The Army was in retreat.
Bast finished her latest meal, watching the remaining vehicles pulling away. As she did her left arm, blown off at the elbow by an unlucky blast from an anti tank round, finishing reforming. Apparently, as they had learned over the course of the fight, completing a meal was enough to restore her body to full health. Vlad didn’t have that same protection, but the US Army didn’t have weapons that could injure mist, so it hadn’t offered them much protection.
For their troubles, dozens of soldiers were dead, several of which had provided food for the duo. Bast stood over the last she’d feed upon for now. “We should move,” she said to Vlad, stretching her neck as she did. It cracked audibly. “They didn’t know what they were dealing with, but they do now. They won’t be holding back next time.”
Vlad nodded in agreement. Unspoken between them was the fact that the US Government could eventually be rendered so desperate as to attempt heavy ordinance, up to and including eventually unleashing their nuclear arsenal. As far as they knew, nothing could destroy a nanoverse besides it being drawn into another gods nanoverse. By the same token, as far as they knew no god had ever attempted to place a nanoverse into an actual nuclear reaction to see what happened.
Neither of them wanted to be the first to help test nanoverse indestructibility against nuclear annihilation.
“Even if it doesn’t go that far,” Vlad said, as if he could read Bast’s mind – a trait Bast wouldn’t put past time – “This was a small force. They’ll be back in greater numbers and higher caliber weapons. I don’t fancy resurrecting strapped a table, yes?”
Bast scowled at him, but instead of rising to the bait, headed back into the commandeered base. “I still don’t know how to enter my nanoverse, Vlad. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give us a lift?”
“Us?” Vlad said, frowning at her.
Bast nodded. “My first scion and one other. Where I go, she goes.” Seeing the speculative look on Vlad’s face, Bast whirled on him. One of her newfound powers allowed her to move, in short bursts, without motion – instantly transitioning from an action to its follow through without any apparent motion in between, like something filmed and then the intervening frames removed. Twisting reality to allow action to no longer need motion. She’d noticed in the battle that this particular gift had greatly unnerved the old vampire, and decided it was time to make a point.
From Vlad’s perspective, Bast had been standing there, and then in an instant had her hand around his throat. “I saw that look, Impaler. You are thinking that perhaps Cassandra could be used against me, a tool to keep me in line, yes?”
Vlad regarded her with a cold glare by way of answer, but Bast saw a glint of fear in his eyes.
“I want to be clear about something. Should you attempt that, it will fail. I will allow you to carry out your threat against her. But afterwards…” her eyes narrowed. “I will destroy you, unmake you so utterly that the end of the world will be a blessing. For millennia people will sing songs of your folly, and nothing else will be remembered of you than that you once dared cross me. Am I clear?” She tightened her grip to emphasize those last three words.
“As crystal,” Vlad responded, and Bast released her grasp. The vampire’s pride was wounded, but Bast didn’t think he was overly angered by the threat. She didn’t care. It was important he believed the threat.
She wouldn’t risk allowing anything to happen to Cassandra.
Back in the base, Cassandra caught her up on what had transpired with Horus. Bast was just glad to have him out of her hair for now. “And our other guest?” Cassandra asked, glancing at the vampire at the end of the room.
Bast reached out and fondly touched Cassandra’s arm. “Do not worry about him. Our interests intersect for now, and he can be trusted as long as they do.”
“And when they don’t?” Cassandra frowned with the question.
“Then we allow him to choose if we will part amicably or disagreeably.” Bast smiled as Cassandra, who relaxed somewhat.
“I don’t mean to question you, of course. I just worry. Is he really…?”
Bast nodded. “The progenitor of the vampires, as I am the progenitor of you. There is quite the story there, and one I will tell you another time. In the meantime, we’re leaving. Go to the cells and glut yourself, since I do not know when we’ll feed next. Except the Admiral – bring him to me.”
Cassandra nodded and headed off. Vlad was watching the exterior screens, waiting for some sign of the military.
It was a truism in modern warfare that an army typically perfected the best way to fight one war just in time to fight the next one. Trench warfare was finally optimized in time for the rise of highly mobile combat to become the norm. These guerilla wars were perfected in time for the battlefields to switch to urban centers and foes hiding deep within natural fortifications. And urban combat was getting fully nailed down, just in time for the return of mythological creatures.
So the next move would be to try their current tactics. Instead of risking soldiers, they were looking at precision aerial strikes from UAVs. “Vlad.” He turned to look at her. “Can you still call up storms from your nanoverse?”
“Yes,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her. “Do you have a plan?”
She nodded. “Call up an ice storm around us, as potent as you can muster. The drones they’ll be sending don’t function well in such climates. I would do so myself, but…”
“I assure you, Bast, once we are safe I’ll show you how to access your nanoverse. It’s quite…fascinating what becomes of them. But in the meantime, I go.” He gave her a mocking bow and turned.
At least there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood. Or he’s a skilled liar.
Bast was alone. She took a few deep breaths, then shifted her hands into claws. With a bestial scream she began to rake and tear the table, sending chunks of wood flying until splinters surrounded her. Once finished, she stood still for a moment, panting with exertion. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she hissed to the air.
“Mistress?” Cassandra said in a quiet voice from the doorway. Bast made a mental note to remind her not to use such titles, but right now there was the small matter of the Admiral…
The Admiral was in bad shape. His clothes were tattered rags hanging off his body, a body that was covered in sores dug by parasitic insects. His back was covered in scourge marks, a whip that was tied to the wall of his cell. When it was placed in his hands, he felt an overwhelming compulsion to lash at himself until he passed out from the pain. His legs had been broken and re healed repeatedly until he could barely walk. The first knuckle of each finger had been removed and replaced with the stingers of a tarantula hawk wasp, so that if he tried to comfort himself with even pressing his face into his hands he would endure unimaginable agony. Bast had curved his spine painfully, giving him a hunched back. A carefully placed aneurysm had slightly impaired his cognitive abilities, just enough where he remembered how sharp his mind had once been and could feel dread at what he had become. Every moment he was fighting tears of anger and pain, fighting them because his tears now contained tiny shards of glass that tore at his eyes when he wept.
Seeing him filled her with horror and the pride of an artist admiring their magnum opus. “Dale. How are you today?” She walked over and gently, caressed the side of his face.
Every day she did this, though usually she came to him. Every day of his torment she personally had brought him food and water and provided a small dose of comfort. A caress on the face. A kiss on the forehead. A soothing balm for a single open sore. He gave her a sneer with hatred burning in his eyes, yet he pressed his face into that hand like a cat with its master’s touch. He hated her more than anything in existence, and loved her more than life itself.
Bast resisted the urge to look at Cassandra. The caress turned into a strike.
“We’re leaving, Dale. It’s not safe here anymore, not for us. And I’m going to give you a choice.” He looked up at her in spiteful adoration. “You can stay here. The army will be quite interested in what I did to you, I imagine. Maybe, in time, they’ll be able to somewhat restore your body, make you something close to what you once were. Or they might finally put you out of your misery.” She caressed his face again, right over where his face still glowed red from her blow. “Or you can come with us. I’ll not promise to end your suffering, but I’ll allow you to weep again, and remove the remaining eggs.”
“Why you want me come?” The broken English made tears begin to well in his eyes, and he shuddered at the pain they brought.
“Because I have one last thing I wish to attempt to do with you. One last horror to inflict. If you come, when it is time, you will accept this horror. Once it is done, if you survive it…you will be allowed to choose your fate. You will no longer be my toy.”
Dale, for the first time since his defeat, met her eyes. Slowly, he nodded.
Bast smiled and gave him a pat on the head. “Wonderful. Cassandra, are you fed?” She nodded. “Then let us go. We have a great deal of work to do.”
Together they headed to meet Vlad. It was time to start gathering their own allies.