"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 33"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13

The Hunt Begins
Let's Try This Again

       Making sure to step quietly the figure silently adhered to the shadows. It wasn’t her usual style to skulk along like this, but for now she was satisfied to trail along behind the two former insurance girls. The two women sped down the hall unaware they had picked up a stalker in the course of their travels. However, every now and then the dark-haired one would cast a puzzled glance over her shoulder as if sensing something was strangely amiss.

        And how right she is, thought the cross dresser with a grim half-smile.

        The lives of these two insignificant beings could easily have been snuffed out when she first caught sight of them. However, Elendira savored the thrill of knowing that each breath they took was on borrowed time. She would kill them both but only when she decided the time was right. For the moment she enjoyed the thrill of the game of following along behind them without being detected.

        Elendira had noticed them earlier when the two were hurrying down a hall that intersected with hers. She had been checking to make sure that all the newer workers knew where to go when the alarm went off and didn’t linger before planning on leaving the building last. The remaining stragglers were ushered out and she had this final hall to check before leaving also.

        So it was with some surprise when she heard footsteps rapidly approaching down the hall crossing hers. With a frown she had turned back toward the end of her hall where it ended, meeting up with another corridor. Lifting up her heels so the sound didn’t give away her presence with a telltale clicking on the polished floor, her intention was to surprise the unfortunates lagging behind within an inch of their life. As it was, several interns and assistants had already been on the receiving end of a skewering cold look and a razor sharp tongue for their ineptitude in leaving the building in a timely fashion. A good scare was a lesson they would not soon forget.

        So it was with an unexpected start that Elendira recognized Milly and Meryl as they rushed by. She was stunned to see them and realized that this was a serendipitous moment that should be quickly seized and used to her advantage. Her lips lifted in a blood-chilling smile, Elendira took a moment to consider the best way to proceed from this point on. Best of all, neither girl had bothered to look to the side down the hall they were passing by. It was dimly lit but if they had taken a moment to really look that way they could have seen her standing there.

        With the ruthless smile still in place, the cross dresser reached up and patted the perfect coiffure of cool blonde hair with the one curled strand artfully draped over her brow. It was time to be rid of these two nuisances. One small loud-mouthed girl and her behemoth friend were about to disappear off the face of the planet.

        How very helpful of the two to be breaking more rules than one could shake a stick at that they didn’t bear counting. Painstakingly colored and glossed lips thinned at the thought before cold reality brought the cross dresser up short.

        No matter how many rules the raven-haired concubine broke, Knives would not be pleased if she were disposed of. Yet, the Black Vash would soon be making an appearance along with his preacher friend. If the tiny DNA sequencer implanted under the male plant’s skin was still working, the bio-chemical changes in his plant genetic makeup should have him at a mouth-frothing stage by now. Better yet, it would also make him forget any of the pacifistic ideals he was known for spouting off in the past. As a result, in the place of the old peace-loving gunslinger (there was an oxymoron if Elendira ever heard one!) would be a dark-winged avenger filled with anger, bitterness and hatred. The two plants would be equally balanced.

        Elendira smirked, the plan was perfect. The two brothers would clash and consume one another in their bitter rage and struggle for dominance. Then the human race would be safe from Knives’ insane manipulations and his cause to wipe out a whole species. Without the free-walking male plants around to torment them, humans could use the plant facility angels without fear of losing them. Human survival would be assured. Mulling it over, a perfumed hand raised to gently touch one sculpted eyebrow, running a smoothing finger over an arched brow. With a bare lift of the same eyebrow, Elendira wondered if it would be a good time to kill the two females now that Black Vash and Knives were close to the final confrontation.

        Surprisingly, Elendira had altruistic reasons for the project that had been long years in the making. Behind the scenes, underneath the surface of her persona of the Crimson Nail, she was trying to save the human population of the planet. Elendira was one of the very few who knew how formidable Knives was and how powerful he could easily become. Thanks to the good doctor, now deceased, the objective had been achieved. Only the two of them had known about their tampering of Vash, and now, only Elendira was left to make sure the two brothers were brought together at the right time.

        The plan was amazingly simple. It was to force the Stampede to get over his squeamishness to kill his brother. And the time appeared right. Elendira knew that the compound would be penetrated any day now, not just because Knives had their women, but also because a spy had been tailing the Stampede and Chapel since the last town and ranch. This time it was a non-human so that the plant wouldn’t realize he was being followed. No one need tell the cross dresser that the twins had an uncanny sense of knowing when something was off kilter. Some damn internal warning system that they both shared would alert them time and time again if there was anything unusual in their immediate vicinity, human-wise that is.

        Finally, though, finally the two siblings were close to not caring if they took each other’s life. This was unprecedented in their history, and Elendira was going to make sure that the two brothers came together. If they could cancel each other out... The cross dresser allowed a small, dignified frown to form... It would be perfect, however, Knives had gotten soft of late and Vash, it seemed, was more bloodthirsty. Hopefully they were on the same level of determination and once the hostilities began they would not be able to control their aggressive tendencies.

        Turning her thoughts from that course, she went back to considering her immediate goal of cleansing the planet of two dubious specimens of womanhood. Even though everything that Elendira did was for the survival of humankind on the planet, the death of two former claims agents wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things. There was a price each of them must pay for harming the beauty of perfection and the perfection of beauty. The one known as Milly was tried and condemned in the space of a second for crossing the unforgivable line and marring the unblemished and flawless skin. Her eyes narrowed, and as for that shorter one, for slowing down the machinations that had been in place for years by taking Elendira’s place at Knives’ right hand.

        Elendira was the most powerful of the Gung Ho Guns and had worked long and hard, showing a viciousness early on that had caught Knives’ eye until he promoted her to the top of the totem pole, even above the late and unlamented Legato. A hiss issued out of her mouth. It disturbed her to no end to know that even now the Master was growing a clone in a tank to take the mind freak’s place. The thing that was an unknown factor was if this clone of Legato would have the same mind powers or if that was an unexplainable quirk of nature.

        Elendira shook her head as if to dislodge unpleasant thoughts. One pleasant thought was with the deaths of both ladies, that the preacher and Vash would be thrown off kilter. Enough so that Vash wasn’t more powerful than Knives. It was such a delicate balance. Yes, Chapel would be wild with rage and grief, Black Vash would be as well at the death of both of his lady friends, and Knives also would know pain at the death of Meryl. Surely it was a win-win situation, unless everything went horribly awry. There was always that.

        No matter which way one viewed it; the outcome was sure to be the same. Chaos in the same group, but not that it would matter. Any duel started between Knives and Vash would be of such intensity that it would literally shake the compound to the core, bringing the building down on top of them and most likely kill them all. Elendira was already resigned to the fact that she had a slim chance of survival upon the clash of the twins. But, sliding the tip of her tongue over glossy red lips she considered the consequences. Before this point in time, she had never entertained the thought that she would survive the clash, but maybe there was a way. However, she knew for sure that the girls wouldn’t, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t be helped along down the path a little sooner than expected. A wicked grin split her lips. Elendira came to a decision.

Cat and Mice

       “Are you sure this is the right way Meryl?” Milly looked down at her petite friend with questioning eyes as Meryl stared at the area around them with a puzzled frown.

        “This has to be the right hall Milly. I’m sure of it,” she said, although not sounding as sure as her words indicated. Swiveling her head first one way and then the other to study the walls around them, she tried to pick out something, anything that looked familiar to let her know they were in the right place.

        Milly looked too even as she shifted the bag with Rinnah’s clothes to tuck it under her other arm. She was determined that no friend of hers would have to go without clothes, that is, unless they wanted to. And of course she was a good enough friend to point out that going unclothed had many disadvantages and why in the world was she even thinking along this line of thought anyway? She gave a mental shrug and decided it was nerves at work.

        Instead, she looked around her and noted that all she could see were three wide recessed service elevator doors on one wall and another one to their left opposite the other three doors. The main thing that was different from the several other halls just like this was that there weren’t any stairs on this level. She turned back to Meryl with questioning eyes.

        Meryl also noticed and was sure it meant that they were in the right place. Just to get to this point had taken some doing. The place was like one huge rat maze.

        “There are a couple of halls that have this same setup...” she slowed down and stopped speaking altogether as she studied the service doors near them. Meryl finally looked up at Milly and shrugged. “Nothing for it but to hope for the best.”

        She walked past two sets of doors to stand in front of the third and shoved the card into the slot situated underneath the colored buttons on the panel. When a soft chime sounded a panel lifted up to give her access to a keypad. She stared at it a second before entering the code she had seen Knives type in for any room that was considered off limits. She wondered if he knew that she had peeked and seen the number. Maybe, she blew out a breath, was there anyone who knew what he knew? She doubted it. The man played his cards so close to the chest it was hard to tell at times.

        Upon hearing an affirming ‘you pass‘ beep and then a lilting chime, Meryl said excitedly, “We did it! This is the right one!”

        “Good going Meryl!” Milly gave her the thumbs-up sign. “We’ll be...”

        “Dead in no time.” Interrupted a cool, silky voice that sent shivers up and down their spines. With wide eyes, both ladies slowly turned to look at the speaker.


        Both Meryl and Milly faced Elendira as she stood in a relaxed, yet gracefully poised position. In one hand was the huge briefcase the cross dresser usually had with her.

        It never failed. She could have sighed, just when things were going so well.

        Once again adding insult to injury, Meryl felt like a smudged and grimy street urchin standing next to work of art. It just wasn’t fair.

        “My, my. What they will let out of the zoo these days.” A sly, satisfied look appeared as cold narrow eyes took in the rumpled sight of the two women before her.

        “Um, there aren‘t any zoos for iles around.”

        “Please be quiet Milly and let me handle this!” She took a half step in front of Milly as if to shield her friend from any harm.

        “What do you want?” Meryl demanded as she backed up against Milly‘s front, trying to force the taller woman to take a step backward. She was pretty sure that whatever Elendira had in mind it wasn’t going to be pleasant or pretty for them.

        Milly, however, was having none of it and doggedly refused to move even a fraction of an inch from her place.

        “You. Her. Dead.” Said the transvestite in bored tones.

        That was succinct; no lengthy villain speech filled with excuses. Meryl decided she was all in favor of the traditional long-drawn-out speech that could add a few more precious minutes to their lives. However, this being the Crimson Nail, the most ruthless and unsurpassed of the Gung Ho Guns, Meryl couldn’t say she was the least bit surprised. Instead she dug her heels in harder and leaned back against her tall friend with all of her strength. Milly didn’t even sway in place.

        Elendira just smiled faintly at the comical performance in front of her. Really, however did these two survive all these years? The antics were just too ridiculous to believe.

        “Milllllyyyyy......!” Hissed Meryl out of the side of her mouth.

        “Yes Meryl? Is there something you wanted?”


        “No Meryl.”

        She looked down calmly as Meryl whipped her head around to glare at her with a dangerous gleam in her eye that Milly knew so well but had rarely been on the receiving end of. She smiled down into Meryl’s red face and deepening frown.

        “We can’t run away any more Meryl. We need to deal with her. Wait a minute?. What should I call you, A him?.. Or is it her?” Milly rolled her eyes upward tapping her chin with a finger as she tried to figure out what was the correct pronoun to use. Looking at the waiting cross dresser who was becoming more cross by the second, Milly concluded, “Hirmie. I think that’s what I will call you.”

        The first sign of irritation flashed in Elendira’s eyes. “You won’t have to worry about it after this.”

        “I don’t think so Hirmie.” Milly’s eyes flared in uncharacteristic anger. “Your soul is full of sand and your heart is pudding-less.”

        “I don’t care what you call m.... What?” Elendira had heard every insult to come down the pike but this was a new one on her. This one slipped around her jaded defenses and surprisingly, it stung. The cross dresser thumbed the secret safety latch, flipping it so that two wooden slats snapped away from the sides of the briefcase to form a combination of a briefcase and crossbow. The button next to it would fire the deadly ammunition she was named for.

        Meryl saw the look and knew they only had seconds to live. She spread her arms out in front of Milly, adamant that her friend should survive. Milly looked down at the raven-haired woman with a serene expression and then, to Meryl’s shock, lifted her up by the armpits. Meryl was lifted off her feet and swung over to the side.

        “Sorry Meryl, but I can’t let you do that.” For her part, Meryl was silently calling herself every name in the book. Why, oh why hadn’t she thought to grab something to defend them with when she had the chance? Were guns even on the mental list from earlier this morning?

        Elendira lost her temper. The two brainless women didn‘t have a weapon between them and they were standing up to the most feared of the Gung Ho Guns. “You don’t have to fight to see who will be killed in what order. You will both be dead...”

        Just as Elendira raised the briefcase with it’s lethal, killing missiles, the doors to one of the elevators opened.

        Out stepped Levio. Right away without even looking he noticed the two women to his right. Both he recognized, but the one he knew well, the Mother. To his left stood Elendira. Obviously he caught her in attack mode. If he had arrived a few seconds later the two women would have been a couple of human pincushions. Without hesitation he sprang into the air to land lightly on his feet at a point between the three. He now faced the Crimson Nail with both Double Fangs filling his hands.

        Elendira snorted at this new complication but perceived that the half-insane assassin didn‘t seem surprised to have come upon this scene.

        “Yay for us! The cavalry is here!” Milly shouted joyously while throwing up her arms, and whirling the sack over her head like an overweight pompon.

        “Hush Milly, this isn’t over yet!” Warned Meryl, her dark gray eyes bouncing back and forth between the two most unpredictable of the Gung Ho Guns. This time Milly, now noticing what Meryl was trying to do, moved back when being prodded and pushed by her insistent short friend.

        Levio, eyes full of deadly menace holding the specter of Razlo leering out from the depths of deep-set eyes, stared at Elendira without flinching. Elendira noted the difference in his aspect even as she gave him a remote smile, eyes hard as stone.

        “You are dead!”

        “I have not been given permission to die at this time.”

        With teeth clenched Elendira leaned so that her twisted torso bent so far backwards that it made Meryl wince to see it. However it was obvious that it was a poise that was as familiar to the Crimson Nail as the briefcase in her hand was second nature. With one leg straightened in front of her to brace her while the other bent at the knee, it lowered her center of gravity but Meryl thought the dramatic posture excessive on the part of the cross dresser, not to mention that it looked most uncomfortable. Although their lives were in peril however, she couldn’t help but be impressed at how supple the Gung Ho Gun was.

        It was a brief spectacle since an eye blink later Elendira pulled the triggering device. A wild gleam flashed through Levio’s eyes as he used his Double Fangs to deflect the nails fired at them. Then he spun away from the two women, a trail of nails spitting from Elendira’s weapon to follow him. It was evident that he was trying to create a zone of safety for Meryl and Milly to stand. The battle was begun.

        Meryl and Milly’s eyes popped open wide as the air around them exploded with gunfire and what looked like hurled poles. They noted that all of the nails intended for them were intercepted and blown to smithereens or redirected away from them. Everything was moving at too high of a speed for either woman to easily follow the action, but they could see the results around them and be amazed at the wonder that they were even still alive. Even as she leaned back against her taller friend Meryl wondered what the metal was made of that was used to fashion Levio’s guns so they could deflect bullets like that. However, she was incredibly and intensely grateful for whatever it was.

        Milly was stuttering and grabbing Meryl’s shoulders while Meryl could only gasp. They could feel the very atmosphere around them change with the passage of bullets and nails whizzing by their faces. They dared not do anything else except stand frozen in place, only their eyes moving back and forth.

        With her heart in her throat Meryl saw that both opponents were, by some freakish wonder, still standing and not a scratch on either of them. The same could not be said of the walls in the vicinity however. There were gouges, blast holes, paint chips, and stone dust floating in the air and littering the hallway.

Deep as the Grave and Stronger than Death

       Rinnah cocked her head as she watched the male plant. He was muttering to himself but since the speaker in her bulb wasn’t working she had no clue as to what he was saying. He did, however, look the worse for wear what with the dark circles growing under his eyes.

        Knives couldn’t access but a few of his office computer’s outer shells from this location. He was totally shut out of the command core, and by his own design as the security routines shuffled him first one direction and then another, as they had been designed to do with any interloper. The only computer he could access was the one in the outer office which was nothing more than a glorified typewriter. He growled out an oath. At any other time he would have been quite pleased with how aggressively effective his security routines were. However, right now he was frustrated to be locked out of his own system. There were several things he wanted to check into and none of them could be done from this location.

        As much as he wanted to find out who set off the alarm and punish them he had more important things to take care of. He would think about what he was going to do to them later. He rubbed his brow in aggravation. What irony that his own paranoid desire for security was now the reason he couldn’t hack his way into his own computer. If he wanted access he would have go to his office. Obviously there were a couple of small flaws in his design that needed some overhauling. A hissing sigh escaped the lips thinned in irritation. He didn’t have time for that though. Also, a sense of unease was spreading through him making him shift impatiently in place. It was as if he needed to be someplace else but he couldn’t figure out what place would be more important than being here.

        With fatigue clouding his judgment, Knives hunched his shoulders as he studied the screen in front of him showing the message of ‘access denied‘. He should be able to figure something out but the truth was his cognitive abilities were suffering at the moment. His thoughts were fuzzy and it was getting harder and harder to come up with a lucid idea. There was a growing nudging from within, that sense that something wasn’t right and it was getting too loud for him to ignore any longer. Fine then, if it wanted attention, then attention he would give it. Closing his eyes he concentrated on it until realization burst in on his awareness and he knew for certain.

        It was Meryl!

        He knew it like he knew his own name. A furrow pulled his brows together as he intensified his concentration. He still couldn’t read her thoughts, but after the joining he wondered if he could...


        He resisted the temptation to snap his eyes open, afraid of losing the tenuous connection like a gossamer strand strung between the two of them. He took deliberate care to restrain his power and cautiously sent a slender cobweb of emotion along the line. He followed it and reached the source. He found the essence of her, that fiery presence and refracted light that was so distinctively Meryl. He found her on the top floor in the hallway several floors above the cavern. He was amazed that she was able to find even that sublevel hall. It was a convoluted and complicated maze that one had to follow just to get to the place where she was now. He remembered bringing her to this lab a couple of times but not anytime recently.

        It was with a stab of possessive pride when he considered her recall ability and ingenuity to get to that level. She was showing more signs of plant progress all the time. It then dawned on him what she would need in order to get to the level where she was at. He closed his eyes trying to get control of his anger. He didn’t need to look at the security discs anymore, he knew who set the alarm off. Cerulean blue eyes snapped open, he would decide later what do to about her blatant rebellion.

        He looked up and found startlingly luminous blue eyes staring down at him as if he was a lower-life form being studied. Locking eyes with her he wondered what he should do and cursed his thoughts which seemed to be growing cloudier by the minute, it was also getting harder to focus. With a start, he realized that he was just staring blankly at her face, which for the time being was unreadable. What he was beginning to learn about that look meant trouble for him at some later point in time.

        With a jolt he staggered sideways before catching himself. He may not be able to read Meryl’s thoughts but her emotions were coming through loud and clear and right now she was frightened out of her wits! Without a thought Knives took off for the door at a dead run. His mate needed him and nothing was going to get in the way of him going to her.


       The two Gung Ho Guns were either incredibly bad shots or enormously talented, and since they were handpicked by Knives himself she knew which one it had to be. Meryl gulped and prayed they would get out of this alive. At the moment they were cowering against a wall behind Levio.

        The only reason all three were still alive was that Elendira was alternating shooting at the two people she hated, then with Levio who kept getting in her way blowing many of her attacks out of the air. Meryl was pretty sure that if Elendira’s attention wasn’t split three ways then the masked man wouldn’t be as much of a threat to her. She knew they sure weren’t. It was humiliating to be this helpless but there wasn’t a whole lot either one could do about it right then.

        She nudged Milly to keep moving around behind the shaggy-haired man’s back. It was no contest really as the choices were clear-cut and simple, one wanted to kill them and the other didn’t. It wasn’t a tough decision to make. She was thankful Milly was complying without a single protest and sidled along the wall with her until they were directly behind the white-haired man with one yellow eye showing. They nearly jumped out of their skin when Elendira stopped shooting spikes to warn their protector.

        “That last one was just a warning shot Levio. If you turn and walk away now, I will spare you. Or do you need your mind-mate to take over?” With a mocking croon she sang out, “Come out, come out wherever you are Razlo and I will show you a good time.”

        Replying in a calm voice Levio replied, “I will let you walk away, Crimson Nail.” Not one glimpse of emotion crossed his features. It was a rather empty statement as they both knew full well.

        “You are unable to defeat me but I would enjoy playing with Razlo, he is nearer to my ability.”

        It was true that Levio was not on the same level of expertise as Elendira. Usually Levio wasn’t one for getting into useless, meaningless battles such as this one. It was only Razlo that lusted for bloodletting no matter how trivial or how difficult the battle and when in control, was a force to be reckoned with. How ironic that the one personality that could contend with the Crimson Nail wasn‘t allowed to. It would be easier to deal with the Crimson Nail if Razlo could take over but despite the fact he was not on the same level of expertise as Elendira, there was not a shred of fear in Levio’s eyes. He stared back into the ice-cold eyes of his opponent.

        “Oh dear,” murmured Milly with a worried frown as she glanced back and forth between the two, tightly clutching the bag to her chest. She didn’t know Levio but she was already silently cheering him on since she was less than fond of Elendira.

        “Get in the elevator! NOW!” Roared the strange man with his half-skull mask. The one side of his face they could see revealed the resolution that marked a killer, an assassin with a job in front of him.

        “Milly, I think we better do as he says.” She nudged her friend in the direction of the open doors.

        “Right you are Meryl,” agreed Milly starting to take steps for the elevator. The man with the scary face must have pressed the pause button since the doors of the elevator he had stepped off of were still open as if waiting patiently for the next set of passengers.

        “NO, you two stay right there.” The command sliced through the air with as much force as if it had been shouted. Milly‘s heart raced and Meryl made a sound of fear in the depths of her throat but kept pushing Milly in the direction of the elevators but found, thankfully, she didn’t have to push hard. Milly was making for the open doors and was inside within seconds.

        Elendira pulled the trigger and fired a couple of nails in their direction as a warning shot. It was all done so accurately and skillfully that the two slats of wood were still quivering before Meryl realized that two long and thick nails had pierced the wall in front of her, nose high. Meryl froze in place, only her eyes moved as they traveled the length of the huge nail inches in front of her nose to the place where the sharp tip had punched a hole in the wall. That was close, much too close. Terror bubbled within her chest making it hard to breathe and she couldn’t move a muscle to save her life.

        Milly was not having that problem at all and had let out a little shriek of terror at the sight of the embedded nails. Both girls stared at the two quivering spikes. It didn‘t take any great stretch of the imagination to be able to figure out what the effect would have been if Elendira were aiming to kill rather than slow her down.

        Levio moved his stance so he was now shielding the Mother but cursed his slowness in comparison to Elendira’s speed.

        He also saw that Meryl was practically paralyzed with fear, and in a swift, smooth move took a step back while twisting his torso and grabbed her by the back of her collar. Then he swung her up as if she weighed no more than a kitten to toss her into the elevator. Meryl didn’t even have time to gasp.

        Seeing her friend flying through the air toward her, Milly reached up her arms and caught her. Upon impact, both women went tumbling backwards into the car until Milly slammed into the wall, her head landing with a sharp crack. Everything around her spun crazily while stars danced before her eyes. It was a second before she was able to ask Meryl if she was all right. Meryl could only nod.

        Quickly they untangled from each other and leapt to their feet. Then Milly saw more nails flying past the door she jumped for the door panel. Meryl was right behind her and both stabbed the close button over and over while yelling at it.

        “Close, close!” Ordered Meryl while Milly chanted “Movemovemovemove!” as both women pounded on the button. Even as the doors sealed and the elevator jerked in a downward movement they were still pounding on it, unable to stop even though they were safe for the time being. The only thing heard in the car was harsh, panicked breathing.

Back to You

       The Crimson Nail’s eyes shrank to mere pinpoints as she hissed in rage knowing that her targets were escaping her. It was an unfamiliar and uncomfortable feeling and she didn‘t like it.

        During this Levio wasn’t patiently waiting for Elendira to react. As soon as it was clear to him that Elendira was going to fire he aimed and then pulled the triggers on his Double Fangs. Even as the air between the two lit up he noticed the two women with their ashen faces and eyes staring at him, wide with fear, before the doors closed shutting them from view.

        Darting and dodging about while shooting the nails down that were headed in his direction, Levio turned his concentration back to their would-be killer, keeping himself between the Crimson Nail and the elevator doors. Every second the cross dresser was delayed in pursuing after the two women was just that much more distance between them and their predator. With legs spread wide, arms pointed in Elendira’s direction he waited.

        This time a cluster of giant nails was launched and done so quickly they appeared to all spring toward him at the same time. Like great missiles they flew at him, at least six feet in length and as round as one of the girl’s thighs. Several thudded into the wall behind Levio‘s unflinching head, the wall plaster once again cracking from the sheer force of the impact. In the quiet of the aftermath the chipped wall plaster fell in small pieces and could be heard hitting the floor like slow, solid raindrops, one plinking sound at a time in the quiet of the hall.

        The air was charged between the two combatants and in acknowledgement, Elendira lifted a brow at her adversary.

        Levio appeared not to notice the huge nails outlining his profile, resembling a bizarre knife-throwing act at the circus. There were gaps where he had shot the nails down, but it was obvious to him that if the Crimson Nail had wanted him dead she could have easily accomplished it. He had managed to take out the few which headed straight for the center of his chest. Elendira was playing with him

        As she was thinking about what a pathetic useless freak he was, Elendira saw the small muscles in his finger move. It caught her unawares as absolutely nothing about his appearance or facial expression gave a hint that he was going to fire. It was well executed and the vicinity around her lit up with bright flashes. The Crimson Nail pulled the trigger on her own weapon. Lips parted with an emotion akin to perverted joy, Elendira felt the tug on her arm letting her know that the nails were leaping from her side toward their intended target. However, as if unaffected by the attack, on all sides of her roar and thunder of Levio’s Double Fangs spitting fire. With a flash of rage she realized that despite his dire circumstances he was now toying with her!

        Hearing the sound of shells exploding and hammering the air in the region of her person, her arm was jerked when a small explosion shook her whole arm and threw her to the side. Immediately she knew what it was but shock kept the knowledge from sinking in for a moment. Her beautiful briefcase was ruined. Looking down she saw that the only thing in her hand was a lone handle. Below that the space was empty where her priceless and deadly weapon used to be.

Aftermath Equals Four Take Away Two and the Remainder is Crazy

       Elendira could hardly believe her eyes. Her weapon, her beautiful weapon had exploded into tiny pieces strewn out down the hallway behind her. The Crimson Nail looked down at the only thing left in her curled fingers, the handle of the briefcase. Astonished, Elendira shot a quick look behind her before coming back to the few shreds of case scattered at her feet. No one had ever been able to do that to her before! She was shaking with fury as she toed a small piece of ripped leather by her foot.

        She looked up to see Levio helplessly impaled against the wall behind him. The last two nails had launched from her crossbow and pierced his torso. Instead of shielding himself as he had earlier in the fight, he left himself wide open so he could target the briefcase. For the time being shock was blocking him from feeling the trauma of the blows and keeping the pain at bay, but he knew that wouldn‘t last for long.

        Even though he was pinned to the wall and bleeding what seemed to be gallons, he knew he would survive this. His body, like so many other Gung Ho Guns had been through the engel machine and was re-engineered using plant gene splicing and a great deal of surgery. His body was nearly indestructible. He watched Elendira prod a piece of her shredded weapon case with a leather-clad toe of her expensive boots.

        Looking up she snarled at Levio, “That was my best leather case! I am most put out with you Levio! It was handmade and stitched in December by a master craftsman before being imported here! It also had my name embossed on it in the purest of gold leaf.”

        Elendira gave the trapped assassin who had blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth, a petulant look. “You owe me you hulking savage!”

        “Maybe we can discuss how you are going to pay me back.... Maybe later,” A cruel chuckle cut through the air as Elendira scored in an area that was sure to be a weak spot for him, “while standing over the lifeless body of the Mother, eh?”

        Levio knew the cross dresser could make good on her threat. Elendira’s instrument of death may be out of commission but the transvestite was still a major threat. That could only be expected from the best of the Gung Ho Guns.

        Even though he was pinned to the wall by two large nails piercing him, which would instantly kill a human, the tissues, membranes, muscles, and organs of his mutated body were already beginning to knit back together. As soon as he pulled out the nails, the holes would immediately begin to close up and not leave not a trace of scar tissue behind so how where the punctures were.

        Elendira was clearly struggling with a torrent of emotion. Not until she was once again her calm, cool self did she lift her chin and give him a mocking smile.

        Levio raised a hand to one of the nails holding him to the wall as he regarded her. He wondered if the Crimson Nail would give him enough time to regenerate. If that was the case then he should be ready to fight again in a few minutes. It would have been a good strategy except that she knew his abilities as well as he did. Stepping daintily around the debris in the hallway before making her way on tiptoes to the other elevator she said airily, “Don’t bother escorting me, I know the way.” After stepping into the elevator, she gave mocking waggle of gloved fingers before the doors of the elevator closed cutting off the view of her smug grin.

        He cursed. Intimately acquainted with instability, he knew something within the Gung Ho Gun’s mind had snapped. The Mother was in danger! Recalling his orders, an all-consuming prerogative over rode everything else; he needed to go after her and protect her.

        Reaching up the other hand to join the first one, he grasped the shaft sticking out of his body and tightened his grip. Gathering his strength he yanked on it and felt it give a few inches. He couldn’t hold back the groan as pain flashed through him. It hurt beyond belief, beyond description. It took a few moments for the agony to subside so he could think straight again. A stab of dismay shot through Levio knowing that at this rate the Crimson Nail would have the Mother dead and hung up as a trophy before he could get to her side. Putting forth an effort that had his muscles bulging and veins popping up from under his skin, he exerted every bit of strength available and wrenched the first nail out, pulling until it cleared his body. The nail fell to the floor with a loud clang when his arms dropped to his sides the strength draining from him as the pain flared through him.

        Chin dropped to his chest, Levio moaned and clutched at his stomach. Every nerve screamed in reaction. It was not only from the nail exiting his body, but also from the tissues, nerves and muscles forced into accelerated healing now that the foreign object was removed. It left him with the feeling of fire and electricity arcing, dancing and jumping along every nerve of his body. Nearly passing out from the overload of sensory input from every square inch of his being, he struggled to stay conscious. Only a few more seconds and the wound would close up and heal.

        Just then the doors opened up again and he tensed wondering if Elendira had a change of heart and was coming back to finish the job. Closing his eyes he waited for the killing blow knowing that there wasn’t going to be much that he could do to stop her. Except there was no blow, no cold voice mocking him; instead, a charge ran along the surface of his skin as the atmosphere in the corridor changed. Every hair was standing on end as if from a gathering of force like the charged ozone before one of the rare sky-consuming storms that thundered and threw lightening but offered no rain in relief. Opening his eyes he lifted his head to behold his Master standing a few yarz from him taking in the scene and the floor awash with pools of blood.

        Hurriedly he assured him, “It is all my blood Master.” He had to stop and take a breath before continuing; “none of hers was spilled.”

        Knives looked up, eyes haunted, cheeks pale until rage transformed his face into that of a snarling demon. “Where?” He snapped out, chest heaving as he asked and expanded his own senses to search first the hallway and then the floors above and below. Finding her, he now could detect the impression of profound relief before it faded to a less intense feeling.

        “The Mother fled,” panted the injured man, “The panel was preset to take the car to the lab. I thought she would be safe with you.”

        “Who...” Knives could barely form coherent words, “Who... dares... to touch what belongs... to me.” It wasn’t a question.

        “The Crimson Nail, Master. I fear she has gone mad.”

        Knives stared at the altered human with his twinned soul. That much made sense to him even in his state of hazy turmoil and crazed worry. If one would know insanity when they saw it, it would be this man.

        “Hurry Master. The Crimson Nail is following her.”

        Knives needed to hear no more, he spun and darted into the elevator pushing the buttons and codes in a concentration so fierce his eyes began to glow. The small space lit up with the blaze of blue light being thrown off of him as if he were one of the two suns. The blue glare grew brighter. Levio lifted his hand to shield his eyes.

        Before the door slid closed Levio saw small blades spring from the Master’s arms and a larger, more wicked looking one form from his shoulder.

        Although the Master could protect the Mother much better than he could, Levio’s obligation wouldn’t release him. He needed to get free so he could stand by the side of the Mother and protect her until all was well.

        Panting, he didn’t allow himself to rest but instead, reached up and grabbed the other nail located lower down where it had pierced through his abdomen, just to the left of his spine. With another tortured yell he pulled that one free also and immediately fell to his knees, chest heaving.

        The healing process was well underway but that didn’t mean that it was occurring without consequences. There was extreme and terrible pain involved in this rapid kind of mending. The human body wasn’t designed to heal in this manner. The pain was beyond words and just when he thought he would succumb and scream from intensity of it, it finally and slowly began to fade. To aid and also speed up the healing process, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a vial supplied to him by the cult group of which he was a member.

        Popping open the lid of the vial he upended the contents into his mouth. The pain receded until he couldn’t feel one ache or pang, leaving in its wake a relief so intense it nearly brought tears to his eyes. Only he didn’t think he could produce tears anymore, he hadn’t cried since the day he was released from the machine, a full-grown man in his prime, and a nearly imperishable one at that.

        He opened his eyes and looked down, not surprised to find that the hole was gone and the skin was closing over it. There wasn’t even a scar to indicate where the nail had pierced him, only the gaping holes in his clothes showed that he had been attacked. Instead of hauling himself up he waited a few more precious seconds to let the chemically induced vitality course through him, then he rose to his feet without a groan or sign of pain. Then his strength suddenly deserted him as if siphoned from his body and he was forced to lean back against the wall and rest.

Keys and Keyholes

       Rinnah gave the closing door of the elevator a wicked grin. The Holy Hybrid must have decided that she was due for a break, and if so she wasn‘t one to squander heavenly luck. Well, when the Divine One opened the door, who was she to snub a gift?

        She laughed for pure enjoyment before delivering the equivalent of a mental shout to the plant angels as she bid them adieu. Shutting her eyes she concentrated. The hybrid only needed a few minutes and then it wouldn’t matter how much they bellyached, she would be able to tune them out again and oh what a relief that was going to be! When Knives returned she was sure he would be surprised to find a free and extremely pissed hybrid waiting to express her feelings about being bottled up and set up on a shelf. She chuckled again. Time for the tables to turn.

        Rinnah knew the plant angels would be able to feel her leaving but there wasn’t anything they could do about it except whine and moan. Let them bleat like hyperactive sheep with glandular problems, it wasn’t bothering her any. It’s their dime. Even if they did, she would still have time to get free. She was becoming most adept at this ‘phasing’ folks through the bulb by now. Besides, she knew he was extremely distracted. Before she had interrupted them, the sisters were chatting amongst themselves over the fact that Knives was following a genetic imperative to rescue his mate. There was also concern over the alarming piece of information that he was also fading out of the link but seemed unaware of it. Rinnah couldn’t have been more pleased than if she had planned this herself, which she had, the second half anyway, the first was out of her realm of expertise.

You Never Know when the Elevator Fairies are Listening

       Meryl flopped against the back wall, shoulder blades making a hollow thump sound as she landed. She straightened her legs out in front of her to keep from sliding down. Running a shaking hand through her black hair she made a firm vow that when this was all over she was going to take a long, hot, bath, with scented candles scattered around and soft music playing in the background. For one whole hour she was going to forget everything and everyone and that included people named Elendira and Knives.

        She looked across at Milly who was also sagging against a wall in relief. Her tall friend looked as frazzled as she felt. Shaking her head she admitted with a small quaver in her voice, “That was a close one!”

        “You can say that again.” Switching the bag of clothes to her other hand, Milly swiped at the damp bangs with trembling fingers before using her sleeve to wipe away the sheen of sweat on her forehead. “Does it seem hot in here to you?”

        Meryl shook her head.

        Milly made a pitiful grimace while uttering a breathy groan causing Meryl to eye her friend in concern. Milly making despairing faces was something akin to a nun cussing up a blue streak; not a sight one got to see everyday.

        “Do you think we could find a cafeteria around here somewhere...” she paused, “And a bathroom? Yeah, that would be good too.”

        “How can you be...?” Her expression changed instantly as she remembered her friend‘s condition and hastened to apologize. “I’m sorry Milly, I forgot you were eating for two. And yes, we will find you a bathroom.”

        “Two!?” Exclaimed Milly wide-eyed with excitement as she gazed at Meryl. “I’m having twins?”

        Meryl suppressed a groan. “No, no, that’s not what I...”

        “Wow oh Wow! Wait until I tell Nicholas! Two babies! Oh I am so excited!” She tilted her head as a new thought occurred to her.

        “Hey Meryl, what if I’m having sextuplets!”

        Meryl dropped her head. Why did she even bother?

        Milly tapped her chin with an index finger while thinking out loud; “we are going to need a larger house.” Here she stopped to giggle in delight, “However at an orphanage the house is already large enough and who will notice twelve more people?” She nodded and her eyes crinkled shut as her head filled with pleasant visions of a future only she could see.

        Meryl stared at her friend. Twelve? Cautiously she asked, “Uh Milly, you do know that sextuplets mean six and not twelve, right?”

        Milly gave her diminutive friend a reproachful look before saying, “I think you and Mr. Knives should come home with us for a while and that also means Melanie and the next baby you will have.” Her eyes crinkled up happily, “The more friends the merrier! Don’t you think so Meryl?”

        Meryl didn’t think so; she could just imagine the reaction that Wolfwood would have upon hearing that Milly wanted to invite humanity’s worst enemy into his orphanage, near the orphans, his own children and not to mention his wife. Instead of saying all that however, she just smiled and replied, “Sure, Milly. Fun.”

        Then it hit her like a bag of wet cement what else Milly had just said. Meryl’s knees sagged. No way! She couldn’t possible be pregnant again since she hadn’t undergone any implantation... the breath caught in her throat. Then she groaned and slapped a hand to her forehead. The last she had heard, the normal, old-fashioned way still worked; how could she have forgotten? A quick flashback caused her cheeks to warm at the memory. Oh dear, yet another thing to worry about.


        Slowly Meryl became aware that Milly had been saying her name several times already and was starting to lean toward her with a worried look on her face.

        Out of Meryl’s throat came a strangled noise.

        “You look a little pale there, are you all right?”

        “Fine,” she coughed and repeated in a firmer voice, “I am quite well, really.” It was the last thing she was feeling but seeing the look in Milly‘s light blue eyes she gave her a strained smile and managed to grind out, “I. Am. Just. Fine.”

        Milly looked askance at her friend; Meryl certainly didn’t look ‘quite fine‘, especially since she said that through clenched teeth.

        “You know, that’s what Rinnah always says when she isn’t.”

        “Isn’t what?”


        “Well, I am.”

        “Okay, if that’s what you want me to believe.”

        “It’s not what I want you to believe, it is what I am telling you is the... oh hell, I’m fine, okay!” Meryl smiled, teeth clenched again.

        “If you say so.” Milly eyed her doubtfully.

        “I do.”

        “Okay.” She said mildly.



        “Stop saying that!”


        “I hate elevators!” Seethed Meryl turning away from the conversation, if that is what it was. Nothing ever made sense in a claustrophobic causing, tiny little box that only went up or down. It was an unnatural way to get from one place to another.

        Standing up straight the raven-haired woman slapped the wall next to her and yelled, “Where is this elevator taking us to, the center of the earth? The bowels of hell? And getting us there as slow as a tax return, I might add!” To punctuate her point she kicked the wall. This caused an immediate explosion of pain in her big toe to race up the foot nerves all the way to her kneecap. Grabbing her toe Meryl moaned and hopped around on one foot until she sank down to rest on her derriere`.

        The elevator jerked to a stop.

        “Believe me Milly, I have had better days! And this is not one of them!”

        Milly tilted her head and eyed the ceiling above them with doubt-filled eyes.

        “Gee Meryl, I don’t think the elevator fairies liked you saying mean things about them.”

        Meryl couldn’t help herself, from her seated position she fixed her friend with another amazed stare. “Elevator fairies? Where do you come up with this stuff?”

        Carefully she stood up so that most of her weight rested on one leg while she lifted the hurt one off the floor so that it wasn’t touching the ground. Then she leaned against the wall behind her for support. It was strange not to feel the hum and rumble of distant machines vibrating against her shoulder blades. It went unnoticed when the car was moving but was conspicuous by its absence. Her toe throbbed.

        Milly’s eyes were still on the ceiling, causing Meryl to involuntarily glance up too.

        “Meryl didn’t mean it, she’s just been under a lot of stress lately and really, once you get to know her she’s very nice.”

        “Once they get to know me?! C’mon Milly, that won’t do any good, there is no such thing as..“

        The elevator began descending again.

        At Milly’s triumphant smile Meryl crossed her arms in front of her and returned her friend’s look with a wry smile of her own. “I stand corrected. I had not the faintest idea of the superior, and heretofore, unknown forces who shall henceforth be known as elevator fairies.”

        Milly rolled her eyes and scolded, “Really Meryl, just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Looking up at the ceiling again she whispered, “Don’t mind her, she didn’t mean it.”

        “Yes, true to a point, but elevator fairies?”

        “Or gnomes, Rinnah says she’s not sure which it is really.”

        Meryl groaned. There were two of them, and on the same planet at the same time. What were the odds?

        “Hey Meryl?”

        Meryl lifted wary eyes, “Yes?”

        “Do we have a plan?”

        Meryl grimaced, before saying, “Of course we have a plan Milly, when have you ever known me to not have a plan?” She waved her hand at Milly’s opening mouth. “Never mind, but the one I was using just got blown to smithereens up there.” She jerked a thumb toward the ceiling. “However, I have a new plan.”

        “What is it?” Milly asked eagerly as she wiped her sweating face again with her sleeve.

        “Let’s just try and stay alive.”

        “That’s a pretty good plan.” Then worry clouded her light blue eyes as she asked, “Do you think that weird guy with the mask is still alive?”

        With a slight crease forming between her brows, Meryl said cautiously, “I just don’t know. I hope he does survive.” Seeing the stricken look on her friend’s face she hastened to assure her, “He was a Gung Ho Gun and you know how tough those people are. All of them have been surgically altered along with enhancements made on their bodies. Many of them are barely human anymore. So there is a good possibility that he will make it.”

        Suddenly she recalled their enemy and ran a hand through her hair. “What if she comes after us again Milly?” With fear-filled eyes she looked up at her friend.

        “That wouldn’t be a good thing.”

        “Bad to worse,” she moaned, “Why do things always go from bad to worse for us?”

        “Just lucky I guess,” replied Milly trying to find a bright side.

        “Even you couldn’t find the silver lining in that one, could you?”

        Milly shrugged then smiled, at least for the moment they were together and safe, but more importantly, they were about the business of helping a friend.

        Meryl however, shook her fist at the ceiling and yelled “make yourselves useful! Do something positive and constructive!” She lowered her head only to jerk it back up to stab the ceiling with a glare, “For us!” She then looked back down and crossed her arms and glanced over at her friend defiantly, daring her to say anything about appeasing unseen mechanical sprites.

        Milly only nodded. Meryl did have a point.

From Your Lips to God's Ear

        “Do you know where we are?”


        Every time the elevator stopped at a floor, Wolfwood and Vash stuck their heads out long enough to look up and down the halls. They were searching for a sign or a hint of; they weren’t sure what, nothing was seen that could be construed as a clue to being the place where Rinnah or Milly were being held.

        “Weren’t you here before?” Wolfwood asked as he pulled his head back in and dropped his hand so the doors could shut.

        Through tight lips Vash repeated, for the fourth time, “I told you already! The last time I was here they had me drugged to the point of drooling. I was also shoved into a containment bulb, being contained! He had them take everything, my coat, clothes, boots, gun, and, damn him, even my arm.” Unconsciously he reached over with his right hand and wrapped long fingers around the seam of his prosthetic arm where it joined his flesh. His eyes went narrow and grim from the memory.

        Ignoring the red gleam starting from the depths of Vash‘s eyes, Wolfwood pressed his point, if not his wisdom, “Yeah, but I was hoping they had given you a tour of the place first.”

        Vash eyed Wolfwood who was shifting impatiently, every few seconds his hand clutched and re-adjusted his grip on the weapon’s carrying belt.

        Vash made an effort to control his irritation. Now that they were out of the dark tunnels, Wolfwood’s usual demeanor returned, for a couple of floors anyway, until a new one overtook him. The driving need to see Milly, hold her, and make sure she was safe was eating away at the priest until one lonely, frayed nerve was left. Unfortunately it was also the one that was starting to rake fingernails over the chalkboard of Vash’s one remaining nerve.

        The outlaw let out a calming breath, closed his eyes for a moment and tried to conjure up images of serene visions of peace and love. Unfortunately, the last several times he had tried it he kept seeing Knives’ with that arrogant tilt of the head and mocking smile crossing his face. The scene changed to seeing the lifeless bodies of Milly and Rinnah crumpled at his feet. Love and Peace weren’t speaking to him for the time being, but anger and revenge were doing a good job of taking their place.

        Snapping his eyes open he saw Wolfwood waving away feathers floating in front of his face, before slanting gray eyes his direction to give him a disgruntled look.

        “Can’t you wait until we get out of this cramped space before going all feathery?”

        “I wasn’t aware of going all ‘feathery‘; sometimes it just happens, okay!”

        “Save it for later Spikey.”

        Vash started to retort in the easy manner they had been sparring in since stepping into the elevator for the long ride up. The sniping had gone on for levels now but on this, Wolfwood was right. The plant would need his energy for later. With an effort he pulled back the feathers. Then he clamped down on the power crackling up and down his body in blue and white arcs producing feathers in all the places where it touched the surface of his skin.

        He did have to give the priest credit, for all the unusual manifestation of his power Wolfwood was not acting nervous about the display. He realized that it was helping him feel more at ease. Not everyone would be so offhand about it and he was grateful.

        “Well then, why don’t you put in a request upstairs that we will find what we need and soon. I thought you were on good terms with the ‘Big Guy‘?” Vash asked, and quickly looked away to study the panel on the door to avoid the glare he knew was being leveled in his direction.

        Finally a snort was heard. “Okay. Let’s see if the switchboard is fairly quiet today and if our request gets through.” In a monotone voice and closed eyes Wolfwood put in a curt request on Vash’s behalf.

        “Hey it’s me again,” he opened one gray eye and stared at Vash from underneath his brow before closing it, “And Needle Noggin. You remember him of course, I think I have mentioned him a number of times in some of my daily observations on how some things could stand a little improvement down here. Anyway, him and me are needing some of your divine intervention, so if you have a slow spot in your day, maybe you could send a little blessing our way, it sure would be appreciated. And if you’re not real busy-like, we could also use some help in locating the girls. Especially My Honey. I think that covers everything. Yep, that’s about it. Have a nice day.”

        “Have a nice day!? Are you nuts? If he wants a nice day, he can go and create one!”

        “It never hurts to be polite.”

        “That wasn’t polite, that was gibberish! I don’t think that will get anyone’s attention,” Vash pointed out.

        “Hey, who’s the priest here!?”

        “I can’t believe they gave you a priest badge and a priest gun! That was pathetic! After all you are asking for help here, not inquiring after the flavor of the week!”

        Wolfwood glared at him then rolled his eyes upward and through gritted teeth growled out, “Pleeeeeaassee?” Then lowering glinting eyes back to Vash, asked, “How’s that?”

        “Oh, convincing, very convincing, I’m sure he’ll get right on it.”

        The religious discussion on how one should go about placing a request and what HE would or would not do was curtailed when the car slowed even more than the slow crawl it was doing, heralding the approach of an upcoming stop.

        The car halted at a new floor and softly ‘pinged’ to announce their arrival while bouncing in place a couple of times in place. Then the doors hesitated for a second before sliding open. It was much too slow for the fevered agitation of the two men riding within and waiting the interminable time it took for them to pull apart. As soon as the door widened enough they stuck out their heads to survey the new floor.

        This time a different sight greeted them. Instead of yet another empty hall, they found an usual answer to their request.

        Without hesitation Vash dashed out of the car and sped to Levio’s side. Wolfwood was a step behind him only because he paused long enough to prop his cross punisher against the wall.

        When he arrived at the shaggy-haired man’s side, Wolfwood frowned down at the puddles of blood and then back at Levio who was leaning against the wall waiting for the rest of his strength to return, face pale and sweaty.

        “Yours?” Wolfwood nodded at the blood on the floor, asking so softly it could barely be heard in the quiet of the corridor even with the three of them standing close to one another.

        When Levio lifted his eyes to Wolfwood’s narrow ones, with only a glint of silver to show the dangerous menace lurking there, he nodded. Feeling a touch on his arm he looked down in surprise. Supporting his elbow was Vash’s black-gloved prosthetic hand. He looked back up to see the grim but approving expression on the Brother’s face.

        “Within seconds I will have my full strength back....” Levio straightened, pushing off from the wall behind him. “There, I can go and protect her now.”

        “Who?” Asked Vash, even as both gunslingers fell in step with Levio as he made for the elevator with a firm, quick stride.

        “The Mother,” he glanced at them as they stepped in, “the one you know as Meryl. The Crimson Nail is looking for her to end her life. It is my mission to protect the Mother.”

        “Well then,” Wolfwood said easily, stepping into the elevator and hefting the cross punisher back over on his shoulder, “it looks like your mission has become our mission too.” He looked over at outlaw. “How about it Vash?”

        Vash nodded, “I am sure that the girls are all looking for one another. If we find one, we will find the rest.”

        Wolfwood noticed the stress he placed on the last word. “Yeah.” Then he smiled, he would be seeing her soon and once he had her in his arms he was never going to let her out of his sight again, he would follow her everywhere she went. He reached up with a finger to poke through thick black hair to his scratch at his scalp. Of course, following her into women’s restrooms might be a little dicey... he shrugged. They would deal with it when it came time to cross that bridge.

        Levio tapped in the code only after the doors were shut, then a second set and when a light turned from red to yellow, he entered a third cipher. Only when that was accomplished he turned his head to look at the other two men. Vash saw immediately why the doors wouldn’t open for them when they stopped at certain floors. They didn’t have all the codes that would allow them to get to the more sensitive areas.

        “See Vash,“ started Wolfwood, catching Vash’s attention in what he could only describe as the priest’s lofty, preachy tone of voice, “it always helps to say ‘please’ and secondly, the answer never looks like what you think it should.”

        “Thanks, I‘ll keep that in mind.”

        Levio looked back from one to the other before deciding this was a conversation he could interrupt.

        “There was the tall woman with blonde hair with the Mother. Isn’t she also one of your group?”

        Wolfwood went statue still, if he had been a plant his eyes would have radiated the blue of a livid rage. Milly had been in the hall? With all that blood? It took a second for sanity to return and remind him that Levio had already told them that the blood they had seen was his. As it was, stormy gray eyes took on the cold color of pewter. Hunching his shoulders for a moment, he finally was able to ask in a raspy voice, “How was she?”

        “I believe at one point she yelled, ‘Yay, the cavalry is here’ while waving her arms over her head.”

        A faint smile touched a corner of Wolfwood’s mouth for a brief second. “That sounds like her.”

        “Then I ordered them into the elevator. They should be in the lab by now. That is where I am headed.”

        Vash couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “There wasn’t another one with them, also with black hair? Height-wise she would have been about so tall...” he lifted a hand to indicate the height, flush even with the tip of his nose.

        Then his eyes slid to a corner of the car while crossing arms over his chest in a display of indifference. “You couldn’t have missed her if she was with them. She has a way of irritating the hell out of people.”

        “No,” said Levio, shaking his head. “Only two of them were there, the tall blonde and the Mother. But I have heard that there is a new plant angel that was installed.”

        Vash’s knees went weak with all the implications of that bit of news.

        It wasn’t lost on Wolfwood either. “What the hell! She’s not plant folk, not from around here anyway.”

        Turning to Vash his words came out in a rush, “He can’t her put in a globe! That’s insane, she’ll go crazy! What if she’s not even on the same power...” here he shrugged, his knowledge of the inner workings of a plant facility were on the same level as most people’s, which was imperfect and limited, “er, frequency?”

        Another thought occurred to him, “What if he’s turned her into a whole plant, you know, all plant. This is bad.”

        Vash couldn’t answer, first he went cold with bitter fury then the heat of a blazing rage coursed through him; back and forth flashed the fire and ice, both vying for dominance.

        “NOT HERE! NOT HERE!” Yelled a voice in his ear and he became aware of being shaken. “Snap out of it Needle Noggin! Don’t make me resort to violence!! C’mon, dammit! Not. Here!”

        Slowly Vash came out of a murky fog although the fire of rage still ran through him, clawing at the underside of his skin in an effort to find a way out to vent the furious anger. Gradually, he became aware of Wolfwood’s face within inches of his own, showing a mixture of anxiety and impatience.

        “Thank God! Take a look around Spikey!” Wolfwood would have waved an arm to indicate their surroundings but he couldn’t. Only one arm was free, the one shaking Vash’s shoulder as the priest leaned in close to his face trying to get his attention. It wasn’t hard since Vash had Wolfwood pinned into the same corner as one the he was standing in.

        After several slow blinks, Vash was able to take a look around and see what it was that the priest was referring to. The other two men were hemmed in place by long, glowing primary feathers coming at them from all directions until they were unable to move.

        With a supreme effort Vash forced the power to constrict until it was a tight, hard and hostile ball of anger within him. It took a couple of minutes and sweat dotted his brow by the time the feathers were gone and the other two men were freed.

        “Thanks.” Wolfwood tilted his head back against the wall and wearily closed his eyes. “Nothing like being skewered by giant bird feathers. What a way to go.”

        “Yes, we are most appreciative,” agreed Levio before looking down at the floor where a couple of feathers drifted about their feet.

        “S...sorry,” Vash said softly, his eyes jumping from one man to the other.

        Wolfwood waved a hand, “Think nothing of it Vash, these things are bound to happen, especially around you. I have gotten used to it.”

        Vash stared at his friend. Bound to happen? God, he hoped not. He never wanted this to happen again.

        “Hey, if I could do that, I would be showing feathers all the time. I know how you feel, so stop beating yourself up about it and do us a favor, just save it for the one who deserves it and stop choking us, this feather dust is hard to breathe through!”

        He opened his eyes and pointed at Levio, “You got allergies?” Levio shook his head. “Didn’t think so, neither do I.” With a cheeky grin, he closed his eyes and said, “There you go Vash, none the worse for wear. We’re good.”

        With one corner of his mouth lifting in a weary smile, Vash replied, “I will try to control myself.”

        Wolfwood opened his eyes and rolled his head until he was facing Vash. They were tired and worn, but a fire to match Vash’s own burned within. He held out a fist toward the outlaw.

        “Kickin’ butt.”

        Vash stared at it for a moment and then tapped his own fist against it. “Kickin’ butt,” he agreed with his friend.

        A surprise to both of them when a third first came up to tap theirs. Levio intoned somberly in his deeper voice, “Kickin’ butt.”

        “Well now, that’s what I’m talking about!” Grinned Wolfwood as they dropped their fists.

Elevator Fairies to the Rescue

       Elendira stared down at her nails, the polish on one of them was chipped, one was broken and there was a snag on another. She blamed the hulking, white-haired oaf of a barbarian. With a sigh she dropped her hand to her side and looked up at the doors in front of her with unseeing eyes.

        Her favorite and most expensive briefcase was completely destroyed by that Neanderthal and while she had another spare case in her room there wasn’t time to go and retrieve it.

        Suddenly the elevator jerked to a stop and Elendira stumbled to the side.

        “I told him not to stint on the shafts and mechanisms but when does he ever listen to me!” Snarled the enraged cross dresser. Much of the time, Knives relied on solar power to provide energy to his compound, although he did use his sisters when it suited his purposes. His claim was that it would give his sisters the rest they deserved. A pox on his sisters! He was no better than any human.

        Irritation written in the lines of her face and down-turned mouth she stepped over to the panel where the controls were. In slow succession she punched in one code and then another. When nothing happened she began hitting them repeatedly with force.

        The car didn’t budge.

        Once the situation was clear that nothing could be done at the moment, Elendira thought about leaning against the wall while she gathered her composure but that would have put wrinkles in the expensive material of her jacket cut in the latest fashion. Instead she took in slow, deep breaths to calm herself.

        The electricity was flickering in and out and had been for a while now. If she just relaxed and waited patiently the elevator would start up again. There were always these little power fluctuations. Those machines and contraptions that he used most often were the ones that received priority. Strange that the elevators were the pieces of junk they were in this technological hole in the ground.

        Crossing her arms in front of her she couldn’t help considering the fanciful idea that the stop was a deliberate form of harassment specifically directed at her. Elendira blew out an annoyed breath. Stranger things had been known to happen.

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Chapter 34
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