Thermodon River’s tributaries, which also acts as one of the Amazon nation’s riverine borders," Velasca said curtly. "We all know there will be sentries posted at the river crossing -- probably two watching the bridge and another one in the guard hut."

"What’s the standard armament for Amazon border guards?" Gabrielle inquired.

"Typically each guard will have a sword of varying length, in addition to her leather armor and a shield. She might also have a dagger and bow -- and remember, the veteran warriors can be identified by the feathers on their face masks ," Velasca said. "The guards won’t look that much different from the women you observed in Themiscrya."

Xena interrupted, saying, "The woman in the hut will have access to heavier weapons, just in case her sisters can’t handle a disturbance by themselves. Usually those weapons will include a ball-and-chain, throwing spears and several crossbows."

"We shouldn’t have to worry about their weaponry anyway," Velasca added. "With our plan in place we should be able to overpower the guards and transform them before they know what hits them!"

The women began executing their plan. Gabrielle pulled several lengths of rope from a saddlebag and tied Velasca’s arms tightly behind her back. Xena repeated the process with Velasca’s legs. In a remarkably short period of time, she was trussed up and perched atop Argo, a leather ball stuffed in her mouth. Gods, the length I go to to ensure the success of my lord, Velasca thought indignantly.

"Do you really think they’ll buy our story?" Gabrielle sniffed. "That we were actually capable of capturing Velasca in the Baccha Woods while destroying the renegade Bacchae at the same time?"

"Hey, we’re the warrior princess and her trusty sidekick!" Xena announced gaily. "Defenders of the righteous, righters of wrong deeds and punishers of the guilty. Nothing is beyond our capabilities!"

Gabrielle smiled, enjoying Xena’s twisted parody for what the two were known for across all of Greece. The three women resumed their hurried pace toward the Amazon border, confident of a crushing victory over an unsuspecting Ephiny and her vulnerable nation. And the Amazons had no inkling of the deadly danger approaching their border or of the dark and wild future it held for them. They were about to learn a painful lesson: Just because you’re a Baccha doesn’t mean you always look and sound like a Baccha.

* * *

Erato looked over at Lysara and sighed dreamily. It had been a long day and the fatigue was beginning to show as the shadows lengthened. The guards had been on sentry duty all day long along an uncontested border, and they were growing tired of the continual pacing, sitting and standing. Then the word came in that they would have to pull a second shift since the women scheduled to replace them were busy caring for several colicky baby girls in the nursery lodges. Eponin owes us one for this, Erato thought irritably. The only one not ticked off by the sudden change of events was Aridne, but that was because she got to sit in the guard hut all the time filling out paperwork and sleeping.

I shouldn’t complain, though, because motherhood is something to be cherished. When the time comes for me to participate in a mating cycle, I hope my girls will be as doted over as they are today, Erato thought. Of the two hundred babies born in Themiscrya three months earlier, over a hundred had been girls. The boys had been sent away to their fathers or, if the father’s identity was unknown, to foster parents in villages bordering the nation. Although they had been sent away, the boys would always be revered as males born of the flesh of Amazons. They would have infrequent contact with their Amazon mothers.

"Psst, Erato. Over here," Lysara whispered, motioning at her partner. Having gotten the former’s attention, she dangled a leather flask from her right hand. "The border’s dead tonight. Let’s slip off to the side and have ourselves a little drink."

"What about the border?! Who will guard it against our rampaging neighbors and their deadly scythes?" Erato deadpanned, grinning mischievously.

It took a few seconds for Lysara to realize that Erato was joking. "Ha, ha, ha. Come on! Aridne won’t notice our absence for a few minutes."

The women slipped away from the bridge and shared the flask of Athenian wine. The sweet, rich drink was a rarity so far away from Athens and was greatly prized by its bearers. Twenty minutes passed before the last drop fell from the flask into Lysara’s open mouth and the women returned to their guard posts, wobbling slightly and quite inebriated. It wasn’t long before the monotony was broken by the sounds of an approaching horse, escorted by two indistinct figures. Erato and Lysara snapped to attention, their wine induced haze lifting.

"Halt! Who approaches the Amazon nation’s borders unbidden?" Lysara yelled officiously. "Identify yourselves and state your intentions."

"We come in peace -- and we have somebody with us who is of great interest to the Amazon nation," a naggingly familiar voice called out.

Lysara glanced curiously at Erato, who was absent-mindedly scratching her crotch. "Am I hearing things or does that sound like Xena?"

Another familiar voice spoke up before Erato could say anything. "No, your mind isn’t playing games with you. That was Xena speaking. Do either of you recognize my voice?"

Erato nodded vigorously as the two figures edged up to the far side of the bridge. A trussed up woman sat on the horse. "Yeah! You’re Gabrielle, our true queen! What brings you and Xena to these parts?"

Xena smiled and viciously ripped the shroud covering the trussed up woman’s head. The Amazon guards gasped with surprise, recognizing Velasca, who stared coolly at them. "What are you two bitches looking at? Haven’t you ever seen a trussed up woman before?" she snarled through her gag.

Gabrielle poked her staff in Velasca’s side, silencing her. "We caught her while destroying the Bacchae. She was cowering in a small cave when we discovered her. It appears that her legendary bravery and viciousness didn’t help her against Bacchus’ minions."

"Does Velasca’s presence grant us enough importance to pass unmolested?" Xena cut in.

"Sure!" Erato said. "Just let me tell Aridne about your arrival so it will be properly noted in the records." She turned away while Lysara stared longingly into Velasca’s strangely mesmerizing eyes.

The unexpected attack came out of the blue. Erato and Lysara were caught unaware and crumpled to their knees, holding their bruised stomachs. Xena jerked Lysara to her feet and stared at her, hissing lowly. Lysara’s eyes widened in shock as needle sharp fangs slid into Xena’s mouth behind swollen, crimson lips. "It’s your initiation time," she purred seductively. The last thing Lysara saw was Xena’s horrible fanged mouth descending toward her neck. And then a brief, sharp shooting pain. Then there was nothing but a wave of pleasurable tingling that spread slowly across her cramping body.

Erato watched in horror as Lysara’s body twitched and twisted beneath her scanty leather armor, mottled patches of chalky white skin slowly merging into each other. Her eyes snapped open and focused on Erato. "Please, don’t let this happen to meeee," she cried, not even realizing that her emerald green eyes were slowly turning into golden orbs. Her lips swelled painfully and turned crimson; Lysara opened her mouth in a silent scream, revealing her erupting fangs.

"Now it’s your turn to join our ranks!" Gabrielle snapped as Xena removed her mouth from Lysara’s chalky white neck. She twisted Erato’s neck and plunged her fangs into the Amazon’s neck, savoring the swift flow of blood into her empty stomach. Erato’s muffled cries of pain were soon replaced by pleasurable moaning. It wasn’t long before Gabrielle welcomed Erato into Bacchus’ ever growing family.

"Excellent job!" Velasca commented after spitting her gag out. She watched Xena and Gabrielle help Lysara and Erato to their feet. The initiates took in their surroundings with glittering gold eyes and looked questioningly at their sisters. "Now we just have to deal with the commander in the guard hut."

Xena and Gabrielle heard Velasca, but their heads were still spinning from their most recent meal. "By Bacchus! What did you girls have in your blood?" Xena asked. "It’s really giving us a high!"

Lysara held up and empty flask in her right hand. "Just some Athenian wine," she said quietly. Her thoughts were focused more on satisfying her raging desire for blood than answering Xena’s seemingly empty questions.

"It really packs a wallop!" Gabrielle added, holding her head. "But it’s a feel good kind of wallop."

"Enough social chatter," Velasca interrupted coldly. She looked at Lysara and Erato. "You two keep guarding the border, but do it with a twist. Make sure you initiate any of your sisters that wander by and when you go off duty, initiate your replacements. Tell all the initiates what I told you and the process will continue uninterrupted."

The Amazons nodded their understanding. "But how do we deal with Aridne?" Erato asked. "She’s undoubtedly wide awake and she’s a professional with the crossbow!"

"Don’t worry about mortal weapons anymore. They can’t kill you now that you’re a Baccha," Xena explained. "Even if you’re hit by arrows, blades or spears, you wouldn’t die from the injuries. They’d slow you down, yes, but the only thing that can really hurt you now are Dryad bones. And that’s a rare item nowadays!"

"Erato, accompany us across the bridge," Velasca ordered. "That way, if Aridne is awake, you’ll be with us to clear the way past her bureaucratic ways. Just remember to initiate her before your replacements arrive."

The four Bacchae set out across the bridge while Lysara remained on the far side, guarding the Amazon border for very different reasons than she had only a short time earlier. Erato crept ahead of the group and glanced into the torch lit hut. She smiled when she saw Aridne stretched out on the cot, snoring softly, her hands clutching several parchment scrolls. Poor baby. She worked herself into a deep sleep, Erato thought. That’ll just make things more interesting after Velasca and her group have passed through. She nodded at her sisters and wished them a silent good luck in their mission.

* * *

"I don’t care if the attacks have stopped and the women have returned!" Amplitron roared. "Xena and Gabrielle are still missing and presumed dead. I will not stand by doing nothing while rumor spreads saying that they died defending a snooty Pella that refused to even send forces to look for them after the Bacchae threat went away!"

"But we promised absolutely no interference no matter the cause," another council member pointed out.

"That’s a promise I intend to break," Amplitron retorted. "Despite our assurances of no interference, we owe Xena and Gabrielle big time for saving our asses. And we can start to repay that debt by sending in a few hundred men to comb the Baccha Woods for them." The council leader’s gleaming eyes and set mouth dared anyone to disagree with his judgment. No one did. Amplitron turned to his assistant and barked, "You got your orders. Gather as many men as we can afford and get them into those accursed woods as soon as possible!"

It wasn’t too long before Eribas and Lara were aware Amplitron’s orders. "Bacchus was right!" Lara chirped excitedly. "Pella’s finally doing something, even if it’s only a mission to find Xena and Gabrielle."

"We’re prepared for this event," Eribas replied evenly. "Our sisters are insinuated throughout Pella and the countryside. With a lot of Pella’s best men exposed in the wilds, they’ll make easier targets for our sisters out there."

"So our lord’s plan remains on schedule?" Clete asked.

Eribas nodded. "We’re just waiting for word on the Amazon nation."

* * *

Lysara and Erato stood over Aridne’s sleeping figure. "This is going to be too easy," Erato complained, bending over and gently massaging Aridne’s neck.

"That’s what you think," Lysara whispered. "The trick is to nip her and watch her transform into one of us -- all without waking her up!"

"Okay. Here goes nothing." Erato licked Aridne’s neck, her warm, wet tongue wetting her selected spot. Then she slowly and carefully punctured Aridne’s neck and let her fangs slide in deeply. The swift, hot flow of blood surprised Erato, but she managed to control the flow as it gushed into her waiting belly.

Aridne stirred slightly as Erato removed her fangs, but didn’t wake up. She was beginning to tremble slightly and twitched instinctually as her skin assumed a chalky white pallor. Her manicured fingernails slowly turned inky black and erupted into inch-long talons. Aridne moaned feverishly as her full, pink lips swelled and turned crimson and parted to expose her saliva slicked incisors, which were gradually elongating and sharpening into viperish fangs.

Lysara looked appreciatively at Erato. "You’re good. No, you’re damn good." she commented. The two Amazons left the hut and returned to their posts. They left behind a twisted and warped Aridne, her once innocent dreams now dominated by dark, lusty urges and desires.

* * *

Ephiny’s deep slumber was turned topsy turvy by a jumble of distant voices and an insistent, but gentle, tugging on her bare shoulders. "My queen, wake up! I bring good news -- the Amazon nation’s greatest traitor has been returned to Themiscrya!"

Ephiny shook her head irritably and grumbled sleepily. She finally roused herself awake and stared up into the inky blackness, trying to see who had awaken her from a dreamy sleep. "Diana? Is that you?" she asked. Several torches sputtered to life, revealing Diana’s beaming face. Ephiny didn’t return the smile; she just wanted to snuggle up again and sleep like a rock. "For Artemis’ sake, it’s still dark outside, Diana! And what’s all this hubbub about our greatest traitor reappearing in Themiscrya?"

"Velasca." Diana knew the name would snap Ephiny out of her haze and focus her attention. Which it did a splendid job of doing. "She was captured by some of our allies and returned. They showed up out of nowhere at the town’s southern gates only minutes ago!"

"Who would ... ," Ephiny fell silent, thinking. "Let me guess. Our allies are two women whose names begin with ‘X’ and ‘G’ respectively, right?"

Diana grinned. "You’re so brilliant, Ephiny. Xena and Gabrielle got Velasca trussed up on Argo and are waiting for you in the village commons. We’d better get moving or we’ll miss the show!"

"I’ll be damned! Talk about an unexpected turn of events!" Ephiny said. She looked around, then added, "Where’s Solari? She usually informs me of things like this."

"She’s keeping a watchful eye on Velasca along with half the royal guard and about a hundred other warriors," Diana explained. "I wouldn’t be surprised if all of Themiscrya is up in arms by the time we get there."

Ephiny climbed to her feet, torch light glimmering on her bare breasts. "Okay. This sounds like a good enough reason to get out of bed for," she commented, slapping on her leather chest armor and grabbing her sheathed sword. She scrambled out of the timbered queen’s hut, discreetly followed by Diana.

* * *

"If that story had come from anyone else, I wouldn’t have believed it," Ephiny murmured after hearing Xena’s harrowing story. "Fighting off the marauding Bacchae and managing to capture Velasca at the same time. That must have been a Hades of a fight." She stared gratefully at the warrior princess and the true Amazon queen. "You and Gabrielle have done the Amazon nation an immense favor this night. How can we ever repay you for the effort?"

Xena grinned wolfishly. "Well, I am aware of the ten thousand dinar reward you offered for Velasca’s capture," she mentioned. Mere mention of the money caused Ephiny to shudder. "Another time and age, well, actually three years ago, I would have demanded the reward. But not now. Keep the money and use it to make the nation even stronger than it is today."

Ephiny nodded gratefully. "We appreciate the kind gesture, but surely there’s something else we can do for you, isn’t there?"

Xena looked at Gabrielle, who nodded and smiled. "Actually, there is," Xena replied. "After destroying the Bacchae, capturing a formidable opponent and taking the time to come here, we’re quite exhausted. Gabrielle and I would like to lay over in Amazon territory before resuming our journey, if it’s all right with you."

"Granted. Both of you may sleep with your fellow Amazon warriors in the sleeping lodges," Ephiny said. She smiled and added, "Like I said the last time we were together, you’re both Amazons. You just won’t admit it."

Gabrielle poked her staff in Velasca’s side. "What about her?"

Ephiny’s warm smile turned into an angry grimace. "She will be tried by a tribunal of her peers from across the nation in the village commons." She gestured at Solari, who moved in with three other women and wrenched the stoically silent Velasca down from Argo. "Throw her in prison. She’ll make a nice conversation piece for the other prisoners to digest."

Velasca hissed and spat viciously, splattering hot saliva over Solari’s face. The spit dribbled slowly down her cheeks, which reddened with embarrassment and righteous anger. Solari kneed her former queen in the stomach, causing Velasca to double over in agony. "Thanks for the excuse, Velasca. You just made my night," she growled.

Velasca offered no resistance as Solari and her guards dragged the limp woman away toward the imposing stone prison. In the meantime, Xena and Gabrielle were mobbed by hundreds of the adoring Amazons that they would be eating, sleeping and working with over the next several days. It took over two hours before Themiscrya settled back into a peaceful slumber. The warrior princess and her protégé had taken a big headache off the Amazons’ minds.

* * *

Velasca warily eyed the other prisoners. There were five of them and the looks they gave her were quite inscrutable. Fortunately, she recognized three of them. "Ariel. Helen. Arianna. Nice to see that you haven’t gone anywhere since my last attempt to grab the queenhood for myself."

Her attempt to break the ice didn’t work; the only thing Velasca got was stony silence and grim faces. Arianna finally spoke up, asking, "Why did you abandon us, Velasca? We supported your ambitions and got absolutely nothing out of it other than a humiliating public trial and a choice between exile or imprisonment. Obviously we chose the latter option -- after all, we have daughters and friends we didn’t want to lose contact with!"

"I suppose you blame me for all your woes?" Velasca spat back. "You knew the risks when you agreed to support my ambitions. At least you’ve been fed, clothed and bathed on a regular basis, unlike me! I’ve been forced to eat roots and berries and scurry for hiding places for months now. My Amazon sisters were busy hunting me down and I had warlords looking to skin my ass. The only reason I’m here is because of a resurgence in Bacchae activity and an unfortunate encounter with Xena and her ditzy sidekick."

Ariana snarled at the hidden implications that Velasca was building. "We grew disillusioned with you, especially after your disappearance, but we never once thought about abandoning the ideas you represented! A strong Amazon nation that would stand victorious over anyone who dared to doubt our glorious future!" She snorted angrily. "By the way, did your many moons of grubbing around produce anything positive to help our cause?"

Velasca shook her head, acknowledging her mistake. "I was too busy trying to survive to plan anything cohesive."

"See! You should have stayed with us so we could have faced imprisonment together," Helen broke in. "We could have used that time to plan our future actions. But we can’t do that now! We have no future because we can’t get organized because our great leader was cowering in the countryside, living like a wild animal!"

"It doesn’t have to be like that anymore," Velasca said, lowering her voice conspiratorially. Her followers moved in closer, straining to hear her words. "While I was running, I encountered a gentleman who gave me the opportunity to unite our nation under my leadership. And you three can be among my lieutenants!"

"Who’s this gentleman that you speak of?" Arianna asked.

"Ah, ah, ah. I’m not going to tell you my secret yet!" Velasca brushed off the muted cries of protest. She glanced at the other two prisoners, who had remained aloof. "Who are those lovelies keeping to themselves?" She drank in their sky blue eyes, which were framed by elegant oval faces, refined noses and oceans of thick, billowing black hair.

Ariel glared at the two women and said, "They’re outside women who were allowed into the nation because they were abused by their husbands. Their sisters from one of the outlying tribes caught them in dereliction of guard duty; they were passed out in a drunken stupor! Their idiocy left a key part of our Thracian frontier unguarded for several candlemarks last week."

"Ephiny dealt with them personally," Helen cut in. "She made them persona non grata within the nation for a month and sentenced them to two weeks’ time in Themiscrya’s prison. No one, not even ourselves, can associate with the scum until their sentence is completed."

"Oh. I see." Velasca smiled outwardly, pondering this piece of information. "Let’s turn in for the night. If everything goes right, I’ll let you know everything tomorrow!"

Velasca propped herself up against a cold stone wall and drifted off. She was already formulating a plan. I’ll use those outcasts to initiate my associates into the way of the Bacchae. A troubling thought crossed her mind. I wonder how Xena and Gabrielle plan to do their part? That’s the only bad thing about being imprisoned -- you’re never aware of what’s going on outside these damn walls.

* * *

The rising sun found Lysara and Erato still standing at their customary places at the head of the checkpoint bridge. The boredom of the previous evening had long passed into listlessness. Even Bacchae had to rest occasionally. "When will our victims arrive?" Lysara grouched. "Anytime before judgment day, perhaps?"

"Relax. Between caring for the newborns and toddlers and getting our sisters prepared for this season’s mating cycle, they’ve got their hands full," Erato replied. "Anyway, it’s not like we’re hungry or anything now. We’ve initiated over a dozen of our patroling sisters into the Bacchae."

The sounds of approaching footsteps and animated conversation interrupted Erato. She and Lysara spied their replacements, Urania and Clio. "It’s about time you got here," Lysara snapped. "It seems like we’ve been standing here for an eternity!"

Clio grinned mischievously. "Aw, it couldn’t have been that bad. By Hades, you were the first to see Velasca tied up like the pig she really is! That alone was probably worth the extra hours you put in on guard duty."

"Where’s Electra?" Lysara interrupted. There was no sign of the commander.

"She’s checking in with Aridne to set some records straight," Urania said. "Why do you ... ,"

Electra’s terrified scream echoed from the guard hut. It was quickly smothered and an animalistic growl emanated from the suddenly foreboding hut. "What in Hades was that?!" Clio shouted. "It sounds like she’s being attacked by an animal or something. What do you got in there -- a lion or bear or something?" She and Urania took off across the bridge while Lysara and Erato exchanged anxious, knowing looks and scrambled after them.

By the time the women got to the hut, it was too late. Aridne stood triumphantly over Electra’s crumpled, chalky white body, licking smears of rich red blood from her taloned fingers. She snarled at the interruption of her feeding, whirling on the intruders. Behind her Electra began to convulse as her transformation began in earnest. Urania and Clio unsheathed their swords and held them menacingly. "I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Aridne, but it’s obviously contagious," Urania said coolly. "Stand down and live to see tomorrow!"

"Or you’ll do what?" Aridne snapped viciously. "Stab me with your toy swords?" Behind her, Electra climbed unsteadily to her feet and stared hypnotically at her former sisters with seductive gold eyes. Her cruel crimson smile twisted to reveal a pair of razor sharp fangs that were still elongating and sharpening.

"Give us your weapons," Clio demanded. "If you do that, we can put in a favorable word at your trial."

"I hate to rain on your party, but there won’t be any trial." Clio whirled, but it was too late. Lysara knocked the sword from her hands and punched her in the stomach. Clio dropped, insensate, to the ground, her fate sealed. Urania saw what was happening and sliced the air with her sword, but it missed its target. Erato and Aridne took advantage of Urania’s distraction with Lysara and knocked her to the ground. Urania landed hard and stared furiously at her conquerors.

"What are you going to do with us? Make us like you?" Urania asked quietly.

"My, you’re a perceptive one, aren’t you? Watch and learn," Lysara said.

She jerked Clio to her feet and twisted the woman’s neck to expose her carotid artery. Electra stalked forward and paused, eyeing her meal, before plunging her fangs into Clio’s supple neck. Her eyes snapped open and she opened her mouth in a silent, agonized, scream. Clio’s pleading eyes focused on Urania, who sagged when she realized the same thing would be happening to her. Several minutes passed agonizingly slowly by before Electra withdrew her crimson mouth from Clio’s neck, which had turned chalky white. The newest member of the Bacchae focused her sexy gold eyes on Urania, who was beginning to tremble, and hissed softly. The morning light glanced off a pair of slim, viperish fangs.

"What do you stand to gain by destroying the Amazon nation, you witless fools?" Urania shouted angrily. "We were respected by our allies and foes alike! We were a stabilizing force in the region! And now you’ve destroyed everything with your damn attacks."

"Urania, please feel free to give us more credit," Lysara retorted. "We’re still Amazons -- we just have different looks and tastes now. We’ll initiate every single one of our sisters into a new nation, a nation led by Bacchus that will conquer the world!"

"You won’t succeed. If Macedonia can’t stop you, then the rest of Greece will. And if that fails, I know the gods will step in to take care of Bacchus!" Urania murmured defiantly.

Erato sighed. "I grow tired of this conversation. You’ll be singing a different tune after we nip you." She faced Clio and commanded, "Initiate your sister into the Bacchae!"

Urania stared coolly into Clio’s beautiful, golden, eyes as her friend approached her. "Give me your best shot," she growled, purposely exposing her neck. She tapped a spot on her neck, saying, "Bite me right here!" Clio halted, taken aback by Urania’s brazenness. Her hesitation abruptly vanished and she plunged her fangs into Urania’s neck, savoring her first meal of delicious, sweet, blood. Urania didn’t flinch once even as her body became mottled with patches of cool, chalky white skin or as an ocean of wild, orgasmic energy crashed over her mind. Her only grimace came when her incisors abruptly stretched and sharpened into three quarter inch fangs dripping with hot saliva. Her painfully swollen crimson lips had a difficult time concealing her new teeth.

* * *

The outcast women were enjoying a hot meal of chicken broth when Velasca’s attack came out of nowhere, catching them by surprise. That was understandable since absolutely no one was to have any contact with them until their sentences were completed. Velasca slammed their heads together and smiled with cold satisfaction upon hearing the sickening crunch. The outcasts were knocked out by the blow and slid to the ground; a small trickle of broth trailed from the corner of one woman’s mouth -- she had been caught savoring a mouthful of hot soup. The guards outside the prison didn’t hear the brief commotion inside the stone walls.

Her curiosity getting the best of her, Velasca sipped some broth from one of the bowls. Eech! This stuff doesn’t agree with my dietary needs at all! She spat the broth out and focused her attention on her unconscious sisters. She dragged them off into a secluded corner and proceeded to enjoy two meals of hot, pulsating blood vibrant with life. It wasn’t long before her sisters had completed their journey to the dark side and began to stir from their slumber. Velasca sat off to the side, leaning up against a wall, her hands folded across her stomach. She was waiting patiently for her initiates to wake up. By Bacchus, am I ever stuffed. After that feeding frenzy, I shouldn’t need any more blood for quite some time! she thought lazily. Now I just have to wait for the others to return from their work detail.