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These stories should be considered OOG knowledge unless your character is specifically mentioned as being there. Thank you.

One Night in Shanghai…

“YELLOW SUBMARINE! YELLOW! IT’S FUCKING YELLOW!” cried the sad looking young man stumbling between the overturned Greyhound buses that fortified the Ramen family compound. Weapons dropped instantly at the words and his mother and brother hurried forward to catch him before he fell to his knees. Bonnie let out a sigh that was part relief and part agitation, but slipped her shovel back into its strap on her bag, “Well, guess that means we are having two funerals and a wedding now,” She said, not letting the sarcasm be hidden in her voice. Beside her Blitzkrieg snorted as he, too, put away his gun.

“Bonnie, honey, don’t sound so disappointed,” He said as they watched their cousin be led past, sobbing and mumbling about the color yellow over and over. Their aunt, the boy’s mother, glanced their way and rolled her eyes, “Yes, Mickey, we know. It’s yellow. Come on,” She could be heard to say.

“All right, everyone, back to getting this place ready for the big shindig tomorrow!” Hollered a broad shouldered man, half his face showing exposed muscle and tendon, while the other half’s skin was slowly turning flaky and dropping away. This was Bonnie’s uncle , and currently family head, Alabama and was currently the source of much irritation on her part. As she had been doing since getting to Shanghai, she shot him a nasty glare which he either ignored or didn’t see and turned to stalk towards the double-wide where she had been working on Blitz’s newest tattoo. “Come on, Blitz, let’s get that rose finished up,” She snapped, throwing the door open a little too aggressively.

The Ramen compound was a series of converted buses, trailers, and the old USS Blueback submarine. Surrounded on all sides by a wall that consisted of other buses, steel fencing, and various garbage barricades it was one of the most fortified, and well protected, places in Shanghai city. Sitting in the north eastern part of the city, it was only an old-world block or two from the river and even laid claim to a dock of its own.

Members of the family took turns patrolling, always on the lookout for Zed, raiders, or anything else that meant the family harm. What had once started out, four generations or so ago, as a group of high school students, and their chaperones, on a field trip had now become one of Shanghai’s most influential and strongest factions next to the Yakuza. And soon the factions would be making a strong show of their before unspoken alliance.

Bonnie scowled unconsciously as she filled in the lines on Blitzkrieg’s tattoo. “Hey, now, don’t take it out on me. Take out your wrath on the right target,” Her cousin said, a small note of pain in his voice. She realized, as blood oozed down his arm to mingle with shedding skin and other tattoos, that she had been applying a little too much pressure with the gun. Much more gently she wiped at the blood, “Sorry…” She mumbled before resuming the task with a much lighter touch.

“Bonnie, honey, you gotta stop moping. It’s unbe…unbesomething or other of ya,” He said, watching her as she worked. “Unbecoming,” She instantly supplied, totally used to filling in the bigger words he often tried to use but got wrong. “Yeah, that. You shouldn’t keep that anger all bottled up. Later we can go to the Club and you can let it out,” He said, sounding far too cheerful at the prospect of going to the brawler bar. Still, it made her snort a chuckle.

“I don’t think showing up to ones betrothal dinner with a fat lip and black eye is especially becoming either,” Bonnie said as she began the last touches of the black rose tattoo. Blitz looked thoughtful for a minute, before nodding slowly in agreement, “You’re probably right, but it wouldn’t be the first time,” he agreed after a pause, eliciting a dry chuckle from her.

“There we are, let me just see,” Bonnie lifted the gun from his skin and swiped the alcohol-soaked rag across the new tattoo. With a little push she sent her stool rolling back several feet, eyeing the glistening and bloody adornment with a critical eye. “Yep, that is done.” The small glee at a finished piece filled the young woman as she scooted back into place. “You know the drill. It puts the lotion on its skin or it gets…” She recited the phrase with a smile, which was matched by Blitz, who replied, “Beaten with a stick.”

They both laughed as she began to carefully bandage the wound with a cotton dressing and duct tape. “I still don’t see why you are so upset, though…” Trust Blitzkrieg to continue to nudge a sore spot. The smile and lightness of the moment vanished and Bonnie sighed. “It’s not like you and he haven’t fooled around before. Hell, there was that party two years ago where you –,”

“Okay! No need to bring that up!” Bonnie interrupted, throwing her hands up and shaking her head. If the skin on her cheeks wasn’t already raw and red from its three month cycle of shedding skin she would be blushing.

“Heh. All right, but the question is still what’s your damn problem?” Blitzkrieg asked, leaning back in the chair and fixing her with one of his expectant looks. The moment turned tense as Bonnie shifted auncomfortably on the stool. There really was no good reason for her to be unhappy about the upcoming ceremony. They had talked all night after she and Blitzkrieg had arrived in town aboard the Black Rose. Each didn’t want the other getting in the way of a well-established way of life, but something still nagged at her. “I just don’t like being forced into things,” She said, trying to put as much conviction into it as possible. Blitzkrieg would see through it, if anyone would, and as she predicted he snorted.

“Alright…but I still think going to the Club would be fun.” And they both grinned.

*****

The crowd roared wildly as the large Merican was thrown against the chain link fencing surrounding the fighting pit of the Club. Bonnie’s voice was lost in the throng as she, too, cheered Blitzkrieg Bop Ramen on in the pit. He had a cut on his arm and was likely to have several new bruises in the morning, but he was doing well against his opponent. The new tattoo would probably need some touch ups before all was said and done.

After some convincing the two of them, along with three others for the sake of numbers, had left to go to the Club. Most of the people at the place came to watch or participate in the fighting. A smaller portion came to participate in underhanded dealings in the places back rooms. Bonnie, at least tonight, was happy to participate in the more mundane parts. Blitz probably would have wound up in the ring one way or another, but the Merican sneering at her when she pulled her veil aside to take sip from her drink and calling her a dirty Zed-lover had been the perfect excuse. The guy might even have done it just to have an excuse to get in the ring too. Blitz had jumped on him in a heartbeat and the bouncers had each grabbed one of them and hauled them, not unwillingly, to the main ring.

Blood stained the smooth canvas beneath their bare feet. The chain link fencing had seen better days and bore bits and pieces of past matches. A clump of hair here, a spatter of gore there, and other more questionable materials clung like trophies to the metal cage. It stank of sweat and blood and, to a lesser degree, sex. This place was a haven for Hedonites in Shanghai, so the last wasn’t all that surprising.

Blitz roared along with the crowd and charged the Merican as he stumbled to his feet. A series of brutal punches, a knee to the face, and an elbow to his kidneys put the man on the ground where he added his own splatter of blood from lip and nose to the canvas. The crowd went wild and the Ramens in the crowd began to chant Blitzkrieg’s name, which was taken up and passed throughout the Club.

“BLITZ! BLITZ! BLITZ!” Bonnie didn't try to be heard over the rest and just grinned at her cousin as he turned towards her with two thumbs up and a big old grin on his face. One last kick went into the downed man’s side which elicited some hoots and some upset yelling from the Merican’s companions. They would need to watch their backs on the walk home tonight, given the looks Blitz was receiving from the other Mericans.

“Dirty, rotten, zombie fucker,” Bonnie turned to try and catch who had spoken, ready to lay in to them herself if they were in range. The adrenaline of the place over riding her normally restrained nature. Whoever had spoken was gone, though, and there was only a sea of bodies. “Hey Bonnie, what’s with the scowl?” Doomie, Blitz’s younger brother, asked.

“Nothing…thought I heard something that was going to get someone a knee to the nuts,” She said, turning to give Doomie a reassuring smile. “Come on; let’s go give Blitz his mask back.” They began to push through the lessening press of bodies around the cage. A few known faces murmured familiar words of congratulations as they passed to the cage exit and everyone arrived as Blitz stepped from the ring. Bonnie held out his mask with a grin and shake of her head, “That was appropriately bloody. Feeling good?”

“I always feel good after a good beat down, honey.”

“Don’t we all?” The both turned toward the new voice in the conversation, Bonnie with a look of surprise and Blitz still grinning from the adrenaline rush. “Ello there, Akira!” Blitz replied excitedly, “You here to fight?” Bonnie’s buzz from the fight quickly faded as the reminder why they had come in the first place loomed in front of them.

Akira was a half-Genjian from one of Shanghai’s most prominent families. Though he was technically only a half-blood, he acted and was treated just the same as any of his line. He also didn’t vary, except in size, from the look of his brethren. Long salt and pepper hair was tied back in a top-knot. Pale skin was slightly pock marked but otherwise unblemished, except for a purple and red mark that covered his right eye and forehead, one of the only indications of his mixed heritage with Retrogrades. He was old enough to bear a goatee with streaks of silver as well, all told a truly attractive and intimidating presence if Bonnie allowed herself to admit it. “Hello, Hoshiro-san,” She said politely, pulling herself up straight.

The real reason for the urgency in a marriage fluttered in her belly, awakened by music or drink she didn’t know. But the sharp kick into her nethers caused her to grimace and shift uncomfortably, poor timing on her part. Akira raised one silvery brow at her, looking her up and down slowly, “Am I that displeasing, Miss Ramen?” He asked sarcastically. “Oh ! No, no. Just the hooch suddenly disagreeing with me,” She replied with a quick shake of her head, the beads of her veil clattering together with the intensity of it.

“You do look a bit pained, my dear,” Akira said smoothly and with his damned devilish grin. Bonnie did like him; she just didn’t like being forced to be obvious or rushed about it. Plus there were people back at The Rendezvous who had managed to attach strings to her heart. A political marriage would mean having to be much more subtle or perhaps forgoing them all together. The unwanted thoughts must have crossed her face for suddenly he was lifting her chin and smiling gently at her as he whispered, just loud enough to be heard over the noise of the club, “Don’t fret so. It will all be well.” The words, while a bit cryptic, did manage to soothe some of the worry that had been making their stay in Shanghai less than enjoyable.

A cough from Doomie caused them both to turn from contemplating each other to find both their parties starting at them with smirks on their faces. It was a good thing Bonnie was already read in the face or they might have teased her about the blush. “Well then, I need a good fight. Anyone, except you Blitz, up for a tussle?” Akira asked, causing hoots and laughter to break out. Blitz’s own cheering and happiness was always a quick cure and Bonnie smiled to see him giving Akira a sharp, companionable blow upon the back as they headed for the bar.

The crowd folded and moved around them and Bonnie followed the crowd of men, Genjian and Retrograde mixed, watching from a few steps back. Akira already was like family to the Ramen and he didn’t care about her current state and neither did his family. It all could work out well, unless she had to stay in Shanghai for the rest of her life. While her uncle knew the Hoshiros well, she had only met a few of them personally, so she had no idea what they would want from her.

Those kinds of musings, even a few feet away from the protection of a group, are part of why Shanghai has such a high kidnapping and assault rate. Even in well populate areas, it is always best to keep an eye on your friends back lest they be whisked away for ransom or the next slave train. Unfortunately the boys were just slightly too occupied, or so it seemed, and Bonnie’s own focus was inward, so the Merican crew got the drop on her.

A hand clamped around her arm and spun her away into the crowd. Two hulking men blocked her view of the bar and her family. Instinct cause her to let out a scream, “BLI-“ it was cut off as a grimy hand covered her mouth. The foul smell of too much hooch and a lack of regular washing filled her nose as she was pulled up against someone tightly, hard arms pinned behind her back. It all happened in less than a second, as these things do, but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t have a struggle to deal with. The hand, despite the foulness of it, had a large chunk taken out of it and elicited a scream of pain from its bearer. Before the tang of iron and who knows what else finished tingling her tongue she spit the hunk of flesh out, into the face of another Merican who was looming over her, a big ol’ knife pressing against her cheek.

The meat hit him on the cheek and stuck for a second, before slowly sliding down and leaving a trail of red on his smooth face. He raised his hand and backhanded her, but she only growled as she tasted blood. When she looked back at him, leering over her with a sneer on his face, she spit her mouthful at him again. “Coward,” She said as he startled back, wiping at his eyes.

The fancy knife flashed up to strike her this time, but was blocked with another blade just as the pressure of hands holding her arms went slack. In fact, the person behind her went completely slack and caused her to stumble slightly forward, managing to stop just before the crossed blades. Her eyes followed the line of the one which had protected her, and it lead up to Akira who was looking deadly in all his Genjian glory.

Bo quickly took a step back, grasping the sharp edged shovel at her hip, as her family stepped up around her. Blitz was looking serious and happily ready for murder and she was inclined to join them. “You okay, Bonnie?” Her cousin asked and she nodded, “Just a bad taste in my mouth,” She replied, spitting on the floor this time. It would likely blend with the other bits of spittle and bodily fluids in the sawdust covering.

“Would you care to explain, gentlemen, why you grabbed my friend’s cousin?” He still held the other Merican’s dagger at bay, for the larger man was trying to turn it to confront Akira. The Genjian simply stood, holding the blade off, and staring daggers of his own into the leather and jeans clad men. “Before the Club’s own security comes and beats you to a bloody pulp might be wise. They dislike drawn weapons unless there are zed to fight off, you know,” His cool, matter of fact voice was obviously unsettling the crew.

The man with the dagger tried to flick Akira’s blade away before putting his back in its sheath, but only managed to almost loose his grip on the weapon. The Ramen and Hoshiro crew chuckled darkly as he fumbled to put the blade away, “That gal looked like a zed! Look’it poor Floyd, she done took a bite outta ‘im!” It took him almost a full minute to sputter out the response. Bonnie thought for a moment that there was a Diesal Jock troop going by, but realized it was Blitz and Doomie growling beside her loud enough to vibrate the air. Akira’s eyes narrowed and the Merican man took a small step back.

“Sadly I do not believe you. I somehow doubt the staff will either, given her face covering. Here in Shanghai we don’t hold with folk attacking Retros just because of their heritage. I recommend you scurry on back to Bravo, before the whole Ramen clan comes head hunting,” Akira spoke slowly, as if the men were slow, which they probably were, and made a shooing gesture with one hand. He never lowered the long, silvery blade with which he had blocked the knife. As the men began to back away from the combined strength of Hoshiro and Ramen they walked right into The Club staff. Bonnie smiled wickedly as they began to mercilessly beat the Mericans for their lack of respect for the establishments Rules.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

“Thank you, Akira, for your assistance tonight,” Bonnie said as they stood before the Ramen compound. The Hoshiros milled around in a tight group while the rest of the Ramens went through the complicated, and ever changing, process of entering the main gate. She could hear Blitzkrieg shouting up at White Rabbit, a half-cousin recently migrated to Shanghai, on the wall.

Akira smirked and shook his head, “It wouldn’t do to have you cut up or sent to the Gravemind before things could properly proceed,” He said, reaching out to casually tuck a stray strand of red hair behind her ear. Bonnie simply snorted at the comment, neither agreement nor disagreement.

“Bo, come on now…we’ve played around for some five years now. It isn’t like much will be changing,” The two of them finally had a chance to talk in relative privacy, without relatives hovering close, and now Bonnie found herself unable to speak her worries of earlier in the evening. A dark expression must have come across her face for Akira frowned, and reach out to cup her chin forcing her strange colored eyes to meet his blue ones. “Why does this bother you?”

The sigh was far louder that she had intended and she shook her head, freeing her chin from his hand. “It is complication, Akira. Life has changed very rapidly the last several months. Shanghai isn’t my home anymore, the Black Rose and The Rend are,” She said after a quiet moment of contemplation. “And I don’t think your family would be too thrilled with your new bride running off on a ship a few days after the ceremony. If I recall correctly, your mother has been badgering you for grandchildren for the last two years…what with you having already visited the Gravemind before.”

The air stood tense between them suddenly as Akira pulled himself up straight, brows drawing down into a frown. “The Rend? Why does that place hold such a fascination for you and your cousin?” She could hear the frustration in his voice. “It is safer here, within our families’ compounds than out there in the wild. Hell, didn’t you say Carver was making war on the place? I know a few of my people have overheard mercenaries in some of the slaver bars talking about it.”

Bonnie shook her head and turned away to look out over the river and into the sparkling lights and silhouetted bridges of Shanghai City. “It’s the people, more than the place. It’s the making of something new, the potential for greatness.”

“You can have greatness right here, in Shanghai!”

“Yes, as the wife to one of the most successful and merciless families' heir. A symbol of unification between the Hoshiro and Ramens, uniting them and creating an ever bigger, badder, family. Thrown into the role of making sure I have plenty of brats so that one will hopefully survive to take our place,” Bonnie hadn’t meant to sound so bitter, but she couldn’t help it. The last few days she had kept it pent up inside, but now it all came spilling out. It was enough of a shock to make Akira take a step back, anger coloring his face.

“I see,” He said, his voice tight. Akira drew in a tight breath, his lips setting into a thin line. “I didn’t realize bearing a child in a pleasant relationship, which I thought we had, would be such a burden to your highness.”

Bonnie turned to him, “That’s not what I-“

“But it is what you said, Bonnie. I think we shall take our leave now. BOYS!”Her didn’t give her a chance to defend herself and the irritation suddenly deflated in the face of the hurt in those blue eyes. As the Hoshiros gathered about Akira, readying to head back to their home, she tried to meet his eyes without success. “Good evening, Miss Ramen,” The change to speaking her so formally didn’t get past his companions who frowned and looked between them as they began to move off.

“What was that about?” Bonnie turned to find Blitzkrieg at her shoulder, scratching at his temple and the pussy wound there. Without answering she turned to walk into the compound, but Blitz caught her arm as she went past. “Nu’uh. Cap’n asked us to come by the ship,” And he turned her around, steering her down the short walk to the dock and the Black Rose.

That was the last thing Bonnie wanted to do at that moment. In fact she would be perfectly happy to go curl up in her bed and ignore the rest of the world. The taste of foot in mouth was one that would be hard to get rid of, no matter how much hooch Captain Han offered them. “I really am not up to it,” She said grumpily as she tried to tug her arm out of Blitz’ grip. It was a futile effort where he was concerned, especially when as he was extremely intent on getting her there despite whatever protests she made. “Well, you can tell that to the Cap’n.”

With a huff as her last protest she began to walk more willingly. Her feet crunched on the rocky shore before hitting the mismatched wood of the dock. The junk was alight and there was sound of laughter and a bit of music coming from it. Bonnie raised a brow and glanced at Blitz, who gave no indication of what was going on. A party was the exact opposite of what she wanted right now, but when it came to the Rose crew, that hardly mattered.

“We’re here, Cap’n!” Blitz called once they were halfway down the dock. “Seriously, Blitz, right now is not the time for a party,” Bo said quietly to Blitz. “Too late,” Was his only answer. They stepped from the dock onto the low deck of the junk and there were some quiet cheers from those on deck. Bonnie was suddenly grateful she had her veil on so they couldn’t see the frown on her face.
From the door leading to the galley emerged Captain Han, dressed for leisure in his black silk wrap. Despite this his katana still hung at his side. The short Genjian walked up, arms thrown wide, and gave Bonnie a hug, “Congratulations, I believe, are in order,” He said to which she mustered a weak laugh.“Though I hope they understand you are still under the Articles and you have a few months still with us.”

The funny thing was that she had forgotten, for the evening, about the articles and that they were a temporary reprieve. “Yes, Captain. They are aware and it won’t interfere with my duties. They are very respectful when it comes to things like that.”
“Of course they would be. Now come and have some hooch!”

*****

The crew knew how to party and Bonnie smiled, enjoying the revelry all around her. Except for maybe Blitz and Scarlette locked at the lips over on the bow. Every now and again she would scowl at the Vegasian, even though she was utterly ignored, just to make a point. The point had, at some point, gotten more rounded and overused but it still had some punch. Once again the negative thoughts began to encroach on Bo and she shook her head as if that alone would make them go away.

“’Ello Bo, what’s got ya frownin’?” The rich, warm, accented voice of Charles William Duprix (The third) washed over her, brightening her thoughts instantly. She turned towards the sound of his voice to find him leaning against the central boat housing, his coat snapping in the wind rising from the gorge. Lit by lamp and moonlight he was quite the striking figure. With an easy smile, blond goatee, and height to match her own six feet and some it was easy to see why she enjoyed his attention and company.

“Hello CW,” She replied the frown flipping to a genuine smile. “Nothing that needs attention, my mind was just wandering. Come and hang with me for a bit?” She slid, a little awkwardly for the growing belly, off the barrel to step up to the tall Merican. He gave her one of his smiles and hooked an arm around her shoulders. The smell of hooch was strong, but not enough to unsettle her stomach.

“What kinda gentleman would ah be if I turned down a lovely lady?” He asked, sounding completely honest in his assessment of Bo’s beauty. That was one of the things she liked about him, he saw past the rot. As his arm settled about her she leaned in, slouching, to rest her head against his shoulder comfortably. For a moment they stood in silence watching the Captain and one of second cousins play an intense speed game of chess. The crew had started betting before the first piece had even been set on the board.

“You always are a gentleman, CW,” She said, letting her arm slide beneath his duster to wrap around his waist. For a moment she closed her eyes and just let the sounds and other senses wash over her; the arm on her shoulder, the smell of hooch and…other things, laughter and cheering, somewhere in the distance a gunshot. A gunshot? Bonnie’s eyes popped open and she looked in the direction she thought it had come from, the frown having returned. And she was not the only one who paused in mid-revelry at the sound. CW, even though he was well into the hooch, straightened a bit and craned his neck around the boathouse. “Well, that didn’ sound too good,” Was his comment to which Bonnie could only nod agreement.

Another shot sounded and another. Now the crew became serious and weapons began appearing. Armor was slung back on and Bonnie watched the party go on hold as cries of combat came nearer. A whistle from the Ramen compound went up, which caught both Blitz and Bonnie’s attention. Eyes wide they instantly turned to stare at one another before springing into action. “Captain Han, sir, you really should stay here,” Blitz told the captain as he surged past towards the gangplanks. “I’ll take a couple people, but this is Ramen business,” The captain paused and gave Blitz a long, dark look.

“I am a Ramen now, remember?” Bonnie bit her lip and tried not to smile at the very frustrated snarl Blitz replied with. What she wasn’t prepared for was him pointing his hammer at her, “Bonnie, stay!” She opened her mouth to object, but was too stunned to come up with anything. Instead she looked like a beached fish, gulping on the deck. CW squeezed her shoulder in reassurance, “Don’worry, Bo. Ah’ll go wit’ ‘em an’ help,” He said, catching her eyes with his blue ones. The interruption snapped her mind back into focus and she glowered.

“All right, but you better not die again or else,” The threat was empty. She felt witless and was literally stranded on the junk as the small group went off. Neko and Jack, along with a few others, stayed behind to watch the boat and, less obviously, her. Bonnie was less than pleased and crossed her arms as Jack casually stood by the gangplank, effectively blocking it for the moment. “Be careful!” She called after the retreating backs as gunfire sounded again and someone began to scream.

What had started as a simple confrontation had turned into deadly violence. The gang of Mericans from the bar had been more than just three of four men looking for trouble. They were a troop from Bravo looking for new opportunities and they had picked the wrong people to use for their initial foothold. The Hoshiro crew drew a protective half circle around their own downed man, who screamed from the three gut wounds his hands wrapped around. The gun shots had hit there mark if one told by the dark puddle spreading around him.

In the darkness between the Ramen compound and Shanghai proper there were many concrete ruins. A graveyard of a city where anything could and often did lurk was the reason people always travelled the area in groups of no less than five. Unfortunately the folks from Bravo outnumbered the Hoshiros by twice and some. Gunshots flew from bolt action guns and rifles, the bursts of light ruining night vision for everyone.

Amongst the half circle one of Akira’s men took aim with a crossbow and sent it flying through the throat of his opponent. The man dropped with a horrible, whistling cry of pain drowned out by the blood rushing into his mouth. “Come and fight us face to face, cowards,” One of the Genjian cried, pointing his katana at the group some fifteen feet off. The two groups continued a slow circling death dance, with the Hoshiros guarding their fallen comrade and the Mericans orbiting them like some sick moon around a bloody planet.

“And get our lovely leather chopped ta bits by your sooshee knives? Ah don’ think so, son!” One of them replied back, followed by another shot from a gun. Another man went down with a gurgled cry to lay by the first. “YEEHAW!”

The Rose crew arrived on the scene as the second Hoshiro man went down. The concrete buildings hid their approach, as well as the constant blaze of gunshots ruining night vision. A rifle cracked loudly, the boom echoing off the nearby buildings and into the sky. “Hhsss,” Blitz hissed as he took in the situation. “They’re going to attract every Zed for miles with that ruckus.” Captain Han’s face was grim and CW was frowning at the Bravo Mericans with great distaste.

“Not only that, but they be givin’ me and mine a bad name. I’m fixin’ to bash in some heads, Cap’n,” The tall Merican said in hushed tones.

“We’re not rushing in. We can circle around behind them and put the old Yellow M building between us. They won’t see us coming,” Blitz counseled, his tactical sense as keen as his captain’s blade. Han nodded agreement and the three of them moved at a fast trot, not needing to cover the noise for the hooting and hollering that was going on in the fire fight.

The old Yellow M building had one collapsed wall and the roof had slid partway into the remains of the street. Its large yellow M, for which it was named, was the only thing still standing fairly upright in its original position. Graffiti scrawled over the wall and bottom parts of the M, the Ramen clan symbol being a primary sign amongst the rest of the scribbles.

Blitz’s hand rested on that symbol as they peered around the building at the exposed backs of some twelve Mericans. He and Han both drew their own bolt actions and took careful aim at the same target. Without needing to count they fired almost at the same time, sending two and then four rounds into the man’s exposed back. He went down screaming and most of his companions turned, straining to see the Black Roses in the darkness. The Hoshiros took the cue and rushed their attackers silently, their blades swinging down and through flesh and armor, crimson arcs of blood spattering the nearby Yellow M. It was not the first such stain the building had received, nor would it be the last.

Bonnie had run away from tougher situations than Jack standing in front of the gangplank, preventing her from leaving unnoticed. However she was in Shanghai and she had to carefully weigh the pros and cons of doing so, despite knowing how to move in the night. She stared off into the darkness, listening to the cries of pain and the gunshots in the near distance. Another whistle went up and she recognized the call for healing aid that the Ramens and Hoshiros both used. Her frown deepened and her feet itched to start running. “Damnit,” She said and began to pace the length of the junk. They had only been gone a minute, maybe two, but it felt like hours.

Everyone left of the boat was trying to return to the happy celebration, but their hearts weren’t in it knowing some of their own were out in the dangerous night of Shanghai City. Bonnie licked her lips and checked her bag. Two iron rations were tucked in there, along with her water bottle and spare veil. Jack and Neko both watched her curiously, but neither of them expected the obviously pregnant retrograde to make a run for it. They doubly didn’t expect her to make a running leap, grab one of the trailing mast ropes and swing out and onto the land. Jack’s mouth literally fell open and Neko just looked impressed, if stunned. Bonnie glanced back at the ship and shrugged at Jack, before bolting into the darkness and vanishing from sight. “Shit,” Was all Jack could come up with.

Bonnie ran in long, loping steps through the familiar streets of her childhood home. While the rubble sometimes shifted and changed, or was moved, the layout of the roadways stayed mostly the same. Her ears followed the sound of combat and whistles and in her mind’s eye managed to get a rough guess of their location. Her breath was coming harder and faster than she was used too, sharp pains grabbing at her belly. Despite the urge to keep running she came to a stop in the shadows of a collapsed warehouse.

Maybe a block away the fighting continued. There was mostly lots of yelling now with the occasional gunshot was what filled the night. She strained her ears to try and pick out the cries of the wounded, especially the first one. The seconds were ticking by and her chance to help them was slipping through her fingers like their blood which stained the streets. It didn’t matter to her body though, which gasped for air and beat her heart like a frenzied drum. Her vision swam with darkness and a second later found herself on her knees in the dirt, back braced against concrete. “Fuck,” She whispered to herself as stars danced in front of her vision.

The moans of the dying were so close she was sure she could touch them. Then she realized those weren’t the dying, those moans were the dead. Her head snapped up and she pushed herself deeper into the darkness, doing her best to quiet her breath as the walking dead of Shanghai’s upper city began to mass and wander past her. They seemed to be simple shamblers, but Bonnie was all alone and having a hard time seeing beyond the spots in her vision. The moans of the dead began to reverberate in her ears, making her feel queasy. Or maybe it was the running which had done that. Either way her head began to pound, her side ached, and the sparkles in her vision didn’t cease. The dead walked past her jumble of rock and concrete as she bit her lip bloody not to sob in a mixture of fear and pain.

“ZED!” CW’s voice rang clearly in the light and she realized she had been much closer than she previously believed. Bonnie sucked in a shuddering breath through her nose as tears trickled down her cheeks, stinging the open wounds. She didn’t dare call for help yet, she could still see a shambler in direct line of sight. One noise, one call, and she and the baby would be dinner for the restless dead.
The tone of the fighting changed beyond the concrete hideout. Combat went from tactical to survival as they were swarmed by over a dozen zed. The piercing shriek of a Burster shattered the night and Bonnie shut her eyes tight, the sound causing another wave of nausea. She realized they were by the Yellow M and prayed to the Kings and Queens of Rock that Blitz remembered the bolt hole the family had there.

“Move, move, in there!” Blitz’s battle command pierced the night. “We can’t save ‘em, get in there or we’re zed meat. MOVE!” Bonnie’s tears took on relief as her cousin remembered and she felt herself slump into the crevice. Another scream, this one all too alive, pierced the night and jerked her eyes open. Then hers joined it as the zed she had spotted earlier leapt onto her. She hadn’t been hiding so well after all.

The smell of its rotting flesh, so much worse than any retrograde, caused her stomach to heave. The shovel was caught between her and the corpse that now gnawed on her shoulder. She felt teeth tearing through her flesh, gripping into muscle, and ripping tendon with ease. “This is it. I did one stupid thing too many. I can’t even fight it off, I’m too sick. I can barely see for the spots…I’m dead…baby is-“
There was no warning. One moment the zed was gnawing happily at the meaty part where her neck connected to her shoulder, the next that head was rolling a few feet away. Bonnie lays gasping against the concrete staring up at the figure in front of her. For a moment she thought it was Akira and her mouth formed his name, but then the spots began to clear and she saw Neko’s purple robe. “Oh,” Was all she managed before the darkness at the edge of her vision swallowed the remainder and she passed into darkness. “Shit,” Was her last conscious thought.

*****

When Bonnie next gained consciousness she expected any number of crazy visions, like what had been described by friends and family of the Gravemind. Instead she realized her pulse still beat, her shoulder was healed, and that she lay in her small and cramped bunk aboard the Black Rose. She sucked in a deep breath and let it out with a sigh, blinking the sleep out of her eyes. The sleeping quarters were dark except for a lone lantern attached firmly to the hull. Its dim glow showed a single figure, sitting in a chair near her bedside. The purple of his robe told her that, again, it was Neko.

“I see you are awake,” He said in a neutral tone. Bonnie swallowed and laid her head back down on her pillow.

“Yeah. I’m going to assume that I owe you big time,” She said and realized how tired and weak her voice sounded. Then she realized there was a funny taste in her mouth. It was a strange mix of mint and copper and she smacked her lips with a grimace. “Do you have my water bottle by any chance?” She turned her head towards the shadowed Genjian, who stood and came over to the bunk. He bent beside the bed, pulling her old and battered metal bottle into site. One brow was raised curiously at her as she gulped down almost the entire contents in a matter of seconds. “Ugh…my mouth still tastes like I swallowed copper with a mint chaser.”

“That would be the medicine Scarlette gave you,” Neko replied blandly.

“WHAT?!? OW!” Bonnie sat bolt upright in the bunk and hit her head on the top, falling back into her pillow clutching her head. “FUCK,” She spat and kicked the wall of the bunk in frustration. “What did she feed me? Was it something she made or something safe? I bet she’s fucking gloating up top right now!”

“Actually, she seemed rather concerned, though I can’t attest to whether it was something she made up or not. Lady Rose didn’t seem to object to the brew, so I assume it was safe?” Neko had taken a step back at Bonnie’s sudden fit of anger, one brow raised curiously as he watched her.

“Hmph,” Bonnie was not convinced, but right now her head pounded and stars were swimming in her vision again. She wasn’t sure if the stars were from hitting her head or whatever had come over her earlier. So she decided to groan and rolled over on her side, a hand over her eyes. “How long was I out?”

“Well, the Captain and the rest came back about an hour ago. Blitz was rather upset to hear you had passed out while he was away, but we assured him you came to no harm,” Neko tried his best for a soothing voice, reaching out to awkwardly pat her hand. Bo spared him a wan smile and said, “Thanks. I’ sure he and Captain Han will have a few choice words for me when I get up.”

As she watched Neko’s face she realized something was afoot. His eyes cast aside and one shoulder rose in a shrug as he said, “Weeeeeell, we didn’t exactly tell them you ran off after.” A flood of relief filled Bonnie’s belly at his words. That would mean no punishment, no lashes, and that was probably a good thing with the way she felt. She blew a sigh of relief past her lips and let her eyes close. Before she realized it, tears were leaking out and running down her cheeks. They again stung the rot that almost always resided there, which caused her breath to hiccup. “Aww, now don’t go and cry,” He said, beginning to pat her hand again in an attempt to soothe her. “I never know what exactly to do when a woman cries, especially a pregnant one. Give a guy a break.” That caused her to laugh even as the tears continued.

“How about refilling my bottle with more water?” She suggested as she sniffled and wiped her nose on the back of her sleeve. “Now –that- is something I can do and happily,” Neko said, taking the bottle and heading over to the water barrel. As he filled it from the spigot he asked, “Want me to go get Blitz for you?”

She was tempted to have him do so, but she also dreaded the short talk that would follow. It was very likely some of the Hoshiros had met the Gravemind, perhaps even Akira. Would she be able to handle that kind of news, sick as she was still feeling? The baby stirred and kicked hard, adding to her long list of discomforts. Neko mistook her groan for something direr and said, “Or I can say you’re still sleeping?” She was touched by his concern and smiled painfully, eyes peeking open. “No, thank you. I should probably hear whatever news sooner or later.” The haunted look in Neko’s blue eyes made her stomach sink just that much more. He handed her the bottle and turned, walking up the stairs towards the deck.

Bonnie lay in the candle light and sipped the water, listening to the sounds of people moving. Muffled voices sounded from up above and what sounded like CW resounding laugh made her smile just a little bit. A few minutes passed and in them she tried to figure out what to tell her cousin about her little failed escapade. The truth would likely send him into a rage which would last until they got back to The Rendezvous and she really needed his presence right now. Not telling him would save the rage for later, but it would be worse. Perhaps something in between would suffice so he would be angry, but not enough to stop speaking to her.

As she came to her decision the heavy sound of his boots pounded down the narrow flight of steps. She opened her eyes and watched as he pulled the spiked hat and then the face guard off his head. He looked genuinely concerned and not mad in the slightest. Silently she cursed the heightened emotions that her pregnancy caused because those blue eyes, with all the caring of family, caused the tears to start falling again. “At least he didn’t die,” The thought resounded in her head, making her feel happy and guilty at the same time. As she sobbed he slid in to sit beside her in the cramped bunk, gathering her up into his strong arms. “Shhhh. It’s okay, Bonnie honey. It’s okay,” He said and stroked her hair. That just made it worse.

They spent what seemed hours like that, him making hushing noises and stroking her hair. He let her cry herself out, handing her the snotrag from her bag when her sniffles started getting drippy. Just like every other time she had needed him, he was the strong and silent presence. Her protector from the first time they left the Submarine together as children. Oh sure, they had their fair share of fights and even some brawls, but they were more like siblings than cousins.

Finally the tears slowed and she pulled away, sniffling, to lay back down in her bunk. “Thanks,” She said in a weak voice raw with her tears. “No problem,” He replied, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze. “Neko tell you?” Blitz was always short and to the point when he could be. However, this time she had no idea what it was he was talking about and shook her head. He let out a short sigh and scrubbed at his sweaty hair, causing it to go into a spikey mess.

“It’s bad, Bonnie,” He said after a few minutes. The way he said it brought her attention into very clear focus. Her nausea and pounding headache faded into the background, as did the still-lingering taste of mint and copper that her tongue was trying to reject. “Oh no, what?” Blitz licked his lips and looked away, turning to sit facing out of the bunk now, gripping his hat and mask. “Akira is dead…like…dead dead.”

The sensations of her body came rushing back to her as did a feeling like the world had just dropped out from beneath her feet. For a second she was sure her heart skipped a beat and she managed to choke out, in a raspy whisper, “What?” Tears threatened to fill her eyes and she realized she was trembling. Her cousin let out a long sigh and glanced back at her, apology clear in his blue eyes.
“I’m sorry, honey. We tried, but all that noise drew the local zed mob. The Mericans ran for it while we got bottled up in the Yellow M. When we finally managed to take care of the shamblers, with reinforcements from the family, the Mericans had already camped the morgue. He was on his last breath when we got there,” This much talking was obviously hard on Blitz. She saw the moisture in his eyes, even though it didn’t fall like the silent tears streaming down her face. “No,” Was her very weak denial. Even she knew the word had no power to change what had happened. “He pressed this into my hand and said your name, then sank into the ground,” Blitz shook his head, pulling out an object on a black cord. It was a simple, red glass circle suspended from a silk cord. Her cousin held it in his hands for a moment, silent, before he held it out for her to take.

Slowly and reluctantly her hand rose to take the simple and pretty bauble from his hands. She brought it closer to inspect in the poor light. It was as simple as it seemed. A red circle of crystal or glass, she couldn’t tell, tied with a fancy little knot to secure it. The cord was tied so as to be a necklace, but she couldn’t push herself to put it on. Instead she gripped it in one hand tightly before looking back at her cousin. It was rare for him to show his own upset, and Bonnie was one of the few people who ever got to see it. Akira had been a good friend of his as well, and the blow must have been a hard one. She laid her hand on his back as Blitz took his own silent moments of grief in the privacy of the bunk room.