Bast landed in front of them with the grace of a cat. Fitting, Ryan thought, taking a deep breath to calm himself. “Bast,” he said, trying not to spit the name. He raised a hand, and Dianmu reached out to stop the motion.
“Ryan, think,” she whispered urgently. “If she wanted to fight, she had the element of surprise. She deliberately spoiled it. We need to find out what she wants before we instigate something.”
Ryan gritted his teeth. Dianmu’s right, damn it, he thought. Starting a fight with Bast right now would put whoever was still surviving in this town in danger, and if Bast wanted something, maybe they could at least get her out of the town before the battle erupted.
Bast smiled at the exchange and walked closer. “Oh good, you’re capable of saying my name.” Bast said. “Maybe I should try that?” Bast narrowed her eyes. “Ryan,” she growled, raising her hand, then dropping it with a peal of mocking laughter before they could take it as a threat.
“Very funny,” Ryan said, straining to keep his voice level. “I think you can understand why it’s a bit upsetting to see you at the moment?”
“I can think of a couple reasons, but given how boringly predictable you are, I’m assuming it’s what I’ve done to this town?”
“No, it’s your dress sense, it’s after Labor day and you’re wearing white – of course it’s the people you murdered.” Ryan’s careful hold on his temper finally snapped. “Why, Bast? What the hell did these people do to you?”
“To me?” Bast shrugged her shoulders casually. “Nothing, really. But they’re important to you. I’m glad you finally got my message. I was honestly wondering how many more of these people I would have to kill to get your attention.”
Ryan’s eyes widened, and he clenched his fists. For a moment he couldn’t hear from how hard his heart was pounding in his ears. After everything he’d seen, everything he’d witnessed in this town, he was certain she’d held some vendetta against these people for what happened before. The fact that she’d come back here just to draw his focus was even more infuriating. “You did this to get my attention?” he said, spitting every word.
“Of course,” Bast said, looking genuinely perplexed. Ryan was sure it was an act. It had to be an act. Bast was sick and twisted, she was cruel and callous, but she wasn’t stupid. She’s goading you, Ryan, he told himself.Knowing it didn’t help. He still wanted to leap across the street and…well, he hadn’t figured it out yet.
Bast continued, playing oblivious to his outrage as she said, “You didn’t exactly leave me a phone number last time we talked, did you? What else was I supposed to do.”
“How about literally anything else?” Ryan said, taking a step forward. Nabu reached out and put a hand on his shoulder to stop him from starting the fight prematurely. Ryan shrugged off the Curator’s grip, but didn’t keep walking. Nabu was right, damn it. Starting a fight with Bast right now wouldn’t accomplish anything. “You could have sent a message through the Curators! You could have posted a video on the internet, or gone on TV! You could have done anything besides killing hundreds of people!”
Bast sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. However, you’re missing a very important point. None of those options involved killing hundreds of people.” She grinned at Ryan’s fury. “I wanted an army, Ryan. I wanted you serious when you came to the negotiations.”
That last word stopped Ryan from unleashing a bolt of lightning right then, and helped clear his mind to think. There were dozens of the cadiophages that he could see right now, and likely more lurking in hiding. Three on one, he had no doubt they could defeat Bast. You don’t know what Nabu can do, Ryan reminded himself. That could work in their favor, but it could also be a terrible liability. Still, he and Dianmu could defeat Bast.
The Cadiophages changed the equation. Killing Billy had been easy because he’d caught Billy off guard, and already had him pinned. Dozens of them would prove far more difficult. He remembered that aweful strength under Billy’s skin. “Well,” Ryan said, his voice tight. “You have me here. You have my attention, and I promise you, I am deadly serious. So – what do you want, Bast?”
Bast made a sardonic tsk with her teeth. “You really should learn some manners, Eschaton. They would serve you well when dealing with your betters.”
Ryan didn’t respond to the taunt, just waited for Bast to get to the point.
“Fine. I see spending too much time with Athena has crippled your sense of humor.”
“Hundreds of people are dead, Bast. You’ve turned people into monsters. And you think this is a joke?” Ryan shook his head. “You’re sick.”
“No, you just don’t see the big picture.” Bast’s smile widened. “I made them immortal. People die all the time, Ryan. By the thousands. I’ve sent a few more to their underworlds early. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things. In a dozen years, there will be no one to weep for them. In a hundred, their memory will be ash. In a thousand, this will be completely forgotten. And that was even if you weren’t going to end the world. But my children? They are immortal.” Bast gestured to the cardiophages.
Ryan ground his teeth. “And everyone else you killed?”
“They’d be dead anyway when you kill the world. Honestly, Ryan, I’m just making use of the trash you’re about to throw away anyway, I don’t see why you are so fussy about a few dead humans.”
“Hundreds!” Ryan shouted.
“Fine,” Bast said with a roll of her eyes. “A few hundred dead humans. Your priorities are terrible.”
“What. Do you. Want?” Ryan asked through clenched teeth.
“I want to do what you can’t,” Bast said with a small smile. “I want to save the human race.”
For the moment, Ryan could only stare at her in complete disbelief.