Kids N' Vigs

Tales of the Interstate

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Post by Fnork » Wed Jan 28, 2004 12:14 pm

*********Chapter 84*********

A single headlight fast approached and moved directly at Oni. He shifted his stance as the dirtbike?s engine climbed in revs and the Suzuka?s shape suddenly emerged from the darkness and flashed across the shadows created by the Yamato?s headlamps. With his sword above his head Oni stepped forward with his back foot and rotated his body in mid-step. Bringing the katana around he swiped across where rider?s head would have been. The Suzuka continued past, crashed into the front of the Yamato and flipped forward as its momentum carried it over the car?s hood, but his sword found nothing but air. He felt an increased pressure on his mind, and for a second he remained still until the presence of Redline Fox could be fully focused on. Only the crunching of dirt under Redline?s running feet gave a clue to his position, as he charged at Oni with shotgun in hand. There was a muzzle flash followed by the boom of a ten gauge shell leaving the chamber. Oni calmly side-stepped and allowed himself to fall with his own momentum so that he could roll away.

Redline Fox immediately ground to a halt and brought the shotgun up in front of his heart, where it?s cobalt blue steel stock caught the edge of Oni?s katana. Backpedaling, Redline Fox pushed the sword?s edge away with the shotgun. Oni kicked down on Redline?s thigh, a glancing blow enough to push him backwards, and immediately pressed his attack by slashing down at Redline?s arm. Once again Redline attempted to block the sword with the shotgun, but the blade sliced into the stock, breaking it. It was enough to deflect the blade away and give Redline Fox time to draw one of his 9mm Berrettas which he immediately fired. Anticipating this, Oni quickly dashed to the side and dove over the Fiarello?s hood. Bullets grazed his clothes but none hit their mark as they skipped off the car.

Standing still with his gun pointing at the car, Redline Fox tried to sense Oni?s presence, but all he felt was an immense pressure of undirected thought on his mind which made him feel like his head was about to explode. As long as they both felt the same way, neither had an advantage. Seeing Owen on the ground moaning in agony made Redline?s rage overflow. He looked towards the Yamato and knew Jade was inside but he could not do anything about that yet. Fox remained calm, if he allowed his anger to blind him Oni would no doubt know how to use that as an advantage.

?Owen? Owen are you alright?? Fox called out.

He heard a mumbling attempt at a reply.


Owen gasped out, ?No! God...No!?

A growl vibrated in Redline?s throat.

?Do not hide from me demon! There is no one else to fight your battles now!?

No answer was given. Every synapse in his body was in overdrive as his senses searched for any sign of Oni. He slowly walked towards the Fiarello with his hands steadying his gun. He jumped on top of the hood and aimed the gun along the driver?s side of the car. Nothing.

Oni?s voice whispered, ?You have been made to fight the battles that I have chosen for you, as have your friends.?

Redline swung his gun in the direction of the voice and fired. But no one was there.

?Kitsune, really...? Oni taunted. ?Nothing matters now except that you die. With that, I will have achieved my goals and your life will vex me no longer!?

Redline Fox jumped off the hood and toward a direction he knew that Oni was not. He felt a rush of air from the katana?s swipe against his back. When he hit the ground he rolled back onto his feet and aimed at Oni who was rushing towards him. He found himself leaning against the driver?s side of the Fiarello. A shot fired and missed, Oni bent his head low and closed the distance, he grabbed Redline?s arm and struggled to remove the gun from his hand. Oni?s elbow slammed into Redline?s jaw, but he did not let go so Oni continued to strike him until the gun dropped from his hand. Redline fell to his knee seeing stars, but he knew remaining stationary would be fatal. Redline grabbed Oni?s leg and threw him off balance as he stood up. Removing his second 9mm, he tried to fire a shot but felt his legs were swept out from under him. He fell on his back, and seeing Oni?s form he began emptying the clip as Oni ran away and around the front of the Fiarello. Realizing every shot had missed he cursed.

?Damn it!? He cursed again while standing up.

Glancing behind him he saw Oni once again bearing down on him. He brought the gun up and fired a shot that grazed Oni?s shoulder but did nothing to stop Oni from slamming his fist into Redline?s chest. Air escaped his lungs and he fell backwards again, but retained enough wits that he attempted another shot. His gun kicked back and remained open.
Empty. Looking down on him with a wicked smile Oni spread his arms.

?So much trouble you have gone through, in order to satiate your vengeance and look at the result. You kitsune, have caused complications that I could not have foreseen, your interference with the horseman was most unwelcome, but now none of that matters. I have my prize and your death will equal that in the joy that I will get from it.?

Redline realized that the Fiarello?s door was open and the katana was passing behind it. His hands clenched around the soft cool dirt.

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This was just a test...

Post by Fnork » Thu Jan 29, 2004 3:14 pm

Just testing to see who was still paying attention :)

If you didn't get a chance to read this Alternate Ending, or if wanted to read it again, fear not -- it WILL be included in the extras when we release the "DVD" version of Kids 'N' Vigs.

The real Chapter 85 is coming up...
Last edited by Fnork on Thu Jan 29, 2004 7:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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Kill all humans

Post by Fnork » Thu Jan 29, 2004 7:17 pm

*********Chapter 85**********

Redline Fox interrupted his enemy?s oration. ?I thought we had an understanding now,? he said using Oni?s own words.


?You seem very concerned that people understand you little demon. Oh, and I do...but you still don?t understand something about me...? Redline suddenly kicked the Fiarello?s door, it slammed shut on the katana blade, snapping it.

Enraged that his sword had been broken Oni bellowed, ?You miserable flea-bag!?

Oni lunged at Redline with the remaining end of his broken sword, Redline Fox grabbed Oni?s wrist while pressing his legs into the shorter man?s chest and flipped him over. Redline Fox flipped himself back onto his feet and threw a hand full of sand into Oni?s face, the man gave a sharp yell of surprise.

?You better understand, that if your going to fight a fox you better be prepared to fight dirty!? Redline exclaimed as he moved in.

Fists up in front of his face, Redline Fox gave a pair of quick left jabs square to Oni?s head then punched him hard across the side of the face with a right hook. Oni had taken a few steps back while trying to get the sand out of his eyes and Redline thought the fight might have swung in his favor.

With a powerful round house kick Oni slammed the heel of his foot into Redline?s ribs, continued on the pivot and slammed his other foot into his face. Redline wasn?t knocked down, but he felt the pain. Oni was still moving with the initial momentum and attempted to land a third kick which Redline blocked with his forearm. Wrapping his arm around the leg Redline struck hard into Oni?s belly. Oni jumped into the air with his balanced leg and kicked Redline Fox in the face, causing their limbs to unlock. Oni ended up face first on the ground while Redline Fox fell backwards over Owen.

As violent as the scene was, the forest itself remained still and serene. Nature usually was indifferent to such human struggles. Rustling in the undergrowth caught Redline?s attention, glowing in the dark was a pair of eyes, watching intently. He chuckled thinking he was hallucinating, even so, he acknowledged the audience.

?Better, not disappoint now...? He wheezed out between breaths.

Taking in deep breaths caused him to spasmodically cough, and a small amount of blood dripped from his mouth as he fought to maintain himself. Inches away to his left he saw his still loaded 9mm. To his right was the blade shard of Owen?s sword. Hearing Oni getting to his feet he rolled over and carefully took up the broken shard, sat up and threw it towards Oni who was in the middle of unsheathing his own wakizashi. Thrown with accuracy at Oni?s throat, the shard was deflected with the half-removed short sword and Oni immediately advanced, but Redline Fox had enough time to grab his gun. From his knees he fired the few remaining rounds, the first two missed as Oni side-stepped then rolled forward, and the third deflected off the fully unsheathed wakizashi. Redline had one more shot but he could not get it off in time as Oni came at him from an unexpected angle as he was getting to his feet. Wakizashi held like a knife, Oni punched across Redline?s chest and sliced a thin gash across the skin, he then swiped back-handed with the blade. Instinctively Redline Fox ducked the back hand and got inside Oni?s range with an uppercut that knocked Oni off balance, and Oni grabbed Redline as he fell backwards. Hitting the ground they rolled clawing at each other until coming to a stop with Oni on top of Redline Fox with his wakizashi firmly pressed against Redline?s chest. Against his own was the barrel of Redline?s gun. Both locked eyes feeling the pressure slightly increase as each calculated the speed at which their respective weapons could inflict mortal damage.

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Post by Fnork » Fri Jan 30, 2004 9:56 am

********Chapter 86*********

Both them twitched at the same time, it was an attempt to shift the weight away from the other?s weapon, slightest movement, Redline Fox felt the blade?s tip enter his chest and he fired. His last bullet ripped through the edge of Oni?s armpit, causing Oni?s grip to slip, and the wakizashi sliced down Redline?s side tearing a gash across the front of his rib-cage. They both released their grips and rolled away from each other. A rush of air invaded Redline Fox?s lungs, stifling the wail of pain in his throat. He heard Oni yell out in Japanese.

For over a minute Redline Fox could not think straight, he held himself up by his hands and knees while gasping for breath. He could see blood dripping into the earth. Not knowing where Oni was, he quickly removed his jacket and shirt. Having already been torn by Oni?s blade, the shirt easily came apart. Redline attempted to tie a turncoat around his waist, managing only to give the blood something to soak into.

Owen called out to him, ?Fox! RLF! Are you dead??

?Shutup!? Redline Fox commanded.

His midsection felt like it was going to cave in and more stars then were in the night sky flashed across his field of vision. Air continued to force itself through his nostrils, the air felt chill. He could vaguely see Oni in front of him getting to his feet, wakizashi no longer in his hand. Neither attempted to attack the other. Wind could be heard rustling the tree tops, but no draft penetrated down through the foliage. It was still warm and comfortable, the temperature did not drop suddenly like it usually did out in the open prairies and desert.

Carefully Redline Fox assessed how much longer he could keep this up. Willpower was useless if his body simply ceased functioning. Feeling the soft ground yield when he shifted the weight on his feet, he calmed himself down and focused on that. Solid was the base on which he stood, regardless if the Earth?s position in the universe was a serendipitous chance of fate, it was balanced perfectly among the stars to allow him to exist at that moment. His muscles relaxed as he concentrated on keeping his body balanced. As long as he did not fall, he could stay alive. Existence did not matter, except for the clearing and the objects within it. Oni?s form became clearer, Redline Fox could feel the eyes watching him from the forest. His first steps where labored, then in a burst of energy he charged Oni who was unprepared for the kitsune?s initiative.

Oni had been hiding the blade from view. He lashed out with it, but Redline Fox caught Oni?s arm at the wrist then clamped onto the demon?s neck. As he squeezed, Oni dropped the blade and clenched his own hands around Redline?s neck. Using both hands gave Oni more pressure but left him open. Quickly Redline released his grip and pushed his arms upwards between Oni?s, separating them like a wedge, opening up Oni?s body. Redline Fox straight kicked Oni in the chest, then grabbed him by the back of the neck and wrenched his arm behind his back. Dragging Oni towards the Fiarello, Redline slammed Oni?s head into the car?s hood twice before Oni caught himself with his palm pressed against the hood, reversed Redline?s hold and threw him against the car?s front windshield. Fox felt a shot of pain in his back and pulled himself off the windshield, a small spike, more like a needle, no longer then the width of his hand protruded from the glass. The Fiarello creaked as it accepted more weight, knowing Oni was on the hood Redline Fox grasped the spike and wrenched it out of the window. He swung his arm around in a move of pure desperation and was rewarded as the needle stabbed into Oni?s ankle.

Surprise caused Oni to fall backwards off the car?s hood, Redline Fox immediately pounced down on top of him and went for his throat. He attempted to land a blow, but Oni grabbed his fist, pressed his hand into Redline?s face and flung him to the side. Reaching down Oni felt for the needle in his ankle and pulled it out. The slight decrease in pain felt so good that he was inclined to lay on his back and look up at the sky to enjoy the sensation; foregoing the desire he forced himself onto his knee just in time to block a kick to his head and push Redline Fox back. When he got to his feet, he saw Redline Fox standing in front of him with arms spread wide and palms open. Without a weapon, kitsune should not be proving to be so troublesome, this insulted Oni deeply. He refused to accept the idea that he had underestimated Redline?s abilities and ignored the blood pouring down his side. To his confusion, Redline Fox slowly backed away from him and disappeared into the tree line.

?Come die!? Oni moved his arm across his body in a dismissive motion. ?What are you waiting for!

His words faded, silence remained. Oni turned his attention to Owen who had propped himself up against the passenger side of the Fiarello. Eliciting a cry of pain by kicking Owen sharply in the leg gave Oni great pleasure.

?I?ll kill your friend! You hear me?!? Oni proclaimed as he searched for a weapon. He spotted one of Redline?s guns, it was covered with blood. Oni retrieved it. Pointing it at Owen he yelled again, ?Come out or he dies!?

There was no response. Seething anger released itself with the pull of the trigger. Nothing happened, the gun was out of ammo, its chamber had seized. Disgusted he threw the gun away and peered down at Owen who stared back defiantly with a smile on his face.

Oni?s eyes went wide with pure rage, ?I?ll kill him with my bare hands if you don?t show yourself! Kitsune!?

Owen began making a very odd noise to mock the demon,
?Kon! The fox dances the dance of death! Kon! No escape from the fox?s vengeance! Kon! Kon! Kon!?

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Post by Fnork » Sat Jan 31, 2004 9:04 pm

********Chapter 87*********

Oni kicked Owen in the face, stunning him. This was unacceptable, no one dares disrespect him like this! He glanced around and saw nothing, the woods where as silent as ever. He looked back down at Owen, prepared to kill him and heard a much more feral version of what Owen had been yelling. The pitch of the shriek caused his veins to freeze.

He tried to turn his head, but the blade impaled through his neck prevented him from doing so. Redline Fox pressed his foot into Oni?s back and pulled the wakizashi out of the demon?s throat. Still standing, Oni held his hands against his own neck in a useless attempt to stop the bleeding, and he turned towards Redline Fox unable to believe this had happened.

? he gargled as the blood filled his lungs.

?I have made you fight the battle that I wish for you to fight, demon.? Redline Fox said with a tone that sounded as if he was enjoying the man?s death greatly, ?Your hell awaits, the true kitsune will torment you until they have decided that your soul is no longer worth their attention.?

Eyes glazed, Oni had remained conscious long enough to hear. He fell on his knees and his body leaned backwards, nothing preventing the weight from popping tendons in his feet and back. Redline Fox lifted his head skyward and gave a feral bark to demonstrate to Owen how it was properly done.

?That, is how, you do it...?

Owen felt like he was going to die, but he smiled up at his friend anyway. His smile faded as Redline Fox looked toward the Yamato which sat silently with its headlamps still ablaze.

?Jade...? Owen said.

Death was still holding the door for Redline Fox, in fact, the overwhelming sense of rage and pain he felt made him think dying would not be so bad. But he had to retrieve Jade, he had to keep his promises. His feet dragged as he made his way toward the Yamato, he could not see through the windows in the darkness, but he knew Jade was inside terrified. He went to open the door and to his indignation found it locked. That bastard had locked the car! A new surge of anger coursed through him and he began punching the window which yielded nothing but sore knuckles. He ran his hand along the glass, there was no seem, the window was fixed in place and he could not jam anything between the glass and door. Looking around for something to break the window with he found the hilt of Owen?s broken bastard sword and began pounding relentlessly on the window. First with the hilt, then he turned to the jagged blade edge. Eventually the reinforced glass began to spider and crack. A loud pop accompanied the window shattering. Redline Fox reached in and opened the door, ignoring the sharp edges of glass cutting him. He reached into the passenger seat and removed Jade from the car, then sat her on the Yamato?s hood. Carefully he wiped blood from the wakizashi before using it to cut her fetters. Lastly he untied the gag around her mouth. Her face was red with strain, but she was not crying. The pupils of her eyes where wide in the dark night, collecting as much illumination as they could, and Redline Fox felt like his own consciousness would slip away into her stare. What power she must hold for such a struggle.

? ok Jade?? Redline asked quietly. He thought that his appearance must not be very comforting.

?Yes Mr. Fox, now I am.?

With a heavy sigh, Redline?s body finally relaxed and he leaned against the Yamato?s hood. He could not feel any warmth, as the engine was mounted in the rear of the car. Odd, that he considered such a thing. A nice distraction perhaps. Jade pushed the matted hair out of his face for him as she let her feet sway over the edge of the fender.

?Uhm...? She said.

?What is it Jade?? Redline asked, concerned that she might be hurt.

?Uh, I gotta potty...?

He chuckled recalling all of the trouble that line had brought him at the truck stop.

?Ok, but I can?t hold your hand this time.?

?That ok, you wont let me be left behind.?

?I won?t.?

**********Chapter 88*********

Owen walked over to them, put a first-aid kit down on the ground, and tried to explain to his friend that they?d have to help each other out with the bandages. They managed to do this, though Redline Fox was so badly hurt that he would need professional medical care very soon or he?d likely die from his injuries.

Redline sat on the hood of the Yamato RM3 while Jade and Owen tried to find the key for the car?s starter. As he watched them mill around, he saw a small form materialize out of the trees. There was a flash of fire and a crimson tail. A small fox padded up to where Oni laid dead and sniffed around. Finding the kill satisfactory, it began nibbling at the hands. He was the only one that seemed to notice this, if he was hallucinating again, it was at least an amusing one.

He watched the fox for what seemed like hours, when suddenly its ears perked up and it looked down the path they had used earlier. It turned back to face him, their eyes locked for a moment, then it dashed into the brush and vanished.

Several seconds later he heard the sound of an engine approaching, and eventually a battle damaged, dark blue Catamount appeared on the path. It had fared much better on the trail than the Fiarello did.

Jade saw the car as well, and rushed over to meet her mother as she stepped out. Colleen lifted the girl off her feet as they embraced. Finally, she lowered her daughter to the ground and walked over to Redline.
?Mike, are you okay?? she said as she stepped over Oni?s body.
Redline groaned, ?Yeah, I?ll be fine??

?Oh no you won?t, not unless we get you to a hospital,? Colleen replied.
He started to object until he coughed, and picked up the faint taste of blood in his mouth. ?Yeah, I guess we probably should.?

He got up, staggered slightly when his feet hit the ground, then walked confidently around to where Owen was trying unsuccessfully to restart the Yamato.

?Out of the way Owen, I?m driving.?

Owen stood up and moved out of Redline?s way as fast as he could. Redline sat down in the driver?s seat, and within five seconds the engine roared back to life. He couldn?t help but admire the powerful sound coming from behind his seat.

Owen ran around to the passenger side and Redline called out to Colleen as she walked back to her own car. ?Try to keep up.?

Dirt and gravel kicked up as all four tires of the Yamato bit into the ground, and the car lurched forward over the motionless body of Akihiko Tan. The Quicksilver Catamount turned to follow, and disappeared after it.

As the sounds of night returned to the woods, a fox crept cautiously out of the dark and returned to its feast.

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Post by Fnork » Sun Feb 01, 2004 9:34 am

*************** Epilogue ***************

The absolute silence of a dead world was broken by the sound of footsteps echoing through the darkness. A radiant beam flashed in all directions, and finally settled on a motionless form. The soft light was blinding to the pair of eyes that had not see the sun in more than three years, but they stared up at it nonetheless. The maker had finally come to judge the dead man, to weigh his good deeds against his sins. The man smirked, because he already knew the result. The latter had far outweighed the former recently, and he fully understood and accepted the ramifications for his soul.

?Lightfoot,? a calm voice whispered. The voice of God was nothing like he had imagined.

He stared into the light, wishing it would take him away quickly and make all of the pain in his body go away forever. Pain, wave after wave of pain, that was coursing throughout his body.

He was still alive.

His eyes turned away from the light to look down at his own ruined body. He was covered in blood, but most of it had already dried. As he looked down at his left arm, he felt a different source of pain. It was the bite of leather wrapped much too tightly about his skin. He focused on the sensation, and felt it in his other arm as well, and then in his legs. His eyes slowly came back into focus, and he saw the reason. The straps that held the armor plating to his body had been pulled so tightly that they stopped the exodus of blood from his body. He didn?t remember how it had happened, but knew that he was the only one that could have done it.

?Lightfoot,? the voice spoke again, ?it?s over.?

He looked back toward the light, and realized it was not coming from Heaven at all. It was just a flashlight, and he knew the man holding it. Fnork, one of the Freak Dogs, a gang he himself was once a part of.

?Akihiko Tan, Oni, is dead. He will never trouble you again,? Fnork said.

?I know. I felt him die.? Lightfoot responded.

?I do not doubt that.? Fnork said, as he reached out with his free hand. ?Come, it?s time to go.?

Lightfoot?s own hand reached out to meet it, and he was carefully lifted to his feet. His legs felt dangerously weak, but his arm was pulled across Fnork?s shoulder to keep him from falling. Leaning heavily on the other man, he slowly walked out of the hallway toward the garage, and the open air beyond.

He stepped out into the moonlight, and took a deep breath of the cool, Colorado air. The effort filled his chest with pain, but that pain was overpowered by the rush of life entering his lungs.

Lightfoot stopped and looked up at the night sky as if he was seeing it for the first time in his life.

?What happened to Kitty?? he asked.

?He?s in pretty rough shape, but it sounds like he?s going to be okay.?

?Good? I needed to talk to him again and clear up what happened three years ago if he hasn?t made sense of it yet? and maybe apologize?" Lightfoot paused, "at least for shooting him in the leg."

?You will have you chance soon enough,? Fnork replied with a smile.

* * *

A soft white towel sopped up foam sloshing out of a tall mug filled with amber nectar. Genuine amusement was on the middle-aged bartender?s face as he overheard the conversation between the four people sitting at the bar. He went over to the jukebox and queued up a set of songs that the group had requested then went about his duty of attending other customers. The first, a punk song, was something requested by the loud one with the bright shirt.

?So you?re paying for my drinks right ya fucking flea bag??

Redline Fox regarded his old rival with a slightly drunken, lop-sided smile. ?Sure, you?ve done something right for once, I suppose you deserve a prize.?

Musty shrugged, ?Good enough for me.? He lifted his glass and proposed a toast to himself. No one joined in. ?So ungrateful.? He scolded, then took a long drink of his beer.

Her coat spread out behind her and hat pulled low on her head, Colleen just ignored Mustardfoot and leaned in close to Redline Fox while Owen fidgeted nervously.

Redline noticed his friend was not enjoying his drink,. ?What?s wrong kid?? he joked.

?Hey, I thought you said you?d stop calling me that man.? Owen said a bit perplexed, partly from alcohol.

Redline did feel bad for giving Owen a hard time, but things needed to be clearly understood, even through the haze of the smoky bar.

?Alright, I do apologize...? he said while putting his arm around Owen?s shoulder, ?You know I respect you bro.?

?Yeah...yeah I know Red...?

?Hey, I thought I said you don?t have to call me by the name I took...?

?Look,? Owen asserted, ?Redline Fox is the name I know you by, I just can?t get to use to callen you something so generic as Mike. What the hell kind of name is that, bah!?

Redline Fox just smiled and gave his comrade a playful shake. For a little while longer, they lingered in the bar and talked about what had happened over the last few days. For the most part no one said much, though everyone was still feeling the withdrawal from adrenaline their bodies had developed. Not much made sense other then that for the most part everyone was alright. Jessie and Dante where watching over Jade, (or Razi now that Colleen set them straight on a proper name to refer to her by), in the nicest hotel money could find near Grand Junction. Neither had really been ready for such a conflict, but their importance in keeping the child safe, that would take a long time for anyone to forget. Of course if Redline Fox kept his word, no one would forget the struggle of the second civil-war or the wildness of the new west. The song that he had chosen finally started playing, ?Wheel in the Sky? by Journey. If no one else recognized the song he wouldn?t care, but he decided that they should leave before it ended, so he put down a generous tip and roused everyone to their feet.

Sunlight blinded them momentarily as they walked out of the bar. It was a bright warm afternoon, but the bustle of United States Army troops, vehicles and low-flying G-10 Rhinos did their best to spoil the mood. This sort of thing was enough to startle the locals, but not the rag-tag group that took deep breaths of the fuel tainted pristine air.

In the following days after Redline Fox killed Oni, the military had decided it was time to finally crack down on outlaws and instill the same social order in the wide open spaces that American cities had enjoyed for the early part of the decade. No one but criminals were all that disappointed. The last vigilantes were ready to take their curtain call anyway. Those who knew, knew it was no coincidence. Colleen for one would have to answer to the CIA, but she held enough sway that not even the President could make much of a case against her. Cole, of course, only had to answer to the gods. Redline Fox put his arms around Colleen?s neck and looked up at the sky.

?Matthew was really his first name?? He asked her.

She sighed, ?Yes, Matthew Cole.?

?And he really knew that much about me?? Redline Fox whistled softly. ?He was a good man Colleen, don?t hate him.?

She put her hand on his arm. ?That?s not for you to decide for me Mike.?

?No, it isn?t, but you?re a good woman and a good woman doesn?t hate for the sake of hating something,? he said while letting her go.

Turning to look into his eyes, Colleen had to glance away before she was able to look him straight in the face. ?When are you coming home??

It was a question he could not stop asking himself, let alone answer.

?When, I?m ready...? He said simply.

For a moment, she thought about tearing herself away from him. His eyes were still so distant and strange. Doing that though, might have hurt him, so she leaned in and hugged him. He winced, his body still sore from the beating Oni had given him, but he kept from being overt about it. No one said anything until they left each others arms, and even Mustardfoot stood quietly with his hands in his pockets. After they let go of each other, Redline Fox turned to Owen.

?You know where I?ll be. Go home so I know where to find you when I?m finished.?

Owen kicked at the ground, ?Alright, but the Fiarello is still in the shop so, yeah, I will leave when it is done...and go back to the den to get things ready...ok??

?That car was too pretty for you.? Redline teased.

Owen laughed, ?Yeah? Well that lady is too pretty for you!?

Colleen came over, took her hat off and put it on Owen?s head then kissed him on the cheek.

?There, so don?t be jealous.? She said.

Owen stood embarrassed, his face flushed red and he just looked down with a dumb grin. Finally bored, Mustardfoot yelled his departure as he was getting into his Strider. An MP had been lurking near his car and walked over to his driver?s seat.

?Later, its been real, real stupid!? Musty yelled.

?Uh sir? Have you been drinking?? The MP asked, trying to sound authoritative.

?Yeah! Why? You want a breath test? Here!? Musty burped in the MP?s face while starting his car. As soon as he had the engine running, he slammed it into gear and lurched away with the MP chasing after shaking his fist.

Soon, the three friends had said their good-byes and assured each other of a safe journey. Colleen would give Owen a ride back to Redline Fox?s den. Redline himself slid into the warm black leather seat of his blood red Picard Piranha. Only faded sections of metal indicated where weapons had once been mounted, and bullet holes yet to be repaired marred the gentle curves of the car?s body. The familiar sound of the 340 Six Pack, the car?s original engine, growled to life. Small drops of moisture dripped out of the exhaust pipe as it idled waiting to be set free on the open road. As to enjoy every facet of the car?s being, Redline Fox eased the car into gear, eased on the throttle, and eased the wheel as he drove out of town looking for the onramp to 70 East.

High above him, a G-10 Rhino wandered out of formation so the pilot could get a closer look at the car that had tickled his fancy. The low-level attack aircraft dropped a wing to give the pilot a better view.

?Wheew doggies! I ain?t seen a Picard Piranha since I wat a little kid! Hell, you never see cars like that no more!?

?Hey, rookie! Get back in formation, you ain?t supposed to be chasen unicorns up here!?

* * *

Time passed, and the seasons changed.

Fnork leaned against an ancient oak tree and peered out across the pristine landscape as it was gradually coated with another blanket of snow. He turned to look back at the miniscule building that sat by itself at the end of a long dirt road. To the naked eye it looked like a well-kept storage shed in the middle of nowhere, but in reality it was the front entrance to Ax-L?s hidden, underground complex, where the Death Machine was based.
He had returned here months earlier with a mix of excitement and apprehension, because he was unsure what would happen when he arrived. Shortly before he had set out in his task to hunt down Death Machine, Ax-L asked him to return once he was finished, to receive one final task.
In the past, when the current Death Machine was nearing the end of his or her service, they would often face their replacement in a duel. A duel that Death Machine could never truly lose, because he would always be born anew, while the old was allowed to fade away in peace. This time, the circumstances had changed, and there had been no choice but to destroy Death Machine one way or another.

Though he had not accomplished it alone, it had been his task, and Death Machine had indeed been destroyed. As he and Lightfoot made the journey back to the complex, he could imagine only one thing that Ax-L?s final task could entail. He was to become the next Death Machine.

He couldn?t have been more wrong.

?The next one to wear the mask of Death has already been chosen, but it is not to be you,? Ax-L had said. ?My final task for you is a much greater and more difficult one. I have been the caretaker of this facility for a very long time, and the long years of death dealing have taken their toll on my spirit. I have accomplished much in my time here, but now I grow weary of it. The debt I owed to my brother has been repaid many times over, and it is time for me to step down. The task I present to you, is to take my place.? Fnork had stared back at him in surprise. ?It can only be you, because there is no one else with the means to accomplish it. You have everything required: the resources, the knowledge, the proximity, and most importantly, my confidence. Will you accept this final task??
?Yes, I will.?

Fnork smiled, walked toward the open garage, and down the ramp into the complex below. Ax-L stood next to a shiny yellow Phaedra Palomino, and was speaking softly to the driver. Lightfoot stood back a few paces, leaning on a set of crutches. His physical wounds were nearly healed, but there were other, much deeper wounds that might never leave him entirely.

As Fnork approached, Ax-L stood up, nodded to him, and stepped back to stand next to Lightfoot. With one hand sliding smoothly across the immaculate surface of the Palomino, Fnork paused to admire the new car. On the outside, it looked identical to every car driven by Death Machine in the past, but appearances were only skin deep. With his help and Lightfoot?s, the entire outfit had been revamped, upgraded, and improved. The armament had changed, the internal systems had changed, and most importantly, the rules had changed. What had happened to Lightfoot would never be allowed to happen again.

He walked around the open door, and placed his hand on the driver?s shoulder.

?Are you ready?? he asked.

The driver nodded an affirmative.

?Good hunting,? Fnork said as he took a step back and closed the door.

The Palomino?s engine roared, and with a screeching of tires the car shot up the ramp and into the winter wonderland above. Fnork, Ax-L, and Lightfoot watched in silence as a new Death Machine was unleashed upon the world?

The End.

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