Roxanna looked out over the streets, watching all the little people scurry by. She was just high enough to see over a few roofs. That was hardly enough for her. She wished they were kept up at the top of the Acropolis, so that she might look down upon all of Athens and watch it squirm. Dionysus and his followers weren't deserving of such status in the wise city. No, that belonged only to Athena and the "good" gods. Instead, they were left to scrape away at the sides of the hill with the various other stadiums and theaters and minor temples. Even this great white city of learning owed it all to them, though. The maenad sulked, having ruined her good mood with geography yet again.
Even as she pouted down at the Athenian morning, no one would have argued that Roxanna was a sight to behold. It's not every day that one might catch a glimpse of a maenad peering out from the columns of the Temple of Dionysus during the morning commute. Her sleepy yellow eyes glittered like a cat's, but the fierce horns on her head ended all other feline resemblances. They could never really determine what creature she'd borrowed those from. She thought about heading back to the comfort of her bed when one of the little idiots came clattering up to her across the marble.
"Roxanna?" the unfortunate girl asked.
"Yes?" she snapped back. "Well don't just stand there. What?"
"Um, t-there are animals walking through the temple," the poor thing stuttered out.
Roxanna rolled her eyes and got to her feet, utterly annoyed at being forced to deal with such depravity. "What kind of animals?" she demanded.
"A bull and a goat," the girl reported.
Roxanna couldn't help herself. She threw her head back and laughed. She kept laughing, at least long enough to where the girl looked positively uncomfortable. The maenad faked wiping tears from her iridescent eyes, and in-between giggles she said, "You must be new here, very new. Oh, temple slaves. You make for such good entertainment, even as useless as you are." With that she collected herself, then shoved past the girl and out into the portico.
Sure enough, a great black bull and a fat little goat were there, waiting to be received. Sadly, no other intelligent creature was awake at such an early hour, at least not in this temple. Roxanna offered the bull a gracious bow, but her face didn't speak much of welcoming. She glared at the smaller creature. "Kalli doesn't want the goat here," she spat.
It bleated back an angry reply.
The bull cast a look in each direction, swinging his great head about. Then he looked back at Roxanna, and revealed himself. In the place of the bull stood a grinning god, youthful and handsome. He kept the bull's horns, but had traded his hide for a toga, a simple crown of vines, and a leopard skin slung over the shoulder. "I see. Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but this is the Temple of Dionysus, right? Unless my father has suddenly decided to raise one of my maenads to divinity in my absence, I think it still is. My house, my rules. The goat stays."
The goat in question changed too, albeit much less dramatically. Pan waggled his eyebrows at the maenad, smirking in his triumph. The stocky goat man blew her a kiss.
It made Roxanna want to puke. She cringed in disgust. "Keep your hands to yourself then, you foul thing." She then looked imploringly up at the god. "It's enough you let your other satyrs come and go here, my lord. You don't have to bring that along."
Dionysus only offered her a mock frown. "But he's so much fun! I already told him to behave himself, at least around my girls. The rest are free game. Oh! Perhaps he'll knock up that slave that didn't know who I was! Go for it, old man! I want to see her face when the little one comes out hooves first!"
The two immortals exchanged a chest bump, which Roxanna interrupted by loudly clearing her throat. "That's not what you're here for today, at least I hope."
Dionysus pouted at her again. "I know what I'm here for. No need to get on my case, Roxy. Isn't that usually your boss' job anyway?"
"Kalli's asleep. I'm the head temple bitch, for now," the maenad said, crossing her arms in front of her and making an effort to look intimidating.
Dionysus leaned down to Pan and said, "Well, she's got the bitch part right." He popped back up with a gracious smile at his servant. "So yes, I need to make another of you. That's why I'm here. Dreadful work for me, of course, but I have to do what I must to keep my temple running. Is the girl ready?"
"You don't even remember her name?" Roxanna asked incredulously.
To this, Dionysus gave his most dashing grin. "Of course. The lovely little acolyte Aster. I picked her myself, didn't I?"
Roxanna stood still, unimpressed.
"Oh, come on. Go wake everyone up. I'm already bored," the god complained.
Roxanna sighed again at the drudgery of her charmed life. "Fine, fine. Change into something less deadly to our mortals then. I'd just better not find any goat fur or other nasty goat substances in my bed again."
Pan shrugged at this accusation, but his fat, hairy belly was already shaking with laughter. Dionysus nodded and dismissed his servant, exchanging his true appearance for that of a generic, but still handsome Athenian youth. He and the goat man showed themselves in, while Roxanna left to go about the baleful task of waking up the temple's mostly hungover inhabitants. Luckily for her, one of the many perks that came along with her horns was that she couldn't get hungover herself.
She sauntered into the maenad's room. It was just as she'd left it--a mess of pillows, drapery, and sleeping women with horns. The other four of her kind lay sprawled amongst the piles of bedding, half full cups of wine strewn about them. To say it was a familiar scene wasn't quite right. This was literally every morning for them. Such is the hard life of a maenad.
Lysandra stirred as she entered. "Mmm. Morning, Rox," she mumbled.
Roxanna smirked. The ensuing freak out was going to be so entertaining. "The boss is here," she said simply, not even returning the other maenad's greeting.
The blond girl's face suddenly transformed from contentedly sleepy into a guise of pure dread. "My lord?"
"Who else?" Roxanna asked with a shrug.
Lysandra scrambled to her feet, nearly tripping over the others as she sprinted toward the other end of the room. "Oh no! Why would he come so early! I haven't done my hair or anything! Don't tell me he's coming in here. No, no, no! I'm a mess! Don't let him see me, Rox!"
Roxanna just laughed while the other furiously tried to amend her appearance at the large standing mirror in the corner.
Lysandra snapped around after a moment and glared at her. "He's not here yet, is he?"
"No, he's here. Him and Pan, unfortunately. They went off into the cella and told me to wake everyone," Roxanna reported in-between chuckles.
"Ugh. Not the goat again. Oh well, at least I have time to make myself decent," Lysandra said after a deep breath. She went back to primping.
Roxanna rolled her eyes at the obsessive one's back, and then strode over the the pile of pillows that the other three still slept on. They were not as she'd left them. Corrina, as usual, had managed to cling onto something in her sleep, and, as usual, it was with her entire body. Normally, this wouldn't bother Roxanna much, but that something just so happened to be her Kallistrate. This would not do.
She unceremoniously shoved the girl off, who mumbled an incoherent complaint and went to cling onto the next available thing, which was Evanthe on her other side. At this, the deer-horned girl awoke and shoved Corrina off of her too. She cast a disgusted look at the cuddly one, and then stormed off without a word. Corrina finally settled on an errant pillow instead of a body and wrapped herself around it, never once even opening an eye.
Kallistrate always looked so pissed off when she slept. Her mouth somehow kept itself in a flat line, and her eyebrows would always bend just slightly downward. Perhaps the eldest maenad even ordered people around in her dreams. Whatever the reason, that face combined with the ivory white of her ibex horns made her an intimating figure even as she was lost to Hypnos--not that she was any different when she was awake. Even so, looking at her angry face made Roxanna smile. She gently brushed the side of it with her finger tips. Kallistrate's golden eyes opened quickly, already alert and calculating.
"The boss is here," Roxanna repeated for her, still grinning.
"What are you smiling at?" Kallistrate demanded.
"You, silly. Now don't get mad, but he's brought Pan with him, again," she said.
Kallistrate sat up stiffly. "I told him I didn't want that old goat in my temple," she fumed.
"And he told me that this place is actually his temple, which is sadly correct. I tried my best, but there's no arguing with our master. You know that," Roxanna groaned. "Hopefully Pan will just behave himself today."
"That's unlikely," Kallistrate said curtly. She stood up and examined the room. Her cold eyes scanned the other maenads as they readied themselves to face their employer. They settled on the one with a deer's horns. "Evanthe, go see to it that Aster is readied for our lord. Get a slave or two to clean up this mess while you're at it."
Evanthe said nothing, only offering glare dripping with hurt in the leader's direction before she ran off to do Kallistrate's bidding.
Roxanna just laughed again. She wrapped her arms around Kallistrate's slender waist and carefully rubbed her head against the leader's neck, careful of her own forward-facing horns. "You know I love it when you're mean, right?" she whispered into a pointed ear.
Aster breathed in deeply and held her breath for a moment. The young priestess had done her best to make herself presentable. She still wasn't sure why she had been chosen for this honor, but Aster was determined to make the best of it. After all, who doesn't want to live forever in the service of the gods--free from society's rules, answering only to the divine? That was really all she'd ever wanted, but still, it was a frightening road ahead. She didn't know much about what to expect, and the maenads weren't talking, and she certainly wouldn't get much out of the one that had been sent to see her readied.
Evanthe stood in the doorway to the priestess' room, her body limp and slouching. She hadn't said more than two words since she got there. Aster gave herself one last look over before turning to the sulking girl with deer horns. She gave her the most encouraging smile she could in her nervous state. "Well, I think I'm ready," she said.
Evanthe barely lifted her head to that. She moved aside to follow Aster out, dragging her feet as she did. The priestess couldn't help but feel pity for the maenad. She hadn't been in the service of this temple long, but she knew Evanthe wasn't always this way. When she'd first arrived, the deer-horned girl had been a lively, happy creature. She enjoyed every moment of her life, every drop of wine she both drank herself or poured for others. She laughed easily, and was seldom without a light in her eyes or a smile on her face. At least that was how it was when she was with Iola.
There should have been six maenads in Athens, but there were only five. Aster bit her lip as she walked past the pitiful Evanthe. She knew that she was Iola's replacement, but she also knew that the deer-horned girl didn't care to replace her. She silently lead the way out into the cella. There was nothing she could say, certainly nothing that could really comfort the maenad. She'd already grieved like this for months with no change.
Laughter echoed off of the cool marble, promising relief from the overwhelming awkwardness that hovered between the two of them. Aster's nerves were starting to get the better of her, and her stomach was churning, but she kept telling herself that this was all she could ever want. She should be happy. She should be greatful. She should not be feeling like that first night the satyrs came and got her so drunk that she spent the entire evening hung over a bucket, but it was getting close to that.
She still had so many questions, but she wasn't about to ask them of poor Evanthe. Before she knew it, though, they'd reached the inner sanctum of the temple, which was already crowded with its hastily awakened staff. Aster hung back on one of the columns, peering in before she entered.
"All I'm saying is that, if you're gonna make a statue of a god, you ought to give him a little credit, you know? Look at that. It's tiny," a scratchy old voice echoed about the columns.
"I think the whole idea is that they're trying to represent a god as close to man, or something. If it makes them feel better about themselves, then I won't be offended. And unlike you, old friend, I like to leave things to the imagination. I'm not about to walk around with my junk hanging out," another responded.
"I'm a goat, man. I don't need pants."
Sure enough, they found Pan standing next to a handsome youth. Both of them were admiring, or, well, criticising a certain area of Dionysus' statue. Scattered about them were temple slaves and lesser priestesses, busy readying the cella for their patron god's use. The usual retinue had arrived too. Two other satyrs were off in a corner, one tuning his lyre while the other was hauling some drums into place. A scattering of great cats lounged about on the floor and over some of the couches and cushions the slaves had just brought in. Aster looked around for the other maenads, wondering where they were, but just as she was going to get up her nerve at ask Evanthe, Kallistrate appeared from behind the pillars.
She bowed graciously to the youth, who gave her a nod back. Once this greeting was over, though, she scowled viciously at Pan. He just smiled right up at her.
"Oh come on, Kalli," Dionysus objected. "Is he really that awful? He's harmless, aren't you old man? See. Look at that face. How can you say no to that face?"
Pan was doing his best to impersonate something cute, with his eyes wide and his bearded chin fixed into a deep pout, but it really only served to make him even more hideous.
"Like this: no," she replied.
"Aw, how cruel!" Dionysus lamented. "He's brought you a present, though! We made it just for you and the girls."
Roxanna emerged then and came to stand with Kallistrate. "Better not be a bag of goat shit," she said.
"Much better than that, I assure you," Dionysus told her. "I'm too excited to wait for the others. Call him in, Pan."
The old goat obediently whipped out his namesake flute and blew a sharp little diddy across the pipes. Hooves echoed across the marble and into the cella. The maenads looked at each other, intrigued. What finally emerged from the maze of columns was hardly impressive, though. A shaggy white pony lumbered into the cella, snorting and huffing just from its short trot. The thing was fat, amazingly fat for a horse, and looked like it fell on its head one too many times. Tiny wings sprouted from its back, not much bigger than a chicken's. It stopped in the middle of the room, staring dull-eyed at the maenads.
They stared right back.
"Tada!" Dionysus said, coming up the obese creature and stroking its broad head. "You always said you wanted your own pegasus, right? I couldn't convince my uncle to make another one, so Pan here said he'd do it as a token of amnesty to all of you."
"That's not a pegasus," Roxanna said, starting to giggle. "That's fat as the day is long. Look at that thing! Hah! It can barely walk!" She held her side, shaking with laughter as she pointed at the pitiful thing.
Kallistrate peered critically at it. "That's just wretched," she commented dryly.
Dionysus started to laugh too, dropping his act. "I know! Isn't it great? What a stupid-looking thing, right? He's hilarious. He tries to fly sometimes, but he'll just flap those little things and look all determined into the sky. Like he could even get off the ground!"
Roxanna sighed, then laughed again. "Ah, best worst gift ever," she said. "Can we get him drunk tonight?"
"You can try," Dionysus said, poking at the horse's flab.
"Hey now, don't make fun of my progeny. He's just big-boned, like his dad," Pan told them, even though he too was laughing.
"Please don't even tell us how you made it. No one wants to know," Roxanna demanded as she finally regained her composure.
"Your loss," the satyr said with a shrug.
The other two maenads drifted into the cella then. Corrina sauntered up in her usual, lazy way, while Lysandra made a bee line for the handsome god.
"My lord! So good to have you here in our temple again! You're looking well. Is everything being arranged to your liking? Have you been offe--wait, what is that?" Lysandra stopped dead in her tracks as she approached, pointing to the rotund creature.
"Your very own pegasus. I thought my ladies in Athens could use another fun creature to entertain them," Dionysus explained, doing his best to sound entirely serious.
"It's, um, lovely," Lysandra replied. Her nervous smile betrayed the compliment.
"It's...fat," Corrina assessed, starting to laugh along with Roxanna.
"Does this creature have a name?" Lysandra asked. She came up the thing and gently stroked its choppy mane, but still standing at arm's length from it.
Dionysus looked at Pan, who merely shrugged and said, "Hey, you just said do the deed, nothing else."
The god rolled his eyes. "Such fatherly responsibility. Well then girls, why don't you just call him whatever you like?"
"Fat Pegasus," Roxanna blurted out between snickers.
"Rox! We should give him a good name, like one that belonged to a hero or a great patron of our lord!" Lysandra objected.
"No, Fat Pegasus," Roxanna said again, determined.
"I like it, blunt, to the point. A man or a beast can't truly achieve greatness unless he recognizes his faults, right? Even the great Hercules was essentially just doing all of that nonsense to make up for a mistake, right? It's settled then. Fat Pegasus he'll be, so that he might always be reminded of his failings and do well despite them," Dionysus proclaimed grandly.
"Really?" Kallistrate begged, clearly annoyed.
The god's face cracked back into a knavish grin. "No. Of course not. I just think it's hilarious. Now seriously, where is my future maenad? Don't tell me you've lost her. I don't want to have to go picking another one."
Aster took this as her cue to enter. She stilled her jangling nerves as best she could and told herself once again that she was about to get everything she could ever want that day. She emerged from the pillars, with Evanthe shuffling along behind her.
"Ah, she answers herself. Splendid. Are you ready for the party tonight, my dear Aster?" Dionysus said with a wink.
She bowed a little too quickly and responded, "I am, my lord."
"No need to go so heavy on the formalities. You're about to become one of my retinue. You're stuck with me for a potential eternity, so we'd better get used to one another now, right? Don't cast your eyes down. There, that's better isn't it?" He beamed at her. "Soon enough you won't have to look at me inside this mortal shell. I'm much more handsome when I can show off my true face, right ladies?"
Only Lysandra nodded vigorously in response to that. The others either shrugged or looked unimpressed.
"A little back up once and a while wouldn't kill you, really. Pay them no heed, priestess. They've just been around too long. I suspect they haven't told you much about what will happen today, have they?" Dionysus asked.
"Uh, not really, my lord," Aster responded obediently.
Dionysus glanced at the others and shook his head. "Oh, girls. They do love their drama and mysteries, don't they? Well, allow me to explain. Today we'll have to go through a series of steps. It's going to take just about all day, but I assure you that the time will fly by. That's how it is with me, really. One minute you're lounging about relaxing with a nice vintage, the next you're dancing naked in the aggora. That's not necessarily a step, though I could make it one if you fancy."
Aster's eyes were wide. She wasn't much for rules and the strict nature of society, but she wasn't about to go run around without any clothes, no matter how much wine she'd have to drink.
The Olympian laughed. "Just kidding, just kidding. Really though, there are steps that we must go through. Like all things in this world, there's a process to it. So, I'm sorry to say that your horns won't just burst from your head with a tap from me. That said, let's proceed to get ready for step one. Girls?"
The other four maenads swooped in on command, surrounding Aster, with Evanthe joining them. If her stomach had been tying itself in knots before, then it was just about to braid itself right there and then. She knew these women, sure enough. She'd worked for them for a few years now, serving the god of wine and pleasure under their eerie yellow gaze, but she'd never really known them as anything besides the creatures in charge of this temple. Mostly, it just seemed like they lounged around and drank, until it was time for some sort of festival. Then they'd be gone for a few days, overseeing it and making sure it was conducted to their master's standards. They'd come home exhausted, then lounge about and drink again.
Still, they were intimidating. It wasn't even the slightly glowing eyes or the horns that got her anymore. Something about them was clearly beyond human--and the most frightening thing was that that something was being given to her today.
Dionysus had shooed Pan and Fat Pegasus off to the corner with the satyrs. He stood proudly in front of the statue of himself. The slaves had cleared the room too, and even the lazy tigers and leopards and other great cats he'd brought along were inclining their heads toward the proceedings. "Maenads of Athens, how do you find your newest sister?" the god asked them, his voice echoing around the columns and throughout the temple.
Aster caught Lysandra's eyes first. The blond maenad scanned her, looking for any last minute sign that she might not be ready for whatever was coming to her. She might have been known to adore her god like a girl adores her first crush, but she still had that fierceness to her that made Aster's throat get tight and dry. Her horns were strange, like a young deer's but thick and rough-textured, almost more like tree branches. If they belonged to a creature, then it wasn't one known to Greece. "I find her fit to serve you, my lord," she finally replied.
The next gaze that caught her was Evanthe's. It was rare to see her look at anything but the floor these days. In comparison to Lysandra's perfectly neat appearance, this maenad looked as much of a mess as she probably felt. Her auburn hair was unkempt. She was unadorned with any jewelry or finery, save a necklace made from a small, twisting horn. Aster couldn't help but feel sorry for her--sorry that this was even happening right now. She was replacing a lost maenad, but not just any maenad. Iola had been everything to Evanthe, but she ended up as just another reminder of what semi-mortal actually meant. "I find her fit to serve you, my lord," Evanthe replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
Corrina was next to trap her eyes. She was at least smiling warmly at Aster. Even with her slightly frightening features, she was still quite a beauty. Her long, curly brown hair spilled over a ram's curving horns and across her white shoulders. She always seemed to enjoy whatever it was she had to do in the name of her god. Truly, there was no more perfect servant of the very god meant to ease mortal man's hard and dull life. "I find her fit to serve you, my lord," Corrina replied, without hesitation.
Roxanna smiled too, but her smile was a deadly one. Of all of them, she might be the most easily mistaken for a demon. Her horns too weren't from any animal that Aster knew. They were thick and segmented, curving up over her temples toward their sharp points. This whole world seemed to be nothing but a great game to her, and she was always the winner of it. Perhaps her constant barbs and insults were the product of too many years spent alive, but Aster hardly knew what the reason could be. This maenad had never had any desire to deal with her, or anything that wasn't at least partially divine, at least not until today. "I find her fit to serve you, my lord," Roxanna replied.
Finally there was the cold gaze of Kallistrate, the eldest maenad. The other priestess liked to say that she came from a time that even Herodotus didn't know about, long before Athens even existed. Some even said she was the sole survivor of the destruction of Atlantis, saved from the torrential seas by a merciful Dionysus. Nothing about her could be called anything less than intimidating, from the bone-white of her antelope's horns to her crossed arms. Her face was expressionless, gold eyes peering deeply into Aster's blue ones. "I find her fit to serve you, my lord," Kallistrate answered.
"Priestess Aster, do you wish to become my faithful servant, to be granted eternal life and power over my dominion?" Dionysus asked, his arms spread wide, welcoming.
She knew this was the right thing. Aster pushed aside her nerves. This was what she wanted. "I do, my lord."
"It's settled, then. Today, we welcome a new maenad here in Athens!" he announced. "Now, is everything ready for step one? The usual place and what not?"
"It should be," Kallistrate replied.
"Good, good. You get the girl ready, and I'll show myself in then," he told the maenads, then winked at Aster again. "Step one is actually my favorite step, of course. Do you know what it is?"
"No. I don't really know what any of these steps are, my lord," she told him.
"Ah, pity. Well, you need four things in order to become a maenad. The first is the love of a god," he paused dramatically. Pan and the satyrs in the corner snickered. "Don't be too long, girls!" Dionysus took his leave, quickly heading back beyond the columns toward the other chambers of the temple.
Aster puzzled at his hint for a moment while the other maenads broke their circle. It took a minute for it to dawn on her. "Wait, I'm going to...I'm going to sleep with him?" she asked.
"Duh," Corrina answered, as she came back bearing a small tray of perfume bottles. "What did you think, I mean really? He's the god of pleasure, isn't he? Half of our lovely festivals tend to turn into orgies anyway. It's all part of what we do."
"I knew that but, with the god himself?" Aster asked again, still not quite believing such a thing could be so routine that none of the others seemed to bat an eye at this suggestion.
"Trust me, this probably won't be the only time," Corrina said with a knowing smile. She sniffed a few bottles, then selected one with a light, pleasing scent, and promptly dabbed it onto Aster's neck without even asking.
Roxanna pounced up behind her, clasping a necklace around her neck before she could even object. "If you're any good, it won't be," she said.
Lysandra snapped in front of her, a frown strapped firmly to her face. "Not that one. He likes gold best. Get the gold torc," she demanded.
Roxanna sighed, but took off the necklace and fastened another one on. "Better?" she asked.
Lysandra nodded, looking satisfied.
Kallistrate reappeared then, with Evanthe at her side, her arms laden with vines. Kallistrate took the first, which was a crown of several vines that she placed on Aster's head. The next was a long grape vine, which she slung over the priestess' right shoulder. "Grapes for liberator, soother of mortal sufferings, bringer of pleasure and enlightenment." Then she slung the other vine over Aster's left shoulder. "Ivy for the corrupter, bane of indulgence, bringer of depravity and suffering."
Corrina smiled again. "You'll do. Like I said, I think he just picks the pretty ones, honestly. No offense, Aster, if you'd even take that as one."
"Don't keep our lord waiting," Kallistrate warned, sounding very serious. "He'll be off in the first antechamber. Go on now." She waved her off.
Aster was still dumbfounded. "But..."
"Normally, most mortals don't hesitate at this invitation. Do you want this or not?" the leader questioned.
"Go on then," she demanded.
"Anyone ever tell you girls that it's creepy when you all stare like that?" Pan asked the maenads. He'd settled himself up against the altar as they waited in the cella.
"I don't know, Pan. Has anyone ever told you it's creepy to slap their ass or perhaps to change yourself into all manner of things in hopes of seducing them?" Roxanna snapped. She and the other maenads had seated themselves onto the various couches and cushions that had been arranged in the cella before. Several of the odd panthers and other cats had been displaced by this and went off to sulk about the temple.
The goat man just shrugged. "I'm a god. It's what I do. You've all got no reason to be mad about it. So what if I've tricked, uh, I guess all of you? Ain't my fault that you fell for it. Besides, that's old news. Forgive me already."
They continued to stare him down.
"Tough crowd in here today," Pan noted. "I'm not about to do it again. Once Dionysus is over the new girl I might have to try with her, but frankly my tastes these days are for more mortal types than yourselves. At least they can't hold grudges for as long as you."
Meanwhile, Fat Pegasus lumbered about, his lazy eyes slowly scanning over his new home. He went up to a tiger that was occupying a very large pillow and sniffed its face. The cat responded with a snarl and an angry swipe, prompting the maenads to laugh and lose their scowls as the round little winged pony staggered back, desperately flapping its chicken wings to escape.
"Why isn't there wine?" Corrina asked as the laughter died down. "This could take a while. Someone bring us some wine," she demanded of the constantly bustling slaves.
"That's more like it," Pan asserted. "So what's new with you ladies? Caused any trouble here that I haven't heard about?"
"Nothing," Roxanna pouted. "Anthesteria was painfully routine this year. I hope the drama festival is at least a little more exciting."
"That's coming up isn't it? Hah! Remember that time I got all the choruses passed out drunk, and me and the other goat boys sang for all the satyr plays? If half the citizens weren't already obliterated I'm sure they'd ask us to make a return appearance!" Pan boasted.
"You mean that time you ruined the drama festival by forcing your way into the cast of every play? Yeah, no. Let's not do that again," Lysandra fumed.
"What? Oh come on. It was awesome! How often do these people get to see real satyrs in a satyr play? We don't need to actually know the lines. We're the real deal!" Pan complained, pointing to his cloven feet.
Luckily for him, he was saved by the slaves bringing in a great jar of wine, and several drinking vessels. That always lightened the mood in this place.
"Well, don't screw it up this year," Lysandra said as she was handed a cup. "Sophocles has a wonderful tragedy that I've been waiting for all year. If you end up peeing from the balcony in the middle of it, you don't want to know what I'll do?"
"Whine to your master and be all, 'My lord! The mean old goat man ruined everything! Oh nooooo! Wah wah wah! Love me even though all I do is nag!' Please. I have better things to do than piss off maenads." A slave offered a cup to the goat god, but he waved her off. "No thanks, sweetheart. I don't need that puny little thing. Got my own." He whipped out his flute again and blew another shrill tone out on it. A massive vase appeared next to him, the bottom of it forming an exquisitely detailed goat's head.
Kallistrate looked about disdainfully as the servants left. "Where's the new girl when we need her? She should be pouring our wine. Evanthe, get to it."
Once again, her eyes still downcast, the deer-horned girl silently obeyed. She went and filled the pitcher with wine, and came around to pour for everyone. Guests came first, then her sisters. Corrina stopped her before she could stand and move to the next one. She smiled and gently brought the girl's face up with her fingers. "Today is a happy day," she reminded her. "Try to pretend it is, at least. The little one already thinks you don't like her."
Evanthe shied away from the other maenad's touch, quickly moving on to the next without a reply.
Corrina shrugged. At least no one could say she didn't try.
Once everyone was served, Pan raised his goat jug. "To new beginnings, or something," he toasted, then took a long gulp.
The maenads drank with him, albeit with a bit less slurping. The whole inner sanctum was silent for a moment, draining their cups, but this quiet was interrupted by a loud, wet trumpeting noise.
Everyone's eyes immediately went to Fat Pegasus. He stared back guiltily.
Roxanna spit out her wine as she laughed. "Wow! Oh gods, it reeks. What are you feeding thing?"
"I have something for you," Dionysus said, beckoning a dazed Aster over to the other side of the small antechamber.
He gestured to a low table, which had something on it. She couldn't quite see, nor was her brain quite functional yet. Aster got up all the same, gliding over to where he pointed. There she found a fawn's skin laid out over a pile of cloth and strings and beads and all sorts of elaborate decoration.
The god grinned excitedly at her. "Put it on. We have to get you properly dressed for tonight, after all."
Very gently, she took up the outfit, admiring it for just a moment. She'd seen the maenads before, dressed in such things. All that came with the horns and yellow eyes really hadn't quite set in her mind yet. She would soon be up there with them, leading the festivals, dancing wildly in animal skins. Of course, the five she had worked under had even more exotic clothing than this. She recognized hers as an initiate's dress, but even then, it was still amazingly beautiful compared to the plain clothes she'd worn all her life.
She looked back at the god, questioning if this could even be meant for her.
"It's yours," he told her.
"Step two," Dionysus began as he lead Aster out into the cella again, "is probably going to take a while, but it's also fun. Maybe not as fun as step one was." He winked.
Aster blushed furiously, still not quite processing everything that had just happened and was continuing to happen around her.
They emerged through the maze of columns to find that the temple's inner sanctum had taken on a much more lively and festive air since they left it. The little satyr band was playing off in their corner and had been joined by several more of their kind, who'd wandered in from the forests for the occasion. A few nymphs were scattered about them, perhaps the dates of the goat men lucky enough to trick them into coming along. Aster's soon to be former co-workers, the other priestesses, were already dancing and laughing near the image of their god. Pan was still there, of course, and seemed to be enjoying the show. Plenty of vessels full of wine were already much in presence, even if it was only early in the afternoon.
The other maenads presided over the hall, still reclined and waiting toward the back. They had donned their festival wear, and looked even more strange and fierce in their array of various animal skins. They only rose when the crowd acknowledged the return of their god and Aster. While they clapped and cheered, and the satyrs whistled some cat calls, the horned women stood quietly, and came to attend their master.
"Now we celebrate your ascendancy with the wine of men. That's step two," Dionysus explained.
Evanthe shuffled forth from the group to hand her a shallow drinking cup. It was empty, and the scene painted on its interior was one of a maenad with all the traditional symbols--staffs and snakes and all sorts of odd things. Aster stared at it for a moment before taking it.
"Come on now!" the Olympian urged, pushing her gently ahead of him. "This is your party. Someone get this girl a drink! Actually, let's make this even better."
He made his way over to a small fountain that bubbled off to the side of the cella. Grinning at his rapt audience, the god cupped his hands under the stream of water that trickled from the little jug a marble maenad was pouring. He gathered the water, and then went to take a sip. After just the smallest amount of water touched his lips, he flung the rest back into the fountain in a shower of sparkling drops. When they hit the water, they quickly stained it a deep burgundy, and wine flowed freely from the jug's spout. As the crowd of mortals and divine creatures alike cheered, Dionysus took the cup from a stunned Aster's hands and filled it himself--generously--before handing it back to her.
"Much better," he noted.
"Always the show off," Kallistrate commented, unimpressed as she handed him her own empty cup.
"Of course," he laughed as he filled it for her too. "I do my best. You look lovely. I haven't seen the lioness in a while."
The oldest looked down nonchalantly at the lioness' head, which was fiercely guarding one of her shoulders. "I suppose," she answered coolly, taking her cup.
Aster noted that the maenads had, as usual, gone into their age order. Roxanna held her cup out next. "I have to agree," she said slyly in Kallistrate's direction. "Everyone knows this is my favorite, though."
"A fearsome beast for a fearsome girl, hmm?" Dionysus joked at the tiger's skin she wore. "You'd be just as pretty wearing a kitten, but that would be even too cruel for you."
"Maybe not, I think I could pull it off," Roxanna replied a little too seriously as she took her cup.
"Oh, you still have your top on," the god noted with actual surprise as he turned to take Corrina's cup.
"I've only had one drink, my lord," she told him, with not an ounce of blush or embarrassment on her face.
"Since when has that made a difference?" he chuckled as he served her. Indeed, even though her outfit was intact, there wasn't much to the panther skin ensemble, not that she was ever seen in clothing that left much to the imagination.
Evanthe didn't immediately offer her cup as her turn came. Her eyes were glued to the floor, and the rest of her was buried beneath a huge bear skin. Dionysus lifted up the head, which seemed to consume all of hers beside the deer horns. "Now, now. You can't hide from me under there," he said gently. "I want you to drink and laugh again with us. Will you do that for me tonight, Evanthe?"
"If that's what you wish, my lord," she replied dutifully, holding out her cup.
"It is," he said simply when he handed it back to her.
Finally, Lysandra eagerly handed him her cup, smiling prettily up at him as if she were five years old.
"That's a new one. Zebra?" Dionysus noted at her painfully obvious attempts to show off her own attire.
"Yes. Do you like it my lord?" she asked, looking as if her heart hung on his very answer.
Nervously, the god replied. "Oh, of course. Very exotic..."
Though it was terrible, this was enough to convince her of his adoration. Lysandra beamed as she received her wine.
"The rest of you can help yourselves. Eat, drink, and be merry my children! Today is a day for life's great pleasures!" Dionysus told the crowd.
He left the fountain and smoothly swept an arm around Aster's shoulders. The god guided her and the rest of the maenads over to the couches and cushions they'd lazily emerged from. They settled back onto them again. The three elder maenads clustered onto a pile of pillows, while Evanthe sipped her wine at the far end of one couch, Dionysus pulled Aster onto one with him, and Lysandra looked jealously at them from a plush ottoman.
"How's the wine, ladies?" he asked.
"Divine," Roxanna said sarcastically, rolling her eyes at her own pun. "I'm ready for step three, personally."
"Oh you always are," the Olympian laughed.
Aster snapped out of her daze enough to realize she hadn't tasted it yet, and took a tentative sip.
"Wow, this is really good," she blurted out, amazed.
"Seriously, wait until step three," Roxanna reiterated.
"Is it hot in here? I think it's pretty hot in here," Corrina asked.
"Oh no, not yet," Lysandra lamented as she watched the other maenad's hands wander to the straps of her top.
Afternoon became evening, and as the sun's rays stopped peering in-between the pillars of the wine god's temple, torches took their place and illuminated the party, which had grown livelier as the hour grew later. Aster lazily peered at Pan, who had convinced a beautiful nymph to dance with him, well, if that could be called dancing. She'd call it goat grinding, if she had to think of a name.
"Aren't you cute?" a still not naked Corrina commented, popping in front of her with yet another cup of wine. Her modesty had only been spared by constant begging from Lysandra that she try to be decent for the guests' sake.
"What?" Aster asked, half startled.
"All flushed and drunk," she giggled, fondly poking one of the soon to be maenad's cheeks.
"Positively adorable," Dionysus added as he came back from a round of socializing.
That, of course, didn't make it any better.
Over on the cushions, Roxanna lazily flopped down and rolled over onto Kallistrate's lap. "I'm bored of dancing now. Let's do something!"
"Like what?" Lysandra asked smartly, her words a coming a little slower and sloppier than usual. "I'm having a great time."
"I don't know," Roxanna said. She flipped her empty cup about in her hands with a deftness that you couldn't expect from a girl that had drained it from full at least five or six times. "Drinking games?"
A shriek rang out across the cella before anyone could reply. They all looked to find the source, but instead found Pan charging over to them. "I heard drinking games!" he bellowed enthusiastically as he jogged.
Behind him, the nymph he'd been dancing with lay shocked on the floor, completely abandoned in the middle of their dance.
Dionysus looked at him with scolding eyes.
"What?" the balding creature asked.
Instead of berating him, the god smiled and caught him in bear hug. "I can't stay mad at you!" he said as he squeezed the satyr.
Pan wriggled impatiently in his grasp. "Games now! Hugs later!"
"Hugs always," Dionysus proclaimed, "but I think a game or two is a grand idea. Any favorites of yours, priestess? This is your night, after all."
Aster froze. "Honestly, my lord, I don't really know many games. Well, I've played them, but I don't remember the rules to most of them by the time they're over."
Pan laughed lecherously at this. "That's how it goes when you're young. We'll just have to teach you now, won't we? That's gotta be one of your manead-ly duties anyway."
"Let's play Kottabos," Roxanna suggested as she spun her cup on the tip of one finger.
"We always play Kottabos, and you always win," Lysandra whined.
"And the problem with that is...?" Roxanna asked with a feral grin.
"That you've had hundreds of years of practice," Dionysus reminded her. "Let's play something new. Have you learned anything fun in your travels, old man?" he asked Pan.
The goat man contemplated the question seriously. "Hmm, there is one I found some youths playing in Thrace. Actually, that was a good one."
"Well, what do they call it?" Dionysus demanded.
"Trying to remember. Wine and something with a p. Prone, prong? Oh! Pong!" he exclaimed.
"What kind of word is that even?" Lysandra asked.
"Hey I didn't invent it, though I might take credit for it if it does catch on," the satyr said. "Oh you'll love it, Dio. Let me set up for it!" Just as fast as he'd charged over, the ugly god ran off again and began harassing people for their empty cups.
Dionysus looked after him with a fond smile, but then started to look about the room. "Where did Corrina go all of the sudden?"
"She was just here," Roxanna said, sitting up to look.
They couldn't seem to find her until Lysandra let out a tired sigh. Everyone looked to where her golden eyes had come to rest, and there was Corrina, coming back to them with another cup of wine for herself, and without her top.
"Now it's officially a party," Dionysus laughed.
Roxanna seemed unphased. "So what happened to it this time?" she asked Corrina.
The ram-horned maenad shrugged, looking honestly more comfortable without it.
Behind her, Pan hopped on top of the wine fountain. He hoisted a soaked trophy over his head with one hand, made of a very familiar-looking panther skin, and with the other gave a thumbs up.
As the torches dimmed, bodies could be found sprawled in corners and around columns, some awake and engaged in things that usually happened behind closed doors, many others already passed out and well beyond their limits. Many drinking games later, the seasoned maenads were scattered, but certainly not yet done with the night. The satyr band had been reduced to one lyre player, whose stubby fingers were plucking a happy, but slow melody softly.
Dionysus presided over the hall with a blissful smile, his cup nearly forgotten in his own hand. "Well, I think we're done here for now. Pan, go gather up the girls again," he commanded the goat man without taking his eyes off of the party as it winded down.
Pan had conveniently just returned from some mischief himself, on the back of the poor Fat Pegasus no less. His goat jug was now held on a string suspended from a stick, dangling inches from the winged horse's snout. The creature's eyes were wild as he sniffed after the wine within, desperately licking out with a large tongue to taste it. "Aw, already? I guess the mortals have had enough. They don't party down here like we do on Olympus, huh?"
"I'm sure they would if they could, old man. Find me some girls with horns and the one that will be getting them tonight. Hopefully she isn't passed out somewhere too," the god lamented briefly.
"Nah, that Aster girl is made of tougher stuff than the rest. She'll make a good maenad, at least better than that stupid Iola," Pan commented as he generously tilted the jug to Fat Pegasus's snout and let him have a well-earned drink.
"Aw come on now. She was my loyal follower, if you recall," Dionysus pouted. "And don't let Evanthe hear you say that. Thank you for reminding me to tell the new one to avoid sleeping with Zeus."
"He's a tricky bastard. Most of the time they don't know it until it's too late, but hey, his example is the reason you don't see me running around with a wife in tow, am I right?" He paused to reach out for a fist pump, but Dionysus was still too busy looking out over his drunken guests. "Well, I guess I'll get them."
Pan pushed the jug away from Fat Pegasus' face again, and the rotund horse lunged for it again, his hooves clapping loudly against the marble floor.
He found Corrina first, dancing by herself to the lyre's song. After a chuckle, he reached behind him for the panther skin top that rested on the Fat Pegasus flanks and swatted the maenad with it. "Business time, you minx. You might want this."
"But I'm dancing," she protested, heedless of the world, and the fact that she had been topless for hours.
"Boss says so. Believe me, I'd watch you dance like this all night, but we have to get on with this," Pan told her.
That stopped her. Corrina froze, and her happy eyes grew cold as they settled on Pan. "You would watch all night, wouldn't you? Give me that."
He snatched it away briefly before offering it again. Corrina snatched her top with a sudden urgency. The goat man just laughed. "Of course! You put on such a good show!" he retaliated as he rode away.
His eyes caught Evanthe next, huddled in her bear skin not too far from the lone musician. Pan straightened up, despite his belly full of wine, and tried to look dashing. He rode up to her and offered her a grubby hand. "Your chariot awaits, my lady. Time to get on with the ceremonies," he said.
Evanthe stared blankly up at him for a moment before looking away.
"Do it for the boss, at least," Pan begged. "He really hates seeing you like this."
"If I must," she whispered from beneath the furry hood.
"You don't have to do anything, you know, but it'd be nice. We're all sorry about Iola, really. I even think the new girl is, but you gotta move on. The others know what its like. You're young yet, but you'll understand after maybe a hundred more years," Pan told her, trying his very best to be sympathetic.
It didn't work, especially since half of it sloshed out of his mouth unintelligibly. Evanthe stormed off to Dionysus' side all the same, but without a word to the satyr.
Pan shrugged and moved on, swinging his jug in the direction of a familiar voice.
"And so I can make her do all my chores?" Roxanna asked.
"What chores?" Kallistrate asked back, with the barest hint of amusement in her cold voice.
"Hah. Good one. You know what I mean, though," she said.
The old one then said, "You'll still have to do your job at the festivals. We all do, but of course you can push her around. That's what you do, isn't it?"
After a nefarious giggle from Roxanna, the two went quiet, just as Pan found them hidden amidst the maze of columns. As quietly as possible, the satyr dismounted his noble steed and shoved his head into the jug to muffle the slurping. He tip toed, or rather, tip hoofed over to the maenads as they were engaged, mostly in each others mouths, but with a little groping here and there for good measure. Just as they were about to break their kiss, Pan loomed over them as much as he could for his short stature, getting his face inches from where theirs met. "Kiss deep, ladies, kiss deep," he whispered.
Roxanna jumped back nearly a foot, almost tripping over herself. Kallistrate, as expected, was completely unshaken, and stood above the satyr looking thoroughly annoyed.
"You fucker!" Roxanna screeched, moving to pounce on the fat god.
Pan held his hands up as he laughed, covering himself and waving to signal that he came in peace. "Relax, girls. You're uptight even when you've had a whole barrel to yourself. The boss wants you all to continue on with this initiation business. Go to him in the cella," he instructed.
"We are not through here," Roxanna threatened, even though she stopped in mid charge. Her and Kallistrate went obediently to their god, though the tiger-clad one did turn around to make faces at Pan as they went.
Pan was busy making faces back at her when Lysandra found him. "Pan! Where is our lord?" she demanded. He turned to find her holding up a grinning, but exhausted-looking Aster.
"Out in the cella, waiting for you. How's the little one?" he asked, eying the initiate skeptically.
"Just about done. We need to get to step three, like, an hour ago. I'm tired of babysitting," Lysandra objected as she hoisted Aster up again.
"That's what I got sent to tell you we're doing. Throw her on the horse, will ya?" Pan leapt back onto Fat Pegasus again, and nimbly steered him over to the two girls.
Lysandra didn't object. She helped Aster up onto the animal's wide back with some help from Pan. It was clear that Aster wouldn't quite make it if she had to walk on her own. Despite her earlier aversion, she even wrapped her arms around Pan's hairy waist, and giggled softly into his round shoulder.
"Mortals are hilarious," he commented, smiling back at her, and carried her off to the Olympian again.
"Oh dear," Dionysus said as he saw them approach.
"Yup, she's wasted," Pan responded bluntly. "I guess that means we're all good here?"
"Certainly," the wine god agreed. "They'll go on without us. Outside, girls. Time for step three."
"And then step four!" Roxanna proclaimed, sounding more excited than she had all night.
Dionysus chuckled as they followed him out into the Athenian night, Pan bringing up the rear with his plump mount and Aster. "So which is it that you like more, three or four?" Dionysus asked.
"Well, three leads to four, doesn't it? Honestly, I can't choose. That's too hard," Roxanna told him earnestly.
"That's what I look for in my girls, a love of good wine and no aversion to violence. Actually, that reminds me. Oh little Aster, can you still speak, or have we drowned you to the point of being mute?" he asked over his shoulder.
"I'm still awake, my lord," she mostly slurred in response.
"Good. I never got around to asking you before, so I'll ask you now. Why was it that you accepted my offer to become a maenad?" the god asked. "Most priestesses turn me down, you know."
"To think that mortals would be bold enough to even turn down any chance at virtual immortality! Especially one coming from such a handsome bastard as this one!" Pan shouted at the stars.
Aster was surprisingly quick to respond. "I don't think I'm really all that good at being a mortal, my lord. My family hated that I decided to spend my life worshiping you instead of marrying some man of their choosing and popping out his kids. I thought that would let me be free, let me live life how I wanted and enjoy it in my own way, but even in my priestess' robes, the people around the city still expect me to be something I'm not. They don't look at the maenads that way, though. Everything all of you do, every time you appear on the streets, they are just enchanted by you."
"Then you want the adoration of the people?" he pried.
"No, my lord. I want to be above their rules, and their stupid expectations of how women should just be happy locked up in a house and pregnant," she told him.
Dionysus laughed deeply at this, and stopped until she was in line with him, still slumped against Pan's back despite her defiant speech. He patted her head fondly. "You'll do," he said simply, then strode off again toward a copse of trees on the side of the hill. "This will work for now."
With that, he reached up and broke a branch off of one of the limbs above him. The god ran his hand over the stick, and as he did it straightened and lengthened into a staff that was all too familiar to most of the crowd. A crown of leaves and a pine cone topper were all that decorated the simple branch, but this was the maenad's tool, a deceptively plain ornament. With this in one hand, Dionysus held his other out to Aster while her soon to be sisters formed a circle beneath the trees. A hush drew over them that left even Pan silent, and the priestess did her best to stay steady on her feet as she took the god's hand and dismounted Fat Pegasus. Pan tossed the jug into some bushes, shooing the horse creature away as he chased after it.
Dionysus wordlessly handed Aster the staff, and placed her in the circle between himself and Lysandra. "On to step three. You have the love of a god, and are clearly full of the wine of men, but, my dear Aster, now you need the wine of a god."
The maenads peered up eagerly at him, but that last bit only left the priestess drunkenly confused.
Dionysus went on. "We don't do this often, in fact, I usually reserve such a drink for special occasions, or when it's needed. Today qualifies for both." He cupped his hands again, but this time there was no water, no fountain tricks to be performed for the crowd. Instead, he was still and solemn for a moment, and then tipped his hands toward Aster to offer her a drink of the slightly iridescent golden liquid that had appeared in them. "Drink, priestess, and be free."
She hesitated for just a moment, trying to ground herself in the world. It spun around her, the stars becoming long strips over the fuzzy lights of Athens, but she told herself one last time that she wanted this. She wanted to be something more, something above the dull and confined world that had borne her. Aster took a sip, and it tasted like nothing she'd ever had before. She gasped audibly as she pulled away and licked her lips. None of the others laughed. They were too busy waiting with jealous eyes.
Dionysus offered them each a drink in turn, starting with the oldest again. By the time he got to Lysandra, Aster didn't feel drunk anymore. Instead of lines and blurs, the lights became sharp and focused. Her muscles ached to move and pressed hotly against her skin. Her heart hammered against her ribs, begging for action, begging to be let loose from its prison inside of her and to join the whole world around her. Sounds of the night were not routine and quiet, but a chorus of beautiful music, of instruments no one had yet imagined and wouldn't for thousands and thousands of years. Her eyes darted around, and if she could have seen them, she would have watched them turn to gold.
"There's just one more thing," Dionysus said gently as he lifted her chin to make her look up at him. In her changing vision, he blurred between ma, bull,and a man-shaped bundle of vines with plump, ripe grapes. "Eternity in my service comes at a price, Aster. You will do my bidding, even if you may not know it, or may not want to. You might be above their rules, but you will always be under mine. Now is the last time you can defy me, because after this moment, it just won't be possible."
It took all her willpower not to squirm away from him and run off to throw herself to the world and all its pleasures, but Aster stood still gazing up at him, breathing hard with the effort. "I will do all you ask, my lord," she told him.
"Good. When I was a boy, Aster, do you know what the people of this world did to me? They denied my godhood. They told me I couldn't be the child of Zeus himself, that I was nothing but a heretic. How cruel is that, huh? Most people recognize now that I was created to bring them great pleasure and create ways for them to ease the suffering in their lives, but some still deny me, even now in this great learned city. That brings us to step four, the last one you need. Would you like to know what that is?" he asked, the grin he worn now starting to sport fangs in Aster's darting sights.
"What is it, my lord? Tell me! Tell me that I might be yours!" she demanded. She couldn't help herself. Aster felt like she could just explode into a sky full of stars, or like a grape full of sticky juice to be made into wine. Her skin felt just as thin, just as fragile, barely able to contain what was beneath it.
"It's the blood of men, my dear. The love of a god, the wine of men, the wine of a god, and now the blood of men. For me, Aster. Show them just how divine I really am," he commanded, and let her chin slip out of his fingers. An unearthly shriek rang out out behind her, and she lost her fight with whatever it was that was bubbling up inside of her.
The next thing she knew, Aster was waking up on a giant pillow with a headache, though not the kind she expected. "Ow," she winced as the morning light slipped in between her eyelids. That wasn't what hurt her. That was on the very top of her forehead, and she reflexively went to rub it to relieve the pain. Her hand hit something hard, something that was not skin or hair. Aster's eyes flew open, and she grabbed wildly at her own head, struggling to remember the night before. She had horns now. She could feel them.
As she rubbed the bony nubs that now rested on her crown with an eerie fascination, Aster tried harder to remember the previous day. A lot had happened, and not just a morning of crazy god sex and an afternoon of far too much wine. After that, everything was fuzzy, but then it hit her. There were bright flashes, more vivid than life could ever be, sprinkled in that blackness. More feelings than complete memories, she felt her hands hot and soaking with something, and she had the taste of iron lingering in her mouth. She looked down at herself to find that she was out of her animal skin attire and had somehow ended up in a fresh, simple toga-like dress. She couldn't make sense of it all.
Around her, the maenads were lazily going about their morning routine. Lysandra stood over a tray of fruit, angrily berating a temple slave for not arranging it just to her liking. Evanthe was seated on a cushion, holding horn on her necklace and staring at it. Corrina was no where to be found in the bright chamber, but she soon ran in chasing Pan, who was holding her clothes hostage, this time all of them. Kallistrate still slept, and Roxanna was giggling at her as she stretched on top of the pillows next to her.
Confident that they were all too occupied to care, Aster raced over to their giant standing mirror to examine her new horns. She had to bite her lip when she saw her reflection to keep from screaming. The eerie, inhuman eyes that she had always quelled from were now hers as well, staring back at her with their faint gold glow. Two tiny, almost formless stubs of horn peaked out from her crown, too small still to reveal what animal they might belong to.
"Aw! They're so little!" Corrina admired as she appeared behind her, still naked but triumphantly holding her clothes. "I can't even remember when mine were that little," she noted casually before walking off to grab an apple off the tray, heedless of the argument going on over it.
Aster touched her face in disbelief. It would look this way for eternity, young and pretty, but at the same time fierce and wild. She was no longer human. She was something more.
The warm flesh beneath her fingers stirred up more vivid feelings, sounds of tearing and screaming, bright flashes of red and of terrified faces.
"Good morning ladies!" came a call from the entrance. Aster looked up to see a strange figure. A young man in purple robes that looked like he'd somehow ended up a male maenad as a prank by the gods, or something. From his long and flowing hair came two bull's horns, curving out in front of his skull. "You're all looking lovely today, especially you, Aster."
She didn't know this horned man, or why he would know her name.
"What's wrong? Don't you like your horns?" he asked, looking concerned.
It dawned on her then that she did know his voice, and her too full head finally put it together that this was her god, undisguised by the mortal figure he had to use so as not to cause his subjects to be killed by his divine grandeur. "Oh, uh, no. No I like them, that is. I just, just woke up and saw them, my lord, so I'm, uh, a little shocked I guess," she finally blurted out.
"You get used to them," he said with a shrug and laugh, pointing to his own, and then went over to steal some grapes from the tray as the slave, now inn tears, was carrying it out again.
Aster's gaze drifted back to the mirror, and as she poked at her new horns again, she tried to make her mind work. She remembered drinking the wine from his hands, and the sudden feeling of needing to be everywhere, everything, and everyone at once that had filled her. There had to be something after that. That wasn't where it ended.
She remembered feeling the wind rush by her, no she was running. They were all running. Her head was hurting, but she was too alive to care. She had to chase him. They were all chasing him.
The man screamed as he ran down the empty streets. The smart citizens of Athens had all locked their doors and hid, but a few that didn't fear the wrath of the gods had been brave enough, or stupid enough, to keep to the streets. They chased him. They chased him because he did not fear their god. They laughed as they ran, faster and faster, winding through dark streets and closing in on their prey. They laughed.
Roxanna sprung from the pack, reaching out with deadly precision. She went after the man's leg, like a hunting cat trying to slow and cripple its pray. She didn't need her teeth, though, or even the demonic horns on her head. Roxanna grabbed his ankle, and tore out the tendon with her bare hands. The denier collapsed, screaming in pain, begging them to stop already.
With practiced swiftness, Kallistrate and Corrina joined her, and the three of them held the man up again and pinned him to a wall. He kicked and struggled, and Evanthe and Lysandra did not wait to be asked to take his legs. A mere look from Kallistrate's wild eyes was enough. This just left her peering at Aster, waiting.
"Show him," the eldest maenad demanded. "Show him what happens to those that do no fear the gods, to those that do not appreciate all our lord does for them."
Aster knew what to do. She needed no sword, no hoplite's spear, not even a butcher's knife. Hands were enough. With a strength that was new to her, and savagery that made her sick to remember, Aster tore at his exposed stomach with nothing but greedy, wanting fingers. They ripped and ruptured skin and muscle, and kept going even as they became slippery with blood. All the while, the man screamed and screamed and the maenads laughed. Aster laughed loudest of all, louder than his screams, and she kept going even as his screams gurgled away, and a pile of his innards lay at her feet, steaming.
Yet there she was, staring at herself in the mirror, pretty and clean. Her horns and strange eyes and all that came with them was truly a blessing straight from a god, but it wasn't given for nothing. He'd warned her, but Aster didn't know what exactly she was in for. She stared at her clean hands, now wishing she hadn't remembered the flesh and blood they'd torn from her victims the night before. This was the price she would pay for all these gifts. Her service truly belonged to the Dionysus now, and for the rest of her long, long life.
The horned god crouched beside her in front of the mirror and placed his bunch of grapes in her hands. "I didn't say it would be easy, did I? It's really best not to get caught up in the scary bits. There is too much of life that is meant for love and pleasure, but those who don't appreciate that don't deserve it. That's all there is to it," he said. He kissed her on the cheek and briefly rubbed one of her horns, saying nothing more.