“Think on it, Horus. If you’re here when I get back, I’ll know you’re with me. If you’re not…if you’re not, then I hope I never lay eyes upon you again.”
Over a week had passed since Bast had said those words. Horus wished he could say it had been a difficult decision. He wished he could say he agonized over it, that it had torn him apart. If he was asked, he knew he’d lie and claim he had. I suppose the others know by now I am forsworn, assuming they survived plumbing the depths of Tartarus. Horus expected they had survived. Gods were even more infamous than cockroaches for their ability to survive the impossible, and in that category Crystal was a cockroach among cockroaches. Anansi was probably even more stubborn in that regard than Crystal.
He’d left a message for the others with the information he’d obtained from the Curators. If they returned to Earth, they would eventually receive his message, for what little it was worth, and be told that he was breaking from their pantheon to follow Bast’s trail. It’s technically true, Horus told himself. A cold comfort. He wondered what the legends and myths of this time would say of him, if humanity survived. One side would of course become the gods of the new age, the other would be the monsters and demons. And then there was Horus. He hung his honor on a technicality.
To make matters worse, he hadn’t actually spoken to Bast since he’d stayed. Bast had never actually come back, instead sending her newly created creature, Cassandra, to relay orders to him. It was insufferable to receive commands from an anthropophage that had so recently been just a mortal, but Horus endured it. She’s testing me. That much a child could figure out. So Horus endured dealing with an underling while being sent errands. Scouting abandoned islands. Reporting on the comings and goings of Hell’s Heresiarch. Putting hard drugs in the possession of a reporter that had interviewed the Eschaton and then making an anonymous phone call to the police.
That last one had particularly galled him. If Bast wanted to use him for petty revenge, he would do so. I would have killed her! Why something so needlessly petty?
Horus feared he knew the reason. It would make it easy for Bast to find the reporter when she decided to claim the woman’s heart.
Horus wished it had been a difficult decision to follow Bast. Maybe then he would have less doubts .
The whole situation conspired to put him a foul mood, a mood that was not improved by the greeting he received upon arrival on Poveglia Plague Island. It was, of course, not Bast. Nor was it Cassandra. At least she had all her facilities.
No, he was greeted by the pathetic mutant that had once been an Admiral in the United States Navy. “Ahhh, he’s back! He’s back! The would be paramore returns,” Dale hissed through lips that wouldn’t quite close from his wounds, and clapped together his wasp stinger finger tips in a series of disturbing clacking sounds.
“Where is your mistress, beast?” Horus snapped at him, though he frowned. Paramore? Bast had left the man half-brain damaged, or so Horus had thought.
“Oh, she is around. Or perhaps she is not. I doubt she wishes to see you, even if she is here. Don’t you have errands to run?”
Horus ground his teeth. “I will speak with her, you craven wretch.”
Dale let out a wet, phlegmatic sound that was a laugh in the same way a dead rat was a meal. They might be related, but it would only appeal to jackals. “You will do whatever Bast wishes. You’ve proven that time and time again.”
“You think yourself better than I?” Horus asked.
“I never claimed divinity,” the creature that had once been Dale said with a chortle. Horus felt his fingers twitch at his side. How angry would Bast be if I killed him?
“Don’t you have something else to do?” Horus growled through clenched teeth.
“I was set to watch the shores of this isle for any unwelcome visitors. It seems I found one.”
“Your mistress has accepted my aid.”
“Yes, you are a welcome tool. But how often does the falconer dine with the falcon?” Dale’s grin grew horribly suggestive. “Or for that matter, how often does she bed her bird?”
Horus raised his hand, grasping elemental strands around Dale. I’ll accept her punishment. “You go too far,” Horus growled.
A voice cracked out of the darkness behind him. “No, you do. Lower your hand, Horus, or suffer Bast’s displeasure.”
Horus ground his teeth. “Cassandra.”
“I was worried you’d forgotten me.” The one time scientist gave Horus a dazzling grin. “You may think you can escape Bast’s wrath for killing Dale. You may even be right. You will not, however, like what happens if you harm me.”
After a moment to glower, Horus lowered his hand. “Where did you get such confidence? You speak to a god!”
Cassandra rolled her eyes. “I eat hearts. It’s hard to find anything intimidating at this point. Certainly not an ally. You are an ally, aren’t you Horus? I would hate to report to my goddess that you had betrayed yet another fledgling pantheon, especially when she was ready to speak to you.”
“She’s willing to finally see me?” Horus snapped.
“Perhaps.” Cassandra gave him a sad smile. “My goddess gave me leave to determine if you were in a fit state to be in her presence. So far I am not impressed. You were going to kill Dale.”
“Surely it would be a mercy, after what was done to him!” Horus said.
Cassandra took a moment to meet his eyes, more directly than any mortal ever had. “Yes, it would be,” she said, her voice soft. “However, she has decreed he does not deserve that mercy.”
Horus took a deep breath. “Very well. I will speak to Bast.”
“Only if I decide you do,” Cassandra countered. “Bast was very clear about that.”
Another test. If I raise my hand to her… “How might I persuade you?”
Cassandra considered him for a moment. “Honestly, I doubt you ever could. It doesn’t matter. She needs you.”
She needs you. Those three words dispelled Horus’ annoyance and cut through his anger. “Where is she?”
Cassandra pointed over her shoulder to the building behind her. Horus brushed past her, ignoring her protestation. It didn’t matter. Bast needed him. Nothing else could distract him.
It wasn’t the same as Bast returning his affections. It wasn’t what he truly wanted. But it was progress. Maybe there is hope, Horus thought, his doubts fading away as quickly as his rage.
There’s no dishonor in action taken from love. There is no crime here.
As he entered the building and saw Bast at the top of the stairs, beautiful and deadly and full of fire, he could almost believe it.