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.
“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?”