Ryan gestured, grabbing equations that governed gravity around the cat thing, and set himself as ‘down.’ The creature began to scrabble along the ground as it slid towards Ryan, but the street as far, as it was concerned, was a perfectly horizontal wall. It flew off the ground when it got close. Ryan grabbed it by the throat and let gravity return to normal. The creature yowled and shifted back into a human. “I didn’t know you were him!” the man screamed in Ryan’s grip. “I didn’t know!”
Ryan looked at the man critically. He was in his late teens, maybe a young looking early twenty. Aside from the blood on his face and shirt, he looked like a perfectly normal human. “What’s your name?” Ryan asked, the withheld fury making his voice sound dangerously calm.
“Billy. My name’s Billy.”
Ryan took in the new information with a level glare. “Hi Billy. You seem to know who I am.”
Billy nodded frantically, so hard that it almost slipped him out of Ryan’s grip. Ryan could feel the immense strength this man possessed. Against a human, it wouldn’t even be a fair fight. Billy would tear them apart with almost no exertion. Ryan didn’t want to try to arm-wrestle Billy, but it seemed Billy was too cowed right now to even realize that he could pose a threat to a god. “You’re the Eschaton.”
“That’s a pretty big word there, Billy. You know what it means?”
Billy nodded again. “It means…she said you’re going to end the world.”
“She?” Ryan asked quizzically, sure he knew the answer. “Who is ‘she?’”
Billy swallowed hard, and Ryan could feel the motion travel down Billy’s throat. “She’ll…she’ll kill me.”
“Oh, will she?” Ryan lifted Billy off the ground and with a single, fluid motion, slammed him into the asphalt hard enough to crack the black stone. Billy grunted with pain and brought his hands up to clutch at Ryan’s arm. “She’s not here right now, Billy. I am. You tell me, you might have time to run.”
Billy’s eyes widened as Dianmu and Nabu stepped into view. “I…it was Cassandra, okay? Cassandra?”
Huh. Ryan thought with the part of his brain that was still running logic under the outrage. “Cassandra?” He glanced sideways at Dianmu. “Any chance it’s the Cassandra?”
Dianmu shook her head. “She was mortal.”
Ryan glanced back at Billy. “Who the hell is Cassandra?”
“The first of us,” Billy whispered. “She was the first of us.”
“And what are ‘you,’ Billy?” Ryan asked. He was kneeling down, and lowered his face even closer so Billy could clearly see the rage that burned inside Ryan’s chest right now.
“Cardiophage,” Billy whimpered. “She said we were…Cardiophages.”
“Heart-eater,” Nabu supplied helpfully. “From the Greek Kardia, meaning ‘heart,’ and phagein meaning-”
“To devour,” Ryan finished for him, focusing on Billy. “So you eat hearts.”
“Y-yes,” Billy stammered. “Oh God please don’t kill me!”
“I’m not sure yet,” Ryan said. “Tell me, Billy, why the hell shouldn’t I kill something that eats hearts!?” The last two words came out in a scream, and flecks of spittle flew out of Ryan’s mouth and onto Billy’s face.
“Easy, Enki,” Dianmu said quietly.
The last word was like a bucket of cold water on Ryan’s head. He’d used the exact same trick Enki had used to pull Billy into range, and then was holding him up to his face and screaming in it like a monster. For the first time Ryan took a good look at Billy. This guy was a kid, and the blood on his face was mixing with tears and snot. Ryan felt sick at himself.
“Because…because,” Billy said, hiccupping with fear. “Because I didn’t want this, man! I just wanted to ask a girl out and then I’m…I’m being fed my own heart and…” Billy sniffed loud and deep. “I didn’t want this!”
Ryan leaned back and took his hand off Billy’s neck, replacing the grip with a twist to gravity just strong enough to keep the young man – the cardiophage – pinned to the ground. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Damnit. Thank you Dianmu.”
Dianmu gave him a small smile. “Crystal told me all about your encounters with him, in great detail.” Her smile faded. “It’s your first time dealing with this kind of horror, isn’t it?”
Ryan nodded, suddenly feeling hollow and empty. “I miss the days when the monsters were mummies or goblin-vampire-werewolf things. Hell, for that matter, I miss the days when there were no monsters.”
“Anthropophagi,” Nabu said thoughtfully.
“Man-eater?” Ryan said, looking at Nabu. “Are you okay, Nabu? Billy here said Cardiophage.”
“If a god turns into an anthropophagi, it’s always a unique kind,” Dianmu said, picking up where Nabu had left off. Ryan appreciated it – it saved Nabu the trouble of re-explaining what an anthropophagi was. “And they are always able to create spawn like themselves. It’s part of why the vampire myth is so universal.”
Ryan felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and turned back to Billy. “Who does Cassandra serve?” he asked.
Billy looked at Ryan with wild eyes and mouthed a word. It was too low a whisper for Ryan to make out. Ryan knelt back down and leaned his ear near Billy’s voice.
“Look behind you,” Billy said, then snapped his rapidly shifted jaws down on Ryan’s ear. Ryan roared with pain and pulled away, clenching one hand to the side of his head. Blood poured between his fingers, and Billy was laughing, the previous fear vanished in an instant. Ryan whirled and snapped his fingers. Billy’s laughter ended in a sudden wet, sticky sound as the gravity on his chest increased to the power of ten.
“You shouldn’t have hurt my child,” Bast said. She was standing on a rooftop, flanked by dozens of the cat-things that Ryan had seen earlier. “Although I would have killed him for harming you, Eschaton.” Bast gave him a cruel smile. “We should talk.”
Ryan cauterized the bleeding stump where his ear had been as Bast leapt off the roof in a graceful bound.