Small Worlds part 211

No one spoke on the walk out of Officium Mundi. Ryan couldn’t say what was going through Nabu and Dianmu’s heads, but for his part, it was a mixture of lingering rage at the Curators and shock at Nabu’s about-face. He didn’t know what to say to the man – if that was even the right word.

Thankfully, once they were back in his nanoverse, Dianmu took over the silence. “What was that glowing orb you were given?” she asked.

Nabu gave her a small smile. “It’s all the power I had before, condensed. I can access it to a point, but I’m far more limited now – and it’s a finite resource. Once it’s gone, so am I.”

“Thank you,” Ryan said, finally finding the words. “I…I didn’t expect that. Or anything like that.” Ryan motioned to raise some chairs from the staging area floor for the three of them. “Thank you,” Ryan repeated, knowing how weak it sounded.

“I’ve been considering it for a few hundred thousand years,” Nabu said. “We – or I supposed when talking about the curators I should say ‘they’, now – lost our way at some point. I knew that protocol allowed for rules to change when the Council was in recess. When I realized that’s exactly what they were doing, it was the final straw.”

“And you didn’t warn us?” Ryan asked, careful to keep any accusation out of his voice. Nabu had just given up true immortality, beyond what even gods had, for their sake. The last thing he wanted to do was act like an asshole. Am I even still angry at him anymore? Ryan wondered.

Nabu shook his head. “I still had hope that I was wrong. I filled out the form to make sure I was ready, but I still held hope.” Nabu’s lips curled for a moment into a bitter grimace. “It was a foolish hope.”

No, I’m not, Ryan realized. Thirty years of being followed by Nabu had done damage to Ryan’s life, sure. It had cost him any chance at anything close to normality, and now Ryan had a terrible burden looming over him. But…but the later part hadn’t been Nabu’s fault. Nabu did nothing to guide Ryan to the nanoverse. And having a normal life wouldn’t have left Ryan any better prepared for what he was dealing with now.

“Well,” Ryan said, “foolish hope is pretty much our entire stock and trade, so you’ll fit right in.” He gave Nabu a lopsided grin.

Dianmu nodded and smiled. “I don’t think, since I’ve started working with Ryan, I’ve experienced any hope that wasn’t foolish. It’s worked out in the end each time in the end, though.”

“Thank you,” Nabu said, settling into one of the chairs. It was still weird for Ryan to see Nabu doing anything even remotely normal, like sit in a chair, or have his tie loose, or look tired. “Tell me. Is hunger a sharp pain in your stomach, followed by a rumbling sensation?”

Ryan couldn’t help but laugh. “Yeah, that sounds like it. I’ve got some emergency food for if my Hungers flare up – what sounds good to you.”

“I have no idea,” Nabu admitted. “I’ve never eaten anything before.”

“Never?” Ryan asked, freezing and looking at Nabu with incredulous eyes. “I mean…you have a cafeteria in Officium Mundi, right?”

“For visiting gods,” Nabu said, raising one hand to rub at his stomach. “The last thing we want is hungry gods running around Officium Mundi. You all can cause all sort of problems when you get up in your needs.”

“He’s not wrong,” Dianmu said.

Ryan nodded. “How about an Italian sub, then?”

“I literally have nothing to compare it to, so whatever you suggest,” Nabu said. “I do remember you enjoying those though.”

Ryan got up and went over to the console. Moments later, a refrigerator was rising out of the floor. “Go ahead.”

Nabu grabbed the sandwich and took a bite. His eyes widened. “Hmm. It seems there are unexpected benefits to mortality. Also, my tongue seems to be reporting pain.”

Ryan chuckled. “Peppers.”

“It’s an interesting sensation,” Nabu said. Dianmu motioned Ryan over while Nabu finished his sandwich.

“As amusing as it might be to watch Nabu learn about mortal life, we do have an objective here,” she said, her voice low.

“I haven’t forgotten,” Ryan said, shaking his head. “Was thinking about dropping into my nanoverse fully to give us plenty of time.”

“I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Dianmu said. “He’s not human, and his power source isn’t a nanoverse itself. We don’t know what it would do to him. He might not be able to exist in there – and even if he is, he just lost countless eons of power. Then you want him to give up what little he has left?”

Ryan pursed his lips. “Damn. Didn’t even think about that. But yeah, good catch. Although we probably should figure that out – otherwise we’ll have to know at the worst possible time.”

Dianmu laughed, a light and unamused sound. “I do wish I could tell you that was inaccurate.”

Ryan glanced back at Nabu, who had finished the sandwich in a horrifyingly short amount of time. “Hey Nabu, if we needed to drop into my nanoverse, would that…do anything to you?”

Nabu considered for a moment. “It probably wouldn’t be immediately harmful. Probably. I’d rather not experiment right now.”

Ryan glanced at Dianmu, who gave him the politest ‘I-told-you-so” look Ryan had ever received. “Fair enough. In that case, I hate to rush things, but…”

“But time is running short. You need to know the rules, and you need to know before the sun explodes next week.”

Ryan froze at Nabu’s words. “Next week? Next week?” Ryan shouted, his voice cracking. The old anxiety, so long absent, rose up in his throat like an unwelcome house-guest and threatened to strangle him.

Nabu nodded slowly. “Take a deep breath, Ryan. There’s things we can do to postpone, and I’m hoping that – once you know the rules – you’ll be able to figure out a loophole I’ve overlooked.”

Ryan walked over to one of the chairs and slowly slid into it, taking the deep breath that Nabu recommended. “Alright. Tell me everything.”

Nabu leaned forward and prepared to exactly that.

Small Worlds Part 210

Hermes finally regained consciousness when they had him settled in an empty hotel room. Arachne was standing guard at the door, in case anyone was assigned this room or housekeeping decided to come by and make sure all was well with the room.

Athena had never seen Hermes this badly beaten before. Every line of his face was creased with wounds, every open spot she could see was either red with blood or blue and black with bruises. It was a miracle he hadn’t died. After we find out everything we need to know, I’ll ask him if he wants that particular mercy. Some gods preferred the quicker healing offered by dying and resurrecting, but others despised the surge of hungers – especially with the risk of becoming an Anthropophage. She didn’t know Hermes’ preference, and didn’t want to assume.

The first sign she had that he was alert and alive was a wet cough, followed by a low moan of agony. Athena rushed over to him. “Hermes. It’s okay. You’re safe.”

Hermes gave her a weak smile. Every word came out as though it was a boulder he had to push up sisyphus’ hill, and after every word he let out a rattling breath of the boulder rolling back down. “Athena…I didn’t expect to ever hear you say that.”

Athena flushed at the memory. Hermes had been the one to deliver the news of her exile, and she’d taken out her anger and frustration on the messenger, swearing that if she ever saw him again and he didn’t have a message to lift the exile, she’d slit his throat. “I didn’t respond in the most mature fashion,” she she admitted. “I’m sorry.”

“Please,” Hermes said, gasping out the words, “I’m a…messenger god. You think that was…anything? At least you…kept it to threats.”

The breaths in were taking on a wet, gurgling sound that Athena disliked. “I think you punctured a long,” Anansi said from behind Athena, his eyes locked on Hermes’ fractured ribcage.  “You probably don’t have much longer left.”

Hermes nodded weakly. “Burn my corpse…when I expire. Slit my throat…and burn it if I don’t. “

“Of course,’ Athena said, relieved he’d answered that before anything else. “I’ll hold your nanoverse until you resurrect.”

“Good.” Hermes coughed, a phlegmatic sound, and had to pause his attempts to speak with another groan of pain. Athena winced in sympathy.

“I’ll be as brief as I can,” Hermes said. “Poseidon holed up in an old submerged fortress of his in the Adriatic. I believe you spent some time there, Athena?”

There was only one place Athena could think of that matched that description, and she nodded. She and Poseidon had planned a large chunk of the naval portion of the Punic Wars from that base, and even after all these centuries, she could picture its twisting coral passageways perfectly.

“We arrived. Artemis and those that remained of the Twelve, as well as Dionysus and Heracles. She even granted Hera a pardon if she would aid us. We didn’t know what to expect from Poseidon, but we were not too worried. His betrayal had just happened, and we’d been in the Elysian Rest for centuries. He couldn’t have built up that much.”

Hermes story was interrupted here with a bitter smile, and another round of wracking coughs and pained gasps. Athena helped him drink some water to settle his throat.

“We were very mistaken,” Hermes said, with a nod of thanks for the drink. “He must have been planning this before the retreat even happened. A hundred nereids, armed with modern harpoon guns and riding hippocampi or sharks. Two dozen ichthyocentaurs.  Thirteen of his Cyclops awaiting us inside – and on top of all that, Charybdis, Scylla, and the Kraken, all overseen by Triton. We were hopelessly outmatched, and all but I were cut off from their doorways.”

Athena paled. Her earlier desire to save her fellows remained strong, but against these odds it seemed impossible. Hermes saw Athena’s expression and gave her a weak smile. “We managed to slay the Charybdis, and we’ve done a good job reducing the numbers for the others. But we’re losing, and Poseidon hasn’t even entered the fray yet. When I left, Artemis had encased the group in a dome. It should…hold him off…until help…”

His lips were still moving, and Athena leaned down to try and catch what the whispered phrases were. He was just repeating the message from the beginning again, like a broken recorder, and with each word the motions of his lips grew slower until they stopped moving.

“You still want to help him?” Arachne said as Athena stood up.

“Absolutely. I’ll understand if either of you would prefer to wait for the others.”

Anansi shook his head, and Arachne grinned fiercely. “Oh absolutely not,” she said.  “I just wanted to make sure we were still going to do this.”

Now that she didn’t have to worry about injuring him further, Athena had no problems scooping up Hermes body. “Absolutely.” She wove bands of aether and air around Hermes corpse, then phased him through the window and let his body float up into the air. With a twist of her fingers, she lit him on fire.

She didn’t look away until the floating body had been burned to cinder.

“Come on,” she said. “I’ll tell you where we’re going. Don’t try to open your doorways in the citadel itself – the cyclops will tear you apart.”

Then, for the second time in as many weeks, Athena lead a few gods to rescue the entirety of Olympus from a madman.

Small Worlds Part 209

In the chaos that erupted after Hermes arrival, Athena and the others used the ability to phase to exit the cafe before it completely erupted into a full blow riot. Three of the people at the cafe suddenly vanishing into thin air did very little to quell the panic, and the cafe emptied around and through them in a cloud of panicked screams.

“Is that who I think it is?” Arachne asked as Athena and Anansi picked up Hermes, Athena taking his shoulders and Anansi taking him by the knees.

“If you think it is Hermes, you are correct,” Athena said with a grunt. It was that Hermes was heavy, it was just awkward to carry him without grabbing onto any obvious existing injuries. Anansi seemed to be having a similar struggle carrying the unconscious messenger god. We can’t risk hurting him worse, Athena reminded herself.  If Artemis had sent him even through there was so much danger, the fight must be dire indeed.

“And he said he was battling…Poseidon?” Arachne’s eyes were wide as she lead them down the street.

Athena grunted again, and shifted her weight as she realized the shoulder she’d been using to support Hermes was fractured in no less than three places. A soft moan escaped from the unconscious god’s lips.  “A few centuries ago, the Olympians retreated to a paradise they’d built in the heart of Tartarus. Most of them, at least. Hades was trapped in his realm, and I was exiled.” She could see Arachne bite back a sharp comment at Athena’s exile, and appreciated the woman’s restraint. “A little over a week ago, we went into Tartarus to hunt down Moloch. Don’t worry about who he is, it’s not relevant right now.”

Arachne pursed her lips but let that go.

“Poseidon cut some kind of deal with Moloch. Artemis was dealing with it from within the Olympians retreat. He killed Zeus and Ares, possibly others. After Moloch was defeated, Poseidon fled with a few loyalists, and Artemis is in charge of the Olympians until Zeus resurrects.”

“Artemis?” Arachne asked, her forehead furrowing. “You mean your old friend Artemis, the hunter goddess that skulked about and told most people to leave her alone?”

“Yes,” Athena said. They were approaching a hotel, and phased straight through the door to the stairwell. There would be an empty room that could serve as a makeshift infirmary until Hermes woke up, or one of them was able to move their doorway.

“Things must be dire then,” Arachne murmured.

Athena didn’t bother trying to defend her old friend. Artemis wouldn’t care what Arachne thought of her – in fact, she’d probably be livid at Athena for having brought her out – and there was no benefit in contradicting the truth. Artemis was many things, but leadership was not a role anyone had expected from her. What you don’t understand is that Artemis gives any task she has everything she can. She’ll become adept at it because she has to. 

All of that Athena kept to herself, responding only with a grunt.

“Those are shark bites,” Anansi said, almost contemplatively as they climbed the stairs.

“It makes sense,” Athena said. “Poseidon is lord of the sea. It would be in his best interest if he’s angered all of Olympus to hide beneath the waves.”

“And makes engaging him infinitely more dangerous,” Anansi added.

Athena didn’t have an answer to that. Just like tricksters found illusions easier, storm gods could command the winds and lightning with more ease, and war gods were stronger and faster, sea gods could command any manipulation regarding water – or any fluid – as naturally as mortals found breathing. Fighting Poseidon in the ocean wasn’t as dangerous as fighting Enki or Moloch had been, but it was the best analogy for those things before Athena had learned dual nanoverses or millions of years of stored power were possible.

“We’ll be able to help,” Athena said. “By the time we show up, everyone will be deep in their Hungers, including Poseidon. We’ll be fresh and ready.”

“If we help,” Arachne said. Athena nearly lost her patience and barked out an argument – right before she saw Anansi nodding. That put a pause to her tongue.

“We have bigger things concerning us, Athena,” Anansi said softly. “We don’t know how long we have, and we don’t know how great the dangers could be. Wouldn’t it be wiser to conserve our strength until at least the others returned?”

Athena pursed her lips at the subtle barb Anansi had placed in the word “wiser.” Athena had once been regarded as the wisest of all Olympians, but the past few centuries Athena had felt like that wisdom was being eroded under a constant barrage of…well, of life. “No,” Athena said, her voice firm. “You two can do as you will. I won’t pretend it’s smart. I won’t pretend it’s wise. I certainly will not pretend it’s even a good idea. But I will not stand by while Poseidon reaches victory. I won’t lie and claim that I’m doing this because, if Poseidon wins, he could pose a real threat to us during the last days. I believe it, but that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because my gut tells me it is the right thing to do.”

Anansi nodded. “Then I will go with you.” Simple agreement, and if they hadn’t been carrying Hermes unconscious body up a flight of stairs, Athena would have hugged him.

“I wouldn’t miss it, in that case,” Arachne said with a small smile. “The only Olympian you ever let me meet was Artemis. I think it’d make a good impression if I meet them for the first time by coming to the rescue.”

At that moment, Athena could have hugged her former pupil too.

Small Worlds Part 208

Arachne sat across from Athena, tapping her fingers on the table in rapid, staccato bursts. Her lips were as thin as her eyes. “You honestly believe this?” she asked.

Athena nodded. After the battle, Arachne had a dozen questions, and they’d needed a place to talk. Athena would no sooner enter Arachne’s nanoverse than Arachne would enter hers, and Anansi had been the one to suggest they talk somewhere comparatively neutral. After discarding various divine realms for a variety of reasons, they had settled on a small cafe that overlooked the Mediterranean. Arachne had never had coffee, and Anansi had been eager to introduce her to this particular wonder of the modern world.

The amount of cream and sugar she’d used to make it palatable had horrified Athena, but she’d kept it to herself. Given that this was the first thing she’d had since returning to the core world, Athena was hardly going to judge.

“The sun’s been getting hotter,” Athena said in response to Arachne’s questions. “I think it’s pretty irrefutable at this point. I don’t know how long we have.”

“So, you brought me back to the core just so you could tell me the world was going to die?” Arachne sighed through clenched teeth, her fingers still beating out a frustrated rhythm. After the fight, Arachne had been more tolerant of Athena, though she still regarded her former mentor with a furious wariness.

“No. The impending destruction made me-”

Arachne cut her off with a frustrated wave of her hand. “Athena, I’m not even close to forgiving you, but this thing – if you’re telling the truth about it, and I see no advantage to you lying – is bigger than even what happened between us. You don’t need to explain yourself or apologize again every time I snap, so long as you understand it’ll be some time before I can stop snapping. Until then, just ignore me when I comment on it. Agreed?”

Athena considered for a moment, and then nodded. “As you wish,” she said. In truth it was a relief.

Especially given how frightening Arachne was to Athena. Athena and Anansi had beaten her to the cafe under the pretense of wanting to make sure that there would be no threat lying in wait, but it had given them a much-needed chance to discuss the fight. Once she’d convinced Anansi that she hadn’t thrown the fight deliberately – which had not been an easy task – Anansi had come up with a chilling hypothesis.

Arachne had been able to resist Athena’s power within Athena’s nanoverse, where Athena was supposed to be omnipotent. Somehow, the trillions of years had worked Arachne partially into the fabric of Athena’s reality. Athena’s power, directed against Arachne, would barely impact her, while Arachne’s power, directed against Athena, was able to cut through her defenses like they weren’t there.

In short, if Athena were to ever face Arachne in a battle to the death, Arachne would almost certainly triumph. Anansi had called Arachne Athena’s personal kryptonite, a pop culture reference that Athena had understood and dreaded.

The threat she posed to Athena directly was the primary motivation behind telling Arachne everything. If she understood, she’d hopefully agree to at least leave Athena be until after this was over.

“Glad we have that established,” Arachne said, taking another sip of her coffee. “So what are you all doing to prevent it?”

“We can’t,” Athena said, shaking her head. “At least, probably not. Ryan and Dianmu are in Officum Mundi right now, trying to get information out of the Curators-”

“The what?” Arachne asked.

“The Curators,” Athena repeated, fighting back again an urge to apologize, an urge to make amends for thousands of years of life stolen from Arachne. Athena had to remind herself that Arachne’s crime had been horrible, that she’d deserved punishment for what she had done. It helped her fight back the impulse. “A group of celestial beings that watch over knowledge and keep track of it. No one really knows what their true purpose is, but if anyone has the answer, they do.”

Arachne nodded and motioned for Athena to continue.

“So, if the Curators have a way to prevent it, we will. If the Curators do not…then we need to find a way to end the world without killing every person on it.”

“Seems a bit of a difficult task,” Arachne said. “How can I help?”

Athena gaped at her. “You want to help me?”

“Oh, stars of Olympus, no!” Arachne said with a bitter laugh. “But I just got the world back. I refuse to sit idly by while it burns around us.”

Athena glanced at Anansi, who had been silently observing Athena throughout the conversation. “We thank you for your aid,” Anansi said with a warm smile. “Right now, however? Athena and I are on standby. Another route is being sought by Crystal and Isabel, one that will hopefully yield other results.”

That was where they had drawn the line. Trusting Arachne to know about the end of the world was one thing. Trusting her with the knowledge of the Staff of Ra had been a risk too great. It would have changed Arachne from being a threat to Athena personally into a threat to the entire endeavor.

“I see.” Arachne chewed her lip in thought, a gesture that was so familiar to Athena it was almost like looking through a portal into another time, and a wave of nostalgia and regret struck her. “In that case, I suggest-”

Arachne’s suggestion was lost in a sudden eruption of screams from the cafe. The three gods stood and whirled, each of them preparing to face this new threat.

A bloody, badly beaten man had stepped out of the bathroom. His left arm was missing, and he only was not fountaining blood across the floor because someone had cauterized the wound. His body was covered in scratches and the unmistakable patterns of shark bites. He had a bandage wrapped around his head, covering one eye, and was so badly beaten that it took Athena a moment to recognize him.

“Athena!” he said brightly. “Hello. Poseidon is a right bastard. We’re in a bit of trouble at the moment.”

And then, his message delivered, Hermes collapsed into unconsciousness.

Small Worlds Part 207

Crystal blinked as her eyes clear and the robotic voice said “cleansing complete. Radiation neutralized.”

A lump formed in Crystal’s throat. Isabel… She’d believed this entire time that the security protocol to deal with the Typhon would be something rooted in divine powers, but the Lemurians who built this facility weren’t gods. They were beings of science and had found a scientific solution to the problem. One that killed every living creature within the chamber.

The dome retracted and Crystal wiped the tears burning on the edge of her vision. I never should have brought her here, she thought with a fierce anger. Crystal knew that was foolish – she would have died against the Typhon without Isabel’s help – but the fact remained that if Isabel had remained behind, she’d be alive.

Crystal forced herself to her feet again. She just wanted to sleep, sleep for years, but she wouldn’t let Isabel have died for nothing. I’m sorry, she thought, looking over the edge. If the staff of Ra didn’t hold the key to saving the world, then…then she’d deal with that later. It has to help, Crystal thought, knowing how irrational that conviction was. But she didn’t feel she had anything else to hold onto.

The Typhon’s body was unmoving, the tendrils that connected its head and snakes to its body laying discarded on the ground. Tumors had formed at the edges of the wounds. The radiation must have caused it to be unable to regrow. It was an effective method of control, Crystal had to admit. Irradiate everything to hell with neutrinos. The beam must have blasted out the far side of the moon, given how insubstantial the moon was, but at close proximity they would be dense enough to have killed pretty much everything not protected by one of those domes.

The Tyrannosaurus that had been Isabel was…Crystal’s forehead furrowed. Where the bloody hell is it? 

As if in response to the question, a lump began to form on the floor, a lump that grew rapidly until it was a young woman, looking tired and bruised, but very much alive. “Did we win?” Isabel shouted up to Crystal.

“Isabel?” Crystal asked, her jaw dropping. “How…what…how are you not dead?”

Isabel flashed Crystal a grin. “Water bear! I heard your warning and shifted to it. Expelled most of the poison too, although I cycled back through the woodrat to make sure.”

Crystal started to laugh, feeling the tears forming again. “You scared the bloody piss out of me!” she shouted.

“I thought those snakes got you!” Isabel countered. “Fair’s fair, right?”

Crystal could only laugh, right up until the shaking caused her arm to give her another reminder how very broken it was. It was hard to see through the tears, but it looked like Isabel was grimacing.

“How badly are you – you know, screw the shouting,” Isabel said from the bottom of the pit. “Can I get a lift up?”

“I couldn’t lift a piece of paper up here, love,” Crystal countered. “I’m completely drained.”

Isabel nodded and turned into a hummingbird, flitting her way up to the platform. Crystal watched the tiny jewel of a bird flutter up and hover in the air before shifting back to Isabel. “Damn…what happened?” She motioned to Crystal’s arm.

Crystal shrugged with only her good shoulder. “I kind of ran out of power while going forty sliding along the ground. Real physics weren’t particularly kind to me when the power dropped.”

Isabel winced in sympathy. “Stay there, let’s get you a sling.” She pulled off her shirt.

Crystal’s Hungers were in full effect, and she had to fight the urge to stare as Isabel ripped a strip off the bottom of the shirt before replacing what remained of the garment. “We’re going to need to move your arm back up,” Isabel said, flushing faintly as she noticed Crystal’s gaze. “It’s going to hurt.”

“Right,” Crystal said, getting her focus back on the task at hand. “Can you help with that?”

Isabel nodded and stepped forward, looping the strip of cloth over Crystal’s neck and shoulder. “You’re going to need to get it properly set when we get back to Earth. If it heals badly…” Isabel looked up and met her gaze. It seemed she was as aware of how close they were as Crystal was. “Well, you’ll probably be fine. Divine everything, right?’

Crystal smiled. “Too bloody right, love. Let’s get this over with?”

Isabel nodded and gently placed her fingers on Crystal’s injured hand. “Clench your good first. It’ll help.”

The blinding pain of having her arm lifted to be placed in the sling completely killed whatever mood had been building. Crystal threw her head back to scream at the agony, and following Isabel’s advice caused her hand to clench so hard it dug deep furrows of blood in her palm. “Sorry, sorry,” Isabel said repeatedly, pushing Crystal’s arm into the sling and then giving it a careful tug to make sure it was straight. “Sorry,” she said again as Crystal’s pain levels went from unbearable and wound down to agonizing.

“It’s alright,” Crystal panted. Sweat beaded her forehead, and she felt like she was about to pass out. Against everything her body wanted to do, she forced herself to smile. “Just need some food, some drink, some sleep, and some fun. Then it’ll heal right up.”

Isabel nodded and gave Crystal a mirror of her reassuring smile. “Absolutely.” She pointed down towards the bottom corner of the room. “We should get down there. I saw a doorway when I was fighting the Typhon. It’s the only other door I’ve seen in here, so it has to lead to the staff of Ra.”

“Right,” Crystal said, tearing her eyes off Isabel to follow the direction of her point. “Any idea how to get down there without me blacking out? I can’t lower myself, and I don’t look forward to riding you with a broken arm.”

Isabel flushed at the choice of words and coughed. “I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve got a T-Rex, so I’m guessing I have some kind of sauropod. I can get my head up to the bottom of the platform, you step on, I lower you down.”

Crystal nodded. “That makes sense. But first?”

Isabel looked at her, and Crystal reached out to take Isabel’s hand. “Last time things were desperate, and I didn’t ask. But I’m Hungry, and if anything’s waiting, I need any kind of strength, and beyond that I’d bloody love to kiss-”

Before she could finish the sentence, Isabel leaned forward, carefully avoiding Crystals arm.

There in the Typhon’s chamber, on a platform built by a species thirty million years gone from this earth, they kissed – and for a moment, Crystal forgot about everything else that surrounded them.


 

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Small Worlds Part 206

Crystal felt a tug on her hair as one of the serpents managed to find purchase. She yanked her head forward and felt tearing in her scalp as a chunk tear loose in the snake’s maw. Crystal stumbled from the pain and the tug. The stumble turned into a fall, and Crystal saw the ground rushing up to meet her. The snakes surged forward in anticipation of her hitting the ground, fangs dripping with venom.

Crystal dropped the coefficient of friction in the tube into the negatives. She could feel reality push back hard at the violation of every law of thermodynamics, but she held the twist in place. Instead of skidding to a halt, she accelerated as she slid across the tube of air.

Her face pressed into the clear air gave her an excellent view of Isabel and the Typhon. Isabel had bitten into the Typhon’s neck stump and was now rolling with the body. Monstrous flesh shredded at the motion, and the Typhon shrieked at her in blind fury. New tendrils worked to reattach the parts Isabel shredded as quickly as she could tear them apart.

Isabel also bled from dozens of places where the fangs had managed to work their way past her scales, the anticoagulant venom making each pinprick as ticking clock towards her death. Crystal could still feel ichor running down her arm from the earlier bite, hot and sticky. It bounced oddly on the unnatural friction Crystal had created.

The effort of violating so fundamental a law was wearing on Crystal as she sped towards the end of the tunnel. Her mouth was painfully dry, and she could feel her lips cracking from the need for moisture. The pain in her stomach far exceeded the other injuries from the battle, and a heavy tiredness was settling in around her joints, so intense she almost feared she’d collapse before reaching the end of the tube.

On top of it all was a loneliness so crushing it brought tears to her eyes, a desperate need for some kind of contact. A tiny voice whispered in the back of her mind that she could get that contact – all she had to do was let the serpents catch up. She wouldn’t feel alone anymore then – and shortly afterwards she’d feel nothing at all.

She pushed the treasonous thought aside and focused on the platform growing closer in her vision.

Then her divine power winked out. Immediately, the normal friction of the air tube resumed. Her slide had increased to nearly forty miles per hour when the power vanished. It was falling out of a car at those speeds onto a fairly smooth road. Crystal was sent tumbling end over end, flopping along the tube in an undignified roll. Divine resilience left her as well, and she felt something snap in her arm. The pain was more than enough to draw a scream from her lips.

She’d left the snakes behind as she slid, and as she skidded to a halt, mere feet from the platform, they surged forward with ravenous anticipation. Crystal could barely move. So close, love, she thought, glancing at Isabel’s slowing form. Isabel would probably last another few minutes before the Typhon overcame her, then she’d die. Crystal would find herself the Typhon’s plaything, dying and reviving over and over, until her nanoverse collapsed from heat death.

We tried, she thought at the snake heads opened.

They halted mere inches from sinking their fangs into into her face.

Crystal stared at them, dumbfounded, as the serpents began to scream and were dragged out of the tunnel. Slowly, Crystal lowered her eyes to Isabel and the Typhon.

Isabel had turned back into the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and her massive jaws were wrapped around all of the Typhon’s serpents on one shoulder – the ones that had been chasing her. Instead of severing them, Isabel was dragging them back through her own immense weight and size.

It came at a cost. Virtually every other serpent on the Typhon’s back were now latched onto Isabel, pumping their venom into her. Isabel’s footsteps were growing weak, and she stumbled slightly with every footstep. She’d be dead soon.

Don’t waste this opportunity, Crystal thought fiercely, forcing herself to her feet. She was able to take two steps, just enough to get onto the platform where the control panel waited, before another lance of pain from her broken arm sent fracture lines of darkness across her vision, and she stumbled to her knees. Moments later, a massive crash signified that Isabel had collapsed. Don’t waste her sacrifice! Crystal screamed internally. She risked a glance back as she rose to her feet.

Isabel had managed to sever the serpents before her legs gave out, and now the Tyrannosaurus lay on the ground, barely breathing as blood pooled beneath it. The snakes were coming for Crystal again, moving at impossible speeds she couldn’t hope to match – but they had a ways to travel still. Crystal had to only move another four feet.

Crystal brought one leg up under herself, planting the foot firmly on the ground. Another wave of pain, this one accompanied by nausea, and Crystal fought down bile that rose in the back of her throat. Everything in her body was screaming at her to surrender, to lay down and accept it.

Instead, she forced her other leg forward and rose to her feet. The serpents were halfway to her now, hissing in excited fury. Crystal could see the emergency button, red and yellow.

She took a step, her uninjured arm outstretched. It shook with the effort, and Crystal felt like she was walking through molasses. She started to stumble again, and the button began to rise above her head.

With a lethargically frantic flair of her hand, Crystal managed to press the button and collapsed to the ground.

A dome sprung up over the platform, and the snakes broke their fangs against it. A few had been past the barrier, and they were cut in half as it rose. “Isabel!” Crystal shouted with the last of her strength as the walls of the chamber began to glow with sudden light.

“Cleansing initiated,” a robotic voice said.

Then the world went white as the energy of a star going supernova only quarter of a light year away flooded the chamber.


 

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Small Worlds Part 205

“Login successful,” the touchscreen read in a bright, cheerful font. “Please select your operation: Facilities Maintenance, Current Schedule, Contact Supervisor, Policies and Procedures, Union Messages, Contract.”

Crystal blinked at the screen as a sudden pang of familiarity struck her. She was certain she’d never been to this place, but clearly whatever she’d done before the end of the world, she’d worked for the same organization that had owned this place. Contact supervisor? What was I?

If time had permitted, Crystal would have spent hours exploring the menu. She wanted to, but Isabel’s life was in danger. Her hand flicked over to Facilities Maintenance and tapped that icon. Behind her, she heard a series of deep crashes and a bellowing roar that couldn’t have possibly come from the Glyptodon’s throat. Isabel had shifted again. Crystal fought the urge to glance over her shoulder to see what new form was tearing into the Typhon. Focus.

“Facilities Maintenance: Please select your operation: Life support. Fire control. Climate control. Incident Reports. Open Tickets. Pending Tickets. Closed Tickets.”

Crystal stared at the screen, her forehead furrowing. None of those seemed to cover what she needed. She could turn off Life support, but she’d only kill Isabel if she did. Fire control, perhaps? Crystal reached out and tapped that icon.

“Fire control: Please select your operation. Extinguisher Health Check. Sprinkler Health Check. Emergency Suppressant Health Check.”

Nothing that actually lets me control anything, Crystal thought, her frustration deepening. Behind her, the Typhon’s continued laughter took on a deeper, more resonant note. He’d managed to reattach his throat. It was cut off with a sickening crunch of bone and tearing of flesh, but Crystal didn’t need to look to know Isabel was lagging behind. If he reforms…Hurridly, Crystal tapped the back arrow and selected Life Support.

“Life Support: Please select your operation. Carbon Scrubber 1 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 2 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 3 Health Check. Carbon Scrubber 4 Health Check. Inorganic Waste Disposal Unit Health Check. Organic Waste Disposal Unit Health Check. Bodily Waste Disposal 1 Health Check. Bodily Waste Disposal 2 Health Check…”

It went on like that, listing health checks for various subsystems needed to maintain the life support. Desperate for some answers, Crystal tapped on Carbon Scrubber 1.

A list of readouts appeared. Filters. Power capacities. When the last manual check had been done – this one showing a date in a calendar format Crystal hadn’t seen in countless eons – and when the last automated replacement had occurred. That, at least, was last week. A red icon informed her that she was thirty million, two hundred and twenty three thousand, one hundred and seventeen years, three lunar cycles, one interval, six days, sixteen hours, three minutes, and nineteen seconds behind schedule, and accordingly, her pay would be drocked by a two hundred and seventeen million percent.

That last bit of information, that detail she’d be docked pay for being behind schedule, put the final piece of the puzzle into place, and memories started flooding back. She had worked for this company. She’d been working on their facility in the Blasted Desert when she’d found her bloody nanoverse in some new excavations. She’d left that day without even quitting.

She’d been working in maintenance, but not of the equipment. Not in a technical role.

She’d been a janitor.

Isabel roared behind her, and Crystal snapped back to the present. Celebrate knowing what you used to do later, she thought, backing out of the menus. She knew this system like the back of her hand, and with the memories back at the surface, it wasn’t hard to know exactly where to go. Policies and Procedures, then the big red icon she knew to expect: Emergency Procedure. A second tap brought up a holographic map of the room, with several points labeled. Fire alarms. Life support failure alarms. Ozone alarms. And one, clearly labeled: “Subject Containment Breach Response.”

It was on the other side of the room. Crystal didn’t bother with trying anything even remotely fancy. Instead, she wove a bridge of pure air between her platform and the switch’s location. Without even a glance back, she dashed across the bridge.

It gave her an excellent view of the fight. The Typhon had mostly reassembled, although Isabel was doing an admirable job of keeping its head from reattaching fully to its neck. She’d transformed herself into an immense crocodile, easily forty-five feet from nose to tail.  Sarcosuchus imperator, the largest crocodile to have ever existed. It’s scales were far too thick for the Typhon’s fangs to easily penetrate, and it offered the bite strength Isabel needed to keep the monster at bay.

The Typhon’s face had flipped over at some point, and his face was a mask of frustration and rage. Several of the snakes were trying to wind their way around Isabel. Whenever they got a secure grip, she’d start to trash and roll, and they would be ripped from their moorings on the Typhon’s back. It was a stalemate for now, but the Typhon showed no signs of tiring, while Isabel’s movements were increasingly sluggish.

Unfortunately, his face being turned upwards gave him a perfect view of Crystal running across the air. His frustration vanished to be replaced with cruel amusement, and dozens of snakes broke free to lunge for her.

With a quick flicking of equations, Crystal wove the bridge into a tunnel. Snakes battered against it and began wrapping around it, constricting tightly. Hunger rumbled in her stomach, and she didn’t dare try the electricity trick again.

Come on, come on…just a bit bloody further. Crystal’s feet pounded on the platform. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she could feel her breath hitch with every step. Behind her, she heard a hissing sound as the the snakes began to force their way through the ultra-dense air, and the tunnel filled with the sound of scales sliding against the smooth surface.

The sound of hissing grew louder with every step.

Small Worlds Part 204

“Damnit!” Crystal shouted, fighting the urge to bring her hands down on the screen in frustration. “Damnit, damnit, and damn the whole sodding thing a third bloody time.”

The swearing didn’t help clear her head or make her feel better. Crystal usually couldn’t remember her password after a couple days, especially since she usually used a random collection of numbers and letters that she could just store in a notebook in her staging area. Trying to remember a password from a year ago was a lost cause – a password from a million relative years ago, and thirty million actual years, was beyond what any sentient being should be expected to do.

I have to try something. Crystal risked a glance back. Isabel was getting tangled in the tendrils slowly pulling the Typhon back together. She was thrashing about, stamping her talons, biting, and even slashing with those tiny arms, but the tendrils were just reforming faster than she could destroy them.

To make matters worse, Isabel’s movements were becoming lethargic. The stomps were increasingly uncoordinated, and her eyes had a wild look to them that Crystal couldn’t attribute just to ferocity.

“Vocal tone indicates swearing,” the screen said. “Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

“Isabel!” Crystal shouted, inspiration striking. “Woodrat!” She twisted reality with the shouts to carry her voice to Isabel’s ear. Then she whipped her head back to the keyboard. If Isabel understood, and had a woodrat in her bag of forms – I swear if Arthur included bloody dinosaurs but didn’t include a woodrat I’m going to beat him to death with his own arms – she could shift into it long enough to neutralize the venom, then shift into something better suited to combat the Typhon. If she didn’t die while shifted. If she doesn’t shift, she’s dead either way.

“Response not understood. Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

“Yes!” Crystal shouted. “Yes, I need bloody assistance.”

The screen winked out for a moment, processing, before the screen repeated, “Response not understood. Do you need assistance resetting your password?”

Oh bloody hell, I have to speak Lemurian. Divine translation allowed her to read the words on the screen and speak in a way any living creature could understand. This machine couldn’t understand her though. “Uh…ghrat!

Again the screen winked out to process. As it did, a foul stench reached Crystal’s nose, like rotten eggs and spoiled milk mixed with rotten meat and left in the sun for a week. The Typhon began to bellow in something other than anger or triumph. Oh no, love, you didn’t…Crystal risked a look back over her shoulder. The tendrils had momentarily halted, and the Typhon’s head was actually trying to worm away from its neck. In the center of the mess sat a white a back blob, only a couple feet long, with an upraised tail.

Crystal couldn’t help but laugh and look back at the screen. It had bought Isabel some time at least.

“Acknowledged. Please select your security question:

Name of the first to hatch from your clutch?

Name of the last to hatch from your clutch?

Sod off, I don’t have a third question?”

Crystal desperately wished divine power allowed her to travel back in time so she could slap her younger self hard enough to knock some sense into her. She’d been trying to remember the names of any of her siblings for millenia, how was she supposed to put it together now? And then the third one…Okay, think. You would have had to put in an answer. What would it be?

Behind her, the battle had resumed. The Typhon had decided that the scent of a skunk was something it could bear, and Isabel had shifted forms again. Whatever she had turned into didn’t roar like the Tyrannosaur, but it certainly was making an unholy racket. Crystal glanced back at the battle, unable to help herself. She tapped the third question as she looked.

The Typhon’s tendrils were rapidly reconnecting to its neck. Many of the serpent heads had reconnected, and were trying to bite into Isabel with frantic desperation. For her part, Isabel was much smaller compared to the Tyrannosaur, less than three meters – if you didn’t count the massive tail that ended in a spined club. The most heavily armored mammals to ever walk the Earth – the Glyptodon, an ancient armadillo. Far too thickly armored for the Typhon to bite into her, and much better suited to snapping the tendrils as the tail waved back and forth.

“Please input your answer.”

Crystal’s hands flew to the keyboard. At least divine translation made typing easier. “Sod you too,” she tried, hoping for the easy answer.

“Input incorrect. Two attempts remaining.”

Crystal felt her heart pounding in her chest. “I don’t bloody know!” she tried.

“Input incorrect. One attempt remaining.”

The Typhon had finally gotten enough tendrils attached to drag its head back towards its body. Isabel was repeatedly smacking the Typhon’s head with her armored tail, knocking off huge chunks of flesh and bone with each blow, but it didn’t seem to be doing more than annoying the monster. Isabel let out the glyptodon’s version of a roar, a deep bleating sound that was almost goat-like. It would have been funny if Crystal couldn’t hear the edge of desperation in it.

Serpent fangs kept striking against the glyptodon’s armor. By pressuring her with those, the Typhon was keeping her from being able to safely shift again. The moment she did, the instant that armor went away, Isabel would be right back to bleeding slowly to death. What would it be, what would it be…it doesn’t relate to the question. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I’m not under pressure? The first thing I think when I look at that?

As soon as the thought crossed her mind, the answer followed. Of course. Fingers flying over the touchpad, Crystal typed exactly what she knew that question wanted.

“Roll with it, love.”

The answer was immediate. “Input correct. Please set your new password.”

This time, Crystal picked something she was certain she’d remember for quite some time.


 

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Small Worlds Part 203

Everything froze as the roar of the Tyrannosaur echoed in the Typhon’s chamber. Even the serpents that were surrounding Crystal were paralyzed for a moment as something deep and primal told every living being in ear shot that death had arrived. Now that’s what I call a bloody distraction, Crystal thought as the snakes began to retreat from her to strike towards Isabel. The Typhon’s anguished bellows still filled the chamber as the tyrannosaurus rex bit down again on another mouthful of snakes, tearing them off like they were paper. Or I suppose it should be a tyrannosaurus regina in this case, Crystal thought.

The absurdity of the thought snapped her out of the paralyzed trance she’d fallen into, and she started to leap among the platforms to reach where the control panel should be. At least, depending on when this thing was built. And how well I remember it. Crystal couldn’t remember what she’d done before ascending to godhood, but she was pretty sure she hadn’t been an engineer of any sort. Probably. But there was an odd sense of familiarity to the arrangement. Only it was less open. There should be a catwalk here connecting this platform to that one…She was so certain of the catwalk’s presence, she almost took a step into empty air.

Get your brain in the game, love, Crystal thought savagely, trying to dispel the memories.

To ground herself in reality, she glanced back at where the Tyrannosaurus was battling the Typhon. Isabel had managed to reduce the number of snakes sprouting out of the Typhon’s back dramatically, but the remaining heads had bitten her hundreds of times. Blood was running freely and staining her feathers. Each individual wound was a mere pinprick to the massive bulk of the Tyrannosaurus, but their cumulative impact was wearing Isabel down. The Typhon, meanwhile, was slowly beginning to right itself. Inch by inch, the muscles in its back were straightening, and Crystal felt a sudden pang of fear. If that wanker gets upright, Isabel’s going to fall. If she has to shift, all that venom…

Crystal leapt to the next platform, lowering her personal gravity to make the distance easy to cross. Given how low Lunar gravity already was, it was an easy leap. And it’s why the Typhon is standing up so easily, Crystal realized. Fifteen tons of furious dinosaur probably would have snapped the Typhon in half on Earth.

Let’s fix that, yeah?

Crystal landed on the platform and rolled to stop her momentum, then reached out and grabbed threads of reality to twist Isabel’s gravity. The Typhon howled in surprise as Crystal coxed gravity into believing the Tyrannosaur was back on Earth.

Already doubled over as it was, the Typhon’s spine didn’t snap at the impact. Instead it was driven to the ground, flat on its face, and Isabel took advantage of its surprise by bringing jaws that could have crushed the femur of a brachiosaurus down on the Typhon’s head with a sickening crunch. The Typhon screamed in agony as Isabel’s jaw strained, but it didn’t snap under the pressure. Isabel began to worry her jaws back and forth, wrenching at the Typhon’s neck.

With a sickening squelch, the head pulled free from its moorings.

Crystal jumped up in the air and let out an excited whoop. “Bloody hell, love, that was beautiful!” she shouted. “Disgusting, but beautiful.”

Isabel dropped the Typhon’s head and bellowed out a roar in response. Crystal could only imagine the pain she was in from those bites. Okay, get to Isabel, neutralize the poison, and-

Tendrils were emerge from the ruined stump attached to the Typhon’s head, a spiderweb of red lines that connected the head back to the body. As soon as they reached the stump, they began to drag the head back towards the body. “Isabel!” Crystal shouted, pointing at the attachment point.

Isabel glanced downwards. Seeing an expression of surprise so similar to a dog’s cross the face of one of the deadliest predators to have ever lived would have been funny if it wasn’t so dire. Isabel began to stomp at the tendrils as the Typhon laughed. Without lungs the sound carried none of its power and instead was just sounded like slabs of meat the size of mattresses being slapped together.

Crystal threw out a twist, a solidified blade of air to slice through the tendrils. They reconnected as quickly as they were severed. More tendrils were forming along the Typhon’s back, reaching out for the detached serpents and closing the Typhon’s wounds.

Isabel started to stomp on the red lines, trying to sever as many as she could. The legs of the Tyrannosaurus, so good for slashing into the Typhon’s back, were pathetically geared for this task. I should have known better, Crystal thought bitterly, casting her eyes about the chamber. If it was that easy to kill, my people would have done it millennia ago. She saw where she thought the kill switch would be, and leapt again, propelling herself towards the spot.

There was a console there, one that somehow still functioned after all this time. Letters in a language Crystal hadn’t seen since her Nascent period flashed across her eyes, and she reached for the touchpad that controlled it. Crystal shifted her hands back to her Lemurian fingers to better manipulate the screen.

“Hello, Crystal,” the screen read in Lemurian the moment her fingers made contact. “It has been thirty million, two hundred and twenty-three thousand, one hundred and sixteen years, four lunar cycles, two intervals, four days, seven hours, twenty five minutes, and twelve seconds since your last login. You will need to update your password. Please enter your old password to proceed.”

Crystal stared at the screen in growing horror. The realization of how long she’d spent around that black hole as time itself was bent was nearly enough to make her scream. The fact that she was somehow still in this computer’s database was terrifying.

But on top of that, the idea that Isabel’s life, and the fate of the world, required her to remember a password was more than she could bear.


 

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Small Worlds Part 202

This section is the first time a minor retcon becomes apparent – I’ve dropped the idea of the gods being able to telepathically communicate. Just FYI to avoid confusion. If you want to see what else changed in book 1, you can pick it up here!

More snake heads, Isabel thought, tucking in her wings and diving through a gap in the tangled web of necks that was being woven around her. She lashed out with her talons as she passed, and spurts of blood welled from the scaled skin.

“Isabel,” Crystal’s voice said, a whisper in her ear carried by the wind. Or… whatever Harpy eagles have in place of ears. Isabell pushed aside of the distraction for the rest of Crystal’s whisper. “This is Lemurian technology. There has to be a bloody kill switch. I can find it, love, but I need you to distract the Typhon.”

Isabel dove for an isolated snake neck, a furious shriek rising from the Harpy Eagle’s throat. She sunk her talons into the scales beneath her, ripping into the neck as hard as she could. The momentary perch let her whip her head towards Crystal. The goddess was fighting her way through an even greater mass of serpentine heads. As one drew close to her, a bolt of electricity leapt off of the air around Crystal and sizzled against the snake. I hope she realizes that means I heard her, Isabel thought, folding her wings and diving off the neck.

She was starting to get dangerously close to the floor of the chamber. Writhing tentacles pulled themselves from the floor with sickening pops and began to reach for Isabel. She splayed her wings and banked her dive. The tentacles rose into the air and began to undulate blindly. Isabel banked and began to weave between their mass.

The hissing of Typhon’s snake heads grew more distant. I’ve got some space to work with now, Isabel realized. The tentacles were far too thick for her to even risk sinking her talons into, but they didn’t have eyes. Their flailing could strike her, but for right now, she could dodge them easily.

It was a good thing. Time to think was important right now. If Crystal needed the Typhon distracted, Isabel would provide a way. But how? Every animal she could think of that could possibly harm the Typhon would have to land in the tentacle field, where the Typhon would have no problem tearing them apart. I could go for a tiger, sink my claws in, but as big as it is…I need to think bigger.

Isabel’s eyes widened, and she began to flap for altitude. Much, much bigger. As soon as she was out of range of the tentacles, the hissing began to draw closer. Her path had taken her behind the Typhon, not that it provided much protection. She could at least see where the snake heads were attached here, sprouting out of the Typhon’s shoulder blades. How big is this bastard? She wondered as she pushed for more altitude. Forty feet tall? Fifty?

Ryan was never going to forgive her for this, Isabel thought, straining the muscles in her wings. The serpent heads were catching up to her, snapping and thrashing. Isabel tucked her wings and dove past the initial assault, the rush of the jaws ruffling her feathers as they passed. No more time, Isabel thought, folding her wings in and aiming at the spot on Typhon’s back.

Ryan’s never going to forgive me for this, Isabel thought as the Typhon’s back grew in her vision. She flared her wings at the last second, feeling the soft flesh of the Typhon give under her talons. She’d landed right at the base of the Typhon’s neck. He roared, and at first Isabel dared hope that she’d managed to hurt it.

Then the roar turned into a laugh, and Isabel’s heart sank.

“Little bird,” he bellowed. This close to the Typhon, Isabel could hear his words vibrating his skin. “You have fought well. But you surely know you are too tiny to hurt me.”

Yeah, I do, Isabel thought, and then her form began to shift.

The Typhon’s laughter cut off abruptly as the sudden weight forced him to bend forward. Isabel could feel his spine straining to stay upright as her weight shot up past the rhino, past the elephant, and kept growing. Suddenly the Typhon didn’t seem so large. Suddenly the Typhon didn’t scare her, it infuriated her. This was a strange place for the mind of the creature Isabel had turned into.

It didn’t care. Its intellect was limited, because it hadn’t needed intellect. It hadn’t needed anything but to hunt and feed and defend its territory. This place, wherever it is, must be this creature’s territory because it was here, and for this beast its territory was wherever it roamed. There was no predator that could challenge it, and even the mightiest of prey animals could fall victim to it. The Typhon was still larger than her, but no larger than some of the beasts this animal had once fought.

Isabel was so wrapped up in the sudden, overwhelming sensation of this creature’s mind that she didn’t think to sink her new, far larger talons into the Typhon’s flesh. Fortunately, this creature had hunted at times by clamoring onto the back of its prey. It knew exactly what to do, and this time when her talons sunk in, the Typhon’s bellow contained no mirth. The great brute was completely doubled over Isabel’s weight that those talons were enough to keep her steady, and following the creature’s instincts, Isabel lowered her stomach to the Typhon’s back.

It brought the otherworldly flesh in reach of Isabel’s claws. Claws that seemed absurdly tiny whenever Isabel saw them depicted, almost comical in how small they were compared the animal’s bulk. When they got in range of the Typhon’s back, however, Isabel found they were perfect for shredding through flesh, packing the musculature that would have been wasted on a larger body into a smaller, more compact cutting and shredding surface. Those claws weren’t weak; those claws had the ferocity of a tiger.

The Typhon’s wits began to gather, and with that the snake heads were able to focus their attention. Isabel felt them biting onto her, annoying pinpricks against her new, thick hide and the protective feathers that gave her black and gold stripes. Part of Isabel wondered if they were still sinking deep enough to inject their venom, but for the most part she just felt furious. In response, she sunk her teeth into the Typhon’s shoulder, grabbing a mouthful of the bases for the serpents in jaws that could bite hard enough to shatter the bones of giants. She tugged, ripping dozens of them free from the Typhon’s back, and this time its bellow held real pain.

Isabel answered with the ear shattering roar of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.