“So Ra found a psychopath to give a nanoverse?” Cassandra asked.
Bast chuckled at the term. “You ate a human heart today,” she pointed out.
Cassandra flushed. “It’s different,” she protested. “I Hunger. I’m an anthophage now. What we do is no more psychotic than a wolf hunting a hare.”
“If you insist,” Bast said. “I’m certain Sekhmet had her reasons. But it’s been so long, I struggle to recall them anymore.”
“You knew her?”
Bast gave Cassandra a small smile. “I’ll explain, if you’ll allow me to continue.”
Cassandra closed her mouth and nodded firmly.
“Sekhmet did her job well. Too well. The mortals once again feared the gods, but the gods feared her. They caught up with her in Iunu, which the Greeks would later call Heliopolis, the city of the sun…”
There was no sun shining that day. It was hidden behind the clouds of smoke that rose from Iunu.
Ra approached Sekhmet, his hand holding a wickedly curved sword known as a kopesh. He was flanked by Neith, Thoth, and Horus, all similarly armed. “Sekhmet,” Ra said, his voice calm and reasonable. “It’s time to stop.”
Sekhmet stood up from her latest victim. He’d died slowly, consumed by the flames from the feet upwards. The burning carcass provided a backlight to Sekhmet’s blood-soaked form. “I’ve learned that with the right mixture of oil and sawdust, I can set clay and stone to flame. Why on earth would I stop now?”
“Gods have no needs of such tricks,” Horus counted with a glower, and Sekhmet gave him a broad smile.
“Of course we do not. But I’ve seen the whole of the world from high in the sky now. Peoples scattered across it. If we want, we could bring it all under our dominion. But our soldiers were need weapons to accomplish that.” Sekhmet gestured towards where the fires burned. “What force besides a god could stand against this?”
“It’s monstrous,” Ra growled.
“There’s that word again. As useless as it was before.” Sekhmet’s eyes narrowed. “You do love to call me a monster, Ra. Don’t forget who made me.” Sekhmet smiled at the confused glances that went between Neith, Thoth, and Horus.
“Enough!” Ra snapped.
“Oh, no, I don’t think so. Didn’t you tell them, Ra?” Sekhmet’s smile widened. “Of course you didn’t. You couldn’t let them know how desperate you were to retain the goodwill of mortals.”
“Shut your mouth,” Ra said.
“Actually,” Thoth piped up, turning his head towards Ra. “I’d like to hear what she has to say.”
“Iunu burns, and you want to banter with her?” Ra asked, his voice full of forced incredulity.
“No, but we do want answers,” Neith said. “Don’t you? Unless, of course, you somehow already know the answers.”
Horus, it seemed, was less interested in being coy. “What did you do, Ra. What in all the heavens did you do?”
“He made me,” Sekhmet said, after letting Ra squirm under their glares. “He gave me a nanoverse. He felt people didn’t respect him enough. Didn’t fear him enough. He created me to be his scourge against mortals. How did you put it, Ra? ‘f I wanted the city destroyed in an instant, I would do it myself. I want them to have time to think, and to beg for my aid. I want them to remember why they need me.’”
Silence reigned, silence that was filled with the background sounds of cracking fires and screams of agony. The three gods that came with Ra turned towards him. “You are the monster,” Horus finally spat.
“You believe her?” Ra asked, gesturing towards Sekhmet. “She’s insane!”
“Then why do you sweat, oh Ra?” Thoth asked, his voice firm. “Why do you wish so badly to silence her? Why did you want to face her yourself?”
“I…” Ra sputtered, then clenched his fists. “What was I supposed to do? They were turning on me, turning on us. You know what could happen if the mortals oppose us! It could be the end!”
“You’ve gone callous,” Neith said, turning her back to Ra. “You’ve gone insane, and you’ve gone cold. I’ll have no part in this.”
The others turned their backs as well.
“No…” Ra gasped, pointing at Sekhmet. “She’s still a monster. You still have to help me!”
“She’s a monster you created,” Horus said. “Put her down yourself. If you fail – when you fail – we’ll deal with her. She cannot defeat us together.”
“She’s still right here,” Sekhmet said crossly, considering blowing open one of their heads for their impertinence.
“What if she escapes before you do?” Ra pleaded.
“Set and Amun are guarding her doorway,” Thoth said. “She has nowhere to run to. We will find her – and you do not deserve our aid.”
With that, the three gods left.
Sekhmet gave Ra a wicked smile. “So…just you and me, it seems.”
“You…” Ra hissed. “You have ruined everything!”
“No, I did not.” Sekhmet said with a shrug. “Everything is going exactly according to your plan. The mortals fear the gods more than ever before. The other gods will now fear you more than ever before. Especially after you slay me.”
“How can you think…wait, after I do what?” Ra blinked in confusion.
“You’re going to slay me, in single combat. Right here, in the streets of Iunu. You’re going to burn my body to ash…and then, in a month, you’re going to find another young woman to give a nanoverse to.”
Ra’s mouth fell open. “You think they’ll believe that?”
“They’ll never believe I would do it willingly,” Sekhmet countered.
“The moment you start killing again, they will,” Ra said, his eyes narrowing. “Except…you know they’ll turn on you.”
Sekhmet nodded. “I’m interested in survival. I’ll happily play the part of the good little goddess, protecting the lands from the likes of…well, from the likes of me.”
Ra took a deep breath, then nodded. “Fine.”
“Excellent. When I see you next, make sure you use my new name.”
“You haven’t told me what that is yet,” Ra said, cocking his head.
Sekhmet smiled. “Why don’t you call me…Bast?”
Cassandra nearly fell off her chair. “You’re Sekhmet? You’re the…that was you?”
Bast nodded. “A long time ago. Hundreds of lifetimes ago, in fact.”
Cassandra shuddered. “So why did you – I mean, kill those people?”
“It was over four thousand years ago,” Bast said with a shrug. “I honestly don’t recall anymore. I became the good little defender after that. The other gods turned on Ra eventually. Then I served Osiris. After Osiris, I served Amun. Then Enki. Now, apparently, I serve Vlad.”
Cassandra frowned at her. “Then don’t,” she said hesitantly, as if afraid of Bast’s reaction. Bast quirked an eyebrow, and motioned for Cassandra to go on. “Don’t,” Cassandra repeated, with more confidence. “Why serve him?”
“I told you, the risks are too great.”
“And those risks grow less once he’s gathered his friends together?” Cassandra asked. “No. I’m sure you can figure out a way to minimize those risks, and it’s better than serving another.”
“You went from calling me a psychopath to urging me to strike out on my own rather quickly,” Bast said, giving Cassandra an amused grin.
Cassandra flushed. “I mean, that’s who you were. I’m not the same person I was ten years ago – and I would have said that before I changed. You’re a goddess, you cannot be held accountable for something that happened so long ago, it was ancient history by the time of the Roman Empire.”
“Thank you for that.” Bast reached out and patted Cassandra on the shoulder, enjoying the way the other woman flushed again. She stood up. “I still don’t see a way to destroy Vlad.”
“You’ll find it,” Cassandra said, with the confidence of absolute faith.
How long has it been since somehow had faith in you? Bast wondered. Centuries, surely. Millenia, most likely. It was true that faith didn’t provide any kind of real power, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t intoxicating. “I think I will,” Bast said after a moment, looking out the window. “Besides, it really is best not to risk that the Eschaton can only be used for one of us.”
“Thank you,” Cassandra said with a smile. “I hate to see you suffer under someone who should be grovelling at your feet.”
Bast chuckled at that, and then caught something out of the corner of her eye. A doorway, opening onto the island. Horus was stepping out, peering around. The gears in Bast’s head turned, and her smile grew. “I do not think I’ll have to much longer,” Bast said. “Thank you, Cassandra. I needed the reminder of what I am.”
Cassandra blushed again. “Do you really think Ryan can do it?”
Bast nodded. “I’m certain. And once Vlad is dealt with…we’ll turn our attention to the Eschaton.”
Vlad would be returning soon. There wasn’t much time. She headed out of the ruined building to talk to Horus. I never imagined I’d have a use for him, Bast thought with a grin. Then again, I never believed I’d have a use for the Eschaton.
In the end, it would turn out both would serve her ends. And that suited Bast perfectly fine.