Strange Cosmology Part 105

Note: Today’s part contains an important retcon for an earlier scene. The earlier scene will be changed later. For more details about the retcon and why, Click Here

“Hey Ryan. We won.” Isabel frowned in thought. “Or I think we’re winning?”

From the ground, Ryan raised his hand and gave Isabel a thumbs up. “You turned into animals,” he said, not wanting to risk pushing himself into a sitting position.

“Yeah, Arthur made me a stone full of animal souls. I can channel them to shapeshift, which is great. I can also burn a soul to prolong my life.” She leaned over Ryan. “Apparently this fulfills a deal you made with him on my behalf without asking me about it?”

“Yup,” Ryan said, ignoring the accusation in her tone. “How about the others?”

Isabel sighed. “Crystal’s alive and making her way over, Artemis – oh, Artemis showed up at the last second, by the way – is over with Athena, and Anansi and Dianmu are getting back to their feet. Everyone’s as beat to hell as you are.” Isabel put her hands on her hips and glowered at Ryan. “Although none of them can be killed as easily as you. Why the hell do you go into these fights? Why would anyone?”

Ryan shook his head. “I can’t ask them to fight for me.”

“Bullshit, Ryan. You totally could. Even ignoring worry about your own life, you still should worry what happens to the world if you died.”

Ryan smiled. “I was worried about you too, Izzy.” Isabel let out a huff of air, wincing as soon as she did. Ryan sat up. “What’s wrong?”

“Asshole cracked my sternum with that strong arm. And before you say something, yes, I apparently know exactly what bone he broke. Side effect or something.” Isabel offered a hand to help him up as Crystal strode into view.

“Hey,” Ryan said to Crystal, “you doing alright?”

“Love, I found out that my old mentor was a monster that had been powering himself on human sacrifice for years. I’m beat to hell, my sodding Hungers are in full force, and we’re still in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by angry Olympians and monsters, and I’m not sure which group wants me dead more. I’m not even on the same planet as alright.” She gave Ryan and Isabel a small smile. “Though I’ll admit getting all that out there does help with it, yeah?”

“Fair,” Ryan said.

“If you need anything,” Isabel started, and Crystal shook her head.

“Thanks, love, but right now we need to finish this battle.”

“Like hell we do,” Dianmu snapped, approaching with Anansi.

Anansi nodded in agreement with Dianmu, “the Olympians can take it from here. Moloch is dealt with, they’ll be able to handle his armies.”

“And there’s no point to any of us risking even a temporary death at this point,” Dianmu continued. She pointed at Ryan and Isabel. “Especially those two, since it wouldn’t be temporary. Besides, we have something else to take care of.” Dianmu glanced behind her. “Uriel survived.”

Ryan pushed past the others to walk over to the twice fallen angel. Uriel was struggling to her feet, her eyes wide with pain.

“God Almighty,” she gasped to Ryan as he approached, “He…he made me mortal.”

Ryan’s eyes narrowed. “Glad you survived it. Besides – you kidnapped my sister. You could have gotten her killed.”

“She wasn’t in any danger, Ryan,” Uriel said. “I was there, and the deal with Moloch let me get involved directly in the fight. If not for that, I couldn’t have-”

“So what was your plan for protecting her if you got turned mortal?”

Uriel sighed. “There was no way to foresee-”

“Yeah, of course not.”

“Quit being an asswipe, Ryan,” Isabel said from behind him. “She’s hurt, you’re hurt, and she was trying to help. She knew Moloch was King, knew you’d need backup. I’m mortal so she could tell me. Why do you think I agreed to go along with it?”

Ryan frowned. “Agreed?”

“Yeah,” Isabel said, “you think she just whisked me away?”

Ryan looked at Uriel, who nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us, then?” he demanded of the angel.

“Me again,” Isabel interrupted. “Ryan, you have a terrible poker face. No way could we risk Moloch figuring out what we were up to.”

Ryan glowered at Isabel, then at Uriel, and then at the world in general. “Fine. I’m going to fulfill my debt to your boss, then.”

“You didn’t agree to choose the method of filling it,” Uriel said, carefully.

“Nope. But I saw what Moloch did to you. I can’t just undo it – I’m not him – but I definitely know a way to help. Think he’ll accept that?”

“I’ll persuade him if needs be,” Uriel said quickly.

“Great. I have you word on that?” Uriel nodded, and Ryan offered her a hand. “Come on, then. Athena is waving for us to follow, and it looks like we have a couple Olympians to escort us back to the Rest.”

Uriel took the hand, and Ryan helped her to her feet.

“Ryan, Isabel” Athena said as they approached, “I’d like you to meet Nike,” Athena gestured to a woman lounging with a massive shield and a spear nearly three times as long as Ryan was tall, “and Kratos,” she indicated the other god, a thin but muscular man leaning against a sword that was longer than he was tall.

Ryan’s eyes bulged at the two of them. “Nike and Kratos? You both are famous!”

“Come again?” Nike asked, frowning.

“You got chosen to represent a line of shoes. And Kratos, you’re in video games as the god of war.”

Kratos’ forehead furrowed. “That’s stupid. Ares is God of War. And what is a video game?”

“It’s…” Ryan stared at him, and at Nike, who looked equally perplexed. “Nevermind, it’d be hard to explain.”

“We’re famous,” Nike said, grinning at Kratos. “It may be for strange things, but we’re famous.”

“Never been famous before. Think I’ll get to replace Ares if he doesn’t resurrect?”

Athena frowned. “Why wouldn’t he resurrect?”

“Don’t know.” Kratos shrugged. “It’s been an odd few days.”

Isabel started tugging on Ryan’s sleeve. “Ryan, what is going on? Can you understand them?”

“Of course I can. Why…” Ryan replayed the last few minutes in his head and realized what he’d heard didn’t jive with what his brain had interpreted. “Holy crap, I understood Greek.”

Athena smiled. “Glossolalia. One step closer to Apotheosis.”

“But not there yet?” Ryan asked.

“Not yet.”

“Damn.”

“Enough chatter,” Kratos growled. “We have to get you all to safety, and I don’t want to miss the entire battle.”

“Neither do I,” Nike added.

Athena nodded, and they headed to the Elysian Rest.

Strange Cosmology Part 74

Bast stepped into her staging area, glad that the others were behind her so they couldn’t see how she held her breath as she did. After seeing the plain of eternal war between crawling castles of Vlad’s nanoverse, she wasn’t sure what to expect from her own.

The staging area itself was, at first glance, much like it once had been. Like many of the older deities, Bast’s staging area resembled one of the temples she’d been worshiped in, when gods were worshiped the way they should be. Sandstone pillars surrounded the edge of the platform, each one inlaid with symbols once used to praise her. A raised dais in the center served as both a command console and altar. It was disappointing and a relief to see how similar it was, right up until she started noticing the differences.

Set into the pillars were inserts that housed upright sarcophagi. Each one was open, the mummified body within laying in rest with their hands crossed over their chests. It meant that, to stand at the command console, you would be standing in the center of the stares of dozens of empty eye sockets. The lids to the sarcophagi were set into the pillars higher up, on runners, so they could be closed if she so wished. The central dais, meanwhile, was lined with canopic jars. She could hear a faint beating coming from within them, the gentle lub-dub, lub-dub she’d become so used to.

Something told her she couldn’t eat their contents. It was just a sound, but one that filled the staging area the way a good home cooked meal would fill a house with wonderfully comforting and enticing scents.

“Vlad, wait outside please. Dale too. I’m going to be Hungry until I adjust.” Vlad bowed and did not enter, Dale grunted and slunk away from the vampire, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the vampire’s face. Even in his current state, Bast thought the Admiral resented being referred to as a work of art.

She closed the door, leaving her and Cassandra on the platform.

“I don’t mean to question, but what if Vlad decides to kill Dale?”

“He won’t have time,” Bast said, walking over to the dais and twisting the stone, dropping them into her realspace. For a moment, she worried about the risks it would pose to a mortal to enter into her nanoverse like this…but Cassandra was hardly mortal anymore. “We’re fully in my nanoverse now. Days can past in a second outside.”

Cassandra nodded, then her eyes brightened. “You weren’t worried about our Hunger at all, were you? You wanted us to have a chance to converse.”

Bast smiled and walked over to give Cassandra a pat on the shoulder. “Yes, Cassandra, exactly that. There’s much you don’t understand still.”

Cassandra smiled, pleased with herself for figuring it out. “In that case…” Cassandra’s eyes wandered upwards towards the sky, “…mother of God.”

Bast had so far managed to avoid looking outside her staging area. With Cassandra’s gaze, she couldn’t help herself.  Like the staging area, at first glance, it appeared as it always had, a field of stars and galaxies lazily drifting through an endless void.

But they were different. Most obviously, they were closer together, stuck together more tightly than she’d ever seen them. The stars were all red, like her nanoverse was getting close to needing a Crunch, which was impossible since she had done one just before joining with Enki. More importantly were the red tendrils that stretched from star to star, connecting them like a massive network . The stars twinkled along this network, which should have been impossible without an atmosphere. She frowned as she looked more closely at the stars.

No, Bast thought, as realization began to slowly dawn on her. Not twinkling. Beating.

The *lub-dub* from the canopic jars grew louder.

The stars had become hearts, hearts of blood and flame, and they were passing material between each other in a massive circulatory system stretched across the center of her nanoverse. With each pulse, the stars were being drawn inexorably together.

Her nanoverse, the way it had been, was dying, and she found herself wondering if Vlad had found his nanoverse drowning in blood when he first became what he was.

“Why isn’t it a plain, like Vlad’s?” Cassandra asked, frowning.

“As I said, there’s much you don’t understand. Most nanoverses look more like the real universe. It appears mine is being remade into something like Vlad’s.”

“Could you stop it?”

Bast let out a weary sigh as she stared at the network. “Perhaps. I am nigh-omnipotent here. I’ll try before we leave. But I doubt I’ll have any success. Much as my omnipotence cannot counteract the decay of entropy, I think this process in inevitable. This is what happens when a goddess starves.”

“I…” Cassandra stopped herself with a laugh. “I was going to say that makes sense, but I’m so far outside any rational frame of reference sense is a concept I think I abandoned. But I understand, I think.”

Bast gave her a warm smile as she began to steer her staging area closer to one of the star-hearts. As she got closer, she could see a web of veins and arteries branching off the pulsing organ, eventually branching into capillaries that reached to the nearby worlds. One such world was in the habitable zone of this particular heart, and Bast brought them into the atmosphere.

The capillaries wove themselves into and through the ground, spreading through the crust and down through the core. Near where they met the ground, humanoid entities crawled out. They were about a eight feet tall, or would be if they stood upright, and had sharp teeth and pointed ears. Their head was flat, allowing no room for eyes or a brain. Their skin was a deep crimson, and they dripped blood as they moved.

Cassandra shuddered at the sight. They were running across the world, grasping at any living thing they could find and shoving into into their yawning mouths. Bast saw a couple that had gorged themselves so much that they couldn’t move, their bellies distended to near bursting, and still they reached vainly for any life that they could sense.

Standing between the blood fiends and the living people were soldiers. They wore white and gold, and wielded khopeshes and assault rifles. Some had shields fitted with crystals. As Bast watched, a pair of them cut at the hamstrings of one of the blood fiends, bringing it to the ground so they could hack at it – only for another one to slide forward and grab them, one in each hand, and shove them into its mouth in a single swallow.

The soldiers were failing. For every one of the blood fiends they felled, a dozen more crept out of the world capillary, and the soldiers did not have infinite numbers.

“It’s awful,” Cassandra whispered, but Bast heard in her voice the same feeling that had wormed its way into her breast.

True, it was awful to watch, but part of Bast thrilled at it, delighted in it. She wanted to disembark and join in the battle, not to aid the soldiers but to join in the feast, shoving hearts into her mouth with the same abandon the blood fiends were using to devour them whole. The sight had Bast literally quivering with anticipation, and she involuntarily licked her lips.

“Can you do anything to help them?” Cassandra asked, and here the second meaning was clear. If Bast couldn’t help them, why shouldn’t they go down and join and feast and feast and feast and-

Bast put a hand on the woman’s shoulder, drawing Cassandra’s gaze to her. The woman’s pupils were dilated to their fullest extent, her breathing coming in harsh and ragged gasps. “When we leave, I can grant them a quick death. I’ll collapse the nanoverse and allow it repair normally. Then it’ll be more like Vlad’s, I think. Before I can, however, I need to explain things to you. Can you hold it together.
Cassandra nodded at the same time a disappointed growl escaped from her throat. Bast looked down one more time. People on the ground could see them and they began to reach up to the floating ship, begging to be freed from this nightmare. Their screams were silent, but Bast could feel them echo in her soul.

With a gesture, she granted their wish, stripping away the planet’s atmosphere. It was a matter of minutes before they had all suffocated. “You’re free now,” she whispered, before heading back to the console to pilot them away from this world.

“Now, Cassandra. Sit. There’s much you need to understand for the coming days, and I brought you here so I would have time to teach you.”

Cassandra took another hitching breath and nodded, her pupils beginning to return to her normal size.

“Good. Now listen carefully…”

It took two days in Bast’s nanoverse, but at the end, she was convinced that she had prepared Cassandra as much as was possible.

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