Chapter 10:

Amphibious Escape

Welcome to Hell

"By the end of it, we'll jack the van and get the hell out."

Silence permeated the area — we had barely managed to pick out the remaining targets. I ran to the now utterly useless Jet Streamer to meet up with Andy.

"Andy!" I was distraught. "What the fuck... I almost died trying to get this car!"

He on the other hand had a cocky smile, and I failed to understand why. "April, so what if we lost a car? Just look over there." He pointed somewhere behind me. There was the Bank Noah van, completely intact, with its doors wide open.

I was wide eyed. "We don't even need to hack it now?"

"Yes, those fuckers forgot to lock their doors!" He grinned, quite satisfied with himself. "But our mission only gets harder from here." Andy left the ruined Streamer, running towards the gold van. "Hurry! We ain't got much time." Having no other choice, I followed him. He was already in the passenger seat, using tools to get the thing started.

Hopping into the driver seat, I figured I should take a peek behind me, only to see nothing but a dull, gray vault wall which had a door in the middle.

The announcer came on the speakers — before we even started the engine. "The next lava filing begins in two minutes. Please wait in the green area if you wish to leave. Thank you."

Ah fuck, I had no time to take a quick peek at our loot and get the hell out of here before any reinforcements would show up.

He held one of his gadgets up between me and the vault wall. "You're looking for the gold?"

The screen on the gadget was quite primitive, displaying only black pixels on a green background, but it was enough to convince me this van was a gold mine. There had to be somewhere above a hundred bars of gold for the taking. All I needed was for the engine to start, and Andy didn't take long before something in his hands clicked and the engine whirred to life.

Distant sirens blared. I took the controls and accelerated just in time to make it into the green area in the canal lock, coming to a complete stop a few seconds before the wall shut us in. Lava filling had begun, automatically switching the van to submarine mode.

At that point, I thought about praying to God that we all succeed with our plan, but decided not to. God would never help me in doing this, let alone listen to me. Did he ever do anything for me? It was actually much more likely he'd set up all of Hell against me, and these incessant ideas of mine never helped in my times of desperation.

Then, I remembered something important. "Shit, I forgot Henry's phone!"

Andy held something in his hand, which he showed me. "You were saying?" The call was still ongoing with Eugene, passing well over the thirty minutes mark. The sounds of police sirens were crackling through the ear speaker, and tapping the loudspeaker revealed even more details; namely clinking metal, ricochets and distant screaming.

I took the phone. "Henry, Eugene, where are you!?"

"We stole an Explorer Eleven." Eugene's voice came.

"It's like a Jet Streamer, but another brand," Andy explained when I shot him a quizzical look.

"Don't worry about us, you get outta here!"

"Are the two of you okay?"

"The road Yog! Keep yer eyes straight!" After Henry scolded Eugene, they sounded too busy to respond to me. Figuring the predicament they were in, I kept shut. That was right. I needed to focus on my own predicament. These two could and would handle themselves after all.

We waited in silence as the displays showed the lava level going up, the separator between air and magma getting slowly pushed upwards until it was no longer in view. The plan was still in full motion.

"Once we lose the heat, there's a guy in one of the Decks. We get there, we win."

The more everyone talked about their connections in the Deck Market, the less it sounded like an ordinary market — aside from the impressive structure — and more like a legalized black market, complete with permits, documentation and the audacity of being very obvious and prominent to anyone in Gremory District's industrial sector.

Regardless, the canal lock finally opened up. Instantly, I set the speed slider to the maximum of 200% without a care in the world — ignoring the fact that lava travel was still pathetically slow. All was swell until about ten minutes later, which wasn't exactly all that far out when my heart sank from an unpleasant sound. Extremely muffled police sirens. I had to double check that they weren't the same sirens from the phone. I brought the phone closer to my ear, but they were loud and clear, so it couldn't have been these new, muffled sirens. Paying attention to my displays, I finally put the pieces together; my side "windows" faintly flashed between the lava's dark red and an unnatural light red in the distance. Shit, it was the same direction the sirens came from. I was surprised that sound could travel through lava at all.

The situation got a lot worse when a ray of blue light suddenly appeared in the left window, slowly headed towards us and inevitable impact. The ray disappeared against the side of the van like a squirt of water against a wall.

The computer played something through the speakers, but it wasn't in a language I could recognize.

"April, tap the flag on the left side of your dashboard and switch it to the British one. The voice is telling us the current shield health." Andy suggested. I couldn't focus on both the road and the flag, so all I saw was that the flag was made of a repeating triangle pattern, with each triangle alternating between orange and white. Tapping the flag, it disappeared and in its place a couple more flags appeared. "Yeah, the furthest one on the right." I followed his suggestion and tapped that one without looking at it.

"Soul shield damaged, 90% health left." The computer finally relayed this useful information in English instead of Demonese. Or Demonish. Or Demonic.

"Go up!" On Andy's command, I pulled the steering wheel as far down as I could to climb up. "When I tell you to slow down, don't think and just do it!" That made sense. Because of our speed, accurate shots based on guessing our trajectory were guaranteed. It was now a game of chess, except we had to read our opponent without seeing their side of the board. If Andy said "125%", I dropped the speed, if he said "0%", I let it stop. Without a cannon on the van, it was impossible to retaliate, only think one step ahead of the assailants.

We knew we got closer to the surface because of the increased presence of swimmer creatures and boats, and of course I attempted to capitalize on this activity to save us from the soul lasers by hiding behind or going through them. To my surprise, our attackers shot less when I got dangerously close to other creatures. I appreciated their restraint, mostly because it let me cheat and escape easier, and less so about it resulting in fewer needless deaths.

Finally, we made it out of the oppressive, thick confines of the ocean. How satisfying it was when the van switched back to regular mode and gradually picked up speed! In a few seconds, it was the fastest flying vehicle I had the pleasure to ride in Hell — much faster than our abandoned Streamer.

That surge of gleeful excitement faded away quickly once our assailants appeared in the back and side mirror displays. Four more of those goddamn cannon vans! To make matters worse, they were slowly closing the gap with their obviously superior top speed.

"Henry," Andy shouted in panic, "what's your sitrep?"

"Exit's filling up. What do ye need?"

I had to fly across the open space in absolute chaos before I could go back to the city, dodging all the soul beams headed my way. The motherfuckers either shot them all at once, or in coordination so a soul ray was immediately followed by the next.

"We're getting pounded by four armed vehicles! We can't hold much longer!" The sense of urgency in Andy's voice was proof of how fucked we were. He was almost always cooler than an ice cube — even when confronted with death by a thousand bullets, he was the kind of person to smirk and shrug it off. But not this time.

"We can't get to ye in time Andy. Sorry." Slight sorrow filled Henry's voice.

"Fuck. Damnit." Andy sighed. "It's fine. Don't die, alright?"

Henry laughed heartily. "Me and Yog ain't going down anytime soon. We'll let ye be, but I know both of ye can do it." He hung up the line on that high note. It was a materially useless consolation for this dilemma, but it lifted my spirit up a bit.

We were close to the city when an idea just struck me. "Can I open the rear doors from here?"

"Does that matter now?" Andy was confused. "We're gonna get killed!"

"I just need to blow up some cannons." I turned to him with a slight smirk.

"You're... you're not going on a suicide mission, are you?"

I just smiled. "Just steer and let me worry about myself."

Andy tried to speak, but couldn't get the words out of his mouth. He kept opening his mouth over and over, but no matter what, he struggled to find something to tell me. He stopped, and sighed. "Fine."

"Thanks." I had him awkwardly hold on the wheel while I was leaving my seat for the door. I managed to be swift about it, so in five seconds he was already in the vacated space. The small area between the driver, passenger and the vault wall were enough to let me stand, but then I realized the door was locked.

"Soul shield damaged, 72% health left."

"Don't fall off the back, April. Also, hide when the soul shield is disabled."

"All right!" I was going to pick up the Iblis Trigger either way, so I did that and slammed the door with its butt as hard as I could. Despite the cramped space, the lock gave way easily and the door opened, but not without raising yet another annoying alarm.

The back of the van was loaded with a number of gold bars I'd never dreamed of seeing. The LED white light from the ceiling shone on the gold against the white interior, creating a beautiful contrast and emphasizing just how much we needed that gold at all costs. The stacks of gold were in disarray, with some stacks toppled over while others were still standing tall.

Regardless, to get to the other vault wall, I had to get through the gold bars. Navigating them was like walking through a beach, except the ground kept changing elevation and angle, and the sand suddenly decided to be heavier by several pounds. I was, for the most part, tossed around by all that chaos, but eventually I made it to the other door and almost did the same trick of using the Iblis Trigger as the melee weapon it was always meant to be, but it opened by simply turning the door handle — no violence was necessary.

"Soul shield damaged, 64% health left."

Behind that vault door was the last area before the double back doors of the van. Seeing this, I shut the door behind me to keep the gold from falling out. There were plenty of walls with metal handles to latch on, thankfully enough. An intercom was on the wall, a short distance away from the vault door. The double doors were sealed by two sliding metal bars, which I had to push away to get them opened.

Another deep breath. I was absolutely and utterly insane to pull off this maneuver, let alone conceive it. If I were still on my home planet, the thought would never even cross my mind. I could fall off and get turned into ashes, or go splat on some poor fellow's car. I could experience the pain of a soul shot going through my body. Really, so many ways to die were on the table for this defense operation. I honestly was scared shitless.

But, it was either I go all the way in, or I don't. I couldn't have it both ways. This resolve to finish the job and move on with my fucking life let me finally push the doors open. It was time to rock and roll.

Hell's heat immediately seeped into the van, a stark contrast to the cozy air conditioned atmosphere of the van. One of the armed vans was dead ahead of me. Between the security van and ours was a blue ray of death going straight towards me.

I instinctively braced for impact by ducking, but the soul shot dispersed the same way it did earlier, like water splashing off a wall.

"Soul shield damaged, 59% health left."

With the Iblis Trigger above my shoulder, I aimed and shot at the hostile van, while mumbling the countdown to minimize time spent between hits. My attack didn't hit the cannon as I hoped it would, as the van swerved away to dodge the rocket. Luckily enough, we were already within the city outskirts, and I almost didn't believe it when the van started to veer and ram into a building. Although it didn't blow up and still kept its elevation, it was going to be a while until it could get back to chasing us.

Andy made a sharp turn, forcing me to grab into one of the bars with my free hand. Once we stabilized, I got in position and kept counting down. The moment I saw the front of one of the enemies appear in the distance, I shot. It was a direct hit to the front of the van, but all it really did was warp the metal — the hostile van still kept going. It retaliated with a soul shot, thwarted only by Andy making another turn, missing it entirely. So far, so good.

Without any advance notice, the van shook violently, which caused me to fall. Were it not for grabbing one of the bars on the ground in time, I could've become human ashes. It hit something from above, or rather, something hit us from above.

"Van damaged, 80% health left."

Regaining my footing, I saw the edge of one of our enemies straight above our doors. In fact, we were losing speed and rapidly going down. I aimed my RPG at the hostile but stopped myself from shooting, because at this close proximity it would hurt us more than it did them. This van was pushing against ours! Why the hell were they trying to do this?

Then it hit me.

"Soul shield critically damaged, 25% health left."

We were effectively sitting ducks without our speed and mobility.

I quickly scrambled to press the button on the intercom. "Give your back to those vans!" I shouted as loud as I could. Within a second, Andy made another sharp turn and went down a level. Right in front of the open, swaying doors was one of the other vans. Since it was at a closer range, I made sure to go straight for the cannon before firing. The cannon exploded in metal shrapnel — one less hostile to worry about.

"Soul shield destroyed. Evacuate immediately."

Counting down to five, I hit the intercom again. "Show me the other van!" He took another turn, and the van with the warped front was in view and already turning away from me. I didn't even bother to aim for accuracy, I just shot in hopes I'd strike the front before it showed its side. It was a success, as the hull was breached and a wall of green blood was briefly visible through the hole, but the van didn't stop at all.

I slammed the intercom button another time. "Get outta the way!"

Andy simply went down another level, letting the van keep going and ram into an ongoing car, violently shoving it away like the car was a tin can.

Only the vehicle slamming down on us from above remained a nuisance. Andy did his usual thing — he went through another corner — and went down one level immediately afterwards.

I was startled by the loud crashing and glass breaking sounds above me, but half a second later, it was evident why. The van collided into a billboard for... the lower part of it was completely disabled, if not shattered, but the upper parts made it clear it was something related to Hatsune Miku. I wasn't sure if it was the same billboard I saw when I first arrived. Relatively speaking, from where I was standing, it looked like the animated figure slapped the van away from us. Never before have I been that much of a fan of Miku.

I searched my surroundings to see if there were any threats still after us, and found nothing. All I could remember was the one van with a destroyed cannon, but even that one wasn't around. "All threats eliminated, one van with a disabled cannon still on the loose."

"Yeah, I saw," Andy's voice came through the speakers. "We'll go to the Decks now."

The van's speed slightly went down, and likewise, he went up a few more levels, putting us away from the heat of the lava. If the missing van didn't find us again, then we were out of this mess!

I sighed in extreme relief, knowing the worst part of the madness was over. One more delivery and the gold was ours.

Feeling triumphant, I made sure that I would lock the doors and go back to congratulate Andy. We were turning a corner when I reached for the door handles. Everything was good.

That was when I paused. Something wasn't right.

I realized that the vehicle directly behind us had a soul cannon on top. Its front was squished and warped, as if it had rammed something at speed. I barely had time to move before it fired a soul beam directly at me.

I only put the pieces together when the ray was a few inches away from me. Of course, it was the van that crashed into the building.