Isabel had to shift forms to climb further into the lunar pit that housed the Staff of Ra. Crystal was navigating the narrow passage downwards through a combination of divine strength and subtle twists to reality, making handholds along the smooth mechanical passageway where ever they were needed.
Isabel found it easier to turn into a hummingbird and simply buzz near Crystal’s head.
“I wish it didn’t burn so much bloody power to shapeshift,” Crystal muttered as she shimmied down a pole. “But I don’t want to to face this thing with anything other than full strength, yeah?”
Isabel bobbed up and down to indicate agreement. She still found it frustrating she couldn’t speak, but she was making it work.
“So the Typhon,” Crystal began, her foot reaching down to the next foothold. “Do you know anything about them?”
Isabel zipped back and forth.
“Is that a no, or something else?”
Isabel did her best to make the tiny eyes of the hummingbird glare. It didn’t feel like it was particularly effective. Isabel’s current face was best suited to calmly sucking the nectar out of flowers or looking startled by a particularly aggressive dust bunny. It was not a face that was meant for frustrated glared.
Crystal sighed as she took another careful step. “Tap my head once if you know anything about the Typhon, twice if you don’t.”
Isabel was more than happy to give Crystal a couple sharp pecks atop her skull.
“Okay, right. So for the longest time, we thought the typhon was a unique creature. Something that could only arise once, from the permanent death of a bloody Titan. It’s one of the most dangerous things that can come out of a gods death, beating out dragons and Hecatoncheires and…well, pretty much anything. There’s only been two I’ve ever heard of existing. Both of them required an entire pantheon to kill them.”
Something in Isabel’s zipping must have given away her agitation, because Crystal paused in her climbing to look directly at Isabel. “This one has been starving on the moon for thousands of years, love. I’m sure we can give it a bit more run for its money than we would otherwise.”
Isabel wasn’t convinced, but couldn’t figure out how to indicate her uncertainty. Crystal grimaced and moved to resume climbing. “I have a plan at least. It’s not the most brilliant plan I’ve ever come up with, but it is a plan.” Crystal reached over to a bundle of cables to lower herself further into the pit.
Inspiration struck Isabel. She flew over to land on top of Crystal’s head, then shifted her tiny talons to have a good grip on Crystal’s hair. Crystal let out a huff of air as Isabel’s weight tripled. “What’s the plan?” Isabel squawked in the harsh voice of a parrot.
She had to flutter to another perch as Crystal nearly fell with a startled laugh. “Bloody sodding hell, love, you should have warned me before you pulled that!” Crystal said as she regained her footing. “You sound ridiculous.”
“Can talk at least,” Isabel muttered, her voice whistling with the words. It was so strange, forming the sounds entirely in the back of her throat, unable to use her lips to make any sound, but the parrot who’s body she was using had learned to speak in life, so it knew what to do even though Isabel didn’t.
Crystal needed a moment to contain her mirth. “Right, that you can. Polly wanna-”
“Peck your ears,” Isabel squaked before Crystal could finish the sentence. “Polly wanna peck your ears if you make that joke.”
Then, because new forms were hard to control, Isabel let out a reflexive “Awwk.”
Crystal had to negate her gravity to keep from falling into the pit beneath them, she was laughing so hard. Isabel cocked her head and waited patiently for Crystal’s laughter to subside.
“Sorry, love, I’m sorry,” Crystal said, wiping her eyes. “You have to see the humor in it though, right?”
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Isabel said, a perfect imitation of a human laugh that she definitely didn’t feel. “Very funny.”
Crystal got her hands back on the wall and took a deep breath. “Okay, alright, I’m calm.”
“You better be,” Isabel said, flapping a bit further down the tunnel to alight on another perch. “You’re the only one of us that knows what she’s doing. Awwk! Damnit, that’s hard to stop.”
“Awk indeed,” Crystal said with a chuckle, although she didn’t erupt into another fit of laughter. “Alright, so. The plan. The Typhon’s bigger than us, stronger than us, and meaner than us.”
“Making me feel a lot better here, Crystal,” Isabel said, watching each of Crystal’s steps carefully. “Next you’re going to tell me that the plan is to act so pathetic, it takes pity on us.” They were close to the bottom of the pit now. A gentle breeze was coming up to meet Isabel’s wings, indicating a vast, cavernous space below. The parrot’s eyes weren’t particularly good at piercing the gloom beneath them. As soon as I’m done with this conversation, I’m going to turn into a bat and check it out, Isabel thought. Or maybe an owl. Something that can handle that.
“Nope.” Crystal said with a smile. “We’re going to wear it down. It has to be weak with hunger by now. We’re going to do what we can to evade it for as long as we can, because as long as we keep it moving, keep it guessing, it’s burning energy.”
“So are we,” Isabel said.
Crystal shifted her grip to a thick, red and black cable. “True. But I think we can outlast it. It’s how I was able to beat the first Hecatoncheires I met with your brother, back in Cypher Nullity. That one was starved half to death and sodding weak. I imagine this won’t be much different.”
“Hadn’t that one been starving for hundreds of thousands of years?” Isabel asked. “We don’t know how long this one’s been up here.”
“Can’t be long,” Crystal reasoned. “Ra and Anansi would have mentioned if they’d been the ones to bring the Typhon up here. My guess is, it’s been up here since before I was even the Eschaton, yeah? Otherwise would have heard of it sooner.”
“That’s a lot to assume,” Isabel countered. The parrot’s beak turned the last word into whistle.
Crystal had to pause to laugh at the sound. Isabel, mentally sighing, alighted on the cavern wall. It was pretty funny, Isabel thought, joining in the laughter.
A third voice, deep beneath them, apparently agreed, a laugh that shook the entire tunnel. Both Crystal and Isabel froze. Before they could react, the cable Crystal had been clutching reared back to reveal it was actually a serpentine body, ending in a snake head that lashed at Crystal with its immense fangs.
Crystal let go and began to plummet into the cavern below. Isabel folded her wings and followed Crystal into the gloom below. The serpent detached itself from the wall to chase after them, and Isabel could see its tail disappeared into the darkness below, but not before attaching to some impossibly large and writhing mass.
We’re off to a great start, Isabel thought, her heart pounding with fear as darkness closed in around them.