paulmundane

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Khell 08

Khell had stood adamantly until Fenway had answered her, and had immediately felt foolish about how little the answer meant to her. A Principal, it turned out, worked directly for the King, and answered only to him. Principal Valen was the Principal of this area.

Principal Valen was one of several Principals, though Fenway had only heard of a few others. In other words, Principal Valen was a very important man that Khell had never heard of before. Dejected, Khell accepted the description with a slight nod, and let Fenway and the crew lead her to the small café.

Fenway sat Khell and Sprogs together at a table near the back of the café. He ordered Khell a drink that he called Juiji berry, which smelt like bananas, and tasted like passion fruit. Fenway reminded Khell to keep her hood up, and left the girls together.

Khell stared at her drink, not wanting to look up. Sprogs sat across from her, smirking at Khell. If Sprogs did have anything to say, she hadn’t said it yet. She hadn’t said anything since they’d sat down. She hadn’t touched her drink (which was a white milky substance served in a shallow bowl). Sprogs had just stared and smirked and made Khell very uncomfortable.

Urrah and Fenway sat at a booth closer to the front door. Khell snuck a glance at the two from beneath her hood. Urrah took the entirety of the booth’s cushioned bench, while Fenway was perched on a tall stool. Both of them looked to be relaxed and casual, but there was a tension underlying their relaxed poses and whispered conversation.

“Don’t you want to know what we do?” Sprogs asked suddenly. She ran her fingers in a slow circle through her drink, and sucked the milky fluid from her thick black claws. “You question everything, but you don’t seem to care who we are, or what we do.”

“I don’t…”

Sprogs leant over the table, and stopped Khell mid sentence. “I’d ask,” she whispered. “I think it’d be the first question I’d have.” Sprogs cleared her throat, and spoke in a perfect mimicry of Khell’s voice. “Who are you people? Where are you taking me? What are the stakes?”

Sprogs switched back to her own voice. “You heard us talk about selling you,” she accused. “You know we work for Principal Valen, and yet you don’t ask what we do, or what we intend to do with you.” Sprogs leant back across the table, and resumed staring at Khell.

Khell wasn’t sure what she was being accused of, but Sprogs suspicion was thick in the air. She did have a point. Khell had been quick to trust Fenway, and had never questioned the intentions of the Copper Cicada’s crew. It occurred to Khell that she was, in short, being kidnapped. She felt a sudden cold dread in her gut; a feeling that didn’t go away as she looked into Sprogs black eyes.

Khell took a deep breath. “You talked about selling me,” she accused Sprogs. “No one else: just you. Fenway said that he wouldn’t sell me.”

“And that was good enough for you?”

“Yes,” Khell replied. She tried to hide the doubt in her voice. “I trust…”

“An absolute stranger with your life,” Sprogs interrupted. “You trust someone that you have no reason to trust, simply because he smiled and told you everything is going to be fine.”

Khell bit her lip and looked about frantically. The panic leapt to her throat. Sprogs grabbed Khell by the wrist before she could rabbit out of the café. Khell pulled against Sprogs iron grasp futilely.

“I did ask who you all were.” Khell muttered feebly.

“And we gave you our names.” Sprogs replied; venom hidden just beneath her calm tone. “That was enough for you?”

Khell tugged at her arm again, and looked up at Sprogs. “I…” she swallowed hard, and tried to calm down. “What do you do?” Khell asked in a small voice.

Sprogs smiled coldly, and let go of Khell’s wrist. She ran a finger through her drink again, and let the question float in the air for a moment. “We’re Jacks,” Sprogs answered finally.

Khell rubbed her wrist. “I don’t know what a Jack is,” she admitted.

Sprogs’ smirk twitched, momentarily exposing her oversized canines. A low growl formed in her throat before she composed herself. “Of course you don’t,” she replied in a calm even tone. “Because you don’t know things.”

“I don’t,” Khell mumbled, mostly to herself. Sprogs ignored her, and went on.

“A Jack takes jobs for money,” Sprogs explained. “Any job,” she verified before Khell could ask, “so long as it pays well. No questions asked.”

Sprogs dipped and licked her fingers again; her claws made a scraping noise against her course tongue. “If a client is willing to pay us to break into The Library, and find an item of interest there, than we’d go find the item, and bring it to the client.” Sprogs sneered at Khell. “We would bring the client whatever that item turned out to be. That’s what Jacks do. We do the job we’re being paid for. No. Questions. Asked.”

“But,” Khell replied desperately. “But Fenway said he wouldn’t.”

Sprogs let out a bitter chuckle. “He won’t,” she stated accusingly. “Fenway has a clear set of jobs he won’t do, and kidnapping is right there with killing on the list of don’ts.” Sprogs thought a moment. “Normally, with any other client, you would simply be a deal breaker.”

“But not with Principal Valen,” Khell acknowledged. “Who is he, really? Fenway said one of the Principals, and that they only answer to the King, but there’s more than that, isn’t there?”

“Oh you’d like that wouldn’t you?” Sprogs barked sharply at Khell. She lowered her voice as Fenway and Urrah stared over from their booth. “You’d love to hear me badmouth the Principal, wouldn’t you? Catch me talking treason?”

Khell stared confusion at Sprogs. She got that Sprogs didn’t believe her, but Khell wasn’t sure what Sprogs was actually accusing her of. “I don’t understand,” Khell managed. She considered adding more, but really, I don’t understand summed up Khell’s entire day.

Sprogs growled again, not bothering to try and control her anger. She opened her mouth to respond to Khell, but whatever she had to say was lost when the doors exploded off their hinges, and flew through the café. Two Cogstables stormed in through the destroyed portal, and scanned the room.

Where the Cogstables in the library had looked like they’d been built out of woodstoves; these two Cogstables looked to be made from old trucks. They were a similar mess of metal and cogs as the other Cogstables, but much bigger. Their bodies were dark green, but the paint was cracked, and peeled in places as if it was trying to escape the fire that burned white behind the double grills on the Cogstables’ chests.

The café shook as the Cogstables marched through. Everyone hustled to get out of the way of the two metal behemoths, and several patrons made straight for the door.

Fenway watched with calm disinterest as the two Cogstables stomped towards his table. Fenway pulled out a new cigar as they towered over him, and lit it with the heat from one of their chests. “So, I take it your boss was too busy to come in person,” Fenway observed.

The Cogstables both tooted sharply; an ominous sound similar to a fog horn. They stepped away from each other, and opened their hands. Thick cables sprouted from their palms and grew together. Cogs and metal sheathing blossomed from the cords as they intertwined to create a large hoop between the Cogstables.

Khell watched in amazement as the center of the circle rippled like a soap bubble. It flickered slightly, with old television static, and the image of a man formed in the middle. He was thin and tall, with sharp facial features and long pointed ears that swept back behind flowing white hair. His body was a spring of tight muscles under robes draped and cut to show off his bare chest. There was a symbol painted on his torso; a series of smaller circles orbiting inside four larger ones. Khell gasped as she stared at the paint on the Principal’s chest.

Sprogs grabbed the front of Khell’s hood and yanked, nearly smacking her head on the table. “You don’t ever look directly at a Principal,” Sprogs told Khell in a whisper. Her normal snide was missing, and Sprogs stared wide eyed at the table.

“I didn’t know,” Khell mumbled. She dared another peak from beneath her hood at Principal Valen. There was no mistaking it; the symbol painted on his chest was the same one that had been on the front of the book!

Khell 07

Sprogs and Cogs piloted the Copper Cicada up to one of the long wooden walkways that jutted from the side of Fobiah. It looked like an ordinary dock to Khell at first, only there was no water holding up the wooden docks. Instead they seemed to float out in the open air.

Several other ships were docked at Fobiah as well. There was a huge steamer that Khell thought looked like a Mississippi riverboat; complete with a giant paddlewheel. There was a large black square of a ship that leaked orange light from its seams in a way that made the whole ship look hot to touch. There were a pair of ships that looked like clockwork swans, and another that looked like a lopsided house built onto its own small island. Compared to most of the other ships docked at Fobiah, the Copper Cicada was quite small.

Sprogs waved over the deck of the Cicada to a group of green men with long strong arms, short stout legs, and sharply pointed noses. They waved back to Sprogs, before they used gaff sticks to pull the Copper Cicada closer to the deck, and tying the ship down.

Khell watched the whole of the docking with unhidden awe. The floating docks were amazing, and should have been impossible. The same was true of the ships around them.  Fenway fluttered up behind Khell, and placed a paw on her shoulder.

“You’ve never been on a Beetle class ship during closing, have you kid?”

“No,” Khell admitted. “I don’t even know what that is.”

“Yeah, I thought that might be the case,” Fenway said. He motioned for Urrah to join them. “She’s never been part of a ship closing,” Fenway told the large bear-man.

Urrah gently picked up Khell by the shoulders and moved her to the center of the deck. “Do not move,” he told her. “Is safe if you stand still.”

Cogs pulled some final levers at the bow of the ship, and made a sharp steam whistle noise. The wood under Khell’s feet rumbled as machinery below deck came to life. The rigging went taut, and was reeled in by wheels hidden beneath them. The sails groaned, and pulled in towards the deck.

Khell stood rigid as spars and sails folded around her. She watched as the crew of the Copper Cicada preformed an intricate dance between the moving parts. They pushed, pulled, and lashed down the sails as they folded into the ship; all with practiced ease. Finally, the copper plates from the side of the ship latched overhead, and clicked down over the Copper Cicada’s body like a carapace.

Cogs whistled again, this time a series of short toots. The grinding machines in the bowels of the Copper Cicada stopped. Cogs dropped open a door that doubled as a gangplank, and gave an almost sarcastic salute as he stepped aside.

Khell was the last to get off of the ship. She stepped gingerly onto the dock, uncomfortable with how it bobbed under everyone’s weight. Behind her, Cogs pulled the gangplank closed from inside the Copper Cicada.

“Cogs has to stay on the ship,” Sprogs told Khell sharply.

“Oh,” Khell replied. She hadn’t thought to ask about Cogs really. She wasn’t thinking about much more than getting off the dock and on to solid land.

“C’mon kid,” Fenway offered, leading the way. “We’ll show you around.”

Fobiah was a farming town, Fenway explained. He pointed to the fields of wheat that grew along the edge of the floating island, and told Khell of the orchards of fruit that dominated the other side of town.  The first thing that Khell noticed was the tower in the center of town. It looked somewhat like a windmill, with a giant fan spinning slowly in Fobiah’s breeze, but with huge copper pipes jutting at random intervals from the body of the tower, and vanishing into the ground. The windmill was the tallest building on Fobiah, towering high over the timber and plaster houses that made up the town.

Even from the docks, Khell could already see life on Fobiah.  A bear in overalls shoved a plow in the field, while another, wearing a sundress, watched some cubs running nearby. Three flying pugs chatted with a raccoon boy as he did maintenance on some farm equipment. A pair of giant lizard men stalked past the crew, wings wrapped like cloaks around their shoulders. They spoke in their own hissing language, and laughed as they purposely shoved past Urrah.

Khell watched the lizard men pass, and waited till they’d made a good distance before she spoke. “What are they?” Khell asked.

“Slaadas,” Urrah replied, rubbing his shoulder with annoyance. “Is not always most friendly people.”

Fenway nodded his agreement. “It’s not nice to judge a whole people but, yeah; the Slaadas are a piece of work.”

“Slaadas,” Khell repeated. “What about the green guys that helped at the dock?”

“Those were Gooblyns,” Fenway said. “Good workers; really know their way around a dockyard, but you’ve got to watch your wallet around them.”

“Now who is judging whole people?” Urrah chided.

Khell just nodded. Slaadas. Gooblyns. The world may not have had a name, but the people did. Khell looked at her companions. “So, what is everyone else?”

Everyone shared a look as though Khell had asked them to eat a kitten. For a moment, Khell thought they might not answer her, and she considered apologizing for what might have been a rude question.

“I’m a Pupkin,” Fenway said with an awkward smile, starting everyone off.

“We were called Borras,” Urrah added, pointing to himself. “But we changed it after we lost our home.” Urrah raised his chin proudly. “We are Crueshians now. We will never forget.”

Fenway and Urrah both looked at Sprogs. Sprogs just stared daggers back at them. “Sprogs is an Arcune,” Fenway explained, never taking his eyes off her. “They’re not known for their manners.”

Sprogs gave an annoyed chitter. “Why are you humoring her Fenway?” she snapped.

“I’m not humoring anyone,” Fenway replied. “Khell asked a question, and I answered it.”

“Khell asked a stupid question,” Sprogs corrected.  “She’s asked hundreds of them, and you’re acting like it doesn’t faze you.” Sprogs sucked her teeth at Fenway. When she spoke again, it was with a perfect mimicry of Khell’s voice. “Where are we? Who’s the King? Where’s the ground? What is everyone?”

Khell’s anger at Sprogs’ comments was overwhelmed by her amazement of hearing her own voice come out of Sprogs’ mouth. “How are you doing that?”

Sprogs pointed both hands irritably at Khell as though she’d just proven Sprogs’ point.

“I’m not from here,” Khell snapped. “Why can’t you get that?”

Sprogs snarled and advanced on Khell. Khell hadn’t noticed Sprogs sharp canines before, but she sure noticed them now. “I can’t get what you’re playing at, that’s what I can’t get,” she growled.  “Where could you possibly be from that you don’t know what the Cogwork-Kingdom is?”

Khell tried to step back, but Sprogs just kept up, and kept face to face with Khell. “I’m from Canada,” she started, already sure this wouldn’t mean anything to Sprogs. “My dad and I just moved to Quarry Town a few days ago; so I guess I’m from there.”

Sprogs shook her head. For a moment, her anger was replaced with shock. “You’re not from Quarityn,” she accused uncertainly.

“Quarry Town,” Khell corrected, “and, yes I am.”

The fury returned to Sprogs’ features. “No you’re not!”

Fenway flew between the girls, and made Sprogs to take a step back. “Yes, she is,” he stated calmly.

Sprogs stared a mix of shock and surprise at Fenway. “So that’s what this is about?” She threw her hands in the air. “You think she’s actually…”

“You didn’t see what I saw,” Fenway interrupted with a growl. “You don’t even see what’s right in front of you.”  He pulled down Khell’s hood. “What is she Sprogs? You have all the answers.”

Sprogs stared hard at Khell. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “She looks a bit like an Alfyn I guess.  Ears are too short, and way too round but…”

“She’s not an Alfyn,” Fenway interrupted. He tugged Khell’s hood, causing her to stumble a step closer to Sprogs. “Look harder,” he ordered.

Khell tugged the hood from Fenway’s paws. “I don’t know what an Alfyn is,” she said. “I’m human, ok?”

It felt weird to say out loud. Khell couldn’t have imagined before being a place where she’d have to tell people she was human. Her declaration was met with a moment of silence; broken suddenly by Sprogs sharp bark of a laugh.

“You’re a Yuman?” Sprogs declared with disbelief. She looked incredulously at Fenway. “Is that what you believe?” Sprogs looked back at Khell. “You. A Yuman from Quarityn.” Sprogs stood on one paw, and shoved the other at Khell’s face. “Go on,” she said, still laughing. “Pull the other one; I’ve got two.”

“I am human,” Khell replied hotly. “Why would I lie about something like that?”

“Because there’s no such thing as Yumans!”  Sprogs snapped.  Her shout caught the attention of some passing Pupkins, but Sprogs shot them a look that caused them to quicken their pace. “There’s no such thing as Yumans,” she repeated with forced calm.

“And yet, here she is,” Fenway added. He lit a cigar and inhaled deeply. “The question is; what do we do now?”

“We get rid of her,” Sprogs answered quickly. She looked at her companions, surprised that it wasn’t as obvious to them as it was to her.

“Is not answer,” Urrah said. He shrugged his huge shoulders. “Maybe is Yuman, maybe is not. But we do not sell people, not to client, not to anyone.” He looked down at Sprogs. “And we do not turn back on people that need help.” Sprogs crossed her arms angrily, but muttered an agreement under her breath.

“I don’t get understand,” Khell admitted. “I don’t understand what’s going on.”

Fenway turned a smile to Khell, ready to answer. Sprogs cut him off with an angry chitter. “Fenway thinks you’re the Yuman from Quarityn that’s supposed to bring a vaguely explained big change to the world. Because of the prophecy.” Sprogs snickered like she was sharing some inside joke. No one else laughed. “He’s hoping that you will somehow stop the Cogwork-Kingdom.”

Khell looked from Sprogs to Fenway. She shook her head in disbelief. “Me?”

“You,” Sprogs agreed with a roll of her eyes. “Our great Yuman savior.”

“Me?” Khell repeated. She had about as much belief in this as Sprogs had.

Fenway shot Sprogs a dirty look. “What we do or don’t believe doesn’t change our afternoon does it?” He pointed to a small café. “We’re meeting our client there, and he’s going to be expecting us to have the merchandise.”

“You,” Urrah verified for Khell. “Is good sign that he believes the prophecy, no?”

“Or a good sign that you guys were wrong,” Sprogs offered, “and she’s not what you were supposed to retrieve.”

“Guess we’ll find out,” Fenway finished. He flew towards the café, expecting everyone to follow.

Khell stood still, and shook her head when Fenway looked back at her. “Who is he?” she demanded. “Who is the client?”

Sprogs made an amused noise. “Oh, go ahead and tell her Fenway,” Sprogs insisted. “It’ll be great.”

Fenway huffed. “Alright,” he relented, motioning for everyone to keep their voices down. “We were hired by Principal Valen to find something off in The Library; all very hush hush.”

Sprogs smiled and motioned to Khell. “Well, go on,” she urged.

Khell bit her lip. She knew what Sprogs wanted to hear, but she had to ask anyways. “Who’s Principal Valen?”

Khell 06

Khell did not get the answers she wanted. Not right away at least. It wasn’t that the crew of the Copper Cicada didn’t try to answer her questions, but instead it seemed that the answers weren’t there in a way that Khell would like.

When she’d asked where they were, Fenway told her quite straightforward that they were on the deck of the Copper Cicada. He even mentioned that they’d just left The Library; in case Khell had somehow forgotten. When Khell pressed further, he told her that they were on their way to a small village called Fobiah, on a floating rock with the same name.

At first Khell was frustrated with Fenway’s vague answers to her question, thinking that he was purposely being aloof. She wanted to know where they were in general; and no one had a name for that. Each floating island had its own name, and the earth below them was simply called the ground. There was no name for the whole of the area, or for a country. No one knew what a continent was, much less what it would be called.

“Everything is owned by The King,” Fenway offered finally. “I suppose if it makes you feel better, you could say you’re in the Cogwork-Kingdom.”

Khell nodded. The Cogwork-Kingdom did feel more solid. Still, she couldn’t help notice that the whole crew of the Copper Cicada soured at the name. “What’s the Cogwork-Kingdom?” she asked. “Who’s The King?”

There was a solid moment of silence as the crew stared at Khell. “How can you not know who The King is,” Sprogs finally asked with a snort of disbelief. “Everyone knows who The King is.”

“I don’t,” Khell retorted. “I don’t know who The King is, and I don’t know what the Cogwork-Kingdom is!”

“Ok kid, settle down.” Fenway flew between Sprogs and Khell. He looked about as though someone might have overheard Khell, and spoke with a lowered voice. “The King is… Well he’s The King. I’ve never met him; doubt I know anyone who has.”

“The Cogwork-Kingdom though; it’s everywhere.” Fenway pointed up towards the clouds. “There’s a huge island up above the clouds. That’s where the Kingdom is technically; but really, they control everything. Absolutely everything” Fenway cursed under his breath.

“And you don’t like that,” Khell summed up. “Does anyone?”

“Well, I’m sure the Kingdom likes it fine,” Sprogs commented offhand. “Anyone else would be a short list. Real short like.”

“But then, why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?”

Khell’s question was met with looks of mixed horror. Fenway looked about again as though someone could have heard Khell. Sprogs actually took a few steps back to distance herself from Khell; and action mimicked by the silver Cogstable that stood with her. Urrah only shook his head, and sighed low.

“Cruesha,” Urrah said, as though the word was answer enough. “Cruesha was beautiful city. One of biggest cities ever.  It was my home.” Urrah looked off to the sky as he spoke. “When The King told us we must pay tax, we said no. When he sent his Cogstables, we threw them over the edge. And when he sent his clockwork army, we fought them.”

“Was glorious battle,” Urrah continued. “For days, they tried to take the city, and for days, we pushed them back. As word spread of our fight, of how we were stopping clockwork army, others joined. This will be where we make stand, they said. This is where we stop the Cogwork-Kingdom. A huge army; all the races, all opposed to the Kingdom. ” Urrah slammed his great fists down on the edge railing of the Copper Cicada. His shoulders slumped at the memories.

“What happened?” Khell finally asked.

Urrah looked at Khell, and smiled sadly. “Tragedy,” he told her. “We thought we had won. The Kingdom had drawn back; left Cruesha. We should have known better than to celebrate victory so soon.” He looked back to the sky. “Was over there; Cruesha,” he explained, pointing to a large gap between the floating islands.

Khell stared at the open sky. “The Cogwork-Kingdom destroyed an entire city?”

Sprogs chittered annoyance. “They didn’t just destroy the city,” she corrected. “They grounded it.” Sprogs waved over the side of the Copper Cicada. “One minute it was floating, the next minute it wasn’t.” She shook her head. “No one understands how it happened. The islands have floated where they are forever. If the Cogwork-Kingdom can make that stop, then there’s no telling what they can do.” Sprogs shot Khell a look. “That’s why no one does anything anymore,” she finished.

Khell looked down through a gap between ship and sails. “I don’t see it,” she admitted. Far below them was only green, that Khell had assumed was a field.

Sprogs followed Khell’s gaze over the side. “How would you see it?” she asked sardonically. “You can see through The Fog now?”

“That’s fog?” Khell questioned. Knowing what she was looking at, Khell could now make out the shifts and swirls in the green canopy below. It was like looking at a smooth green cloud. Being aware that it wasn’t solid land beneath them made Khell feel dizzy. “How far below that is the ground?”

“Real far,” Sprogs replied. She narrowed her eyes at Khell. “How can you not know that? How can you not know about the Cogwork-Kingdom?”

“This is a dangerous conversation,” Fenway interrupted. “It’s never a good idea to talk long about anything involving The Kingdom. You never know if, or how, they could be listening.” Fenway looked about again. “They have bugs everywhere,” he explained.

Khell at first thought Fenway meant bugging devices, like a spy would use on TV, but he motioned with his paws in a way that made Khell think of actual insects. She wondered how a bug could listen to conversation.

“Sometimes; it is bugs,” Urrah added to the conversation. “Sometimes, is Cogstables.”

“They’re everywhere too,” Fenway agreed. “The Kingdom parks Cogstables in all the cities and towns. It’s supposedly to keep the peace,” he explained for Khell. “But it’s really to keep folks in line. Those damn robots don’t do anything more than scare people.”

The silver Cogstable with the red stripes looked indignantly at Fenway.  It gave a sharp whistle noise, like steam from a kettle, and huffed off towards the bow of the ship.

“Oh, c’mon Cogs,” Sprogs called after it, “Fenway didn’t mean you.” Sprogs shot Fenway a dirty look. “You know how sensitive he is,” she snipped before following after the Cogstable.

Fenway chuckled as he watched Sprogs and Cogs storm off. “Well, that’s as good a conversation break as any,” he admitted. “We’ll be docking at Fobiah soon, and we need to find you something less conspicuous to wear before then.”

Finding clothes for Khell was easier said than done. Nothing of Fenway’s or Urrah’s was going to fit her, as Fenway was too small, and Urrah was much too big. Sprogs was the only person on the ship close to Khell’s size, and she didn’t like to share. This was likely fine, Khell decided, since Sprogs didn’t wear pants anyways. In the end, Urrah was able to turn a wool blanket into a passable cloak that hung long enough to hide Khell’s clothing.

Khell gave the cloak a twirl. It was a thick forest green, and Urrah had given it a deep yellow trim of intricately corded knot-work. The hood was so deep that Khell thought she could get lost in it. Khell wasn’t sure what was more amazing; that Urrah could make such a beautiful garment with giant bear paws, or that he’d done it in under twenty minutes.

“Is not best work,” Urrah commented, pulling a few final knots along the bottom hem, “but it will do,”

“It’s perfect,” Khell argued. “I love it!”

“Great,” Fenway commented. “Glad it’s to taste kid.” He tugged Khell’s hood over her eyes as he flew past. “Now, stay under it, and stay close, ok? We’re here.”

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 15

Gashkoro roared its high pitched screech, and chased after Lance, Sarah and Kei.  The road cracked under Gashkoro’s feet, and buckled under its fists as it tried to smash the fleeing truck.

Sarah leant out the window, and hurled balls of water at Gashkoro.  She cursed a lot.  Kei preformed a complex series of staff spins, stopping occasionally to fire Steel Slashes over the roof of the cab.  Unlike before, Kei seemed much more sure of her footing.  She didn’t even stumble as Lance fought to keep the reversing truck on the road at full speed.

Lance tried not to pay attention to the girls, and focused primarily on driving.  Driving in reverse took a bit of concentration.  Driving in reverse while chased by a giant skeleton took even more.  Still, the whole of the situation was surreal.  It didn’t help having both girls yelling their attack names over and over.  At least Sarah had the decency to punctuate her announcements with creative swearing.  Kei yelled her Spinning Steel Slash with no real emotion.  It didn’t seem like she was slightly moved by the monster chasing them.

Gashkoro leapt at the truck again, and brought both fists down, barely missing the vehicle.  The road rose like a wave under the truck, and ramped it through the air.  Lance spun the wheel as the tires connected again with the road, and bootleg spun the truck around.

“Right,” Lance stated.  He didn’t have much to add to that, but he was glad to be driving forward, and figured ‘right’ was the right word for it.

“Not yet,” Sarah replied, misunderstanding Lance’s choice of word.  “Just keep straight for a few blocks.  There’s an alley up ahead, we can turn there.”

The back of the truck glowed bright orange, and Lance looked back just in time to watch Kei throw a large ball of fire at Gashkoro.  The monster screamed as the flames licked across its chest, but didn’t slow down.

“We can turn ahead,” Kei agreed, “then we can stop and face Gashkoro.”

Sarah leant out the window, and threw a geyser of water at Gashkoro.  She caught it at knee level; bowling the monster over.  Gashkoro toppled into the ruins of an outlet mall, and took a moment to regain its feet.  It was immediately after them again.

“No,” Sarah called to Kei.  “We turn ahead, and lose Gashkoro in the side streets.”  She smiled at Lance.  “I don’t think it can keep up in the alleys.  It’ll barely fit.”

“We have to face Gashkoro,” Kei insisted.

“No, we don’t.”  Sarah rolled her eyes.  “Damn it Kei, we barely beat Gashkoro last time; and that was all five of us!”

“We are all five of us now,” Kei replied coldly.  “I have all the power of the Guardians except for yours.”

“No,” Sarah stated finally.  “Just no Kei.”  Sarah pointed at the turn up ahead.  “Lance, up there.”

Kei reached in the back window, and placed a hand gently on Lance’s neck.  The cab filled with the smell of rosewater and cherry blossoms.  “Slow down,” Kei suggested quietly.  “You stop the truck and then we can stop Gashkoro.”

Lance nodded, and eased up on the gas.  It made sense.  If he slowed down, then maybe they could fight off the giant skeleton.  A small voice in the back of his mind screamed about how ridiculous that was, but it was a small voice, and Lance had no trouble ignoring it.

He had more trouble ignoring Sarah’s voice.  “What the hell are you doing?”

Lance shook the cobwebs out of his head, and went wide eyed.  “I don’t know!” he admitted.  Lance jammed his foot back down gas, but it was too late.  Gashkoro had cleared the small distance between them.

Gashkoro caught the back of the truck with a wide sweep of its hand, and spun the truck wildly out of control.  Lance gripped the steering wheel, and tried fruitlessly to get the vehicle to follow his commands.  The truck spun a few more times before tipping onto its driver side.  Sparks flew as the truck skidded along the road, and thudded to a stop against the side of a building.

Sarah grabbed the frame of the passenger side window, and vaulted out of the truck.  Lance followed close behind, and she spared him only a quick glance.  His left arm was torn up pretty bad, but didn’t look broken.  Sarah turned her angry gaze to Kei.

Kei stood on the side of the truck bed, and Sarah had the impression that she’d ridden out the crash there.  She had her staff holstered between her wings (her wing and a bit, really) and had her hands up in front of her.  Kei raised them like she was maestro-ing an orchestra.  Pale green light seeped like mist from her hands, and Gashkoro struggled against a small orchard of vines.  It wouldn’t hold the monster long.

“The hell Kei?”  Rampaging monster or not, Sarah was struggling against the urge to smack Kei.  “You Flower Talked Lance?  You crashed my truck?”

“You weren’t going to stop.”  Kei didn’t look over.  She just stared at Gashkoro with her regular indifference.  “But now we have.  I can’t hold it back for much longer; we’re going to need to take it down fast.”

Sarah growled, but recognized the situation Kei had created.  She flicked her hands out, and water formed into gauntlets around her fists.  “Fine,” she accepted.  “But after this, we are going to have a hell of a conversation.”

“After this,” Kei agreed.  “Get ready, Lovely Angel Water Guardian.”

Sarah frowned, unhappy with her full title.  “Get ready for what Kei?” she asked.

Kei didn’t respond.  She drew her staff, and twisted her body into dance.  Great chunks of asphalt rose like glaciers around Kei.  Branches tore from the broken road, and vines whipped about in a circle around her.  Nearby cars ripped like paper and spun violently in the air like jagged spears.  Fire burst from the sky, and joined the elements surrounding Kei.

Gashkoro tore free from the forest imprisonment, and howled at Kei.  It lurched forward a step, but didn’t charge.  Gashkoro swayed and roared at Kei’s display, evidently cautious of whatever she was doing.

Rock, vines, steel and fire combined above Kei in a vortex of power.  “Mother Earth’s Rightful Vengeance!” Kei announced with more emotion than usual.  She pointed at Gashkoro victoriously.

Nothing happened.

“Mother Earth’s Rightful Vengeance!” Kei yelled again.  The mass of power glowed bright white, and throbbed angrily over her head.  Kei looked down expectantly at Sarah.

Sarah just blinked up at Kei.  “I don’t know what you’re doing!” Sarah screamed.  “What am I supposed to do?”

Kei tilted her head, and stared at Sarah with a mix of confusion and disappointment.  The collected energy above her imploded with an ominous click, and then detonated with a sonic boom.  Lance and Sarah were knocked off of their feet.  Kei was thrown violently, bouncing between the two.  Gashkoro was pushed back a step or two, but beyond being a bit stunned, the monster seemed fine.

Lance was the first to stagger to his feet.  He offered a hand to Sarah, but she got up on her own.  Kei didn’t move at all.  Her Lovely Angel uniform flickered and evaporated from her, leaving Kei with her sweater and jeans.  Gashkoro was already recovering from the explosion.  It growled a high pitched whine at Lance and Sarah.

Lance looked from Gashkoro to Kei.  She wasn’t moving, and was certainly not turned back into a Lovely Angel.  “I’m thinking that’s not what was supposed to happen?” Lance suggested feebly.

“Oh, you think?”  Sarah sighed, and turned full attention to Gashkoro.  “Pick up Kei,” she commanded as she balled water in her hands.  “I’ll try to hold off Gashkoro.”

Sarah thrust her hands forward, and called for Neptune’s Trident.  Water geysered from her outstretched hands at Gashkoro.  The giant skeleton growled, and blocked with its arm.  It swatted the water spray away, and howled at Sarah and Lance.

“Or not,” Sarah said, barely keeping the panic from her voice.

Sarah continued to pour Neptune’s Trident at Gashkoro, but it was having little effect.  The monster put its hand down, and allowed the water blast to disperse along its ribcage.  It roared its nails-on-a-chalkboard roar as it walked slowly against the geyser towards Sarah, Lance, and Kei.

Lance didn’t pick up Kei.  He stood instead beside Sarah, and flicked his knife in his hand.  Lance remembered vaguely the rifle he’d left in the back of the truck, and wished he’d grabbed it.  Sarah gave his knife a sideways glance that made Lance sure that she was thinking the same thing.

The crack of a gunshot rang from the rooftops, and Gashkoro reeled backwards, clutching its eye.  A second shot hit the monster’s shoulder, spinning it back another step.  Lance looked up to the rooftops.

There, siloetted against the purple sky, was Barrowman.  His rifle looked twice the length of this body, and his tattered cloak was blowing like a cape.  If Lance didn’t know better, he’d swear that the old man was posing.  Lance didn’t care even if the man was showing off; his timing was impressive enough to earn him the right.

Sarah was less impressed, though at least thankful.  “Twice in the same day,” she muttered.  “We’re setting Barrowman records here.”

“Something something rhyming,” Barrowman called down from the roofs.  “Are you going to deal with this, Blue, or what?”

Sarah made a choking noise at Barrowman, but didn’t answer beyond that.  She put her arms out, and began a swift kata routine.  Water poured from her hands like ribbons, and twisted around her as she danced.  The water solidified as Sarah pointed her hands towards the flailing Gashkoro.

“Salachia’s Grip!” Sarah called.  The tendrils of ice flew from her hands, and circled Gashkoro.  They spread quickly, and sealed the giant skeletal monster in a glacier of ice.

Lance stared unhidden awe at the ice cocoon that held Gashkoro.  “Why didn’t you do that before,” he asked.  It was a fair question.

“Because most monsters don’t give you the time for a full dance routine,” she replied.  Sarah sighed.  “It was easier when there were five of us.  Four run distraction, while the fifth jazzes up some big guns.”

Sarah didn’t look over as John Barrowman leapt from the rooftops.  “Or we’d just wait for Kei to screw it royally,” she continued for Lance, “and our Deus Ex Distraction would come riding in.”

“Won’t be the first time one of you girls has accused me of being a distraction,” John commented as he walked over to the pair.

Sarah turned to John, and gave him a curt nod.  “Barrowman,”

“Lovely Angel Water Guardian,” John replied with a smirk.

“Don’t,” Sarah warned.  “Don’t call me that.”

“Been a while since you put the get up on,” John continued.  He lit a smoke, and inhaled deeply before continuing.  “You look ridiculous.  You know that, right?”

“Says the old man in a cape.”

“Says the old man in a cape,” John agreed.  He looked Sarah over critically.  “It’s a hell of an improvement over the jack boots,” he admitted.   “I’ll give you that at least.”

“Jeez.  Thanks,” Sarah muttered.  She waved at Gashkoro impatiently.  There was an ominous cracking noise as it struggled against the ice.  “That’s not going to hold for long,” Sarah stated.  “We need to get the truck back on its wheels, and we need to get out of here.”

John jabbed his thumb at the frozen Gashkoro.  “You just going to leave that thing?”

“You think you can finish it off?”  Sarah put a hand on her hip, but didn’t wait for an answer.  “Me neither.”  She pointed at Kei.  “How about you pick her up while Lance and I flip the truck back over?”

John scoffed.  “You sure you wouldn’t rather me help with the truck?”

“Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself old man,” Sarah replied.  She gave Lance a light shove towards the truck.  “We got this,” she said.

Lance pushed himself between the roof of the cab, and the wall it had hit.  He reached under, looking for a good hand hold.  Sarah took the back end of the truck, and worked equally hard at keeping her skirt under control as she did finding a good grip.  Water flowed from her hands, and pushed up from beneath the truck.  Lance gave his all, but he suspected that Sarah and her powers did most of the work.

Lance brushed his hands off, and banged on the large dent in the roof of the truck.  “That’ll buff right out,” he said. Lance wasn’t sure what it meant; he’d just heard his grandpa say it in the past.

Sarah nodded at Lance, but she wasn’t really listening.  She watched as John stood over Kei.  He hadn’t picked her up yet.  Instead, he just seemed to be standing there, staring at her.  The ice around Gashkoro was cracking dangerously, and Lance was sure he could see the beast moving in its prison.

“Just pick her up Barrowman,” Sarah called over.  “We don’t have forever.”  She chuckled, mostly to herself.  “C’mon John.  It’s not like this is the first time you’ve had to carry her about.”

John nodded, and chuckled as well.  Still, his hands shook as he knelt to pick up Kei.  “My God,” he whispered.  “She hasn’t aged a day.”

Barrowman looked up at Sarah with wet eyes.  He forced a smile, but it wavered.  “You and the other girls at least had the decency to pretend to get older,” he said to Sarah, “but Kei…”

The steel in Sarah’s voice faded.  “Just get her in the truck John,” she offered softly.  “I’m sure she has a story behind it.”

John put Kei down gently in the bed of the truck.  He took his jacket off, and slipped it under her head.  “A hell of a story, I’m sure,” John agreed.  “Maybe I’ll get to hear it later.”

John looked at his hands, and then down at Kei.  “I’m not coming with you,” he said.  “I don’t want her to see me like this.”

Sarah shook her head.  “Don’t be an idiot Barrowman,” she began.  She was cut off as the ice on Gashkoro’s arm shattered.

“Go,” John insisted.  “I’m going to distract gruesome here; try and lead it away from the Night Posts.”  He hoisted his rifle, and waved off any complaints before Sarah could make them.  “I’ll be fine,” he stated.  “Just get yourselves to safety.”

Sarah considered arguing, but hopped into the truck.  She motioned for Lance to start driving, and only looked back as an afterthought.  “Don’t get yourself killed Barrowman.”

“You wish, Water Guardian,” John called back.  “I’ll be fine.  You’re going to need someone there for you when you screw up again, right?”

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 14

The darkness above the truck no longer resembled night.  It swirled a vortex of angry purples and deep blues.  Lance tried keep his eyes on the road and not look up, but the sky was almost hypnotic.  The ringing continued in the back of Lance’s mind, holding him on the cusp of panic.  He gunned the truck, and squealed around the corner.

Kei squealed as well, as she tumbled over in the back of the truck.  She rubbed her knee and stared daggers at the back of Lance’s head.  “Could we please just drive straight for a moment?” Kei whined.

“We’re trying,” Sarah replied.  It wasn’t entirely true, as she’d been making Lance take a very roundabout way through the streets.

Even if Sarah hadn’t been giving convoluted directions, Lance doubted he could have kept on a direct road.  The darkness, real night or not, was attracting Shadows.  A pack of them scattered from the one spotlight, but they didn’t go far.  Lance turned hard down a side road to avoid them.  Even with the ringing, Lance could hear the giggling growls of the Shadows looming in the buildings around them.  Lance could see them crawling along the old ruins, and darting away from the light of the truck’s head beam.  There were to be dozens of them; maybe more.

“That’s a lot of shadows,” Lance said.

“They’re massing around us,” Sarah said.  “They must sense Kei and me.”

“Oh,” Lance replied.  There wasn’t much else he could say.  He swerved hard to avoid a few Shadows that had leapt from the windows above, and tried to ignore Kei’s squeals from the back.  “Oh,” he said again.

There was a loud thump as a group of Shadows dropped from the buildings onto the roof of the truck.  A clawed hand scratched at Lance’s arm.  He slowed the truck only for a moment as he tried to grab the knife from his boot.  Lance slashed at the Shadow at the door, and put his foot to the pedal again.

The Shadows rolled unceremoniously from the roof of the truck.  Two fell aside, bumping under the tires.  Three others dropped into the bed with Kei.  Kei scrambled backwards, pushing her back against the truck’s cab.  She flailed at the Shadows, but wasn’t much of a fighter evidently.

“Kei!” Sarah yelled.  “Drop!”

Kei yelped, and dropped hard to her knees.  Sarah pointed her hand out the back window over Kei’s head.  “Neptune’s Trident!”

Water poured from Sarah’s open palm like a fire-hose.  The Shadows were knocked back and swept from the bed of the truck.  Kei yelped indignantly as the truck bed filled with ice cold water.  She lost her footing when Lance turned sharply back to a main road, and dunked completely.

Kei leapt gasping from the water, and glared at Sarah and Lance.  Her already baggy sweater hung crooked and heavy from her tiny frame.  Kei flicked wet hair from her eyes, and opened her mouth to complain.

“Shut up,” Sarah said.  “You need to change before the Shadows regroup.”

“I. Am. Trying.” Kei stated.  “If you guys would just drive straight for one minute, I’d be done by now.”

“Should I slow down?” Lance asked.  He looked in the rear view mirror, both at the Shadows charging from behind, and at Kei staring daggers at him.  “I mean, I didn’t know that you were…”

“You should speed up,” Sarah stated.  “Step on it, Lance.  Keep driving and don’t look back.”

Lance looked back anyways.  Kei had one hand in the air, and the other straight forward.  She looked to be mid pirouette.  “Is she going to be able to change in the back of a moving truck?”

“Oh, like that’s the weirdest place she’s ever changed,” Sarah muttered.

Kei gave a mortified squeak.  “Sarah, don’t you dare,” she pleaded.

“Just change Kei,” Sarah snapped while staring the younger girl down.  She smirked as she hoisted herself up on the passenger side window, and lowered her voice for Lance.  “Ask her about the Tokyo Men’s Club,” Sarah suggested.

Lance watched as Sarah slid out of the window.  She sat on the edge so that only her long legs were in the truck.  “Eyes on the road,” she called from outside as she reached down and tucked her skirt between her legs.

Lance turned deep red.  “Why does everyone think that I’m looking at their underwear,” he mumbled.

“Because you’re a guy,” Sarah answered from outside.  “Just keep driving Lance,” she continued.  “Hold it as steady as you can, but try not to shake it up too much.”

“So, try to avoid bumps, but don’t actually swerve around them,” Lance verified.  “Fine.  What about them?”  Lance pointed at the Shadows swarming along the road.

“Just drive Lance,” Sarah called from outside.  “I’ll take care of them.”

Sarah wove her hands in front of her.  Water formed around her hands and splashed from her fingers.  “Neptune’s Embrace!” Sarah shouted as she flared her hands forward.

A shield of clear water formed around the truck, just as Lance drove head on into the Shadows ahead.  They screeched and screamed as they were swept aside by the water, but did nothing to slow the truck.  Lance wondered momentarily why Sarah hadn’t done this before, but was quick to notice her laboured breathing.  Whatever she was doing was taking a lot of energy.  Already, the water surrounding the truck was thinning and losing it’s rounded shape.  It splashed on the windshield in giant droplets.  Lance turned on the wipers, gunned the truck, and held a straight line.

In the back, Kei began her transformation.  Once she’d managed a full spin, the change seemed to take over, and her steps became perfect.  Lance stole brief glances at the dance.  He thought about how Sarah had been force marched through the transformation, and wondered if anything could stop it once it had began.  Could Kei fall while she danced?  Would it stop her from becoming a Lovely Angel?  Lance added to a growing list of questions for later as Kei finished her transformation in a flash of white light.

The light from Kei’s change lit the road like a flare, and gave a better view of the streets.  Shadows hissed and scattered from the light.  The smaller Shadows were no longer dominated Lance’s thoughts, as Kei’s light had illuminated a huge creature in the road ahead of them.  The monster glared at the truck with deep red eyes, and the ringing in the air stopped.

The giant monster squatted on the road, idly chewing on a Shadow that had wandered too close.  It was an emaciated humanoid creature, nothing more than thick leather stretched over a skeletal frame.  Its head was a misshapen skull, with a thick forehead, cavernous eye sockets, and a mouth far too big for its face.  It unfurled slowly, and stood easily five meters tall.

“Jeez.” Sarah muttered from the window.

“A Mega Shadow,” Lance whispered in awe.

“Gashkoro,” Lovely Angel Kei stated listlessly.  “Blight demon of hunger.”  She motioned lazily, and her staff appeared in her hand.  “It knows we’re here,” she said.

“Oh, you think?” Sarah replied in a panicky voice.  She climbed back in the window.  She motioned for Lance to back up.  It was a wasted gesture, as Lance was already jamming the truck into reverse.

Gashkoro roared; a thin metallic noise that vibrated through Lance.  It took one rickety step forward, and leapt suddenly at the truck.  Lance slammed his foot into the gas, and gunned the truck backwards.

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 13

Sarah seemed content to let Lance drive her truck; a fact that Lance was fine with.  He could get used to driving.  The truck let him see more of the ruins in under an hour than he’d normally see in a day of running.

And Lance was seeing plenty.  Driving the ruins wasn’t a straight line event.  Instead it was constant turns and detours around other cars, collapsed buildings, and destroyed roads.  Sarah gave specific directions, and seemed to know her way about the ruins from inside the truck.  Lance wondered how often she’d driven the roads.

Not that she was saying.  Sarah stared out the passenger window, and only spoke to give directions, or warn Lance that he was coming to a trouble section of the road.  She didn’t talk beyond that, and didn’t acknowledge Lance’s attempts at conversation.  Sarah was struggling with whatever Kei had done to her, and evidently preferred to do it in silence.

Lance glanced at her in concern.  His eyes wandered from Sarah’s heeled boots, up her long legs, to her pleated blue skirt.  He took in the slight show of midriff before her stark white vest with its wide blue bow.  Lance stared at the point Sarah’s wings melded in along her shoulder blades.  For some reason he’d expected some sort of obvious point of connection, but the wings looked like they’d always been part of Sarah.  The Lovely Angel transformation had given Sarah a pair of rounded blue hair clips, earnings, and even blue lipstick that Lance knew for a fact she’d not been wearing earlier.

Sarah met Lance’s gaze with a raised eyebrow.  “Maybe eyes on the road?” she suggested.

“Sorry,” Lance replied.  He stared hard at the road, and tried to ignore the heat in his cheeks.  “You haven’t changed back,” he explained.

“Oh, you noticed?” Sarah said.  “Was that what you were checking for?”

Lance went even redder.  “Should we pull over?  I don’t think we’re going to run into any Blight-Men now.  We could stop, and maybe you could…” Lance wasn’t sure what term he was looking for.  “…dance it off?”

Sarah looked at Lance as if he’d gone insane.  She chuckled at first, but broke out into a full honest laugh.  Lance stared at the road even harder, though he laughed too.  It was infectious.

“It doesn’t work that way,” Sarah explained as she wiped the tears from her eyes.  “I’ll turn back when I’ve calmed down.”  Sarah shrugged.  “Normally in private, though I have no idea why that seems to be a rule.”

“I swear I’m only looking at the road right now,” Lance said.  He crossed his heart with his window leaning hand.

“More private than that,” Sarah replied.  She punched Lance in the arm playfully.  “The first time I ever turned into Lovely Angel Water Guardian,” she said, “I couldn’t transform back for almost a day.  I spent the whole time hiding in my room so my folks wouldn’t see.”  Sarah laughed.  “I had to go to bed dressed like this.”

Lance tried to picture it, and chuckled along with Sarah.  Honestly though, he couldn’t picture hiding from folks in a private room.  The subway from last night was one of the few times in his life that Lance hadn’t slept in a common space.  Driving through the ruins with Sarah, he found it hard to believe he’d only met her last night.  A lot had happened in less than a day.

It didn’t help that everything Lance thought he knew about Sarah contradicted with everything else he knew about Sarah.  She was a Blight-Man; a fact Lance kept conveniently forgetting.  She was one of the Emperor’s elite in fact.  And yet, Sarah was not what Lance would ever expect from one of Blight’s upper staff.

Also she was whatever a Lovely Angel Guardian was.  Or at least she used to be.  Or, she was now.  Lance wasn’t sure.  He didn’t even know what a Lovely Angel Guardian was, save for a girl with wings and magic powers.  He had a strong feeling that Emperor Blight didn’t like the Angels, whatever they were.

Finally, sometimes Sarah talked like she had been around before The Blight.  That would make her much older than Lance.  He’d only met a few folks that were around before, and they were all Gaffers at the end of their days.  He risked a glance at Sarah, only to find she was already pointing his attention back at the road.  There was no physical way she was old enough to have been  around before.  Lance was pretty certain that she wasn’t any older than him.

“What are you?” Lance muttered.

Sarah shot Lance a dirty look.  “What am I?”

“No.  Not what are you,” Lance bit his lip.  “I mean…That’s not what I meant,” Lance corrected.  He looked over at her and tried to reword.  He was interrupted by the largest pothole in all of the ruins.

Lance hit the bump hard.  He and Sarah hit their heads on the roof of the cab with a thud.  There was an even louder thud in the back, followed by a surprised cry of pain.

“Ow!”  Kei sat up, rubbing her head.  “What’s going on?  Where am I?  Why am I in a truck?”

“Oh good,” Sarah commented sourly.  “Sleeping beauty’s awake.”

Kei’s eyes lit up when she looked at Sarah through the missing back window of the truck’s cab.  Her smile faded as she remembered that Sarah and her might not be friends.  Kei sucked on the sleeve of her oversized sweater.  “Hi Sarah,” she tried.

Sarah didn’t reply.  She stared straight forward.  Lance looked down, and saw that Sarah was white knuckle gripping the hem of her skirt.  “Eyes on the road,” Sarah reminded Lance through gritted teeth.

“Hey,” Kei said from the back.  “You’re the guy who broke into my place!”

“Yeah.  Sorry about that,” Lance replied.  “I’m Lance.”

“Kei shoved her hand through the back opening to shake.  “I’m Kei,” she said.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

Lance reached back and shook her hand.  “We’ve met before,” he commented.  “You saved me from a horde of Shadows.”

Lance glanced back when his comment was met with silence.  Kei was staring at her hands.  She looked embarrassed.  “Not me,” she said.  “I think you mean Lovely Angel Steel Guardian.”

Sarah swore under her breath.  “Are you kidding me?”  She turned sharply on Kei.  “Are you honestly trying to do the secret identity bit?  He’s seen you change, Kei.”

“I know,” Kei replied quietly.  “It’s just…”

“Look at what I’m wearing!” Sarah continued over Kei.  “Do you think he didn’t notice?  Lance knows who we are.”  Sarah turned back around, and crossed her arms in a huff.

Kei went deep red.  “It’s not me, ok?” she yelled at the back of Sarah’s head.  Kei turned in an equal huff, and sat down heavily.

Lance looked from one girl to the other, and then back to the road.  He wasn’t sure what to say, or if he was supposed to say anything at all.  Lance did not often hang around girls.  The solid quiet in the truck was only interrupted by the sound of feathers on leather as Sarah shifted irritably, and the occasional sob from the back of the truck.

“Sarah?” Kei finally asked in a small voice.  “Are you taking me to The Blight?”

Lance looked over at Sarah.  It only dawned on him now that he actually had no idea where Sarah’s directions had been taking them.  Sarah’s shoulders drooped, and she looked suddenly very tired.

“I have a place that’s safe,” Sarah explained quietly.  “Not even May knows where it is, and it’s fortified against the Shadows.  We’ll stay there tonight.”

Kei glanced into the cab with a look that Lance could only call cautiously optimistic.  “And then?”

Sarah didn’t look back at Kei.  “Then?  I don’t know.”  Sarah put her forehead against the dash.  “I honestly don’t know, Kei.”

No one said anything for a good long time after that.  Lance wasn’t sure where the day had gone, but he noticed now that it was getting dark.  Lance darted his eyes from road to sky.  It was getting dark far too quickly.  He looked over to Sarah.  She was looking up at the sky as well, her brow furrowed in concern.

“Do you hear that?”  Lance asked Sarah.  He tilted his head.  “It’s like bells.  Off in the distance.”

Sarah looked about.  “I hear it,” she replied.  “It’s everywhere.  It’s like…”

“Church bells,” Kei finished.

The girls looked at each other, and nodded a quick understanding of the situation.  Lance wasn’t sure what was going on, but whatever it was, it evidently took precedent over their feelings for each other.  Lance was sure that meant it was a very bad thing.

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 12

Lance and Sarah were already running when the explosion rocked the streets.  Lance nearly dropped Kei in shock.  At least the explosion had startled the Blight-Men as badly.  They actually stopped shooting for a moment.  Lance dove around a corner, Sarah following close behind.  Despite carrying nearly 50kg of unconscious girl on his back, Lance needed to slow his pace for Sarah to keep up.  Lance was very good at running.

“What was that?” Lance asked.  Directly, he meant the explosion, though indirectly he wouldn’t have minded some answers about the sniper, the girl with road breaking powers, and the entirety of his day so far.

“A convenient distraction,” Sarah answered vaguely. “And a bit of nostalgia.”  She waved at the rooftops.  “Barrowman,” she clarified.

Only, it wasn’t very clarifying at all.  “The religious bartender?” Lance asked.

Sarah rolled her eyes.  “Barrowman used to come to the rescue every time Kei screwed up,” she explained.  “It was pretty much a weekly event.”

Barrowman.  He knew more about this than Lance could guess.  “Lovely Angel,” Lance said.

“Shut up.”

“I don’t mean you,” Lance replied, though he wasn’t sure if that was entirely true.  “Barrowman got upset last night when you called Kei a Lovely Angel,” Lance continued.  “It had nothing to do with religion; he recognized the words.”

“This probably isn’t the time,” Sarah said.

Lance ignored her.  “That girl called you Lovely Angel Water Guardian.  She said Lovely Angel a few times.  It’s not just a description, is it?  It means something.  Barrowman knew what it means, and you obviously know what it means.”

Lance looked to Sarah for an answer.  He had to look twice to be sure of what he was seeing.  She was still beside him, but she wasn’t running.

“You’re flying,” Lance commented.  He looked away, and looked back.  Nothing had changed.  “You’re really flying.”

“Yes,” Sarah replied.  “I have wings, and I can’t run in heels.  So I’m flying.” She smirked at Lance.  “And yes, Lovely Angel Guardian used to mean something, but I’m not going to get in to it right now.  You’re just going to have to learn to roll with these things.”

“I’m trying,” Lance admitted.  “But this whole magical girl thing is a lot to take in.”

“Oh, you haven’t even gone half down the rabbit hole Lance,”

Lance didn’t get the reference.  He figured correctly that it translated out to things getting crazier.  He didn’t think long on it though.  Shouts from behind them, and the universal sound of rifles being readied told him that thinking would have to wait.

Sarah circled Lance, and stopped suddenly.  “Stay close,” she commanded to Lance.  Sarah lifted her hands into the air, and twisted her fingers in a complex pattern.  Ice crystals formed into a thick swirling cloud above her.  “Glaucus’ Blanket” she announced.

Sarah’s frozen cloud dropped as a thick mist, and poured into the streets.  The Blight-Men fired into the mist, but their shots went wide as they lost all visibility.  Lance felt Sarah grab his arm, but he couldn’t see her anymore.  He could barely see his own hands.  In the cold of the mist, he could barely feel them either.

“Stay with me,” Sarah insisted as she dragged Lance forward.  “We have to keep moving, or you could freeze.”

Lance nodded quickly.  He could feel the cold right to his bones as he let Sarah lead him through the mist.  He assumed that Sarah could see, since she was the only one not tripping on stuff as they went.

Lance adjusted Kei on his back.  He heard sheets of thin ice fall from her as he moved.  “What about Kei?”

“She’ll be fine,” Sarah stated flatly.  She thought for a second.  “Maybe.”  Sarah banged on something metal.  “We’re here anyways.  Just dump her in the back, and we can get out of here.”

Sarah dismissively waved a hand over her head, and the mist cleared away from around the truck.  It had a rounded hood, a long cab, and a deep rear bed.  The truck had been painted blue once long ago, but it was only evident in small islands amongst the rust orange that covered the truck.  One headlight was missing, and the other was half full of water.  The truck was old.  It looked like it had been old before the world went to pot.  Right now, it was the most beautiful thing Lance had ever looked at.

Lance carefully laid Kei in the back of the truck, and circled to the passenger side.  He could see shadows of Blighters trying to find their way through the fog.  They were getting close.  He cringed as he opened the door.  It gave a rusty squeal, and based on the shouting from the Blighters, had also given away their position.

Sarah was in the driver’s seat, hunched forward uncomfortably to make room for her wings.  She was swearing openly.  Sarah snapped her fingers over her head.  “C’mon,” she moaned, “c’mon!”

Lance watched her snap, and swear, and slam her fists into the dashboard.  He shrugged his confusion when she looked over at him.  He wasn’t sure what the problem was, much less how to help.

“I can’t change back,” Sarah complained.  “It like an adrenaline thing.  I can’t turn back until I calm down, and I can’t calm down while there are men shooting at us!”

“Ok,” Lance stated.  He watched the vague shapes of the Blight-Men getting clearer in the mist.  They were close.  “Maybe we could worry about that once we’ve gotten out of here?”

Sarah brushed the pleats of her skirt irritably.  “The keys to the truck are in my pants,” she stated coldly.

Lance stared at Sarah’s Lovely Angel skirt and vest.  He only took a second.  “Oh,” he said.

“Yeah.  Oh.”  Sarah smacked the side of her leg as if hoping a pocket would magically appear.  “So, unless my pants return from wherever my clothes go during Stupid Angel Suit time, we’re pretty screwed here.”

“Huh,” Lance said.  There wasn’t much more to say really.  “Alright, switch me seats.”  He crawled low along the truck floor before Sarah was out of the way; looking up at the steering column.

Sarah crawled over Lance.  She simultaneously tried to keep her wings in check, while keeping her skirt down, while not kicking Lance in the teeth.  “This is really awkward,” she admitted.

Lance grunted a response.  He flipped out his knife and pried the ignition switch from the truck.  “Sorry,” he muttered as he pulled some wires from behind the steering wheel.  He touched them together with a small spark.

Sarah blinked at Lance as the truck roared to life.  “How do you know how to hotwire a truck?  For that matter; why do you know?”  Working vehicles were pretty rare.  It just seemed an unlikely skill.  “Where did you even learn to do that?”

“Where’d you learn to throw balls of water around?” Lance retorted.  He smiled at Sarah.  “My granddad taught me to hotwire cars.”  Lance shrugged.  “I can also fix radios and toasters, for what that’s worth.  Televisions too.  Granddad always believed in knowing everything, even if it was useless.  Guess he was right.”

Sarah smirked.  “Did he teach you to drive?”

Lance took the question as permission.  He leant back in the seat, put his elbow on the windowsill, and his hand causally on the wheel.  Just like his granddad had taught him.  Lance revved the engine once, then jammed the truck into drive.

In the mist, Blighters screamed and ran blindly in all directions.  With the light from the one working headlight, and the roar of the engine, Lance could only imagine what the Blight-Men thought was coming for them from the fog.  He crashed through the small streets, and burst through the mist onto the ruined road.  Lance turned right into the last of the Blight-Men, and smirked as they dove for cover.

Sarah actually laughed.  “You never fail to amaze, Lance.”

“Says the girl with angel wings.”  Lance watched in the rear view as the Blight-Men recovered their feet.  By the time the men had pulled their rifles up, the truck was long gone.  “Where to?” Lance asked.

“Just keep driving,” Sarah replied.  “I have a place.”

May dropped down from the destroyed roof to the destroyed road below.  Blood poured from a gash in her leg, but she paid it no mind.  She watched Sarah’s truck vanish into the distance, and shook her head.

May paced back and forth.  “I cannot believe this,” she moaned.  “I mean, really, I can’t.  Blown up by Barrowman?  Beaten by a Lovely Angel?  I mean, like, when did I become the bad guy in this?”  May looked down at her uniform.  “Oh,” she accepted, tugging her bow straight.  “Right.”

May brushed off her knees, and knelt down.  “Well,” she said.  “If I have to be the bad guy, might as well do it right.  Right?”  May looked for verification, but none of the Blight-Men answered.  Most of them were too busy bleeding, or moaning, or being dead.  “Right,” she finished.

May put her ear to the ground.  “There,” she muttered.  When she tapped the earth, there was a deep sound like a church bell from under the road.  “You’ll do perfectly.”

May sat up, and motioned with one finger at the road.  Indents and lines appeared in the dirt, forming a giant circle around her.  Ancient looking symbols scrawled around the circle, inside and out.

“Gashkoro, Gashkoro,” May whispered to the ground.  “Ever hungry never full.  I summon you, Gashkoro; feed on their bodies, and send their energies to the Blight.”

The ground split.  Something huge moved from beneath.  A gong sounded loudly.  The Blight-Men that could ran screaming.

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 11

Sarah looked at the Blight-Men; her Blight-Men in regular circumstances.  She looked at Lance, and at Kei still unconscious on his back.  She looked at her skirt and her vest with its large blue bow on the front.  Sarah sighed and shook her head.

The men didn’t lower their weapons when they saw that it was their superior officer in the Lovely Angel costume.  Most of them in fact trained their weapons purposely on Sarah.  “Ma’am?” one of the Blighters managed.  He didn’t say anything else, but his question was evident.

Sarah sneered at the men.  She needed to get the situation under her control.  “This is a temporary situation,” She stated.  “It changes nothing.”  Sarah pointed at Lance.  “This man is taking the fugitive and loading her in my truck.  We will take her directly to the Emperor.”  Sarah narrowed her eyes at the men, and they all stepped back.  “Is there any questions?”

There was a laugh from the crowd.  A light voice piped up.  “Oh my God, what are you wearing?”

“And the hits just keep on coming,” Sarah muttered under her breath.  She forced a smile.  “Hello May.”

May stepped out from behind the Blighters.  “Look at you!” She covered her mouth, and giggled excitedly.  “Lovely Angel Water Guardian!”

“Please don’t call me that,” Sarah replied.

May ignored her.  “You haven’t worn that in, like, forever.”  May tilted her head.  “Which is probably because the Emperor doesn’t want us to, right?  He is not going to be happy with you.”

May didn’t leave a gap for Sarah to answer.  She gasped as she looked a Kei draped on Lance’s shoulders.  “Is that Kei?” May squealed.  “Oh my God, she hasn’t aged a day!”  May smirked.  “Too bad she’s out.  Kei’s the only one here young enough to pull off the Lovely Angel getup.”  She gasped suddenly.  “Ohmygosh.  I’m older than my older sister.  How weird is that?”

“May,” Sarah started.  She stepped forward,  hands in the air.

May gestured.  The ground cracked and rose a short wall in front of Sarah.  It was only knee height, but it was enough to stop Sarah in her tracks.  “I’m sorry, Sarah,” May explained happily.  She waved at Sarah’s clothes.  “Kei is obviously contagious?  I can’t risk some sort of Lovely Angel infection.”  She smiled mischievously.  “Heck half of these men would look pretty silly in a skirt.”

“You know that’s not how this works,” Sarah commented.

“If you were such an expert,” May retorted, “you wouldn’t be wearing a school girl uniform right now would you?”  May shrugged apologetically.  “You know the protocol on this sort of thing Sarah: you wrote it.”

May’s eyes narrowed, and her smile became maniacal as the darkness overtook her.  She raised a hand to her men, and pointed at Sarah, Lance, and Kei.  “Fire,” she commanded.

There was a crack from the rooftops, and the nearest Blight-Man’s head exploded.  Two more cracks and two more Blighters fell before anyone could react.  The Blight-Men panicked and strafed the rooftops with bullets.

Sarah took quick advantage of the confusion.  She weaved her hands to her side; water forming between her palms.  “Neptune’s Trident!” she yelled as she shoved her hands forward.  A tidal wave of clean clear water poured from her outstretched hands, and flooded the streets.

May brought her hands up as the wave flowed towards her.  The road rose in a wedge, splitting the flood around her.  It did nothing to protect her men, and they were washed off of their feet by the surging river.  Half of the Blighters were washed up the road.  The ones that weren’t were easy targets as the sniper continued to fire from the rooftops.  May narrowed her eyes at the roofs.  “Barrowman.”

May yelled her men’s attention, and pointed after Lance, Kei, and Sarah.  They’d already turned and ran halfway down the block.  “Do not let them escape!” May told her men.  She touched the ground quickly, and a pillar of earth burst through the road.  It carried her quickly towards the rooftops.

May’s pillar stopped short, and the momentum tossed her the last bit of distance.  She landed gracefully on the roof John Barrowman had fired from.  He was already running away.  May smirked.  She touched the roof with one hand, and raised the other like she was conducting an orchestra.

John kept running as the roof split and rose beneath him.  He vaulted from the floating chunks of broken cement, and freefell to the next rooftop.  John tucked around his duffle bag, and rolled as he hit the roof hard.  His rifle went scattering over the edge, and clattered to the streets below.

John scrambled aside as a large chunk of concrete smashed where he’d been.  May walked lazily over the ruined rooftops.  Small pieces of broken roof circled her, and shot under her bare feet every time she stepped down.

“Whatsamatter old man?” May mocked as she stepped onto the solid roof.  “No poems about thorny war roses?  No prose about the power of love?”  She put her hands on her hips.  “I mean, you used to give the Shadows a warning haiku or something.  You run out of material?”

John wiped a line of blood from his lip and smiled.  “I’m too old for that sort of thing May,” he admitted.  “I’ve been in this world too long, and I’ve grown too cynical for poetry.”

“Not you John!” May’s eyes flashed honest concern as she covered her mouth with her hands.  “You can’t become cynical!”

“You’re one to talk about change,” John replied.  “I don’t know what Blight did to you May, but you’re unstable.  You’re dangerous.”  John shook his head, and placed his duffle bag down.  “You were always the heart of the Lovely Angel Guardians.  You gotta wonder what your condition says about the others?”

May beamed.  “You thought I was the heart of the team?  That’s so nice John.”  She pouted.  “Abbey says I’m the comic relief.  She doesn’t even say it nicely.”

John dug a couple small boxes from his duffle bag.  “Abbey always did have something to prove,” he agreed.

“I know, right?”  May paced as she continued.  “She thinks she’s soooo special.  Super tough hardcore warrior.  And you know why?”

John unravelled some wiring.  He looked up at May.  “Because she can throw fire?”

“Because she can throw fire,” May agreed haughtily.  “I mean, who actually cares, right?  Kei’s not afraid of fire.  Sarah’s certainly not afraid of fire.  I mean, water, right?”   May’s eyes darkened again.  “I’m not afraid of fire.”

John clipped the wires together.  “Maybe she’s making up for that with attitude.  Girl like Abbey’d have trouble accepting that she’s actually the weakest link.”

May giggled.  “Weakest Link,” she agreed.  “But that’s what she thinks I am.”  May brushed her long copper curls back.  “I control the earth itself, right?  I can see anyone who walks the land.  I can summon the Blight’s Horrors from their slumber.  I can bend the ground like…” May stopped as she tried to find a good metaphor.  “I could crush her,” she settled on.  “I could crush any of them.”  She turned her attention to John.  “I could crush you,” she insisted, bringing her hands up.  The building shook in agreement.

John dusted off his hands.  “I suppose you could May,” he said.  “But not today.”

May sneered.  “Why not?”

“Because for someone who can see anyone anywhere, you’re not very perceptive.”  John stepped back and waved to his set up.  A pair of small boxes sat on the roof beside him.  Each had a panel that simply read ‘front toward enemy’.  They were both pointed at May.

“Well, poop,” May accepted.  She waved all the broken concrete into a cocoon around herself, just as the rooftop exploded.

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 10

Sarah’s attack had smashed Kei through the wall of the old apartment, and washed her out to the streets below.  Kei had managed to use her one wing to stabilize her fall somewhat.  She hit down on her back, and rolled immediately back to her feet.

Sarah was already in the air when Kei looked up.  She had her hands tucked to her side, and a small sphere of green foaming water had formed between them.  Sarah thrust her hands forward, firing the water-ball at Kei.  Kei threw herself backwards as the attack cratered the street where she’d been standing.

Kei rolled again, this time coming up in a crouch.  She kept one hand on the ground, as she pointed her staff at Sarah.  “Gaia’s lance,” she announced.

The earth split, and great pillars or stone shot up at Sarah.  She was clipped hard as one of the thick pillars smashed into her side, and tossed her off course.  Sarah landed hard on her chest.  She crossed her hands quickly in the air.  Water swirled upward, disintegrating the stone pillars as they fell towards her.

Sarah kipped up to her feet.  She brought her hands back, and again formed a ball of water.  Sarah was about to attack when she heard the gunfire from the apartment, followed by angry shouting.  The water in her hands splashed to the ground as she stared back at the ruined window.  The anger in her eyes was replaced by concern.  Had the Blight-Men shot Lance?

Kei swayed from foot to foot, and twirled her staff in her hands.  She saw the change in Sarah’s stance, and lowered her guard slightly.  “We don’t have to do this Sarah,”  Kei said.  “We don’t have to fight.”

Sarah snapped her attention away from the apartment, and fully back to Kei.  There was no emotion to Kei’s comment.  Sarah felt the comment was obligatory; a verification of who was the good guy, and who was the bad guy.  Sarah could feel the darkness wash over her.  She had never hated Kei more than she did this minute.

“We wouldn’t have to do this,” Sarah corrected, “if you’d just died.  But you couldn’t even do that right.”  Sarah clenched her hands, and ocean water pooled around her fists.  It trailed in waves behind Sarah as she charged at Kei.  “Lets see if I can’t fix that!”

Kei took a few steps back as Sarah rushed at her.  She swirled her staff over her head, and swung it in a wide arc.  “Spinning Steel Slash,” she announced robotically.  A crescent of white energy flared from the staff.

Sarah vaulted over Kei’s attack.  She twisted in the air, and brought her hands together.  “Triton’s fist!” she screamed.

Kei was firehosed off of her feet by Sarah’s geyser attack.  She crashed hard enough into a wall to bounce off of it.  Sarah didn’t let up as Kei crumpled to the ground.  She ran forward, and soccer kick Kei in the jaw as she tried to get up.  There was an explosion of brackish water as Sarah’s foot met Kei’s face.

Kei was thrown back by Sarah’s kick, and she landed down hard.  Her wing twitched above her, but it was all that moved.  Sarah muttered something against the ground, and feebly waved her hand.  An inferno of flame circled around her, and separated her from Sarah.

“No,” Sarah declared.  She weaved her hands before her, pulling water from the ground and spinning it around herself.  Steam rose  around Sarah as she walked through the flames unmolested.  “Ifrit’s Embrace won’t stop me.  Nothing you can do will stop me!”  She sidestepped as Kei clumsily threw another Steel Slash at her.  “Nothing!” Sarah threw her hands wide, and the rest of the flames vanished with a hiss and a burst of steam.

Kei scrambled backwards.  She pointed at Sarah shakily as she got back to her feet.  “Neptune’s Trident!”  Kei yelled.  A geyser of clear water flew from her hands.

Sarah stood with her arms out wide as the flow washed over her.  The water spun and churned around Sarah, turning to the thick angry green of the ocean.  “Against me?” she accused, fury in her voice.  “You used Neptune’s Trident against me?”

The water seethed and frothed around Sarah, matching her fury.  She motioned lightly as she stormed towards Kei.  A fist of solid water shot forward and knocked Kei backwards.  Sarah stood over Kei, smiling triumphantly.

Sarah grabbed Kei by the bow on her chest, and hoisted her up.  Kei tried to get her staff up between them, but Sarah easily swatted it away.  Sarah brought her hand back, and the water circling her formed into a rough oversized gauntlet.

“You’ll kill her,” Lance warned.  He put a hand on Sarah’s shoulder.  “If you hit her again, you’ll kill her.”

Sarah looked at Lance.  She hadn’t seen him come out, or seen him standing so close to her and Kei.  She didn’t know how long he’d been there, or what he’d seen.  There was a flash of relief that Lance hadn’t been shot, but it was quickly washed over by shame.

Sarah didn’t want him looking at her.  Lance hadn’t trusted her because she was a Blight-Man.  Like most, Lance thought of the Blighters as thugs and murderers, and here she was ready to crush Kei.  Lance saw her as a murderer.  She didn’t want that.  She looked at Kei; helpless in her grasp, and the anger returned.

“I don’t care!” Sarah screamed; as much to herself as to Lance.  Sarah hoisted Kei up again.  “You don’t know, Lance,” she insisted.  “You don’t know what she did!”  Sarah waved to the streets.  “She did this!  All of this!  Everything that happened is because of her!”

Kei lifted her arm; water forming around her hand.  Sarah shook her head, and laughed coldly.  “Again?” She accused.  “You’re going to use Neptune’s Trident against me again?”

Kei reached out and pressed her hand against Sarah’s chest.  “I’m not trying to attack you with Neptune’s Trident,” she coughed.  “I’m trying to give it back.”

“No!”  The anger in Sarah’s face vanished, leaving cold fear.  “NO!  Kei, don’t you dare!”

Kei didn’t acknowledge Sarah’s plea; she only pushed her hand harder against Sarah’s chest.  A pulse of pale blue energy flared from Kei’s hand, and Sarah rocked back as if she’d been shot.  Kei collapsed where Sarah dropped her.

Water flowed from the road around Sarah.  It swirled violently around her, lifting her from the ground.  Lance could only just see her silhouette through the foam.  Sarah moved like Kei had before, but unlike Kei’s graceful gymnast movements, Sarah’s dance was jolted and forced.  Lance saw Sarah’s face through the rough waters, and could see from her features that Sarah was desperately  fighting against the transformation.

Lance grabbed Kei by the front of her vest.  “Stop this!” he insisted.  “Make it stop!  She doesn’t want this!”

Kei’s eyes rolled in her head.  “It doesn’t matter what she wants,” Kei forced.  “This is part of Sarah; part of her that she’s missing.”  She went limp in Lance’s grasp.  Her white vest vanished like mist, replaced by the bulky yellow sweater she’d been wearing earlier.

Lance lowered Kei carefully back to the ground, and looked back to Sarah.  The water had pulled tight against her body.  It had washed away her grey uniform, and replaced it with a white vest, and a blue pleated skirt.  The waves swept over Sarah’s back, and solidified into a pair of pale blue wings.  Sarah stumbled forward.  Her hand shot to her temple against her will.  Sarah cringed as she gave a cute salute, just before her knees gave out, and she crumpled to the ground.

Lance rushed to try and catch Sarah, but she put up a warning hand to stop him.  “I’m fine,” Sarah stated.  She staggered to her feet, and swayed drunkenly.  Tears ran down her face, but she stared defiance at Lance, daring him to comment.  “I’m fine,” she stated again, mostly for herself.  “This is just temporary.”

Sarah put her hand in the air, and snapped her fingers dramatically.  She stared at her hand surprised when nothing happened.  Sarah snapped a few more times desperately.  “No,” she moaned.  “No nonono.”

She clutched at her stomach suddenly, and dropped back to her knees.  Sarah glared at Lance as he tried to help her.  She opened her mouth to insist once more that she was fine, but instead vomited forth a seemingly unending geyser of green water.

Lance held Sarah’s hair back.  He wasn’t really sure what else to do.  When she was done, he put her arm over his shoulder, and helped her to her feet.  This time Sarah didn’t deny the assistance.

“Where is Kei,” Sarah asked in a tired whisper.

“She’s out,” Lance told her.  He helped Sarah to where Kei was laying, but kept her out of reach.  “Are you going to try and kill her again?”

Sarah narrowed her eyes at Lance.  “I don’t  know,” she admitted.  “I haven’t even decided what I’m going about you, much less her.”

Sarah let go of Lance’s shoulder.  She staggered a bit, but it was less from vertigo, and more from the fact that she hadn’t walked in magical-transformation-evening-heels for years.  She motioned for Lance to pick up Kei.

“I’m not going to kill her right now,” Sarah said finally.  “But if we don’t all get out of here now, I won’t have to.”

Lance shifted the rifle at his side, and hoisted Kei up into an unconscious piggyback ride.  He followed as Sarah walked away.  “I don’t understand,” he admitted.

“The only reason I beat Kei so easily is because she really didn’t fight back,” Sarah explained.  “She made a show of it, but only so she could get me close enough to do this.”  Sarah tugged at her white vest in disgust.  “I wasn’t expecting her to do this to me.”

Lance hopped Kei up to a better position on his back.  “What did she do to you,” he asked.

Sarah stared at Lance for a moment.  She shook her head and kept walking.  “It doesn’t matter,” she said.  “And it’ll take too long to explain.”  Sarah snapped her fingers over her head again, and swore.  “What does matter is that I’m wearing the stupid Lovely Angel Guardian costume, and my men will kill all three of us because of it.”

“Your men,” Lance repeated.

“My men,” Sarah said.  “I’m not stupid.  I have back up coming.”  She motioned to Kei, currently drooling on Lance’s shoulder.  “I expected her to fight back.  If she had, she would have had a good chance of beating me.  I prepared for that possibility.”  Sarah rolled her eyes.  “I didn’t admit that to the rest of the Elite, which is a small plus in that, but I have Blight-Men on their way here in case I lost.”

Lance almost asked how many Blighters were coming.  He didn’t have to though, because the two squads of Blight-Men chose perfect timing to swarm the area, rifles drawn.

Lovely Angel-Pocalypse 09

Lance looked at the girl beside him.  Kei, evidently.  He looked over at Sarah, still motioning for him to join her.  Finally he looked over at the Blight-Men with their badly injured faces.  Neither of them was very happy to see him.  There were plenty of questions, and yet for some reason, Bill and Mike being here seemed the most confusing.  Lance’s brain worked funny under duress.

“Lance,” Sarah repeated, “step away from the fugitive.”  She held out a hand to Lance.  “Please, you need to get away from her.”

“No,” Mike insisted.  His ruined face twisted in fury.  “Nobody moves!”

“Hands in the air!” Bill added in a panicked squeak.

Lance made to put his hands up.  Mike aimed his rifle menacingly.  “I said don’t move!”

Lance stopped dead still.  “I’m getting conflicting messages here,” he admitted.  “I’m going to put my hands up now, slowly, and I’m not going to move.”

Sarah glared at Mike.  “Lance is moving over here with us.  You two are to keep an eye on the fugitive.”  She held her hand out to Lance again.

“No one is moving!” Mike yelled again.  He never took his eyes off Lance.  “We have our orders,” he continued.  “Both of the fugitives are to be detained until backup arrives.”

“Orders?” Sarah fumed.  “I’m giving you orders here right now.”

Bill looked nervously at Sarah.  “I’m sorry Elite Officer Mizumi,” he stuttered.  “But we’re to ignore all of your orders regarding the Runner.”

Sarah almost asked who gave the order, but she knew.  “May,” she muttered.

“Elite Officer Hokori was very specific,” Bill offered nearly apologetically.  “Both fugitives are to be brought in by any means necessary, and that any conflicting orders you give are to be ignored.”  He gave a half shrug.  “I’m sorry,” he added sheepishly.

Sarah clenched her hands in anger, but said nothing.  Lance felt like he should say something, but wasn’t really sure what to say in a situation like this.  It wasn’t a common situation to be in.  Besides, he didn’t like Mike’s gun pointed at him.  It didn’t take an expert to see that the man was waiting for an excuse to pull the trigger.  Lance didn’t want to give him one.

Kei evidently had no qualms against giving a reason, and wasn’t against moving despite orders.  Kei raised her arms slowly, as if she was starting a dance routine.  She swung one slowly in front of her as she raised the other to the sky. Lance wasn’t sure he heard Kei properly, but he swore she said something along the lines of ‘Lovely Angel Princess Guardian Transformation’.

“I said don’t move!” Mike yelled.  “Don’t move!”

Kei didn’t stop, and Mike didn’t waste any more words on warnings.  He pulled the trigger, spraying the room with bullets.  He didn’t even waste time aiming.  Bill, startled by the yelling and the sudden firing joined in.

Sarah yelled something at Lance over the gunfire, but he couldn’t hear.  She cursed, and motioned as if throwing Lance aside.  A wave of green water formed around her outstretched hand, and slammed into Lance.  He was lifted off his feet, and thrown across the room.  Lance smashed through the neighbouring wall into the apartment’s unused bathroom.

Lance crashed into the tub with a thud.  His shoulder was sore from ramming into a support beam in the wall.  He shook wet plaster from his hair and crawled back towards the hole nonetheless.  Lance expected to see Kei’s bloody corpse splashed across the room.  He was surprised to see that she was fine.  It was the least of his surprises.

A kaleidoscope of light enveloped Kei, and deflected the bullets around her.  Lance could make out her silhouette through the blinding light, but little else.  Yet he couldn’t force himself to look away.  The light pulled in on Kei.  It hugged her like a second skin; replacing her bulky clothing with shimmering color.  Kei moved like a gymnast under the glow, and yet stayed in one place.

Ribbons of silk appeared around Kei.  They circled around in time to her movements before they wrapped her body, and formed the pleated skirt and vest she’d worn when Lance had first seen her.  A large silver bow sprang from her chest, pinned by a golden star shaped pendant.  The color bled from Kei’s hair as it tied itself into two long braids.  One great angel wing sprouted from her right shoulder, and the golden capped stub of the other grew from her left.

Solid light shot from Kei’s hands, and braided together to form her staff.  Kei spun her staff over her head as the light faded.  She stopped her performance in perfect stance, her staff’s blade pointed at Sarah.

Lance had stood transfixed throughout the entirety of Kei’s transformation.  He’d even stepped back into the room without noticing the movement.  He wasn’t alone though.  Bill and Mike had stopped shooting, and stood staring at Kei; just as hypnotized.  Only Sarah seemed unimpressed.  She stood with her arms crossed, and rolled her eyes when Kei was done.

“Ah, the little dance,” Sarah patronized.  “Adorable.”  She smiled coldly at Kei.  “This is how the big girls do it.”

Sarah held her hand up, and snapped her fingers.  Cold blue fire flared from her hand, and quickly crawled down her arm.  It burnt away her clothes; replacing them instantly with a solid grey military uniform.

Sarah straightened her blue ribbon bow with a sharp tug.  “Efficiency,” she commented.  “It’ll beat drama every time.”

Sarah’s shot a hand forward at Kei.  A geyser of ocean water flowed from her outstretched palm.  Kei wrapped her one wing around herself, blocking the blast.  Still, the water hit her like a battering ram.  It threw Kei backwards through the outer wall, and down to the streets below.

Sarah followed quickly.  She dashed across the room, and landed in a crouch on the edge of the destroyed windowsill.  The anger in her eyes subsided briefly as she looked at Lance.  “Stay here,” she ordered.  “Just stay here out of the way.”  With that, she leapt out after Kei.

Lance dashed to the edge of the ruined wall.  He could see both girls on the streets; facing off.  He wanted to leap down and get between them, though he didn’t have a plan beyond that.  Lance in fact wasn’t entirely sure of what was going on.  It would have been easier to blindly assume Kei was innocent and that the Blight-Men were evil if he hadn’t met Sarah.

Lance felt a rifle barrel pressed against the back of his head.  “Look at that,” Mike said behind him.  “You moved.”

“Mike, I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Bill started.

“I’m willing to agree with him,” Lance offered.

“Shut up,” Mike hissed.  “I’ve been looking forward to doing this all day.  You broke my face, you think there ain’t payment coming for that?”

“Mike,” Bill tried again.

“You shut up too, rookie; this is happening.”  Mike shoved his gun harder into the back of Lance’s head.  “And after I splatter your brains across this room, I’m going to go down and do the same to your friend.”

Lance chuckled dryly.  “Which one?”  It was a decision he was having trouble with himself.

“Maybe both,” Mike snapped.  “Won’t matter that much to you anyways.”

“Because I’ll be dead,” Lance agreed.  “I get that.  Which one though?  Which one are you thinking of shooting more?  You gotta have a favourite.”

The gun against Lance’s head shifted just a bit as Mike took a peek over the edge to the streets below.  He couldn’t help himself but to look; which was exactly what Lance was expecting.

Lance ducked quick before Mike could react.  He twisted, and slammed an elbow into Mike’s chest.  Lance shoved the large man hard before he rolled through the hole in the wall that led to the bathroom.

Mike roared his anger as he staggered back.  He fired a few rounds at the fleeing Runner, but only managed to perforate the wall.  He waved for Bill to circle to the bathroom door.  “Don’t let him get out,” Mike yelled at the rookie as he stormed through the broken wall.

Lance wasn’t planning on getting out quite yet.  He waited for Mike to follow him through the wall, and smashed the Blighter’s face with the lid from the toilet’s tank.  There was a wet crunch noise as the porcelain lid shattered across Mike’s face.  Mike clutched at his face, and fell back screaming.  Lance spin kicked Mike back out of the bathroom, and across the room.  He drove a straight arm punch into Mike’s already ruined face.  Mike succumbed finally to the pain, and collapsed to the floor.

Bill stood frozen as Lance pummeled Mike.  He couldn’t find the ability to move until Lance looked right at him.  Bill did the smart thing.  He put his rifle down, and put his hands up.

Lance picked up Mike’s rifle.  He pointed it at Bill, then at the apartment door.  “Go,” he suggested.

Bill nodded quickly, and dashed out the door.  Lance took the clip from Bill’s rifle and stuffed it into a pocket.  He didn’t have a plan, but he had a feeling he’d need extra ammo for whatever happened next.

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