It only took a couple minutes for Bast to realize she had no idea where Operations was located.
She’d been hoping there would be signs on the walls pointing her to the right location, but it seems the military expected everyone here to know how to navigate alphabetically labeled hallways. If she had stuck around in cat form, she probably could have caught the scent of the Myrmidons and followed it back…but she hadn’t, and didn’t like the risk of trying.
Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub.
So she followed that sound, that sound like a beating heart the size of a room. She knew it wasn’t a heart, not really. In the few hours she’d endured and reveled in that perverse Hunger, she’d gotten to know the sound of heartbeats intimately. This one was too deep, too loud, too slow. But it sung to her nonetheless, a seductive bassline that called her like sirens had once called sailors. Just don’t forget how those sailors often fared.
Her travel took her to hallway B, where a pair of soldiers were firing short, staccato bursts of gunfire at a shadow in the mist. As soon as she could see them, their hearts drowned out all other sounds.
How many more do you need to slake your hunger? Even as she asked herself the question, she started slinking closer to their backs. As she did, she shifted again, growing the small cat to the size of a mountain lion. She only partially shifted back to her human form as she did. The resulting form wasn’t one she had ever taken before, halfway between a stalking tiger and a crouching woman’s skin stretched over a cat’s skeleton.
It was no wonder the soldiers screamed when the saw her. It had been the same throughout history – no man, no matter how well trained or how well armed, was entirely immune to fear.
In this case, that fear caused them to hesitate for what was only half a second. In that time, Bast had crossed the distance in a single bounding leap. Bast severed her target’s jugular as soon as she had pinned him on the floor, and then spun to rake the remaining soldier’s face and throat as he frantically tried to raise his rifle. The whole exchange had taken the other half second.
Extracting their hearts was easy once she shifted back to a fully human form, although she kept a cat’s eyes. Bast didn’t know if she’d always had the ability to punch through someone’s chest and rip their still-beating heart and had just never thought to try, or if it was a new gift that had sprung out of her new Hunger. Either way, she found herself consuming her fourth heart. The fifth, however, she found herself able to resist. Instead, she put it in a pocket of her pilfered scrubs and froze it in time, so it wouldn’t spoil.
Waste not, want not, she thought with a laugh as she slunk down the hallway again. Two options presented themselves – Hallways A and E.
Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub.
The sound drew her down E. The end of the hallway, where the sound was strongest, was barred by a solid steel door and several complex locking mechanisms.
Bast rolled her eyes. Humans and their fancy toys. With a gesture, that steel turned to mist, flooding both the room beyond and the hallways she stood in. She called up a gentle wind to begin dissipating the obscuration, waiting as it crept throughout the rest of the building.
Before it did, a voice came out of the mist. “B-Bast?”
It was Bast’s turn to feel a head grip her heart, although this was of the more metaphorical variety. Cassandra. “Yes, it’s me,” she said, quietly.
“Don’t – don’t come any closer!” Panic made Cassandra’s voice high and shrill.
Bast stopped. She could hear Cassandra’s heart, but this close to the source of the larger one, it was a snare-drum set against a deeper, slower rhythm. Or maybe it’s just because you’re full. “Cassandra…”
“You killed them, didn’t you? Grace and Liam, they were in the lab and you killed them!” Cassandra sobbed. “Oh god, and I helped you. They’re dead and it’s my fault!”
If it had been anyone else, any other person on this Earth, Bast would have ended her life for this pathetic display. At least, you would now. But for Cassandra, she waited. “Yes, I did. But I am a goddess, Cassandra. I am over three thousand years old. Do you really think you can take credit for my actions?”
“I don’t want credit!” Cassandra shrieked in anguished rage. Bast approved of the rage. Rage was infinitely better than sniveling.
The mist began to clear. While Bast still couldn’t see past her into the room, she could see Cassandra, wearing a bulky vest, her face streaked with tears. “If you can’t take credit, you can’t accept guilt,” Bast said, dismissing the concern with an imperious gesture.
“They were my friends, you monster!”
Bast laughed at that, rich and happy notes that echoed down the hallway. “Liam and the other woman-”
“Grace!” Cassandra interjected with a sob, “her name was Grace!”
Bast shrugged. “Grace then. They were rutting in the closet whenever you weren’t in the room. I had to listen to their pathetic grunting and their insipid post-cotial whispers. Grace thought you were grossly under qualified and multiple times suggested you earned this position on your knees and back.” Cassandra looked like Bast had punched her in the gut, but the goddess continued relentlessly. “Liam agreed, but liked to joke you must have done something even more perverse, since you were probably too stupid to suck a dick properly.”
“You’re lying,” Cassandra tried to interject, but Bast didn’t even dignify that token objection with a response as she continued.
“I don’t know what is worse, the obvious disregard for your intellect or the fact the only insult they thought to throw at you was the typical ‘she must be a slut,’ like they didn’t even think you were worth the effort of properly hating.” Bast paused, letting the reality of that sink in, watching Cassandra’s face began to twist away from grief and into anger. “I never heard the other, the grumpy one,”
“H-Herbert,” Cassandra muttered, but Bast could see the barbs were landing home. It was everything Cassandra had feared.
“Herbert. I never heard him disrespect you,” Bast said, and at the hope in Cassandra’s eyes Bast let her words lash out like a whip, “any more than he did anyone else. He, at least, didn’t call you a whore – just an idiot. I haven’t killed him yet,” she added the last sentence carefully, an offend mention of things left on her to-do list.
Cassandra sobbed again. This time, though, there was even more anger in, with undertones of despair. “I don’t…I don’t want to die,” she whispered, her voice small and forlorn.
Bast smiled as warmly as she could with heartsblood still smeared around her lips. The mist had cleared now – behind Cassandra was her nanoverse, nearly a meter across from untapped power and blood red. It pulsed with light in rhythm with the lub-dub. “I’m not going to kill you, Cassandra.”
Another sob escaped Cassandra’s throat. “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to die. The vest, it-”
“Is cold?” Bast interrupted, quirking an eyebrow as she did.
Cassandra reached up to touch it, her eyes widening in confusion as her fingers came away cold and damp. “I…yes. What?”
“When I first saw you wearing it, I turned the C4 into ice. I told you, I am a goddess. They should have detonated it the moment I opened the door, then they might have caught me.” Bast walked towards Cassandra, her smile widening. The woman, whose entire world had just been systematically destroyed, could only stare in mute horror at her approach. “I’m not going to kill you, Cassandra. You set me free. I’m going to give you a choice. You can go back to a pathetic existence where you are never respected…or you can accept my gift.”
Cassandra, who had been expecting death, could only shake in her shoes. “What…what gift?”
“It’s a horrible gift. A terrible thing. But you will never, ever be irrelevant again. I can promise you that. Do you accept?” Bast held her breath. She thought Cassandra was broken enough, desperate enough, and angry enough to take it. But it was possible she’d refuse, and then-
“Okay. I’ll…I’ll do it.”
Bast was glad she didn’t have to decide what to do if Cassandra dared refuse her. Instead, she reached into her nanoverse and pulled out a dagger. With a single, swift gesture, she sliced open her own palm – and before Cassandra could react, she grabbed the other woman by the back of the head and pushed her palm against Cassandra’s mouth.
Shock lead the woman to open her mouth, and terror caused her eyes to widen as ichor flowed into her mouth. Bast leaned in where she was as close to Cassandra’s ear as she could manage. “It’s also a punishment, Cassandra. You still experimented on me.” Those words came out in a hiss, and in terror, Cassandra began to struggle against the goddess’ grasp. Bast continued, “I’m going to share my immortality with you, and my Hunger. What Vlad once called his gift, I give you as both gift and curse. And remember – you chose this.”
The name Vlad brought realization of what was happening. In a panic, she slapped and punched at Bast’s arm uselessly, each blow growing weaker, until her slaps became clawing motion, gripping at Bast’s arm with increased strength and trying to hold Bast’s hand to her lips as she suckled like an infant.
After a full minute, Bast finally broke the grip. Cassandra’s eyes were wild with new Hunger, and Bast pulled the stored heart from her pocket. Cassandra licked her lips as she stared at it, and when Bast handed it to her she began to wolf it down with frantic need. “You aren’t a vampire. Or a revenant. We’re something new. Blood won’t call you, nor brains or eyes. Your Hunger is mine – it is for the flesh of the heart.”
Cassandra didn’t care. She only could feed right now. Later, Bast would find out what else her new daughter could do.
Right now, she walked past her and placed her hands on both sides of her nanoverse. She turned her head at an impossible angle and looked directly at the camera mounted in the corner to watch the room. “Everything I did before, I did at half my strength.” She turned back to the nanoverse and began to squeeze it, quaking with ecstasy as her divine power, twisted by her new Hunger, began to flow through her once again. More than she had ever enjoyed before – weeks of power, only imperfectly tapped, flooded her body and mind. Once done, she plucked up the tiny crimson orb and turned back to the camera again.
“Now, Admiral. I believed we’re overdue for a meeting. Come, Cassandra.”
Still licking the blood off her fingers, Cassandra followed.