DESERT STORM

Part 5

by: SwordnQuill
SwordnQuil@aol.com

Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lao Ma, Alti, Borias, and everyone else who sounds familiar belong to Pac Ren and Universal Studios. I am not making money off of this story.

Genre Disclaimer: Ok. Bear with me, please, because this is kinda tough to explain. Sometime last year, I read a story on the internet that moved me so much, I was inspired to write a sort of companion piece to it. That story was "Lost Soul Walking" by DJWP. In her words, "This is NOT UberXena fiction. It just starts out like it is." The same can be said for this piece. While not directly related to "Lost Soul Walking", "Desert Storm" can be considered a sort of prequel to it. It is a story, if you will, about the lifetime before the one depicted in that fabulous, outstanding story. (Can you tell I loved it?) In addition, this is somewhat of an ambitious piece of fiction, in that I am attempting (donít know if Iíve succeeded, but Iíve attempted) to take the entire X:WP universe and modernize it. We start, in updated terms, with my version of Xenaís betrayal by Caesar (seen in "Destiny"), and continue up through the X:WP episode known as "Remember Nothing". The plot will be very recognizable to you. Itís meant to be that way.

Special note: Because of this, Gabrielle does not appear, except in offhand mention, in a great deal of the first half of this story. Do not look for her, because you wonít find her. After all, she was not a part of Ďevil Xenaísí life. If she were, things might have turned out differently, but because this is based on the premise of "Lost Soul Walking" it cannot happen differently. Gabrielle will, however, make her presence known, and that quite strongly, in the second half of the story. If you can hang on till then, I believe that you will not be disappointed.

Sexuality and Violence Disclaimers: Weíre dealing with an updated dark Xena through much of the first half, and an updated redeemed Xena through the second. Thereís gonna be violence. There are gonna be naughty words. There are also descriptions of sexual activity in this work. There are allusions to heterosexual sex, but nothing graphic. There are some graphic (though I hope tasteful) scenes of sexual expression between women as well. That is how I see the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and that is how I will continue to write it.

And, finally, thanks: To, as always, the incomparable Mike. A better beta and a better friend one could never hope for. Thank you also, as always, to Mary D, who rescued this story from the refuse heap and begged me to keep going on it. If you hate it, blame her. <w> Grateful and heartfelt appreciation goes out to DJWP, for continuing to write stories that grab me somewhere above the liver and giving her kind permission to mention her story in these disclaimers. If you havenít read her stories, please, do yourself a favor and do so. Finally, this story is dedicated to a group of people without whom I would most probably be living on the streets. Elizabeth, Rachel, Sulli, and the rest of the "Get Sue to Atlanta" crew, this oneís for you!

Feedback: As always is gratefully appreciated. If you wrote to me regarding "Redemption" during the month of September to early October and I havenít responded, please allow me the honor of apologizing in public. It was then that I was at my lowest point and making ready to move to my new home. Your words of praise and encouragement for my writing kept me firmly out of the pit of depression I was falling into and I shall be forever grateful to each and every one of you who took the time out to feed this bard. And for those of you patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for Redemptionís sequel, fear not, for with the conclusion of this piece, that piece will be started. Any and all who wish to may write me at SwordnQuil@aol.com . Iíll continue to do my best to answer each and every email. An exploding mailbox is a good thing to have. Thanks again!

 

DESERT STORM

by: SwordíníQuill (Susanne Beck)

25 April 1991. Ming Daoís Estate. Chengdu, China.

After the bodyguards had finished giving them a thorough pat-down, managing to miss the three throwing knives concealed on Kaelís body, the men left them alone to wait. Kael took this as an opportunity for exploration and did so with abandon, her eyes raking over every square inch of the massive ante-room where they were temporarily housed.

Impossibly expensive antiques vied for space in every nook and cranny of the room. Priceless vases kept company with stunning statues of ivory and jade. Bejeweled weapons of all types hung on walls covered with skins of big cats. Massive windows gave view to the lush greenery of the estateís acreage. "Nice setup," Kael remarked, snickering.

"Behave," Geraldo chided. "We donít want to upset the man before we even get a chance to see him."

The grin turned into a full sneer as Kael took her attention off her partner, turning to run light fingers over the weaponry. An ornately carved heavy wooden door opened soundlessly and a short, slight man wearing western clothing stepped out to greet them. "Ming Dao will see you now. Please, follow me."

Tearing her gaze away from the weapons, Kael quickly fell into step beside Geraldo as they crossed the marble floor, their footsteps echoing mournfully in the cavernous room.

They were ushered into a large office modeled in the typical western style. A huge teak desk sat imposingly near one wall. A fireplace, its mantel holding more priceless pieces of antiquity, housed a cheerily blazing fire. Thick burgundy carpeting covered the floor.

The man sitting behind the desk was broad of face and form. Thick glasses magnified his almond eyes to the size of small eggs. His hair was short and slicked back with the first hints of silver slashing through. He kept his attention glued to the desk top until his two visitors were standing in front of two chairs positioned in front of the desk. Only then did he deign to look up, a falsely convivial smile on his thick, rubbery lips. "My name is Ming Dao. Welcome to my home."

"We are honored by your welcome, Ming Dao," Geraldo replied, bowing. Kael managed to keep the smirk off her face as she inclined her head slightly. "I am Geraldo Nunez Rodriguez and this is my partner, Kael Evan Antrostos."

Ming Dao eyed them both, his gaze staying longer on the beautiful American. His smile turned into a leer. A coated tongue protruded from his mouth, licking his lips. "Please," he said, gesturing. "Sit." He gestured to a young boy of no more than five dressed in an absurd imitation of a British schoolboy, flannel Bermudas, beanie cap and all. "Allow me to introduce my son, Ming Lao. I hope youíll excuse his presence at this meeting, but a boy needs to learn to deal with all sorts of people."

"We are honored to be in his presence," Geraldo replied, bowing his head to the boy whose expressionless eyes were set in the cold mask of his face.

Kael covered her sneer with one hand as she cut her eyes to the fireplace in an attempt not to laugh at the absurdity of the whole thing.

"Does something here amuse you, Ms. Androstos?" Ming Dao asked primly.

"No. Please. Continue," she answered, ignoring Geraldoís warning glance.

Ming Dao folded his hands on the desk top. "Very well. The reason I asked you to this meeting is that I had heard of the job you did on a competitorís associates. I was most impressed with what I heard."

"Every word of it is true," Kael boasted, her eyes filled with pride.

The Chinese drug lord looked at the American, non-plused for a moment. "Ah. Yes. Based on that information, I decided that perhaps your company is in a position to aid mine in distributing our product beyond the boundaries of this country. I was given to understand that this is something you might wish as well?"

"A partnership is something we desire very much, Ming Dao," Geraldo said humbly. "We are prepared to give you whatever assistance you may require to bring this to fruition."

"My requests are simple ones. Your business associates come into this country, armed with proper documentation of course, retrieve my product and return it to your own country. From there, you distribute it as you wish. For this, you get thirty percent of the receipts, minus whatever shipping and labor charges you might accrue, of course."

"Wha-at?" Kael asked, her head snapping up from her study of the carpeting.

"Is there something in my explanation you did not understand, Ms. Androstos?" Ming Dao asked, scowling.

"Oh no. I understood ya perfectly. Itís belief that Iím haviní trouble with at the moment."

"Kael," Geraldo hissed half under his breath. "Behave!"

Kael shot a glare to her partner before returning her attention to Ming Dao. "Let me be sure I got this right. We send men in here, taking the risk of being stopped by governmental officials or blown to bits by your rivals, bring your shit home with us, distribute it, again running the risk of dealing with the government and rivals, and for that you offer us the magnanimous gesture of thirty percent?" She turned to her partner, a bold sneer splitting her full lips. "And you thought I was crazy."

"Kael!" Geraldo repeated, shouting this time.

Again, Kael ignored him. "No dice, Ming. Iím not gonna risk my people just so your fat ass can sit in that chair getting fatter. No offense, little Ming," she sneered at the silent, wide-eyed child.

Ming Dao pushed his chair away from the desk, rising to his diminutive height. "I believe this conversation is ended, Mr. Rodriguez. I had thought that you spoke for your people. Apparently I was mistaken."

Geraldo shot up from his chair. "No! Wait! Please, Ming Dao. This is just a simple misunderstanding, I assure you." He put on his most charming smile. "She tends to open her mouth without thinking sometimes. I can assure you that this will not happen again." He shot another warning glare at his partner.

Kael took a deep breath, then let it out. "Fine," she spat. "Your funeral." Rising from the chair, she pinned a glare on Ming Dao. "Please, continue this conversation without my interference. I know my place now. If it pleases you," she said, sarcasm dripping from every word, "Iíd like to be taken back to my hotel room."

Kael watched as Ming Dao stared up at her, disgust, lust and a small inkling of respect warring for space in his magnified eyes. "Very well," he said, finally breaking eye contact and pressing a hidden button on his desk.

In response, the door swung open and two burly guards stepped through, bowing formally at the waist. "Please take Ms. Androstos back to her quarters," the drug lord ordered imperiously.

Nodding and bowing again, the silent guards fell into step behind the tall Americanís shoulders, escorting her from the estate.

 

Same evening. Hotel Room. Chengdu, China.

Geraldo was seeing red as he almost knocked the flimsy door off its squealing hinges. Stomping into the room and throwing his keys on the battle-scarred table, he strode to the bed where Kael was sitting. Swinging his hand up to his opposite shoulder, the Colombian lashed out at the seated woman, intending to make sharp contact with the high cheekbones of her face.

His blow never landed, caught as it was in a grip of solid steel. Eyes the color of that steel peered murderously into his own, a smile blooming on perfect features instead of the handprint heíd expected there.

"What the hell were you hoping to accomplish back there?" he demanded, jerking his arm free and pacing the length of the tiny room. "You made me look like a total idiot in front of that man!"

Kael laughed dryly. "Didnít need my help for that," she said, clapping her hands together in front of her face and sketching a mock bow in her irate loverís direction.

Snarling in rage, Geraldo whirled, arm up once again. He quickly lost his legs from a sweeping kick and bounced onto and off of the bed, to land hard on the floor, the heel of Kaelís boot firm between his nipples. "Youíre pathetic," she snapped, pushing down on his sternum until he winced in pain.

Released from the grinding pressure of her boot, the drug lord scrambled back up to his feet, leaning against the wall and rubbing his chest. "You donít understand anything."

Kael raised one eyebrow. "Oh, I understand plenty alright. I understand that that bastardís giving you a good screwing and youíre just grabbiní your ankles and begginí for more."

"You donít get it, do you?" Geraldo retorted. "Iíve got to earn that manís respect so . . . ."

"Respect?!" Kael stated, whirling, her long hair fanning out from her shoulders. "Is that what you think you need? Heíll never respect you, Geraldo. To him, youíre nothing more than a common street thug. Look around you, Geraldo!" she shouted, flinging her arms wide to encompass the tiny room they were given. "Look at this place! I wouldnít make my dog live here!" Dropping her arms, Kael cocked her head, affixing her partner with a genuine look of sympathy. "And you know what the worst part is? The worst part is that tomorrow youíll go back to that bastard and act like he put us up in the fucking Ritz Carlton!"

"Kael, this isnít some street war, you know. Itís the fine art of negotiation. . . ." his words ended in a gasp as long fingers melded themselves to his throat.

"Donít you presume to tell me anything about negotiations, you bastard," Kael snarled in his face. Releasing the man, she pushed him hard back onto the bed. "You make me sick." She stared down at his reclining figure for long moments before her face split into a feral grin. "However, thereís more than one way to skin a cat."

Geraldoís eyes narrowed. "Donít do this, Kael. Donít ruin our plans here."

"Take your Ďplansí and shove Ďem up your ass, Geraldo. Assuming theyíll fit with Mingís dick up there already." Whirling away from him, she picked up her leather jacket and thrust it on.

The drug lord struggled to sit up. "Where are you going?"

"Out," she snarled. And did just that, the door slamming loudly behind her.

The bathroom mirror rattled, then fell from its brackets, shattering into the sink. "Dios mio," Geraldo moaned, burying his head into his hands.

*******

Kael picked up a tail as soon as she left the seedy hotel. At first, she left the man alone, enjoying the simple feral pleasure the chase gave her. Leading the guard further and further down into the squalid areas of the city, she ducked in and out of dank alleyways, doubling back and covering her tracks. The man was very good and managed to keep up with her until Kael hid in a narrow alley, deep within the shadows of a towering building. As he took a step past her concealment, she rose an arm to grab him around the neck, changing in mid-stride to instead jab at his unprotected neck with the stiffened fingers of both hands.

Her eyes opened in shock as the man slumped to his knees, gasping. "Well, whadda ya know. It really works." Squatting down on her haunches, a sneer curling her lips, Kael patted the hapless manís cheek. "Well Chang, or whatever the fuck your name is, Iíve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain." She cocked her head, her features assuming a mockingly sympathetic cast. "And to tell ya the truth, Iím not too sure I know how to undo it." She grinned. "So how Ďbout if we do this. You take a message back to your master for me, and I use the remaining time trying to figure out how to undo this thing before you join your ancestors right here in this alley. Huh? Sound good to you?"

The manís head bobbed and nodded as if it were on a spring. A thick line of blood flowed slowly from one nostril.

Kael put one finger up to the manís nose, trailing through the blood and rubbing it between her fingers. Her sneer widened. "Now thatís a pretty sight." She came in closer to the man, her lips almost touching his ear. "Now, hereís what I want you to do. You tell your master that I donít need anyone following me around his city. Tell him the next idiot he sends wonít get off near as lucky as you. Got it?"

The man nodded again, gasping and moaning, his eyes pleading with her.

"Good." Bringing both hands up to her face, Kael extended the first two fingers of each, stared at them, then shrugged. "Well, here goes nothiní." In a lightning fast move, she jabbed at his pressure points. The hold broke and the man slumped to the concrete pavement, groaning aloud and panting for the breath heíd lost.

Rising to her feet, Kael smiled down at him. "Sleep tight," she intoned as she delivered a sharp kick to his exposed head. The manís body flew against the opposite wall and fell limp to the ground. Mouing her lips in mock sympathy, Kael blew on her still extended fingers, twirled them like she was twirling a gun and jammed them down by her sides. "Score one for the bad guys."

Stepping out of the alley, Kael sauntered deeper into the bowels of the city, led on by the sweet scent of opium as it wafted gently into the still night air. The three months that she spent in horrid withdrawal from cocaine and other drugs she had started taking to distract her mind from the gnawing pain of her shattered legs were among the worst sheíd ever known. Geraldo had stuck with her throughout, bathing her sweating body with cool, clean water, changing her fouled clothes, enduring her beatings and raving shouts as she demanded just one hit, just one line, anything to subdue the agony roaring through her body and mind.

If she hadnít been so ill, the true irony of the situation would have amused Kael no end. That she would be lying on a bed brought with money from the very drugs she was unable now to consume. That she was being comforted by the very man who made his living pulling others into his net of fast highs and faster deaths. The irony escaped her at the time, however, so great was her need.

Now she was going back into that seductive trap with her eyes open, knowing full well what might lay in wait for her at the end of the line. This time it was her craving for power and not the overwhelming need to forget that led her here, to the deepest, darkest part of the city where her kindred spirits dwelled.

Passing several drug houses, she finally stopped at one that seemed to meet her needs for the evening. At first, her way was barred by two thick-set men who stared at her and her foreign features as if she had come from another solar system entirely. With a flash of her smile and a ruffling of cash, the way cleared before her as if she were Moses and her cash the staff which parted the sea of suspicion. She walked through the place as if she owned it, and if truth will out, she would one day, stalking up to the bar and laying a slim bundle of currency on the stained surface. "A clean pipe and an ounce of your best," she ordered imperiously, smirking as the proprietor stared at the money with wide, almond eyes.

The requested items appeared magically before her and Kael grinned as she swept them into her hands, leaving a generous tip for the man before making her way to a relatively unoccupied corner of the dark room. It took mere minutes to set things up to her liking and soon the stem of the pipe was between her full lips and she was dragging the sweet, pungent taste of oblivion deep into her lungs.

The drugs hit her cleaned-out system powerfully, a muted buzz humming from her heart outward, tingling through her limbs and swaddling her in a cocoon of warmth and bliss. "Woah," she said softly, blowing the smoke out into the room, "thatís more like it."

A few more hits and she was ready to look around and so she did, taking in the looks of casual disinterest emitted from glazed eyes. She kept her own expression carefully non-committal, inviting no one, yet spurning none. Her cool façade seemed to calm them and the patrons went back to their own oblivions-in-the-making, none the worse for wear. Kael knew that there would soon come a time where she would use both her cash and the allure of her western body like a siren, drawing the men into her web and seducing information from their small minds. But for now, she was content to simply let both the drug and the muted conversation wash over her like a warm wave, picking up small bits of information and storing them in that part of her mind that remained very much awake and aware. Time enough to put plans in motion later. Now was for laying subtle groundwork and ingratiating herself, by her very aloofness, into a society she soon hoped to possess.

Thoroughly satisfied with her lot in life at the moment, Kael stood to her full height, stuffing the remainder of the drug into the front pocket of her jeans for later consumption. The world tilted oddly for a moment and she braced herself against the head-rush as casually as she was able. Once she was sure she could navigate without difficulty, the tall American walked through the small room, stopping only once to slip a generous tip into the hands of the surprised doormen. Then, with a spring in her step and a jaunty whistle on her lips, Kael made her way back through the city to where her tiny bed awaited.

*******

Sitting straddled in a high-backed, thoroughly uncomfortable, wooden chair, Geraldo checked the luminous numbers on the bedside clock yet again. His anger had long ago given way to fear, paranoia, and finally a sense of the inevitable. Kael was out there, somewhere, doing God knew what with God knew whom. In his younger days, he doubtless would have let his anger spur him into a building by building search of his wayward lover and, upon finding her, let his sharp tongue and sharper fists do his talking for him.

He sighed, putting his head in his hands. All those previously used tactics went nowhere with the thoroughly beautiful, thoroughly charming, thoroughly exasperating woman who captured and held his heart effortlessly. Trying to tame Kael was like trying to rope the wind: impossible. Just when you thought you had a handle on it, it would change direction and dance laughingly just out of your reach. He sighed once more, looking again at the clock which seemed to taut him from its place on the scarred nightstand. With an arching fist and a guttural yell, he smashed the timepiece into tiny bits of protesting plastic and circuitry, then batted it against the far wall with a sweep of his strong arm. "Damn it, Kael!" he shouted into the silent room. "Where are you?"

The door chose that moment to slam open and Kael sauntered in, a faintly amused grin on her full lips. "Why Geraldo," she said, eyes wide in mocking sympathy, "Iím right here!" The smile bloomed fully on her face as she brushed past her dark-haired lover and dropped her rangy frame down onto the lumpy bed, bouncing a few times for effect.

Geraldo shot to his feet, his anger slamming down onto him like an iron bar dropped from on high. "Where the fuck have you been all this time!" he shouted. "Iíve been worried sick! You donít just . . . ." His diatribe trailed off as he noticed the condition of his lover for the first time. The smile remained firmly in place on her face and her striking eyes were glazed over, slightly reddened. "Youíre stoned!"

"Sure am," Kael replied happily. "Right out of my fucking gourd. And ya know what, Geraldo? It feels goooood." Leaning back on her elbows, she eyed him coquettishly from beneath half-lowered lids. Freeing one hand, she dug it into the pocket of her jeans, producing the baggie filled with opium and holding it up between her thumb and forefinger. "Want some?"

"Why you . . . ." One hand shot out to grab the stash while the other one attempted a blindside hit to Kaelís sneering face. Neither tactic was successful and the drug lord quickly found himself flat on his back, a widely grinning Kael straddling his waist, the drug still safely in her possession.

"Iím in a very good mood right now, Geraldo," Kael explained to her pinned captive. "But that could change in an instant." She looked down at him, one ebony eyebrow raised. "You wouldnít want to make me angry now, would you?"

Repocketing her stash, Kael shifted her hips lower, leaning forward and grinding against him wantonly. She grinned ferally at the look of complete surrender on Geraldoís face as she felt him harden beneath her. "Iím feeliní really good at the moment," she repeated, her voice a seductive purr, her eyes smoky in the dim lighting. "Letís see if I canít make us both feel that way, hmm?"

With a low, keening groan, Geraldo did the only thing he could. He capitulated without a fight.

*******

It was, she supposed, a pretty ordinary dream for someone whoíd been clean of drugs for three months and had enough opium now running through her system to fell a moose. Smells, sounds and sights snapped at her with hyper-vivid clarity, imbuing her senses with a sort of other-worldly surrealism.

She was sitting in some sort of a . . . tent was the best word that came to mind. She could feel the thick luxurity of the furs beneath her semi reclining body, a body which was clad in some sort of cloth and metal which felt heavy enough to be armor. A strange, haunting melody sounded from behind her while in front, Geraldo sat, his long black hair done up in some sort of top-knot. Next to him sat a beautiful Asian woman clad in a traditional red silk robe which brought out the highlights of her raven hair and eyes to exquisite perfection. Kael brought the thin stem of an opium pipe up to her lips and inhaled, looking through the smoky haze as a seduction played itself out right in front of her.

She watched through narrowed eyes as Geraldo enchanted the beautiful woman, serving her food as if she were a princess and he, a lowly valet. His hands were gentle upon her body and his face soft as he bent to whisper whimsical nonsense into one delicate ear. She felt a rage flow through her on the wings of the drug she took into her lungs. She saw the woman look at her deeply, before looking away and smiling at something Geraldo whispered to her.

Kael tried to interpret the look through her drug-filled haze. Was it desire? For her? For him? Her rage built as the answer eluded her. The woman smiled coyly once more as she began to reach a slim, perfectly manicured hand across the table. Kael reached down and liberated a knife at her waist, snarling and throwing it so that it landed, point first and hilt thrumming, just inches away from the womanís reaching hand. "Thatís my piece of meat youíre reaching for," she heard herself growl.

"Youíre wrong," the woman responded, her voice as graceful as her form and movements. "I donít eat meat."

The sense of Geraldo shifting under her woke Kael and scattered her dream to the four winds. Groaning softly, she rolled off her loverís recumbent body, forcing herself to her feet as a hangover thudded sickly in her temples. An ugly grin twisted her features as the half-clad man mumbled in his sleep, turning over and grabbing a pillow, snuggling it against his chest. "Youíve gone soft, Geraldo," she sneered, running a hand through her sleep-tangled hair. "Soft as a pigís belly."

*******

The next two weeks saw the lovers drifting further and further apart. Geraldo continued on in his negotiations with Ming Dao, going over and over the million tiny sticking points that prevented a successful business arrangement between the two parties.

Of course, being the man he was, he was also attempting to forge alliances with some of the other drug lords dotting the Chinese landscape, but Ming Dao didnít need to know that. It was more than enough for now that the man continued to negotiate, given the horrible first step that had been made with Kael.

For her part, the tall American was every bit as busy as her bed partner. Her days were spent putting her long years of military training to good use as she staked out Mingís estate, greedily gathering up as much information about the manís living habits as she could without being noticed. Ming Dao was a creature of habit and if Kael had anything to say about it, those habits would be his undoing. She watched in gleeful satisfaction as he and his retinue of guards and beautiful women took their morning constitutional on the lush grounds of the estate at the exact same time each day. She had the little jaunt timed down to the second, watching them return just as the black sedan bearing her dark lover pulled onto the grounds.

Her nights were spent in the myriad of opium dens lining the city streets which promised oblivion to those passing by, luring them in with exotic scents and sounds and ensnaring them into a world of decadence and depravity. Kael learned many interesting things during her underworld tours, chief among them the fact that Ming Dao doted on his young son to the exclusion of all else save his priceless antiques and the millions of dollars he made trafficking in illegal drugs. The young boy was never out of his fatherís sight except for the times Ming Dao and his followers would walk the grounds each morning.

Ming Dao had several wives and more concubines than an Arabian sheik, yet the story was that only one of the beautiful women he courted was able to bear him a son who lived past infancy. For her troubles, the drug lord had her killed so that his son would not have to split his loyalties or his love.

Gotta give him points for that one, Kael thought when she heard the story, the viciousness of the act planting a tiny kernel of respect for the man in her mind. She sneered in satisfaction when she realized that sheíd discovered probably the only weakness of the feared drug lord, the love he had for his son. It was a weakness she planned to exploit to the fullest. Paybacks are a real bitch, Ming.

Now that she had the means to an end, all that remained was the planning. For this she used her most potent three weapons; her drugs, her money and her long, beautiful body. Men were the most amenable to this type of persuasion. A little cash, a little dope and a promise of Ďlaterí would have them giving her the numbers to their secret bank accounts if sheíd wanted them. Which she didnít. The women were harder to get a handle on, well used to having drugs and money shoved in their faces as payment for services soon to be rendered.

Rising to the challenge, as always, Kael chose to forgo the drugs and money, skipping instead to the third weapon in her arsenal. A surprising number of women took the American beauty up on her offer for reasons undisclosed even to their seducer. Kael didnít much care what the reasons were as she took the women to a small hotel room sheíd rented for this purpose. The words trembled from their lips as the tall American delved into the secret recesses of their passions, her senses tingling with the tantalizing taste of eastern spices on her western tongue.

Sooner than even sheíd hoped, the plans were finalized. Sheíd even managed to gather up a goon squad of sorts; heavily muscled men, their bone with Ming Dao well gnawed, who were more than willing to provide whatever assistance was necessary, provided, of course, she keep them well steeped in drugs and petty cash. That wouldnít be a problem.

 

11 May 1991. Ming Daoís Estate. Chengdu, China.

 

Smiling in satisfaction, Kael lowered the night vision glasses from her eyes and tucked them into the pouch at her waist as she steadied her black-clad body against the thick trunk of the tree she was tucked into. Still well before the first light of dawn, the estate was dark and quiet. Groups of guards, muzzled dogs tethered to their wrists, strolled the vast grounds near the main house in exact, repeating patterns. Kael had been watching the arrangement for the past hour and was well pleased. Spying a weakness in their surveillance net, she figured she had about thirty seconds to cross the approximately one hundred yards from her place of concealment to the house before the guards would come around again.

Peering through the moon-shrouded darkness, the American spied the faint white of the balcony encircling the doorway through which she planned to make entrance. One of the women sheíd bedded had, coincidentally, been a maid-servant of Ming Daoís and was only too happy to provide a rough layout of the houseís interior, a vision which was supported by a few other people sheíd talked to. The particular balcony she was spying led to an upper floor room that went mostly unused; an extra office of sorts which was currently being used for storage.

As she watched, the guards came around the house again, talking in low tones which whispered to her over the passing gentle breeze. She tensed her body, adrenaline coursing through her, engorging her muscles and forcing her heart to pound strongly, steadily. As the guards passed beyond the perimeter, Kael took a deep breath, then leapt from the tree, landing noiselessly upon the immaculately manicured lawn. She was running even as her feet hit the earth, her long legs exploding, thigh muscles coiling and relaxing as she flew across the grounds, silent as a stalking cat.

Lengthening her stride just before the balcony, Kael squatted slightly, then jumped, catching her hands on the balcony rail and pressing herself over, to land silently on the deck, freezing in place within the shadows of the building.

The guards came very close to her and she remained still and silent, unsurprised when they didnít even bother to look upwards, where they would have surely seen her there, waiting. When they disappeared around the corner, the tall American relaxed, silently letting out the breath sheíd been holding and reaching into her pouch to retrieve a slim lock-pick, slipping it into the door with gloved hands. After a few seconds of jiggling, the lock clicked. Placing the tool back into her pouch, Kael opened the door hardly more than a crack and slipped her long body inside, closing the door quietly behind her, a smug smile of satisfaction adorning her features.

She looked around the small room, noting its fully western flavor, idly tracing the moonís wavering patterns on the navy and silver bedspread that covered the large king sized bed. Large boxes stood sentinel against the roomís four walls, piled haphazardly and dusty from disuse. A computer and monitor, its screen also covered with a healthy smattering of dust, stared blindly in her direction. Shaking her head, a wry smile hidden behind the black ski mask she was wearing, Kael crossed the room to slip behind several tall boxes, settling in to wait for morning.

*******

A shaft of sunlight slanted into the room, highlighting the dust moats suspended in the air. The low murmur of voices could be heard throughout the newly wakening house. Kael opened her eyes, fresh from her bout of meditation, slowly stretching and contracting her relaxed limbs, pumping the blood through her rested body. The sound of a heavy door opening and closing was heard and the American woman looked on in satisfaction as Ming Dao and his cronies stepped out into the strong sunlight of the new summer day.

The house became quiet again as Kael stood up from her place of concealment, stalking silently to the door and pressing an ear against it. Hearing nothing, she opened the door a crack, one blue eye peering down the length of the darkened hallway. Satisfied with the silence, she opened the door still further and stepped into the hallway, her steps silent in the plush carpeting.

Keeping fast to the walls, she traversed the entire length of the long hallway, meticulously avoiding the myriad of doors which lined the area. Peering around the corner, her body in shadow, she saw two guards standing sentinel outside one of the rooms. Opening her pouch, the tall American retrieved a small throwing star and, winding up, she threw it down the length of the second hallway to land, imbedded in the far wall. Startled, both guards looked in that direction, and Kael used the distraction to take a running leap down the hall, tackling the first bulky guard and tumbling him into his heavier partner. Both men went down hard, the breath driven from their bodies. A knife glittered in Kaelís hand as she slit the throats of first one, and then both of the guards before they had the chance to recover.

Leaving their bodies in the hallway, the woman quickly opened the door they had been guarding and stepped inside. An old woman was kneeling beside young Ming Lao, her gnarled hands tugging on his wool blazer as his eyes stayed glued to the television broadcasting western cartoons. Hearing the intruderís entrance, the old woman gasped and fell to the floor, holding her charge in a protective embrace. "Donít hurt him," she begged, her wizened eyes wide and pleading. "Take what you want, but please donít hurt the boy."

"Oh, I donít plan on hurting him," Kael replied, her smile hidden behind the black fabric of her mask. "Or you either, for that matter. As long as you both stay quiet, you donít have a thing to fear from me."

Keeping the boy close to her body, the old woman nodded.

"Good. Now get up and step away from the boy. Nice and easy." The woman continued to cower next to the child, her lips moving silently. "I said step away from the boy, old woman. You really donít wanna make me angry, now."

Looking into the fierce, glittering eyes of the intruder, the woman swallowed against the dryness in her throat and nodded, coming slowly, painfully to her feet and stepping away from her young ward.

For his part, the young boy stood silent, his almond eyes wide but unafraid as he took in the tall, menacing form of the intruder.

Reaching back into her pouch, Kael took out a small roll of duct tape, quickly ripping off a piece as she strode up to the grey-haired woman. Steadying her with one hand on her shoulder, Kael eased the tape over the other womanís mouth, taking care to make sure her nostrils were kept free. Her grip was almost gentle as she led the woman over to the large, silk covered bed and laid her down on her stomach, grasping both wrists and bringing them behind the womanís back and taping them together. Moving quickly down the bed, she did the same with the womanís ankles, then stepped away, satisfied with her work. "I have a message for you to give to your master, old woman," she said in a conversational tone. At the womanís nod, she continued. "Tell him I have his boy. If he ever wants to see him alive again, he needs to follow my instructions to the letter. Heíll find those instructions pinned to one of the goons outside this room. Do you understand me?"

The old woman nodded again, breathing deeply through her nose and trying not to move against the aching restriction of her bound limbs.

Kaelís smile, though unseen, was terrifying in its malevolence. "Good." Turning her fierce gaze to the still staring boy, she held out one hand. "Come with me, little Ming. Weíre gonna take a little trip together. Sound like fun to you?"

After a long moment, Ming Lao reached out and grasped Kaelís hand. With a quick tug, the American pulled the boy to her and tucked him up under her arm, pulling out a hastily scrawled note and a knife from her pouch with the other. Easing the door open with her foot, Kael kept the young boy secure as she knelt down and laid the scrap of paper on one of the guardís chest, then rammed her knife deep into his ribcage, pinning the note to his body.

Slinging Ming Lao securely across her hip, Kael quickly made her way down the deserted hallways, stepping silently back into the room through which sheíd made entrance into the house. A quick look through the large French doors showed her all was clear and she stepped through them, onto the large balcony. "Hold on tight and donít make a sound," she warned the boy as she slipped up and over the balcony railing. Listening again for any sounds, she nodded once, to herself, and jumped off the ledge, landing softly on the thick carpeting of grass.

A quick look around, and she was off, sprinting across the estate grounds back into the covering of trees which sheltered her the night before. "Well, that was easy," she snickered to her charge as she walked through the small wooded land that separated Ming Daoís estate from the heavily traveled streets of the Asian city.

To Be Continued...


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