Isabel was sore in every muscle she could feel and several that only existed when she shapeshifted. Every step was a new surge of discomfort, especially with her partially supporting Crystal’s weight. By all rights, she should be miserable.
But she couldn’t stop grinning.
It wasn’t just the kiss, though that certainly had been wonderful. It has also been getting to turn into a dinosaur. Twice, when she’d used the titanosaur shift to get Crystal down from the platform. It had been amazing to turn into one of the most powerful creatures to have ever walked the earth, a rush like nothing else she’d experienced.
And then having Crystal lean against her as they walked…that was an entirely different rush.
Isabel strongly suspected the goddess didn’t actually need the support. From what she’d said, the kiss had helped her recover a bit of energy, the protein bar and water bottle had helped some more. In Crystal’s own words she was still “bloody tired,” but the rest of her Hungers were recovered enough where she had a bit of divine power back if they encountered anything else problematic.
Yet she’d practically leapt when Isabel suggested she should take it easy on her leg.
At least those fang marks shrunk with me, Isabel thought. All the injuries had, which was a blessing in this case. The fangs of the Typhon’s snake heads were only a bit larger than normal Earth snakes, and when the holes they left were scaled down from Tyrannosaurus down to human, they were too small to even bleed all that much. Literal pinpricks were the best analogy Isabel could come up with.
And if they had been larger…Isabel shuddered at the thought, and Crystal removed her arm. “Sorry, love, I shouldn’t be leaning on you. You took a bloody beating too.”
“No, it’s fine,” Isabel said hastily. “It wasn’t that.”
Crystal nodded. “What’s wrong then?” She gave Isabel a worried look. “If I wasn’t clear enough earlier, that wasn’t just about Hungers.”
Isabel flushed and smiled. “No, no I think I got that.” Deep down, it was a relief to have the confirmed. “It’s…my injuries carry between forms.”
A wave of relief crept across Crystal’s face, only to be immediately replaced with a new concern. “You didn’t think they would?”
“No, I…” Isabel laughed. “I’m still learning how all this works, and I was basing my expectations off this book series I read as a kid, where teenagers fight aliens by turning into animals. In that, they always healed between forms, so I kind of assumed…well, I assumed my ‘given to me by the literal King of Hell powers’ would work the same as fictional ‘granted by aliens powers.’
Crystal chuckled at Isabel’s blush, although it didn’t entirely erase the worry lines on her face. “You got hurt fighting Moloch.”
“Yeah. I had a temporary rapid healing then, from what Uriel told me. My body still absorbing all the souls I’d just been given. I heard that, but it didn’t really translate in my head to ‘you are still going to get hurt like everyone else.’” Isabel grimaced. “I thought that I could just cycle through forms to stay safe.”
Crystal considered for a moment, then her eyes widened in understanding. “You charged in there because you thought you’d just get better.”
“I sound like a coward when you put it that way,” Isabel said, looking away.
Crystal stopped walking and put a hand under Isabel’s chin, gently turning her back till they were facing each other. “Isabel. I saw you turn into a Tyrannosaurus on the back of a damn Typhon. If I ever call you a coward, you have permission to straight up eat me, yeah?”
“I have to wait for that?” Isabel said, the words out of her mouth before her brain fully registered what she was about to say. She clamped her hands over her mouth and turned bright red. “I can’t believe I just said that!” she squeaked. Muffled by her hands, it came out as an incomprehensible mess, but Crystal seemed to get the general gist of what Isabel was saying.
Crystal nearly doubled over with laughter. “We’re going to have fun,” she said with a grin. “But don’t think you’re a coward, yeah?”
Isabel nodded. “How…how does this work, anyway?” Isabel asked after they resumed walking down the twisting corridors of the lunar base.
“Gonna need you to narrow that a bit,” Crystal said.
“I…don’t understand how your social hunger works. I know for me it’s just part of who I am, but…”
Crystal smiled. “Gods have relationships with each other and mortals, love. It’s absolutely something I know how to work around.” Then it was Crystal’s turn to cough and look embarrassed. “Although that’s pretty presumptuous of me, assuming you wanted-”
Isabel opened her mouth to respond, to assure Crystal she was absolutely interested in exploring that option. Before she could, they rounded a corner.
Ahead was a chamber slightly smaller than the one the Typhon had been residing in. This one was lit by several spotlights, all focused on a single object that floated in the center of the room. It was as long as Isabel was tall, a golden rod woven with images of entangled serpents and ending in an open setting that looked perfectly sized to hold a nanoverse.
The staff of Ra.
“We made it,” Crystal said. “Bloody hell, after all that, we sodding made it.”
Isabel gave her an excited grin. “So think there’s security systems we’ll have to work though?”
“Oh, absolutely,” Crystal said. “But as long as we go slow and careful, shouldn’t be a problem. After all, we have all the time in the world, yeah?”
“Unfortunately, that is not the case,” said a voice from behind them. They whirled. Standing only a few feet behind them was an Indian woman in a white lab coat, flanked by three soldiers in exotic harnesses. “Crystal. You’ve been busy.”
Crystal’s eyes narrowed. “Smashana Kali,” she said, tensing up.
The soldiers raised their guns and trained them on Crystal and Isabel.
“I want to thank you for clearing out the Typhon for us,” Kali said, her voice calm and level. “I wasn’t looking forward to that. Now. We are going to take that Staff.”
“Over my dead body,” Crystal spat.
Kali sighed. “I was afraid you were going to say that. I don’t want to kill you.” Her gaze hardened. “So do not force my hand. Step out of the way, Crystal.”
“Maybe if you had come here alone,” Crystal said, shaking her head. “The fact that you bought those three though?” she pointed to the super soldiers. “Tells me everything I need to know.”
“Very well.” Kali lowered into a fighting pose.
Isabel took a deep breath, and tried to find a form that would let her battle a goddess.