"Blackfire & Gunsmoke Chapter 35 - the Final Chapter"
By Susan-chan

Rated PG-13

Dancing With the Devil on a Razor's Edge
Let's Try This Again

       Meryl stood, clutching at a still reviving Milly, who was knuckling an eye while staring at the weaving and flashing of the two duelists out in the open area of the cave .

        “She’s gonna kill him!” Meryl whispered fiercely not realizing she was shaking Milly‘s shoulder as she spoke.

        The hybrid was the one wounded but intuition was warning Meryl that this was not going as Knives intended it to, and if it wasn’t going as he intended it, then it wasn’t a given that he would win. On top of that, Meryl was torn, she didn’t want him to die but she knew what would happen if he came out the victor; her friends would suffer.

        Whenever the two battling nonhumans paused after a furious exchange of blows it was obvious to Meryl how pale and breathless Knives was, but it didn’t diminish his fighting spirit one iota. If anything, he was bristling with energetic rage.

        “No she won’t,” Milly said, trying to soothe her rattled friend‘s nerves, “Rinnah doesn’t kill people.” But Meryl must have heard the small note of doubt in her voice.

        Agitated, Meryl waved an arm in Knives direction. “Knives is not people! He’s a plant!”

        Milly bit her lip and with growing apprehension looked over at the two who were once again engaged in whirlwind of blows and parries. When the two of them were moving this fast it was hard to follow the battle. The tall girl frowned as she tried to concentrate on the two combatants. The reason she couldn’t be completely certain about Knives’ well-being was because she knew Rinnah’s history and the deep hatred she harbored for the plant side of her heritage. It was the last thing Meryl needed to hear right now as it wasn’t exactly a comforting thought.

        Despite the fact that neither woman could see the attacks at they happened, they could see the results. It was beginning to look more and more like Knives was getting the snot kicked out of him. Two heads turned to watch Knives’ abrupt flight through the air. Both flinched at the thudding sound of him landing. Unbelievably, Rinnah had grabbed a hold one of the medium-sized blades and using his own weight and leverage, flung him over her shoulder. It wasn’t without cost though as both women saw blood dripping from her palms.

        “Ouch.” Milly grimaced, but also wondered how Rinnah kept her fingers from being sliced off her hand from touching that sharp cutting edge. She watched Vash’s brother roll a couple of times before bouncing up on the balls of his feet snarling with blades lashing out at her. Good thing Rinnah moved so quickly, otherwise she would be stew meat. She didn’t seem to be as out of breath as Knives was. She could have punched the air with a fist and yelled ‘Kick ‘em in the kneecaps Rinnah!’ but she was mindful of Meryl’s mixed feelings. The tall girl rolled an eye down to consider her friend, it couldn’t be easy on her, and felt a wave of pity for the torn and frayed emotions warring within Meryl.

        Meryl watched the male plant, with dread-filled eyes; Knives was winded and sweaty but he wasn’t slowing down, not yet anyway. What she would give for him to just walk away from this! That was not within his character to accomplish.

        “Oh Knives...” Meryl moaned out, clutching fingers gouging into the fabric of Milly‘s coat.

        A thought occurred to Milly as she watched the two plants circle each other. From everything she had heard about him it was unlike Knives to be working this hard. She watched him trick Rinnah into leaping closer to him and he rushed to meet her head on. They clashed mid-air and he got in a rib pulverizing punch and sent her flying off to the side, tumbling end over tail until she halted her roll and jumped to her feet . Milly shuddered as she saw the normally lively neon blue of her eyes blaze in anger.

        “Why hasn’t he done that mind thing attack?” Whispered Milly out of the side of her mouth, her eyes glued to the scene in front of them. Knives feinted again (at least that is what she thought happened!) and Rinnah lunged in the opposite direction, coming within inches of a lethal spear thrust. Diving over it she rolled past and under another swinging curved sword.

        “Meeerrrrrryylllll,” it was Milly’s turn to moan and she buried her head into Meryl’s shoulder. They leaned precariously before both righted themselves but Milly didn’t let go of her hold. One eye peeked through strands of blonde hair to watch the action. Rinnah was hopping, spinning, and darting to one side and another in an effort to avoid the slashing scythes Knives kept swinging at her.

        At one point she must have been maneuvered into the place Knives was hoping she would. A sharp weapon shaped like a spear burst out of his forearm and came in from the side to impale her while he tried to distract her with other attacks.

        Seeing something speeding toward her out of the corner of her eye, the hybrid twisted her hips and evaded the attack. Then Knives retracted his sword of flesh with a speed that took the breath away. Turning her attention back to the hybrid who halted for a moment, Milly recognized Rinnah’s stance. The slender woman was not at all intimidated and stood facing him, head tilted to the side and hands resting on her hips. She studied her opponent with an impish grin and, once again, she winked at him, earning her a murderous glare.

        “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, eh Knives?”

        He didn’t reply. He couldn’t begin understand why she felt the need to babble insanely like this but it was wearing on him. If he could, he would have turned off her ability to speak a while ago. He lifted a lip in a sneer and received one back, then as if they had planned it, both dropped the look and stared expressionless at one another in a tension producing standoff.

        As the two continued in a silent clash of wills, the air grew tense between them, crackling and sizzling as unseen energies clashed and writhed in the air. Suddenly, and as quick as a striking cobra, Knives lashed out again, first with the largest blade growing out of the top of his shoulder, distracting her as it soared down at her from above while a several smaller ones swung in from all sides.

        Rinnah was prepared for the attack that was descending from above but, too late, saw the other blades sweeping in at her. Still she spun to the side, missing the largest blade completely. However, the smaller curved one was able to make enough contact to slap the hybrid on the side with enough force to toss her backwards. Head over heels she went flying, but much like a cat, she landed on her feet in a crouch watching Knives with wary eyes.

        Milly lifted her head off Meryl’s shoulder as she saw Rinnah reach up and place a hand over her shoulder wound for a moment before straightening up. The tall girl knew that acrobatic movement must have been incredibly painful to perform. Still, she didn’t give any sign she was in pain. Then Milly sucked in her breath and looked over at Knives to see his eyes glowing the infernal blue of power of his kind building up within him. Alarmed, she poked Meryl in the shoulder, “Look Meryl! He does that thing that Mr. Vash can do!”

        “I am well aware of... oh no, what now!” Meryl clamped her hands around Milly’s bicep and squeezed.

        Rinnah raced over as if intending to plow straight into him. Both women caught their breath in anticipation of the impending crash. However, at the last second, in a move so fast, it was a blur to their eyes, Rinnah veered off to the side, dropped low to the ground and spun with a leg extended. Knives saw it coming and leaped aside but she was already flowing into her next move. Staying low to the ground she pushed off to whip a leg up and land a blow to the side of his face.

        Meryl let out an agonized groan as Knives staggered to the side a few steps. With a frown she finally answered Milly‘s question, “I don’t know... Knowing him I thought he would have by now. It’s very unlike him to not take every advantage at his disposal.” Meryl paused and watched with worried eyes. “Maybe he is waiting for the opportune moment.”

        “Well, if I were him I would stop waiting,” replied Milly before she remembered that if Knives won it would not go well for her or Rinnah. “Maybe he will wait until he never remembers.”

        Meryl just grunted softly, her eyes intent on the exchange of movements. Again, Rinnah halted before racing in close again; she wondered what attack was planned this time. However it wasn’t lost on Meryl that the two seemed to be running low on energy as were actually slowing to the point that the women on the sidelines could see the action as it happened even though it was still extremely fast.

        In an unexpected move, they saw Rinnah launch into a leaping spin around him in a complicated move that didn’t seem to have any purpose other than to distract him. He was starting to turn, swinging his weapons along with him when she behind him slamming a foot into the soft spot of his knee. With a curse exploding from his lips, Knives stumbled forward. However, he made use of her attack by using the blow’s momentum to land on a knee, spin and slash to the side with a curved razor. It would have cut Rinnah in half if she hadn’t already been expecting it. Instead, she leaped up, legs split to either side as it swept by her. Knives was already following through with another slash as he was not assuming the first blade would catch her. Once again she avoided the strike but this time didn‘t leap up, she went down, split-legged, ducking under the jagged-edged sword; a few wisps of onyx-black hair lazily floated to the floor as proof of the deadly pass.

        Neither waited but leapt into the fray again. Rinnah launched and rolling away, was able to dodge three rapid strikes, each landing a fraction of a second behind where she had been. With a graceful spring, she gained her feet and sprinted to the side while drawing back her arm to throw something at Knives before darting off again.

        Knives, even though it was tiny, thinking it some weapon, sidestepped it. As it passed by he got a glimpse of it and with a growl saw that it was another one of those infernal mints. He whipped his head back to look for her. A moment that was all, and she had tricked him into giving it to her!

        Suddenly she was there in front of him, closer than she had been for most of the fight. Not allowing him time to recover from his surprise and in a move that was too quick to see, she snatched a handful of white-blonde hair and jerked forward. At the same time Rinnah rammed a knee up into his face. There was the sound of a sharp crack as his head snapped back and blood rushed from his mouth and nose.

        “My goodness, that’s gotta hurt.” Milly commented mildly, one eye closed again as she flinched at the sound that came echoing over to them. She put her arm around Meryl who was starting to tremble now.

        Teeth chattering Meryl said, “I can’t stand it any more!” and buried her head into Milly’s chest to shut out the view.

        Milly wrapped her other arm around Meryl and hugged the woman to her, rocking and cooing in an unconscious attempt to comfort her friend and keep her from completely breaking down at the sight of a bloody Knives.

        She wasn’t surprised though when the shorter, raven-haired woman started to release her hold, paused and started to turn toward the action. Milly knew Meryl’s intention before she even lifted a foot to move forward; the petite woman wanted to go to Knives‘ rescue despite it being the worst thing she could choose to do right then. Milly wasn’t certain as to what level of affection the dangerous plant held for Meryl. Even though he had greeted Meryl as if he cared about her that didn’t mean he held any other human in warm regard. When it came to the homicidal free-walking plant, appearances could be deceiving. Milly grabbed Meryl and pulled the squirming woman back to her.

        “Milly, I have to go to him, I need to go to him,” Meryl said, urgency and worry in the rising panic of her voice.

        “Wait until it is over Meryl, and if you don’t, I will hold onto you until it is.” Milly threatened.

        Meryl stopped struggling, she knew her taller friend meant it and would be able to carry out the threat. She closed her eyes for a moment trying to calm her panic.

        “Okay,” she replied, a flame igniting in the depths of her dark purple eyes, “ I will wait then; I don’t want to, but I will.” Then she warned, “But not one second longer than necessary, understand?”

        Milly nodded. That was all she was asking for because anything more wouldn’t be given.

Shedding Some Light on the Situation

       “Why’d it stop?” Wolfwood fumed, the muscles in his jaw tense and jumping. He gave the ceiling a fierce look through obscuring bangs, and then at the walls as if trying to find something or someone he could blame for the sudden halt in their descent. “I can’t believe this! What kind of shoddy plant crap is this anyway?”

        Levio also cast a quick glance up at the ceiling along with Wolfwood before lowering his to eye the priest to say, “We are stuck for want of power because of a disruption along the energy trans-connection lines. Sometimes there are... glitches in the power conveyors that collect the sun’s energy. Then there are the sandstorms that damage the collecting panels, not to mention the battery storage system which has never been....”

        “I wasn’t looking for an answer!” roared the priest, thunder hanging on his brows as silvering eyes glared at Levio. The huge man with his arms hanging at his side returned Wolfwood’s look with one of puzzlement.

        “Then why did you ask?”

        “I... it... Never mind!” He turned to darkly consider the ceiling, the floor, the wall next to him, acutely aware of the strange eyes watching him, determined to understand. Unused to his moods being so riveting to another, he hissed out a breath in exasperation and hunched his shoulders which caused the carrying strap to slide off his shoulder. His cross landed with a loud bang on the floor. He lifted stormy gray eyes to glare at Levio as if it was his fault. Then with a soft, displeased snort he let them drop down to his weapon. With a muttered oath and expert twist of his wrist, he swung the cross up so that the carrying strap was lying over his shoulder where it belonged. Without looking up he explained, “I hate waiting.” It was as close as he could get to an apology.

        Vash reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose. Wolfwood was strung tight as could be without snapping and Vash, himself, could feel a knot of tension tightening in his chest as well. Nerves stretched thin with impatience, he swore that if the damn elevator didn’t start up soon he was going to shoot a hole in the floor and fall the rest of the way down to where they needed to be. With a soft curse he dropped his hand back down to his side as his eyes went wide with dawning realization. Power? That’s all they needed? A humorless, lopsided grin twitched at the corner of his mouth.

        “This isn’t funny!” snapped the priest, who happened to look up to catch the expression cross the outlaw‘s face.

        “I think I can help.” Vash replied calmly, more composed than he actually felt.

        “What now? All of a sudden you’re an elevator shaft maintenance worker? Is this yet another secret plant ability?”

        Vash just shook his head, understanding what was churning within Wolfwood. “Just give me a minute, I might be able to get this thing started again.”

        Ignoring Wolfwood’s sharp indrawn breath, Vash closed his eyes and fought to find, gather, and release the power from the seed residing in his right forearm. He didn’t have the finesse that Knives had, nor the control but at this point that was not what mattered. Without realizing what he was doing, he fell to his knees, placing his palms flat on the floor to release the energy that was beginning to crackle and snap up and down his arm. Gritting his teeth and with brows deeply furrowed, the concentrated rush of power exploded from him to brighten the car with unbearable light. Along with that came an audible ripping sound as the blue lightening of power was discharged into the lines and energy coupling cables.

        As the light dissipated the gears above them could be heard grinding and air in the car smelled of melted rubber.

        “Geez Needle Noggin, I hope you didn’t fry the wrong circuits!” He glanced up anxiously at the ceiling as if he were able to see right through it to the mechanisms surrounding the car. Levio also looked up before returning their attention to Vash, on his hands and knees between them. Curling wisps of smoke rose from his right arm, head, and along his shoulders before fading.

        “You didn’t burn yourself out there, did you Spikey?” Wolfwood asked anxiously taking a step closer but warily keeping an eye on the rising smoke as it vanished.

        Levio also eyed the outlaw dubiously and spoke, “You are unharmed?”

        Vash shuddered for a second, the power rippling over his skin before dying out. When it was obvious that the display was over, he lifted his head. The sunglasses had slipped halfway down his nose so that Levio and Wolfwood could see the flaming, brilliant red of his eyes flaring over the tops of his circle lenses. In a swift, graceful move, Vash rose to his feet as the reddish glare slowly faded. Swaying in place for a moment Vash lifted a hand to rub his forehead and then leaned his back against the wall to brace himself.

        Wolfwood began to open his mouth until the elevator jerked and began to descend again. He leaned back against the wall, slipped a hand into one pocket, readjusted his hold on the strap and, without emotion, stated, “I just want to go on record as saying that I really, really, hate this place!”

        Levio nodded, lowered his chin on his chest and folded his arms in front of him. Vash merely pushed his sunglasses up with his middle finger and stared off into nothingness. All of them were ready to exploded at a moment’s notice but managing to keep it under control. Still, the strain from constantly being on-edge was taking a toll. When the sound of a toe tapping out a quiet, but impatient beat on the floor began to make itself known on the edge of his awareness, he looked down with surprise to find that it was his toe making the noise. It wasn’t loud, but in the cramped space it took on the rhythm of a heartbeat. He forced it to still although inside his guts were churning with mounting pressure. He hated being useless like this when people he cared about needed him.

The End of the Matter

       Instead of taking advantage in the opportune moment of having the upper-hand, Rinnah backed off, wary of a counterattack. Even though she anticipated the strike it came at her with an appallingly swift speed. This assault wasn’t as easy to evade since three blades were sweeping at her at the same time from three different directions. It was with the freakish ability of a contortionist that she bent her body to flow and bend around the slicing blades and escape from being severed in two.

        As she busied herself with evading his attack, Knives brought in the monster blade and despite it being so massive it was not cumbersome for him to manipulate. It was deceptive looking in that it appeared to be too heavy for a score of men to lift, but Knives swept it through the air at an impossible speed. A couple of times it came close enough to slice the hybrid and draw blood.

        Knives glared at her knowing that despite her cheerful demeanor she was starting to get tired also. He kept his eyes on her as he lifted an arm and wiped away the blood on the back of a sleeve. The last several moves had been slower; for a plant. Not only that but she was starting to stiffen up from her wound. It had to be causing her pain every time she was forced to do any leaping or throwing her body into odd shapes and positions to avoid his striking blades. A cold, feral grin stretched his lips. His eyes began to glow brightly again as he contemplated his enemy. If he could only corner her then he would have the advantage.

        Even as he kept her dancing about dodging this way and that, he couldn’t help himself and tried to use his mind abilities. Yet each time he did it was cost him dearly to do so, draining away at the reserves of energy within him. With a biting curse he vowed to keep from reaching for his power but old habits were hard to break. Despite being in a great deal of pain he promised himself that he would defeat this creature without it!

        The elder brother didn’t care anymore that his sisters needed her, there was only one overriding thought in his mind and that was he wanted her dead at his feet. He was becoming so befuddled that he would forget and reach for his power. Only each time he tried to strike with ability of his mind, it was like slamming into an immovable wall and upon the heels of that came the most unbelievable pain piercing through his head. Within seconds he was breathing hard while sweat poured down his face. There was no way she could have done something like that to him! She was only a half! He was pure, whole, and untainted!

        Rinnah watched as Knives wrestled with the knowledge that she had thoroughly tricked him. How irritating that must be, how galling, how humiliating... How much fun for her to watch! Eyes twinkling in amusement she watched the play of emotions cross his face.

        The problem was that she was starting to get weary and she really was wishing that he would pass out, give up or even go for an old fashioned ‘time out‘. The wound in her shoulder was hurting like the dickens now and the fire to fight was quickly fading. She was ready for this to come to an end. Maybe they could end this over a furious game of checkers.

        “You will undo what you have done!” Knives commanded as he slowly straightened back up.

        “Standing here not thinking it likely plant boy.” She shook her head slowly, black strands of hair swishing back and forth across her cheeks with the motion.

        Suddenly dozens of razor-sharp spines and keen-edged cutting knives erupted all up and down Knives shoulders and left arm. Some of them grew to a gigantic size, looming high overhead, like a bird of prey staring down waiting for the exact moment to pounce.

        “You will undo what you have done!” He snarled the command again.

        Rinnah shifted her weight, ready to move at a second’s notice. The situation looked bleak. The knives and razors hanging above ready to descend were indeed a fearsome sight. The wickedly sharp points were aimed for the center of her chest. She blew a breath out and she lowered her eyes to look at Knives. She studied him for a brief second with a serious look before another smile crossed her face and she stuck her tongue out at him.

        With fists balled at his side, Knives growled throatily. To all appearances whatever superior intelligence he possessed was gone. A snarling, bloody demon was left in his place.

        It didn’t occur to him that his downfall was that he couldn’t stop thinking of this hybrid as a type of Gung Ho Gun, a modified human and as such, someone he should easily be able to defeat. For a human, if they found themselves faced with blades waving above their heads and poised to sweep down on her, it would be a pretty tight spot. Instead, she just eyed them for second before lowering her eyes to Knives battered face, and waited.

        Knives struck, the points sending flakes and flinty shards of stone flying in all directions. But she wasn’t there, rather, she was gone so fast it nearly created a suction in her wake.

        It didn’t take but a glance for Rinnah to see how open Knives had left himself with his killing blades swinging and moving overhead as if they had minds of their own. Every last spear, point, sword, blade on his body was committed to that attack. He couldn’t wait to pierce her flesh and pin her to the ground.

        “**Not today, not ever, plant boy! And furthermore, I can tolerate you no longer!**”

        She turned and wove through the slashing blades and the ones sweeping from side to side, hopping and leaping, spinning and somersaulting over and under with teeth gritted. It was getting harder to evade his strikes and stabbing razors and worse, she was getting tired.

        Fortunate for her, in his weakened condition all it would take at this point was one good blow to put him down for the count. Her chances were looking better all the time, if she didn’t pass out first. It was with relief as she watched him pull the flesh weapons back into a waiting position. Yippee for me.

        The eyes of both plant beings lit up as they panted and stared at each other, the moment building between them. As if they had rehearsed it, in unison they both moved to rush at the other at the same time.

The End of the Matter, Again

       The wickedly sharp blades and razors descended with a speed that was inhumanly fast, for a human that is. The three largest spikes sliced through the air in a tremendous blur of speed ready to impale the female half-plant. However, dashing between the blades and evading the danger zone was a black-haired blur. Once again the sharp points pierced deep into the rock floor, digging and scraping out gouges until chips and splinters of stone went flying.

        “Like I am going to stick around to get stuck!!”

        Knives, livid with rage, heard the hated voice from off to the side of him, nowhere near the strike area. Swinging around to face her with long curved blades, short dagger shapes and long pointed spears, the force of his anger caused them to move and dart about in the air like hungry snakes scenting dinner. Once again Knives sent his weapons slicing toward her.

        Rinnah danced between the scything action of his flesh-born blades. Leaping and skipping from one foot to the other, then whirling and dodging until suddenly she was standing in front of him, she breathlessly whispered, “Boo!”.

        The male plant couldn‘t believe she was within reach, close up and personal. Quickly he jerked his arm to the side to slash her but she ducked below the sharp cutting edges. Impossibly, she popped up in his face again. It was rare, no, rather, it was impossible for someone to keep evading his attacks like this.

        “That was a no-parking zone, mister,” she informed him, with an impish smile and a glint of humor in her eye even as she sucked in a much-needed mouthful of air.

        In a beautiful spin, beyond the ability of the two women on the sidelines to follow, Rinnah lashed a kick high to his head. Knives saw it coming, spun so that his right arm was there to block the blow, except the foot didn‘t connect as he expected it to and the unexpected follow through sending him off balance.

        The hybrid had snapped into a near impossible tucking her knee in at the last second, swinging it down and switching to her other leg putting a burst of energetic speed into her forward motion. Immediately, on the heels of that move, she spun and followed through while going under his high blocking defense to land a blow along his unprotected side. Then on the heels of that she twisted again and this time ended up with landing an elbow deep into the same area before jumping back ready to block any counterattack. She was hoping he wouldn’t but she was ready for him if he did.

        “To err is human, to figure, divine, to pout for a century? That takes a plant.”

        Knives did follow through, but not in the way she expected him to. Thin, long, piercing needles came down like a perilous rain, striking the ground around her as she sinuously and fluidly danced between them. Yet he was able to drive her into a position he could use against her.

        He was fast though and Rinnah had to admit that the enraged plant had narrowly missed skewering her several times. Noticing she was getting closer to him than she would like, she threw a wild punch, not caring where it landed, when he swung his other fist up to hit her square in the solar plexus. Thrown backwards, she crumpled to the floor willing herself to stay conscious,... and to breathe. Failure was not an option. This battle must not be won by him, not when so many fates were being weighed in the balance. She couldn’t allow herself to fail. Weakly but with unrivaled speed, she rolled out of arm’s reach of the waving, sharp-edged blades rising up from his body for another strike.

        She was winded, tired, and in pain but sprang up, but not to her feet but kept going higher. She leaped straight up into the air while tucking her feet up under her as to avoid the back and forth movement of a sharp blade sweeping through the space where her ankles had been.

        “Yee haw there plant boy! Close, but no cigar!”

        Instead of landing on her feet, she fell to the floor, curled into a ball and rolled near his feet. In a fluid, blur of motion she was upright, in his face, and quickly, before he had time to attack, slugging him with everything she could put into the blow, wiping the surprised look from his face. Rinnah fervently hoped he would stay down because she was starting to run on fumes.

        “Always look both ways!”

        Taking a few steps back, ignoring the deep need for oxygen that her lungs were screaming for, she snapped out another kick, burying a foot deep into his groin before swiftly landing another crippling blow to his open midriff and then ribcage. Knives staggered back trying to suck in precious air but he was still aware enough to control the blades to sideswipe at her.

        “Better to rule in hell, eh Knives? An’ lookee here, a more perfect hellhole one would be hard pressed to find!”

        Sweat was beginning to trickle into the infuriated male plant’s eyes making it difficult to see the darting shape of the hybrid. If nothing else he passionately wanted to silence the inane comments that spouted forth without showing any sign of stopping. If she was going to speak why couldn’t it be something logical and useful? On top of that, he was slowing, and it was taking greater and greater effort on his part to keep the shape and substance of the blades from being reabsorbed back into his body. He needed to end this soon.

        Frustratingly, she was gone again, and the passage of the giant sweeping blades carrying past the place where she had been standing caused Knives’ to spin in place from the momentum of his swing. Halting himself he looked around for her. He would slice her into tiny little ribbons! With growing alarm he noted that his strength was draining away quicker than he had anticipated. He stared at her and saw the slight trembling of her limbs from weariness. This battle might just be won by whichever of the two could last the longest!

        Even though he told himself not to take his gaze off of her, he reached up in an automatic response to wipe the sweat from his eyes. It was not a breath but he cursed when he realized that she had used that opportunity to disappear again.

        There was a tap on the shoulder and he turned to see her luminous eyes glowing neon blue, that is, until his head snapped back from the blow of her fist.

        “You’re it!”

        Even as he was rocked in place, in a reflex action he caught her wrist before she could withdraw it for another strike. His right fist hit her square across the chin and this time it was her head snapping back as she went staggering to the side.

        Giving a yank he pulled her close until there was only inches between them and crushed her wrist in his iron grip as hard as he could. A cold grin crossed his face as he watched her grimace in pain.

        Despite being dazed and the ache in her hand, she looked up at him with that familiar mocking grin that he was beginning to despise, and declared, “That’ve hurt if you didn’t hit like a second-grade girl!”

        Rinnah didn’t need to hear the growl to warn her that a strike was coming. That last remark was planned, as were all the frivolous and mindless comments, hopefully to wear away at that cool logic of his and inflame him to the point to where the self-sufficient plant wasn’t thinking clearly any more. Looks like it’s working. What a relief even though, Lord knows, I couldn’t keep this up much longer, she thought, gasping for air. It was doubtful that any further needling was needed really, but what the heck, what were a few observations among enemies?

        “Grab a game face Knives, there’s still time left on the clock!”

        Up to this point she had tried to avoid staying in his close vicinity any longer than possible. It was clear to her that Knives was not incredibly gifted at hand-to-hand combat with one of his own kind. He would easily defeat a human with his superior speed and strength, and he was still formidable, and astoundingly fast in their fight, but she had the edge and knew it.

        From what she had gathered by fighting Knives in this battle, she had discovered that if Vash and Knives fought merely on a physical level that Vash should win hands down if he didn’t trip over his own feet.

        It was when that mental prowess that Knives was so known for was thrown in that Vash’s chances for victory became iffy. Also, although not having firsthand knowledge herself concerning this, she was fairly certain that Knives was equal to Vash when it came to shooting abilities, speed, and strength. Of course these musings were a moot point right at the moment. She planned to take the matter out of Vash’s hands altogether and whip this arrogant plant arse until all that was left was a pile of goo on the floor. If she didn’t go goo-like herself first.

        There was a hitch in the hybrid’s breath when she tried to breathe in too deep and she swayed until she leaned to place her palms on her thighs, wishing she could let out a deep groan. That last hit had packed a wallop. Too bad they couldn’t take a time out and rest. Rinnah reminded herself that it would soon be over and she didn’t think it too selfish to hope that she would win.

        With a spreading smirk she slowly straightened, thanking the Hybrid that he wasn‘t used to fighting in this manner and, if she could just stay on her feet for just a bit longer, she might actually win this slight disagreement they were having!

        It was in her best interests to make sure that the tiring plant didn’t get a hold of her, like the one he had right at the moment. While Knives didn’t have the advantage that Vash had with a prosthetic arm, he was amazingly strong and had a killer grip. Still, there was only one thing to do.

        “Even my grandma has a stronger grip that you!” And attacked.

        He blocked the blow with ease, and started to lift up a mocking eyebrow until a knee jabbed into his side and a sharp snap was heard. She wondered if a rib was cracked or broken by that blow and decided she didn‘t care, either way she planned to take advantage of it.

        With another quick strike, this time she slammed a knee into his gut, that took away what was left of his breath and he doubled over his. She sighed in relief as his hard fingers released the grip around her bruised wrist. Without allowing herself to acknowledge the pain she threw a couple of blows to the side of the head and prayed that when Knives slumped to the floor, he would stay down.

        Knives didn’t think it was possible to hate someone as much as he did right at that moment. He didn’t even think he hated humans this deeply and thoroughly. This one pathetic, abomination of a she-plant was ruining the plans that had been in the making for years, just with this one battle. He struggled to move but a pain in his side stabbed him and made him catch his breath as his vision faded over.

        “Hmmm,” he heard the voice above him say, “You’re not so tough without your bootlicking underlings around and those vaunted mental powers of yours. Buy low, sell high.”

        Would she never shut up? Without opening his eyes, he sent a thin sharp razor in the direction of her voice.

        He was rewarded to hear a hiss of pain and smirked at the sound that was blessedly pleasant to his ears.

        “Crap, I was trying to avoid that! Ah well, that’s what I get for gloating.”

        Opening his eyes to half-slits, Knives watched as she bent over him and placed her hand on his head. He turned slightly so he could direct one of his blades straight up to pierce her heart.

        “Oops, almost got me again plant boy! You’re pretty fast with those things.” Cool, light fingers touched his temple and the last thing he heard was her saying, “I think it’s time you took a nap.”

From the Sidelines

       The whole time Milly and Meryl watched the fight they alternately sucked in their breaths, groaned, clutched one another, gasped, or grimaced when the action slowed down enough that they could actually make out what was going on in front of them. Only a few moments before the end Meryl had started crying, the tears sliding down her face unnoticed. When they saw Rinnah lean over and touch Knives’ head, Meryl froze for an awful moment before she saw Knives‘ chest rise and fall, proving that he was still alive.

        Rinnah slowly, and in obvious pain, straightened and looked over at the two women to smile tiredly at them.

        “It’s okay now, you‘re safe, he won‘t hurt you.”

        She started to say something but Meryl rushing by cut her short. With surprise she watched the shorter woman fall on her knees next to Knives‘ prone form. Tenderly she bent over him and slid her arm under his crook of the neck and pulled him toward her.

        Rinnah stared. This was not the reaction she was anticipating. It wasn’t as if she was expecting any great accolades but a smile or handshake of gratitude would have been pleasant; even a simple ‘thank you‘ would have sufficed. She reached up and scratched her head. Must be that post-traumatic shock that people were always talking about.

        Milly came up, looked down at Meryl and Knives, then back up at Rinnah with a worried expression while asking, “is he dead?”

        “Oh my no, it‘s just nap time. He’s an aggressive little critter and I think he was ’bout like to wear himself out over this.” She blew out a puff of air up to stir the sweat-soaked bangs on her forehead. “I know I’m plumb wore out.“ Looking up at Milly from under her brow, she went on, “Don’t suppose you know if he is on medication of some kind or other do you?”

        Milly stared trying to fit all the words into some kind of context she could understand. Then smiling softly at her friend, she reached over and touched her gently on the arm. “I am sorry you had to do this Rinnah. You were meant to be a lively, passionate person, not a violent one.”

        It was the right thing, Rinnah’s eyes stung unexpectedly and she started sniffing before turning her head away and wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Dang Milly. How did she do that? Once again few just a few words she went to the heart of the matter.


       Levio positioned himself in front of Wolfwood and Vash, ready to be the first one out when the doors opened.

        “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Growled the priest, his cross was planted in front of him as he leaned on it from behind. Every fiber in his being was alert and tensed for action.

        Levio studied him a moment before looking over to see that Vash also looking at him from over the rims of his glasses with questioning eyes, only with less animosity.

        Patiently he explained, “It would be better if I went first. You both have ones you are fond of and who are fond of you, do you not? If something is going to happen then it would be wiser for me to take point.”

        Wolfwood grumbled something that was unintelligible but looked over at Vash, waiting for his response. After a pause Vash gave a short, quick nod and then reached up with a finger and pushed his sunglasses up to the bridge of his nose. In the space of seconds his whole bearing changed. A dark, lean gunslinger stood before them. Wolfwood smiled approvingly as Vash dropped his hand to rest on the butt of his gun, fingers automatically sliding down and curling around the familiar grip.

        Even as Wolfwood was anxious to see Milly, he too was anxious to see someone. If Knives had her in a bulb he was going to shoot his brother so full of holes they could use him as a net for sand fishing. Slipping a long finger into the trigger guard, he pulled his modified colt out of the holster and held it down by his side. With a series of clicks and the sound of metal parts sliding against one another, he watched as his left hand split apart to propel out his prosthetic arm to flip up and over his forearm, ready for use. He lifted it and studied the end, recalling the time when she had collapsed in tears of laughter over his ’side arm’. Unknowingly a small grin creased his lips as he recalled that evening. Strange, how it hadn’t seemed funny at the time.

        Looking up his face settled into stone as he stared at the door with a severe, merciless glare and his mouth turned down as he thought on the sight that would most likely confront them when they stepped out of the elevator. Of several things he was sure, Rinnah would be helpless in a bulb and Knives would be gloating and full of himself. He would shoot that arrogant smirk right of his brother‘s face!

        The elevator bounced to a gentle stop. He was up on the balls of his feet, ready to leap out, the tightness spreading up his calves and thighs, causing them to quiver with coiled tension. Beside him he would tell that Wolfwood was equally ready and alert with his cross punisher lifted in both hands, although the end was aimed at the floor. Livio in front of them, both of his Double Fangs opened and ready for the attack. He too was tensed and waiting. All three of them were primed and ready to take out a whole swarm of...

        The doors opened and they rushed out together.

        .... Women?

        All three men stopped in their tracks, shocked at the sight meeting their eyes. They found themselves staring at two women who were returning their looks with ones of equal amazement. Apparently they weren’t expecting to be rescued, especially since it appeared that they didn’t need any rescuing.

        With a mere thought came a smooth clicking movement stemming from years of practice, without even a glance, Vash retracted his gun back into his prosthetic arm before snapping the hand back into place with a metallic ‘snick‘. His eyes searched for Knives as he also slid the silver colt back into place. Seeing his brother flat on the floor caused him a few seconds of worry until he realized that Meryl was tending to him. Knives couldn’t be dead if she was kissing his forehead and stroking his cheek; besides, he had the feeling that if Knives were dead he was sure he would be able to feel the difference.

        Then he scanned the rest of the immediate area and even though his guns were sheathed, his eyes were wary and suspicious, inspecting the place for any sign of danger or threat before they came back to rest on the woman staring at him like she was seeing a ghost.

        Rinnah couldn’t move to save her life. He was there, right there in front of her and it was then that she realized she had been harboring a dread fear, one coiled around her heart had been whispering to her all this time that she would never see him again. His very presence revealed her fear for the lying voice that it was, but she couldn‘t move.

        He reached up and slid the sunglasses off of his face and tucked them into an inner pocket, all without taking his eyes from her as he continued to move toward her.

        Those crimson eyes were burning holes into her head with an intensity that took her breath away and made her heart slam against her ribs. Finally the pressure lifted as a small half-smile creased his lips. All she could see was him, the whole picture that he presented right at the moment, dripping danger in his black duster, gleaming white hair the color of moonshine; and star holes, but didn’t he look dashing!

        Her eyes dipped down to stare at his boots and moved up his lithe, slender legs, covered in black leather chaps with the belts encircling his legs emphasizing the sleek shape of them and onto slim hips teasingly hinted at underneath the form-fitting black coat.

        Sleek and slender like a prowling panther, with fluid grace he moved toward her and the mantles of his coat undulated in his wake like black, rippling waves.

        Then, as he she could see silver buckles twinkling at her from between the moving flaps, as he began to move toward her with determined, ground-eating strides. He was strikingly handsome she suddenly thought, and, she noticed with a gulp, he was headed in her direction. Suddenly a blush moved up her face and she shifted uneasily in place. Everything in her wanted to squirm out from under the red piercing gaze he was leveling at her.

        Shy? I am feeling shy? I need this as in, how? Oh this is just wonderful. Maybe I should mosey over and study the pretty bubbles in the water cooler.

        Before she could act on her rambling thoughts, he was suddenly there, in front of her and staring down at her as if he knew what she was thinking. She gave him a feeble smile. “Hi!” Unsure if she should give him a handshake or a hug. How awkward is this? Especially with his girlfriend sitting not so far away from them, no matter how strange the relationship.

        She was trapped in a place where time had no power to move before being jerked back into the present when a loud ringing clang reverberated throughout the cavern.

        Both she and Vash looked over to see that Wolfwood had dropped his cross. He was staring with wild eyes, caught up in that first moment when he caught his first glimpse of his wife. He couldn’t stop staring but it wasn’t until his cross wobbled unsteady in the place he set it down, fell over. He didn’t notice the echoing metallic sound it made upon hitting the floor. He was too busy racing toward Milly.

        By this time, the daze was lifting off Milly and her face lit up with an animated joy that bubbled out of her with wild abandon. Throwing her arms up into the air she screamed, “Nicholas!”, and ran to meet him.

        Wolfwood reached her, grabbed her around the waist and lifted her high while twirling around with her. She tried to lean over to kiss and hug every inch of him she could reach. Finally he set her down as she was attempting to kiss the top of his head before the action could tip them over backward.

        As soon as she was on the ground looking up at him he scooped her close, tight to his chest and caught her mouth with his. Strong arms, full of need and hunger pulled her so tightly against him that she couldn‘t move if she wanted to, which she didn’t so she was just fine with it. In fact, just as eager for the embrace, she pressed back into him, kissing him with an enthusiasm that fired his blood in his veins.

        Slowly, reluctantly he let go enough so that he could lower both hands to her waist and lean back. His eyes lingered over every curve and line of her face, drinking in the sight of her lovely features. He would never be able to get enough of this, not even in a whole lifetime; good thing his boss was in the eternity business because that was how long he wanted to be with this beautiful, joyous, wonderful woman.

        Light blue eyes the color of the edge of a morning sky, glistened with gathering tears so overcome with joy that mere laughter and smiles couldn’t contain the emotion. Her eyes scanned him, searching for any sign that he was in any way hurt or injured. With a squeal of laughter she threw herself at him, arms circling his neck as she hugged him tight, as tight as he had held her.

        Nicholas was safe and without a scratch on him! She backed up so she could gaze into his beloved face again. His black hair was wild and tousled above slanted twinkling eyes which peered at her through long strands of his dark bangs. His hair was a tangled mess, he had dark circles under his eyes, and looked like he had lost weight, but he was here, with her, and that was all that mattered. Well, she thought with a grin, getting out of here would be nice too.

        His handsome face was creased with a crooked grin as he looked down into her wide-eyed gaze. Milly’s breath was taken away at the sight. He was altogether glorious. His gray eyes smoldered with sharp, silver highlights and he was locking all of his attention on her making her feel like she was the only woman in the room. Milly felt like her heart was ready to spring out of her chest. She found it astonishing, even after all this time, that he looked at her like this, as if his whole world was centered around her and only her.

        In unison they acted, she, throwing her arms around his neck as he pulled her to him again. He buried his face in her neck, feeling the heat rising from her flesh, velvet against the rough stubble of his cheek. The pulse in her throat fluttered softly under his cheek like the rapid beat of a butterfly’s wings. He closed his eyes as he pressed his lips to her skin and felt her shiver and giggle in response, bringing a smile to his lips. He inhaled the scent of her like a starving man, the smell of soap, pudding, the slight tang of perspiration, and something like drying laundry flapping in a gentle breeze making a stimulating mixture that no perfume could ever compete with.

        “Don’t,” he begged, voice choking and rough.

        “Don’t what?” She asked, puzzled.

        “Don’t ever leave me again, please,” he beseeched in a ragged whisper. “I have missed you so much that I thought my heart was being twisted in two.”

        Milly felt his long, lean frame shake with repressed sobs and his arms tightened around her crushing her to him. She caressed his back in small circles and murmured her love into his ear, her heart breaking for this dark, handsome man who she was fortunate to have as her husband.

        Slowly his muscles relaxed as if a transfer of strength was indeed moving from her into him.

        “I can only be strong when I know you are safe. Does that make me weak?” He asked in a low soft voice, and then he again, uncertainly, “You are all right, aren’t you?”

        “Yes, together we are strong! Now that you are here with us, we are.” She responded, a happy smile lighting up her face which he couldn‘t see with his face hidden in her long blonde hair.

        “Huh?” He paused. As fond as he was of Rinnah, he really hadn’t expected her to be brought into their private conversation. Well, he wouldn’t be petty about it and sheepishly admitted, “Yeah, right, Rinnah too.” He lifted his head to look over at Vash and Rinnah as they were deep in their own conversation, if that is what one wanted to call it. There was a lot of arm waving, accusing fingers being pointed, and frosty looks exchanged. Wolfwood looked back to Milly, his face softening.

        Milly giggled.

        Nicholas stared and tilted his head quizzically. “Honey?”

        Milly reached a hand to stroke his whiskery cheek and smiled lovingly up at him.

        Now he was becoming alarmed. “What? What is it?”


        Wolfwood just stared at his tall beauty of a wife. He knew her thought processes were a little different than most people’s, but that was just part of her charm. However this was flying right over his head. He searched his mind trying to think of something he could or should say, afraid that whatever he could come up with would be the wrong thing. The last thing he wanted to do right then was spoil the mood of the moment.

        Taking pity on the obvious confusion and alarm growing in her husband’s eyes, Milly reached for one of his hands and guided it to her abdomen. Then leaning forward she kissed him on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “I am going to have a baby...”

        Nicholas didn’t react like Milly thought he would. Instead of being overjoyed he pulled back away from him. At first she was confused and a little hurt until, shocking her, he snarled and reached inside his coat to pull out the gun he carried with him at all times. With eyes filled with rage and an inarticulate growl rumbling deep in his chest, he started to point the gun at Knives.

        Realizing what he was thinking she grabbed his hand and pushed it down. “NO!”

        Wolfwood looked at his wife, rage and anger playing across his features along with a deep, crushing grief. “I’ll kill him Milly, I swear to God I will kill him for doing this to...”

        “He didn’t do anything to me!” She insisted, breaking into his furious oath. “You did!”

        “Hhhhuuuu.....” He stopped cold as his brain tried to grasp the implications of that remark. The only thing that could move were his eyes and first going wide then closing to small, dangerous slits, before widening again.

        Oh dear. Nicholas was looking like he had been hit by a board, a very heavy one. His skin flushed before going pale. Milly grabbed one of his hands and began to chafe his wrist. She wasn’t sure exactly why one should do that for a person who looked like they were going to pass out, but it was what Mother had always done for great-aunt Nelly when she had one of her dizzy spells.

        “Whaaa... whaaa....” His mouth opened and closed but no further words came out, only the sound of gasping air.

        Milly leaned her head in to rest against his shoulder. “We are going to have a baby, you and me! Us,... together.”

        Wolfwood could only stutter and gag. A father? Him? He? They? Them? His Milly was going to be the mother of his child? For the first time in his life he was feeling quite faint. He holstered his gun and looked behind him as if wondering why there wasn’t a chair there for him to sit down upon so he could collect himself.

        Suddenly an arm was around him and he leaned his head down against her shoulder.

        “I don’t feel very good,” he murmured.

        “Aren’t you happy Nicholas?” She asked, distressed that he wasn’t demonstrating the response she was expecting, especially since she was expecting.

        “Delirious,” he managed to croak out.

        Hot tears dripped down on her neck to roll down the sides of her throat.

        “You, here, with him and you could have been hurt, I would have lost you both!” He moaned as her hair tickled against his cheek, as if to defy his very fear with the lighthearted hope that embodied his Honey.

        “Well really! I’m fine and I think you need to concentrate on that fact. Besides, we have to start thinking about all the baby things we will need to buy.”

        Wolfwood brought his arms up and crushed his wife to him until he heard a muffled ‘oof’ and immediately released her to look down at her stomach with a worried look. “I didn’t squeeze you too tight did I?” His head whipped around on his shoulders looking for a chair, “I’m sorry Honey, I wasn’t thinking! Do you need to sit down? Should I get a doctor? Do you need a glass of water? Hot water! That‘s what they always get! Or is it boiling water? I don‘t know! How can I be a good father when I don‘t know that!” Now he was frantically searching as if boiling water should make an appearance on the scene right then.

        Milly laughed and leaned into him, soothing his panic to a more manageable level. “No, everything is just wonderful, especially now that we are together again.” She could feel the pounding of his heart as she laid her head against his shoulder. Poor man. What a way to be told he was going to be a father, and in these settings too!

        Wolfwood sighed as he bent his head to lean against her silken hair and closed his eyes again, letting the contented feeling completely envelope him.

Well Hello to You Too!

       “What the hell are you even doing here?” Came the growl that was more accusation than question.

        That was the last straw! Sparkling blue fire leapt from her eyes as she snapped out, “Took the grand tour! Thinking of building an amusement park! Looking for a place to retire! Whaddya think I’m doing here!” She stared up into his frowning face. This wasn’t exactly how she imagined their meeting, but how just like him! She huffed out an indignant breath and explained, “I wasn’t given much choice in the matter!”

        “You can’t keep yourself out of trouble for more than five minutes, can you?”

        Again with the accusing voice! She narrowed her eyes at him and then waved a pointing finger back behind her in Knives’ direction, “He started it!” She then emphasized each word with a jab of her finger. “I was minding my own business! Went out for coffee and ice cream, a little chat with a friend, and the next thing I know, bullets are fly... ack!”

        Roughly he grabbed her by the shoulders, strong fingers digging into the tops of her shoulders as he pulled her to him. Enveloping her in a crushing hug hard enough to make her bones pop, he said, “You are the most irritating woman I have ever met.”

        An indignant reply was muffled into the black material of his coat. He loosened slightly to hear, “.... I don’t believe I have the corner on...”

        He pushed her far enough away to give him room to lower his face to hers and trapped her mouth underneath his. She went rigid with shock for a second before trying to murmur an unsuccessful protest. Every movement she tried to make, he squeezed tighter until she finally realized he wasn’t going to let go and relaxed. Gratified, he concentrated on the sweet taste of her lips under his mouth and the mental image she aroused in him of fire and feathers.

        It was with a deep sense of satisfaction that he noted she was soon ardently kissing him back, sliding her arms around his back and molding her shape to fit his as if she were melting against him. Finally. He wondered if she was even aware of how she felt, when she wasn’t being disagreeable, argumentative, and tetchy. His mouth covered hers, possessing, while holding her firmly in place as she started to squirm. He could feel her embarrassment and was sure she suddenly remembered there were other people present who could be watching. He didn’t care if anyone was observing. Let them get an eyeful and think what they wanted to. He was going to do what he wanted and right then, it was to kiss her until there wasn‘t a coherent thought in her mind and her knees buckled. He did it once before, he was sure he could do it again.

        Sliding an arm down to the delicious curve of her back and the other higher so he could reach up and snake the fingers of his real hand into the silky obsidian darkness of her hair, he deepened the kiss. His own pulse was exploding and a fire ignited and raced throughout his being. He could stay like this a lifetime or two, and since he had time to spare, he could think of worse ways to spend it.

        It was with regret and a great deal of reluctance, he lifted his head from hers. For a moment he just held her, cheek to cheek as he regained control from the intensity of the yearning heat threatening to consume him. Yet he was deeply gratified to feel the mold of her body pressed against his. He allowed himself a small lopsided grin of congratulations, especially since she was busy resting her forehead on his chest and couldn‘t see his expression.

Face Off

       Levio watched the men greet their women and even Meryl had someone she was concerned about, even if it was his Master who didn’t deserve the attention or the affection. He shifted from one foot to the other, his eyes roaming about the room for something to look at and occupy his attention. It was acutely uncomfortable to watch the reunion between all the couples. Each greeting was different but he could almost see the bond between the couples, reminding him with a tainted sorrow that he was not half of a whole. A rueful twitch crossed his lips, unless one wanted to count in Razlo which wasn’t the same thing at all. Then he was a crippled half that could never be whole.

        Then, with eyes widening in shock, he realized something. Razlo wasn’t writhing or struggling under the lock and key of the implanted Lost Technology chip trying to worm his way up to freedom which subservience for Levio. Yet, something was wrong. He couldn’t feel any twitch, sign, or echo of Razlo within him.

        Closing his eyes, he willed his other self to come forth, a self that had never needed to be hunted for in the past. It was the self that demanded dominance and fought for it for most of Levio’s brief lifespan that he never remembered a time when he wasn’t locked in battle with the demented Razlo. Levio calmed his breathing and relaxed, waiting, enticing the demonic half of himself into revealing his presence with the lure that the crazed one would be given full and total control. It was the method of calling to Razlo that a prey had been sighted and it was his turn to be foremost and in charge. Razlo never turned down the opportunity to kill, his bloodlust was insatiable.

        Levio was disconcerted. Where was Razlo? Not that he didn’t want him gone or would miss him in any way, but the other self was such a part of him that he couldn’t imagine the psychopathic twin to actually be gone. It also begged the question, if he wasn’t with Levio, then where was he? No, he had to be hiding, just biding his time until he took control and Levio had to watch in horror, through the eyes they both shared as Razlo slaughtered. Even though they were joined one soul to the other, Razlo wasted no opportunity in tormenting Levio.

        It was then he heard a voice and he knew the source, “**You may desist from your search for the lunatic. He is gone. I promised you this and when a superior being makes a promise, they keep it.**” Levio looked about him, whipping his head this way and that looking for the source of the voice in his head.

        He was beginning to think that he was being afflicted with a new kind of crazy when the voice went on to explain “I am speaking to you through the chip in which Razlo has gone to hide not realizing it was my trap for him. You may remove it now and when you do, you will remove him.”

        His relaxed and breathed out a sigh of relief. “**My thanks and gratitude Mistress,**” he whispered in his mind. There was no reply so he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small knife. Lifting it, he made a slit in his skin and hurriedly grabbed the chip and pulled it out before the rapid healing powers of his mutated, plant-enhanced metabolism closed the skin.

        Lowering his hand, fingers showing only a slight smear of blood, he stared at the chip he held. If what Tessla said was true, the other half of himself was lodged in it. No longer would he be forced to share his soul with another. He dropped the chip, watching it fall to the floor without expression. He stared at it a moment and then brought his foot down on it, crushing it beneath his heel. Folding up his penknife he replaced it back in his jacket.

        He looked up to the reunions taking place in front of him with new eyes. With shaking hands, he reached up behind his head and tugged at the knot of his mask and untied it. Then he slipped the skull he had worn for so long, off of his face. Lifting the mask away, he stared at the inside of the skull mask. No one knew it but it had been his way to warn others that death was coming for them and if they wanted to live they should flee him as if the pounding hoof beats of the four horsemen were on their tail.

        Levio entertained the idea of throwing the mask away as far as he could. Staring at it, he decided to carry it for a bit longer. He knew the perfect place to pitch the hated thing. He turned the mask over and over in his hands and he couldn’t help but smile. He was free. He could, and would, make decisions for himself and his life of his own free will from now on.


       Milly was speaking so fast that Wolfwood could barely make out what it was that she was trying to say, but one thing she mentioned had him stopping her and asking for clarification.

        “Who? Who did you just say? And where did you put her?” Already his eyes were roving around behind her trying to find the beautiful, if deadly, sight of Elendira.

        Milly pointed to some place behind Wolfwood with a hand quaking with rising emotion. At this point, since the two were no longer getting reacquainted Levio felt it was acceptable for him to move closer, especially since they were talking about the Crimson Nail now and not about smoochy things. Having heard her name mentioned early on, he had started to drift closer and upon overhearing the last statement and turned, along with Wolfwood to look where she was pointing, at a spot on the floor. A bare spot.

        The two men turned back to look at Milly, her hand lowering to her side as she realized what this meant. Wolfwood wrapped a reassuring arm around her shoulders at the first sign of her fear.

        “Bu... bu.. but.... She was there!” The perplexed blonde looked back up at the two men who exchanged glances before returning their attention back to her.

        “I‘m telling you, she was right there!” Again, Milly lifted her hand to point her finger at the spot where Elendira was last seen and quickly explained what had happened and why the Crimson Nail should still be there.

        Instantly Levio was on the alert and searching the area with hostile eyes for the missing Gung Ho Gun. Wolfwood was also scanning the area with him, maybe she was tucked in some dark corner or hiding behind a rock or a bulb foundation, with a snarl on his lips he realized that she could be anywhere. There were enough hiding places in this cavern to spend hours searching for her. Wolfwood’s heart quickened at the thought that his wife and child could be in danger. His dark brows came down in a sinister frown which did not bode well for the Elendira should she try to attack them now.

        “She couldn’t have gone far.” Levio said quietly, as he also realized that there were myriads of places available for her to secret herself in.

        “True. But I doubt we are in danger of attack. I’m betting she just wants to get away from here.”

        “I do not doubt you are right.” Levio returned to face the couple. “However, I will search about in the dark areas.” He nodded toward the pools of blackness located further down the tunnel.

        “And I will keep an eye open here.” Both men nodded at each other before Levio strolled away casually, like a great, lithe animal patrolling its territory.

        “Hey, Levio!”

        The shaggy, white-haired man stopped to look over his shoulder.

        “I see you lost the mask.” He gave the huge man an encouraging wink.

        At first Levio just stared back, his gaze blank and vacant, and then, he smiled, the tortured soul set free, and he nodded back to the preacher in black.

        Wolfwood watched Levio walk away for a moment before gently taking his wife by the elbow and smiling at her in genuine tenderness. He lifted a hand and brushed the bangs back from her forehead, leaned down and planted a quick kiss on her lips, lifting the worried look from her face. Then leading her back to where he had dropped his cross punisher he spoke comforting words into her ear. He was doing such a wonderful job of it that he was starting to feel better himself and almost smiled. It didn’t last long, for as soon as they approached his dropped weapon he gave it a shamefaced look and hoped with all his heart that this little incident never got back to the priest-smith. If it did, there was a whole lot of explaining he would be doing that he would just as soon not.

The Difference Between Illusion and Reality: Reality Bites

       Wrapping his long arms around her he held her tight, close enough to feel the beat of her heart. Finally, finally, he could let himself believe that she was going to be all right, that she was safe. At long last he could let himself relax that coiled tension like a tightened spring constricting him just a little bit more each day.

        Convinced with the reality of her safety he spared a glance over at his brother. Meryl still cradled his head upon her lap, running her fingers through his hair as she bent over him, whispering soft words meant only for his ears.

        Vash didn’t realize he was tensing up until he heard a muffled noise of complaint. Looking down in surprise he realized that he was crushing her to him.

        “Sorry,” he mumbled and then let go to step back. His eyes were suddenly glued to his brother as for the first time since, he couldn’t remember when, he was in close proximity and he couldn’t hear the overbearing ’mental’ hum of Knives’ presence.

        And also, for the first time, worry gnawed at his innards, and he started past Rinnah who turned in puzzlement to watch him.

        Seeing him move away in quick strides, she knew he was worried about his brother but also his lover, who had to be pissed about that greeting. Thankfully her back had been to the petite beauty so she didn’t see the reaction. Taking a deep breath, Rinnah tried to steel herself, not knowing if she could watch this reunion. She started to turn away but then decided better of and turned to witness it. It might help her heart to get the message. Something momentous had just happened inside of her but that was all that she was sure of. That kiss would have to last a lifetime but she would treasure it in the empty hollow chambers of her heart for as long as she lived.

        With shadowed eyes she watched Vash arrive at his brother’s side. For a few seconds he merely stood there, staring down at his twin before dropping to his knees. With only a quick glance to Meryl who nodded, he reached for his unconscious brother and lifted Knives in his arms, pulling his twin close to stare down into his lax face.

        Even from where Rinnah stood, she could hear the broken whisper of grief, but worse, the pain that came through the link she shared with him was ripping her heart apart. Without knowing it, she took several steps closer, inexorably drawn to the drama being played out in front of her.

        “Knives? Please Knives....”

        He stopped speaking, feeling that soft spark, that familiar life force that was so well known to him that told him that Knives was there, inside, in a somnolent state but he wasn’t seriously injured. Vash let out a pent up breath of relief.

        Vash couldn’t help but flashback to the image of Knives as a child. The tense anger, powerful fury for revenge, and withering disdain were all wiped from his face, leaving it as Vash had first known it, innocent, not savaged by madness or grief. This was Knives as he should have been and could still be, with help.

        Vash looked over at Meryl and for the first time since that fateful meeting, he steadily met and held her gaze. He was ready to flinch with the guilt he expected to feel and deserved to feel, but he didn’t see a sign of accusation in her eyes, of anger, or even disgust; there was only sorrow, for Knives and for Vash over what he was feeling.

        “I could have kept all of this from happening in the first place...” he whispered, his voice choked for an instant before he plunged on, words forced out roughly , “I knew something was wrong, that day you received that call... I should have...”

        He tried to go on but the words stuck in his throat, thick with remorse and regret. He struggled to finish, eyes lowered to the floor in shame when suddenly she flung herself at him and wrapped her arms around him, shushing him.

        “It’s okay Vash, I understand. It was another time. Things are different now.” Her hair tickled his cheek and he closed his eyes on the stinging tears. “Look at what I have done...” he moaned. Vash opened his eyes to look down at Knives. Not only Meryl was touched by his brother’s hatred and bitterness, but there wasn’t a soul in the room that wasn’t affected in one way or another by his brother‘s relentless drive to bring an end to all the humans on the planet.

        As if guessing his thoughts she said softly but firmly, “You can’t be responsible for the actions of another Vash. He must be accountable for them himself.”

        “I have to Meryl, he won’t and I am the only one who can stop him.”

        He heard a sound, more of an amused exhale than a chuckle, before she answered him, “Really? Only you? You think rather highly of yourself. Look at him Vash.” She nodded down at the unconscious plant. “ You didn’t put him down. She did. She has stopped him because he couldn’t stop himself.”

        Rinnah shifted uneasily. She was hoping that neither would notice her, standing there, obviously listening in on the conversation that seemed to be developing into a private one with the event of the embrace. A really long one. Uncomfortably she wondered if she should leave, but to where? She looked over at Wolfwood and Milly who were once again enveloped in a haze of euphoric joy of being with each other again. She made a face, better to stay where she was for the moment. Her eyes drifted back to the couple with Meryl still embracing Vash, only to find herself pinned in the gaze of glowing red eyes glaring up at her from under snowy white eyebrows. Her own shot up her brow in return confusion. Now what?

        “Down? How?” He stared at Rinnah, eyes narrowed in suspicion. “What happened...” but Meryl interrupted him and he returned his attention as her eyes showed the bleakness and worry she felt. She lowered her face to look down at Knives.

        “He‘s not going to die is he?”

        The outlaw studied his brother’s face for a moment before answering. He wasn’t the expert on their kind as Knives was. But for some unfathomable reason, he knew that Knives wasn’t in danger from dying. The handsome face of his brother, much like his own, the cause of so much misery on the planet.

        Old regrets, fresh grief's whirled through his mind and Vash could only nod as he freed one arm to return her embrace, giving her a long, hard hug. His dropped his forehead to hers and whispered brokenly, “Yet, I am sorry anyway.... Sorry for it all.”

        “Thank you.” He heard the forgiveness in her voice and pulled back to look into her eyes. They were smudged with tears that ran freely down her cheeks, but she managed a smile through them as she said, “At one time I was angry, but not anymore. I hope you believe that, because I mean it.“ With a soft exhale, she leaned forward and placed a kiss on his cheek.

        Then both turned to look down at Knives at the same time.

        “He‘s not going to die is he?” She repeated her question of earlier, lifting pleading eyes up to him, floundering in that no man’s land between hope and despair. Needing him to reassure her, she again lifted a tear-streaked face to his, waiting, but dreading any words he would speak. He was about to speak when he heard a soft gasp. He knew what had happened but once again he had forgotten the difference in his features.

        “Ah, Vash...”

        He knew what she was going to ask and he cut off quickly before the words were out of her mouth, but dredged up a weak smile as he told her, “I don’t know why, it’s still a mystery.”

        Meryl studied the difference, the hair she had noted from the start, but she had been too caught up in her worry over Knives to notice that Vash’s eyes were the color of blood. It was unnerving, but she was, if nothing else, a pragmatic sort and let it go for now. There was something more important to attend to now. As it was, Vash was answering her question.

        “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. I have never seen him like this before, but he doesn‘t appear to be badly harmed, outside of a mass of bruises, which is what you would expect to find after a fight. If it is something else, I am clueless.” They stared at each other for a long moment, both afraid to voice their fears.

        “He will be just fine.... “ a soft voice broke in on the tableau as if afraid to disturb the two.

        They looked up to see Rinnah who, in silent grace, had moved a bit closer to them but still kept her distance, obviously not wanting to intrude. Vash assumed she was being thoughtful over this unusual reunion with his brother, or was nervous that she would be blamed for his current condition. In his wildest imagination he couldn’t have foreseen it happening like this. In his mind, the confrontation with Knives was accompanied by a barrage of bullets flying through the air, insults, long commentaries and assertions, denials and pleadings, and even the possibility of angel arms being formed. However, cradling an unconscious Knives was not one of the pictures he had even considered. It was odd and felt wrong somehow.

        “He’s just taking a much needed nap.” In a lower voice and with some embarrassment, she admitted, eyes unable to meet theirs, “Which I made him take.”

        Vash and Meryl stared at Rinnah.

        Then rushing on before they could respond, “But really, he’s okay, he should wake up after a while.” She didn’t tell them that she had no idea of how long ‘a while’ would be. The hybrid knew for sure that she didn’t want to be anywhere near Knives when he woke up. There were certain to be some ugly words exchanged between both parties and she was not in the mood to fight anymore.

        “I wondered what it was that you did at the end there,” murmured Meryl to herself.

        “End, what end?” Vash whipped his head up to peg Rinnah with a baleful look while she raised her eyes to study the ceiling.

        “Were you and Knives battling?” He demanded. Then, for the first time he noticed the blood at her shoulder and cursed himself for a fool. A low growl forced its way through clenched teeth.

        Still eyeing the ceiling Rinnah remarked to no one in particular, “Nice job that. Look at the way that arch is holding. Can‘t even see the chisel marks.”


        “Someone should be proud of work like that. Bet it holds up for millennia to come.”

        “What have you done now woman! And how did you get injured! Were you and Knives battling?” Vash went cold with shock and disbelief. If it was true, then it should be her lying here and Knives on his feet gloating in victory. Yet, she had been injured, he could see the blood soaking her shoulder and though he couldn’t be certain without examining the wound and wiping away the mess, it looked as if it were already closing up.

        Rinnah whipped her eyes back to his at the undisguised fury she heard in his voice. Now what was she going to be taken to task for? Surprised, she was speechless for a moment at the naked expression of fear, anger, and worry she saw expressed in his face before she could manage a reply.

        “Okay then! Yes, there was a bit of a rumble, a minor disagreement...” she didn’t need to look, she could feel the weight of his glare. “And then he tripped and fell.”

        “She whupped his ass,” Meryl interjected dryly, by way of clarification, the tear tracks down her face were drying now that she knew Knives was going to be all right.

        Vash’s eyes flared again in anger, but he responded in a soft voice that did nothing to dispel the threat of danger lacing it, “I guess.”

        Then looking back down to his brother’s closed eyes he whispered, “Even though you deserved it Knives, I hate seeing you like this.”

        Rinnah shifted uncomfortably again. Would this day never end?

        At that moment the doors of the elevator opened and out stepped Tessla carrying a medikit. She stopped to take in the sight and without a glimmer of surprise scanned the room. Spotting her Mother kneeling next to Knives with an arm around her uncle who had one around her too, she gave a soft snort. This was her family. Yet, although it was embarrassing to admit at times she couldn’t ignore the small glow of warmth that suffused her being at the sight of the three of them together.

        Walking over she stopped next to Rinnah who looked over at her, hands on hips, with resigned expression.

        “Please tell me we don’t have to fight.”

        “Well met, but I am not here to fight you. Meryl is my Mother and that,” she gestured with her chin at the male plant being held between Meryl and Vash, “Is my father figure.”

        Rinnah stared. She didn’t think there was anything left with which she could be surprised by.

        “What an odd little family unit you belong to. I‘ll send you a sympathy card first town I come to.”

        “What do you mean?” Tessla tilted her head quizzically. The hybrid was strange indeed.

        Rinnah shook her head before looking pointedly at the medikit. “So, what’s that for?” Not that she cared, not really, she was only searching for somewhere to aim her eyes to keep them off of the two lovebirds as they got reacquainted with each other. Damn. From the way her jaw clenched her teeth was going to be sore in the morning.

        Instead of answering, Tessla opened up the kit and pulled out a needle and syringe, already filled with some translucent, bluish substance. Rinnah’s stomach did an impromptu flip at the sight of it and took a step back. If Knives had come at her with one of those instead of his flesh blades she would have thrown herself at his feet screaming ‘uncle.’

        Tessla appeared not to have noticed. Holding the modified syringe encased in a tube of Lost Technology, she gave the glass a thoughtful look and then tapped it gently with a fingernail.

        A sick, prickling of fear swiftly rose within Rinnah and she stated, “Just so we’re all clear on this point, if you try to stick me with that, I will remove your ‘tes’ from your ‘la’, got it?”

        The plant girl swung her white orbs to look at Rinnah, surprise filling her face. “This not for you! I came up with this a long time ago.”

        Rinnah didn’t trust the free-walking plant girl, “And...” she asked suspiciously, her narrowed eyes locked on the syringe.

        “It’s for Knives.” There was silence as even the low speaking that had been going on as Meryl and Vash brought each other up to date on the events both had missed out on. At those words though, the talking ceased and both watched Tessla with curiosity.

        “Just what do you have in mind young lady?” Meryl, ever the mother, demanded as she gave her daughter a meaningful glare.

        “Yeah, what she said,” repeated Rinnah and then out of the side of her mouth she whispered, “Boy are you in for it!”

        Holding up the strange blend of technologies, the vial within the tube began emitting a soft light.

        “Say there princess, your concoction is glowing....” Rinnah raised an eyebrow as she looked over at Tessla. “which means,... what exactly?”

        “It is ready.”

        “What do you think you are going to do with that and why in the hell should I let you?” Vash asked as brows came together in a menacing frown and red eyes glowed with an intensity like that of swirling hot magma.

        Tessla cocked her head as she considered how she was going to explain what she was going to do.

        “No,” said Meryl emphatically, “If you are having problems in trying to figure out what you are going to tell us and what you are going to keep back, then I forbid you to stick that in your father.”

        Tessla didn’t react as she informed them, “It will nullify some of his plant abilities so that he is more like the hybrid here.”

        “Hey! The hybrid’s standing right here!! Got a name; use it!!” Rinnah snapped at the girl with a frown. The sight of Vash and Meryl who were still kneeling there beside Knives almost in each other’s lap was not a sight that was inducing tranquility in her being.

        Vash stared, face stony as he demanded, “And how will that will help you? Because I know that you are not doing this out of the goodness of your heart for the humans on the planet.”

        Tessla interrupted, “Vash uncle, you are wrong. It is for them. It has never been my intent to kill off the humans. I do not want them dead. This is my planet and I need them... ” here she tilted her head, “And I do not find them as offensive as Knives does. I find them... Entertaining.”

        “Geez, hold on a sec while I pull out my juggling balls, magic hat, and unicycle. God forbid you should get bored!” Rinnah crossed her arms, glaring at Tessla. She knew she sounded ill-natured and sullen but she didn’t care.

        “You are being immature...”

        “Listen princess, shove it up your beanpole!”

        “But why you should care is beyond me.”

        “Hey! I’m a sensitive kind of gal. So sue me.”

        “Girls!” Barked Meryl, more than irritated by the demonstration between the two. Then turning her eyes to her daughter she just stared at her long enough until the girl began to shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other, in unconscious imitation of the hybrid next to her who was doing the same thing.

        “Well, this seems like a family decision, I’ll go stand over there,” she jerked a thumb over her shoulder, “let me know me it‘s safe to jump back in the pool.”

        Vash heard Meryl murmur, “Odd,” beside him and he grunted in irritation, however he didn’t have time to deal with her right now, Tessla was approaching with the needle and he had a decision to make.

A Feather in Hand is Worth...

       Milly started to move away from Wolfwood who began to mouth a protest. He didn’t like it when she moved too far away from him, which was anything that was beyond several yarz. Upon seeing his anxious frown, she reached up with a hand and ran her fingers lightly through the black strands of his messy hair. Wolfwood’s face softened as he looked down at her and merely grunted when she told him that she was going to go over and talk with Rinnah. Nodding he watched her as she walked away, very aware of her every step even as he began to search out the cavern and paying particular attention to the darker nooks and crannies of the place. It didn’t sit well with him that a person could conveniently hide just about anywhere and stay out of sight, especially if that unaccounted for person was Elendira. He couldn’t help but wonder what had happened to her.

        Wolfwood shot a quick glance over and saw that Rinnah was walking away from the foursome of Vash, Meryl, Knives and, good Lord! Tessla, again? He uttered a small groan and rolled his eyes upward. Apparently it was too much to ask that she had forgotten all about their existence. Giving his shoulders a twitch he looked away, the kid gave him the creeps at times. Besides, he had a duty to perform, let the plant-wise people deal with those arcane plant-matters and he would do what he did best and that was dealing with evildoers of flesh and blood. He flung an arm over his cross punisher and let his eyes and other senses begin working. No one was going to sneak up on this party any time soon.

        Milly sighed softly, her heart full and happy. They were all together and Knives, somehow or other, was going to get the help he needed whether he wanted it or not. Milly was sure he would put up a ruckus since he wasn‘t the sort of person that would gladly accept aid especially when he didn’t think he needed it to begin with.

        She spared a glance for Meryl who was talking in low tones with Vash as Tessla kneeled down next to them. Milly winced, that was an awful mean looking needle she had in her hand. She turned away not wanting to watch, even though she wasn’t sure that whatever it held would be beneficial to not only Knives but all of them in the long run.

        At the moment though she was concerned about Rinnah. This was a happy, joyous time and since these kinds of moments didn’t come around that often, they needed to be appreciated and enjoyed as they happened. Her smile faded a bit. Rinnah didn’t look like she was enjoying the joyous moment though. In fact, not only did she not look joyous, she looked dejected and miserable as if her heart was breaking into a million little pieces being scattered on the winds. Milly was puzzled by this but also determined to find out why.

        Intercepting Rinnah before she was lost to the dim areas of the cavern, she interrupted the hybrid’s dark thoughts and asked, “What’s wrong Rinnah? You look like you lost instead of won.” Rinnah made a move to go around her without answering, but the tall blonde laid a restraining hand on her arm. “What is it? You can tell me, I am your friend.” Then with an unsuppressed twinkle in her eyes, she said, “My little big sister told me that problems shared are problems halved.”

        The hybrid stopped cold but wouldn’t look Milly in the face so Milly moved around until she was standing in Rinnah’s path, blocking her. Placing both fists on her hips she bent down, but not as far as she would have had to do for Meryl, and with a growing frown said, “I know something is wrong, what is it? How can I help if you won’t tell me?”

        “S’all right Milly. Nothing’s wrong that a good stroll can’t cure.” Now her eyes cut across to Milly’s. Milly tilted her head to the side as she took in the fact that the incandescent orbs were practically glowing in their sockets.

        “Why? And where can you go out here in the middle of nowhere? There’s nothing but dessert out there.”

        That comment jolted Rinnah and she finally turned her eyes to look at her tall friend, slightly bemused. “I do believe that is ‘desert‘.”

        “Oh, yeah! Right...” Milly giggled.

        “Don’t worry about me so much, I think Meryl needs you more right now. Besides, I have a whole lot of thinking to.. er, think upon.”

        Milly stared at the neon blue eyes pleading with her not to make a big deal of this. Smiling, she lifted a hand to the back of her head, “Well, as long as you take some water!” With that remark Milly ran off to the back room, Rinnah’s eyes following her. She disappeared into the room where clothes and supplies were found earlier.

        Upon seeing his wife race off, Wolfwood’s head had snapped around, but as if sensing his concern, she turned slightly and waved reassuringly at him. He watched for a few more seconds before reluctantly returning to the duty of self-appointed sentinel.

        Rinnah shifted in place trying to decide if she should wait or not until the decision was taken out of her hands. Milly dashed back with a knapsack with a couple of water bottles. Without asking she clipped two bottles to Rinnah’s belt and slipped the strap of the pack over a shoulder. Leaning forward she whispered, “There are several more bottles in there and I threw in a whole bunch of snack bars and protein dinner bars that I found in the back. It should hold you for a while.”

        With a sudden movement, she swept Rinnah up in a crushing hug. “As Nicholas says, ‘May God Almighty go with you’ I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for.”

        Then Milly stepped back and gave Rinnah a teary wink.

        “Okay... but all I had in mind was taking a little walk, not going out for drive-thru.”

        “Take the knapsack anyway,” urged Milly.

        One of Rinnah’s eyebrows shot up at Milly’s insistence but then she shrugged. “Well, if it will make you feel better, I will.”

        “Yes, it will.” Nodded Milly.

        Then, because time can be seen and experienced by plantkind in a myriad of ways unknown to humans, Rinnah’s lips lifted in a knowing smile that took Milly back a bit as they continued to look at each other. Rinnah used it to good advantage. And because she couldn’t think of a thing to say, she just turned and walked away.

        Milly watched Rinnah’s back receded into the distance until the black tunnel swallowed her from view. Then, she became aware that there was something soft and tickly in her hand. Looking down she saw her fingers were curled around a large feather. She stared at a feather so white and pristine that it seemed to give off a bright glow all of its own. Then, feeling something tickling in her hair she reached up and plucked out another feather, this one a bit smaller. She looked at them and then at the blackness of the tunnel that Rinnah had disappeared down. With a small pucker of puzzlement drawing her brows together she looked back down again wondering if she was imagining the feathers in her hands, but no, there they were. She ran a finger lightly over the edge of one of them before lifting it to her cheek. It was unbelievably soft. With a sigh she turned and moved toward Nicholas to show him her treasures.

There is No End in a Circle

        It was quite a walk, even for her, especially at the moment. Her shoulder hurt, and there were sure to be black and blue marks up and down her body. She was limping a bit and her muscles were sore, and to add to the list, the thing that was harder to endure than everything else, was the paper cut she was sure she got from some razor sharp edge of Knives’. He certainly wasn’t holding back because she was a girl as he did he level best to cut her into small, bite-size pieces. She stopped to lift the damaged fingertip up to study it. With a frown she squeezed it and was able make out the nearly invisible slice. Great. On top of everything else she had sustained and now this miniscule cut was throbbing worse then any of her other injuries. She ran her other hand through her tousled hair, deciding that hell was filled with things such as this, people who talked in theatres, cold stethoscopes, crabgrass, hangovers, persistent salespeople, and last but not least, paper cuts. The list didn’t end there, it could on and on, her whole life was a list.

        With a sigh, she dropped her hand and started walking again. What she wanted more than anything right now was a good long soak in a steaming hot tub filled to the brim with scented water and bubbles.

        Unfortunately for her, there were no maps attached to the walls indicating ‘you are here’ and how long it would take to get to the end. It was fairly dim from the scant illumination set high in the walls, scattered at infrequent intervals. It was obvious from the ruts in the ground that the tunnel wasn’t ever intended for those out to take in the evening air. What Knives intended it for was the receiving of stolen goods which were of the plant bulb variety. Rinnah gave a soft humph of expelled air and decided she didn’t give a fig about any of it.

        The incline was sharper now and she could tell when the end of the tunnel was nearer. Light was coming around the gigantic door that wasn’t fit snugly into the opening as the other doors she had observed in this place. Daylight was doing its best to pry bright fingers around and through every chink and gap like a predator sensing the quarry nearby. Walking up to the large blast doors she noticed that they were set rather loosely on a track. She looked them over before her eyes fell on a mounted metal pad set into the rock wall. There were only two buttons, one green and one red. It was a fifty-fifty chance she would choose the right button to open the door on her first guess.

        Rinnah slapped the green button and wasn’t surprised to hear gears grinding as the great doors ponderously screeched open. They were so tall that they could have let a small sandsteamer into the tunnel. Thank the Hybrid that there wasn’t a secret code one had to enter, otherwise the camouflaged doors covering the tunnel might have been blown clear off their hinges by an irritable hybrid. Rinnah was in a mood.

        Behind her back she was leaving the friendships she had made since landing on this planet. In front of her stretched an unknown horizon. She wasn’t sure how she felt, but one thing she knew for sure and that was she in pain to the point it almost hurt to take in a breath. Inside and out, I’m a right mess! She wondered if there was a cure for this and then gave a small shrug. Nobody likes a sore loser so I best take myself someplace else since I’m the loser and I‘m pretty damn sore about it.

        Time could have stopped for her as she stood tranquilly watching the horizon with unseeing eyes. Then, with a start, her thoughts returned to her. With a wry grin spreading across her face, she tried to decide which path was the best one to take when one was smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. Unbidden, a memory of the children she met at the first town she happened upon came to her mind. Maybe she should visit there? Letting out a sigh, she finally decided that it didn’t matter where she went when there was no where she called home.

        The thought came that maybe she should concentrate her search on finding a ship, or parts of a ship and cobble together a way to get off the planet. However, from what she had heard most of the ships were scavenged for materials to build communities by the survivors. The only ships not dismantled were those that were still hidden. That could be her mission, try to find any lost ships and see if any thing could be salvaged and tinkered with until it was flight worthy. Maybe it wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan and who knows what adventures were waiting for her out there. It was better than staying here while her heart was shredded into gnat-sized pieces. Crap! She had thought about it again and wondered how she could stop thinking... about anything. As if that was possible.

        Maybe I should see a doctor, I ‘ve never had this kind of a pain in my chest before. It just might kill me.... or maybe I should see a priest but... if they’re all like Nicholas I may need to rethink that line of thought.

        The water bottles hanging from her belt slapped against her hip when she moved, reminding her of her limited supply. Those, and the water bottles she carried in her knapsack, weren’t near enough to travel across a wide desert if one was considering doing by walking. Operative word here being ‘walk’. If one was a wingless human anyway.

        Rinnah stepped out onto the desert floor. Knives’ little bolt hole opened out onto the flat wastes but this part of it was set back a ways in a canyon. It was the perfect place to keep prying eyes from casually observing huge trucks and cranes bringing in his sisters. If a body happened to be out this far in the desert which was highly unlikely.

        To the left where the canyon ended, she could see a hallowed out space large enough to house several huge trucks and vehicles. There was no doubt in her mind that keys had been left in the ignition switches but after a curious glance she ignored them completely. She didn’t want Knives to accuse her of stealing and besides, like she told Milly, she was in a mood to walk.

        “You are going to leave on your own and not with the others?”

        Rinnah startled, swore and fluidly spun into a tense crouch even as she berated herself for being too wrapped up in her wandering thoughts that she didn’t notice the another’s presence. It was Levio. He was leaning against a boulder off to the several feet out from the side of the great door, arms crossed casually in front of him, and sheltered in the shadow of the stone twice as tall as he was. That was the reason she didn’t see him when she exited from the mouth of the tunnel. Staring at him for a moment, Rinnah realized that she hadn’t seen him leave the cavern, although now that she reflected back on it, he wasn’t there when she left. It didn’t seem to matter at the time. She turned to scan the wall next to the doors looking for some panel or lever to indicate it was there to activate the doors. Otherwise how would he be able to get back in?

        Levio pushed off from the rock and stepped aside. Her eyes looked to where he had been leaning and saw panel set in the rock. Again, two buttons were situated there, one red and one green. Apparently Knives wasn’t too worried about this tunnel being found. But there weren’t any wires running from the rock to the door and that was a surprise to see. How did he get the... and then shrugged. It wasn’t like she was planning to apply for the job of maintenance engineer any time in the future.

        Rinnah tilted her head, grinned and finally answered him, “No. Flying solo this time.”

        She waved a hand out toward the desert, “Yep, those slowpokes will want to stop and visit all the tourist sights to soak up the local color. Next thing you know they will want to go on all the rides and then load down the truck with trinkets and t-shirts. Like I need that kind of mayhem in my life. After all, I am a low key, inconspicuous sort of person.” She smiled, “Don’t like a lot of muss and fuss, drives up the ole blood pressure, you know.”

        He didn‘t return her smile, only studied her a moment. Crossing her arms in front of her, Rinnah lifted a glossy black eyebrow at him, daring him, even as she waited for his comment.

        “They will miss you.”

        That was not expected! She gazed at him through narrowing eyes. He noticed and leaned back again against the boulder, arms hanging down by his side in a relaxed manner. The only thing about that moved was the wind picking up and whipping his hair around his head with wild abandon. It suddenly dawned on her what was missing.

        “Hey, what happened to that mask you were wearing?”

        He jerked his chin out toward the desert. “Threw it away. I’m not going to need it anymore.”

        “Well, good for you. I mean, it was quite the bold fashion statement and all, but really, I don’t see how you could blend into a crowd while wearing it.”

        “Yes, it did tend to make me stand out.”

        There was a pause as the silence stretched between them. Rinnah turned vivid blue eyes back to the wastelands in front of her.

        “I think they will be just fine without me,” she said softly, not caring if he heard or not.

        “So you say.”

        “Know anyplace on this planet where I can find good Chinese takeout?”

        “That way.” He lifted a finger and pointed straight in front of him.

        “Thanks. ‘Ppreciate that.” To the left was the end of the canyon and to the right lay sun-bleached sands rolling ahead of them as far as the eye could see. She eyed them with interest.

        “Goodbye then little plant lady.”

        “Already with the insults....” Muttered Rinnah, ignoring Levio.

        Walking away from him until she came to the edge where the shadow of the cliff high above them ended and gazed off into the direction he had pointed.

        For some reason driving wasn’t appealing to her. She would try flying... after all, it was plainly obvious wings were meant for flight. Yes, that’s what she was going to do, she was going to fly, but not very far off the ground though. Stubborn determination showed in her face, she frowned as she tensed, ready to pull up her wings and while giving herself a pep talk that travel would be so much faster that way.

        With a mental whisper of command she released the power and unfurled her wings and then gasped in pain. She looked down at her wounded shoulder and winced. That had hurt! With teeth clenched she experimented by gently moving the white glowing wonders as they waved above her head, tugged at by the wind. The movement caused pain to lance along the strong primary edges all the way to her shoulders and back causing her to hiss at the sharp stab of pain.

        She stood there, in the shadow of the cliff since the suns were beginning to sink in the distance and pondered the joys of flight versus the joys of walking, especially when factoring in an injured shoulder. It wouldn’t take long for it to heal, but it wouldn’t be today. With a self-deprecating chuckle, she pulled her in wings and gave a twitch of her shoulders. That had hurt, a lot.

        Oh to hell with it, a little walking never hurt anyone.

        Besides she had been realizing something else of late. It would be pretty difficult for her to get too terribly lost on the planet. In one of those slap-the-forehead moments, it had dawned on the hybrid that no matter where she went on the planet, she could easily find a town... If it had a plant angel facility. That was how she found the planet to begin with, she had followed the voices that seemed so familiar, like her kind, but not, in the first place. It was possible to do it again and go anywhere she wanted. Once she found a town where there was a cluster of people, she could easily find other towns from there. Not a problem.

        Readjusting the small backpack of goods and a few more bottles of the precious fluid of life on her back, she set off in a jaunty, ground-eating pace towards.... ‘thataway’.

        As Rinnah walked away, her figure growing smaller and smaller in the distance, Levio could hear snatches of a tune being sung. Soon, the hybrid topped a rise, paused at the peak for a moment, silhouetted against the twilight before descending down the other side and that was the last he saw of her as even the echo of the tune was carried away with the wind.

        His eyes scanned the horizon one last time before he turned back into the tunnel to return to the others.

The End

       Well, I hope you have enjoyed this ‘little tale’ as much as I have enjoyed writing it. (although I should amend that it was also through copious amounts of blood, sweat and tears, along with a generous amount of laughter.) Writing this story has been quite the journey, personal and writing-wise since I began it January of 2004. Although I sincerely doubt I would have finished it if it hadn’t been for my dear friend Ricki being there, hand-holding, scolding, encouraging, and yes, even browbeating every so often during those times when I was ready to chuck the whole thing in the dustbin. If it hadn’t been for her nurse-maiding me through this, you most likely wouldn’t be reading this ‘Author’s End Note‘. And a ‘thank you’ to you, Reader, you also made it possible for me to get to this point.

        I do believe I have accomplished what I started out to do.

        Any critiques, compliment, or complaints will be hand-delivered to the gnome in charge of the quality-control department for miscellaneous comments, and his buddy, Bob the troll.

        All emails will be responded to... if they aren’t eaten first (being as Bob has quite the appetite).

September 2005


Ricki's Note: Now... Before you all think that this is the very end to Rinnah - stay tuned! I've been sitting on the Epilogue Doujinshi to B&G for nearly a year now! It'll be up in a few day's time - so keep an eye out - and possibly... quite possibly, I may be able to convince Susan-chan to write an epilogue as well! Keep your fingers crossed!! This has been such a fun ride, I'd really hate to say goodbye to Rinnah for too long! Thank you to all of the readers, your comments and compliments to Susan have been a wonderful surprise for both of us, and I've loved being the home to her writing and guess what? Susan's not done writing either! So keep an eye out for her brand new series!

Blackfire & Gunsmoke: Epilogue Doujinshi!
Back to Chapter 34

Email Susan