When I returned from my car, with two duffle bags slung over my shoulders, I was finally able to get a good look at the people who had helped in the fight.
One was a beautiful Asian woman, the one who had jumped into the arena, with long hair as black as ink that reached to her knees. There were a few strands of pure white, threaded through, and her face reminded one of a movie star's beauty. Her grace was simple and still. She was dressed in a suit of midnight blue silk that was strangely cut in an older fashion. She looked as if she had been sideswiped by a car, but no less intact for it. She introduced herself as simply Lily.
Skip greeted her with curiosity. Hers for him was no less evident, and with his nose ring, baggy pants, Ape Sex T-shirt, knife with chain, ragged black hair, and colorful skate board I could see why. He was such a contrast.
Finally, a huge guy in extraordinary shape walked up to us. He was over six feet tall, broad and muscular and dressed all in black. The material of his clothing was odd, not quite a cotton denim, it was too shiny. He was also still carrying a gun, and across his shoulders was the Helix-Ripper. He was carrying it casually, and it writhed in his grasp like a living thing, a slow pulse beat in the small connector that plugged into him. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes, and he introduced himself as Steve Saracen. Both Skip and Steve took some interest in the equipment I brought with me.
I lent Skip one of the two silver plated Browning's, and gave Steve enough ammunition to refill his guns. I brought along the riot shotgun and enough shells to fill a pocket. I hesitated over the grenades, and only brought one smoke grenade and one explosive one, tucking them where my missing Browning used to be. They lent some comfort.
I climbed into the driver's seat, and no one protested. Steve climbed into the passengers seat, and the other two hopped into the back. A little pug dog climbed into the back as well. Skip tried to pet it, got bitten for his trouble, and then tried to kick it, but it dodged handily. The cave was dark and huge, and as we drove into it, all light disappeared. As we got in deeper the walls became semi polished, and the light disappeared more quickly than it should have.
I went quickly, as we had no idea how much time the children had. The walls changed again, looking as if they had been carved by a bore, for they were ridged, whorled and textured. The texturing grew deeper, until it was almost like faces carved in the walls. I concentrated on my driving, as the dark made it difficult to anticipate the tunnel. Suddenly there was a huge shriek of metal upon stone, like giant fingernails upon the wall. Steve was dragging a crowbar against the odd surfaces. The dog stopped whining, and suddenly disappeared.
The stone flowed. Figures leaped from the stone, onto the truck, landing in a leap of springs. They were odd gargoyles of stone.
The truck suddenly hit a patch of slickness, and I had to fight the truck's steering as I ichor-planed ever faster down the tunnel. I didn't stomp on the brakes, just doing my best to ride it gently through.
There were three bumps in the bed of the pickup truck. Two gargoyles attacked Lily, while Skip leaped to intercept the third. There was a glint of purple and magenta further down the tunnel.
"We're all going to die aren't we?" asked Skip.
I didn't bother to answer, as the Hunter simply turned around to spray the rock demons down with his gun. Lily got the two gargoyles that jumped her to just keep going out of the back of the truck. More jumped from the walls, but Lily just kept tossing them from the back as a more jumped from the walls. Skip learned from her, and he soon was dodging, ducking and getting the creatures to tangle themselves up trying to reach him. The Hunter shot at one coming out of the wall, but the bullet simply ricocheted.
I tried to slow the truck down by brushing the walls. We were nearing the distant glints and they resolved into Two giant gargoyles, eight feet tall, with four arms each, each arm ending in a set of claws, and topped with clusters of eyes were straddling the tunnel. One was vivid purple and the other brilliant magenta. As we drew near, their claws dug into the side of the truck, slowing it down considerably, and ripping much of the metal with huge gashes.
Skip leaped up to knife the eyes of the nearest, but it ate his knife with a nasty snap. So I shot it with the AK-47, putting three rounds into its mouth. It swung at me, but I got back down under the front seat. The monster tried to climb into the front of the car after me, and the Hunter hit it hard enough to angle it up and whack its head on the top of the cab. I squirmed around, and aimed up at it, and shot. It's just another demon, I thought, but the thought of being in that close proximity to a demon threw my aim off.
It's purple companion bumped a big dent into the roof. I felt the truck slide along the wall and gradually stopped. Both Lily and Skip kicked what they could of the demon, probably to distract it. This time the damned demon head was nothing more than another target. This time the slugs from the Browning took its head clean off. Just for good measure, I put another three slugs into the roof and into its purple buddy.
Skip came flying back, did a double leg-whip to the purple gargoyle after bracing off the back of the truck. It seems that the demon saw pro-wrestling in hell, and it dropped a tentacle as a clothesline, dropping the kid with a thump into the back of the truck.
"So, you can dump a kid. Big deal." Lily was not impressed.
The purple monster took one look at Lily, and then reached back into the wall had come from. It pulled at the wall, and with dark blades of stone whirling in the air it leaped for Lily.
"You shouldn't run with pointy objects," said Lily. It wasn't very clear how she redirected all the blades, but redirected they were. Monster blood and monster parts proceeded to fly in all directions.
It turned and in its basso voice rumbled, "If you kill me it'll only banish me to the Hells. There's no point to that. If you let me I'll lead you to him."
"If you betray us I'll send you so far back into the thousand Hells that it'll take a thousand years to get back," said Lily.
Skip fired at the demon, using my Browning.
The demon gathered itself to attack him, so I put three slugs into it. The Hunter picked up one of the swords, and tried to use it on the demon, but the sword merge back into the demon. The demon twisted in order to swipe at the Hunter, and only managed to rip itself apart.
"I can't believe you guys! Actually dealing with a demon!" yelled Skip.
I didn't say anything. Instead, I simply held my hand out for my other Browning. Skip just looked that me, and then handed it back.
We all got back into the truck and drove much further down. It was Skip who first spotted the end of the tunnel. The whorled, knobby faces seemed to move in spirals as the passage widened out. It opened to a vast, lit cave with hundreds of kids, all from the Monster Truck show. They were all watching the entrance, each holding a lit candle. In the center was the man in the purple robes, and from his hands were scrolls again, leading up to the ceiling and walls of the cave.
He watched us, as we got out of the truck and walked towards him. As we got closer he tugged gently on one line and said, "The heart lines of this cave are within my grasp." The wall cracked, spilling stone dust and a groan. "One strong pull and there will be nothing but bodies."
"Let them go!" cried Skip. "One strong soul is better than a hundred that aren't willing."
The priest thought a moment, and then nodded graciously. "All right then, boy, I will take you instead of these weaklings."
Skip walked past me on the way to the man in purple. I pulled the explosive grenade from the back band of my pants and simply held it in my hands, behind my back. Skip took it and walked steadily on. The man's hands spread gradually as Skip got closer and closer.
He held it behind his back, until he came up to the man in the purple robes, and then Skip held it out for him. He must have thought that Skip was giving him some kind of present, because he dropped the scrolls he was holding and held his hands out for it, and held it to study it.
The kids started to break away from him, stumbling for the cave entrance. Many of them starting to scream and run away from the magician.
"You're so stupidly trustworthy," shouted Skip, as he dived away.
Both the Hunter and I began firing at the magician, as Lily helped Skip get out of the range of the explosion. The magician screamed as the explosion bloomed, and all the kids started screaming and began to run out of the cave. As we turned the corner, the ceiling began to fall behind us. The cave was collapsing around us, but all four of us helped the kids as we went, shepherding, picking them up, and slinging a few over tired shoulders as we scrambled to the surface.
When we finally hit the cool night air there was a muffled ka-thump behind us. The entire cavern and tunnel collapsed completely behind us, and there was nothing there but the dark earth.
Rick had gathered all the parents in the parking lot, and they were all waiting for us. The reunion was quite joyful all around us.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the Hunter salute us all. Then Lily gathered the four of us and said, "The Darkness Pagoda thanks you all for your help in dealing with the treacherous Gau Tran." She then bowed politely to us. I was glad, or she would have seen just how surprised I was. My bosses would be happy with me, and it felt good to have done it right. And now I knew of an agent of the Darkness Pagoda, that would be valuable.
Across the moon, for just the second, the silhouette of purple robes move across the light.
The kid wants a teacher for the Way of the Tiger, and the Darkness Priestess offers to help teach him, but he realizes that he may have only avoided the corrupt Darkness Priest in order to apprentice to the *real* Darkness Priestess. He realizes that this may not be his way, so, between Lily and Jenny finds a modern teacher of the Tiger Way. And yes, he actually made the mistake of yelling 'trustworthy' instead of 'trusting'. It turned out to be true, in either case.
The Hunter is fairly sure that none of the parents are actually waiting Monsters, as with that many of them, at least one or two would have lost control and eaten more of the parents. His monograph of monsters in the 20th Century was well recieved at home.
The Lodge masters were pretty happy with Jenny and the job she did, and she regained her nerve to serve with her team once again