Small Worlds Part 169

Horus didn’t bother trying to break the vampire’s grasp. There wasn’t time. He had burned through more than enough power where the need for air was burning at his lungs. Instead of entering a contest of main strength, Horus dropped himself backwards, pulling his legs up as he did. The motion caught Vlad off guard, and the two of them fell to the ground. Horus was able to bring up his feet into the vampire’s stomach and kicked as hard he could.

Vlad had no choice but to release Horus’ neck, not if he wanted his wrists to remain intact. Vlad turned to mist again to save himself impact with the ground, giving Horus’ time to gasp for air. Horus rolled away as Vlad reformed, slamming his heel down on where Horus’ head had been moment’s before.

Concrete cracked under the vampire’s heel. Bits of it flecked up and bit into Horus’ face. Even half burned, Vlad was unimaginably strong. Horus brought his leg up in a kick aimed at Vlad’s knee. Before he could connect, Vlad’s hand lanced down and grabbed Horus by the ankle. Vlad swung Horus over his body, slamming him into the concrete. Horus felt the world spin from the impact, and coughed up flecks of blood. Before he could try to break free of the grip, Vlad lifted Horus back up and swung him in an arc, slamming him into ground on the other side. “I’m going to drain you dry for this,” Vlad snarled, lifting to swing Horus again.

Horus threw his hands out towards the ground on the third swing, twisting reality to give the pavement the consistency of a feathered bed. He sunk into the now soft concrete, then kicked back towards Vlad, taking advantage of the vampire being off balance to free himself. Horus didn’t bother to try and rise, instead twisting to surround himself in a bubble of sunlight. Vlad hissed and recoiled from the field.

“You can’t keep this up forever,” Vlad growled from the doorway he had taken shelter within. “Your power is limited, and you’ve burned a great deal already.”

“I have enough to burn you, vampire,” Horus said, finally rising to his feet. “Your presence has been tolerated on this world for far too long.”

Vlad chuckled, the sound echoing through the courtyard. “Tolerated? You think you are the first god to have delusions about killing me? Please. I’ve survived far worse than you. Do you have any idea how many of our numbers I’ve killed over the centuries?”

Horus peered around, trying to pinpoint the vampire’s voice. Between the acoustics here and his own spinning head, he couldn’t quite place it. “However many it is, the number will not increase today, I can promise you that.”

“Endless void, did you read The Book of Bullshit Cliches? Is this the part where I tell you ‘we’re not so different, you and I’?”

Horus’ eyes flared. “We are nothing alike!”

“Of course we aren’t. You’re a pompous, self obsessed, neckbeard with delusions of grandeur. And I? I’m a survivor.

At that moment, Vlad finished the twist to reality he had been working on. Horus screamed as the ground beneath his feet turned into molten rock, causing his shoes to burst into flames that started to lap up to his ankles. He moved as quickly as he could, before the lava could completely incinerate his feet, but as he landed Horus screamed in pain. The soles of his feet were burned past the point of sensation – the pain seemed to be coming from somewhere around his ankles. The nerves below that had been seared away. Horus didn’t dare look at the mess of charred flesh he knew his feet had become. It was all he could do to maintain his balance, and keep up the field of sunlight that was keeping Vlad at bay.

“Which Hunger are you up to, Horus? I’m sure you’re thirsty by now.” Vlad’s voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. “Probably even feeling the need for food.”

A chunk of rock lifted off the ground and streaked towards Horus’ head. It took every bit of energy he had to dodge it before it could crush his skull. “You know why I always wear gods down before I kill them?” Vlad whispered from the shadows. “It’s not just because it’s safer to wait until they’ve drained all their power. It’s because I know that last Hunger is waiting for them. The need for socialization. The need for human contact.”

Horus saw his vision waiver, and the sunlight surrounding him dimmed as he dropped to one knee. Have to do something or he’ll kill me, Horus thought, frantically searching for a plan.

“It means that when you die, not only are you terrified, but so you’re painfully lonely. Isolated. I like to imagine that when my fangs sink into your neck, you’ll welcome it. Even though it’s killing you, it’s the last bit of human contact you’ll ever get before the grave.”

“Now…” Horus grunted, struggling to keep his eyes open. “Now who’s spouting the bullshit cliches?”

That actually got a laugh out of Vlad as Horus slumped to the ground, the sunlight going out. “I started monologuing. I am becoming a cliche in my old age, aren’t I?” In an instant, Vlad was on top of Horus, flipping him over with a kick to expose his neck. “At least I don’t sparkle. I hope someone kills me if I start to sparkle.” Horus raised his hand, and Vlad batted it aside. “Please. You have no power left. Accept this death, Horus.”

Vlad brought his fangs down towards Horus’ neck.

At that moment, Horus tapped into the last bit of power he had been holding in reserved as he faked his powerlessness, and erupted in sunlight. Vlad recoiled and howled in agony as his flesh began to fleck away. It was so bright it blinded even Horus.

When his vision cleared, Vlad was still there. He looked more like a corpse than a man now, his skin burned to a blackened crisp across his body. If he’d been a normal god, he would have died from his injures already. As it was, his movements were jerky, uncoordinated.

But he was still moving. Horus raised his hand to try another twist to reality, but he had burned through all his power. Nothing happened. He was, effectively, mortal.

Vlad’s power had to be mostly drained as well, but even with no divine strength left, he was still a vampire. He slammed his hand down onto Horus’ check, and Horus felt bones crack beneath the blow. Horus fell onto his back, and Vlad leaned his, his fangs coming ever closer to Horus’ throat. “Tell me, Horus – do you welcome this?” Vlad whispered.

“I do,” said a voice behind Vlad. The vampire started to turn, but before he could make it far into the motion, his chest bulged outwards. A hand shot through it, clenching the still beating heart of the vampire.

“Why?” Vlad asked, the unholy light in his eyes fading.

“I don’t answer questions from corpses,” Bast said, and then reached around – her arm still through Vlad’s chest – and brought the heart to her lips, biting into it.

Horus watched in as Bast shuddered at the bite, her eyes rolling back in her head in apparent ecstacy. He’d seen her feed since she became this horror, but it had never been like this. After that first bite, she devoured Vlad’s heart so greedily, Horus was certain she caught some of her own fingers in those bites. “I had no idea it would taste that good,” Bast whispered, shuddering in aftershocks of enjoyment.

Vlad, of course, said nothing. His body was falling apart, turning to bones and dust. Bast reached down with a bloody hand and patted Horus’ cheek. “You did well, Horus. Do you want to heal naturally?”

Horus nodded. The pain from his burned feet was pushing through the exhaustion, but the idea of waiting for a resurrection – of letting himself die after fighting so hard to live – sickened him.

Beneath that was a terror of what would happen if he was helpless in front of Bast right now, so close to the ecstacy of eating a divine heart. He didn’t believe she would feed on him, not really…but the hand that had patted his face had been missing bits of flesh.

That terror gave him the strength he needed to crawl his way back to his doorway as Bast watched with apparent amusement until he could seal himself inside.

Then, and only then, he allowed himself to pass out.

Small Worlds Part 168

As soon as he stepped foot on the island, Vlad found himself face-to-face with Horus. “Oh, my, Bast’s pet falcon,” Vlad said with a sneer. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?” Horus opened his mouth, and Vlad waved away whatever Horus was about to say. “Nevermind, I don’t actually care. Whatever words you’re about to say, I’d prefer hearing them from your mistresses lips.”

Horus glowered as Vlad brushed past him. “You would do well not to dismiss me, monster.”

Vlad whirled to face Horus. “Ha!” he said, a single sound with all the mirth of the grave. “You have the audacity to call me a monster? You?”

“What are you implying?” Horus said through gritted teeth. “You are what you are.”

“Yes, but I am not in denial. You, on the other hand…you make yourself a slave to someone who is as much a monster as I am. For nothing. You really have become a joke, Horus. When are you getting a fedora?”

Horus blinked in confusion. “I don’t see what hats have to do with this.”

“Nevermind.” Vlad turned to walk away. “You’d think being immortal would come with a faint obligation to keep up with the times, but…”

Before Vlad could take a step, Horus’ hand lashed out and grabbed the vampire by the wrist. “I wasn’t done with you.”

Vlad looked at the hand, then back up into Horus’ eyes. “But I, Horus, am done with you. Release me.”

“No. I’ve had enough of you, vampire.

Vlad blinked in puzzlement. “We’ve barely spoken before this. Had enough of me? You barely even know me.”

Horus reached out into his nanoverse, pulling out a dagger to plunge into Vlad’s chest. Something in his eye betrayed the strike, and before the dagger could strike home, Vlad turned into a cloud of mist. Horus’ dagger passed harmlessly through the space the vampire had been occupying.

“I see,” Vlad said as he reformed, a dozen feet away and crouched on the roof of a building like a giant, grotesque bat. “You consider me a rival for Bast’s lack of affections? I assure you, you have nothing to worry about. She still loathes you slightly more than she does me.”

“Cease your prattle!” Horus shouted, reaching out to twist reality. Lightning surged forth from his fingertips, filling the air with the smell of ozone and a crack of thunder. Vlad was already removing as Horus shouted, turning into another cloud of mist. The lightning passed through the air Vlad had just vacated, arcing wildly until it found the truck of a long dead tree. The tree exploded in a deafening shower of splinters.

Vlad reformed and wasted no time with banter. He reached out to twist as well. The twist he made seemed unnatural to Horus’ eyes, something fundamentally wrong to what the vampire was doing to reality. A bolt of black energy lanced from the vampires hand. Horus dropped into a defensive posture, but before it reached him the bolt of energy split into a dozen individual streams that veered away from Horus. Each one struck the shadows of the buildings and trees that surrounded them.

The shadows took on the shapes of wolves and leapt for Horus. He kicked off the ground, propelling himself into the air with an additional twist of Air to lift himself. Impossible, Horus thought wildly as the shadow wolves took the shapes of great bats and flew into the air. And it should have been. Divine power worked by manipulating natural laws, but beings made of living shadow weren’t a manipulation, they were a straight violation of how reality worked. An impossibility.

For the first time, it occurred to Horus that Bast might have been holding back the true extent of her – and the vampire’s – powers.

No time for that. Horus thought, dismissing the doubts. He pushed himself higher into the air, and let out another bolt of lightning, arcing it to strike all the shadow creatures. He knew he was burning through power at an alarming rate, but without knowing what these creatures could do…

The lightning flashed through them, and their forms temporarily vanished before reappearing. Realization crystalized. An illusion!

Horus attempted to turn around, but he felt painfully slow. Vlad had materialized behind him, a sword in hand, and brought it down across Horus’s side. It would have been a decapitating strike if Horus hadn’t moved when he had. As it was, Horus howled in pain as ichor flowed from the wound.

Gravity reasserted itself over the two gods, sending them plummeting to the earth. Vlad struck again in a series of blows that Horus desperately attempted to parry, steel ringing out against steel.

Neither combatant managed to land a decisive blow before they impacted the ground. Horus hit hard, feeling worn pavement crack beneath him. Vlad turned into mist just before the impact, his form spreading across the ground. Horus scrambled to his feet as Vlad coalesced a few feet away.

“I forgot to say ‘nothing personal, kid.’” Vlad muttered as he eye Horus warily. “I had one chance to do that properly, and I completely blew it.”

“You’re insane,” Horus countered.

Vlad shook his head. “No. I just let the internet rot my brain sometimes. It’s good to know what kind of things my food finds interesting. Like how a farmer studies what feed his cattle prefers.” He watched as Horus struggled to stand. “I’m willing to let this go, you know. Bast will be annoyed with me for breaking one of her toys, and you’re already halfway beaten. Surrender, and I’ll consider this even.”

Horus waved his hand over the wound in his side, radiating intense heat to cauterize the wound shut. He growled in pain as he did. Vlad rolled his eyes.

“Or you could do the stupidly masculine thing and continue fighting. I hope you know I’ll have no qualms shattering your nanoverse once you’re beaten. You do realize that, don’t you? When I win, your death will be permanent.”

“Then why aren’t you doing it, vampire?” Horus asked, starting to grin. “Why the tricks, the cowardly tactics? Why not fight me head on?”

“I told you, Bast will be annoyed if I break one of her toys. I prefer her agreeable.”

“No.” Horus stood up straight. “I think you’re afraid of me.”

“You’re leaking ichor from a dozen cuts, and you had to burn yourself to stop one of the leaks.” Vlad sneered. “Why on earth would I be afraid of you?”

“Because your kind has few weaknesses. Holy relics of the Judeo-Christian god. Garlic. And, most importantly, the thing I was once the god of.” Horus opened his eyes, and they glowed with golden light. “The Sun.”

Vlad didn’t answer with words. Instead he hissed and lunged at Horus.

Horus held out his hand and, with a twist of reality, sent a beam of pure, unfiltered sunlight streaking towards the vampire. “Burn, monster.”

Vlad screamed as he continued to advance through the light, bits of his flesh flying away and turning to ash, but he didn’t suffer the instant annihilation Horus was hoping for. The vampire was injured, that much was without doubt, but it didn’t stop him from closing the distance between the two.

The artificial sunlight vanished as Horus felt the skeletal, clawed hands close around his throat.

Strange Cosmology Part 107 – Epilogue

Gunkanjima Island had once housed the greatest population density in the world. Off the coast of Nagasaki,  the island had housed coal mines for most of the early twentieth century, and had been home to thousands of people on its only sixteen acres of land.

Then the coal had run out, and the island had been abandoned.

That was why Bast had come here. There weren’t supposed to be any humans on the island.

Bast couldn’t fathom why an abandoned and collapsing coal town would become a tourist destination.

“No, please, don’t!” the man screamed, holding up his hands. He was young, and prior to this moment, had his full life ahead of him.

Emphasis on had, Bast thought as her hand slammed down and shoved through the man’s chest with the sickening crunch of bone. She pulled the arm back, letting the man slump bonelessly to the ground, the man’s beating heart still in her grasp. She raised the organ to her lips bit into it like it was a pulsating apple. “As far as last words go, I’ve heard better,” Bast said as she finished off her meal.

“You do like playing with your food,” Vlad said, stepping out from behind the wall. Blood caked his lips and chin. “When I was as young as you, I certainly did.”

Bast ignored the barb. “Was that the last of them?”

“There’s one more your pet monster is hounding right now. Then that will be the last of them. Cassandra ate herself sick, by the way. You should encourage your underlings to exercise some restraint.”

“Please, spare me the lecture,” Bast said, stepping out of the room and into the courtyard. “There weren’t supposed to be people here,” she said as she stared up at the apartment buildings that dotted the island, vines winding up the walls.

“I’ve learned that if people can manage to stand in a place for a full day without immediately dying, they’ll spend time there.” Vlad chuckled to himself, “and if they cannot, they’ll find a way to stand there. We’re a tenacious species.”

Bast shrugged. She hadn’t warmed up to Vlad in the past few days. He was a useful tool, and she was certain he felt the same way. He was just better at idle chatter. “We can’t use this island,” Bast said, shaking her head.

Vlad growled at that. “What do you mean, we can’t use it? It’s perfect. So what if we had to eat a few tourists to clear it out? God’s Blood, Bast, there’s a mine right under the town we can use on top of the facilities we can repair! And now you want to abandoned it?” Vlad kicked the body of the tourist Bast had just killed. “Look, he’s Korean, not even Japanese! No one’s going to realize where he died.”

“You really don’t understand the modern world,” Cassandra said, approaching the two gods. She was wiping her mouth as she did. Bast made a mental note to ask Cassandra if she had been a fastidious eater in her past life, too, or if that was a habit that had been picked up more recently. You certainly weren’t a clean eater a few days ago.

Vlad scowled at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“The tour guide would have logged this tour, digitally. Maybe with the government, or may just in his books. The people who he took with him would have used credit or debit cards, leaving a record of who they were with. The harbor will note the boat didn’t return. A rescue party will probably be here in twelve hours, with a plane flying overhead even sooner,” Cassandra finished and looked at Bast, who nodded approval. Cassandra flushed at the gesture.

Before Vlad could respond, there was a sickening howl as Bridges’s found his prey and snapped the poor bastard in half.

Vlad dismissed the interruption. “The more food for us. We can face down an army if need be.”

“The whole point was to not, however,” Bast said firmly. “No. This place is no good to  us.”

Vlad growled wordlessly. “Then where do you suggest we go? We need a place with existing infrastructure, easily defensible, no humans that someone might look for – do you have such a place in mind?”

“We’ll figure something out,” Bast said. “There’s other places on our list.”

“No,” Vlad said with a snarl. “We’ve taken long enough. Next time is the last time. If we have to slaughter a thousand humans to hold it, so be it. We’re never going to find the perfect place, and there is still a ticking clock.”

“If the next place is inhabited, we’ll come back here,” Bast said firmly. “It’s the closest to what we’re looking for we’ve found, and the heat should have died down by then.”

Vlad glanced up at the sun and scowled. “The heat is precisely what I’m concerned about, Bast.”

“We’re almost done,” Bast said. “What about the others? Would they want us to take needless risks this close to the end of it?”

Vlad sighed. “Very well. But,” he held up a finger, “No more attempts. The location is hardly this important. If our next location ends up being a dead end, I’m going to tell the others you’re stalling.”

It was Bast’s turn to scowl. Her position was tenuous. Such an accusation could completely undermine her, see her cut out of the process. She glances at Cassandra. See us cut out of the process, Bast amended. “I assure you, Vlad, our next stop will be our last.”

Vlad gave her a curt nod and stalked back to his nanoverse.

“How can you be certain of that?” Cassandra asked, in the quavering tones she always used when questioning Bast.

Bast shrugged as the door to Vlad’s nanoverse closed. “Because he was right. I have been stalling.”

Cassandra gaped at her. “Why?”

“Because there’s too many things unaccounted for. We still don’t know where Athena, Ishtar, and that little shit vanished to. We still don’t know who’s side half the gods are going to come down on. I was using this as a pretext to buy myself time to get answers.”

“Did it work?” Cassandra asked.

“Oh yes,” Bast said, her eyes sparkling. “I know exactly what our next move is going to be. Come, Cassandra. We have work to do.”

And what a glorious thing it will be, Bast thought as they stepped into her nanoverse.


 

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Strange Cosmology Part 73

Vlad’s doorway was situated in the lower parts of the base. Unlike most doors, which blending into their surroundings, this one looked like the entrance of the mausoleum jutting out of the floor. “Subtle,” Bast muttered.

The vampire stepped out of his nanoverse just in time to catch the word, which he apparently found amusing. “I have no control over that, and will agree it is a bit garish. Yet I’m also fond of it.” He gave Cassandra a slight nod, and she gave a half curtsy, half bow to him. He seemed to approve, before his eyes panned over to Dale. “Oh my,” he whispered, looking at him then at Bast. “What do we have here?”

“An object lesson in the dangers of crossing me.”

Vlad studied the former Admiral closer, his grin exposing his fangs. “An exquisite work of art, Bast, truly. An utter debasement of the human form, a broken mind, a shattered spirit. I must compliment you.”

“Please, Vlad, spare me your approval. I’ll need another bath. Shall we?”

If her barb bothered him, Vlad didn’t show it. Instead he opened the door to his staging area. It slid slowly over the floor, the stones grinding as they moved. “After you.”

Bast stepped in first, Cassandra and Dale in tow. She glanced around, wondering what fresh horrors she’d find here.

The immediate interior of Vlad’s staging area looked like a great cathedral, one made in deliberate mockery of Christianity. Crucifixes hung from the walls, but they were inverted and instead of Christ hanging from them, skeletons screaming in agony were nailed to their boards. There was an altar, stained with blood. The pews were half rotted and chewed by termites, and in them sat even more skeletons, kneeling in a perverse mockery of prayer. The support columns were made of naked men and women engaged in carnal acts that would have made Marquis de Sade blush.

Part of Bast found the whole thing revolting, but on another level, a part of her mind that she associated with her new Hunger, she found its operatic levels of over the top macabre styling to be strangely compelling. I wonder if this is what is waiting for me in mine. Or if it’ll be more to my tastes?

Vlad was looking at her expectantly. Bast frowned. “Where are they stars?”

“Ahh, yes.” Vlad gestured, and the walls fell away.

For a moment, Bast almost struck at him in desperate panic. They were hovering over a green field, so close she was certain they had come into his nanoverse proper. Then, after a moment, she realized that it wasn’t the case.

Instead, this field made up his entire nanoverse.

It wasn’t exactly a field, but a forest. A impossibly vast forest that stretched as far as the eyes could see, with trees that rose higher than gravity could have ever allowed. Through that immense forest stalked castles. From the distance, the castles were the size of stars, and they moved about on spider legs with lengths that would have to be measured in astronomical units. If they were actually in the nanoverse, the movement would be maddeningly slow. Since they were not, time accelerated to allow the spider castles the size of stars move over the landscape at a brisk pace. As Bast watched, two of them crawled near each other.

Each one disgorged swarming masses the size of small planets, masses that Bast realized were armies. Entire armies that could have swarmed over a world and needed to stand on top of each other’s shoulders to have room. The planetary armies clashed together, until one side returned to its castle. Months of warfare played out in a heartbeat. The other side lay in a pool of blood that could drown oceans, and crows flocked to it. “You like it?” Vlad said in a voice like a dagger through silk.

“What did they win?”

“Victory.” Vlad spoke the word as if it should be more than enough. “Each castle is commanded by one of my spawn I felt deserved the reward. If you like, you can think of it as the afterlife for my children. Perhaps you’ll gift your scion here with something similar.”

Bast glanced at Cassandra, who was watching the movements of the castles with rapt fascination. Dale was crouching behind a pew, moaning in horror.

Instead of answering, Bast glanced upwards. Because there were lights in the sky, but they were not stars. They looked like moons, though each one was flat and the size of a galaxy – which would make them look the right size from the ground, Bast supposed. Clouds crossed them intermittently, and they changed through phases. New, waxing, full, waning. One of the moons turned the deep crimson of a moon in a lunar eclipse, and when it did a great rain of boiling blood began to fall on the part of the land its light reached. “Is it their heaven or their hell?” she finally asked.

Vlad chuckled. “For them, it is heaven. For the natives…I think they would find hell a release.” He strolled over to the organ and began to play. Bast realized as he did that this was his console.

“And where are we going?” Bast asked as the music began to die down, “I still don’t know who our next ally is supposed to be.” Bast tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice. As much as she hated to admit it, this place impressed her and made her vaguely uncomfortable. The last thing she wanted was Vlad to figure that out.

“Bah. Patience, Bast, patience.” Vlad smiled at her. “Besides, we have something more important to do. You have to learn how to summon your doorway. You did still want to learn that, yes?”

Bast could only nod in agreement at that. She didn’t like relying on Vlad to ferry her around, and she certainly didn’t like entering his nanoverse of gothic castles crawling along a forlorn forest under a thousand moons.

“Excellent. Then we are here.” The door to the outside world opened with a long, low scraping sound along the stone floor.

Bast knew better by now than to expect a direct answer from Vlad, so instead of asking where they were simply turned to exit. Cassandra and Dale followed her out. Dale seemed all too eager to leave, loping out like an excited dog.

Outside was an open field. The air was temperate, and an overall lack of distinguishing features made it impossible to even be sure what continent they were on. It was daytime, which put to rest myths about what the sun would do to Vlad. *I wonder if any of those are true.* Bast assumed at least some were – her new power had to come with some drawbacks.

“So how do we do this?” she asked, wondering how long her companion was going to drag out the process.

Vlad chuckled. “Do you remember the first time you opened your doorway?”

“Of course,” Bast frowned. “I just reached out and…it opened.”

“Exactly. This will be nothing like that.” He chuckled again, and Bast resisted the urge to wipe that smug chuckle off his face.

Off to the side, Cassandra seemed to be enjoying feeling the sun and wind for the first time since her transformation. Dale huddled near her, and it was hard to be certain, but he seemed the closest to happy he had been since Bast had taken him captive.

An ugly urge welled up in her to destroy that happiness, a sick and vile need to tear away even that glimmer of joy. She pushed it aside, instead focusing her attention on Vlad. “Then what, exactly, is it like?” she snapped.

“You must pull it from the earth. Don’t worry if you can’t get it on your first try, it took me over a cent…” Vlad trailed off, his eyes widening.

As soon as he had said the word Earth, Bast had shoved her hand into the ground beneath her feet. By the time he’d gotten to the word try, she’d found it. It was like groping in brackish water for something you knew was there but remained just out of sight, but as soon as her fingers felt stone she knew what she had found.

The doorway rose from the ground, causing the earth to shudder as it did. It wasn’t a mausoleum door like Vlad’s. The door was made of sandstone, like the ones Bast remembered from the days of her youth, and was flanked by pillars of the same. Heiroglyphs adorned the door, and it pleased Bast to recognize the poem. It was an old prayer, a long forgotten prayer, one that men and women had once made to her. A call for her protection and her guidance.

She took a moment to enjoy Vlad’s stunned expression. “Never forget, I was old before your entire kingdom was founded,” she said in a voice low enough to slide through the grass like a viper. “Do not presume what was difficult for you will be more than child’s play for me.”

“Of course,” Vlad said, and this time it wasn’t fear or anger she saw in his eyes, but satisfaction. “Are you going to inspect it?”

Bast didn’t bother answering such an obvious question. The doorway swung open in a wide arc, and Bast stepped through.

It was time to see what had become of the realm where she was supreme.

Next Page

Strange Cosmology Part 72

The Army was in retreat.

Bast finished her latest meal, watching the remaining vehicles pulling away. As she did her left arm, blown off at the elbow by an unlucky blast from an anti tank round, finishing reforming. Apparently, as they had learned over the course of the fight, completing a meal was enough to restore her body to full health. Vlad didn’t have that same protection, but the US Army didn’t have weapons that could injure mist, so it hadn’t offered them much protection.

For their troubles, dozens of soldiers were dead, several of which had provided food for the duo. Bast stood over the last she’d feed upon for now. “We should move,” she said to Vlad, stretching her neck as she did. It cracked audibly. “They didn’t know what they were dealing with, but they do now. They won’t be holding back next time.”

Vlad nodded in agreement. Unspoken between them was the fact that the US Government could eventually be rendered so desperate as to attempt heavy ordinance, up to and including eventually unleashing their nuclear arsenal. As far as they knew, nothing could destroy a nanoverse besides it being drawn into another gods nanoverse. By the same token, as far as they knew no god had ever attempted to place a nanoverse into an actual nuclear reaction to see what happened.

Neither of them wanted to be the first to help test nanoverse indestructibility against nuclear annihilation.

“Even if it doesn’t go that far,” Vlad said, as if he could read Bast’s mind – a trait Bast wouldn’t put past time – “This was a small force. They’ll be back in greater numbers and higher caliber weapons. I don’t fancy resurrecting strapped a table, yes?”

Bast scowled at him, but instead of rising to the bait, headed back into the commandeered base. “I still don’t know how to enter my nanoverse, Vlad. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give us a lift?”

“Us?” Vlad said, frowning at her.

Bast nodded. “My first scion and one other. Where I go, she goes.” Seeing the speculative look on Vlad’s face, Bast whirled on him. One of her newfound powers allowed her to move, in short bursts, without motion – instantly transitioning from an action to its follow through without any apparent motion in between, like something filmed and then the intervening frames removed. Twisting reality to allow action to no longer need motion. She’d noticed in the battle that this particular gift had greatly unnerved the old vampire, and decided it was time to make a point.

From Vlad’s perspective, Bast had been standing there, and then in an instant had her hand around his throat. “I saw that look, Impaler. You are thinking that perhaps Cassandra could be used against me, a tool to keep me in line, yes?”

Vlad regarded her with a cold glare by way of answer, but Bast saw a glint of fear in his eyes.

“I want to be clear about something. Should you attempt that, it will fail. I will allow you to carry out your threat against her. But afterwards…” her eyes narrowed. “I will destroy you, unmake you so utterly that the end of the world will be a blessing. For millennia people will sing songs of your folly, and nothing else will be remembered of you than that you once dared cross me. Am I clear?” She tightened her grip to emphasize those last three words.

“As crystal,” Vlad responded, and Bast released her grasp. The vampire’s pride was wounded, but Bast didn’t think he was overly angered by the threat. She didn’t care. It was important he believed the threat.

She wouldn’t risk allowing anything to happen to Cassandra.

Back in the base, Cassandra caught her up on what had transpired with Horus. Bast was just glad to have him out of her hair for now. “And our other guest?” Cassandra asked, glancing at the vampire at the end of the room.

Bast reached out and fondly touched Cassandra’s arm. “Do not worry about him. Our interests intersect for now, and he can be trusted as long as they do.”

“And when they don’t?” Cassandra frowned with the question.

“Then we allow him to choose if we will part amicably or disagreeably.” Bast smiled as Cassandra, who relaxed somewhat.

“I don’t mean to question you, of course. I just worry. Is he really…?”

Bast nodded. “The progenitor of the vampires, as I am the progenitor of you. There is quite the story there, and one I will tell you another time. In the meantime, we’re leaving. Go to the cells and glut yourself, since I do not know when we’ll feed next. Except the Admiral – bring him to me.”

Cassandra nodded and headed off. Vlad was watching the exterior screens, waiting for some sign of the military.

It was a truism in modern warfare that an army typically perfected the best way to fight one war just in time to fight the next one. Trench warfare was finally optimized in time for the rise of highly mobile combat to become the norm. These guerilla wars were perfected in time for the battlefields to switch to urban centers and foes hiding deep within natural fortifications. And urban combat was getting fully nailed down, just in time for the return of mythological creatures.

So the next move would be to try their current tactics. Instead of risking soldiers, they were looking at precision aerial strikes from UAVs. “Vlad.” He turned to look at her. “Can you still call up storms from your nanoverse?”

“Yes,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her. “Do you have a plan?”

She nodded. “Call up an ice storm around us, as potent as you can muster. The drones they’ll be sending don’t function well in such climates. I would do so myself, but…”

“I assure you, Bast, once we are safe I’ll show you how to access your nanoverse. It’s quite…fascinating what becomes of them. But in the meantime, I go.” He gave her a mocking bow and turned.

At least there doesn’t seem to be any bad blood. Or he’s a skilled liar.

Bast was alone. She took a few deep breaths, then shifted her hands into claws. With a bestial scream she began to rake and tear the table, sending chunks of wood flying until splinters surrounded her. Once finished, she stood still for a moment, panting with exertion. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” she hissed to the air.

“Mistress?” Cassandra said in a quiet voice from the doorway. Bast made a mental note to remind her not to use such titles, but right now there was the small matter of the Admiral…

The Admiral was in bad shape. His clothes were tattered rags hanging off his body, a body that was covered in sores dug by parasitic insects. His back was covered in scourge marks, a whip that was tied to the wall of his cell. When it was placed in his hands, he felt an overwhelming compulsion to lash at himself until he passed out from the pain. His legs had been broken and re healed repeatedly until he could barely walk. The first knuckle of each finger had been removed and replaced with the stingers of a tarantula hawk wasp, so that if he tried to comfort himself with even pressing his face into his hands he would endure unimaginable agony. Bast had curved his spine painfully, giving him a hunched back. A carefully placed aneurysm had slightly impaired his cognitive abilities, just enough where he remembered how sharp his mind had once been and could feel dread at what he had become. Every moment he was fighting tears of anger and pain, fighting them because his tears now contained tiny shards of glass that tore at his eyes when he wept.

Seeing him filled her with horror and the pride of an artist admiring their magnum opus. “Dale. How are you today?” She walked over and gently, caressed the side of his face.

Every day she did this, though usually she came to him. Every day of his torment she personally had brought him food and water and provided a small dose of comfort. A caress on the face. A kiss on the forehead. A soothing balm for a single open sore. He gave her a sneer with hatred burning in his eyes, yet he pressed his face into that hand like a cat with its master’s touch. He hated her more than anything in existence, and loved her more than life itself.

Bast resisted the urge to look at Cassandra. The caress turned into a strike.

“We’re leaving, Dale. It’s not safe here anymore, not for us. And I’m going to give you a choice.” He looked up at her in spiteful adoration. “You can stay here. The army will be quite interested in what I did to you, I imagine. Maybe, in time, they’ll be able to somewhat restore your body, make you something close to what you once were. Or they might finally put you out of your misery.” She caressed his face again, right over where his face still glowed red from her blow. “Or you can come with us. I’ll not promise to end your suffering, but I’ll allow you to weep again, and remove the remaining eggs.”

“Why you want me come?” The broken English made tears begin to well in his eyes, and he shuddered at the pain they brought.

“Because I have one last thing I wish to attempt to do with you. One last horror to inflict. If you come, when it is time, you will accept this horror. Once it is done, if you survive it…you will be allowed to choose your fate. You will no longer be my toy.”

Dale, for the first time since his defeat, met her eyes. Slowly, he nodded.

Bast smiled and gave him a pat on the head. “Wonderful. Cassandra, are you fed?” She nodded. “Then let us go. We have a great deal of work to do.”

Together they headed to meet Vlad. It was time to start gathering their own allies.

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Strange Cosmology Part 62

Without their special toys stolen from her blood, and with them still being afraid to use heavier ordinance for fear of civilian casualties, dealing with the United States military had been simple. Relatively speaking. Bast stretched her shoulder, where a stray bullet had pierced her defenses. It hadn’t punctured – normal mortal arms fire wasn’t going to put down a goddess – but it had hurt.

In hindsight, she could have just waited for her unexpected visitor to make his way into the base on his own, but she hadn’t known who was coming for dinner. Thinking about it in that way made her laugh.

“Miss?” Cassandra asked at her side.

“Just a stray thought,” Bast said, shaking her head. “I need you to go see if Horus is still waiting or if he decided we are to be foes. If he is still there, let him know he has work to do. I have more important matters to attend to.” She handed Cassandra a paper with Horus’ orders scrawled on them hastily.

“I’m assuming I shouldn’t mention that last part?” Cassandra asked with a smile.

“If he’s still waiting, I suspect you could tell him I find him utterly loathsome and he would still remain, although to to be safe I suppose you shouldn’t.”

Cassandra let out a quick, amused breath. “I’ve known guys like him. This one in high school…never could take a hint. Just…” Cassandra trailed off, and then pursed her lips. “Sorry. It’s not for me to correct you.”

“Cassandra, as long as we are in private, I will never mind you drawing attention to a possible flaw in my thinking. If I wanted mindless agreement, I’d be talking to Horus.”

“Thank you. I was just going to say, be careful with him? Guys like that, if you manage to get through to them you have no interest, can turn into threats quickly.”

Bast regarded her, then nodded. “I will keep that in mind. Do you have an unsettled debt we’ll need to attend to?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. He just spread nasty rumors, nothing that warrants any kind of payback. I hadn’t even thought about it in years, until this brought it up.”

“Good.” Bast unclenched her fist. “Once you’ve delivered the message to Horus or confirmed his absence, take over monitoring the army outside. But if nothing changes there, wait until I send for you. I think I’ll want to avoid unnecessary interruptions during this.”

Cassandra gave a slight bow and headed off to attend to her duties. Bast turned and headed to attend to her guest.

She’d put him in a conference room to wait for her. There hadn’t actually been a need for him to wait – she could have spoken to him immediately – but Bast believed strongly in the benefit of establishing relative importance. Her visitor had been a god for less time than her, but in other areas was far more experienced. He might get it into his mind that he was the superior in this relationship.

After Enki, Bast had no intention of allowing any other god to believe that.

So he’d had to wait for her, just for a bit. Not too long to be insulting, only a few minutes. “My apologies for the delay,” Bast said as she swept into the conference room, her tone clearly indicating that his acceptance of that apology was preferred but not necessary. “You are not the only being to come calling.”

He gave her a gracious nod, “Of course, Lady Bast. Such things must be handled carefully, especially in such trying times. Were you surprised to see me?”

“Just Bast, if you will. Mortals worry about such titles – I find them pretentious among our kind. And yes,” Bast sat in the chair opposite her guess. “To be perfectly frank, I believed you were dead.”

“As I wished it,” he said, a careful smile on his face. “You did, after all, try to kill me once before.”

“Different times, and different circumstances. I thought you were a monster then. I’ve gained…a newfound appreciation for your condition, Vlad.”

Vlad the Impaler, prince of Wallachia and progenitor of the vampires, lead forward and gave her a fully fanged smile. “I expected you would. How long did they starve you?”

“Weeks,” Bast said, keeping her voice level. “Although I don’t share your precise needs.”

“Oh?” It was good to see him look actually surprised. “I assumed that all others were like me. If not blood, then, what does Bast hunger for?”

“Hearts,” Bast said with a smile, baring her fangs as well.

“Ah. Rather messier than mine, it seems.” Vlad nodded in appreciation. “I wonder if…”

Bast didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of asking, but curiosity got the better of her. “Go on?”

“In my time, we believed strongly in the importance of blood as the source of life, health, and…well, everything that makes us human. Your people, long ago, held the heart in the same esteem. Perhaps that influence shapes our Hunger.”

Bast shrugged slightly. “We don’t have enough information to be certain of anything. It’s an interesting theory, of course, but hardly important.”

“Of course,” Vlad said, his smile dropping to a frown in an instant. “Well, then, to business?”

“Please,” she responded, her voice sharper than she meant. She took a breath before continuing to steady it. “I do have an army camped outside.”

“And you can’t open your doorway.”

She gave him a curt nod. “I assume that’s why you arrived by foot?”

“No. I wanted to approach carefully, to avoid an accidental conflict. It took me some time to relearn how to open my doorway, however. It is still possible, but difficult.” His frown began to fade, returning to the predatory smile from before. “I could teach you.”

“Go on,” she responded. It was her turn to frown. Even before finding his nanoverse, Vlad had been a butcher. After finding it, he had been a monster even before becoming an anthropophage.

“I wish to aid you, Bast. I want to make sure you prevail, and in the process stop the Eschaton from killing off. Or, at least, make sure a stable population persists after the end of the world.”

Bast relaxed. This motive, at least, she could believe. “You want to ensure a food supply.”

“Of course I do. As badly as you want to.”

If she was being honest, Bast hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. Now that the point was raised, however, she realized it was something that had to be done. If she failed to bring her plans all the way through, she would still have her Hunger, and if all humanity did in the process…well, seeing Vlad last time had shown her wat a starving anthropophage looked like. “I’m not a fool,” she said, by way of answer.

“Then an alliance. You help us secure a stable supply of humans, one we can sustain in the event of the Eschaton’s success, and we assist you in learning what you can do now and…whatever it is you’re doing.”

“We? Us?” Bast’s frown returned.

“Oh yes,” Vlad chuckled, a low, rasping sound. “Although I still need to recruit the others, I’m certain they’ll be willing to join in.”

Bast steepled her fingers in front of her face. Anyone Vlad was certain would aid him was likely as monstrous as he was. Then again, anymore, who are you to call someone a monster? She extended a hand. “It will be a pleasure working with you.”

Vlad took the proffered extremity and shook it gamely. “Wonderful. I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership.”

“One question,” Bast asked, withdrawing her hand from that clammy grasp and resisting the urge to wipe it on her shirt, “how did you find me? My other visitor had to go to the Curators for the information.”

He gave her a slow smile. Bast took the opportunity as he chose his words to really study his face for the first time. She could see the man he had been in there, but his eyes were a tad too large, his mouth a bit too wide…it looked like his skin was stretched too tightly over his skin. Like a corpse. He really does look like a corpse. “Bast, I’ve managed to hide from the rest of you since before this nation was founded. I have eyes in every intelligence agency on the planet. Finding out what the Americans had here took time, but it was just a matter of time.”

Was it? Bast wondered, keeping her face still. Or did you want to make sure I turned into…this before you made your move? “That will come in very helpful,” is what she said, keeping her suspicions out of her voice. “I suppose you’ll be off to recruit the others?”

“Oh no, not at all. We still need to find out what, exactly you can do. Fortunately…there is an army at your doorstep, yes?”

Bast rose, a fraction of a second before Vlad could. “I want some alive.”

“Of course,” he said with a bow. “I’m sure we’ll have plenty to choose from. Shall we?”

“Oh, yes.” Bast turned and walked out of the room, Vlad right behind her.

I wonder if he trusts me as little as I trust him? Bast knew the question didn’t have an answer, not right now, but wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was he trusted her even less.

She pushed the thought aside. It didn’t matter right now. Dealing with the Army mattered, the plan mattered, Cassandra mattered…

And, first and foremost, her Hunger mattered.

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