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AUTHOR'S NOTE: Posted to ff.net with the same title.
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Callisto surveyed the lands under her protection. A vista of rolling hills and fields, bordered by forests and mountains. It was an awe inspiring sight; she upon her mighty steed, hair gleaming gold in the sun, armor shining brightly, her banner flying behind her and waving over scores of loyal troops in polished silver just waiting for her command to proceed.
A command she was happy to give.
They were on their annual parade, meant to show the people how benevolent and approachable Callisto truly was. She would ride through the smallest hamlets and largest cities bestowing kind words and smiles upon her beholden peoples, offering aid to those in need whether it be reaping the fields or hunting down a lost pet, nothing was too large or too petty for Callisto and her army. She made certain her people were looked after, safe and comfortable in their homes while she and her men guarded their territories zealously from any warlord foolish enough to try her.
Callisto raised her arm and slowly lowered it forward. Her heralds blew the signal to march, a signal that was carried leagues back to the rest of her forces.
She squeezed her knees around her war stallion and he danced forward before settling into a calmer pace. Callisto patted his neck fondly and smiled, "Argo, you can play later. Our goal is just over those hills. Once we reach the town you'll have your fill of hay and mares, just behave yourself."
The golden horse whickered and nodded his head, as if he'd understood Callisto's words.
Two candle-marks later saw Callisto riding to the fore of her men from the center of the formation, where she'd been socializing with her squadrons. The abrupt stop and panicked signal from a trumpeter brought her galloping through the lines and mounting the crest of the hill.
Callisto caught sight of what lay before her and drew back on the reigns a little too harshly.
Argo reared, his forelegs striking the air and Callisto clinging to his mane.
When he settled Callisto patted his shoulder and dismounted.
She stepped beyond her nervous horse, took one step further than her general, and looked upon newly ravaged lands with horror and sorrow.
"What happened here?" she demanded to know.
Her general, Bannicus, saluted and replied, "I know not, my liege. But I have sent in scouts to find what they may."
"I'll ride in myself and have a look around." Callisto turned to mount Argo but was stopped by a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"My lady, please, we know not what has happened here. It is not safe. Please, allow the scouts time to do their work."
She rounded on the man twice her size, "I will not stand idly by while my men do their work. Look down there, Bannicus! It is carnage! I can see the bodies of my people from here! This will not stand. Whoever did this will suffer for it. I make that a promise to the souls of those people we came too late to save."
Bannicus did not try to stop her a second time.
She leapt onto Argo's back and surged down the hill towards the smoking town, afire with rage towards the unknown enemy.
Her fury only grew as she entered the town and dismounted to examine things more closely.
The stench was terrible. The copper of blood mixed with the stench of fear and voided bowels. It was enough to sicken even the hardened stomach of Callisto. Still, she braved the nauseating smell and sights to get to the bottom of this tragedy.
The people had been terrified. She saw it in their gaping mouths and wide eyes, there were tear stains marring cheeks and blood soaking necks and chests from puncture wounds bites.
Bites that could only come from one creature "Bacchae!" she spat.
She swung herself into Argo's saddle once more and raced back to her slowly descending troops. She addressed all the men within hearing distance of her field commander voice. "Men, gather the bodies and build a pyre of the town. There's nothing to salvage here. Nothing and no one to be saved. Monsters did this," she said, drawing startled glances from her stoic troops, "Monsters called bacchae!"
There was a murmuring growl building among the men. They knew the tales of the creatures called bacchae. Monsters given human flesh, the flesh of beautiful young women used to seduce others into their clutches where the beasts would sink their teeth into vulnerable necks and drain their victims dry.
Succubae. Murderers. Monsters. Demons. Bacchae.
"I see you've heard of these things," Callisto silenced her men with her powerful voice, "Then you know what that means. The entirety of our holdings are in danger! Our people are not safe! The bacchae cannot be allowed to do this to another town! We will lose no more people to these hellspawn! Torch this town, make sure nothing is left standing! The taint of the bacchae must not be allowed to reach any farther!"
"But my liege," one soldier called out, "What if the bacchae are no longer here?"
Callisto's eyes bore into the luckless youth's. "If the bacchae have fled this town," she said in a calm, almost soothing, voice that nevertheless shook with wrathful tension, "If they were smart enough to flee, we go after them. We follow them to the ends of the earth and eliminate them, one by one, until none are left to destroy our people."
She raised her head to take in the whole of her army once more, "Men, these are not easy creatures to kill. It will not be a safe journey. But I will not let these foul things menace my people! They must be stopped and we will stop them. We will protect our homes, our families, and slay these unholy things! Who's with me?!"
A thunderous roar of approval met her ears as her soldiers cheered her speech and rallied to defend what was theirs.
"Then it's time," Callisto shouted above the din, "to hunt!"
The clangor of swords to shields and voices raised in bloodlust echoed for miles around.
Short work was made of turning the small town into a makeshift funeral pyre. Prayers were hastily, yet reverently, offered to the gods to usher lost souls to the Underworld. When the town was a roaring inferno, carefully tended by a full squad of men to prevent it spreading, Callisto led her men away on the trail of their quarry.
Their parade route abandoned in favor of this hunt, they cut across fields and harsh terrain to gain ground on their mystical prey.
It was many days of grueling travel. They survived on what they could scavenge, refusing to put any of their people out necessary supplies and running themselves ragged in their attempts to catch the bacchae.
And when they did catch up, it was entirely unexpected.
"You're good, little girl, to track us this far," a tittering cruel voice slithered into Callisto's ears, "But not good enough!"
A dark form swooped out of the gloom of the night and only near inhuman reflexes saved Callisto from being another victim of the bacchae.
She'd been on edge since the onset of nightfall and had drawn her sword as a precaution against dangers. A good thing, it turned out, as she swung the impaled body of a bacchae off her now gory sword.
"Men, we're under attack! Defense positions!" Callisto ordered with the authority of many years of command and her men formed up, their swords and shields held before them as their only protections.
Suddenly the night was filled with taunting laughter and jeers and screams as her men were dragged from their formations and to their deaths.
"Light some torches! We can't kill the bitches if we can't see them!" Bannicus shouted, and soon the area flared with torchlight revealing the reeling and now nightblind bacchae to their human foes.
"Attack!" Callisto screamed, throwing herself forward at her still stunned opponent. One devastatingly efficient blow from her sword sent the bacchae's head spinning through the air, forcefully detached from her body.
Her men, obeying her command, met with much the same success as their leader and soon heads were rolling.
The bacchae had been caught faltering in the face of the army's preparation and suffered for it.
Mere moments after the battle had begun and no bacchae were left intact. All had been beheaded with frightening alacrity.
Callisto stood ringed by firelight, her face bathed in sweat and dirt, her hair a wild halo around her head, and her sword dripping blood into parched earth.
She whistled a three note tune and Argo cantered to her side, appearing as if from nowhere, and stood still as his mistress pulled herself into the saddle.
She looked down with scorn and hatred upon the headless bodies of the bacchae and spat on the ground.
Her burning gaze locked with Bannicus' and she hoarsely said, "Burn the bodies. Let no trace of them remain."
"As my lady commands," Bannicus saluted and set about organizing the men and setting them on their task.
"Come Argo," Callisto said, gently patting her stallion's shoulder, "Let's go home."
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