Vlad’s doorway was situated in the lower parts of the base. Unlike most doors, which blending into their surroundings, this one looked like the entrance of the mausoleum jutting out of the floor. “Subtle,” Bast muttered.
The vampire stepped out of his nanoverse just in time to catch the word, which he apparently found amusing. “I have no control over that, and will agree it is a bit garish. Yet I’m also fond of it.” He gave Cassandra a slight nod, and she gave a half curtsy, half bow to him. He seemed to approve, before his eyes panned over to Dale. “Oh my,” he whispered, looking at him then at Bast. “What do we have here?”
“An object lesson in the dangers of crossing me.”
Vlad studied the former Admiral closer, his grin exposing his fangs. “An exquisite work of art, Bast, truly. An utter debasement of the human form, a broken mind, a shattered spirit. I must compliment you.”
“Please, Vlad, spare me your approval. I’ll need another bath. Shall we?”
If her barb bothered him, Vlad didn’t show it. Instead he opened the door to his staging area. It slid slowly over the floor, the stones grinding as they moved. “After you.”
Bast stepped in first, Cassandra and Dale in tow. She glanced around, wondering what fresh horrors she’d find here.
The immediate interior of Vlad’s staging area looked like a great cathedral, one made in deliberate mockery of Christianity. Crucifixes hung from the walls, but they were inverted and instead of Christ hanging from them, skeletons screaming in agony were nailed to their boards. There was an altar, stained with blood. The pews were half rotted and chewed by termites, and in them sat even more skeletons, kneeling in a perverse mockery of prayer. The support columns were made of naked men and women engaged in carnal acts that would have made Marquis de Sade blush.
Part of Bast found the whole thing revolting, but on another level, a part of her mind that she associated with her new Hunger, she found its operatic levels of over the top macabre styling to be strangely compelling. I wonder if this is what is waiting for me in mine. Or if it’ll be more to my tastes?
Vlad was looking at her expectantly. Bast frowned. “Where are they stars?”
“Ahh, yes.” Vlad gestured, and the walls fell away.
For a moment, Bast almost struck at him in desperate panic. They were hovering over a green field, so close she was certain they had come into his nanoverse proper. Then, after a moment, she realized that it wasn’t the case.
Instead, this field made up his entire nanoverse.
It wasn’t exactly a field, but a forest. A impossibly vast forest that stretched as far as the eyes could see, with trees that rose higher than gravity could have ever allowed. Through that immense forest stalked castles. From the distance, the castles were the size of stars, and they moved about on spider legs with lengths that would have to be measured in astronomical units. If they were actually in the nanoverse, the movement would be maddeningly slow. Since they were not, time accelerated to allow the spider castles the size of stars move over the landscape at a brisk pace. As Bast watched, two of them crawled near each other.
Each one disgorged swarming masses the size of small planets, masses that Bast realized were armies. Entire armies that could have swarmed over a world and needed to stand on top of each other’s shoulders to have room. The planetary armies clashed together, until one side returned to its castle. Months of warfare played out in a heartbeat. The other side lay in a pool of blood that could drown oceans, and crows flocked to it. “You like it?” Vlad said in a voice like a dagger through silk.
“What did they win?”
“Victory.” Vlad spoke the word as if it should be more than enough. “Each castle is commanded by one of my spawn I felt deserved the reward. If you like, you can think of it as the afterlife for my children. Perhaps you’ll gift your scion here with something similar.”
Bast glanced at Cassandra, who was watching the movements of the castles with rapt fascination. Dale was crouching behind a pew, moaning in horror.
Instead of answering, Bast glanced upwards. Because there were lights in the sky, but they were not stars. They looked like moons, though each one was flat and the size of a galaxy – which would make them look the right size from the ground, Bast supposed. Clouds crossed them intermittently, and they changed through phases. New, waxing, full, waning. One of the moons turned the deep crimson of a moon in a lunar eclipse, and when it did a great rain of boiling blood began to fall on the part of the land its light reached. “Is it their heaven or their hell?” she finally asked.
Vlad chuckled. “For them, it is heaven. For the natives…I think they would find hell a release.” He strolled over to the organ and began to play. Bast realized as he did that this was his console.
“And where are we going?” Bast asked as the music began to die down, “I still don’t know who our next ally is supposed to be.” Bast tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice. As much as she hated to admit it, this place impressed her and made her vaguely uncomfortable. The last thing she wanted was Vlad to figure that out.
“Bah. Patience, Bast, patience.” Vlad smiled at her. “Besides, we have something more important to do. You have to learn how to summon your doorway. You did still want to learn that, yes?”
Bast could only nod in agreement at that. She didn’t like relying on Vlad to ferry her around, and she certainly didn’t like entering his nanoverse of gothic castles crawling along a forlorn forest under a thousand moons.
“Excellent. Then we are here.” The door to the outside world opened with a long, low scraping sound along the stone floor.
Bast knew better by now than to expect a direct answer from Vlad, so instead of asking where they were simply turned to exit. Cassandra and Dale followed her out. Dale seemed all too eager to leave, loping out like an excited dog.
Outside was an open field. The air was temperate, and an overall lack of distinguishing features made it impossible to even be sure what continent they were on. It was daytime, which put to rest myths about what the sun would do to Vlad. *I wonder if any of those are true.* Bast assumed at least some were – her new power had to come with some drawbacks.
“So how do we do this?” she asked, wondering how long her companion was going to drag out the process.
Vlad chuckled. “Do you remember the first time you opened your doorway?”
“Of course,” Bast frowned. “I just reached out and…it opened.”
“Exactly. This will be nothing like that.” He chuckled again, and Bast resisted the urge to wipe that smug chuckle off his face.
Off to the side, Cassandra seemed to be enjoying feeling the sun and wind for the first time since her transformation. Dale huddled near her, and it was hard to be certain, but he seemed the closest to happy he had been since Bast had taken him captive.
An ugly urge welled up in her to destroy that happiness, a sick and vile need to tear away even that glimmer of joy. She pushed it aside, instead focusing her attention on Vlad. “Then what, exactly, is it like?” she snapped.
“You must pull it from the earth. Don’t worry if you can’t get it on your first try, it took me over a cent…” Vlad trailed off, his eyes widening.
As soon as he had said the word Earth, Bast had shoved her hand into the ground beneath her feet. By the time he’d gotten to the word try, she’d found it. It was like groping in brackish water for something you knew was there but remained just out of sight, but as soon as her fingers felt stone she knew what she had found.
The doorway rose from the ground, causing the earth to shudder as it did. It wasn’t a mausoleum door like Vlad’s. The door was made of sandstone, like the ones Bast remembered from the days of her youth, and was flanked by pillars of the same. Heiroglyphs adorned the door, and it pleased Bast to recognize the poem. It was an old prayer, a long forgotten prayer, one that men and women had once made to her. A call for her protection and her guidance.
She took a moment to enjoy Vlad’s stunned expression. “Never forget, I was old before your entire kingdom was founded,” she said in a voice low enough to slide through the grass like a viper. “Do not presume what was difficult for you will be more than child’s play for me.”
“Of course,” Vlad said, and this time it wasn’t fear or anger she saw in his eyes, but satisfaction. “Are you going to inspect it?”
Bast didn’t bother answering such an obvious question. The doorway swung open in a wide arc, and Bast stepped through.
It was time to see what had become of the realm where she was supreme.