“Jesus,” Cassandra whispered. Horus had passed out after crying, pressing his face against her stomach and holding onto her so tightly s he’d begun to worry he’d break her in half. “That…was horrible.”
Nabu nodded, standing up. “We were in time. He’s shown no signs of anthropophagenesis. It was close – Bast had left him in the worst possible position.”
Cassandra was careful not to shiver at the thought. She didn’t want to wake Horus. He looked so peaceful now. It was impossible not to feel sympathy for him right then. “He didn’t deserve that,” she said.
“Oh?” Nabu asked. “I thought you hated him.”
“I do,” Cassandra said. “Or at least, I did. It’s hard to hate something that pathetic.” She shook her head and shifted slightly, trying not to wake Horus. “I’ve known guys like him before. Guys who act all kind and noble, but the moment you let them know you don’t want to date them, start turning nasty. The idea of someone like that having the power of a god is…terrifying. Imagine if he’d fixated on a mortal woman instead of Bast. I loathe that type.”
“Yet you are comforting him,” Nabu said, cocking his head in thought.
“He’s still human,” Cassandra said. “He was an asshole, but no one deserves what he just went through. Not even the worst monster deserves torture.”
“Odd argument from an acolyte of Bast’s,” Nabu said. “Didn’t you allow what she did to the admiral?”
Cassandra looked up at him sharply, but there was no trace of mockery in Nabu’s face. He seemed to be genuinely curious, his expression just thoughtful. “I was…trying to harden myself,” she said after a moment’s thought. “I thought I was a monster. I thought I had no choice but to be a monster. So I was trying to become one. I thought it would make what I had to do to feed hurt less.”
“Do you think you are a monster now?” Nabu asked.
Cassandra started to nod, a motion that turned to a shake of her head, and then she sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve done terrible things. I allowed terrible things to happen. Right now, part of me is screaming that Horus is vulnerable and weak, that I should reach down and pluck out his heart for a quick snack.” Nabu tensed, and Cassandra shook her head. “I won’t. I’m not that Hungry, though I think I’ll need to find something to eat after this. It’s like smelling a good steak. But…I still did those things. Regardless of how much I was doing it because Bast manipulated me, I still did them. Doesn’t that make a bit of a monster?”
It was Nabu’s turn to be silent as he thought. “Perhaps. But there’s a truth of humanity that cannot be ignored. If you convince someone they aren’t responsible for what they do, they will do the worst things and justify it as it wasn’t their fault. Now that you know you are responsible for your actions, what you do next is a truer test of your character than anything else. You know what you’re capable of. You know what you’re culpable for. What will you do with that knowledge?”
Cassandra looked down at Horus’s sleeping from, and had to wonder if he’d had the same thought process. Had he believed his actions were justified by what he thought was love? That didn’t excuse what he did, any more than falling for Bast’s lies excused Cassandra’s actions. “I’ll be better,” she said quietly, a promise to herself more than to Nabu. “I won’t be a monster. Well, I mean, technically I am, but…”
“But a monster isn’t about what you are,” Nabu said firmly. “It’s about what you do. You have the powers of a monster. But if you use them for others, if you use them to help instead of harm…well, I think humanity has a term for someone with powers who does good. I believe the term is hero.”
Cassandra let a small smile spread across her lips. It was the first smile she’d given that wasn’t tainted with a bitter edge or pathetic devotion since Bast had turned her. It felt good. “Maybe. We’ll see if I deserve the term.”
Horus shifted and murmured in his slips, wrapping his arms around her waist. A terrible thought occurred to Cassandra. “Bast explained to me how the Hungers work. Is he going to wake up and try to screw me?”
Nabu chewed his lip. “I can’t be certain what Horus will do. He’ll want his social hunger filled, but he’ll be in control of his actions. He can’t claim he was driven mad with lust or anything of that nature.”
Suddenly, the sleeping Horus looked much less pathetic and far more threatening. Cassandra was acutely aware of how powerful a god was compared to her. If he woke up and tried to push her…”I don’t think I should be here when he wakes up,” she said, her voice quiet for an entirely different reason now.
“I won’t allow anything to happen,” Nabu said.
“I don’t want anything to start,” Cassandra said. “I know what kind of guy he is, and…no. I’m not dealing with it, even if you can stop him. Help me get up?”
Nabu nodded and stood up. He detangled Horus’s hands from her back, and braced the sleeping god so Cassandra could get free of him without waking him. Cassandra felt herself start to relax once she wasn’t trapped anymore. “Thank you. I just…I know he didn’t understand the concept of No when it came to Bast, and while she never implied he tried to be forceful…”
“You don’t need to explain,” Nabu said. “I’ll keep vigil over him.”
Cassandra nodded her thanks and stepped outside just in time for Anansi and Dianmu to leave their staging areas. “Did you find him?” Dianmu asked.
“Yes,” Cassandra said. “Bast had him strung up so he could barely even breathe. We saw to some of his Hungers. He’s asleep right now – Nabu’s in there with him.”
“Didn’t want to wait for him to wake up?” Anansi asked.
“No. I understand your Hungers well enough to not want to be around when he wakes up, desperate for socialization.”
Dianmu and Anansi shared and look, and Dianmu nodded in understanding. “We have some books if conversation isn’t enough,” she said. “Although I imagine he’ll feel rather talkative.”
“I can tell him a story, too,” Anansi said. “If that helps more. It’s delicate sometimes, feeding the social hunger with someone who has been that long deprived. They often want the quickest fix.”
Cassandra’s lips curled at the thought. “I’m glad you came with other solutions,” she said primly.
“Hope for everything to go well, but be ready for every disaster that could happen. It’s always better than the alternative,” Anansi said. “I’ll go check on Nabu.”
Dianmu watched him go. “Are you Hungry?” she asked Cassandra.
“God, yes,” Cassandra said, hating the admission. “I can hear all of your hearts. I damn near asked Nabu to leave so I could Horus a chance to reboot by killing him again. It was a cheap justification, but it was so damn tempting.”
“I can get you an animal, if you need it” Dianmu said.
“Thank you,” Cassandra said. “Please.”
“Does it have to be alive?”
Cassandra considered the question, and nodded. “I…yeah. I think so. I thought about eating a dead heart, but it didn’t do anything for me. I think Bast was telling the truth about that, at least. Damn.”
“You seem unhappy,” Dianmu said, hesitating before turning back to her doorway.
“I don’t like the idea of tearing out something’s still beating heart. It almost feels worse with an animal.” She saw Dianmu’s eyes harden, and shook her head. “I don’t want to eat humans, but when I did it before, they were people who were our enemies. Or, at least, Bast had convinced me they were.” She thought of a young man in Grant, screaming in terror and crawling along the ground. His legs had been broken. He’d been no threat. Cassandra shuddered at the memory – and at the memory of how excited she’d been to feed like that. “I think it just feels worse now that I’m acknowledging it’s a terrible thing. You think you could drug the animal or something so it’s not awake when I feed? That feels…less awful.”
Dianmu’s expression softened. “That I can understand. And I can do better than drug. I can slow it’s heartrate enough it will fall asleep.”
“Thank you,” Cassandra said, the gratitude entirely unfeigned. Dianmu stepped back into her staging area, and Cassandra sat on the ground to wait.
There were undeniable realities of what she was now. But Cassandra was determined to be the best version of the monster she’d become.
Maybe she’d even earn what Nabu had called her.