“Get up,” Cassandra said, pointing to Nelly.
She’d recovered her composure in Bast’s absence, but still was frightened of this woman. Can you really blame her? Cassandra thought with a wry grin. She was bathed in the blood of her former neighbors. The fact that the Reverend was giving her a level look was a sign of what Cassandra considered had to be a deep-seated psychosis. “Get over here,” Cassandra snapped, her voice harsh. “I’m full right now. Bast left you alive for a reason. I’m not going to kill you.”
Nelly shook her hand and Cassandra sighed. In the blink of an eye, she crossed the distance between herself and Nelly, grabbing the woman’s wrist in a grasp that was like iron. Nelly screamed, and Cassandra patiently waited for her to stop. “I can still hear you reloading that revolver, Reverend. Don’t give me a reason to snap your neck.”
The noise behind her subsided, and Nelly stared at her with wide eyes. Cassandra held up the woman’s hand to inspect it with a critical eye. “Several lacerations, which you already knew. None of them deep though. You’ve broken your index fingers intermediate phalanx and proximal phalanx, your ring finger’s intermediate phalanx, and probably fractured a metacarpal or two, although I’d need an x-ray to confirm that.” She nodded and let go of Nelly’s wrist. “Do you play the piano?”
Nelly shook her head.
“You ever dream of playing the piano?”
“What? I mean…no.” Nelly took a step back. Cassandra had never been known for her bedside manner and turning into a heart-eating monster had done nothing to improve it.
“Good, because you probably never will. Beyond that, you’ll be able to do anything that doesn’t require delicate hand motion. So no piano, no flute – really, no musical instruments – and no surgery or working with tiny machines. Any of that going to be a problem?”
Nelly shook her head again. She seemed to be regaining her mental footing some. Right now, Cassandra was presenting as a perfectly ordinary doctor in a blood-stained lab coat. The human mind’s ability to categorize the weird and make sure it was properly sorted never ceased to amaze Cassandra.
“You seem to be implying we’ll survive this,” the Reverend said, his voice careful. “Not that I mind the implication, but you’ll forgive me for being a bit surprised.”
“I will?” Cassandra asked. She knew her voice was low and thrummed with fury. She didn’t care. It was so hard to remember to care about such things. “I’ll forgive nothing I do not wish to!”
Nelly choked out a sound that might have been a sob but sounded to Cassandra like a laugh. She whirled to face the woman. “Am I amusing you?”
“God no!” Nelly burst out, and Cassandra was less certain what the sound had been. Certainly not a sob. A snort? Had this woman snorted at her? “It’s just…is this what you were like before? Talking like a Saturday Morning Cartoon vill-”
Before the rest of the word was out of her mouth, Cassandra had Nelly on the ground, pinned to the asphalt by a hand around her throat. “Consider your next words very carefully.” Cassandra hissed.
The fear was back in Nelly’s eyes, and the Reverend took a step forward. “Please. I beg of you. We just want to understand.”
“You can’t hope to understand,” Cassandra snarled, loosening her grip on Nelly’s neck just enough to allow the woman to breath. She didn’t want to. She wanted to squeeze the life out of the woman.
“We could try,” the Reverend said, his voice entirely too reasonable for Cassandra.
“You could try? You could try to understand what it feels like to shove your hand through a man’s chest? You could try to understand the feeling of a beating heart in your grip? You could begin to imagine the rush as it touches your lips?” Cassandra shook her head. “No. This isn’t for you to understand. I want to understand.”
The Reverend nodded. “Then please, ask?”
“Why did she spare you?” Cassandra asked, her voice hollow. “I’ve never seen her spare anyone. Why you?”
The Reverend looked upwards. “I think I might have had some help in that regard.”
Cassandra barked out a single laugh. “That’s a pathetic answer. She spared you because of God? You had divine protection of some kind? I refuse to…” Cassandra trailed off as realization began to settle in. “Oh, of course,” she breathed, actual amusement returning to her. Amusement tinged with relief.
“Might I ask what you’ve learned?” The Reverend said, offering Nelly a hand to help her to her feet.
“You can ask whatever you wish. I certainly don’t intend to answer.” Cassandra shook her head. It was so obvious. Vlad had warned them that strong faith was a danger to Vampires, and that they couldn’t risk exposure because there was no way of knowing if Bast and Cassandra would be vulnerable to it.
Not that she could tell the Reverend that. The last thing she wanted was this man knowing he could potentially be a threat to them. It’s absurd, Cassandra thought. Nothing else operates off pure faith. Why would we?
Yet Bast had decided not to risk it. Cassandra was not going to presume to countermand her goddess. “Where were you going?” Cassandra asked.
Both Nelly and the Reverend froze. Nelly’s eyes fixed themselves to Cassandra’s face, but the Reverend didn’t have her discipline. His eyes flicked to the 12-Inn-One. Cassandra followed his gaze. His heart was pounding in his chest.
Since the first time since Cassandra had arrived, the Reverend was truly afraid.
“What’s so important there?” Cassandra asked, her lips curling into a wicked grin. “Guns? Explosives? A direct line to the outside world?”
The Reverend licked his lips nervously. “No, nothing like that. Nothing that poses a threat to you.”
“And I’m supposed to take it on faith?” Cassandra asked, spitting the last word. “No. I think I’ll go see for myself.”
“No!” Nelly shouted, but Cassandra was already gone. She crossed the space to the cheap motel in a second heartbeats.
She returned less than a dozen later. “There’s nothing there,” she lied. The Reverend and Nelly shared a look, one full of hope and fear. Cassandra ignored it. “My goddess decided you get to live. That means you do. For now.” She gave her best smile, a sadists gaze, then vanished to find where Bast had gone.
It had been a stupid line to leave on, a pointless mockery that earned her nothing. Yet…yet she couldn’t let them know she’d seen what they were keeping there. She couldn’t let them know she’d decided to allow them to spare that last bit of hope.
The initial swarm of mummies had been devastating to Grant, but thankfully it had happened on a weekday. Dozens of people had died in the town’s main shopping area, but there had not been many – if any – children present.
Many had lost parents. The Inn held the orphans.
Cassandra knew, right then, that she couldn’t let Bast learn of them. And with that, the first cracks began to form.