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The morning after Khan tried to strangle me was as still and calming as any. That's what made it so disorienting. It was like it somehow expected me to go on like it was just any ordinary morning, but it wasn't. The fact that I was even still living in the real world at this point. A world where comforting things an ordinary morning could bring, like a pleasant sunrise or an early cup of tea. It just made my fucking head spin. Well, that and the fact that I was so hungover, I had a headache the size of a skyscraper.
But despite the fact that my reality was shaking so much, it felt like I had vertigo, I was able to process fully what had happened for the first time. Last night was my first actual dance with death. Now this wasn't a brush with death, mind you. No, no, no. A brush is just when you pass it by for an instant. Like you're both walking down a street and you bump into each other by mistake. Then you just look back at each other and keep going about your business. The Night of the Four Murders, when I was getting rained down on with blasts from those cops. That was just a brush. A dance is when you should, by all means, actually be dead, but you're saved by some freak occurrence of luck. That was what happened last night. Me and death tangoed with each other for a good thirty twenty seconds, then Gun came in and stepped on our toes before it could sweep me off my feet. And when you dance with death, you're never the same again.
Luckily, Gun was there with me, doing his best to ease me through the pain I was feeling. I suppose he knew about this stuff better than anyone. We apologized to each other for the fight we had before it all went down and ate breakfast together on my couch.
It was an important morning, because it was the morning I finally understood the indisputable truth. That Gun was on my side. All this time, I had been cautious of him. Of everyone, really. As far as I was concerned, up until that point, absolutely no one could be trusted. Gan was my only friend and all of these triad fucks could get bent. But now I had an ally. Someone within the organization that I could actually confide in, who I knew had my back. And that was a good feeling. Even if it was outweighed by my feelings of unwavering fear and anxiety.
It was currently around ten o'candle in the morning, and Gun and I had brought ourselves down to Qin's office, where we'd just told him the news about the night prior. Needless to say, he didn't take it very well, but he didn't react the way you might think he would. The whole time Gun was relaying the story, he just sat back in his chair behind his desk, the expression on his face becoming more and more concerned with each passing moment.
Then once Gun finished, Qin simply stayed in his chair, contemplating the precarious situation in which we all found ourselves. He shot me a glance, then one at Gun. Then we all just stood there in silence for a good minute or two. Qin leaned forward and buried his face in his hands, his mind still trying to process the situation.
I looked to Gun for a cue on what to do, and he just made a gesture with his hand, telling me to wait.
Then Qin finally removed his hands from his face, and looked up at both of us. "Alright," he said. "I want you to walk me through this one more time. And I want every last detail."
Gun nodded and proceeded to repeat the story in a more detailed fashion. "Alright," he replied. "None of our guys knew how to use that Lantern of Silence we purchased. We all wrongly assumed that we didn't need any special training and that we could just set it up and use it. Obviously, we were wrong. So Yang catches on to this as our guys are supposedly brainwashing him into forgetting, and he plays along. He acts like we really did brainwash him and we let him go. Then the second he gets back on the street, he finds Khan and tells him what happened. Then the two of them conspire together and come up with a plan to whack me and Song. Khan decides to work Song and become her new boyfriend until she gives him the information he needs to prove she was the one that took his father."
"Why go to all that trouble?" Qin interrupted. "Why not just put hits out on both of you?"
"Because Tang needed proof it was us before he could act," Gun answered, referring to the Agni Kai boss. "Khan probably recorded all the times he and Song talked."
Great. As if I wasn't already freaked out enough. I began replaying all of the conversations I'd had with Khan in my head, worried that he was playing them all for the Agni Kai higher ups and laughing with them about it. The night we met. The night we stayed up for hours talking about our favorite spots in the city and all the places we'd always wanted to visit. And all the various nights we got drunk off our asses, stumbling around his apartment like a couple of idiots mumbling who knows what before passing out. I tried to take some comfort in the assumption that he would only play the parts he needed. Even if it wasn't true, I had to believe it for my own sake.
"Alright, go on," Qin said.
"The night after we release Yang," Gun continued. "The Agni Kais put a couple of their guys right outside our headquarters and wait for Song to come out. They follow her to that nightclub she's always at downtown and the next night, Khan goes in there and waits for her. He starts calling himself Ito and even goes to the trouble of making a fake I. D. Then he and Song start seeing each other over the following month and finally, she reveals the information he needs."
"And how exactly did that happen?" Qin asked, his eyes shooting over towards me.
It took me a second to realize he actually wanted me to answer. This was the first time he had actually spoken to me directly since the night I got abducted. I cleared my throat and tried as hard as I could to sugarcoat my explanation. "I, uh... I got kinda drunk and told him," I said.
Qin leaned towards me and shot me a glare that sent chills raging throughout my body. Oh, fuck, was I screwed. At this point, I was pretty much directly responsible for a triad war and he knew it as well as I did. "So it's your fault," he said.
Before I could muster a response, Gun jumped to my defense. "No," he said. "This was always gonna happen. If we didn't hit Yang, we would've hit Yai, and then we would've found out the hard way that he was Khan's brother. This outcome was inevitable."
And just like that, Gun saved my life again, for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. He was really starting to prove what an invaluable ally he was to me. He had twice now saved me from situations of almost certain death, and I couldn't be more thankful.
Qin took his gaze away from me, I guess having decided that Gun's words were true and that I wasn't the reason everything had gone to shit. Then he finally stood up and began buttoning up his suit. "Alright," he said. "Both of you get out of here. I need to make some arrangements."
"What are you gonna do?" Gun asked.
"I'm going to call a meeting," Qin replied. "A peace summit between all the triads. We are going to do whatever we have to in order to keep this from escalating into an all-out war."
"You got it," Gun said, turning to leave, with me following suit.
"I want both of you to be there as well," Qin added. "You're both going to apologize to Khan for kidnapping his father and assure him that it was just a misunderstanding."
"Understood," Gun said.
"And Song," said Qin, looking at me once more. "If you ever let any information like that slip again, whether you're drunk or not, I will personally be the one to put you in the ground. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," I piped up.
And with that, Gun and I saw ourselves out of the room and made our way down the hall. The whole time we were walking to the elevator, my mind was filled to the brim with things I wanted to say to Qin, but couldn't. The motherfucking nerve of that guy. I should apologize to Khan? How about that son of a bitch apologizes to me for nearly strangling me to death?! I had the entire fucking scenario laid out in my head. At the meeting, Khan was gonna play the tapes of the two of us talking for the whole room to hear. Then, once everybody had heard the sounds of him trying to murder me in cold blood, I would be forced to flush my pride down the toilet and apologize to the bastard.
This wasn't about me, though. Once the two of us reached the elevator and started to go down, I began to think about everything from a much broader perspective. Sure, it would be humiliating to have all of our private conversations played for every high-ranking triad member in Republic City to hear. Sure it would be even more humiliating to apologize to Khan in front of all these same people. But if it helped to avoid a full-scale war, then that was what mattered. It wasn't about me. It was about the people whose lives would be taken away from them as a result of my actions.
Finally, we reached the bottom floor, and began to make our way outside. Before we reached the door, Gun grabbed me by the arm and pulled me aside, speaking in a hushed tone. "Alright, now listen to me," he said. "I want you to go home and stay there until you get a call from us saying that the meeting is on. It's too dangerous for you to be out in the open until the Agni Kais know about the meeting. I'll still have people watching your place until you get the call, but until then, I just need you to stay inside. You understand?"
"Yes," I nodded.
"Alright," Gun replied. "Now go outside. Lu is gonna take you home."
I nodded once more and started to make my way outside, but stopped as I decided that just one more burning question I had needed to be answered. "Gun," I called out. The old man turned around to face me again, waiting for me to ask my question. "Is Qin gonna give me up?" I asked. "Just please answer me honestly. Is he gonna kill me just to appease the Agni Kais?"
"Absolutely not," Gun assured me. "Killing you would make him look weak. That would send a message to everybody else in this city that you can just demand that Kingpin Qin do anything you want him to do and he'll do it."
"Promise me," I said. "Promise me that's not gonna happen."
"I promise," Gun replied. "Now go. Get some rest. I'll see you again soon."
Content with Gun's response, I nodded and finally made my way out the front door. The brightness of the sun's rays forced me to squint for a moment as my eyes adjusted to the light. Once they had, I could clearly see Lu, the stocky, elderly cleaner whom I had only briefly seen twice now, was standing in front of a moss green Satomobile.
"You Song?" he asked me.
"Yeah," I simply replied.
Without saying another word, he walked around to the driver's side, unlocked the door, and climbed inside.
I did the same as I hopped into the passenger's side and fastened my seatbelt. Then I checked the back seat as usual, to see if anyone was there, and saw no one at all. Finally, Lu pulled off of the curb and the two of us began driving down the street.
One week later, and the big meeting was upon us. It was being held uptown in some building I'd never even noticed, which was weird, because it was fairly large in size.
The week leading up to this day went by so fast. I got the call from Gun that the meeting was on about three hours after I got home, allowing me to finally relax. Then I spent the rest of the day just kinda sitting in my apartment. I didn't listen to the radio or do anything to keep me entertained. I had no real desire to do anything. I just sat there, pining in silence.
And as the hours flew by and the day turned to night, a host of terrible thoughts began creeping into my head. I began thinking about what would happen if this peace summit didn't go well. If the Agni Kais declared war on us, Gun and I would be their first targets, and I would be a lot easier to take down. I began to imagine the different ways Khan and his cronies might kill me. I won't go into detail on that, because some things are better left unsaid. Just know that whatever you can think of that they might do to me, it entered my brain at some point that night.
The next morning, I made a promise to myself that I would never ever let my mind go down that route again. The psychological damage all that worrying had done was far greater than I ever could've imagined, and far worse than any such thing my time in the triads had brought me so far.
I decided to get out of the apartment and go do something I enjoyed, in an attempt to feel happy again. I called up Gan and the two of us had lunch downtown at this place called Ho Tsung's. I never told him about my situation. I never told him that I was almost killed and that the guy I'd been seeing this whole time was actually the underboss of the Agni Kai Triad. There would be time for that later. At that moment, I just wanted to talk and laugh and have fun with my best friend. And at the end of that day, I ended up feeling a little bit better, and that counted for something.
The only notable thing that happened in the next two days after that was I called my parents and talked to them for a sizeable amount of time. I tried to make it sound like it was just a casual call, making no reference to the fact that I was involved with the triads. But in reality, this was me saying goodbye in case I was shot down in the street in the weeks after the meeting took place. I was worried that maybe one of them was on to me, as I insisted that we keep talking every time one of them tried to get off the phone. But luckily, they never suspected a thing. Trust me, I know. If they had, they would've said something.
Then I just spent the rest of the week doing whatever suited my fancy during the day and going to Gan's club at night. And I know all that may sound like a lot, but like I said, it went by so fucking fast, I really couldn't believe it.
Now we were here, in this building I'd never noticed with a bunch of people I'd never seen. Gun had given me the rundown on who was who, and there was so much to remember, it was like there was some kind of test I had to study for. The dons of all four triads were here, as well as all of their caporegimes and the various other top men and women that they saw fit to bring along.
The two of us finally made our way to the conference room where the meeting was taking place, and to say our entrance was anything less than the most awkward moment of my entire life would be an understatement. As soon as we walked in, all eyes darted in my direction like a parade of speeding arrows fired from the bows four dozen angry Yuyan Archers. How they recognized my face, I don't know. Maybe they didn't. Maybe it was Gun they were staring at. In any case, he wasn't fazed in the slightest and sit down without even addressing anybody. I followed suit and sat down right next to him.
As everyone turned their gazes away from us and continued their various conversations, I scanned the room and saw all the different souls that filled this place today. On our side of the table, there was Gun and myself, of course, and two other people Gun had told me about.
One of them was this weaselly-looking fuck with brown, slicked-back hair and a pencil mustache, who was as thin as a lamppost. His name was Motormouth Moku, and from the sound of it, he was really living up to his name. The whole time we were waited for the meeting to start, I could hear him yapping on and on and on so much I could hardly fucking think.
The other was a bulky guy who was bald on the top of his head, but had graying hair on the sides that was all unruly and fluffed up, like he never bothered to take care of it. His name was Slippery Suji, and the reason for his name was a little less apparent.
Both of them, along with Gun, were the Triple Threat Triad's caporegimes, or capos for short. If you don't know, a caporegime is basically a triad's top enforcer. Typically, when it comes to the triad hierarchy, you have the boss. Then you sometimes, but not always, have the underboss, who's basically the second-in-command. Then you have the caporegimes, who are next in the chain of command and kind of serve as an extension of the boss' will. Each capo has their own territory that they operate in and claim for their boss, and a whole crew of soldiers that they command. If the boss wants something done, he tells one of his capos, and they either get it done themselves or send their soldiers to do it. So, in my case, I was one of the soldiers under Gun's command. The same went for Yin as well.
Then I looked at the other side of the table, where the Agni Kais were sitting. The first person I spotted was Khan. He was talking to his brother, Yai, who was probably just a couple years older than me, and whose black hair was so gelled up, it probably made him five inches taller. Sitting next to them were two of their capos, Mao and Sour Saru, and none other than the Agni Kai boss himself, Big Bang Tang. I gotta admit, he looked nothing like I pictured him in my head. He was a short, stocky, old man who was pretty much completely bald, save for a very scarce amount of white hair running across the back of his head. Hopefully, in addition to all that, he was a forgiving man.
There was also one thing about him that I just had to know before this thing started, or it was really gonna bug me. So I leaned over to Gun and quietly asked him the question. "Why is the Agni Kais' boss called Big Bang Tang? How did he get that name?"
"Well," Gun replied. "The short version is, a long time ago when he was just a soldier for the Agni Kais, he and a few others had a job to torch this restaurant and burn it down for the insurance money. The explosion was supposed to destroy just the restaurant, but he ended up using way too much blasting jelly and it ended up taking out half the block. So ever since then, people have called him Big Bang Tang."
Huh. Made sense to me. Content with my answer, I took a quick look at everyone else in the room, observing the Terra Triad and everyone they'd brought with them. Their boss, Silver 'Stache Yash, his son and underboss, Goru, his advisor, Ren, and all their capos were seated to the right of us. The only ones who hadn't arrived yet were the Red Monsoons. I couldn't really fathom why.
Before I could think about it anymore, Qin strode into the conference room, causing everybody to look in his direction. He took a second to scan around the room, and observed what was obvious to everyone else. That the Red Monsoons were missing. "Where is Kodana?" he asked, referring to their boss.
As if on cue, Kodana and her pack of Red Monsoon goons burst into the room, making as grand of an entrance as they could. Already, they were visually very different from the other groups in the room. The reason being, every single one of the Red Monsoon higher ups were women. Gun had told me about Kodana and each of her capos, but I had to see it for myself to believe it. It wasn't exactly common for women to make it in this business. I mean, there were some exceptions like me and Yin, and I'm sure there were others, but to see an entire triad's collection of leaders consist of women? Fuck yeah, man. It was pretty empowering. I mean, not that I wanted to succeed in this particular business, but still.
In the few seconds of quiet that filled the room after they made their entrance, I got a pretty good look at Kodana. She looked to be in her late thirties, with long, straight, jet black hair cascading down her face, wearing a navy blue pantsuit and a fedora with a blue stripe to match, and all topped off with a stylish pair of dark sunglasses. It was also pretty noticeable that she was the youngest boss in the room by far. "You guys start without us?" she asked.
"No. You're just on time," Qin answered. "Please, have a seat."
Kodana nodded and went with her associates over to the left side of the table, each of them sitting down while Qin walked over to his seat.
Before sitting down, Qin began to address everyone in the room. "First of all, I would like to thank everybody for coming out here today," he began. "Big Bang Tang and his associates in the Agni Kai Triad. Silver 'Stache Yash and all of his associates in the Terra Triad."
"Ugh," Kodana scoffed. "You boys and your nicknames."
Qin shot Kodana an agitated glance as he continued. "As well as Kodana and all of her associates in the Red Monsoon Triad," he continued. Then the Triple Threat boss took a seat and the meeting officially began. "Now, let's cut right to the chase. You all know why we're here. We're here to avoid any unnecessary bloodshed. We're here to stop any kind of war before one starts. I already know that if the Triple Threats go to war with the Agni Kais, then the Terras will be backing them. That means three out of the four triads in this city will lose countless lives, and over what? A misunderstanding? I'll admit that what my people did was wrong. This is a harsh business. People die. That's the nature of it. I know it as well as all of you. But going after someone's father? There are some lines you just don't cross. But while wrong, what they did is, it was still just a misunderstanding."
"This is fucking ridiculous!" Khan shouted, pounding his fists into the table and catching everyone off guard. "You call kidnapping my father and holding him hostage in a-a-a warehouse a fucking misunderstanding?! No, no, no, Qin. How about this? You... fucked... up. You know you're in the wrong and now you're begging for our forgiveness, because you're afraid of what we're gonna do to you and all your other little Triple Threat grunts."
"Hey!" hollered Slippery Suji, having apparently taken offense to Khan's words. "Why don't you let your boss speak a little, you loudmouthed son of a-"
"Suji!" Qin barked, attempting to resolve the situation. "That's enough!"
"What did you just say to me, you fat piece of shit?" Khan spat at Suji, shooting up out of his chair. It looked like the two of them were about to come to blows with each other as Suji did the same.
"Hey!" yelled Tang, before it could get that far. "Enough of this shit! This is getting us nowhere! Both of you sit down and shut up!"
Staring down the living shit out of each other, the two gangsters complied and did as they were told.
"Khan's got a point, Qin," Tang continued. "What you did to his father? I just can't find any reason to excuse that."
"I've already admitted what they did was wrong," Qin replied. "But at the end of the day, it's not like they killed him. In fact, the second they found out who he was, they did everything in their power to make sure he stayed alive. They went to great lengths to avoid his death and, in the end, they were successful. But that's all in the past. I didn't come here today to recite the events that have already happened. I came here to appeal to all of you and convince you that going to war is the wrong decision. This whole incident has affected both of our organizations to an extent that some of you may consider too far. But I say that it's just far enough. I say we let it end here and go about our business like reasonable men."
"I gotta say, Tang," Silver 'Stache Yash chimed in. "That sounds like a pretty reasonable offer to me. All this fighting, I mean, we just can't afford it!"
Tang took a moment to ponder all the things that had been said, and while he did that, I studied the expressions of everybody else in the room. First, my gaze turned to Khan. It was very apparent that he wasn't going to be satisfied unless this ended with blood. My blood and Gun's, to be precise. The whole time Tang sat there thinking things over, Khan had a telling look of vexation on his face that said he couldn't believe his boss was even considering letting us off the hook. He watched him like an eagle hawk, waiting to attack the second he made a decision he didn't like.
Then I looked to Silver 'Stache Yash and saw the polar opposite expression had taken hold of his face. He had beads of sweat bolting down his face faster than an eel hound, and anybody who had actually shifted their eyes over to him could see it. It was clear he was only backing the Agni Kais out of some kind of sense of loyalty, and a war was the last thing he wanted.
Then Tang turned to face Kodana and finally spoke up again. "What do you think, Kodana?" he asked her. "You're the only one who hasn't weighed in."
The Red Monsoon boss smiled and removed the shades from her face, placing them on the table before she spoke. "Well, right now, I'm the only one who doesn't have a stake in this," she responded. "I mean, as long as this little war of yours doesn't spill over into Red Monsoon territory, then I don't give a good fuck what you do, honestly."
Tang's lips formed an insincere smile, broadcasting a feeling of annoyance throughout the whole room, as Kodana hadn't really helped with his decision at all. Then he turned to face Khan, with the Agni Kai underboss whispering something into his ear. Apparently intent on keeping all of us in the most nail-bitingly suspenseful state as humanly possible, every one of us in that room was forced to wait until Khan was finished whispering whatever it was he was saying to Tang.
Then, finally, the Agni Kai boss leaned away from his second-in-command, and turned to face Qin. "Alright," he said. "I think that as long as we get an apology from the two people involved, then this can be resolved without any bloodshed."
I guess that was our cue. Without hesitation, Gun stood up for the crowd and removed his hat from his head. Then he looked Khan in the eye and said, in his usual deadpan tone, "Khan, I'm very sorry for kidnapping your father, and I promise it'll never happen again. To him or any of your other family members."
"It better not!" said Yai, seconds after Gun took his seat.
Then it was my turn. I stood up from my chair, and all eyes in the room shifted towards me. It was so strange, because in that moment, I became so unsure of myself. The second I rose out of my chair, my feelings of impulsiveness were shouting at me like a bunch of friends daring me to do something I shouldn't. At absolutely no point did the thought of actually apologizing cross my mind. Not even for an instant. The whole time I stood there, with all those eyes staring at me, I was just trying to convince myself not to do something stupid. I cleared my throat and tried to clear my head as I prepared to give Khan his apology.
Then I remembered something Gun said earlier in the week. That no matter what I did, Qin wouldn't kill me, because he couldn't afford to look weak. Once I'd put that together, it was abundantly clear what I had to do. This was the moment I had been waiting for all along. The moment where I would take down all of the triads in one swift stroke. I was going to have to make some sacrifices. The biggest one possibly being my life, which the Agni Kais would inevitably take once the war started. But in that moment, whether it was the right decision or not, I felt in my heart that it was what needed to happen. I may lose my life, but in doing so, I would send this spirit forsaken triad and every other one in this city crumbling to the ground.
I opened my lips, looked Khan dead in the eye, and spoke the word, "No."
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