13 - Westside Story

WCOC News has uncovered more information about the mass kidnapping at the Millenium Gardens Hotel yesterday. Although MCPD has not yet released a statement on the incident, intrepid reporter Julie Morgan interviewed several hotel workers and guests who witnessed the raid. They said the attackers all wore the colors of the Black Aces gang. You may remember that the Black Aces allegedly robbed the MCPD High Security Storage Bunker a few weeks ago and made off with several crates of Qularr technology, most of which has not been recovered. According to our investigations, all of the guests abducted from the hotel were scientists and engineers visiting Millenium City to study other Qularr technology recovered from the invasion. So it appears the Black Aces not only have Qularr weapons but now have the experts they need to get them working. We have made several efforts to contact the MCPD and PRIMUS but have not received any official statements yet.

Now let's go to Ryan Santana who has a live report on the zoo's new baby panda...

Cataclysm came around the pile of shipping containers and stopped when she saw the man ahead of her. He was looking out over the river smoking a cigarette. She silently moved up behind him and he didn't react to her presence. Anyone hanging out on the docks at this time of night should really be more aware of his surroundings. She leaned forward and said into his ear, "Boo!"

He jumped and whirled to face her, the cigarette falling forgotten to the ground and the moonlight glinting off the knife in his hand. She clucked her tongue. "You're getting slow, Anton."

Anton Romero let out his breath and lowered the knife. "Jesus you scared the shit out of me." He sheathed the blade and pulled out another cigarette. Cataclysm gestured and the end of the cigarette flamed up. He raised his eyebrows and puffed the cigarette to life. "Cute trick," he said.

"I'm full of cute tricks," she said. "How've you been?"

"Good. You?"

"Keeping busy."

Anton nodded absently. "Thanks for meeting me out here. Sorry to be so cloak and dagger about it but..." He trailed off.

Cataclysm shrugged. "I get it. Zoe wouldn't want you talking to me. You're not the first one I've had to meet like this." She smirked and added, "But I suspect you know that." She had been surprised when Anton had called her and said he needed her help. She knew him but they weren't really friends. However he was friends with Tony Madness.

"No idea what you're talking about," Anton said with a lopsided grin. "I don't know anyone who's been talking to you."

"Of course. And you're not talking to me now. So what do you need?"

He took a long drag on the cigarette, lighting up his face in a red glow. He didn't dress as dramatically as the other Maniacs, eschewing the makeup and wild hairdos. He settled for just lots of leather, spiked gloves, and a cool viciousness that few Maniacs could match. That latter quality is why Cataclysm was surprised when he said, "There's this girl."

She wasn't sure what to say to that, so she stayed silent and let him continue.

He shifted uncomfortably and said, "I met her about four months ago. We've gotten pretty serious. In fact I want to marry her."

This conversation was not going at all as Cataclysm had expected. "Okay," she said slowly. "What, you want me to be best man?"

He took a deep breath and said, "Her name is...Quan Qi." When Cataclysm didn't react he repeated, "Qi."

She mulled over that name for a few seconds and suddenly it clicked. "Oh, for fuck's sake. As in Red Banner Clan Lord Qi?"

"She's his daughter."

She threw up her hands. "Oh, dude. Are you fucking kidding me? How the hell did you meet Qi's daughter?"

"At the hospital," he said. "I was visiting Bloody Alice. You remember she got shot a few months back? Well I stopped in the cafeteria on my way out. There was this girl there. She was cute so I sat down near her and struck up a conversation. I wasn't in my colors of course so she didn't realize I was one of the Maniacs." Mercy Hospital didn't allow visitors to wear gang colors. "At first I was just flirting but we hit it off so I asked her out. I didn't mention anything about the gangs and neither did she. I didn't know her last name or where she lived or anything. It wasn't until like our fourth date that we realized the problem. And by then it was too late. We were in love."

Cataclysm shook her head. "Lord Qi's daughter. Why not the mayor's daughter while you're at it?"

"She's not actually part of the Red Banners," he said quickly. "In fact she hates what her father does and all the gang crap."

"And she's okay with you being one of the Maniacs?"

"Well, no not really. She and her cousin actually keeps nagging me to get out of the gang. But I won't," he said strongly. "The Maniacs are my family and I'm not going to turn my back on them."

Cataclysm rubbed her temples. "This is giving me a headache. So where do I come into this tragic romance? Am I supposed to convince her the Maniacs are fun-loving jokesters?"

"No," Anton said with a shake of his head. "She seems to respect my desire to stay in the gang, though her cousin won't let it go. But that's not the point. We were going to run away and get married but her father found out. He's imprisoned her in their home and won't let us see each other. That's where I need you. I want you to rescue her. Get her out of there "

"I have a better plan. Forget about her and move on with your life. Come on, daughter of a clan lord? You'd be better off finding someone else."

He cocked his head and studied her. "You've never been in love, have you?"

Cataclysm shrugged. "Sure, I've been with guys before."

"No. I don't mean dating or sex." Anton sighed, "I mean love. When you meet that person who becomes like the air in your lungs. If I can't breathe her in then I die. I hear her name in every breath of wind. I look up at the night sky and see her face in the stars. We are one heart and a body cannot life with only half a heart."

She looked at him for a time and then said, "And love means talk like that doesn't make you want to puke?" He looked offended and she waved him off. "Kidding, dude. All right it sounds like you got it bad. I suppose you aren't going to listen to reason."

"If you won't help me than I will rescue her myself."

"You'll get killed," she warned.

"Possibly. But I would rather die trying to be with her than live an empty life without her."

Cataclysm snorted. "Okay I'll help, but seriously you need to stop talking like that."

Quan Qi looked out the barred windows of her room and watched the birds perched on the power lines outside. She envied their freedom. She wasn't even allowed to leave her room except under guard, and wasn't allowed to leave the house at all. She had tried to talk to her father over and over about Anton but he refused to hear her. All she could do was stay here and pine for Anton.

To make things worse, she had nothing to distract her from those thoughts. Her father wouldn't let her have a computer or telephone so she couldn't reach Anton. There was a television but nothing to watch. She wrote love letters Anton would never see, read books she couldn't focus on or meditated to pass the hours. Who knew how long it would be before her father let her out?

Quan thought about doing some meditation now, but she could hear some of the warriors practicing. Their weapon clangs and grunts were distracting and would make it hard to concentrate. She furrowed her brow. There were other sounds there. Was a sorcerer training with them? That was unusual. Magic caused too much collateral damage so her father's sorcerers trained in a gym nearby rather than in the house. That was odd--the sounds seemed to be getting closer.

She yelped in surprise as the door burst open in an explosion of smoke and fire. A burning figure came into the room, leaving smoking footsteps in the very expensive rug by the door. Quan recoiled at the intruder and shouted, "Help! Help me!" hoping some Red Banner warriors would come, but she suspected there weren't any left in the house.

The figure let the flames die, revealing a woman dressed in leather and chains with spiky hair and clown makeup. Somehow she found this person scarier than the body of flame that had faced her before. As the flames flickered out the woman stumbled, clearly exhausted. "It's okay," she said breathlessly. "Anton sent me. I'm Cataclysm."

Quan paused and then sat heavily on the bed. "No, no, no, no, no," she said with distress. "That sweet and foolish boy."

Cataclysm was surprised and annoyed by this reaction. "You don't understand. I'm here to rescue you."

Quan looked up at the woman and said, "Yes, I understand, but I will not go with you."

Cataclysm was stunned by her admission. "What? Why?"

Quan looked out the door and seemed more alarmed. "We don't have much time. More Red Banner will be here soon. Thank heaven my father was out of the house. Listen. What you have done is a grave insult to my father, my family and my clan. To come in and simply take me is an appalling thing to do." She raised her hand to forestall Cataclysm's response. "To my clan that is. I realize that is the way of the Maniacs, but that is not the way the Red Banner do things. This kind of brutish action is a slap in the face to my family." She sighed. "I love Anton, but he can be so hot-headed sometimes. He should have come to my father and spoken to him with respect and asked for my hand. Perhaps an arrangement could have been reached. But this? For you to burst in, attack my father's personal clan of warriors, damage his house, and abduct his daughter..." She shook her head. "This has made the situation much worse." Quan looked over Cataclysm. "Couldn't you have at least come in disguise? In street clothes?"

Cataclysm frowned. "I've done that before. Didn't care for it. I'm proud to be a Maniac and I won't hide from that."

Quan grimaced. "I thought that kind of destructive gang pride was limited to the men. I had hoped the women would be more...civilized about it." She waved it off. "No matter, we may be able to fix this. You must leave immediately, and without me. I will speak to my father and I believe I can calm his anger and prevent him from declaring war on the Maniacs over this."

"You don't want to be with Anton?" Cataclysm asked in confusion. If Anton had been deluding himself about this relationship, Cataclysm was going to go kick his ass.

"Of course I do. I can't imagine a life without him. But if we were to run away like this, it would lead to war. We should not be mourning the deaths of our friends during our wedding."

"So what do we do?"

"We must resolve this by the code of the Red Banner. My people greatly respect honor. Single combat is considered a better measure of a warrior's valor than the chaos of battles in the streets. You can't take me, but you might be able to earn me."

Catcalysm snorted. "Earn you? Like property?"

"I know our traditions may seem outdated, but they are the traditions my father follows. Right or wrong, the only chance of Anton and I living a happy life is to do this my father's way."

Cataclysm rubbed her face tiredly. "Fine. What is your father's way?"

"Do you know the warriors Iron and Gold?" asked Quan. Cataclysm nodded. They were twins, brother and sister, and supposed to be the greatest individual warriors of the Red Banners. From what she had heard, only their youth prevented them from being Clan Lords themselves.

Quan continued, "They each carry one of the twin Blood Swords. If you were to challenge and defeat each of them in single combat, win the swords, and then present both blades to my father I believe he would agree to accept them in exchange for my freedom. But you must move quickly before this foolish action of yours spirals out of control. You should go challenge each of them immediately."

Cataclysm sighed. She was already tired and injured from fighting her way to Quan but she knew the girl was right. In fact she should have realized this was the wrong way from the beginning. The Red Banner respected honor more than martial might. "Fine. Where do I find them?"