Small Worlds Part 260

Horus hung from the ceiling of an abandoned building, his arms stretched in a large Y shape, his legs chained to the back wall. They were bound too far back for him to stand or kneel. With great effort, he could support a bit of weight on his bare toes, but they’d long ago been worn down to bloody nubs that couldn’t bear it for long. He could barely breathe from how his chest was stretched, and his eyes were covered so he’d lost all sense of time. How long had he been here? Hours? Days? It couldn’t be weeks, he was certain of that. If it had been, he long ago would have succumbed to anthropophagic impulses.

No strange hungers pulled at him, yet, but it was only a matter of time. Would he become a heart-eater like Bast? A blood-drinker like Vlad? Or would he develop a stranger hunger, a need for human brains or lungs or something fowler? The thought of what he could begin to crave made him shudder, and the motion set him to groaning in agony. Every part of his body hurt. He could feel warm ichor begin to run down his arms as the scabs there were torn away from his motion. Even his fingers ached – while he was dead, Bast had shoved something thin under the nails, and he couldn’t heal enough to push them out.

As if in response to his anguish, Bast’s last words echoed in Horus’s ears yet again. “You’re going to resurrect. I promise you that. Over. And over. And over. I think I’ll feed your heart to Cassandra next time. A constant, never ending food supply. Won’t that be wonderful?” That and, as she ate his heart, her final bit of mockery. “It’s funny, in a way. In the end, you finally did get inside me.”

I was a fool. Those four words were a constant litany, alongside Bast’s mockery. What’s worse was that phrase was an incomplete torment. He’d been far worse than a fool.

Agony and the impending threat of either becoming a monster had a way of clearing the mind. For the first time in thousands of years, Horus was able to look objectively on his desire for Bast. He’d blamed her for it, but what had she done to encourage him? Been beautiful? That wasn’t something she’d done. It had just been what she as. She’d been everything he’d wanted – fierce, brave, intolerant of his arrogance, and at times kind. Yet she’d always rebuffed his advances in no uncertain terms. Still he’d pursued her, as if she was obligated to return his affections.

And where had that led him? Here. Battered, broken, and resigned to be nothing more than a constant food supply for Bast and her monsters. In a way, she had given him everything he wanted. He finally mattered to her, he was finally useful to her. She’d never ignore him again.

Or so he thought.

But time had stretched. He’d resurrected, and he certainly wasn’t in his staging area. Bast was nowhere to be found. Was she returning to feed on his heart? Or would she wait to see what kind of monster he became? She could still feed on him if he was an anthropogphage – she’d proven that with Vlad. Maybe she wanted to wait until he finally turned to begin feeding, so he’d have a sixth hunger to torment him between feeding. Maybe she’d decided to leave him here forever, until the world ended and he was consumed in solar flame or whatever apocalypse Ryan unleashed. Or perhaps…what if Ryan had succeeded? He might be the only intelligent thing left on this world, and the next few millennia would be his hungers tormenting him to madness and beyond, until finally his nanoverse underwent heat death and he died. The thought was beyond maddening. He was already near insensible with Hunger. What would it be like in a year? A century?

Horus felt tears welling in his eyes. He’d tried to escape. Oh, how he’d tried. But Bast had thought of everything. The chains dug into his skin, but they had been filed down to smoothness. Try as he might, his wrists would heal before he could sever them. A gag had been shoved into his mouth, so he couldn’t even use his teeth to try and gnaw though his own arm. He’d considered it, but the cloth was too thick for him to work his jaw enough to break it. If he strained his arms, he could lift his torso slightly – but he couldn’t do anything with it.

He could do nothing but suffer.

If I get out of this, if I’m still sane, I’ll be better. It was a laughable thought. What good was redemption if torment was the only motivation? And he’d never be allowed to be free.

In that moment, Horus was certain that Bast intended to wait until he was an anthropophage. So that even if he could get free, he’d never be anything other than a monster. No redemption. Just death everlasting at Bast’s hands.

He wondered if he’d come to enjoy the death. If Bast’s hand plunging into his chest would become something he welcomed, because it was contact with another living thing, because it would mean a temporary end to his torment. He thought of Dale, that wretched creature Bast had formed out of a once proud Admiral. Would he become like that? Eager to serve her every whim out of fear of what she could do to him? No. Horus knew he wouldn’t be that lucky. She wanted him for food, nothing more.

Horus passed out at some point. When he came to, he could hear footsteps. His heart started to pound in his chest, and he carefully listened to his Hungers. He felt the normal five, but no salivation at the thought of humans he could feed on. I’m not gone yet. A voice spoke, and Horus knew his torment wasn’t over. It belonged to Cassandra. “I don’t know what kind of state he’s in,” she said.

“Weak, we can be certain of that.” The second speaker was male, and although it sounded maddeningly familiar, Horus couldn’t place it. Was it another anthropophagic ally of Bast’s? Perhaps another one of her monsters? Maybe Cassandra had displeased Bast in some way, so Bast was punishing her by making her take another to feed on Horus.

Horus blinked to dry his eyes. No matter what, these monsters would not see him weak.

The sound of wood grinding along stone signaled the opening of a door. Horus could feel warm air streaming in. Sunlight touched his skin. The door must face either west or east, and it had to be either dawn or dusk. Something concrete he could grab onto.

“My God,” Cassandra grasped, and Horus had to fight back a chuckle. Who was she to swear by the Christian God? She only had one god now, and it was Bast. Footsteps began to sound on concrete.

“Is he alive?” the male voice asked, and again there was that maddening familiarity. Who was this? Not Vlad, that was certain.

“His heart’s beating,” Cassandra said. “I’m going to brace him.”

Hands touched his bare chest. They were soft, and Horus pushed his body against the touch, straining for human contact. He knew that, at any moment, those hands would slide through his chest and tear into him. His heart pounded with the knowledge that it would soon be liberated from his ribcage, and with excitement for having contact. He knew then he would come to crave being fed upon. It would be the only Hunger he would have filled, the need for human interaction in those brief moments of contact, and he’d come to love it. He clenched his eyes shut. They won’t see you weep. Not yet. In the months and years to come, they would. He could only fight so long. But for now he could hold on to his pride. It would be the last bit of him, something that would endure until-

There was the sound of metal wrenching. Horus slumped forward into those arms, and they wrapped around him. The warmth, the touch, was too much to bear. His hands free, Horus tried to reach for whoever was holding him, tried to wrap them in an embrace. A whimper escaped his lips, involuntary. “Shh,” a voice said, a feminine voice, and even knowing this was Cassandra Horus couldn’t make himself try to break away from her hands. He clung to her more tightly than even the cliché drowning man with the driftwood, because that drowning man was only holding on for his life. Horus was holding on for his sanity. Another wrench of metal freed his legs, and Cassandra lowered him to the ground, murmuring. “I have you.” She turned him to his back. Horus took deep, ragged breaths as another pair of hands worked the knot on his gag and blindfold.

He was laying in Cassandra’s lap, clinging to her arms, shaking. “Nabu, the water.” Something plastic was pressed to Horus’s painfully dry lips, and he suckled at it like a babe at its mother’s teat. “Slow down. You’ll make yourself sick.”

Horus heard the words, but couldn’t make himself stop. It felt so good to finally have something to wet his lips, and only Nabu – that’s where I knew the voice – pulling the bottle away stopped him. His stomach rumbled, and without prompting Nabu presented him with food. It was just bread, but it tasted sweeter than any feast Horus had ever been presented with.

Then, and only then, did he realize he was safe. Cassandra had, for whatever reason, decided to show him mercy.

This time, he didn’t try to stop the tears.

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