17 - Jailbreak

"We've called in off-duty officers and officers from other precincts," Chief Surhoff was saying. "We encourage citizens to stay in their homes or places of work and keep off the streets. We have the situation under control but until we can get at the root of this problem we will need to streets to remain as clear as possible."

Cataclysm watched the press conference on TV as she sprawled on the couch. For hours the news had been reporting an outbreak of incidents all over Westside. At first it was a rash of crimes. Burglar alarms went off all over the area and the 911 switchboards were flooded with calls reporting everything from mugging to murder. Later fire alarms and more 911 calls sent fire trucks and ambulances into the city. In most cases nothing was found once emergency crews arrived.

"We are prioritizing the calls as best we can," said Surhoff in response to a reporter's question. "We aren't assuming any call is a false alarm, but we are taking verifiable threats such as calls from other police stations more seriously. I want to assure everyone that every single call is treated like the real thing."

The fire and ambulance calls might have been fake, but the police calls were usually real. In nearly every case the victims reported that the Cult of the Red Banner had been responsible. The few witnesses found at false alarm calls also reported that the Red Banner was behind the hoaxes.

Cataclysm wondered if the cops had figured out what was going on. It seemed obvious to her that all this activity was meant to tie up emergency services in preparation for the real operation. But what was it? She had been watching activity all over Westside, especially Red Banner movements, for two weeks now and this was the first hint she'd found that something big was happening.

Surhoff broke off in the middle of a response as another cop came up and whispered in his ear. The chief kept his expression carefully neutral as he said, "I'm sorry I have to cut this short," and quickly walked back into the police station through a storm of reporters' questions.

The television station went back to the news desk where Rob Mahogany and Victoria Crownstone recapped the details of the day for viewers just tuning in. Cataclysm got up to get another beer, half listening to the TV as she mulled over the facts. Unfortunately there weren't many. Until the Red Banner made their move, all she could do is wait.

She didn't have to wait long.

About a half hour after Surhoff cut the press conference short, WCOC reported they were getting calls that some kind of riot had broken out at the Westside jail.

"According to guards who escaped from inside the prison," Mahogany intoned, "several prisoners were suddenly out of handcuffs and attacked the guards by surprise. One said that he believed all the prisoners who were mysteriously freed were part of the Red Banner gang. These inmates overpowered enough of the guards that they were able to free the other prisoners. MCPD forces have the jail surrounded, but the prisoners seem to have full run of the jail now. Several guards are missing. Attempts to negotiate with the rioters have been unsuccessful so far."

Mahogany continued to talk but the TV was broadcasting to an empty room.

Cataclysm rocketed through the sky headed towards the prison. This had to be it. She felt it in her gut. She still wasn't sure what Hi Pan's plan was but she knew there was one person she didn't want to get out of prison. Cataclysm would kill her if she had to.

Cataclysm flew over the prison, surveying the situation. The cops had barricaded the streets for at least a block around the place. There were a few prisoners in the yard battling with police. They wouldn't last long. The cops seemed to have the outside of the facility secure. They didn't look like they planned to assault the place, though she didn't know whether that was due to lack of manpower or a desire to negotiate.

She wasn't going to be so timid. She alit in front of the main entrance in a cloud of flame. She blew open the doors and strode in. A megaphone from the parking lot announced, "You there, going into the prison. Stand down. If you wish to help secure the area please report to Lieutenant Tigges. Hey, get back out here!"

Cataclysm ignored them. Three big guys in prisoner uniforms were blocking the hallway in front of her. "What the fuck do you want?" one demanded.

She didn't even bother slowing down. She just blasted them and headed for the stairs. There were about a dozen other prisoners nearby and, though they eyed her warily, they didn't move to stop her.

Cataclysm knew the layout of the place. It's not like this was her first time here, though she wasn't use to having such freedom to wander. She exited the stairway on the third floor, the women's level. The guard station was empty. The door to the main ward was propped open and many of the female inmates were partying inside. Nobody seemed all that intent on escape or anything else other than tearing up the place. She saw no guards, though they might be locked in the cells as insurance against a raid.

The ward was an open residential block, a result of prison overcrowding. There were cells along the walls but most prisoners lived in one of the cubicles laid out in the main room, separated from other prisoners by nothing more than half-height walls that gave no privacy at all.

The inmates seemed a little surprised by her lack of jail garb but a Maniac was welcome here. She ignored them as she scanned the faces looking for Zoe's. Suddenly a voice called out, "Firefly, you came to see me!"

Cataclysm turned to find the speaker. She wouldn't have recognized Zoe, having never seen her without her makeup and in drab prison dress. Zoe was pushing through the crowd towards here. "What brings you here? Somehow I think you aren't here to beg my forgiveness for your terrible rudeness at our last meeting."

"I'm not going to let you leave," Cataclysm said firmly.

Zoe laughed her mad laugh. She turned to the rest of the crowd and clapped her hands to get their attention. "Girls! Girls! Listen up. It seems this hero has come to stop us." The other inmates stopped their celebrations and the mood quickly turned grim.

Cataclysm kept her eyes locked on Zoe. "No. I don't care about the rest of them. They can come or go, tear up the place, or kill each other for all I care. I'm here for you. I'm not going to let you go out and destroy the Maniacs. You've done enough damage already."

Zoe turned back to her. "And you really think you have a chance of stopping me?" she asked sweetly. "I have friends now."

Cataclysm wasn't worried about the other inmates. Most of them were probably in on misdemeanors or drug charges. This wasn't like a gang confrontation. When the fire started flying, they'd bolt. She snorted at Zoe, "They don't scare me."

She heard the door from the stairs open and close. Zoe looked over Cataclysm's shoulder and looked smug. "Why, here are my friends now."

Cataclysm heard several sets of footsteps behind her and a prickling started up her spine. The other inmates looked at the newcomers and backed away. Zoe wasn't armed so Cataclysm felt safe turning to see who had come in.

It was the other gang leaders: Hi Pan, Zaretti, Poe and Ludwig. Hi Pan was flanked by Iron and Gold. Cataclysm started figuring the odds and they didn't look good. The three inmates weren't armed, but Poe had his magic and Zaretti was a big guy and could do plenty of damage with his fists alone. Ludwig she didn't know about. And, of course, Hi Pan and his bodyguards were fully armed and ready.

"Get me out of here now, Hi Pan!" Zoe demanded shrilly, walking over to join the group.

Hi Pan said smoothly, "I promise you will all be safely moved from here. I send you now to the meeting place my agents mentioned earlier." Cataclysm struck a ready stance as Hi Pan started a spell but she recognized it as a transport spell. Runic circles appeared at the feet of each of the four other gang leaders and they faded from view. Hi Pan glared at Cataclysm and said, "Gold! Iron! Take care of this...hero." He cast the transport spell again and gated away.

Iron and Gold had already drawn the Blood Swords and were advancing on her, each moving to one side. She had fought them already and knew their styles. Iron was big and slow, easy to hit but he could take an enormous punishment. Gold was fast and agile, dodging blows and striking from out of nowhere. Separately they were a challenge. Together they might just be unbeatable.

Then again, she was more prepared for them. After the fight with them and the battle with Zoe, Cataclysm had added a few details to her outfit. Scarred plates of metal adorned her forearms and shins. She had spiked leather pads along her thighs and she was wearing heavier boots. These protections wouldn't stop bullets, but they might turn a blade.

Cataclysm sent a sheet of roaring flame towards Gold as the other woman charged towards her, hoping the wide coverage would be hard to dodge. Gold dropped to her knees, leaned back under the fire and slid along the floor, swinging her blade at Cataclysm's legs. Cataclysm stepped aside and caught only a light blow that didn't penetrate her boot. She kicked out at Gold's face but the woman evaded the attack and struck again. Cataclysm backed away and then whirled as she heard Iron thundering up behind her. She caught the blow on her forearm and although the metal plate turned the blade, the force of the strike left her arm numb

As she predicted, the inmates had scattered once the battle began. Even the tough ones saw no reason to interfere in what was obviously a personal battle. Cataclysm tried the tactic that had worked so well before and sprayed the room with fire. The prisoner cubicles had plenty of flammable materials so soon the whole room was ablaze. Cataclysm drew in the flame and blasted it out, this time trying to hit Iron. Rather than dodging it as Gold had, he just charged through it and again Cataclysm brought up an arm to block the blade. A sudden movement on the edge her vision made her dodge, but she still caught Gold's blade along the edge of her thigh. The blade was so sharp she didn't feel the injury at first, but it didn't take long for the open wound to nag at her.

She drew the warmth into the wound as she backed off for better position. Unfortunately the fires triggered the jail's sprinkler system. Water rained down on them as a piercing bell sounded throughout the level. Cataclysm continued to send fire through the downpour and her spells were hot enough that they burned through the water unaffected. However the sprinklers did douse the burning beds and that took away one of her advantages.

Cataclysm knew she had to focus on one so decided to go after Iron. He was a brick wall, but that just made him easier to hit. Cataclysm blasted him and nearly every shot hit, but it never slowed him down. She had to dodge or block his massive two-handed strikes and her arms ached from blocking the heavy blows. Meanwhile Gold danced around them, striking suddenly when Cataclysm least expected it. Between her leather, her spells and her own agility she was able to keep any severe blows from landing, but it wasn't long before she had a dozen cuts over her body. Her healing magic was struggling to keep up.

In the end she had to admit it was luck more than skill that turned the battle. The sprinklers continued to pour water down on the battle. Iron slipped in a puddle and that gave Cataclysm a second to step back and blast him with a cone of fire. Just as she launched the spell, Gold came in from the side to strike. The blast caught both of them. Iron pushed through the inferno but Gold was badly hurt. Cataclysm followed up, slamming the woman with spells several times before Gold finally went down.

Seeing his sister fall sent Iron into a rage. He made a flying leap at Cataclysm, who sidestepped the blow by inches. She continued to hammer him with spells while blocking or avoiding his blows as best she could. Without Gold flitting around them, Cataclysm was able to focus her efforts on him alone. He was strong but her magic was stronger. On top of that, she was pissed that Zoe had gotten away and directed all her anger at him. She'd found before that her rage made the fire magic stronger.

Iron hit the ground with a thud that shook the floor. Cataclysm stood there in the deluge from the sprinklers, dripping, aching, panting. It had all been for nothing. Zoe still got away. She looked around to see the inmates watching her from the guard room and the cells, backed against the walls to get away from the falling water. They didn't seem hostile but were studying her carefully.

She looked down at Iron and Gold. They were both breathing. The cops might get them. They might wake up and get away. Cataclysm didn't care. They weren't her problem. She spotted the Blood Swords. She had no use for them, but she'd won them--again--fair and square. She picked them up and headed towards the stairs.