Bast stepped into her staging area, glad that the others were behind her so they couldn’t see how she held her breath as she did. After seeing the plain of eternal war between crawling castles of Vlad’s nanoverse, she wasn’t sure what to expect from her own.
The staging area itself was, at first glance, much like it once had been. Like many of the older deities, Bast’s staging area resembled one of the temples she’d been worshiped in, when gods were worshiped the way they should be. Sandstone pillars surrounded the edge of the platform, each one inlaid with symbols once used to praise her. A raised dais in the center served as both a command console and altar. It was disappointing and a relief to see how similar it was, right up until she started noticing the differences.
Set into the pillars were inserts that housed upright sarcophagi. Each one was open, the mummified body within laying in rest with their hands crossed over their chests. It meant that, to stand at the command console, you would be standing in the center of the stares of dozens of empty eye sockets. The lids to the sarcophagi were set into the pillars higher up, on runners, so they could be closed if she so wished. The central dais, meanwhile, was lined with canopic jars. She could hear a faint beating coming from within them, the gentle lub-dub, lub-dub she’d become so used to.
Something told her she couldn’t eat their contents. It was just a sound, but one that filled the staging area the way a good home cooked meal would fill a house with wonderfully comforting and enticing scents.
“Vlad, wait outside please. Dale too. I’m going to be Hungry until I adjust.” Vlad bowed and did not enter, Dale grunted and slunk away from the vampire, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the vampire’s face. Even in his current state, Bast thought the Admiral resented being referred to as a work of art.
She closed the door, leaving her and Cassandra on the platform.
“I don’t mean to question, but what if Vlad decides to kill Dale?”
“He won’t have time,” Bast said, walking over to the dais and twisting the stone, dropping them into her realspace. For a moment, she worried about the risks it would pose to a mortal to enter into her nanoverse like this…but Cassandra was hardly mortal anymore. “We’re fully in my nanoverse now. Days can past in a second outside.”
Cassandra nodded, then her eyes brightened. “You weren’t worried about our Hunger at all, were you? You wanted us to have a chance to converse.”
Bast smiled and walked over to give Cassandra a pat on the shoulder. “Yes, Cassandra, exactly that. There’s much you don’t understand still.”
Cassandra smiled, pleased with herself for figuring it out. “In that case…” Cassandra’s eyes wandered upwards towards the sky, “…mother of God.”
Bast had so far managed to avoid looking outside her staging area. With Cassandra’s gaze, she couldn’t help herself. Like the staging area, at first glance, it appeared as it always had, a field of stars and galaxies lazily drifting through an endless void.
But they were different. Most obviously, they were closer together, stuck together more tightly than she’d ever seen them. The stars were all red, like her nanoverse was getting close to needing a Crunch, which was impossible since she had done one just before joining with Enki. More importantly were the red tendrils that stretched from star to star, connecting them like a massive network . The stars twinkled along this network, which should have been impossible without an atmosphere. She frowned as she looked more closely at the stars.
No, Bast thought, as realization began to slowly dawn on her. Not twinkling. Beating.
The *lub-dub* from the canopic jars grew louder.
The stars had become hearts, hearts of blood and flame, and they were passing material between each other in a massive circulatory system stretched across the center of her nanoverse. With each pulse, the stars were being drawn inexorably together.
Her nanoverse, the way it had been, was dying, and she found herself wondering if Vlad had found his nanoverse drowning in blood when he first became what he was.
“Why isn’t it a plain, like Vlad’s?” Cassandra asked, frowning.
“As I said, there’s much you don’t understand. Most nanoverses look more like the real universe. It appears mine is being remade into something like Vlad’s.”
“Could you stop it?”
Bast let out a weary sigh as she stared at the network. “Perhaps. I am nigh-omnipotent here. I’ll try before we leave. But I doubt I’ll have any success. Much as my omnipotence cannot counteract the decay of entropy, I think this process in inevitable. This is what happens when a goddess starves.”
“I…” Cassandra stopped herself with a laugh. “I was going to say that makes sense, but I’m so far outside any rational frame of reference sense is a concept I think I abandoned. But I understand, I think.”
Bast gave her a warm smile as she began to steer her staging area closer to one of the star-hearts. As she got closer, she could see a web of veins and arteries branching off the pulsing organ, eventually branching into capillaries that reached to the nearby worlds. One such world was in the habitable zone of this particular heart, and Bast brought them into the atmosphere.
The capillaries wove themselves into and through the ground, spreading through the crust and down through the core. Near where they met the ground, humanoid entities crawled out. They were about a eight feet tall, or would be if they stood upright, and had sharp teeth and pointed ears. Their head was flat, allowing no room for eyes or a brain. Their skin was a deep crimson, and they dripped blood as they moved.
Cassandra shuddered at the sight. They were running across the world, grasping at any living thing they could find and shoving into into their yawning mouths. Bast saw a couple that had gorged themselves so much that they couldn’t move, their bellies distended to near bursting, and still they reached vainly for any life that they could sense.
Standing between the blood fiends and the living people were soldiers. They wore white and gold, and wielded khopeshes and assault rifles. Some had shields fitted with crystals. As Bast watched, a pair of them cut at the hamstrings of one of the blood fiends, bringing it to the ground so they could hack at it – only for another one to slide forward and grab them, one in each hand, and shove them into its mouth in a single swallow.
The soldiers were failing. For every one of the blood fiends they felled, a dozen more crept out of the world capillary, and the soldiers did not have infinite numbers.
“It’s awful,” Cassandra whispered, but Bast heard in her voice the same feeling that had wormed its way into her breast.
True, it was awful to watch, but part of Bast thrilled at it, delighted in it. She wanted to disembark and join in the battle, not to aid the soldiers but to join in the feast, shoving hearts into her mouth with the same abandon the blood fiends were using to devour them whole. The sight had Bast literally quivering with anticipation, and she involuntarily licked her lips.
“Can you do anything to help them?” Cassandra asked, and here the second meaning was clear. If Bast couldn’t help them, why shouldn’t they go down and join and feast and feast and feast and-
Bast put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, drawing Cassandra’s gaze to her. The woman’s pupils were dilated to their fullest extent, her breathing coming in harsh and ragged gasps. “When we leave, I can grant them a quick death. I’ll collapse the nanoverse and allow it repair normally. Then it’ll be more like Vlad’s, I think. Before I can, however, I need to explain things to you. Can you hold it together.
Cassandra nodded at the same time a disappointed growl escaped from her throat. Bast looked down one more time. People on the ground could see them and they began to reach up to the floating ship, begging to be freed from this nightmare. Their screams were silent, but Bast could feel them echo in her soul.
With a gesture, she granted their wish, stripping away the planet’s atmosphere. It was a matter of minutes before they had all suffocated. “You’re free now,” she whispered, before heading back to the console to pilot them away from this world.
“Now, Cassandra. Sit. There’s much you need to understand for the coming days, and I brought you here so I would have time to teach you.”
Cassandra took another hitching breath and nodded, her pupils beginning to return to her normal size.
“Good. Now listen carefully…”
It took two days in Bast’s nanoverse, but at the end, she was convinced that she had prepared Cassandra as much as was possible.