Without their special toys stolen from her blood, and with them still being afraid to use heavier ordinance for fear of civilian casualties, dealing with the United States military had been simple. Relatively speaking. Bast stretched her shoulder, where a stray bullet had pierced her defenses. It hadn’t punctured – normal mortal arms fire wasn’t going to put down a goddess – but it had hurt.
In hindsight, she could have just waited for her unexpected visitor to make his way into the base on his own, but she hadn’t known who was coming for dinner. Thinking about it in that way made her laugh.
“Miss?” Cassandra asked at her side.
“Just a stray thought,” Bast said, shaking her head. “I need you to go see if Horus is still waiting or if he decided we are to be foes. If he is still there, let him know he has work to do. I have more important matters to attend to.” She handed Cassandra a paper with Horus’ orders scrawled on them hastily.
“I’m assuming I shouldn’t mention that last part?” Cassandra asked with a smile.
“If he’s still waiting, I suspect you could tell him I find him utterly loathsome and he would still remain, although to to be safe I suppose you shouldn’t.”
Cassandra let out a quick, amused breath. “I’ve known guys like him. This one in high school…never could take a hint. Just…” Cassandra trailed off, and then pursed her lips. “Sorry. It’s not for me to correct you.”
“Cassandra, as long as we are in private, I will never mind you drawing attention to a possible flaw in my thinking. If I wanted mindless agreement, I’d be talking to Horus.”
“Thank you. I was just going to say, be careful with him? Guys like that, if you manage to get through to them you have no interest, can turn into threats quickly.”
Bast regarded her, then nodded. “I will keep that in mind. Do you have an unsettled debt we’ll need to attend to?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that. He just spread nasty rumors, nothing that warrants any kind of payback. I hadn’t even thought about it in years, until this brought it up.”
“Good.” Bast unclenched her fist. “Once you’ve delivered the message to Horus or confirmed his absence, take over monitoring the army outside. But if nothing changes there, wait until I send for you. I think I’ll want to avoid unnecessary interruptions during this.”
Cassandra gave a slight bow and headed off to attend to her duties. Bast turned and headed to attend to her guest.
She’d put him in a conference room to wait for her. There hadn’t actually been a need for him to wait – she could have spoken to him immediately – but Bast believed strongly in the benefit of establishing relative importance. Her visitor had been a god for less time than her, but in other areas was far more experienced. He might get it into his mind that he was the superior in this relationship.
After Enki, Bast had no intention of allowing any other god to believe that.
So he’d had to wait for her, just for a bit. Not too long to be insulting, only a few minutes. “My apologies for the delay,” Bast said as she swept into the conference room, her tone clearly indicating that his acceptance of that apology was preferred but not necessary. “You are not the only being to come calling.”
He gave her a gracious nod, “Of course, Lady Bast. Such things must be handled carefully, especially in such trying times. Were you surprised to see me?”
“Just Bast, if you will. Mortals worry about such titles – I find them pretentious among our kind. And yes,” Bast sat in the chair opposite her guess. “To be perfectly frank, I believed you were dead.”
“As I wished it,” he said, a careful smile on his face. “You did, after all, try to kill me once before.”
“Different times, and different circumstances. I thought you were a monster then. I’ve gained…a newfound appreciation for your condition, Vlad.”
Vlad the Impaler, prince of Wallachia and progenitor of the vampires, lead forward and gave her a fully fanged smile. “I expected you would. How long did they starve you?”
“Weeks,” Bast said, keeping her voice level. “Although I don’t share your precise needs.”
“Oh?” It was good to see him look actually surprised. “I assumed that all others were like me. If not blood, then, what does Bast hunger for?”
“Hearts,” Bast said with a smile, baring her fangs as well.
“Ah. Rather messier than mine, it seems.” Vlad nodded in appreciation. “I wonder if…”
Bast didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of asking, but curiosity got the better of her. “Go on?”
“In my time, we believed strongly in the importance of blood as the source of life, health, and…well, everything that makes us human. Your people, long ago, held the heart in the same esteem. Perhaps that influence shapes our Hunger.”
Bast shrugged slightly. “We don’t have enough information to be certain of anything. It’s an interesting theory, of course, but hardly important.”
“Of course,” Vlad said, his smile dropping to a frown in an instant. “Well, then, to business?”
“Please,” she responded, her voice sharper than she meant. She took a breath before continuing to steady it. “I do have an army camped outside.”
“And you can’t open your doorway.”
She gave him a curt nod. “I assume that’s why you arrived by foot?”
“No. I wanted to approach carefully, to avoid an accidental conflict. It took me some time to relearn how to open my doorway, however. It is still possible, but difficult.” His frown began to fade, returning to the predatory smile from before. “I could teach you.”
“Go on,” she responded. It was her turn to frown. Even before finding his nanoverse, Vlad had been a butcher. After finding it, he had been a monster even before becoming an anthropophage.
“I wish to aid you, Bast. I want to make sure you prevail, and in the process stop the Eschaton from killing off. Or, at least, make sure a stable population persists after the end of the world.”
Bast relaxed. This motive, at least, she could believe. “You want to ensure a food supply.”
“Of course I do. As badly as you want to.”
If she was being honest, Bast hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. Now that the point was raised, however, she realized it was something that had to be done. If she failed to bring her plans all the way through, she would still have her Hunger, and if all humanity did in the process…well, seeing Vlad last time had shown her wat a starving anthropophage looked like. “I’m not a fool,” she said, by way of answer.
“Then an alliance. You help us secure a stable supply of humans, one we can sustain in the event of the Eschaton’s success, and we assist you in learning what you can do now and…whatever it is you’re doing.”
“We? Us?” Bast’s frown returned.
“Oh yes,” Vlad chuckled, a low, rasping sound. “Although I still need to recruit the others, I’m certain they’ll be willing to join in.”
Bast steepled her fingers in front of her face. Anyone Vlad was certain would aid him was likely as monstrous as he was. Then again, anymore, who are you to call someone a monster? She extended a hand. “It will be a pleasure working with you.”
Vlad took the proffered extremity and shook it gamely. “Wonderful. I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.”
“One question,” Bast asked, withdrawing her hand from that clammy grasp and resisting the urge to wipe it on her shirt, “how did you find me? My other visitor had to go to the Curators for the information.”
He gave her a slow smile. Bast took the opportunity as he chose his words to really study his face for the first time. She could see the man he had been in there, but his eyes were a tad too large, his mouth a bit too wide…it looked like his skin was stretched too tightly over his skin. Like a corpse. He really does look like a corpse. “Bast, I’ve managed to hide from the rest of you since before this nation was founded. I have eyes in every intelligence agency on the planet. Finding out what the Americans had here took time, but it was just a matter of time.”
Was it? Bast wondered, keeping her face still. Or did you want to make sure I turned into…this before you made your move? “That will come in very helpful,” is what she said, keeping her suspicions out of her voice. “I suppose you’ll be off to recruit the others?”
“Oh no, not at all. We still need to find out what, exactly you can do. Fortunately…there is an army at your doorstep, yes?”
Bast rose, a fraction of a second before Vlad could. “I want some alive.”
“Of course,” he said with a bow. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty to choose from. Shall we?”
“Oh, yes.” Bast turned and walked out of the room, Vlad right behind her.
I wonder if he trusts me as little as I trust him? Bast knew the question didn’t have an answer, not right now, but wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was he trusted her even less.
She pushed the thought aside. It didn’t matter right now. Dealing with the Army mattered, the plan mattered, Cassandra mattered…
And, first and foremost, her Hunger mattered.