Allen was used to waking up suddenly, at the first sign of danger. He had trained himself to sleep lightly so as to never be caught off guard. But as he jolted awake from the sharp sound of metal screeching across metal, Allen wondered for a brief second if he was still dreaming.

A gigantic, monstrous flea was towering over their little campsite. Easily as tall as a five storey building, its hazy shadow spread across the sand hills, sinking their little group in darkness. Faint sunlight (if you could call it a sun, Allen noted) shone on the insect's outer plates, highlighting the creature's outer shell.

I'll need to get the kids out. Allen thought as he jumped up. But how? I can't activate my arm here… Only one choice left.

"RUN!" Allen grabbed Lag's hand, pulling him out from under his threadbare blanket. With the other arm, he scooped up Niche and practically threw her over his shoulder. He ran as fast as he could, cursing when his feet sunk in the soft sand.

"Huh? What's going-" Lag asked blearily, opening his eyes.

Chancing a glance over his shoulder, Allen found that the flea was shooting out what looked like long strands of rope, or possibly an extremely long and flexible tongue, straight towards them. He quickly dodged to the left, accidentally letting go of Lag's hand in the process.

Lag landed face first on the ground, and as he sat up, coughing out sand, Niche climbed over Allen's shoulder, and landed on her feet beside Lag.

Allen ran back to them, panting "We have to run! There's a giant flea chasing us!"

They turned around. The monstrous insect was almost upon them.

"Where's my gun?" Lag panicked, searching frantically in his holster. "I can take the gaichuu down," he explained to Allen, "but I need my shindan!"

"You mean your gun? It's still at the campsite. I doubt a gun can help us right now-" Allen shoved Lag to the left, just in time. Another of the gaichuu's prongs crashed into the ground where Lag was sitting only seconds before, leaving a crater the size of a watermelon.

Niche's hair whipped out, slicing the gaichuu's thread into several pieces. "Lag. Shoot bullet," she said, somewhat impatiently.

"I don't have my shindan!" Lag wailed as Niche once again used her hair to destroy the gaichuu's feelers.

"Is there any way you can shoot without it?" Allen asked hurriedly. The gaichuu was now in between them and their campsite, making it impossible to retrieve the gun.

"I can… I can try. I've done it once before." Lag took a deep breath and aimed his outstretched hand at the gaichuu. "Akabari!"

A glowing arrow shot out of his open hand, and struck the gaichuu's torso, 'pinging' as it glanced off its shell.

"A little more to the right," Lag muttered to himself. "Akabari!" A larger heart bullet shot out, striking the gaichuu right in the crack of its shell armour.

The glowing trail of the bullet shone briefly, and then it was overwhelmed by the pulse of light generated by the gaichuu's death. Allen was temporarily blinded. He blinked, trying to get rid of the dark spots floating in his vision.

The light grew until it filled the whole area, and then it suddenly shrunk and separated into multiple groups. Each group then formed into hundreds of tiny stars which slowly faded away in the sky.

Allen looked up in wonder, marvelling at the sight. The very essence of the gaichuu seemed to have dissolved, leaving behind pieces of an empty shell that collapsed like a child's tower of blocks.

Beside him, Lag dropped to his knees. "Shooting without a gun is harder than I remembered." he panted. "I feel a bit lightheaded."

Niche crouched down, "Lag okay?" she asked.

"We should probably head to the nearest city. We're no match for the next one, with the condition you're in." Allen pointed out. Lag nodded, and then gestured to campsite. "We should get our stuff."

Niche and Allen packed the bags, and rescued the trampled-on blankets. Lag sat quietly off to the side, looking sicker by the minute. Once the bag were packed, Allen crouched down smiled over his shoulder at Lag. "Piggy back ride? You don't look fit to walk."

"Thanks." Lag gave a small smile as he climbed onto Allen's back. Niche carried the bag and Lag's letter bag with her hair. They started walking.

After awhile, Allen noticed that Lag's breathing had evened out. Allen saw, to his relief (since the boy seemed to be on the verge of throwing up on him), that Lag had fallen asleep. Steak also seemed to be sleeping on Niche's head.

The dusty travellers plodded on towards the faint group of buildings they could see on the horizon.

.*.*.*.*.

A/N: Thanks so much to all the people who reviewed! Your reviews encouraged me to write this chapter.

Next chapter: Allen, Lag and Niche reach the town. After some rest, they finally get around to introductions.