Ryan panted heavily as his eyes cleared from the beam of light. I got her, he thought, taking a deep breath with every moment.
The town was oddly silent in the wake of the sunbeam. Part of that was because the way the clap of thunder had filled his ears, burying the sound of rain beneath a ringing. But there was something else to it too.
This town was dead. Empty.
Ryan stood up and straightened his back. Dianmu was standing as well, covered with dozens of cuts and scrapes from her injuries. She gave him a weak thumbs up, and Ryan sighed with relief. The idea had been to trap Bast in a prism of sunlight. Ryan had liked the poetry of using Tyr’s favorite twist to kill her. Adapting it to kill the Cadiophages had been inspired, in his opinion. When Nabu got back he would-
A fist slammed into Ryan’s face. He could hear his nose shatter under the blow, feel the sudden welling of tears to his eyes and blood come pouring out his nostrils. He couldn’t see, his eyes wouldn’t respond, and before they would he felt a hand slap him across the face with a force that could crack concrete, followed by a backhand that would have bent a light pole in half. A knee to the gut finished the series of blows, sending Ryan flying almost perfectly straight into the air.
His arm broke when he hit the ground, and he screamed in pain.
His vision started to clear. Bast was approaching him, walking unsteadily. His beam of light had caught her in the right shoulder, burning away a huge chunk of her torso and that arm. The intense heat had cauterized the wound shut, but had also burned away much of the skin on that side. Her face was half a skull, even the eyeball burned away, revealing her fanged teeth.
She was dead. But she might survive long enough to take Ryan with her. “Just had to….just had to give up,” Bast coughed. Ryan started to force himself to his feet, gritting his teeth against his pain. Bast gestured, and a chunk of rock rose from the ground to strike Ryan directly in the break on his arm. He wasn’t sure if he screamed again. Lances of agony blocked out all senses. His throat was raw when his senses started to come back.
Dianmu was scrambling to reach them, throwing balls of pure lightning at Bast with what little energy she had left. They struck the heart-eating goddess but bounced harmlessly off her. Dianmu had burned through so much power generating the lenses needed to finish the anthropophages, and Bast was so far past pain that they had no effect aside from searing her already roasted hide.
“I told you…” Ryan gasped, trying to rise to his feet. His arms and legs weren’t wanting to obey him. The only Hunger that hadn’t settled in yet was the vast, yawning loneliness that would indicate he’d burned through all his divine power and had been left helpless. If that happened, he was dead. So long as he didn’t have that, he still had a tiny amount of power to fight on. “…I don’t give up.”
Bast sneered with the remaining half of her lips. “Subjugation is always preferable to death.”
“And that is why you’re thousands of years old and miserable,” Ryan said. “Because you stand for nothing.”
Bast raised her remaining hand and clenched it. A torrent of fire erupted from the ground beneath him, searing him and sending him flying into the air. When he landed, he could feel that desperate need for human contact settling in, and his divine sight winked out. He was lost. Dianmu was spent as well.
It was over. Bast raised her hand. “You didn’t do your job, Eschaton. You didn’t kill me. You didn’t save me. You didn’t end the world, and you didn’t save it. You have done nothing, save give me a heart to sustain myself. Goodbye.”
The hand came streaking down towards Ryan’s chest. He raised his own in a futile gesture of resistance.
Bast’s hand stopped inches from Ryan’s chest. A third hand had appeared from seemingly nowhere and caught Bast by the wrist. Ryan followed the hand up to its owner.
Nabu stood there, holding Bast in place with an iron grasp. The cadiophage in the lab coat from earlier was sliding off his back. Bast’s eye followed her movement. “Cassandra?” Bast asked, and there was a crack to her voice. Not one of rage or fear, but of a deep and horrific pain. “I thought-”
“You said we could eat animal hearts,” Cassandra said, not meeting Bast’s eye. “You said…you just said. We could survive off the heart of animals. I didn’t have to be a monster. You didn’t have to be a monster. We didn’t need to…we could have endured!” She turned her head up, and there were tears in her face. “You didn’t make me a monster. I let you make me into that. I had to…I had to be better than what you wanted of me.”
Bast howled and tried to lunge at Cassandra. Nabu held her wrist firm and held out his free hand. Words began to form in the air, glowing letters that coalesced into a blade that glowed with a pale blue light. Bast now started to kick at him, but Nabu was uninjured from his earlier fight with the cadiophages.
She had no more chance against him than Ryan had moments ago of surviving her assault alone.
With a swift strike, Nabu cleaved Bast’s head from her shoulders. It landed on the ground with a sickly wet sound and rolled away. Before Ryan’s eyes, both her body and her head began to flake like they had been set aflame, only there was no heat, only ashes rising up in defiance of the rain that still pounded the town.
In seconds, what remained of Bast had turned to dust and been washed away. Nabu’s foot shot out, stopping her blood-red nanoverse from rolling away with the rest of her form. “We’ll have to destroy this,” he said.
“I’m fine, really,” Ryan grunted, trying to rise to his feet again. “Thanks for asking. Don’t…worry about me. I just hurt everywhere. Couple broken bones. Been set on fire a couple times. You know…Tuesday stuff.”
Nabu gave him a long, curious look. “Ryan. It’s a Thursday.”
“Oh. Well. In that case, I’m going to do what I do on Thursdays. Just give me a minute. Uh…help me get back to my nanoverse. And…and help Dianmu get to hers. We’re both…not doing so hot right now. Cassandra, right?” he said, pointing to the cadiophage in a lab coat.
Cassandra nodded, though her eyes didn’t pull up from the ground where Bast had vanished. “I couldn’t let her…”
Ryan didn’t wait to make her finish. “I know. You did the right thing. Really. Saved my life. And the world. I’m going to buy you a hundred pigs so you can eat their hearts or whatever. A thousand. You need to stick with Nabu. Tell him everything you know.” Ryan took a deep breath. It was a painful mistake, and Ryan shuddered at the surge of agony.
“I’m still confused on one thing,” Nabu said, glancing down at Ryan. “What do you do on Thursdays?”
“On Thursday?” Ryan said, black tendrils creeping across his vision. “On Thursdays, I pass out.”
As soon as the words were past his lips, Ryan let go of the frantic battle to maintain consciousness, and did exactly that.