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About Literature / Hobbyist Jayce Ran31/Male/United States Recent Activity
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Blue Ash Crisis Poster by JayceRan Blue Ash Crisis Poster :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0 Jayce Ran Facebook Logo by JayceRan Jayce Ran Facebook Logo :iconjayceran:JayceRan 5 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 27 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 26 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 25 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 24 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 23 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 2 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 22 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 21 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 20 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 19 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 18 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 17 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 16 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 15 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0
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Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 14 :iconjayceran:JayceRan 1 0

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There is a spiral that twists inside of every mind. It is just a line of tethers as a child but as one grows older the cogs of the mind turn that playful twine tighter and tighter carrying along with it a film. A reply of memories layered over with an emotional orchestra carefully blended to a mood. Their dripping untried contents blotching together forming an artificial record. A painted history.
There is a spiral that twists inside of every mind. It is just a line of tethers as a child but as one grows older the cogs of the mind twist that playful turn tighter and tighter carrying along with it a film. A reply of memories layered over with an emotional orchestra carefully blended to a mood. Their dripping untried contents blotching together forming an artificial record. A painted history.

Journal History

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JayceRan
Jayce Ran
Artist | Hobbyist | Literature
United States
Hello everyone, I am Jayce Ran. I view myself as an entertainer of sorts working through the medium of fiction. Through my work, I hope to not only create compelling stories but a discussion on society in general. No, I am not an activist of any kind but rather a philosopher of nothing in particular.

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Activity


There is a spiral that twists inside of every mind. It is just a line of tethers as a child but as one grows older the cogs of the mind turn that playful twine tighter and tighter carrying along with it a film. A reply of memories layered over with an emotional orchestra carefully blended to a mood. Their dripping untried contents blotching together forming an artificial record. A painted history.
There is a spiral that twists inside of every mind. It is just a line of tethers as a child but as one grows older the cogs of the mind twist that playful turn tighter and tighter carrying along with it a film. A reply of memories layered over with an emotional orchestra carefully blended to a mood. Their dripping untried contents blotching together forming an artificial record. A painted history.
I have started developing a deep need to develop a social life outside of the four walls of my studio.  I am a writer/artist hobbyist and I live in Maine.  I have social anxiety so I have difficulty building up the courage to express this to the people who are around me.  I have been attempting to build up the courage to get a gym membership but I struggle to work out in front of others.

I have friends but, their interests and mine are seldom in agreement so it makes it difficult to just hang out sometimes.  For one I donít do drugs or drink so that alienates me a lot of times.

I lived in New Mexico for several years (around 10) and pretty much my entire life was my ex girlfriend.  Now though, I find myself turning 31 this month and I am out of touch with society.  I feel like its an alien world.  I guess since I donít enjoy pop culture much.  I enjoy anime and video games but comic book heroes or television has little to no appeal to me.  I also donít get peoples obsessions with celebrity and other such things.  So I seem stuck up I guess.  I am not I am just quiet until I feel comfortable with someone.

Truth of the matter is I am terrified of becoming that person who is a fixture of solitude watching seasons pass and an ever changing world who left them behind.  Its strange putting it out into words.

I just donít know where to even start anymore to even make friends.  I guess I was never socially adjusted to begin with.  I just kind of slotted in with my ex out of high school and moved over to be with her.  I got ill so I been in recovery for several years and now that I can finally live a bit again I just need to start over from 0.  Does anyone have any advice for dealing with an issue such as this?
Blue Ash Crisis Poster
This will do for now.  When I have a book cover designed I will have more effort put into it.
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Alright, I got a hobby of writing books and like the title says I am looking to have some artwork designed for my book Blue Ash Crisis.  It is a homage to 80s 90s anime in a lot of ways.  So I am looking for the book cover to resemble that style.

For example:
Akira Poster: filmartgallery.com/products/ak…
War Of The Dead 2 Poster: vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/sh…
Genocyber Cover: l.mangatown.com/store/manga/35…
DBZ Poster: 66.media.tumblr.com/61a9d5d9ef…

The entire book is online to read at Jayceran.com 100% free btw. 

I want a poster made for it as purposes of showing it off.

I am not sure about the design of the poster but I got references of how the characters should look, at least how I envision them.

The themes of the story are Supernatural Horror and Cyberpunk.

Thanks in advance for checking this out.  I got another book coming out in June.  If I like the artwork, there are opportunities for further commissions.

Being this is just a hobby I am not looking to long term contract anyone.  I am simply looking to have this piece done for now.
I have had this idea for a game for a long time.  I was in Colorado for the first time when I thought of it.  So, back in like 2008 or 2009.   The idea is kind of like Kingdom Hearts or Disgaea/Makai Senkai type thing where you are the god of your own dimensional world.  The game would be set up so you create your own world kind of like a TCG but not its going to be a table top RP style game.  So like you start out with a number of skills which are kind of like civ skills and magic powers.  So using those you create your world and quests in that world for other players to play.  As god of your world obviously hero characters will arise out of it and you can send those characters to explore and adventure to other worlds through your dimensional gate.  So its kind of like everyone is a dungeon master of their own little world but your dungeon master levels up like a hero character would so as you grow in power your world grows and expands.  I been debating on debuting my RPG system in this style of game.  Dunno, what do you all think?
Update: I have finished the outline to An End To All You Know and I hope to have the first chapters finished by the end of the week.
I am surrounded by ghosts who recount all the unspeakable crimes which forever stains the pages of my history.  Night after night they whisper to me and send me to sleep.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

Concrete and rubble line the sidewalks.  The once bustling city whose skyline seemed to stretch to the heavens looked more like a junkyard to Apricot.  As she walks the soggy blood-stained streets, she took in the sights, the aftermath of a freshly undecayed nightmare.  The long stretch of road is lined with soldiers pulling bodies from the fallen buildings.  She passes a pair of soldiers who hoist a body into the back of a large convoy truck.  Gazing inside a hundred faces with dead eyes look back at her.  Stacked on one another as though they were lumber.

Had she made the right choice.  Was the reaper lying?  He was.  Nothing could restore the world from this nightmare.  These were the dead and the price of a new future.  A future without these wicked haunts.  In her heart she knew she had done the right thing.  A teenage Uchellen boy in a green shirt hangs out his window.  Apricot meets his sights, the two look at each other and she knew they both were thinking the same thing.  How do we continue from this?

A group of soldiers with guns strapped to their back march past her at the intersection.  No one paid any mind to anyone.  Instead, everyone is focused on cleaning up.  “I guess that is all we can do.  Pick up the pieces and go on regardless of what happened.” Apricot thinks to herself.  She watches a group of little kids picking up pieces of metal bringing it over to a dumpster.

In the distant she heard a woman crying.  Most likely discovering a loved one has died.  This was not the happy ending Apricot had hoped for.  Sure, the threat is gone, but its stain will be forever etched in her mind.  Then out of the blue there it is.  A line, where the streets are once again as they should be.  No more ruins or rubble.  Untouched by the terror that befell the city that dreadful night.  This is much to Apricot’s relief.  Her family, her family!  Apricot raises her eyes before she hustles to her neighborhood as fast as she can.

~

Opening the gate to her home, everything seems in its proper place.  A warmth fills her as she reaches for the doorknob.  Wretching her hand around the knob she opens the front door to her quiet home.  “Thank goodness.” she says to herself.  “Mom, Dad,” Apricot calls out.  “Jasper!” taking a few steps inside she closes the door behind her to see the house is as it should be.  She walks down the hall to the kitchen.  Peaking inside she sees that there are no dishes in the sink.  “Everyone must be still asleep.” she concludes.

Walking to the cupboard Apricot opens it to grab a clean glass.  Going to the sink she draws herself a glass of cool water.  She leans against the sideboard taking a sip.  The chill liquid against her lips is refreshing.  Taking a look toward the hallway she sees a shadow stretch over the wall.  “Jasper?” she calls out.

No answer.  Putting the glass down on the sideboard Apricot approaches the hallway.  The shadow is coming from the morning light in the living room.  She watches the shadow slowly retreat across the wall.  She turns the corner from the kitchen into the hallway looking into the living room.  The entryway narrows her view forcing her to approach closer.  “Mom,” Apricot calls out taking a step.  No reply again.  “Dad?” she questions.  As she walks into the living room, she turns her head to see a disfigured humanoid with Jasper in its claw.  Her parents both huddled up in the room’s corner.  Half of the things face is missing.  Its bottom lip hung several feet from its head exposing its sharp teeth.  Its neck stretched out as if dislocated like a goose neck faucet. Its eyes are sunken and white.   Another mouth is on its throat and one of its arms is missing.  His body flesh came together as though it was melted like wax but clearly is made of flesh.

“Hello, apostle.” the distorted voice of Urias greets Apricot.  Her eyes grow large not sure what to make of the thing.  “I was waiting for you.” He rasps.

Apricot clutches her fist.  Her eyes locked onto the horror in front of her.  “Let my family go.” she firmly demands.

She can’t tell where his eyes are looking without pupils to see.  “I can’t sense the black god anymore.” he groans.  “Where is he?”

Apricot furrows her brow.  “Put my little brother down now.”

“I don’t think he is here anymore.  I think, you made him go away.” his upper lip stretches into a grin exposing the gums above his teeth.  “I think, you are responsible for all this.  You ruined everything.” he muses.

“How are you alive?" Apricot asks.

Urias giggles in a childish tone.  “Oh, I didn’t. I have been dead for a long time.  Care to join me.”  He says throwing Jasper from his grasp.  He screams as he impacts the living room wall knocking pictures down along with him.  Urias charges at Apricot with his one clawed hand.  She jumps back into the hallway.  His many mouths on his body snappy as he moves.  They drool and remind her of weeping sores.

Urias makes another lunge at Apricot.  She ducks his arm backing into the kitchen.  Urias saunters in through the threshold.  “It seems you lost your powers.  Mmmmm, no more favors from the black god?” he laughs.  Apricot moves to the counter grabbing a pair of knives from a wood block.  “Oooo,” Urias groans.  “You sure about wanting to fight me?  I am sure your blood will call him back.”

Apricot screams diving at him with both knives.  He kicks her thigh sending her back a few steps.  She covers herself as Urias stands tall eyeing her with a cocked head.  She slashes at his long throat but he moves back taking his own swipe at her.  She blocks his claw-like fingers with both her hands.   He snaps back his claw and nicks her in the ribs.  The sound of tearing meat rang in Apricot’s ears.  The pain is intense but not deep enough to cause any real effects.  She goes in for another strike but he grabs her hand forcing her arm down.

He tosses her back and slices her in the arm with his follow-through.   She groans from the pain holding her arm.  Urias stands over her, rising to her feet she strikes at him again.  He steps back, and she completely misses swinging through open air.  She goes around again for another blow but Urias avoids her attack raking his claws down her back.  It cuts her jacket clean open exposing the shirt and torn skin beneath.

She bends from the pain before Urias comes at her again.  This time she grabs his wrist holding it up.  She takes the other knife and rakes it against the pale flesh of his stomach.  It slices open releasing a horrible smell. He steps back gazing at her with an open jaw.  His lower lip dangling as he does so.  His teeth are like little spear points reminding her of a fish’s mouth.  His eyes lock onto her.  The wound is deep.  She can tell as the black bubbling blood coming from it seeps out like sap from a tree.

Urias charges into Apricot knocking her onto the counter top knocking several things aside as he latches to her throat.  She lets out a gasp as she takes both knives and stabs them into his wrist flaying through his forearm.  Urias lets go but does not back away.  Apricot uses the counter to kick him in the face pushing him back into her fridge.  She gets back onto her feet letting out a groan from the pain burning in her back.

Urias dives toward her again his hand going for her neck.  Apricot drops onto her knees using both knives she stabs them into his lower calves and raises them up the length of his legs.  He falls backwards onto the ground screaming out in pain.  Diving onto of his horrid body Apricot places both the knives to his neck slashing them against one another severing his head.  Urias looks up releasing a squelching gasp.

Rising to her feet Apricot looks down at the gasping head.  She regards the desperate movements before she raises her foot and stomps on his skull crushing it like a grapefruit.  She looks down huffing catching her breath.  Her body seething with anger.  Covered in inky black blood Apricot walks into her living room to see her parents taped up in the corner.  “I think, it’s over now.”

~

Images of a dull burgundy glow flashes into Apricot’s mind as she lays asleep in deep slumber.  The annoying buzzing keeps ringing in her ears.  The fog of sleep lifts, she opens her eyes from the darkness to see her room transitioning between a red glow and shade.  She turns her head to her alarm clock and hits the alarm switch with her hand, disregarding the time.  Pushing her covers off her she feels the slab patches on her back.  She looks out the window to see blue skies.  “It’s nice to see the morning without fear again.” she says aloud.

Rolling out of bed Apricot goes to her closet looking through her clothes.  She grabs a red and white striped shirt throwing it onto her bed along with a pair of black jeans with several fashionable tears down the legs.  She looks over at her clothes giving a soft smile.

This is her first breakfast at home since they released her from the hospital.  As she walks down the stairs she could smell her mother’s home cooked green onion miso and grilled salmon.  It carries her into the kitchen where she sheepishly enters the room.  “Good morning," Apricot chirps not able to look at her family.

Her mother caries a plate of cooked rice into the living room.  “Apricot can you get the soup kettle.”  She nods her head taking the warm kettle with a pair of pot holders in hand.  Her father is already seated at the table next to Jasper.  She lowers her eyes to the floor as she sets the kettle onto the table.  Sitting herself next to her mother Apricot bows her head.

“Sis,” Apricot looks up to see Jasper smile beaming at her.  His neck in is restrained in a white collar.  “Are you like a super hero or something?”

“No," Apricot softly replies.

“Well, you saved our lives.  You are my hero.” Jasper tells her with a smile.  A few tears roll down his cheek.  Apricot furrows her brow at his expression.

She fights the feelings welling up inside her chest snapping back “That is not very manly little boy.”

Jasper opens his jaw at her reply.  “What! I am a man.” Apricot smiles.  This, this was how home is supposed to be.  “Dad tell her!”

The morning banter fills Apricot with joy.  Her eyes ablaze as she takes in this special moment.  Her mother and fathers boring conversation fills her with comfort.  Jaspers little nerd comments.  This is what life is supposed to be.  When the nightmare is over.

Her leg vibrates, she draws her phone from her side to see the words “Okabe Government” on the screen.  She closes her eyes knowing all good things come to an end.  Her moment of serenity, lost.

~

The white marble floors of the Okabe capitol building shines like silver.  They are polished to perfection.  As she walks the hall alone, she looks around to see the pictures and art pieces lining their face.  They made her feel uncomfortable.  The smell of the building itself is unnatural.  She could not place her finger on it but it reminds her of something like pepper.  As she approaches the high council’s conference room, she feels her throat closing like so many times before.

It is strange that they allowed her to voluntarily show up.  Not that she could escape even if she wanted to.  She enters into a world of black and white once inside the courtroom. Everything is silver gray and black.  The large lights above lit the room pure white, their glow nearly blinding Apricot.  Surrounding the floor of the room is a circle of long metallic desks.  Each one of them seated several young children.  In the middle is a child about the age of thirteen at most.

“Apricot Signa, thank you for your cooperation.” he says to her in a firm tone.

Apricot eyes the room inspecting each of the council members and not one of them appear to be any older than the boy in the middle.  Her life is being decided by children?  How could this be possible?  “Your welcome, pardon, but I do not know how to address you.” she says not entirely sure of what she walked into.

“Forgive me, I am not familiar with these formalities myself.  My name is Yushio Okabe, I am the inaugurate emperor.”  He clears his throat.  “These circumstances are unusual.  I ask that you bare with me.”

Apricot nods her head.  “Of course.  I understand.”  Inaugurate, that’s right.  Kyo is gone.  There is no formal emperor of Okabe at this time.  So this young boy is thrust into the position.  That made sense but the rest of the children sitting as officials did not.

“The events that have unfolded the last few months have been a long series of unfortunate events.  The results of which have ravaged the lives of everyone living in Okabe.  You are one of the few people living to have first hand knowledge of these events.”  Apricot could feel her palms getting sweaty.  “There are holes in our investigation.  You see, the last administration did not leave us clear records.  We do have a thorough understanding of your role in this.  Empress Kyo had a clear interest in you, and Shiori of the Kinjo clan.  Do you have any knowledge of this?”

“I do.” Apricot acknowledges deciding it is best to stay truthful.

The young boy nods his head.  “Good, well, I understand they arrested you for an act of terrorism against the Okabe government.  Shiori Kinjo along with a small group of people attempted to usurp the rightful rule of the Okabe family.  Were you in fact a willing participant in that act?”

Apricot nods her head not ushering a word from her lips.

“Interesting.  What you may not be aware of, perhaps you are, Empress Kyo murdered my grand uncle.  Mitsura Okabe.  She was in fact a rebel herself.  Her actions were vile.  Look around Apricot.  All of us were touched intimately by these events.  This is what remains of the Okabe empire.  We are children not rulers.  Everyone else is dead.” his face remains stone cold.  “We understand our history.  You have spent years investigating those subjects.  You must have known at that time of the corruption that found a home in our family.”  Apricot does not answer.  “Our council has spent several hours deliberating on what exactly to do with you.  You are a liability.”  He informs Apricot.

A pain in her chest wells up.  Like someone is squeezing every vein in her body all at once.  “I will make a deal with you.  I will offer you a complete and total pardon for all crimes you have committed.  In return you never talk about the reality of the incident to anyone ever again.  Do I have your agreement?”

“That sounds fair, I agree.” Apricot says.

He nods.  “I foresee no further action from the Okabe government regarding you.  For your comfort I will inform you that we are dismantling everything Kyo and Mitsura had assembled.  While there is disagreement among the council regarding my planned actions, we agree that what they tried to achieve was pure madness.  There will be no more insane projects going foreward while under my rule.  However, on another note.  We have yet to locate Shiori Kinjo who is of deep interest to us.  You would not know of his whereabouts?”

“I do not." Apricot solumnly says.  The young boy glances over to a girl seated next to him.

“She is telling the truth.” the girl comments looking at a screen in front of her.

“All right,” he groans letting out a long sigh.  “Our conclusions must be true.  Shiori has escaped in secret back to the Kinjo clan.  Apricot, I have restored your citizenship to Okabe.  Your social credit has been restored to its former value as well.  Your jade marks have also been returned to you in full.  Your license as a journalist has been permanently revoked.  You are fore bayed from taking part in any form of journalism.  I hope you understand seeing as how things are.  I would consider you a hero if not for the circumstances that led up to these events.”  Apricot felt a lump grow in her throat.  She held back the tears knowing her future has just been taken away from her.  However, she knew deep down journalism isn’t something she could return to after what she had experienced.  “However, in consolation I have arranged for you to receive your full pension as though you had fulfilled your duty as a state journalist.  I suggest you pursue a life abroad or whatever life you would have wanted instead of journalism.  You may leave.”

~

With a half-eaten burger in hand Apricot sits surrounded by her friends.  Machi’s mouth is wrapped around a burrito as she wrestles to take a bite of the steak inside.  “So, like I said, I got this new issue of Eerie Truths!  No more Claw Fingers sightings but check this one out.”  Bonni tosses the magazine onto the cast iron picnic table.  “The valkyrie of Okabe!” reads the top of the article.  Several shady images of a girl can be made out but the static on the images make it far too hard to make out any detail.  “It’s like we got a super hero!” Bonni laughs.

Apricot smiles to herself.  “Thank goodness for Akagi.”

Snapping her head away Machi quickly chews her food gulping down the wad.  “Bonni, you can’t even see anything in the pictures!  It could be just some random person.” she barks.

“Pshh! Like whatever Machi!” Bonni retorts.  “A monster could slap you in the face and you would deny it even existed.  What about the monsters who attacked the city a few weeks ago!”

“Everyone knows it was a chemical hallucination.  People just went into a frenzy.“ Machi retorts back to Bonni.  Solenne gives Apricot a knowing smile.  A small blush covers Apricot’s face as she could not hide the truth from Solenne anymore.  She knew everything and for some reason that brought her some comfort.  “Girls, girls, does it really matter?” Sato says attempting to deescalate the situation.

“Shut up Sato!” the two yell at him together.

“Well that is something they agree on." Apricot laughs.

Sato rubs his head grinning. “So what do you say we go to a late-night movie?”

Looking across the street Apricot sees Hunter and grins.  “Sorry Sato, but I got a night shift again; clean up duty.  You know how it is.”

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

The road to the shrine had changed in appearance.  The trees which once appeared to be full of life are stripped of their leaves, left with sharp fingers splaying against the murky red horizon.  The statues that line the road have faces that appear more like people in perpetual agony, their round holes for mouths of horror open toward the sky.  The road itself dark and foggy.  The wax that lines the edges of the road ablaze leading to the staircase rising up the hill to the shrine’s gates.  A black inky liquid drips and pools at the bottom of the stairway.  Two winged beast stand atop the red arch to the shrine baring their teeth openly snarling as they watch Apricot’s approach up the stairs.  

Reaching the top, she sees the reaper standing inside the courtyard moving his hands his back facing her.  She stops to observe the creatures who stood atop the gateway.  They razor teeth more apparent as she has come closer.  Apricot as she steps in front of the archway the two winged beasts drop in front of her roaring.  With a long boney arm one creature slashes toward Apricot.  She jumps back feeling the wind of the fingertips brush against her nose.  Lunging forward her blazing hand lets loose a bolt of fire directly into the creature’s head.  It’s skull caves in, crushed from the impact.  Falling limp like a rag doll the creature slams into the ground.

Wielding the flame like a blade Apricot retracts from its fallen body, placing her arm up in the air.  The other creature steps forward striking at her but she taps the arm away cutting off a segment.  It immediately steps in for another go at her. Apricot slides her flaming blade along its other arm parring its attack.   Apricot’s blade slices the arm in half splintering down the middle.  The beast howls in pain holding the ruined limb.  She does not hesitate for a second and brings her blade clean down the creature’s head to its pelvis.  The split falls aside spraying blood before turning into blue orbs.

She catches her breath her eyes not moving from the reaper.  Walking through the threshold of the red gate she enters the shrine’s courtyard.  Her mind races with the knowledge this is the end and that he held the ability to kill her with the snap of his fingers.  She did not know how he did that trick when she first met him and hoped it was just that, a trick.  The reaper repositions his arms in front of his chest and turns to face Apricot.  “My thou has’t the fury of a devil burning in thy eyes.  What is it that thee plan on doing with that blazing fire of yours?”

She points her blade to him.  Portions of the flaming blade dripping off onto the ground rippling out from their landing.  “I have come to kill you once and for all!” Apricot tells the reaper.  He let’s out a small chuckle.

"A motley-minded endeavor.  Thee cannot killeth me.  I can understandeth the sentiment though.  I too findeth this world a horrible lodging as well.  Thee art still blind.” The reaper says extending his hand to Apricot.  “Cometh walketh with me.”

Apricot shakes her head.  “The time for talk is over!” She yells with tears rolling down her cheeks.  The heat of the reaper’s presence alone causes them to dry before reaching the edge of her cheek.

He lowers his head regarding Apricot with what to her appears like a solum stance.  “Peradventure mine method wast too harsh. I apologize but I hadst to has’t thee understandeth the true nature of this world. It’s retched festering evil. So I hath sent thee on this journey, to gain wisdom. Now I giveth thee a new journey.”

“What are you on about?” Apricot croaks still pointing the blade in his direction.  As he glides toward Apricot she brings the blade in closer readying a stab.

“Understandeth me Apricot. From the beginning I hath brought thee through the nightmare.” His voice soothing, slow, calm and full of comfort.  Apricot hated it more than anything.  Such wicked magic lays in his tone.  “Thee knoweth the rate of thy friends. Thee seen the deepest torment of those above. The cries of those sacrificed in vain. Now thee art eft to taketh a rightful lodging. To end this chaos, tis in thy hands now. Thee alone has’t the choice to save this world or alloweth it to rot eternally.”

Apricot shakes her head.  “I don’t understand?”

The reaper stops moving closer to her landing onto the ground.  He nods his head bowing.  “At which hour we first hath met. Thee wast a fool. Thee hadst no knowledge of the real world. The truth of this city. The ruling powers who abused its people. Thee didst not knoweth about the vile criminals who harm the people.

Now thou has’t seen the reality of the gangs and their overlords. Thou has’t seen the poor folk trodden upon and given nothing but misery. The royals who treat those below those folk as livestock for slaughter. The unruly demons who haunt this world.

The wars and those who maketh wars. The uncaring hearts of the hath lost. The savage minds of the abusers. The dreams, stolen from valorous people. See this truth Apricot. Together we can changeth this all. Join me, beest the god this world needeth.  
 
By thy hands those gents don’t needeth to die. We can save all those who died. Those who were undone to this world beest hath brought to death. All those sacrificed given new life. In a paradise which thee shalt rule. All thou has’t to doth is allow me to bringeth thee across the threshold.  We can cease all this evil.”  The reaper says holding out his clawed hand to Apricot.  "So doth thee chooseth life or doth thee chooseth death?”

Apricot’s eyes fill with tears.  “Why me!” she cries out with a scream.

"The Okabe abused mine plan.  Instead, those gents tormented people for their own selfish gain.  Those gents hath used me as a nexus for power. Urias, that gent is a madman. Kyo, the lady too wast hath lost. The ones ere thee, those gents hath lost their minds. Thou has’t endured. Tis thee I searched for and forged from hellfire.  Cometh Apricot, tis time.”  Apricot hesitates.  Her steps slow like a child’s first steps as she enters into the seal.  Looking up at the reaper she can see the eyes behind the mask observing her.  Adjusting like a machine’s, cold dead artificial eyes.  "Very valorous, I am glad thou has’t madeth the right choice.”

Apricot lifts her hand to place it into the reapers.  Her fingers hovering just above the tips of his claw.  She let’s out a roar as she stabs her blade into his chest.  “You are a liar!” The reaper flies back away from Apricot letting out a howl.  She points the burning blade at him.  “You’re no better than the Okabe.  You murder and scheme and manipulate people.  You’re no righteous god!  You are a devil.”

The reaper growls under his breath.  He uses his claw to check his body.  There is a massive gash in his chest, his claws peak below the sliced fabric into the metallic casing.  “I am not flesh. This is a manifestation of me.  If ‘t be true this how it must beest, then I shalt taketh what is mine by force. Apricot thee shalt beest mine, willing or as mine unwilling host. I shalt ride thee as a horse if ‘t be true I must!”

He lunges toward her with his claws stabbing for her chest.  Side stepping the reaper she blocks his attack with her arm.  “You want to strip people of their will.  Even me, the one you want to change the world.  You want to strip my will from me.” Apricot huffs ducking his next strike.  She retorts by making an upward strike against his leg severing the mechanical prosthetic.  The leg falls onto the ground twitching revealing cables and hanging cords.

"Every world is not complete without a god and a devil. Thither cannot beest valorous without evil. Balance is the key.” the reaper growls slashing Apricot in she shoulder.  Blood spirts out as she feels the burning of her muscles.  She lets out a cry of pain backing away from the reaper.

Apricot rolls off the blow but her face twitches from the exhausting pain.  “Balance is a lie!  Evil always wants balance because it is nothing against good.  Evil is evil and good is good!  The only ones who try to blur the lines are evil ones!”  Apricot roars slashing her flaming blade at the reaper’s face.  The beaked mask shatters.  As the pieces fall away Apricot can see the face of a mechanical manikin; its artificial blue eyes and blond white hair hanging down from the jester’s cap.  “Nothing about you is real.”

The reaper shakes his mechanical body.  To Apricot its seems to be falling apart.  Taking this opportunity she strikes again cutting clear through its torso and left arm.  The upper body of the machine floats looking at her with an artificial grin. "Flesh is undone by mine spirit. So I has’t addressed thee with the spirit of phantoms. Wherefore doth thee bethink I hadst thee hunt those folk and gaveth thee the power to absorb their energy. That is wherefore thy soul blade hath grown stronger. Now thee art eft to beest wed with mine spirit.  Alloweth me in!”

Apricot jumps away.  “You want to possess me?”

The reaper nods his head.  “Forsooth. You art mine vessel. That is what you art destined to beest. Now surrender yourself. I has’t damaged thee enough already.”  The flying body lunges at Apricot spraying black fluid in its wake.  Apricot tries to dodge the attack but he is moving far too quickly.  A silver rod guards the reaper’s claw from touching Apricot.  She let’s out a gasp as she sees Shiori pressing the rod against the reaper glaring into its eyes.  "Shiori wherefore doth thee cease me?  We hadst a deal!”

“Don’t you know when you have been doublecrossed.” Shiori grunts throwing the reaper to the ground.  Heuses his teeth to take off the white glove that covers his hand.  “Run Apricot.  Get outside the seal.”  He commands slamming his hand into the reaper’s body.  A red glow comes over Shiori as though he was struck by lightning.  “What has’t thee done!” he yells.  “It’s over for you.”

Apricot hesitates, the sight she is seeing causes her heart to flutter.  “Shiori, what is happening?”

“Apricot, help me.  The reaper is in me.  Come help me out of the seal!” Shiori gasps his mouth foaming.

Apricot approaches him with a careful step as he shakes his head.  “Apricot no!” Hunter screams.  “Don’t touch him.”  She turns her head to see Hunter standing at the edge of the seal.  “Get out of the seal!”

“But Shiori.” Apricot whimpers.  She turns to look at him as his skin splits, his body decaying right before her eyes.  “Shiori, I am sorry." she says.  He smiles as a tear escapes his eye.  Apricot turns and runs out of the seal.  Hunter holds up his hand as Shiori’s body jerks attempting to move but instead holds in place.

“Thee wench!  Cometh back thee wench! Don’t leaveth me! Thee art going to rid the world! No, this cannot beest! Shiori, thee fool. Doth thee very much expect to survive. We art going to beest trapped in the dead world! Is this what thee wanteth?” the reaper screams from Shiori’s mouth.

“Let’s see what your world is like.” he cynically comments as Hunter’s hand presses onto the rim of the seal.   The symbols and signs light up as the ground turns pitch black like a void.  It sucks Shiori into the darkness as the symbols explode with a roar.  Hunter grabs Apricot’s arm pulling her away from the ring as the two escape from the powerful vacuum winds.  With one last boom the grounds disappears, reappearing as a deep chasm in the temple’s court.

Rising from the ground Apricot walks towards the destroyed temple’s courtyard looking at where the polished brick grounds once was.  Her heart pounds harder.  He is gone.  He was taken to that horrible place.  “Shiori!” she cries out as the rivers loose from her eyes.  She grabs her face squeezing.  “Why did it have to end like this?”  She sniffles.  “What the hell Shiori?”  She turns her head towards Hunter.  His back is to the pit watching the distant city as the skies clear from the glow of red into a fading distant haze.

“You!” Apricot screams.  “You did this!  You knew!  You knew he would die!  Didn’t you?” She waits for his reply but one never comes.  Instead, he walks to the staircase without a word.  “Don’t ignore me.”  Stopping at the top step he sits.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Hunter pats the ground next to him.  “Because, you would not have allowed us to do it.” he comments in a dull tone.  Apricot walks up to the staircase sitting next to him.  “Don’t be mad at me.  He made me swear not to tell you.  I knew, and he did too.”

As the first beams of morning light peaked over the horizon the two could see that the sounds of battle have all but gone away.  Now the sounds of sirens bounded from every street.  “It’s over now.”  Apricot says looking toward Hunter who too had tears rolling down his cheeks.  She grabs onto his shoulder pull him in for a hug.  The two waited for hours until the morning light had come over the city.  As the sound of sirens dies down Apricot and Hunter leave together.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

Solenne grabs the back of the electronic cuffs pressing the microswitch. They buzz with a mechanical hiss releasing Apricot from the pole onto the plated floor.   Tossing the cuffs aside Solenne moves over to Hunter. “You’re all right, baby.  We will get you down.”

Apricot glances toward Shiori who gives her a coy glance wiggling his hands.  “Care to help me down." Solene takes Hunter by the hand as she releases him.  He slides down with a thump onto the floor.  Apricot inspects the metal contraption spotting the little switch by his wrist.  She releases the cuffs dropping Shiori immediately.  He pats himself off giving a stretch looking back over to Solenne.  “Boy, am I glad to see you again.”

“How did you know?” Apricot asks Solenne.

Solenne’s eyes are filled with tears, her expression flat while she gathers her words.  Her Apricot notices her hands shaking like a leaf.  “I did not feel right.  The way they took you.  I followed the car to a really sketchy run down building.” Hunter glances over to Shiori who nods his head.  The pair leaves the two alone walking towards the entrance to the room.  “I scoped out the building until they took you out blindfolded, I followed the truck to the subway station, then they took you underground.  I kept my distance from the guards but I knew something was wrong about all this.  Then that guy over there…” Solenne points to Urias’s dead body his mask laying several feet from his head. “He made people explode by looking at them.” Solenne shivers.  “I never seen anything like that.  I kept following him down after.  He was mumbling about black gods and rites.”  Solenne shakes her head.  “I don’t know, Apricot, what is going on?”

She wraps both of her arms around Solenne.  “You did a good thing.  We can’t talk about it right now Solenne.  There are still things we have to do.  So can you help us back to the surface?  We need to get to the shrine to end all this.”

Shiori steps away from Hunter. “You two, go without me.” he says looking at the machine.  Even still, it made that horrible droning groan. “Someone still has to stop the machine.  Might as well be me.”

Apricot gives Shiori a confident nod.  Hunter turns to the exit.  “We have to hurry.  That machine is active and who knows what the surface looks like now.”

“What do you mean?” Apricot inquires.

“He means the ability for phantoms to cross over effortlessly.”  Shiori turns his head to the gate.  “The city is probably swarming with manifestations as long as this machine has been running. I am sure there are plenty enough of them to cause some real damage.”

“Phantoms?” Solenne voice shakes as her body tremors.  “What are those?”  

“Monsters.” Apricot states plainly.  “Come, we have to go now.”

~

“It’s just up ahead.” Solenne says as the group runs up a ramp.  At the time they enter into the shaft of a subway rail system.  “They hid it pretty deep in here.”  She says leading the pair in the right direction.  The lights at the edge of the tunnel flicker and flash as though the power is about to go out.  Apricot looks over at Hunter who glances back over at her.  Solenne freezes in the threshold her body stiff like a statue as she stairs toward the metro platform.

Apricot stops in front of Solenne, to see a sight that made her blood chill.  A giant monster with a body like a snake stood on all fours.  Its scales overlapped each other like plates of armor.  Six eyes adorn on the sides of the monster’s head, open wide displaying their brassy color.  The thing moves with jerky motions as it cocks its head back and forth snapping its tail that reaches to the other side of the platform.  Hunter grabs Solenne’s hand.  “You should stay back.” he whispers to her.

The creature let’s out a bone rattling roar sending tremors through the group.  Solenne let’s out a scream of her own backing away.  Apricot raises her hand allowing it to glow ablaze.  Seeing the sudden fire from Apricot’s arm, Solenne stumbles falling onto the ground.  Running alongside the wall Hunter jumps onto the platform diving to a bench.  The creature turns its head to face Hunter.  “Raaa!” he yells.  The creature responds with a roar of its own.  From the razor jaws a bundle of long tongues expand out reaching at Hunter.  He jumps off the bench as the tongues collide with the seat snapping the wood in half.  

“Apricot, I just got to touch it.” Hunter yells to her.

Apricot nods her head running alongside the rail.  “Hey!” she screams.  The creature turns its head to face Apricot snapping the massive tail along the wall cutting deep into the concrete.  The creature lets out another scream similar to a jaguar.  Slamming its claw down in front of Apricot the massive beast blocks her path.  Apricot turns tail letting out a shrill shriek as she did not expect the thing to move so quick.  She can feel the heat from its open maw as the creature snaps at her.  The stench from its breath quickly creeping upon her.

“BANG! BANG! BANG!” Solenne’s gun roars.  She stands on the other side of the metro arm out stretched pointing her pistol at the monster.  She huffs seeing the gargantuan thing gaze at her releasing a huff.  Diving forward, Apricot tumbles into the wall just missing the massive scales threatening to grind her into past.  In a moment the beast is upon Solenne.

Hunter let’s out a scream as the tail whips in his direction.  He falls to the floor having it swish over him.  The tail comes back around as the creature raises its head over Solenne.  Her legs fail her going weak.  She huddles against the wall covering her body from the dripping open row of teeth promising death.  The mouth opens and with a snap Solenne is left screaming.  She dives forward as the creature’s jaw collides into the wall.  She looks behind her to see the three orange eyes gazing back at her, the blacks of the eye filling to cover entirely.  Solenne kicks her legs against the massive head.

“Not today!” Hunter yells as he places both his hands onto the side of the creature.  His arms light up as the creature turns to regard him.  In an instant the creature bursts into orbs of blue light dissipating about the room.  Solenne huddles up still kicking her legs in the open air.  She lets out a scream getting back to her feet.  Her body shakes and shivers as her hands wildly spasms.  “You asked what a phantom was.  That was one.” Hunter chuckles.

Solenne slowly turns her head to see Apricot crawling up onto the platform.  She walks over to Solenne placing her arm on her back.  “It’s ok.  We will get you out of this.”  She then turns to Hunter.  “How did you do that without silver?”

Hunter lifts the sleeves of his coat to show his arms covered in markings.  “They are all the sigils needed for exhortation.  I can break the bonds of a phantom’s energy and force them to lose their physical form for a time.  I suggest we get moving before that thing can reassemble itself.”

Up the subway metro stairs the group is greeted to a red glowing sky for as far as the eye could see.  Every light in the city flashes with furious intensity as if a universal surge has infested the city.  The sounds of gunshots rung all around alongside the screams of people and beasts alike.  Blue Ash had become a war zone.  The heavy smells of smoke and iron filled the air.  Sirens blare trumpeting death.

“What is happening!?" Solenne questions looking at the hellscape the city turned into.

Apricot takes a deep breath and releases it slowly.  “Solenne what part of town are we in?”

Solenne furrows her brow.  “I am not sure, some part of south side.”

“We need to get to the outer eastern side of town.” Hunter tells her.  “We have work to finish.”

“What do you mean!?” Solenne questions her voice laden in a panic.

“Solenne, your bullets won’t kill them.  They need to be hit with silver.” Apricot tells Solenne.  She bends down taking off her shoe removing the inner sole.  “Here.” She says standing back up holding a silver knife in her hand.  “Go protect yourself with this and inform the others.  Anything silver will work.  It harms them to even touch them with it.”

Solenne accepts the knife in her hand.  “What about you?  How will you protect yourself?”

Apricot smirks.  “I got my own ways of dealing with them.”

“Well, I am coming with you.” Solenne retorts.

Apricot and Hunter nod at each other.  “All right, lets go.”  The group run down the street in the eastern direction.  Apricot keeps seeing a glittering in the sky as airships drop in soldiers to fight in overrun locations.  As they run, they pass many monsters rummaging through buildings.  Down many of the roadways blockades of soldiers wall off portions of the city.  “I am still wanted.  Most likely by now Hunter is too.“ Apricot remembers, that knowledge lays heavy on her mind.

Solenne can’t come.  Hunter and her both know this.  However, there was no way she would let the pair of them go off by themselves.  Solenne had always been loyal to a fault.  Seeing one of the large blockades ahead Apricot stops. “Solenne, I need your help.”

~

The skies are full of the supernatural glow of strange flying monsters.  Their bodies long and sharp, with many appendages dangling from their sides.  A large tail flows from their rear whipping in the air.  Their heads are like that of massive cicadas with a hundred eyes.  The skies flash alight as fighter jets shoot rockets from their wings.  They scream loudly as the collide in massive fiery bursts leaving smokey ghosts in their wake.

The flying creatures wave their arms knocking planes out of the sky falling in a death spiral a heavy tail of burning smoke follows.  From the mouth of a creature a burst of light lances scorching the earth below.  A barrage of laser light from the ground strikes one of the flying creatures blowing bloody holes through their body.  Tumbling out of the sky it impacts into the towers below smashing pieces of the buildings off with its corpse.

Out of the burning ash marches several mechanical Valkners who fire upon the terrors.  All the while blue orbs fly up out of the ground manifesting as creatures.  Their forms are diverse and horrible to behold, beasts and twisted figures born from nightmares.

A group of people inside a storefront with furniture stacked against the doors and windows huddle together watching as the monsters walk through the street.  A pair of men hide behind a dumpster in an alley, both smalling together hoping they avoid the sight of two insect like centipede creatures slithering towards them.  Their many segmented legs scratching against the pavement while they pass within inches.

A group of armored SDP soldiers are firing their rifles at a monster that stood about twice the height of a normal person.  It’s head a bulbous thing without a face.  Two long tentacles with claw like hooks at their ends dangle from its side like arms.  Its legs a thick and slow as the horror lumbers toward the officers; civilians running past as they hold the line.   A short burst of fire proves ineffective as the slow-moving creature approaches seemingly unphased by their bullets.  They back away as the monster advances, still firing at it hoping that a shot will stop it.

From the alleyway the two insects things rise out.  One dives on top of the closest soldier.  He lets out a scream as its mandibles bite through his armor ripping into his chest.  The event remains unnoticed by the other two soldiers while they firing on the approaching nightmare.  One of the soldiers turns his head after hearing the blood squelch.  He freezes seeing the centipede like creatures both eating the dead body of the officer.  “Holy shit!” he screams in a panic.  His air hose hissing as his rate of breathing increases.

The other soldier stops firing looking over towards his partner who is facing the wrong direction.  “What the hell are you doing!” he yells unloading his clip on the creature.  “Raaaa!" He screams.  The creature does not seem phased at all regardless of how many bullets impact its carapace.  “Damn it!” he roars as the big hulking monster slashes him with its tentacle.  The claw pierces his face mask cutting through the solid visor.  Raising the claw away the monster removes the man’s head and a portion of his spinal column from his body.  

The last soldier watches as the monster opens a hole in its chest stuffing the head inside.  He looks down at the armor of the soldier still upright without a head.  Backing against the side of a building he turns his head to see both the insects already half eaten the other soldier’s body.  He points his gun toward the insects letting loose on them.  Their carapaces shine as the bullets spark off of them.  “Come, kill me!” he says getting to his feet.  “Want some?!  Eat this!” the man roars pulling a rod from his chest.  The explosion shatters the glass of the cafe leaving everyone inside screaming.  As the dust settles the monsters outside are no more, along with the soldiers.  A smoldering pile of char and ash is all that remains.

~

The SDP wall the entire portion of the uneffected city off with troops to contain the advancing hoard.  The first layer of the barricade is made up of five Valkner mechanical soldiers.  They tower over the next line of ground troops who are huddled together.

“Solenne, we stick to the plan.“ Solenne nods giving Apricot grunt of agreement before she turns away heading towards the row of soldiers.

Apricot looks to Hunter whose face is covered by an unease.  “We can’t go through this way.” Hunter tells her.

She nods her head looking back towards Solenne who is now about half a block away.  “I know, I just told her that so she would not come with us.”

As Solenne approaches the barricade one soldier stops her.  “Officer Solenne!  What in the world are you doing out here!” the soldier yelps.

“Sorry, I can’t explain right now.  We need to let these two through.”  Solenne looks back toward Apricot, however she is gone.

The man lets out a small chuckle.  “Everyone is allowed through.  Solenne, are you ok?” Her face downturns as she furrows her brow.  “Come on, it’s better on the other side.  We will hold the line, you get yourself somewhere safe.”

Solenne turns to face the rear of the barricade to see a translucent form crawling out of the wall.  She points screaming “Look out!” The large Valkner does not even have a chance to respond before the form becomes a huge beast with a wolf like face and ram like horns.  It grabs hold of the Valkner sundering its cockpit open with razor jaws.  The other side is attacked by a giant tangle of black thorny tendrils with scythe like arms and the head of a bird.  It rips into the machine slicing it clear open.  The electric components from the machine burst into flames.  The other three Valkners turn to fire as more of the creatures come out of the walls.   The large rounds blow holes in the creatures forcing the attackers back.

The soldiers on foot flee away from the other side of the barriers.  Solenne freezes in a state of panic.  The soldier talking with her grabs her arm dragging her away from the mayhem.  “This is a nightmare." Solenne murmurs to herself.

The ground troops open fire, their bullets spark against the strange monsters’ as numbers of the rounds impact causing minor wounds others doing little to nothing.  “Damn you!” yells the leader of the Valkner squad steps forward blowing the beast to pieces.  “We hold the line!”

Solenne turns just in time to see a scythe slashing towards her.  She side steps the blow as it narrowly misses her chest.  In the next moment a pair of mandibles from the creature are coming right for her.  She stabs the knife Apricot gave her directly into its large bulb of an eye.  The creature backs up sparking as it lets out a gasp.  The officers shoot the monster blowing holes in it until it falls onto the ground.  Its body turns into blue light seeping back into the ground.

“Are you ok?” an officer asks Solenne.  She replies with a simple nod.  Turning towards the Valkners she observes the group still fighting off an oncoming group of creatures.  Solenne draws her gun popping out her old clip and exchanging it for a new one.  The other ground officers move with her as they join the fight together.  A creature latches onto one Valkner knocking it to the ground.  It bites into the cockpit ripping out the pilot.  It shakes its head back and forth chewing into their body.  “Fall back!” screams the leader of the group.

Solenne turns to see a pair of monsters ripping the officer next to her to shreds.  His blood spraying from his body.  Solenne can feel her heart pumping hard but they trained her for moments like this.  They trained her for moments like this.  She, she, she never knew there were moments like this.  Nightmares, horrors, war is mercy compared to this, Solenne thought to herself.  She runs with the other soldiers breaking the line leaving the gunfire and screaming behind her.  “Is this the end of the world?” She whimpers to herself.

~

Sweat pours from Apricot’s brow as she sprints along the torn streets.  She travels as fast as she can. Without the rails running the only way to the shrine is on foot.  Something she woefully mourns.  As they continue on their way, it seems like at every major intersection of the city there is a barricade and most them were under attack from the creatures.

“We are going to have to run through a barricade.” Hunter tells Apricot much to her dismay.

Apricot shakes her head.  “No, we keep running until we find a clear area to cross.” Not wanting to admit the truth of the matter.

Hunter grabs Apricot’s arm stopping her.  “It will not happen.  We need to run through, it’s the only way to get to the shrine.”

There had to be another way.  They could not risk being captured.  The longer it takes the less likely it is that they will end this horrible turn of events.  Apricot clears her throat yelling over the chaotic ambience.  “What if they stop us?”

“They will be more worried about the monsters ripping them to pieces.  That is what I am going to wager” Hunter tells her.  “Look you can keep running but I am going to cross here, now.  We have wasted too much time trying to find an opening.”  Apricot looks over to see the group is firing on a southern street, they need to go east.  Maybe, just maybe there is a chance.  “They won’t be looking if we cross from behind.”

“I don’t know Hunter.” she retorts.

Hunter shakes his head running.  Apricot takes a deep breath, the ache in her ankles growing as she picks up her pace after him.  As they approach the line, the sound of their gunfire stabs into Apricot’s ears.  It’s a sound so loud it pounds with every bullet released.  She raises both of her hands to her ears but even still the booms seep through.  With her head down she runs through the squad attempting to avoid getting noticed.

“Die you bastards!” yells a man who is holding down on the trigger.  The reverberation rings through her bones.  Apricot glances over to see the line of bodies these creatures had killed.  Some soldiers are torn up and bloody yet still they fought.  Large chunks of the Volkner’s armor has been scraped off.  As Hunter predicted they paid them no mind at all.  Their focus is entirely on the phantoms leaving the two well on their way.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

Grasping at her chest Apricot catches her breath.  She looks behind her from the dark alleyway which has become her sanctuary.  To her delight she sees a group of officers run past without paying much regard to her.  Letting out a long sigh of relief she rests beside an over filled dumpster.  The sound of shoes walking down the narrow grungy expanse between buildings raises Apricot’s eyes.

“Apricot.” a familiar voice calls to her.  Apricot glances from behind the dumpster to see Solenne in uniform standing several yards away from her on the other side of the alley.  “Don’t move.”

“Solenne?” Apricot gasps sitting up.  “I don’t know what you have,”

“Stop!” Solenne draws her pistol leveling it in Apricot’s direction.  “Don’t move! I will get you off the ground.”

“It’s not what you think!” Apricot cries.

Solenne’s cheeks turn red as she grits her teeth.  “I could not believe it.  I really did not want to.  I knew something was off about you.”

“I swear!” Apricot shouts.

“Shut up!” Solone cuts her off.  “You’re a terrorist.  You tried to murder the ruling family.  It all makes sense now.  The strange behavior.  The being in all those strange events.  The shady movements.  The questions.  Everything.  Its so clear! You betray’d me Apricot.  I trusted you!” Solenne screams.  “You killed so many people.  You are a traitor!”

Apricot shakes her head.  “No, it’s not like that!  Solenne you have to let me go.  I need to get to the old shrine.  You would never believe me but there is an evil being trying to take over the city!”

Solenne pauses staring at Apricot her firm hard face softens slightly.  A tear grows in her eye before she sniffs.  “I don’t know what happened to you.  I don’t know.” Solenne again sniffs.  “Put your hands up!” her voice quivers.  Apricot follows her order.  “Behind your head.  You are lucky it is me who found you.  You left your cell on.  Stupid.  I was tracking you all around the city.  I know what you been doing today.”

“Solenne, you have to trust me.  Please.  There is so much I have wanted to tell you.  You cannot do this!  After, take me to the shrine.  Arrest me after I get to the shrine!” Solenne shakes her head as she draws a pair of mechanical cuffs.  With a swift hand Solenne firmly presses Apricot’s face against the cool brick wall.  Her wrists are bound tightly by the ratcheting cuffs.  With a tug Solenne draws her off the wall.  She grabs her wrists lifting Apricot to her feet.

“Spread your legs.“ she commands.  Apricot follows her orders.  Solenne bends down putting the mechanical cuffs on her feet.  She assists Apricot to the edge of the alleyway.

“I have to inform you, you are now considered a captive of the state.  Your rights are officially revoked.  You will be given a chance to prove your innocence before a tribunal selected by the Okabe government.  As of this moment all social credit you may have is invalid until further notice.  All monies procured will be revoked and returned only after receiving personhood again.” Solenne presses a button on the side of her head.  “I got that 52-50.”

Apricot looks over to see Solenne’s face scrunch up.  “Excuse me.  Sir, this is a police matter.” she replies with a voice laden with confusion.

Listening closely Apricot can hear over the earpiece “Orders are from above.  Comes from Empress Kyo herself.  She is to be handed over to the royal guard.”

“That cannot be.” Solenne says turning her head to look Apricot in the eyes.

“Sure as hell beats me too Miss Solenne but what can ya do?  Sorry to do this but I had to lock down your vehicle.  They will be picking her up shortly.  Until then hold her.” the young man says.

“Got it. Thanks Joji.” Solenne says switching off her ear piece.  She turns her head from Apricot stroking her chin.  Solenne glances towards her.

Apricot sheepishly looks down at the ground.  “You should let me go Solenne.  The Okabe’s are not what they seem.”

Solenne face changes to one of indifference.  This was not between friends anymore.  Apricot sees it written all over her face.  This is simply an official police matter.  “Sorry, this is how it’s going to be.” Solenne sighs looking at the device on her armband.  “They did not even let me log your arrest.”

“They are going to kill me Nene.” Apricot tells her.

Solenne nods her head.  “Shut up Apricot.  Don’t do that cute stuff with me right now.” she says in a soft voice.  “I got a duty to uphold the law.  You broke it.  I can’t violate my orders.”

Apricot sighs.  “I understand Sol.  I forgive you.”

“Well, that is good to know.  However, I don’t need the forgiveness of a traitor.” Solenne says looking over to see an empire guard vehicle pull up.  “The fact remains you’re still a killer, regardless.”  The black cruiser stops next to the pair, the interior completely obscured by tinted glass.  The passenger side doors open as two men dressed in black suits with glasses walk around to Solenne.

“Officer Solenne,” one guard says.  “Thank you for apprehending this rogue agent.”  The other agent grabs Apricot by the arm and tugs her out of Solenne’s resistant grasp.  Apricot glances behind her toward Solenne, who shifts her eyes from her.

Solenne lifts her arm to show the agent the screen on her forearm.  “It won’t let me log her arrest.”  Apricot hears Solenne point out to the other royal guard.

“This is no longer a public matter.  It is best you forget about this little incident.” the guard retorts his expression unchanged.

Apricot feels the hand of the man push on her head forcing her into the back of the car.  “Get in there, sit.” he grunts.

“She is my responsibility while she is under my arrest.” Solenne bluntly points out.

The guard chuckles.  “Cute, she is not your concern anymore.” Apricot can’t even see out of the car.  The man steps inside and sits next to her.  Once he closes the rear passenger door, she knows her fate is sealed.

~

Looking over the balcony of her high-rise tower Empress Kyo watches the cars traveling along the highways.  Their lights battling against the dying rays of the setting sun.  “There you are my queen.” says a man in a gruff voice.  Bowing on one knee before the gold hem of her red long-tailed dress.

“Report.” Kyo says.

“Your majesty, we have captured the traitors.  They are in transport to the holding cells to await your judgement.” the man says keeping his head lowered.

Kyo smiles turning a glance towards Natsukawa who lays against the rail a wicked grin growing ever larger across his cut up face.  “Very good.  The prophecy is complete.  It is time for us to play our part.”

Natsukawa chuckles at her remark.  “Are you ready?”

“I am.” Kyo replies turning towards the man bowing.  She places her fingers on the back of his neck.  “Rise.  You have done well.  Go inform the others that Natsukawa shall be my escort.  I only want a small retainer with me.”

“Yes, Empress.” the man says placing a hand on his chest before bowing.

Kyo raises her hand as the man leaves.  “One more thing.  Begin the ritual cleansing.  I want it prepared before I arrive.”

~

“Get in there!” yells one of the guards as Apricot is tossed onto the frigid concrete floor.  Her body tumbles as her elbow presses into her ribs.  “You’re done girl.  You’re so done.” says the guard as he turns heel walking down the hall.

Apricot squirms to sit upright against the empty cell’s wall.  The bricks are uneven pushing into her back allowing her no rest.  The floor is not even smooth.  It’s even sharp in places.  Apricot thought to herself it is as if designed in such a way to ensure that result.  “So they got you too.” Shiori’s voice calls from a nearby cell.

“Shiori?” Apricot calls out.

“Yeah,” he swiftly replies.

Apricot feels a warmth of joy come over her.  “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” Shiori says after a long pause Shiori continues “Looks like this is the end of the line for us.”

The gate to the holding cells opens with a metallic clank.  “Damn it!  Let go of me!” Hunter screams.  Apricot watches as four officers carry him completely bound up like a worm.  They take him to the cell across from Apricots hoisting the door open and in the same fluid motion throw his body onto the floor.  He lets out a cry of pain as he lands.  Left gasping on the floor Hunter moans.  “You bastards!” he weezes.

“Shut up, kid.  You are going to hell soon enough, anyway.  That goes for all of you.” says one officer as they are exiting the room.

“Hunter! You’re alive!” Apricot says.  Hunter nods his head.  “Shiori are your arms free?”

“Fraid not.  They got me bound up pretty tight.  How about you?” Shiori asks.

Apricot slumps.  “I am too.”

“Figures, they consider us dangerous.” Shiori chimes.  “Even in these cells.”

“Shiori?” Apricot asks.

“Yeah,”

“Where is Cortez?”

“He got away I guess.” Shiori says.  “Heh, he was always good at that.  Last I saw of him he was being treated with the street doc I left him with.”

“Shiori.  How did you get captured?” Apricot asks suspecting something more was there.  She could not put her finger on it but her suspicions were Shiori is lying.

“Heh, I didn’t make it far.  I dropped Cortez off and got jumped by the police about three blocks away.”  Shiori says.  “Hey this is a little much right now.  I think I will sleep some.”

“Why?  How?” Apricot asks.

Shiori chuckles.  “Not much else to do.  Might as well get rested for whatever comes next.”

“You can sleep when you are dead.” Hunter growls.

Shiori laughs.  “I am sure we are dead.”

The words rung harshly in Apricots ear.  Shiori has nothing to save them.  She does not and Hunter can’t either.  They are as good as dead; he is right.  It hurt to hear it.  Even if Apricot already knew it.  Still, he might be right.  The best thing they can do is rest.  Placing her head onto the cold floor Apricot shuts her soggy eyes.

~

Slumber is broke by the rasping hands upon Apricot’s forearm.  “Get up.” A voice grunts as they hoist her to her feet.  In groggy grasp the surrealness of the situation escapes Apricot.  Her eyes dangle open as her senses come to.  Halfway down a hall as the sound of hollers grow louder.  They do not give her more than a moment as she blinks to see a well-kept man place a black blindfold over her eyes.  “Get your mitts off of me!” she hears Shiori roar.

“Shut up.” a man says as she hears Shiori let out a guttural retch.

Something wet hit the floor.  “Heh,” a man laughs.

“Ah shit.” another man groans.  “Seriously, did you have to puke.” a loud thwack followed.

Shiori let out a cry before screaming “Damn you!”

“Hey, cut it out.  Empress Kyo wants them alive.” an older man growls.

“Yeah yeah,” a girl’s voice comments.

The trek seems long, but shorter than it should have seemed.  Apricot is lead along a path for quiet a distance before they allow her to sit.  She figured it is a car or a van with the others.  She is not entirely sure where exactly where she was or even where she is being taken.  There is the smell of exhaust but after the movement stops, they lead her down a few flights of stairs.

“Where are you taking us?” Shiori barks.

Apricot hears what sounds like a punch before Shiori let’s out a gasp.  “Speak again and I’ll leave your tongue behind.  That goes for any of you.”

A stretch of length hit her leaving her to question exactly where they are going.  The sounds of the city became silent and disappeared replaced by silence.  The low hum of something growing louder as they continue on their journey.

She notes an elevation change as they were heading down what seems like several ramps winding deeper and deeper.  She concludes they are somewhere under the city.  She is lead into a room of some sort, Apricot can not tell exactly how large it is but it is fairly sizable.  Her back is pressed against something cold and round.  Someone grabs her by the arms and she can feel a coil being wrapped around her wrist again.  With a hiss the mechanical cuffs tighten automatically.  Someone removes her blindfold, the light peers through causing her a fair bit of eye strain as they adjust to the sudden brightness.

A white room, a large white room.  In the middle is a strange-looking machine of some sort with a large circular mirror.  Polished black, of pure darkness reflecting everything in it.  She looks around and notes she is tied to some sort of metal post.  At her feet there is an indention in the ground much like a trough.  Looking around the room she notices Shiori and Hunter too are tied to similar posts along with several other people.  Her heart skips when she spots that black-haired man Cortez knew.  She could not place her finger on his name, however.  Geno, Genva something like that.  His face appears twisted still, like caught between his demon form and his mortal body.

She counts five armored guards in the room.  A pair of by the altar, two at the sides of the room and one waiting at the entrance to the room.  Her attention diverts to the clicking of a pair of people walking into view.  In a red dress with gold trim Kyo prances with an expression gleeful with the scent of madness.  Following by her side is Natsukawa who appears scarred and wounded.  “Well, she finally shows herself.” Shiori grunts.

“What is going on?” a young girl screams who too is bound.

Kyo smirks as she takes her place in the middle.  In both of her hands is a long object wrapped in cloth.  Apricot assumes it is some kind of relic, or a gun.  In this moment her worries are not of death but rather the moments leading up to that death.  Knowing Kyo’s love of ritual she figured it would involve some kind of unknown taboo torture to invoke some kind of secret power.

“When I get out of here, I will rip your spine out!” yells that Geno man while his jaw elongates into that of a canine’s.  He snarls and snaps his jaws as his body ripples.  His muscles expand out as he turns into a beast.  The girls chained next to him scream in terror.

Kyo gives a coy glance towards him, her eyes lined in a thick coat of eyeshadow.  Her face caked with makeup making her look more like an artificial model than a human.  Her lips peal open to reveal the devil’s smile as she unwraps the cloth.  With a pull she reveals a silver decorative knife resting in her palms.  Natsukawa walks in front of her bowing his head holding his open palms out.  She places the blade into his hands, turns, and walks over to the large black mirror.

Before her feet is an empty well.  Reaching to her neck she grabs a red orb attached to a necklace.  Lifting it from her head she allows the orb to hang from the thin chain dangling over the pool.  “The blood of the dead for you to drink.”  Out of the red orb flows a pillar of blood like a rushing rapid into the pool.  Kyo lets the necklace drop from her fingertips into the growing pool.  It glows from under the pool as the machine lets out an oscillating groan.  The black mirror behind her twinkles as blue orbs float in the darkness’s distance.  “I have prepared the way.  It is time to finish this bridge to evermore.  Natsukawa do the honors.”

He takes an upright step forward, the pain of doing so etches around his splintered face.  Geno let’s out a roar gaining an audience with Natsukawa.  His eyes lock onto the big growling beast.  He slowly walks up a massive grin filling his torn cheeks.   A drop of drool from Geno’s jaws drip onto his lapel.  He glances down using his finger to remove the spittle from his chest while the beast strains to bite him. With a speed that seems almost inhuman Natsukawa presses the side of the blade onto Geno’s chest.  Immediately it sizzles as Geno releases a roar of agony.  “Silver!” he screams.

“Mighty big weakness for all the power your pact gave you.” Natsukawa laughs.  “Does it seem worth it now?  I know it has paid off to allow your transmigrations.”

“What do you mean?” Geno asks.  With another pat of the blade Natsukawa sends Geno into screams of agony.

He grins stepping away from Geno.  “You see. We would never have known to what extent those arts could transform a person.  If we had known you could infuse people with Naraka, we would have been producing our own blood for sacrifice.”  Natsukawa stands looking up at the face of a pretty young Uchellan girl whose wears a paper white mask of horror.  “Nor would we have known how to find these witches.” Natsukawa looks up into her brown eyes and smiles.  He then presses the edge of the blade on her leg.  It seers into her just like on Geno.  She screams and struggles in the same fashion as him.  “See, witches like you.”

Natsukawa steps back almost dancing when he returns to Kyo’s side.  “So what the hell do you have planned?  If you are going to cut our throats, then just get it over with.” Shiori barks.

“You, Prince Kinjo, shall be last.  I want to savor that strong facade falling to pieces as we butcher all around you.” Kyo says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Shiori snorts “You think I care about anyone here.”

“I do.” Kyo sings.  “I think you care an awful lot about people.  Why else would you have risked your life Shiori?  You gave up a cushy royal life just to stop me because of your dying grandfather’s wishes.  Was it an omen that told him?” she mocks.  Apricot looks over to see Shiori’s steel face unphased.  “What quiet now.”  The stiffness in it told her something is off.  Is this Shiori when he is scared?  Her heart beats harder.  She looks over to Hunter who seems to be relaxed.  “You seemed so confident, proud, when you thought your little, peasants, ruined my ritual.  O’ I am sure you knew it was a trap.  I wanted you to think that.  Amazing how poorly my guard’s aim is.  Oh, it was worth the sacrifice.  See, you made it happen Shiori; you were my fated key.  Foolish Shiori, I have orchestrated your every move this whole time.”  Apricot watches as Shiori bares his teeth tightly.  She had never seen him as composed as this.  Behind his eyes he is dying.  She knew it.

“Natsukawa, I tire of waiting, let us begin with the big brute.” With this Natsukawa walks over toward Geno, holding the knife in hand.  He plays with the tip of the blade before raising it and plunging into his inner right thigh.  Stepped back he withdraws the knife clean of blood as a river immediately flows out of Geno’s body.  It is a steady and heavy stream.  It reminds Apricot of thin paint as it flows down the trough.

“Please, no!” the girl cries with puffy sullen eyes.  “I will do anything, let me go!” she screams as Natsukawa plunges the dagger in her in the same manner.  Dancing away from her he stands next to the other girl who just screams hysterically.  The blood pools at the front of the room in the center where there is a divot in the ground.  Inside the circle it begins to glow.  Apricot notices her arm burning.  A purple flame shoots forth igniting her body.

She looks up from her arm to see Kyo smiling looking into the pool.  Her body surrounded in red flames.  Looking towards Hunter, Apricot could see his eyes are locked onto the dying girl who turns pale and lifeless as her blood drains dry from her body.  “Shiori!” Apricot screams.

His gaze does not divert from Kyo.  The third girl lets out a shriek as Natsukawa plunges the dagger in her thigh as well.  “Shhhhh.” he softly says.  “It’s ok, you will be dead soon.”  Apricot watches as he steps over to her.  She looks down from her post and struggles.  “Hello dear.” Natsukawa says with a large grin on his face.  “Would you believe this is the one who stabbed me.” he comments turning to Kyo.  Kyo looks up and smiles.  “I shall enjoy sending you to hell.  Heh, and no.  I won’t be so kind as to just give you a prick.  I am going to dismember you, piece, by bloody piece.”   He reaches up to Apricot’s left hand holding it.  “Starting with the tips of your fingers.”

The sound of boots walking down the hall towards the room stops Natsukawa who looks up.  The guards go to the entrance pointing their guns.  As the man walks into the room Apricot cringes seeing his masked face.  They try to stop the person from entering but as they approach him he raises his hand sending them all falling dead.  “Who is this?” Kyo’s voice fills to the brim with anger.

“You are performing my ritual.” Urias says in a soft voice.

Kyo lets out a yelp of joy like a child’s excitement from seeing a long-lost parent.  Immediately she charges him diving into his embrace with both arms.  “You have returned.” Kyo yelps in a tear voice.  “It’s been so long.  I thought you were dead.”

“No Kyo, I have been here.  Waiting, with the black god.” Urias murmurs.  Kyo’s eyes grow wide as she backs away.  Apricot jaw opens wide as she notices the dagger sticking in Kyo’s stomach.  She stumbles mouthing inaudible words.  A small croak escapes her dying breaths as she falls backward into the pool of blood releasing a gurgling shriek.  She struggles in the blood but can’t stay above the red tide.  Natsukawa stands at the edge of the pool gazing at the sight.  A fascination filling his eyes.  He takes a couple of steps toward the blood pool gazing down into the last dying bubbles.

Natsukawa burst out laughing.  “And so the bitch is dead!  Moments before she finishes the work none the less.” He takes a couple measured steps over the rivers of blood towards Urias.  “Drowned in her own sacrifice.” He laughs again.  “No one’s left to complete this task.” Natsukawa’s tone grows sour.  “And I sure as hell am not going to let you do it.” he roars as he dives at Urias who side steps him before placing his hand on him.  “What going to rub me to death old man?”

Natsukawa explodes into pieces.  Urias looks at the pile of inverted flesh.  After a few moments he disregards it to focus his attention on the group.  “Hello Hunter.” he says.  “I must admit my jealousy.  I was hoping I would have been the one to capture you.  But I will at least be the one to end you.  Black god, are you watching?  See what I do for you, let me be your vessel.  Come and dwell in me!”  Bang, the side of Urias’s head explodes.  Apricot looks to the entrance to see Solenne rushing into the room with her pistol drawn.

“Solenne!” Apricot shouts her heart pounding with excitement.  Shiori rolls his head letting out a heavy sigh.  Hunter’s face still lit with panic.

Solenne looks around the room her face covered in horror.  She shakes it off turning her attention on the group.  “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but we got to get you all down.”

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

The dull soothing touch of slumber seethed through Apricot’s core.  A bright warmth coated her stomach as she hovered in the darkness of her sleep.  Eyes shut tight, body restored.  Nothingness, broken, by a sharp burning pain in the back.  Her eye opened along with her gasping mouth.  Panic gave pursuit.  Pushing with her hands she stumbles onto her knees from the cold smooth concrete dust slathered ground.

“You‘re alive.” Cortez coughs.  Apricot looks to her left side to see him propped up against the wall holding his side.  His legs spread in a V.  “You got to get that kid.  That man in the cloak.  He is evil.”  His arms cover his stomach where a flowing scarlet river drifts pooling between his legs.  “Run before it’s too late.”

Still seeing spots Apricot stumbles to her feet treading slowly down the hall by herself.  Once she gains her second wind her stride turns into a trot like limp.  Her muscles refusing against her will.  Loud opera like singing littered the hall leading to the underground city.  The words were in a language Apricot had never heard before.  They were off-putting.  Once she had reached the city, the voice had become clear; it was the voice of the old man.    

Entering into the shrine Apricot sees the old man standing at the altar with a young boy with short black hair laying on top.  “What are you doing!?” Apricot shouts.

“I have to thank you.  I would never have caught this one by myself.” the old man says.  “The boy is the enemy of our lord the black god.  I am so glad you could watch the moment.”

Apricot can feel the burning inside her back still from the attack he laid upon her earlier.  She clutches her fist as he grins at her.  The boy is knocked out cold.  “Who are you?”

“If you must know my name is Urias Heldric.”  Apricot recoils her face scrunching at the ring.  “You know my name. Brilliant.” Urias laughs.  “With the death of this boy, the black god will accept me as his host.  Watch me become a god!” he roars raising the knife in the air.  Apricot’s heart skips a beat as she lunges across the sanctuary hall.  As the man is plunging the dagger down at the boy’s chest, she reaves a purple blade of flame from her arm slicing through Uraise’s fore-arm.  The arm falls limp on the ground dropping the dagger on the floor.  He steps backwards holding his oozing wound as he lets out a scream.  Apricot grabs hold of the boy tightly carrying him away from Urias.  

Urias limps after Apricot screaming “Wait, you don’t know what you are doing!  The boy must die.” Apricot keeps her pace assuming she is being perused by Urais.  When she arrives she sees Shiori has gotten up and been tending to Cortez’s wounds.

“You owe me more than those damn rubies.” Cortez growls.

Shiori chuckles.  “Maybe I should just let you bleed out in that case.”

“Haha real funny.” Cortez says before looking over to see Apricot.  “Hey,” he says slapping Shiori in the chest.

Shiori grins at Apricot as she sets the boy down on the ground.  “Is he dead?”

Apricot shakes her head.  “We will take him back.”

“Why not just kill him?” Shiori asks.

“I am with Apricot man, let’s hear him out first.” Cortez grunts still holding his gut.  “That man stabbed me.  Ranted about how the black god would be so pleased with his catch.  That with the death of the boy no one would have the knowledge to stop his greater work.”

“He said something to that affect to me as well.  That man down there Shiori is Urais Heldric.” Shiori raises an eyebrow.  “I think we might have got things wrong.”

“So where is old Urias, anyway?” Shiori asks.

“Bleeding somewhere down there.  I cut his arm off with my spirit weapon.  If he tries to get up here without treating it he will bleed out.  I don’t think he will be a problem.”  Apricot says coldly.  She looks down at the boy who breathes hard.

When his eyes open, he tries to get up only to have Shiori place his foot on his neck.  “Cool it, kid.”

“I am not a kid!” He shouts still struggling.  Shiori presses harder on his neck.  “Get off me.”

“You’re lucky to be alive.  She just saved your ass.” Shiori says.  “If I had it my way, I would have killed you.”

“I won’t let you summon the black god!” he yells.

Shiori shakes his head.  “Calm the hell down.” He then puts heavy pressure on the kid’s neck cutting off his wind.

“Shiori get off him!” Apricot yells pushing him on the chest.  “He is freaked out.  Also Urias wants him dead too.  I want to hear what he has to say.”

“I saw what you did.  You‘re all murderers.  You killed people!” the grunts.  With a look of disgust Shiori lifts his foot from the boy.  He immediately sits up looking at the group.

Apricot looks back down at the kid.  “How old are you?”

“Fourteen.  You should have died in the supermarket.  I should have known you were a servant of the black god then.” The boy’s eyes shift between the group.

“The supermarket.” Apricot thinks to herself.  As she looks at him, she suddenly is flooded with the memory of the boy she helped three years ago when the phantom attacked her at her old job.  It had been so long she almost had forgotten about that.  “Wait, I know you.”

“You’re pretty slow.” he says.

Apricot disregards his rudeness.  “What do you mean about being a servant?”

“I mean you serve the black god!  He was with you during the attack.”

Shiori gets down to the kid’s level “What is your name?”

”Hunter.” he says under his breath.  “You will regret what you have done.  You won’t be forgiven, you are all cursed.  You might be able to kill me but he is going to betray you, then we will see who is laughing.”

Apricot furrows her brow.  “We don’t want to hurt you.  Well, at least I don’t want to.”

“Liar!” he screams.

Shiori growls “Why are you breaking the seals if you are so worried about the black god?”  The boy dives to his feet attempting to leave but Shiori grabs his ankle pulling him to the floor.  “Answer me!  Why are you trying to summon the black god!” He viciously grabs the kid by the throat holding him down.  “I am done playing!  I want answers!”

“It’s what keeps him bound here.” Hunter chokes out.

Shiori’s grip tightens on his neck.  “So you are releasing him!”  He looks back at Apricot.

“No,” Hunter gasps struggling against Shiori’s hand.  “It will suck him back into the other world.” Shiori loosens his grip.  “The black god was sealed here during the devastation of the old city.  The Okabe family is evil.  They want to use him to make their new world.  However, he is tricking them.  He promised them a new world but really he wants to merge the dead world with this one.  If they break the barrier between worlds both worlds will be a sacrifice.  He will become the god of the new world.”

Shiori ponders it.  “Why would Urias want you dead?”

“Urias was his pawn.  Still is, he went mad.  The ritual failed, and the sacrifice was incomplete.  It only broke a hole between worlds.  It could not merge them.  This was the fault of the black god.  However, the inhabitants of that world can now enter ours.  He was weak when he first entered our world.  Barely able to sustain himself at all.   So he waited beneath the city deep in the tunnels slowly gathering strength.  He has been feeding on all the tragedy and pain beneath the city for years waiting.  As he got stronger, he misled people into his service.  The seals hold that energy in.  Without the seals he has no ability to remain here and will fade back into his world.  If I break all the seals, it will defeat him.”

Shiori snickers.  Placing a hand over his eye Shiori lets go of the kid.  He raises his head to look at the ceiling.  “So, the reaper is the black god.  We have been douped.”  Cortez and Apricot look at Shiori with wide eyes.  “Think about it.  He was fine until these seals broke.  Now he is using your blood to sustain himself and he has gone dormant.  He needs to recollect energy again.  The kid is our ally.”

“What?  What kind of trick is this?” Hunter says.

“We work together.  Put an end to this black god.  The Okabe family can’t perform their rituals anymore, so they are out of the picture.  If we break that last seal, it is over right.” Apricot says to Hunter.

“The only problem is I don’t know where that last seal is.  It will be some place the black god guards.  I was searching the tunnels to find the seal.  I’m also looking for the soul device.  It’s down here somewhere.  If we destroy it, this won’t happen again.” Hunter tells the group.

“So what we need to do is find the seal and break that machine.”  Cortez grumbles.  “Do things keep pealing like a damn onion or does this nightmare never end.”

“I think I know where it is.” Apricot says.  Shiori raises an eyebrow.   “I mean the seal, it‘s in the shrine where the reaper sleeps.” Apricot tells them.

“Only one way to know for sure.  However, I can‘t investigate it.  I will need your help.“ Hunter says.

“Of course.” Apricot quickly replies.

Hunter shakes his head.  “Ok so the seal is a ring.  It’s always in the shape of a ring.  It will be large.  Like that summoning circle the Okabe family were using for their ritual.  You remember what that looked like?  If you can snap a photo of it on your phone and show me it.  I could identify it then.  Think you can do that?“ Apricot nods her head.

“While you are doing that Apricot, I will get Cortez to a street doc.  Hunter, you wait here.  Stay away from Urias.  If you get caught, I swear I will kill you.” Shiori commands.

~

The bricks against Shiori’s back remind him of the cool winters at the shrine where he grew up.  Peaking past the edge of the alleyway he sees the street is still quiet without the usual early morning traffic.  He looks back over toward Cortez who is limping while rasping his breath.  “Come on.  It’s not much further.  Also try to keep that cough of yours down.”

“Better be, I am feeling a little light-headed.” Cortez grunts as he stumbles step by sloppy step.  His feet drag as he holds his gut.  The burning sensation of the deep laceration grows with every painful pace.

Seeing Cortez walk so pathetically brought out a strange feeling of sympathy in Shiori.  He walks over to Cortez placing Chiss right arm over his head lifting him up.  “Come on.” Assisting or rather pulling Cortez, Shiori increases their pace.  Over the cracked and decaying street into the next alley they rush.  This would repeat several more times until they stood in front of an old store window cluttered with used appliances of another era on display.

Pushing open the door Shiori walks inside first, with Cortez close behind him.  “Hey,” Shiori shouts.  “I got rice for you.” No one answers in the empty shop.

“Your street doc ain’t here.” Cortez grunts slumping against the side of a shelf holding himself up while the blood drips off his shirt.

“He isn’t out.” Shiori growls walking towards the back of the room.  “Now where the hell is he.”  From out of the back of the store a man in a blue button-up shirt walks out with a shotgun in arm.  “Wo, what is this?”

“Get the hell out!” the man yells at Shiori.

Shiori shakes his head.  “I got a friend who is bleeding out.  I will pay twice the normal rate.  Get him patched up for me will ya.”

“You are hot,” the man growls.  “Get the hell out now, or ill send you down a drain.”

Shiori shakes his head.  “He is dying.  At least treat my friend.  I will get leave.”

Cortez grins slightly hearing Shiori call him a friend.  Even if he did not believe that bullshit it is still nice to hear.  Turning his gaze towards the window Cortez can see a patrol car slowly coasting down the road.  “Hey, we got wet streets outside.”

Picking himself up he goes to the other side of the shelf.  Shiori glances over his shoulder than back at the man.  “You enjoy housing fugitives?”

“I will turn you in.” the man grumbles.

Shiori grins walking confidently up to the man’s shotgun placing his chest against the barrel.  “Go ahead.  You think they will let you live after what I have done to the Okabe family?” He puts the barrel of the shotgun to his throat.  “Let’s take a gamble.” Shiori snickers.  “Care to.”

Sweat seeps from the man’s brow.  “That’s what I thought.” Shiori says flicking the beads off his head.  “Now get my friend patched up before I get ugly.”

~

A gentle breeze blows the dust off the unkept shrine courtyard’s polished white stones.  The reaper lays lifeless in front of the altar.  “He is still at rest.” Apricot thought to herself as she approached the thing.  Its red and purple colors almost seemed faded in this state.  The beaked mask which obscures its face hung dangling from its slumped over form.  Looking around the courtyard Apricot took out her phone and snapped shots of the tiles.

A band of small symbols about the width of a pen scrawled over the grounds.  Is this the seal they are looking for?  Was she actually right?  She looks at her phone noticing a heavy glare of static covering the screen; the air growing warmer around her.  The heat grew so quickly she felt as though she would sweat out of her clothes.  The head of the reaper weakly lifts. “Apricot.” he whispers.

She turns to look at the fallen Reaper.  “You have awoken.”

“I has’t, little, has’t thee did finish, Okabe?” his voice grew harder to hear as he spoke.  His weakness fully apparent.  Apricot nods her head slowly.  “Is the seal breaker dead?”

“No.” She felt her heart welling up inside her throat.  A sense of terror coming over her.  Realizing that most likely this thing is the black god.  He has been using her as a pawn.  Yet at the same time in this weakened state she wanted to carve the life from him.  Anger growing to her fingertips as she shakes.

Reaching with his metallic claw he gently touches Apricot’s hand. “Hie swiftly issue.  Time runs short.”

Apricot nods.  “I found him.”

“Has’t thee?  Wherefore has’t thee not hath killed him?” he growls.  “What has’t I command’d of thee!  Didst I not instruct thee to end their life!  The fate of the ordinary depends on their end.”

Apricot gives a half smile “I came to report we are tracking him now.  He lives below in the tunnels.”

“In the tunnels thee sayeth?  Sadly, yond is one lodging I cannot wend.  Nevertheless, i am too weak to travel anyways.  Beest quick, I am dying and cannot sustain much longer.  The ordinary shall falleth into chaos without me holding back the phantoms.”

“Of course.  I will return when he is dead.” Apricot tells the reaper who slumps back down lifeless.  She turns from him walking away, half expecting him to stab her in the back.  At least he cannot read minds or at least she hopes he can’t.

~

Cortez screams loudly as Shiori holds him down while the street doc plunges the hot end of a hand-held device into his skin.  It seers with a loud hiss as his flesh is abruptly burned shut.  “Damn you!” Cortez screams his mouth agape in pain.

“Kid your lucky to be alive with stabs like that.  I can’t do much for the torn muscle you just gotta let the machines do their job.” he says grunting as he removes the device from Cortez’s now cauterized stomach.  “Don’t touch it.” he looks up to Shiori.  “Put a wet rag on it will ya.” he says as he walks away from the metallic desk over to a fridge in the corner.  “I got derms for you.  Expensive but I am sure your friend here, he can afford it.”

“Only the best.” Shiori says sharply.   As the wet towel is placed onto Cortez, he jumps up in pain reaching for the towel on his stomach. “Contain yourself!” Shiori commands grabbing both of his arms.  “You will be fine in a moment.  Just bare it.”

“It burns man.” Cortez says tears filling his eye ducks.  “It burns like a hot iron.”

“It was a hot iron.” Shiori smirks.

Cortez face furrows into a scowl.  “The hell man, why don’t you try it.” He says retching his arms away grabbing the iron device.

Shiori steps back.  “Shit,” is all he says while blowing out the faintest puff of air.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Cortez growls.

The man walks back over holding a slab of what looks like a large cut of bacon.  The meaty hand of the man crashes into Cortez’s face nearly knocking him off the table.  Cortez looks up in shock at the man.  “You touch it again and I will shove it down your damn throat.” he roars.  “Now lay on the table.  What type of company do you keep “Lord” Kinjo.”

“He is for the entertainment value alone.” Shiori says smirking.

Lifting the towel off of Cortez’s stomach reveals the nerve endings of his clean flesh.  Shiori can hardly look at the macabre display of porphyria before his eyes.  Slapping the flesh on top of Cortez’s stomach, the man skillfully massages it in.  Soon the strange material molds into Cortez’s side covering the stab wound holes.  Cortez’s strained face fades into a more relaxed one.  “Don’t scratch it.  Your guts will fall out.  Also, take it easy for the next few weeks.  You should be fine though.  Now get your asses out of my shop.”

Cortez gets up off the table walking towards the front door.  Shiori however keeps his eye on the man.  “You will be paid for this greatly.  I promise.  Once all this blows over.”  The man just smiles and nods.

“Don’t sweat it.” the man grunts.  “I am a good hostage.”

Turning through the door Shiori exits the room into the main shop.  Cortez looks at Shiori smirking.  “What is that for?”

“You actually saved my life.  I did not think you cared about anyone but yourself.” Cortez says.

Shiori looks down his nose.  “What?  Doesn’t a good master not take care of his dog?” Shiori says walking past Cortez.

“Is that how it is?” Cortez laughs.

Looking out the storefront Shiori could see a ripple wave over the street.  Another one follows.  Like a short tide of water floating in air.  His eyes widen before he screams. “Get down!”

Shiori turns to dive on Cortez before he watches his head explode as a bullet passes square between his eyes.  “Cortez!” Shiori roars a tearful yelp.  The room is torn apart by the sound of soaring bullets.  Shiori hits the ground hard looking at the blood pooling around Cortez’s headless body.  “You bastards!  YOU BASTARDS!”  Shiori screams drawing his segmented staff from his shirt sleeve.

~

“No no no no no!” Apricot hears Hunter‘s worried voice echo down the hall.  She rushes down the corridor, her heart sinking as she approaches the bend.  At first everything seems fine aside from Hunter looking in every direction.  Upon closer inspection his sigils are destroyed by what looks like a series of sharp claw strikes.  His eyes are huge as he turns his head to Apricot.  “It’s not safe to be here.” he says.  “The ghosts, they are coming.”

Apricot shook her head.  “There is no more running Hunter.”  She lowers her gaze. “It’s time we were on the attack.  Let’s go deal with Claw Fingers.” Apricot growls.  Hunter nods his eyes teary and glistening in the dull lamp lights.

“Where are we going?” Hunter asks Apricot.

Apricot keeps marching forward “We are going to the train.  That shrine I went to check out.  That is the last seal.  I am sure of it. ” She pulls out her phone pulling up the photo with a few taps of her finger.  “The reaper, he is the black god.  There is no question anymore.  To think he got me into this mess and is orchestrating every detail of my nightmare.”  Holding it up Hunter inspects the screen his face growing into a look of glee.  “Don‘t get too excited yet.  I don’t think this is going to be all that easy.”

“I know.  He will try to kill me.  I will need you to distract him while I get ready to perform the breaking.” Hunter tells Apricot.

She nods her head.  “I kind of expected that.  I am not disappointed by that honestly.”  Reaching the surface Hunter covers his eyes.  The sun beams bright on him.  “It’s been a while since you seen sunlight, huh?”

“You could say that.”  Up the stairs the pair go into the busy morning streets.  Hunter runs ahead jumping over the off limits sign raising his hand to assist Apricot.  She takes his hand as she hops over the sign.  A slight blush coming over her face.  Such a gentleman she thinks to herself.  Although far too young to provoke any kind of interest.

As Apricot walks down the street her heart pounds.  A feeling of dread grows every time she meets someone’s gaze.  Her only hope is Akagi is still hard at work keeping Shiori and her off the radar.  Speaking of which, she wondered how Cortez and him are doing.  It is almost as if they ghosted out of her mind for a while.  A slight feeling of guilt coming over her.  Then again, it was not important.  Everything they had worked for is laid out before her right now.  With Hunter her nightmare will be over.  At least the immediate threat.

Hunter leads the way to the train with both hands in his hoodie pulling the hood down over his head.  “Apricot, what happens after?” Hunter asks her.

“I was just wondering that myself.” Apricot muses.  “I am not sure.  I think my life is over but you can still run away from all this.”  Hunter nods his head.  “The train platform is not far from here.”  Apricot tells Hunter.

~

On the train the pair sit towards the train’s rear cart to keep out of view.  This morning the train is sparsely populated.  Their cart had only a few passengers.  The ones towards the front are a little more so.  As Apricot rests in the spongy seat a burn descended to her ankles, a slight stiffness over taking her.  Rising from the middle of the cart are three men dressed in commoners street clothing.  As they began their trek towards the back of the cart Apricot identified them as a group of delinquents.  Her fingers gently tucked into her sleeve readying a blade.  Some time ago she might have been afraid, now, they were nothing more than an annoyance presenting little if any danger at all.  Hunter nervously looks at the group as they sat in the seats around the pair.

“Hey cutie.  What are you doing with the kid?  He your bro or something?” one guy asks.  His teeth are rotted and gave off a festering stink that reminds her of spoiled rice.

“I am not her brother.” Hunter says defensively.  “Now get lost.”

The guys laugh to each other.  “Wow, tough guy.” one of them snarkily comments.  This provokes more laughter.

“Think she is a kiddie fiddler?” Apricot immediately blushes narrowing her eyes.  “Wo, I think she is.”

The man with the bad breath then barks “Well, kid you gotten lucky with her?”

“Shut up!” Apricot says.  “Shut your mouth.”

“Wo, girl, calm down.  I am sure the boss has work for a kiddie fiddler like you.” the larger of the guys says.  He rises from his seat standing to his full height.  Apricot backs up into the seat shielding Hunter.  “What, I don’t wanna hurt ya.  How about the both of you come with us?”  He takes a step forward into her reach and in a flash lets out a shout as Apricot charges him pressing a throwing knife against his throat.

“Back the hell up or I’ll slit your throat!” she snarls at the man.

“Holy shit.” one guy yelps.  Apricot feels a prideful warmth rise in her.  Power.  This is strength she thought to herself.  Her thoughts come crashing asunder as four knife like razor claws pierce through the front of the man’s face.  With a heavy throw the man goes flying through the side of the train window.  Standing in front of her is the reaper.  “Oh my god!” the man with bad breath screams scrambling to get out of the way.  The reaper raises his hand forcing him out the window by an invisible force.

“Apricot thee has’t did betray me.” the reaper says through his mask.  The wind from outside of the train throws his clothing all about as Hunter screams.  Everything seems dull and faded; the only thing Apricot sees is the reaper standing before her.  It is as if everything has slowed to a stop.  “Nay matter, thee still has’t did provide me the lamb I seek to slaughter.”

“No!” Apricot shouts at the reaper.

“T’wast not a request but rather a statement.  F’r thy valorous worketh I shalt maketh thy death quick.” the reaper points his hand at Apricot.  She dives onto the floor as she feels a force like the vibration of a powerful amplifier rush over her.  It smashes a hole in the back of the train destroying the right corner seat.  Hunter dives over the seat throwing a stone at the reaper.  It bursts into a pouder as Apricot gets back to her feet.  Charging the reaper with two knives in hand light flashes with each strike.  As she stabs at him he blocks bother her blades with a single hand pushing her back away from him.

Standing erect the reaper strokes his chin with his claw. “Is this the length of thy talents?  Thee foolish wench.  Thither is nothing thee can doth to stand ho me.  Thee see, I needeth not thee anymore.”  She notices the temperature rising regardless of the backdraft from the trains gaping holes.  It felt as though her face is searing as she stood in the reaper’s presence.

“You were dying!  How did this happen?” Apricot asks.

“An act.  Twas a rouse to confuse mine own true enemies.  As long as I hath appeared weak, thither wast nay way thee couldst has’t known I did feed from the seals he hath broken.  Anon I am just short of a divine creature.  I shalt rend the gates open and claim mine own kingdom ov’r both worlds.” The reaper declares.  Apricot jumps as she sees Hunter run past her head.  He spreads his arms as a light blinds Apricot knocking him backwards.  Turning her head she catches the last glimpse of Hunter before he falls out the back of the train.

“Hunter!” Apricot screams.  She snaps her head back at the reaper charging him again.  Each attack she attempts he effortlessly blocks and sidesteps.

“Yond’s right.  Misprise me.  Alloweth it fill thee and infect thy core.  Cometh findeth me at the shrine.  I shalt beest waiting f’r thee.  Enjoy the hell thee unleash’d.” the reaper laughs backing away down the train from Apricot.  She runs as swiftly as she can after him.  However, he moves too quickly for her to keep up.  Each person he passes explodes splattering in a bloody mess.

The train rushes onward into the air as it reaches the skyrails above the city’s heavy traffic.  Buildings rush past the horizon of the windows as the train travels along its channel.  Apricot lets out a scream running to the front of the train.  As she passes by she can feel her feet slipping in the bloody remains of the destroyed passengers.  Pulling on the large door to the front of the train she opens up the operator’s room.  It is empty aside from a few switch panels that are remotely controlled by the conductors in the station.  She looks over the panels to see if she can stop the speeding train.  Sadly to her dismay she could not understand any of the controls.  She had to get off the train.

Running back to the rear of the train Apricot stares out the gaping hole in the back of the train.  Building her nerve she debates on jumping.  However, she is not sure if the fall would kill her or not.  The traffic on the ground seems busier than usual.  “Bang!” she hears on the metal roof above her.  She gazes up to hear several more.  “Put your hands behind your head!” a voice commands.  Hearing this Apricot does not hesitate; she dives out of the back of the train free falling.  She lets out a scream while tumbling through the air.  Spreading her arms and legs out to the sides she allows the air to soar between her fingertips.  A moment of peace overtaking her as she fell.  Spotting an advertisement banner hanging off the side a rail support pole give her an idea.  Grabbing the middle of the fabric it tares open.  She grips the banner as tightly as she can while swinging her forward breaking her momentum before she lets go rolling on the sidewalk.

Apricot rises to her feet.  Several onlooking gock at her with shocked expressions.  She runs as quickly as she can to get anywhere but where she is.  It is not long before she finds herself pressed by several SDP vehicles.  She glances up at the streetlights seeing all of them flashing every color.  Ahead of her the street lights are strobbing everywhere and every building’s lights did much the same.  The city is going into full meltdown.  “What is going on?” she questions.  Her body is dripping red leaving fading bloody prints behind her.  Rushing into an alleyway Apricot looks every which way for a quick escape.  Spotting a manhole she grabs hold of the metal bars moving it aside before quickly diving into the sewer system below.  It is much hotter down in the tunnels than in the open air above; not to mention full of foul odors.

Tear stream down her face as she continues through the dark.  Her mind full of fears and she has no clue how she will get out of this now.  She did not even know if Shiori and the others are still alive.  Let alone Hunter who seemed to be her only hope to end this nightmare.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

The old concrete staircase reminds Apricot of a bomb shelter.  With every step she took the camera watches following her.  The door’s mechanical bolt locks snap open, sliding aside.  As she walks inside the dark basement the door behind her closes and re-locks.  “Hey guys, you here?”

“Apricot,” Shiori’s voice calls over the speakers.  “We are in the lobby down the hall.” As Apricot approaches, she hears Shiori say “Well, figured that would happen.  My credit chip was just deactivated.”  As Apricot walks in, she sees the rest of the group sitting on a gray sectional, several drinks rest on a coffee table in front of them.  Their backpacks rest along the wall.  She assumed they are changes of cloths and other supplies.  “Hey Apricot.  What took you so long?” Shiori inquires.

“Couldn’t find the place.” Apricot’s voice came out tired from the nights exhaustion.

Sumai rests her head in her hands.  She sits up giving Apricot a firm eye.  “Is he dead?”  She shakes her head.  “Then what are we waiting for.  We can’t let him get away with what he did to Togashi.”

“We don’t know where he is.” Shiori says in a sad tone.  “Even still,  we are not in a situation to go look for him.  The police are on us and the media has put our faces out as terrorists.  The only thing we can do right now is complete our mission and stop the seal breaker.”

Apricot clears her throat.  “I might have some information about that.  Natsukawa assumed I was going after him.  He said something about knowing he hid out in “the tunnels”.  I am assuming it is the tunnels nearby that were shut down.  Maybe even the same tunnel system Cortez found Genova in.”

Shiori looks at the ground.  He shakes his head.  “Well, if it is the only thing we have to go on.  Akagi be useful and take a look on those cameras, maybe you can spot something.”

“It could be a trap.  I know that area is crawling with troops right now.” Akagi says.  “I mean, Natsukawa might know we are after him.  So he pretended to attack Apricot and and... I don’t know anymore.” Rising from the couch the young teen fiddles with his bag taking out a silver gray laptop.

“Shoiri, I’ll go.” Sumai says.

“No, you will stay here with Junko and Akagi.” Shiori commands.

Sumai shakes her head.  “I am coming if you like it or not.”

“It’s too many people.  Apricot and myself will go.  Apricot because she can actually fight a phantom if anything pops up and I will go because I happen to know about ritual magic.  Which he may employ a number of spells.” Shiori reasons.

Sumai shakes her head.  “Sumai you’re in no state to go out.  You are feeding on rage right now.  I can see it.” Junko walks up behind Sumai placing her hands on her shoulders.  “It’s ok.  We rest right now.  We will get him and Kyo for what they did later.”

“I hate to tell you this Shiori but those tunnels have no cameras.  They are offline, not from a digital lock but rather physically disconnected.  They won‘t even ping.  There is twenty-six cameras.  I don’t like this guys.  They posted last month though, so this was a recent thing.” Akagi sounds worried Apricot thought to herself.

“Yeah, I don’t like it much either.” Apricot comments a blaze of courage welling up inside her.  Maybe she too shared in Sumai’s anger.  Everything was dull inside still, it’s like everything has not hit her yet, but she knew soon the impact of the situation would crash.  “But, we got to do it.  If this is what ends all of this, we have to.” She says clutching her fist.

“You think you could rig up a way to keep us from getting caught by the authorities?” Shiori asks Akagi resting his hand on his back.

“Mmmhmmm, I can put all the cameras in the city on a loop so they can‘t see you.  As far as the police I could try to distract them with fake calls.  The maintenance crews will be too spent doing that to actually track you two.  That virus I rigged up is really causing damage to the network.  They are already busy working on that.  If you get stopped though that’s game over.  I can‘t do much to help you aside from that.”  Akagi looks at the screen furrowing his brows.  “Don’t get caught ok.”

“Cheer up kid.  Does it look like I will get caught?” Shiori laughs turning away from the group.  “Then it is settled.  Apricot, are you armed?”  Apricot nods her head. “Good, let’s go find Cortez.”

“Cortez?” Apricot questions.

“He is a tunnel rat.  I can make it worth his while to come with us.”

“Shiori I don’t think he will…” with a hand raised Shiori silences Apricot and continues down the hall, the bolts of the door whining open.

~

Akagi must be working hard to keep the entire cities surveillance grid bogged down Apricot thinks to herself.  She also noted an tense anxiety had come over Shiori who was a recognizable figure to begin with regardless of being a wanted man.  Seeing him covered up with a hoodie is unlike his usual style.  It did not fit him.

His gaze would dart from side to side and he abandoned his usual verbal commands to a series of hand gestures.  Apricot caught on fast, open palms meant stop and folded fingers meant it is time to move.  All the while the pair attempted to move with a consideration for normality that Apricot felt is a poor imitation at best.  When it came to pass through the border system, the cameras moved to inspect the pair before green lighting their entry.  Releasing a long breath Apricot felt a bit of relief coming over her as she stepped onto the metro platform.

Aside from a few glances, Apricot felt as though the two had made it aboard the train with little recognition, if any.  “This is your show.” Shiori says under his breath.  Apricot nods before leading him down the abandoned carts.  The morning sun barely lit the train as the metro started its slow acceleration.  Through the last set of doors Apricot leads Shiori into a rear cart. There he is resting against the wall.  His glance raises to meet Apricot’s gaze.  “Ah, hell, you two?” Cortez growls. “I told you I was done.  What do you want?”

“A minute of your time and possibly a few hours after that.” Shiori says.  “Mind if I take a seat?”

Cortez rolls his eyes, “Ain’t my train.”

Apricot noticed the knife under Cortez’s coat already open.  “Put it away, we are only here to talk.”  Cortez raises an eyebrow before raising both his arms to scratch the back of his head.  When he lowered them again, the blade is gone.

“So if you are not here to screw me up, what are you here for?” Cortez grins.

Shiori takes a seat on the other side of Cortez.  “We did it.  The family will no longer be an issue.  We have one last piece to scrub though.  That seal breaker.  We think we figured out where our friend is.”

“Yeah, that’s great.  What’s that got to do with me?” Cortez raises his head towards the ceiling like the sometimes arrogant prick he could be.

“We need your help Cortez,  he is in the tunnels.  You know how to move around the tunnels and navigate them.   Could you help us?  You don’t need to do anything aside be our guide.” Apricot hopes to appeal to his sympathies if he had any.  She could tell he is scared shitless even if he would not admit it to anyone.  Still there was something about his demeanor that suggested there is something more.

“Maybe if you pay me.  That service isn’t going to be cheap.  I want twice what you are going to pay her.” Cortez says to Shiori.

Shiori glances over at Apricot.  Apricot nods back to him.  “Yeah, well, that is not going to be a problem.”

“I know you’re not good for it Shiori.  Your credit stick has been shut off.  Your jade marks are deactivated too.  So how do you plan on paying me?”

“How the hell did you know that?” Shiori grunts.

“You turn on a TV at all?  Your face is plastered all over it.  Kind of pisses me off.”

“I got my ways.  Don’t I always pay my debts?” Shiori retorts.

Cortez shakes his head.  “You pay me now or else I might just turn you two in for a healthy profit.  After all your both wanted by the police right now.  I am sure your warrants are worth far more than whatever you would pay me.” Shiori tosses a cloth satchel into Cortez’s lap giving him an angry glare.  Opening it up Cortez looks inside.  “You got to be shitting me.  Are these real?”

“So you coming with us or not?” Shiori rises from his seat.  “I am tired of wasting time here.”

“I’ll lead the way.” Cortez tells Shiori.  “We ain’t going down there from the abandoned train station.  We are doing it from the trash lands.  Safe, less likely to run into some soldiers.  Maybe we find Genova and we can put him down too.”

~

Through the dim lighting of the tunnel Cortez’s machine gun glimmers.  Apricot never felt quiet right about Cortez and that gun of his.  The way he held it is like a borderline fetish.  His fingers nervously fondling the handle as though in some ritual of seduction to calm his nerves.  Shiori walks several steps ahead of the pair.  His head bobbing casting casual glances in search of “sigils” as he called them.  Even still after spending such time with the group Apricot still had not picked up on being able to spot the well-hidden signs.  She knew what poorly crafted ones looked like. Local hoodlums often took up the mantle of a cult to posture.  Such is the subculture in suburbia.

Shiori stops in his tracks holding out his hand.  “Wards.” is all he says as his gaze covers the walls.

“I see nothing.” Cortez says only to have Shiori point his rod at a symbol written along with the contours of cracks in the wall.  “Well, who could see that?” she could not help but chuckle at Cortez’s embarrassing admission.  With a sharp glare Cortez shuts Apricot’s mouth.

Apricot bends down to look at the spiraling series of symbols.  “So, what is this for anyway?”

“Wards? They ward things away.  It is a sign to keep spirits from entering places.  I think we are on the right path.” Shiori glances over his shoulder.  “I suggest haste as I am sure he will notice us soon enough.”

“Doubt it.” Cortez grunts raising Shiori’s eyebrow.  “We are heading into the underground city.  Should not be too far ahead.  Ruins of the old city lay buried beneath the new one.  Place is huge.  Looking for him down there, pshhh, good damn luck.”

Shiori lets out a sigh, quickening his stride down the hall.  Sure enough, a few hundred yards down the corridor opens into a ruin of skeletal buildings.  The dust-covered remains of urban decay stretched on into the darkness.  “What’s that.” Apricot says as she points to a fire light surrounded by dancing shadows.

The ring of a bell calls from the building.  “Think it is that easy?” Shiori whispers.

“Let’s get this over with.” Cortez keeps walking holding that old gun of his up.  Shiori grins and follows close behind, Apricot lagging several feet.  A part of her is apprehensive.  Then again, it is cold down here and he most likely assumes he is alone.  As they traversed the ruins, they eventually came upon the fires in question.  “It used to be a cathedral of some kind.” Cortez comments.  Enting through the missing twin doors exposed a chapel hall decorated in hand-painted tapestries which Apricot gave little regard.  Instead, her focus is on the lumbering man in a red cloak who stood before an alter.

When the man turns towards the group, he reveals his face is covered by a painted clay mask.  The mask is ruddy red against his pale withered white skin.  The eyes painted black and white along with painted lips.  Apricot steps behind Shiori as the man raises a ritual knife.  “Ill blow your head off if you move.” Cortez growls leveling the rear sight of his gun to his eye.

“There is no need for that.  Are you apostles of the black god?” the man firmly asks.  “You must be to make the pilgrimage down here.  Look around you.  What do you believe led you here?”

“Pardon my friend here.” Shiori says placing his hand on the barrel of Cortez’s gun pushing it down to the floor.  “Apostles of the black god?  Who is this black god?” Apricot knows that term, Shiori does too.  Cortez most likely so as well.  The ancient evil being worshipped by the strange cult Cortez’s father chronicled.  This is the under-city he spoke of.

“Shame, and here I thought, well, none the less.  Welcome.”  Apricot can’t help but feel a knot grow in her stomach as she looks at the large mural covering the wall behind the priest.  A city surrounded by fire being overshadowed by a black being with horns.  It is crude, but the image suggested a powerful unearthly evil.

It is apparent the man had taken up residency in this old hollowed out cathedral.  Patches of undisturbed dust coated most things.  Trails along the dust marked where the priests touch had remained like a record archiving his movements for who knows how long.  Candles burned dry over and over and over again, its waxy channels became figures of their own as they dried into elaborate towers.

“You never answered my question.” Apricot looks up to see Shiori approaching the priest with measured steps.

Lowering his head, the priest places a hand on his covered chin.  “Well, the black god has been here since ancient times.  Though the city has forgotten their history.  He remains still.”

“Does this black god have anything to do with the seals around the city?” Shiori asks the priest.

Apricot imagines behind his mask a smile crossed his face as he looks directly at Shiori.  “Heh, one could say that he indeed does.  Your lot is not an ignorant one I see.”

“We are seeking someone who is destroying those seals.” Shiori says drawing a pistol from his undercoat.  “You would not be that person would you.”

The man slowly turns away from Shiori letting out a sigh.  “I can hardly walk, I could never make it to the surface.”  He lifts his pant leg to reveal a rusted and damaged cybernetic leg.  Wires hang out the side between shattered plates.   “I am trapped down here, until the ritual is finished that is.  I shall sustain until the time comes.  I do however know who you are looking for.  You were right to seek him down here, alas he is difficult to catch.”

“Where does he sleep?” Cortez remarks.

“He runs too quickly for me to follow him.  I seek his death as well.  If he accomplishes his task, there will be no future here.”  The priests stride stops before the alter.  “If you seek to find him I suggest you hurry.  He is leaving again.  I can feel his presence slipping away.”

Shiori turns towards Cortez and then looks back at Apricot.  She gives him a nod.  The priest raises his palm revealing his hand is cut, and the blood is streaming down on top of the altar.  “I shall sustain until the time comes.” he whispers as the group rushes out to the entrance of the underground city.

~

“Do you think that man tricked us?” Apricot asks the heavy feeling coming over her as they search the tunnels with no results.

Cortez grunts “I am starting to think so.  The man was crazy, I bet he was the one.”

Shiori stops in his tracks swiveling his head.  “You two, stop it.  You saw his leg, he could not run on that thing if his life depended on it.”

“What if he damaged it running away?” Apricot stretches her arms behind her back.  “It doesn’t matter, let’s keep searching.”

Cortez shakes his head.  “I am getting tired and it smells like shit down here.”

Out of the shadows a blast of purple light flies burning towards the group.  Apricot narrowly dives out of the way.  “Die!” yells a teen male voice.  Cortez points his gun towards the dark tunnels to see the cloaked man running at him.  Cortez fires his gun but the man dives aside kicking off the wall and retches the gun away from Cortez’s hands.

Apricot quickly grabs a knife from her wrist throwing the blade at the cloaked man.  With one fluid motion he blocks the knife with the side of the gun throwing it aside.  Shiori dives at the attacker slashing at him with his rod.  The young man grabs the rod lowering to the floor sweep kicking Shiori tripping him.

A burning pain sears into Apricots back as she is impacted by a phantom force.  She falls to the floor.  Her sight grows hazy she watches a mechanical foot step past her.  Another blast hits the teen knocking him to the floor.  Shiori turns to look at the stranger only to be hit himself.  Cortez runs up to grab the man, but he plunges a dagger into Cortez’s stomach.  Apricot tries with all her might to get up but instead she falls limp under the cover of darkness.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

Deep in slumber Apricot laid slathered in the soft moonlight of Shiori’s guest bedroom window.  The group had drawn straws as to who would stand guard.  Apricot was a fortunate victor of rest.  She needed it too.  She rolled under the warm covers adjusting her aching body.  The fight earlier in the night had taken a lot out of her.  This was the first time she helped kill someone.  She knew it was the right thing to do but that could not prevent the endless guilt and fountains let loose which carried her into dreamland.

Sleep had become a much-wanted escape from the stress of the events unfolding out of her control.  However, tonight was a victory, right?  She questions it.  Is this the end of their struggles or only the beginning?  She wonders to herself.  Her dreams however would be wrote by nightmares.  Images of death befalling everyone she loved covered her subconscious.  The fact she knew she is a fugitive from this point foreward.  That she would never be able to go home again.  By now her parents have seen some semblance of what they have done.  Eventually her name would be attached to it.  She would be labeled a terrorist for slaying the Okabe officials.  It would be looked at as an insurrection.  However, the hidden history of what they prevented also brought her comfort.

Her mind is tossed asunder as the door to her bedroom slowly opens.  Half dazed in drizzled sleep she is abruptly awoken to cold steel against the bottom lid of her left eye and a firm velvet gloved hand covering her mouth.  “I will pierce your broca if you scream.” says a playful honeyed male voice.  “It allows you to speak, so screaming won’t be a problem if I cut it.”  Apricot’s faces is forced by firm fingers to look into a graying blond, with deep chasmic wrinkles testifying to his age though his form is chiseled like a statue with slight overgrowth from not shaving.  “My darling someone has told me to bring you alive, that does not mean intact though.  You need to be breathing and plump with blood.”  He slowly allows Apricot to rise out of the bed to her feet dressed in a pair of spare clothes Shiori gave her.  “My dressed already.  You make this easy.”

Apricot goes to speak before the man puts his hand over Apricot’s mouth again.  “Pshh, no talking remember?  If I have to cut out your nerves, I will have to kill everyone in here.  Such a dreadful amount of work for these old bones.  Now my lamb, follow me.”  He exits the room, and the fear pumps heavy beating through Apricot like a hammer.  Her steps increased stride as the fear of being too far behind would provoke some kind of attack drew itself into mind.

Into the hall the man carries on his stride with no sign of worry.  Apricot wonders how he got passed the others.  However, her question is fast answered by the horrible image sitting up on the living room couch.  Blood soaked the floor as the lumpy coils of Togashi’s intestines laid open for all to see.  As she looks up the vivisection exposes the contents that was once hid behind his ribcage.  His left eye a sunken streaming hole.  She covers her own mouth as not to scream letting out a muzzled gasp instead.  Her stomach retches attempting to void itself.  The horrors she had witnessed to this point quickly dwarfed by the moment.  Her eyes look up to see the man grinning wide.  “Ah, yes, I am quick with a knife.  Don’t you think?”  Apricot nods her head in agreement to avoid offense.

Togashi’s remaining eye swivels to meet Apricot.  A squelch of blood squirts out of his exposed tubes. “He is alive!” Apricot screams internally.

“A fine work I do say so myself.” the man says opening the front door, and he gestures with a clean hand.

Once outside Apricot sees a white stretch car, its ornate with silver trim and baroque metal statues lining the front and rear of the car.  “Come now darling I haven’t much patience for loitering.” Stepping into the open door of the car revealed red velvet seats with gold trim and white interior.  The two sat across from each other face to face.  He sprawls out his white suit revealing its inner sky blue interior.

“Where are you taking me?” Apricot asks.

“To my dear young lady.” he smirks.  As the car moves a concerto orchestra sounds from the speakers.  It unsettled Apricot with its sophistication.  Such a savage man with the appearance of pedigree yet the heart of a demon sat before her.  “You don’t like the music?” he asks softly. Her eyes locked on him with terror.  “Galeno Maogagoitia a brilliant composer.  You are young, would you care for something more modern?  Something more to your liking.”  Apricot did not answer.  “You are silent dear, and your eyes spell nothing but fear.  Is there any reason to be uncomfortable?”

Apricot had but one nagging question on her mind.  “Who are you?”

The man smiles diverting his gaze from Apricot for the first time.  “Well, that is a tricky thing.  I am called a lot of names.  However, I owe you a bit of honesty.  My name is Natsukawa Okabe.”

Apricot looks up her face etched with strain.  “I have heard that name before.”

He smirks and sits back.  “Do you mind if I smoke?” Drawing a stylized pipe from his pocket.  Apricot shakes her head.  “Always eases the nerves to smoke a good stack before starting my work.  I don’t have to if you are worried about getting cancer in old age though I am sure you have little to worry about that.”

As he lights the pipe, he gently puffs a few times releasing a plume from his mouth.  “Why are you doing this?  From what I know of you, you are not particularly esteemed by the clan.  It seems like you would not work for the clan.  That is what this is right?  You‘re capturing me for Empress Kyo, right?”

“Frankly, if you know who I am, I can understand your fear.  Someone promised me your skin after they were through with you.  I think I may want the flesh too.”  Apricot felt her throat closing up as her eyes grew wide unable to hide her terror.  “Fair child, you sit upon the bodies of several people right now.  Commoners and nobles alike.  Unlike my family I do not see us as nobles.  When we are dead, we are all the same.”

Apricot pulls at her shirt trying to release tension in her throat as she looks up gasping for air.  “You appear breathed.  Calm down.  You are all right for now.  I do not intend to hurt you, yet.  I am actually enjoying your company.  It is rarely I get to talk with my prey so openly.”  Apricot smalls back into the corner trying to get as much distance between her and him as she could.  “Most of the time they just scream, and shout, scream and shout, scream, and shout.  You on the other hand have engaged me.  I would expect as much from a curious reporter.”

She had to talk to him more, this is her chance to gain information from him.  “So, you’re abiding by Kyo’s commands?” Apricot asks.  “Seems a bit strange for you.”

“You made a lot of faulty assumptions about me.” Natsukawa says.  “I am only in this for my own interests.  I seek a day when I can openly slaughter as many as I please.  I need more material for my art.  The human body can be crafted into so many things.  Transformation.  I seek to see real transformation.  Kyo understands this.  Except she will transform the world.  So of course I would assist her.  After all she is my great great great great grand niece.”

“How old are you?” Apricot asks.  Natsukawa just snickers.  Looking out the window Apricot sees soon they will be heading towards a populated part of the city which is very much awake at this late hour.  “So you enjoy killing the phantoms as well?”

“Phantoms hmm, of course.  No one complains when killing a ghost.” Natsukawa smirks his toothy fangs remind her of a vampire.  “Everyone seems to get upset when you carve up a useless dreg of society.  I have you know I only kill those who have already forfeited their life.  I am an honorable man.”

“Is that why you will kill me?” Apricot asked.

Natsukawa grins.  “You are a family matter.”

“A family matter what is that supposed to mean?” Apricot inquires curious if he would indulge her.

Natsukawa nods his head.  “Well, you attacked my family.  Humiliated Kyo.  So she bartered with me to get you.  Actually, the family has grown small.  She does not have many people of age she can ask to assist.  You might not know of this but your little group is not the only ones troubling us.  We have been at work collecting witches like yourself and spending them feverously to build Kyo’s little stone.  She believes that stone is the key.  The idea of it collecting and growing from the blood it drinks.  Now that is a fascinating thing.  Don’t you think?”

“It’s macabre.” Apricot snaps back.

“You’re getting comfortable.” Natsukawa says snapping a grin back to her.  He draws in a deep breath releasing a long sigh.  “So tell me, why are you risking yourself?  What is it you think you can accomplish?  You are a lamb fighting a pack of vicious wolves.  That fire that hides in your arms.  It makes me curious to find out what else you hide under there.”

“I did not want this.  They forced it upon me.  These monsters are your doing.  This whole situation is because of your family not being satisfied with being royalty.  You will ruin the world for what?  You are all insane.” Natsukawa’s eyes light up.  He gives her a toothy smile.

“You are right, now, I can‘t contain myself.” he says with all the excitement of a child looking at a new toy. He flicks a knife from his palm.  “Let’s have a look inside that arm.” He says lunging at Apricot.  She backs into the corner kicking him in the face with both feet. Grabbing the latch to the car door Apricot swiftly draws it open allowing herself to roll out of the moving car.  Her ribs crack as she hits the side of the road rolling several feet onto the pavement provoking onlookers startled reactions.

Lifting herself off the black pavement Apricot runs on foot away from Natsukawa’s car as she casually parks it by the road.  She rushes towards the crowd of people who have no gone about their normal activity mostly not wanting to get involved.  “You can’t run from me.” Natsukawa laughs standing outside of the car.  The area is populated.  Too populated for him to make his move now or at least Apricot was betting her life on it.  He wanted her alive that was one thing she is sure of.  Maybe it is not even a want.  He needed her alive.  She looks back to see the white car driving the way he had just come from.

“Shiori, he is going for Shiori.” Apricot says aloud.  

Patting her sides down a lump in her pocket is the grace in which she seeks.  Grabbing the slab from her pocket Apricot quickly calls Shiori.  “Why not knock?” he sarcastically says in a groggy voice.

“Shiori, listen to me.  Go into the living room and get everyone up.  Togashi is dead.” Apricot says hoping her wont be an ass like usual.  “Natsukawa kidnapped me and is coming after you.” Dead silence abruptly rushes the line.  “Shiori?” Apricot whimpers her heart thumping over the lines.

“He is going after your family.  Run.” Shiori coldly says.  Apricot tosses the phone back into her pocket and moves at a full sprint.  She shoves her way through the crowded streets.  They glowed in the chromatic technicolor of midnight lights.  “That bastard will not touch my family.” Apricot says to herself.  Her breath carrying her faster.  Kiting through alleyways Apricot rushes as fast as her legs will take her.  “If I can get to the railway, I might get home before he does.  If I am lucky, it will leave when I arrive.”  Apricot says to herself jumping over a pile of litter laying in the side road.

“Just one more block.”  Apricot is stopped by a shadow jumping in front of her.  In the dim light she sees the glint of a knife just before the figure takes a lunge toward her.  Stepping back Apricot let’s out a scream.  With incredible speed his hand grips around her neck forcing her down on her knees.

“You little bitch.” Natsukawa growls.  “I knew you were heading to the tunnels to meet with Hunter!  You gave me all the proof I needed.”  He says gesturing with the knife.  Apricot sees an empty glass bottle by her side.  “You thought I would be too stupid to lock the door?  You little rats are so easy to trap.” his toothy grin contorts into a demonic mask as he snickers.  Rasping her fingers around the neck of the bottle Apricot swings as hard as she can smashing the glass into Natsukawa’s face.  He lets go of her for the moment she needs to get back to her feet.

With his free hand he lifts a large shard among many sticking out of his torn cheek.  Slowly pealing it from his skin he holds it up examining the bloody piece before flicking it to the side.  “I like this.” he chirps before taking another lunge at Apricot this time she side steps him cutting him against the neck.  Diving onto his back Apricot hammers the shattering glass bottle into his back as hard as she can.  Tearing holes in his coat she can see the white sopping red as his blood pools.

With a twist of his body he throws Apricot off of his back.  Onto the ground.  Diving on top of her, Apricot is face to face with Natsukawa’s bloodied visage.  She can feel his warm scarlet tears dripping onto her face as she struggles to free herself from his grasp.  Unable to use her hands she pushes up biting his Adam’s apple with her teeth.  A wet burst causes him to pull away giving Apricot a mouth full of his flesh.  Spitting the unsettling bite onto the ground Apricot rises to her feet.  Natsukawa steps away limping before glancing back at her.  “Be at comfort, you win tonight but I love the hunt.” Natsukawa warns before taking a full sprint.  She huffed for air wanting to give chase to him but she knew if she was chasing a bloodied up Okabe everyone would surely arrest and pursue her.

It is only then that the burning pain of the glass shard she gripped so tightly registers.  She dropped the bloodied bottle from her hand huddling in the alleyway.  Laying next to a dumpster Apricot waited for Shiori to come pick her up.  Her mind racing with fear and pride of her victory.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

The morning sun greets the noisy train as it road along its channel.  Carefully walking down the long stretch of black grooved rubber floor Apricot worked her way towards Cortez’s usual spot avoiding falling from its sporadic bob.  As the doors to Cortez’s usual cart open, it is empty much to Apricot’s disappointment.  He seemed pretty upset the other night.  A coil of guilt binds her as she wondered to herself if she should have gone after him.  Apricot makes her way towards his weathered seat where he would usually rest. Placing her fingers onto the blue vinyl seat she felt it is cold.

She laid on it resting her head against the window like Cortez did.  Taking up far too much space.  A part of her hoping the action would summon him to chide her away from what is his.  Tracing the lines on the window Apricot found herself deep in thought.  She felt overwhelmed.  So much to consider.  Looking over the metal paneling she noticed a spot had been scratched, most likely with a knife.  As she runs her fingers over the odd texture, she could tell something is written.  Looking closely at the cut metal someone carved the words “Old Shrine On A Hill.”  Apricot let out a yawn before straightening up.  She knew where her next stop would be.

~

The trek from the train station to the shrine is not all that long.  The walk is surrounded by hill lands and outskirt huts and shacks.  Along the road are many trees, unkept and not trimmed like the other trees in the city.  The dirt and brick pathway is lined with sculptures of crude bulbus headed people.  Apricot knows these as spirit guardians and is traditionally made to guide the dead towards the afterlife.  The statues are unkept as well heavily grown over with moss.  Where candles used to be resting in their hands had all melted and congealed between their round feet.

Cortez’s father’s notes mentioned this shrine.  The old shrine on the hill is also known as the shrine of the forgotten god.   Looking up the hill of stairs at the top there it is the gates to the shrine.   Painted red and accented black, the gates canvases nicely against the clear blue sky.  As Apricot climbs the steps, she figures it is over one hundred.  Normally shrines had traditions of not making their steps above such a number.  This is a rather unusual place.  Once at the top it opened to a cleared courtyard in front of the small shrine and there he is.  Cortez rests on his knees in front of the small shrine.  To Apricot’s shock on the step of the shrine the body of the reaper laid, inanimate.

The clicking of Apricot’s feet on the dusty stone floor alerts Cortez who turned his head slowly. “Cortez?”  His eyes have life but turn away to look back at the avatar of the reaper.

“Saw my note on the train.  I am surprised you came, seems like you care about me after all.”  Cortez comments his voice dull monotone and uninterested.

Slightly offended by the remark Apricot approaches, regardless.  “What does that mean?”

Cortez pats the floor next to him, Apricot bends down onto her knees.  “It’s nothing.”  There claw fingers is, the reaper, or at least what he wore, because now the body rested as though in slumber.  His clothing hung on him like one would expect it to hang on a manacan.  The mask which covered his face hung forward revealing his unnaturaly textured skin.

“Why are you here?” she inquires placing her hand on Cortez’s.

Cortez looks down at her hand and closes his fingers gently.  “I wanted to see if the reaper would talk to me.”

“How did you know he would be here?”  

Cortez smirked.  “He told us when we met him he would be here.  Seems he is not here right now or sleeping.  I am not sure how these kinds of things work.” Apricot remembers some garble he said something about the hill on the firsty but quite honestly who could make out half the things he says.  His face grows real serious Apricot thinks to herself.  “When I looked into that pit, it looked like a horrible place.  An endless tower of pain.  I could not stop looking at it.  Looking into it., it felt as though, it was welcoming me.  If you had not... I might have jumped in.”

Apricot shivered at the imagery used.  “What do you mean by a tower?”

“It was like looking up a tower from the bottom but only I was looking down.  Like it was inverted.  I can’t really explain it but those spirits being awoken were in agony.” Cortez shivers.

“We need you Cortez.  Don’t do anything stupid like that.” Apricot softly utters.

Cortez shakes his head.  “You don’t need me.  Even if you did, it would not matter.” Tears flow down from his cheeks.  “There is no way we can win.  It is us against another world Apricot, another world and the powers of this one too.  We are fighting with gods.  What are we even doing!” Cortez yells getting to his feet. “What the hell are we even doing?  Do you know!  Does Shiori know!  Cause I sure as hell feel like I am fighting against the night with a damn candle.  You can’t defeat the night Apricot.  It comes whether you like it or not.”

“Thou are wrong.” the reaper stirs slightly sitting up jumping both Apricot and Cortez.  “Their window of opportunity is closing swiftly.” he continues.  “Cortez, thou hast help me greatly.  Alas, I am dying and I doubt I remain through to the end.  The Okabe hast one last ritual to mere their devastation upon the orb.  They are preparing now at their shrine.  This is the broil  for the orb.  Mercy Cortez, for sustaining me for as long as thou hast.  Hie doth this one last office for me.  Apricot, thou hast awoken greatly since we first met.  Thy power is growing.  Seek to merge yourself.  The victory is at hand.  I hast one last crave ere I might not but rest.  Seek out the destroyer of the seals and forbear him.  If the devil occulted below the town is unleashed, all shall be lost.” Lowering down again the reaper rests itself forward.

Cortez screams “Wait I have questions!”

“Thou go as I gentle down.” says the reaper before he goes back to resting on the ground as before.

Cortez grits his teeth together putting his head down.  He grabs the sides of the thing shaking the reaper back and forth.  “Tell me damn it!  Tell me what it was I saw!  Gawd damn it!  Why!  Why is everyone ignoring me!  What do I have to do!” Cortez roars striking its body with his fist.  He pounds on it again and again.  Apricot wretches ahold of Cortez pulling him back.  She looks down to see him with bloody knuckles.  “Why won’t anyone explain to me what is going on?”

Apricot steps back away from Cortez.  “I have felt the same way from day one Cortez.” she sniffs.  “Look this is hard on everyone.  However, this is coming to a head.  The reaper is not lying.  The Okabe family are preparing for a ritual tonight.  This is why I came to get you.”  Cortez turns from Apricot looking down at the reaper which laid on the ground, with all the appearance of death.  “I have a feeling the reaper has been at work on our behalf for a long time Cortez.  Come on lets go.  He is gone right now.”

“I gave my blood to him.” Cortez roars. “The least the leech can do is answer my questions.”  Cortez lifts up the sleeve of his coat to show the strange symbols and marking on his arm.  “I was feeding him to keep it alive. He never answers me.  He only gives me a comment or a thanks.”

Apricot feels sick to her stomach.  “How long has this been going on?”

“Since he first appeared to us.” Cortez turns his head getting to his feet.

Apricot stands up as well saying “Let’s go tell the others what the reaper said.  We need as many people as we can get to stop them.”  Cortez nods shaking his head.  Apricot grabs his arm and leads him next to her as the two continue back to the train station.

“Apricot, I am not going.”

Apricot stops in her tracks, she does not even look at him.  “I can’t convince you can I?”

Cortez lets his hand go turning around.  “I am sorry.”

~

Laid on top of the table are several rifles with accompanying clips, improvised bombs, and a case of ammunition in a specialized plastic container.  Next to it are several clips marked with a red symbol.  There is also a pile of form fitting body armor, with pads and other gadgets.  Akagi looks at the pile with wide eyes.  “Wo which one do I get?” he asks playing at the weapons.

“Nothing.” Shiori laughs.  At this Akagi looks up pouting.  “You have an important job and your fast hands are not going to have time to fight.”

Todashi is slumped up against the wall.  Next to him Apricot sits at another desk her arms folded.  Sumai is looking over the table inspecting the items.  She picks up a rifle testing its weight.  “Yeah, this is solid stuff Shori boy.” Junko stands across from the others next to Shiori.

“Are we really doing this?” Junko asks.

Shiori smiles.  “Don’t have such a grim face.  We are only about to become fugitives.”  Shiori jokes.  “Look, I don’t want to do this either.  However, the price of not doing it means everyone in the city will die for sure.  Maybe even everyone in the world.  We have no clue what a new world means.  If this ritual is complete, it is clear that something bad will happen to everyone aside from Kyo and her wicked ilk.”  Shiori stands from the table.  “If you don’t want to do this.  I won’t blame any of you.”

“Hmmm, well, it end of road no matter what.” Todashi says.  “I help.  Fixed up caustic bullet like you ask.” he points to the plastic container of bullets.  “Don‘t touch with bare hand, wear rubber glove.  They burn flesh.  I made strong.  Quick kill.” Tadashi clears his throat adjusting the collar of his shirt.  “I don‘t like at all.”

“If I got a chance to kill one of them assholes, I will take it.  Teach them a lesson for what they did to my daughter.”  Apricot can see the grin on Sumai’s face is vicious.

“I’ll help.  I don’t want to kill anyone though.” Apricot comments.

Junko nods her head.  “I will.” she says in a hoarse voice.  “There is no other way.”  She picks up a rifle looking down the sites of it.  “I have not fired a gun in a long time.  Mind if I go to a range before we do this?”

“Go ahead.  Don’t get caught." Shiori chirps.  “So we are all in agreement.  Alright.  Here is my plan.  Apricot you will stay in the shadows.  I want you to be there to protect us from any phantoms that may come out from their ritual or even be guardians of the clan.  Sumai, Junko, Todashi, I want you to be cover fire.  When things go down, there will be guards.  I want you to keep them away from Kyo.  If you have a shot on Kyo kill her.  Kill her first.  She is priority one.” Shiori growls.

“What about me?” Akagi moans.  “I want to help too.  I don’t want my family to die.  I want to fight Shiori.”

He looks over to Akagi.  “You are going to have the most important job. I want you to hack the security systems.  I also want you to keep the lights off of us on them.  On top of that I want you to jam their broadcasts.  If you can also manage to keep us anonymous during this, that would be great.  I am counting on you so don’t screw it up.”

Akagi nods looking a little nervous.  “I, that, that is a lot of things to do.”

“If anyone can do it, it is you Akagi.” Junko says walking over towards the boy placing her hand on his back.

“Yeah, you think so?”

Apricot looks at the table.  “So, what are we doing after?  Do we wait for them to arrest us?  What is the end game Shiori?”

“The end game, is we stop the Okabe from this ritual?  I have arranged for several cars to pick us up.  There will be so many arriving it will be impossible to track anyone particular vehicle.  I have an apartment I have bought in the outskirts of town.  I have owned it for years.  It is nothing special, but I fortified it and it’s anonymous.  We will hide out there.  If that fails I have a second location we can hide in.  It is quite literally a bunker.  These two locations will serve as our new HQs until we clean up the rest of this mess.  I will clear all our names.  Even still, the Kinjo clan will come to my aid if need be.  That includes all of you.  As a last ditch effort we can leave Okabe if necessary.  So don’t worry.”

“What about before then?” Apricot asks.

“We will be considered terrorists.” Shiori firmly states.  “So let’s save the world at sunset.  You know where to meet up.”

~

The Okabe family shrine is in the heart of the city.  The slanted roofs and towering pillars are lined in gold,  with the light from the shrine itself it glowed almost supernaturally.  It reminded Apricot of a golden burning torch.  The image of the ornate building contrasting against the skyscraper high rises that surrounded the temple court made for an interesting blend of modern and historic memory.

Inside the temple court yard Kyo is in the middle of a large circle of candles.  She is kneeling in a crimson red dress lined with gold and black and red and white stripes.  Silver pieces crown her head.  Her hair styled to not cover her eyes.  Metal charms adorn her and jewels.  A head-cover trains down her back.  Her wrists barred in bright shining silver and golder armbands.  Her lips painted red and her eyes shadowed with black.

Around the ring are men dressed in black and red robes swinging metal baskets with incents burning from their long swinging chains.  The fires from the candles flash colors into purple and blue flame.   Kyo is whispering something quietly to herself.   Surrounding the courtyard are armed soldiers dressed in heavy black armor.

The click of Shiori’s shoes through the main entrance alerts Kyo to look up from a small bowl in front of her.  A smile crawls over her face.  “Shiori Kinjo, prince of the Kinjo clan.  You have arrived.” she calmly states.  Shiori looks around as the soldiers aim their guns at him.  Kyo lifts to her feet raising her hand.  “It is alright.  Be at ease.  We finally get to meet.”

“Nice ritual you got going on.  Looks like this is the final act of our little drama.  But I noticed something. Where are your sacrifices?” Shiori snidely remarks.

Kyo hides her face behind her palm.  “It appears like it has just arrived.  Now, Shiori.  How foolish do you think I am?  To just allow you to walk in here with no one stopping you.  I thought you were a smarter man.  Now please come calmly.  Arrest him.”

The armored soldiers march towards Shiori.  He takes a glance at them and turns his gaze back to Kyo. “It’s all or nothing when your back is against the wall Kyo.” Shiori smirks drawing his pistol from his undercoat.  A group of soldiers immediately charge towards Kyo as Shiori lets a single bullet fly from the chamber.    The bullet lands square in the armored soldier’s chest.  They tumble to the ground as the other soldiers turn their rifles toward Shiori.  “Come and get it.” Shiori roars.

“What do you expect to accomplish Shiori?  You cannot win this fight!” Kyo laughs.

From atop a sky scraper Akagi rests on the edge allowing his feet to dangle off.  His laptop in arm.  He has a clear view of the shrines court from so high above it’s walls.  “It looks like its action time." he says with a smirk.  He checks his window, to see that the live news feeds are reporting the cell and roaming power outages around the city.  A carefully devised plot.  A worm of his own design barreling through the Okabe network infecting everything connected to the national database.

“I hope you’re ready for a light show Shiori.” Akagi comments as he types a few lines of code on his computer.  The lights surrounding the shrine turn off.  The front end of the shrine also dim out.  All the automatic doors to the shrine and gates open.  “Alright!”

On the ground an armored soldiers yell out.  “Ah, shit I can’t see.”  He rips off his helmet.  Several other soldiers follow.  All of them looking exactly the same facially.  Kyo takes a step back.  “What is going on?”  The lights on Shiori disappear.   The guards circle around Kyo using their own bodies as shields.  “My lady, we have to end the ritual and leave now.” says the captain of the guard.

A barrage of shots follows from atop of the shrines wall.  Todashi kneels over the railing aiming down his sights.  The roar of a motorcycle comes buzzing through the gates as Junko rides in.  Her hair flying while Sumai sits on the back of the bike.  She pulls down on the trigger of her gun releasing a torrent of rounds at the group.  “Die imp bastards!” she shouts laughing all the while.

The soldiers surrounding the shrine return fire.  The lights behind Shiori’s group begin to strobe.  “Damn it!  I can’t see!” yells a soldier as their shots keep missing the moving targets.

Sumai watches as the circle of soldiers move together towards the rear of the shrine.  She can see that a couple other guards await the group by a large gateway.  “Junko! Kyo is trying to escape out the back.”  Sumai yells.  Junko acknowledges her with a small “Mmmm,” immediately focuses her attention toward the exit rushing around the sides of the shrine narrowly missing being shot.  Sumai fires at Kyo’s personal guard as they pass by them to the exit.  Grabbing a pair of small rods, Sumai tosses them at the exits entrance.  With a flash they both ignite into fires.

The shot soldiers that laid on the ground begin to smoke.  As the other soldiers who stand next to them are caught up in it their armor corrodes.  They let out screams as the acid breeze enters inside their armor.

“I have had about just enough of this!" Kyo yells.  “Rise up, aid me forbidden guardians, come protect this child from these thieves who stole my future.”  Out of the circle a creature crawls out of a dark pool.  Its body is bent in all the wrong ways.  Its chest bore a large eye, its pelvis the face of a man with sharp teeth, its legs were like a bird’s, its upper body like a mans, its arms like long hooks,  its head nothing more than a snapping mouth.  The abomination stands about ten feet tall.

“Showtime." Apricot says to herself as she runs out of the dark with her rapier in hand.  As she charges the creature her body emolates in purple flames.  Her speed is unantual and the force of her first piercing blow knocks the creature backwards.

“There is my witch.” Kyo says to herself.  A smile growing over her face.  The creature does not have much time to react as Apricot strikes the thing in the leg with her sword.  It buckles to get away swinging its hooks at her.  Apricot jumps back missing the strike.  It stabs into the ground allowing the creature to lift itself back to its feet.  Apricot moves in for another strike and her blow lands straight into its chest eye.  The creature breaks away from her the sword still stabbed deep in, sizzling as it burned the creature.  It bursts into flames immediately shattering into pieces then burning away into ash.

“Kyo give up!” Shiori says.  “Nothing you can do now.”

Kyo laughs as the circle glows bright.  “You fools.” she laughs as Apricot feels a burning sensation coming over her.

“Shiori something is wrong!” she screams.  She can feel herself drifting and sinking.  Shiori runs over latching ahold of Apricot lifting her out of the gate that had appeared below her.  Out of the corner of her eye she sees someone jump down from the wall.  He is dressed in black and runs to the edge of the circle.  “Shiori?  Who is that?”  he turns his head.  It only takes him a moment to yank Apricot to her feet half dragging her as the two run toward the entrance.

Other entities begin to rise from the circle in swarms as the cloaked person places his hand onto the circle.  Kyo‘s group is left fighting these entities as the shadows attack them.  Apricot stops to look but Shiori keeps pulling her.  “We have to get out of here!”

No sooner did Shiori finish his words that the ring lights up.  A loud sound is heard as a pillar of shadows rises from the circle then immediately falls descending backwords turning the ring into a pit.  An ear-shattering roar booms from the circle as the group make their ways to the parking lot.  A string of cars awaited them.  “Come, let’s get out of here.” Shiori says as they pile into the vehicle.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

The room is quiet.  Shiori lies on an office desk in the middle of a messy apartment.  Apricot holds onto his curled hand.  His clothing pealed away exposing the bones of his ribs which breach through his side.  A steady amount of blood pooling onto freshly purchased towels which rested under his back.  Several boxes are scattered around the office.  Another desk with a set of monitors is propped up showing a live feed of stock exchanges.  Across the room there is a refrigerator and a small kitchen.  The blinds are closed only allowing the hint of light through them.  Above Shiori is two bright incandescent lights acting as makeshift operation room fixtures.  Walking from the fridge a man in a brown shirt and black slacks pings a needle.

“Looks like we match now.” Apricot jokes.

Shiori turns his head grumbling out “Yeah, I really wish I did not.  This will slow me down.”

Apricot smirks trying to hide her worry.  “You better not.  I won’t be carrying you again.”

A slight chuckle escapes Shiori, he winces letting a grunt fall from his stretched lips.

The man presents the needle to Shiori.  Apricot notes how long the thing is, about six inches on her estimation. “This should get rid of your pain.” the man says.  With hap hazard maneuvering the man sticks Shiori in the side.  He volts up letting out a loud yelp.  He grits his teeth letting out a few huffs of pain as he settles back down onto the table.  “You could have told me the damn thing would feel like a spear injecting lava in me.”  Shiori lets out one more set of huffs.

“Mam, your not going to want to see the rest of this.  I got to ask you to step outside while I get more acquainted with Lord Kinjo’s insides.” Apricot looks down at Shiori who gives her a confident nod.

~

Apricot is glad Shiori had paid for a private transportation service.  After his surgery the man helped Apricot carry him out to the black sports car that had arrived.  Setting him in the passenger seat Apricot moves to the driver’s side.  He looks awful Apricot thought to herself.  The entire ride he is zonked out.  His eyes barely open, heavy under sedation.  Instead of pulling up to the main entrance to the Spook House it travels to the back.  Apricot had not even known of the second entrance.  The black sports car pulls into the elevated car port.  Metal clanking sounds as the platform elevates to the next floor.  It opens to a well-organized garage.  Stepping out of the car Apricot assists Shiori putting his arm over her shoulder and walking him into his home.

After laying him on his bed she left his room allowing him to rest.  His living room is amazing she thought to herself.  It is one of the largest personal book collections Apricot had ever seen.  She notes there is no television or computer about the room.  However, the other side had a clear open view of the town through mirror glass windows.

Grabbing a book off the shelve The Cihilbil.  Apricot mouthed the words but had no clue how to pronounce the name.  She sat down in an armchair and paws through the book.  The sun moves across the sky as she read the old fairytale.  The story is about an arrogant woman who wishes cause the prince of the land to fall victim to a faerie’s magic spell.  The story is strange to Apricot.  Though an unwanted lover kept showing up in the story trying to whisk away the woman.  However, the unwanted lover turned out to be the faeries brother.  “You’re still here.” Apricot looks up to see Shiori dazed gaze meeting her.  She nods her head.  “Why?”

She closes the book setting it on her lap.  “I wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“Yeah, I am.” Shiori says.  He walks into the room taking in a deep breath.  “A lot of books, huh?”

“Yeah it is.” Apricot says.  “I was just reading the Khialbil.”

“Syolbel.” Shiori corrects her with the correct pronunciation.

Apricot rolls her eyes “Right that.”

“It is important to have knowledge.  That separates the commoners from us nobles.  The common folk don’t seek knowledge, they are content with their lives and good for them.  However, it is the duty of a noble to have knowledge to guide the masses.  It is a difficult task.”  Shiori muses.

Apricot gets up from the chair placing the book back onto the shelf.  “So what about the guy who is breaking the seals.  I can’t find anything about him.”

“I know, that troubles me.   He broke two more seals after that first one.  Everyone has noticed.  I don’t even think the Okabe family cares about hiding it.  Then again, how do you explain that?  Short of a missile, nothing could explain away that kind of event.”  Apricot nods.  Shiori rests his hand on a book dragging his fingers over the rows spines.  “I am not happy about what has been happening as of late.  Everything has gone too public.  It won’t be long until Kyo musters her efforts and has us dealt with.  I am certain the only thing stopping her is my lineage.  The second she forgets that for a moment she will be on us fast.  That machine…”

“What happens if all the seals break?” Shiori just looks at the books.  “Shiori what happens if all the seals break?” Apricot repeats, louder with some authority.

A small smirk crosses his lips.  “Funny thing, I don’t know.  I don’t know what we do from here.  I spent most of my life studying the mystic arts because I was to become the high priest for the Kinjo Clan.  My grandfather had other plans for me however,  he told me about the plans of the Okabe family.  He wanted me to keep an eye on them in secret and to foil their plans if they tried to enact them again.”

Apricot places her back against the bookshelf.  “Come clean Shiori.  What are the Okabe family’s plans?”

“A new world.  They believe in making a new world and wiping this one away.  The Okabe family has been a death cult since ancient times.  It was only by treaty that Uchella ended its wars.  We have been warring clans for many many years.  Legend has it that the Okabe family would call forth spirits and monsters from other worlds to fight for their side.  However, they always sought to make a device that could bring forth the birthing of a new world.  A new pact with some god or devil.  I think most of the seals were here before the Blue Ash Crisis.  Each one built up after a mass sacrifice.  They are the source of their power.  Therefore, they build around these seals.  Make them the center of things.  With only two remaining they may get ready to release something.  Perhaps that god or devil they wanted to have a pact with.  No doubt though.  When they are broken it will release some kind of powerful being that has been bound for a long time.”

Apricot takes several steps as she ponders.  “What if it is not the Okabe family that is destroying the seals?  What if it is someone else?”

“What some loner destroying the Okabe family seals.” Shiori thinks about the thought for a few moments.  “That might be worse.  Could be some crazy who wants to unleash some sort of ancient evil on the world?”

“If the seals are the Okabe family’s source of power, if we broke them wouldn’t that take the Okabe family out of the picture?” Apricot suggests.

Shiori shakes his head.  “Whoever the seal breaker is, someone must stop him.”

“Then we stop them both.  The Okabe family and the seal breaker.  Both must be intertwined.”

Shiori nods.  “You might be right.”

~

The room is dimly lit by the light of several large monitors.  Cables are strung about the room and several servers are stacked along the walls.   A few men in suits, a pair of officers, and Empress Kyo are observing the fight Apricot and Shiori had with the Volkner suit from several surveillance sources.  Empress Kyo watches as the purple flames burst out of Apricot’s arm.  One man in the room gasps “A witch.”

Kyo claps her hands as a smile slowly crawls over her face.  The Azul around her neck’s eye its pupil grows until almost turning the whole thing dark. “I found you, my witch.  Right on time.” Kyo whispers.

~

Sitting at the bar, Apricot chats with the guests at the Spook House.  Shiori meanwhile reads through a book hanging out behind the bar peppering the conversation with off comments.  Apricot glances up seeing the front doors opening revealing Cortez with a thick file of papers in his arm.  Shiori glances up from the book.  “So you finally scampered on over.” Walking over towards the far end of the bar Cortez slams down the file.  Shiori makes his way over to the file placing his hands on top.  “So what is this?”

Cortez does not even look at Shiori.  “I am done.” in a calm voice he utters.

“What does that mean?” Shiori grunts.

Cortez’s dead gaze rises.  “The hell you think it means.  I am done.”

Cortez walks away from the bar heading towards the exit door.  Sliding over the bar Shiori grabs hold of Cortez’s shoulder. “Who said you could be done?”

Throwing Shiori’s hand off, Cortez yells “I am done!” causing everyone in the room to grow quiet.  “I am done.” he then looks back over to Apricot.  “And you, Apricot, you should be too.”

Shiori rouses back, glancing down at the file placing his fingers on it.  “Fine. Leave.” A smile crosses Shiori’s face as he watches Cortez walk out the door.  “Come help me out with this Apricot.” Shiori huffs lifting the file and taking it into the back room.

“What am I your assistant now?” Apricot retorts.

Shiori chuckles “Hardly honey, you’re not cut for the pedigree.”

~

Sprawled over the table are multiple documents and notes detailing a large network of abductions, human sacrifices, tunnels below the city, and paranormal events.  Alongside that are notes around the practice and purposes of said rituals.  Photographs of crime scenes that turn Apricot’s stomach are throughout the folder.  Images of open bodies, animal mutilations, and sights around the city where these events occur litter the documents.

“Shiori listen to this.” Apricot says as she reads the paper allowed.  “I have become convinced that the circles of power around the city are ancient sights.  These places are the most common sights in the city for sacrifice.  Those who practice sacrifices claim to do so in the service of the “Black God.”  The cult who practices these rituals dwell below the city.  They claim the “Black God” is the ancient founder of this city who brought with him prosperity for the small village who used to exist here.

The more that I study the papers of Uraias Hilderic I have become increasingly assured he understood these ancient myths, and it was the reason he chose this sight for building the Blue Ash project.  I am suspecting that the circles of power to bind the black god to this world.  I have grown suspicious of the Okabe family.  It is injuriously hard to deny that they are at least aware of the cult’s activities if not direct participants.  All files on Uraias Hilderic have been destroyed, there are no public records for the man aside from the few surviving documents listing him as the head of the Blue Ash project.

If everything I have discovered is correct Uraias Hilderic survived the explosion and is currently living below the city leading the cult’s activities.  My suspicions are that the nobles of Uchella have been practicing these arcane rituals in order to bring forth a new world.  A term that has come up time and time again.  Could it be that they intend to create a new world apart from this one?  It certainly seems that way from the way they talk about it.  However, there are key places around the city that have been purposed as sites to begin this new world.  I do not understand how they chose the sites they do, but it is clear they have some form of method and reasoning behind it.  I have plans to investigate these sites further as I discover them."

Shiori smiles.  “These documents are what we have been searching for.  No wonder Cortez hates the nobles.  Pull up a chair honey because by the end of the night we will have read through all these.”  Apricot nods her head.

From what Apricot gathered of the subjects the phantoms result from the activities of this cult.  These entities are drawn from their world to this one because the power the cult uses is drawn from their world.  The three goals of the cult is to merge themselves between worlds turning themselves into gods, build a new world they will rule for themselves, and sacrificing this one to achieve that end.  Cortez’s father never figured out by what means they achieve these things however the rituals they do were meticulously detailed from ancient sources and he assumed their modern acts are similar if not the same.

~

Apricot slept slumped over a pile of documents.  When she awoke her eyes met the dusty documents and terrible photographs strung in front of her.  She pushes herself from the table to sit upright.  Stretcher her arms releasing a big yawn she gives her first look at the room.  Shiori sat in the corner still looking over documents.  “You are up." he comments not looking away from the paper.

“Sorry." Apricot apologizes.  “I did not mean to nod off like that.  How long was I out for?”

Shiori smirks.  “Several hours.  I got some coffee going in the kitchen.  If you want me to grab you some, I would be happy to.”

Apricot shakes her head.  “Nah, I think I will step out and get some fresh air though.”

Shiori nods his head.  “There is news.”  Apricot looks up.  “Kyo is having a ceremonial dedication tonight.”

Getting to her feet Apricot takes a few steps.  “What does that mean?”

“Means they are making their move.”  Shiori says.  “Akagi got all the information on it.  They wanted to keep it secret, and they have bought several sacrifices for this ritual.  However, I think it is a bait to draw us out.”

Apricot shakes her head.  “Bait to draw us out?  What do you mean?”

“Akagi said they normally encrypt this stuff hard.  This however, was very elementary.  It did not even take him any effort to decrypt the message.  It’s an invitation to us.”  Shiori growls.  He places his hand on his chin.

“So, we will ignore it.”

Shiori shakes his head.  “No, we can’t.  If it is a legit ritual, then this could be game over for us if we don’t stop it.  If it is bait, then lets hope that Kyo is there.  Either way, this ends tonight.  We can put down the Okabe family for good.  At least their aspirations of a new world.  They won’t have another chance like this for a long time.”

“Why?” Apricot asks.

“The alignment of the other world to this one.  They are close together dimensionally right now.  It is the prime time to be enacting a ritual.  After tonight it gets further and further away meaning the power able to be drawn from it is less and less.  At least according to these notes.”  Shiori smirks.  “So in a way it was meant to be this way.  Also, guess where they are having this ritual?”

“Where?” Apricot inquires.

“The grand temple garden.  Where the biggest seal is located.  It’s the most ancient one too.  So you know who will show up too.  It is perfect.  This is where it all comes down.” he gets up from his seat.  “While I make preparations, would you mind going to see Cortez for me?  He won’t answer my calls.  It just goes to voice mail.”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Apricot says.

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

“I don’t know how much more I can take of this.” said an officer to another.  “When I joined the force, I thought I would be helping people you know.  Today it seems we are doing nothing but dealing with strange events.  It’s like this whole city has become a stage for some sort of twisted horror movie.”

“Yeah, first it was that insect swarm, now its explosions in the ruined part of town.  Let’s not forget the ever growing population of witches.” Braced against the wall the other officer looks around.  He takes a swig of coffee.  “Just be glad rook, your dispatch.  We actually have to go out and see this shit.”

The younger officer shakes his head.  “Just knowing about all these things is enough to make someone go mad.  I never thought the SDP was like this.  I imagined we would be going after the more hardened criminals.  Not spooks and monsters.”

“You didn’t get the memo?” grunts the older officer.  “They changed the S to Spectral.” the group of officers laugh.  “Sure as hell seems that way at least.”

Over the radio a voice calls out “Hey, ah, is anyone inside the Valkner room?”

The young officer at the desk looks over his monitor showing no heat signatures.  “That is a negative.” he replies.

“Well, there is a lot of noise coming out of there.  Did someone leave one of the Valkners on?”

“That is also a negative.  The indicators are displaying them all as inactive.”

“I need backup down here, now.  Something is moving around inside that room.  It is big and made of metal.”

“I’ll send someone down.”  The rookie looks up over at the older officer.  “Could you?”

“Yeah yeah, I am going.” he retorts.

Just as the older officer is about to exit the room an alarm goes off from the consol.  The younger officer looks down at the board to see a red light flashing.  “Hanger three was just breached from the inside.”

“Shit, help!” the officer cries out over the radio.

~

“What’s wrong with him?!” The words wrung inside Apricot’s head.  As she gazed up at Cortez staring into the pillar of radiance.  Aside from the quaking thunder, there were subtle screams.  She could feel her chest pounding.  Tugging at Cortez’s arm resulted in little more than a moan from him.  He turns his head slowly towards her, life returning to his eyes.

Finally, they were running; trailing behind Shiori.  The shadows of every object stretched like long spikes casting themselves upon every wall.  They did not have to run far, the car was already in view as they raced down the alleyway.  The lights from helicopters coasting along the bright night sky slash across the roadways.

“What the hell was that!  Shiori what was that!” Cortez screams as he cowers in the back of the car nearly in tears.  Apricot felt the same anxiety though her tears were too shellshocked to escape her eyes.  The car roars as it races down the ruined roadway.  “Things got more complicated.” Shiori whispers.

Cortez shakes his head.  “What the hell was that?” Apricot went to ask the same thing, yet the words couldn’t leave her lips.  Her throat tightens, mouth turning dry.  “You going to say something?” Cortez burst out.

“Yes, I am just thinking.” Shiori calmly says.  “That was one of several seals around the city.  They are old sights around this region.” Shiori explains.  His driving slowing as they arrive onto more commonly traveled roads.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean!”

Shiori clears his throat.  “I think one of them was just broken.”

The ringing of Apricot’s phone jumps her from her thoughts.  Looking down at her table she sees her phone gliding as it vibrates.  Grabbing hold of the pink plastic plush case she raises it up to see it’s a text from Bonni.  

“Wanna do some window shopping?!”

~

The roar of gunfire echoes through the hall of the SDP’s hanger.  The bloody remains of officers are smeared like splattered bugs across the pavement.  “We got to stop it!” yells an officer hiding behind a support beam.  Two other officers hide from the adjacent pillar.  Holding their pistols to their chest the officers peak at the war machine marching down the corridor hall.  “These guns are useless.  That is reinforced alloy, no way in hell our shots will make it through that armor.”

“What the hell are we supposed to do?” yells a female officer.

“We got to run and close the gate.” replies the first officer.  “It will buy us some time to get the special units suited up.”

All the officers nod in agreement.  While the they run down to the end of the corridor the machine lumbers forward disregarding the other officers.  After making it to the other side of the corridor the female officer presses a memorized set of numbers onto the keypad.  The twin doors groan as they come together.  The machine stops its movement watching the doors descend.  “It’s not moving.” says the older officer.

The other officers peak through the slabs before the metal gates latch shut.  “Well, that won’t buy us much time.  If it rips through this one like the other two.”

“Let’s get out of here.” suggests the female officer.

The group turns tail down the hall as the twin doors let out another groan.  The officers turn back to see the door opening again.  The Volkner suit remaining where it had been previously.  “What the?” says the female officer as the red lights on the suit live once again.

The suit takes another loud stomp continuing its track towards the group.  “Run.” says the older officers as the machine sparks its thrusters leaving a blue-white glow to burn behind as it propels itself.

~

Apricot could not help see the usual world differently.  As she walks down the familiar stretch of shops her sights wander to every corner and every shadow.  She felt like this once before when she was in the dark about the phantoms.  When she denied everything just for a few more moments of peace.  Now, she was in the dark again.  Bonni’s fingers rest on her shoulder.  It is comforting.  For the moment.  Still the recent events are blasted into mind as the local city guard surrounded.  While it is usual for police to be walking about, today armored police with long rifles guard each junction in pairs.  “I was worried about you.” Bonni says as they rode the escalator to the next floor.

“Worried? You?” Apricot asks. “Normally you tend to only worry about yourself Bonni.”

Bonni’s lips purse coy like a cats mouth.  “Well, I will remember to do it less often.” Apricot smirks.  The two giggle for a moment.  “So, what is the deal with that cutie Shiori?” Bonni says raising her eyebrow.  “You two an item?”

A heavy layer of blush fills Apricot’s cheeks as she looks at Bonni with bulging eyes.  “What!” she barks quickly shaking her head.  “It’s nothing like that.  He is just my boss.  That is all.”

“Really?” Bonni pouts.  “Shame, and here I thought you landed yourself a fairytale catch.  Figures though, I could not see the two of you together, anyway.  Common girls like us never interest those nobles.”

Apricot felt hurt hearing those words.  She was a common girl, though it never occurred to her around Shiori.  Considering his views on Cortez because of his heritage.  Perhaps he felt the same way about her.  “Well, you might be right about that.”

Bonni points towards the skylight in the mall’s center.  “Look, what is that?”

Apricot’s eyes dart up to see a shadow loom over just as it smashes through raining shards of glass.  The two girls huddle together as the downpour of fractures fall.  Apricot looks up to see a large metallic shadow rise.  It raises both of its arms before the two rifles fire rapidly shooting up the walls of the mall.

Diving over the escalator bars Apricot latches onto Bonni’s arm.  Eyes locked onto the machine warrior Bonni remains frozen.  “Bonni!” Apricot yells pulling her over the rail.  The armored soldiers above are taking shots as they yell out orders.  People are running in every direction attempting to escape the rain of debris.  “Bonni! We got to move.” Apricot yells pulling on Bonni to get to her feet.  With one more tug Bonni raises as Apricot drags her like a child.

“This way,” a soldier hollers motioning with his hands towards an emergency exit.  The tower like helmet the man wore gave Apricot the creeps.  It was like a cyclops with its one large red glowing sphere.  Around the large sphere were four other small ones two on each side in a v shape.   Apricot’s train of thought is interrupted as the man raises his rifle in their direction.  He lets a shot fly past Apricot causing both her and Bonni to let out a shriek.  His gray cape flows as he steps forward to fire another burst of shots.  “Get behind me!” he yells marching forward past the girls.  Apricot turns her head back to see the Volkner at the top of the stairs; its red monocle adjusts focus to fix on her.

It fires a barrage of shots landing all around Apricot and Bonni; the armored soldier blocking most of the rounds with his own body.  Apricot and Bonni continued down the hall even though Apricot is almost certain that soldier had just been killed.  “You stabbed me in the throat!” Apricot hears a voice groan from inside her head.  She turns her head to see the soldier being split in half with a bayonet.  “I shall cleave yours in half, servant of the betrayer!” it roars ripping into the small hallway.  Bonni lets out a scream running faster.

“This isn’t happening!” She cries.

Through the exit doors Apricot and Bonni come crashing out, only to be greeted by the sight of several police Volkners.  Apricot freezes looking at the menacing looking machines.  “Get behind us!” one of the mechas firmly orders.  From behind, the other Volkner that had been chasing them smashes through the wall.  Apricot turns just in time to see a large slash aimed in her direction.  The blade is caught in the air by the arm of another one of the police Volkners.  Having the gun retched from its arms the attacking machine is held back by the SDP mecha.  Apricot and Bonni run past between the legs of the machine to safety.  

Bonni screams out “Help!” to a line of armored officers who have formed a wall with their armored trucks.  Running swiftly over the parking lot the booming sounds of the mecha’s guns thunder rippling against the walls.  Glancing behind herself Apricot sees purple sparks and phantom fires blocking the shoots.

Apricot feels Bonni’s hand let go.  She turns to see her diving into the arms of an armored soldier that is directed behind the barricade.  Another thunder causes Apricot to swiftly turn heel to watch as the mechas had begun ripping each other apart.  One however breaks rank and is jetting directly for Apricot.  “Get behind us!” yells one of the armored soldiers as they release a barrage of shots on the large mechanical suit.

“That thing is after me!” Apricot gives one last glance to Bonni whose eyes are filled with terror.  She reminded Apricot of a small child in a panic.   She hid herself behind the steel door of a truck too curious not to peak at the oncoming manifestation of death.  Biting her lip Apricot looks directly into Bonni’s eyes giving one last look.  She nods her head, perhaps for the last time.  Apricot runs down the line of the makeshift vehicular wall hearing Bonni’s voice cry out “Apricot!” Diving past the armored soldiers she runs at a full sprint through stagnant traffic to the other side of the parking lot.  Behind her she can hear the soaring machine bursting through the barricade.  A heavy clash of metal and its high pitched bending screech grates on her nerves.  The cars on the road at the end of the lot are moving swiftly.  Jumping over the barrier Apricot rushes into full traffic narrowly escaping the speeding automotives.  Her heart pounds as she reaches the other side of the road to see a drop off onto another platform below.  Without hesitation she slid down the side of the concrete landing harshly on her feet.

~

An upbeat tune played in the background, a pair of pure white dress shoes rests on top of chocolate brown wood.  Laying back in his office chair Shiori has a book spread open as he casually reads the dusty tomb.  Just past the edge of the book he has a clear view of the city from his highrise apartment window.  “Bzzzt Bzzt” his phone rumbles across the desk.  Shiori glances down at the phone seeing it light up with the text “Apricot Signa”  Letting out a sigh Shiori places down his book and casually lifts the phone to his ear clicking it on.  “Hello Miss,” before he could finish he is barraged by Apricot’s panicked words.

“Shioriyougottohelp!Arobotistryingtokillme!Idon’tknowhowmuchlongerIcanrunbutyouneedtodosomethingnow!” The words came so fast it is almost incomprehensible.

Shiori let out a snicker “You got to slow down, honey. I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

“Shiori!  I don’t have time for this!” Apricot screams into the phone.

“Well, if you need my help, that is not the way to get it.” Shiori snickers again.

Apricot lets out a growl in frustration.  “A mecha is trying to kill me!”

“Sounds, dangerous.  All right, I will come help.  Keep your cell on, Akagi will locate you.” Shiori says with a click of his phone.  He tosses the slab onto his desk letting out a yawn stretching.  “That crazy girl, I’m not sure she is even worth the trouble.”

~

Slamming through a car the mecha suits green electronic hud locks onto Apricot running through an alleyway.  Sparks fly from its thrusters as it makes the turn into the long stretch of narrow lanes. Using this to her advantage she jackknifes through the maze of off roads attempting to lose the machine.  Each turn the mecha makes a boom trumpet from its thrusters.  Seeing an open door Apricot heads into the back of a building.

An older man in a white chefs cloak shouts out “Lady you can’t be back here,” as Apricot runs through the steamy hot room.  Out through the double doors several waitress’s let out a shocked yelp.  At the front of the building Apricot can see out the dining-room windows to see the mecha outside adjusting its arms.

“Get down!” Apricot screams as the machine unloads causing the room to erupt into a storm of steel and wood.  Ripped fabric flies around the room as the guns tare up everything.  “How the hell do I get out of this?” Apricot thought to herself as she crawls toward a fire door.  She is not sure of how many people it actually hurt or if anyone is still alive, but the moans of agony rummage through her mind.  It is all her fault.  She put those people at risk.  This thing, whatever it is, has absolutely no mercy at all.

Out the fire exit she gains a few seconds.  Running in the opposite direction she reaches the intersection of the main street.  A white car barrels up next to her nearly striking her.  “Get in!” yells Shiori.  Sliding over the hood of his car Apricot dives into the passenger seat as Shiori takes off.  Apricot latches onto the hand of the still raised door pulling it shut.  “What the hell is this!  It’s all over the news!”

“It came after me when I was with a friend!” Apricot yells.  “I don’t know what the hell it is!”

Shiori growls stomping on the gas speeding past cars appearing like at any moment they would crash.  “Well, way to make enemies with the world then.  This is a problem!” Apricot looks back to see the mechanical warrior close behind.  It smashes through cars giving no regard for anything in its path.  The machines armor is physically damaged as parts of it have begun pealing off exposing the metallic chasse below.  “Where the hell are the cops!” Shiori yells.

Apricot looks down at her arm to see the purple flames once again burning.  She holds her hands open palmed to watch the fire’s dance.  Shiori nearly veering off the road yells out “What the hell! You’re going to kill us.”

“It doesn’t hurt physical objects.” Apricot quietly says. “I think that thing is a phantom.” Apricot comments turning her head to Shiori.  “At least a phantom is driving it.” The mecha dives in front of Shiori’s car.  He slam the breaks coming to a scretching hault.  The loud hiss of the projectile claws stops with a loud clang into the back of the car.  “Get out!” Shiori commands pulling up his door.  Apricot follows suit and dives out just before the car is lifted and thrown into the side of a building.

The two stand in front of the mecha.  Shiori extends his rod.  “I hope your right Apricot.” Taking a fighting stance.  Apricot nods her head allowing the fires around her arm to grow more vibrant.  The cables retract out of the car back into the machines hand with a metallic click.  Standing about ten feet tall the machine dwarfed the two.  “You know Apricot.  If your wrong we are going to die right.”

The machine without warning jets forward lunging at Shiori.  Jumping back he misses the fist but as it smashes into the pavement debris fly up pelting him harshly.  Shiori spins back around taking the blows slamming his rod against the fingers of the machines fist releasing a flurry of sparks as his metal scraped against the alloy.  “Shit this is useless!” Shiori roars.  Apricot slashes at the machine and her flames make contact.  Drawing back the machine looks down at Apricot, shooting its claws down towards her but she jumps into the air just missing the tethers.  Apricot hears the servos in the hand wine rapidly retracting the lines, narrowly missing her.

“Got to be creative.“ Shiori hits the mecha directly in the chest stabbing his rod into the machine.  Standing on the side of the machine he retches his rod to rip open the chest panel.  It reveals a dead soldier, his mouth open in agony his eyes frozen wide.  Inside a purple orb floated about stretching throughout the machine. Grabbing him by the back the machine quickly tosses him away.  Landing on the ground he rolls several times ripping up his clothing.

“Shiori!” Apricot calls.  Seeing an opening the machine raises its fist to strike Apricot into mush.  As the fist descends Apricot lets out a scream diving forward Striking directly into the chest cavity of the mechanical soldier.  The purple aura bursts into a bright flash as the machine falls forward, its fist smashing into the ground cracking the pavement.  The rest of the machine goes limp.  Apricot pants looking up at the body who is now hanging above her still strapped into the suit.  His dead eyes gazing toward her but not at her.  Blood drips from his limp open mouth.

Shiori rises to his feet wheezing, he coughs, fluid flows from his mouth onto the ground.  “Well, it didn’t kill me.” he laughs.  “Damn it that hurts.“ he roars wincing in agony.  “Looks like you lived too kiddo.” he grunts letting out another pair of coughs.  Apricot nods her head stepping out from under the machine.  “Mind helping me get out of this mess.”

Mature Content

This content is intended for mature audiences.

“Looks used.” says a man with a shaved head as he inspects a cybernetic arm augmentation.  He points to a dent in the upper bicep.  “See that, wear man, tanje you ain’t getting much for this.  Where you get it anyway?”

Cortez rests his back against the ghost of a brick wall where a building once stood.  “Guy, owed me money.  Did not ask him where he got it.  Figured it would be worth more than what he owed.  I don’t want gravy for it man.  I am looking for a gun, freelance you know?”

“A gun?” he says stroking his chin.  “Yeah, yeah, I got a gun that I might be willing to trade for the chips.  Ok, tell ya what, I got an SMG.  It has seen action, might even be wanted.  It still got a serial, no chip though.  So it will work.”

“Let’s see it.” Cortez says drawing a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.  Removing a single stick with his lips.

The guy gets up off the rusty barrel he sat on.  Popping the lid off it he draws out a small compact looking rifle.  “What you think?” He tosses the gun to Cortez.  Holding it Cortez looks down its sight.  “You like?”

He flips it a few different ways testing the weight of the weapon.  “You give me four clips and it is a deal.”

“Four clips, fine but only two loaded.” the man says looking down his sunglasses.  Cortez lights his cigarette taking a solid in hail of it.  He looks down at the ground and sees the rocks vibrating.  The man with the glasses jumps back.  “Holy shit, look at that.”

Storming down the ruined road is a caravan of black cargo trucks.  “Shit, those look like government trucks.  What the hell are they doing over here?”  Cortez says stepping away from the wall.  “Give me my clips so I can get lost.”

“Yeah, shit, I am not staying here either.” the man says as he rustles through the barrel.  The trucks stop about fifty yards from Cortez in a circular clearing that is generally considered the center of the ruined city.  He watches as the backs open. Several armored soldiers walk out armed to the teeth.  “Bishop caps.” Cortez whispers.

The man pulls out of the barrel with the clips in hand.  “Look take your shit.  I am gone.”  He drops five clips at Cortez’s feet.  He pops the lid back on the barrel.  Cortez bends down to pick up the clips.  His eyes on the soldiers as they point their rifles at the locals.

“Is this a raid?” Cortez comments to himself.  He is answered by a gunshot.  They blow a man to pieces with high caliber rifle.  “Damn!” Cortez shouts.  He makes his way away from the soldiers staying under cover.  The rest of the locals scurry from the surrounding gunshots.  From the sounds of it the soldiers are shooting anyone they see.  People let out screams of terror and cries of pain as the soldiers shoot them down.

Keeping down, Cortez makes his way through the maze of fallen buildings.  As he makes his way into an ally Cortez looks back.  He sees the soldiers prowling around securing a parameter.  “What the hell are they doing?”  As he turns away, he sees a fire escape.  “There we go, a little higher up and I might be able to get a better view.”

About half way up the fire escape there is a broken window allowing entry into the abandoned building.  With his new gun strapped around his side he makes his entry into the building.  The place is a hollowed out memory of what it used to be.  Empty cans and trash littered the halls.  Some homeless people made this place home, perhaps drug addicts.  None the less, they normally were cut from the same cloth Cortez thought.  He makes it to the end of the hall where a large glass window allowed for a better view of the collapsed part of town.  He watches as men in hazard suits had blowers scattering dust off the street.  In the center a large symbol came into view as the dirt is removed.  He also noted two black cruisers pulling up.  He watches as people in formal attire exit the cars.  “What is this?”

~

“You don’t say.  How interesting.” he says over the receiver of his phone.  “Well, we can’t allow that now can we.”

~

Apricot’s teeth sink deep into the bun of a Bingo Burger.  The sloppy bite dripping down her cheeks.  Bonni sits next to Apricot dipping her usual a chicken nugget into some sauce.  “I am so happy we could all get together.” Machi chirps.  “Exams have been stressful.  I really needed a day to just take a break.”

“It’s been too long.” Solenne says placing the straw of her soft drink into her mouth.  She sucks down a sip of cool soda before letting out a satisfied “Ahhh, got to love coke on a hot summer day.”

Bonni face downturns as she lets out a childish moan.  “I wish.  Too many sugars for me.”

“Drink diet.” Machi says.

Gesturing with waving hands Bonni shouts “And get cancer!”

Machi rolls her eyes taking a bite from her burger.  “I agree, it is nice.” Apricot says, her voice warm with emotion.  “I’ve been so busy with work and school I hardly seem to have time to relax anymore.”

“It’s part of growing up.” Bonni says.  “When we were all students in primary school, it was like we had all the time in the world.  We just didn’t know it then.”

Solenne nods quietly.  Machi nearly spits out her food at Bonni’s remark, swiftly swallowing after.  “That is pretty deep coming from you.”

“I know you think I am stupid Machi but, I can be smart sometimes too.  I got the heart of a dreamer and a deep thinker.” Bonni winks.  “I don’t want to be one of those dumb celebrities with all their opinions.  I rather just tell the world of brilliant philosophical statements.”

Machi snickers “And there is the Bonni I know.”

Bonni scowls.  “What do you mean by that?”

Apricot smiled watching the two banter with each other, her gaze glances towards Solenne who had the same look she imagined she shared.  Deep in thought, her troubles heavy on her shoulders.  She had entered a world which only a few people knew.  Solenne’s a different one from hers but the common theme is the danger and terror.  For Solenne criminals and wars overseas.  For Apricot monsters and royal societies.  And still she wondered what Solenne thought of her.  Their last encounter had not been a pleasant one.  She is sure Solenne had her suspicions about her.  Though she never let on what those suspicions are.

Shiori’s familiar white car pulling up across the street would interrupt her thoughts.  “What the hell is he doing on this side of town?” Apricot thought.

As the door raises and Shiori steps out Machi whispers “Do you see that!  Holy shit, I think that is Shiori Kinjo.”

Bonni immediately swivels her head around wide eyed she turns back quickly as he slicks his blond hair back with his fingers.  “I think that is.  Look at how he is dressed.” Shiori’s white and cornflower blue suit was definitely not cheap.  As always, he dressed in the most expensive attire he possibly could have.  As the road empties of cars Shiori begins his crossing, a noble yet cocky walk.  Apricot came to resent that stride, though, deep down her heart almost fluttered.  He was incredibly handsome.  To her though he was just Shiori.

“He is coming over here!” Bonni gasped.

Solenne lowers her tea colored sunglasses.  “I would not expect a noble to be eating at Bingo Burgers.” she chuckles clearly not star struck like the other two girls.

As Shiori reached the girls, he looks down at the group with a trademark smile saying “Miss Apricot, a strange coincidence meeting you here.  I was just thinking about you.”

At this the other girls snap their heads at Apricot, mouth agape.

“Eh, hello Shiori.” Apricot tells her face turning flush her voice boiling over with embarrassment.  “I ah, I would not imagine you eating here.”

Shiori chuckles “Well of course.  When you eat filet mignon every night sometimes the simple hotdog is the delicacy.”  Shiori glances at the pair of girls eyeing him.  Placing his hand on Bonni’s shoulder he says “Would you mind making just a smidge of room.”  At which Bonni quickly scoots over as Shiori sits down next to the girls.  “Apricot introduce me to your friends.”

Apricot shakes her head.  “Well, this is, ah Bonni Willox,” Apricot says pointing to Bonni.  “That’s Machi.” and “Officer Solenne.”

“Officer Solenne.” Solenne chuckles.

“Ah, great, a member of the regular police I would presume.  Judging by your fairness I would not imagine you being placed with the brutes in the SDP.” Solenne blushes slightly.

“Well, yes, you would be correct about that.  Though I hope to work into the office of the SDP as dispatch.” Solenne comments.

“So what do you girls do when you’re not gracing this place with your beauty?” Apricot rolls her eyes.  The only person that could get a way with being so corny would be a noble like Shiori.  If it was not for his good looks and pedigree her friends would be laughing.

“I work in a cafe but I have aspirations to be an actor.” Bonni says.

“An actor.  Well, I look forward to seeing you on the silver screen.” Shiori laughs.

His gaze directs itself to Machi, “And you my dear?”

“I am an engineer.” Machi chirps hiding behind her hands.  Her index finger pressing her fogging glasses up to her face.  “Well, a student engineer.”

Shiori whites show again “Wow, smart girl.  You all seem like a wonderful group of ladies.”

“You never told us, you knew Prince Kinjo Apricot.” Solenne says squinting her eyes behind her glasses.

“I, I ah,” Apricot says trying to think of an explanation her friends would accept.

Shiori quickly responds.  “Well, that is a bit of my fault.  You see, I hired Apricot some time ago.” Apricot  felt a lump in her throat grow.  “He will not tell them everything is he?” screamed Apricot in her head.  “You see Apricot has been my assistant for several months.  I noticed her talent at reporting.  I have a special venture I am starting and I wanted some new blood to start it.  She has been helping me with the layout of my new magazine.  It has been kind of secret.  So if you would be so kind as to not tell anyone I would appreciate that.”

“Of course!” Bonni says grabbing Shiori’s arm hugging onto it.  “We would not dream of it.”  Shiori lifts his gaze for a moment.  Machi sheepishly hides nodding her head.

“Speaking of which a situation has come up and I need your assistance, Miss Apricot.” Shiori says.

Apricot scowls.  “I suppose you want me to come with you now?”

Shiori nods his head.  “Mmmmhmmm, it was a pleasure meeting all of you.  Sorry to have to leave so quickly.”

Machi nods her head.  “No, it’s ok.” her voice sounding far more girly than usual.

As Apricot gets up to leave, she glanced back at the group.  She immediately wishes she did not as Solenne’s stabbing glare suggested this chance meeting was a complete and total mistake on Shiori’s part.  If she had not already drawn Solenne’s inquisitive side, it was sure established now.  As Shiori ushers her into the passenger seat of the car, she gives one last look at the girls longing to return, knowing full well if Shiori was picking her up it was bad.

“Hey sweet cheeks.” a male voice says from behind.  Apricot looks back to see Cortez kicked back with his foot on the back of her seat resting by her face.

Shiori groans.  “Like a dog,” Shiori sacks him in the leg.  “Down! I don’t suppose you have the money to reupholster my leather.”  Cortez rolls his eyes putting his feet back on the floor spreading his legs as he takes up the majority of the back seat.

“What is going on?” Shiori closes the door driving the car away from Bingo Burgers.

Cortez sighs shaking his head.  “You two took long enough, I was getting board back here all by my lonesome.”

Apricot looks back at Cortez grimacing.  “Why doesn’t anyone answer me?”

“Cortez fill her in, please.” Shoiri says as he is holding the wheel tight in hand.  “He is driving,” Apricot thinks to herself.

This scared her.  Shiori rarely was tense and even if he was, he did not show it.  The fact he is driving and not letting the AI do it for him suggested something was very off.  Her sights look back at Cortez who spits out a puff of air.

“Well, something big is going down over on my side of town.  Some people are setting up some huge ritual bringing in all kinds of stuff to burn.  I am pretty sure it is the Okabe family.  Thing is the spot they picked is “underground”, my old gangs stomping grounds.  It’s a junkyard.  Ruined buildings all over the place.  It’s part of the old ruined city.  See we never paid much attention to it but there is a huge circle we always joked about being a witch porthole.  I suppose it’s not a joking matter now." Cortez says.

Apricot shakes her head.  “So what are we going to do?”

“Stop it.” Shiori says firmly.

“How?”

“I don’t know... interrupt the ritual.” Shiori growled.

“Won’t that make us fugitives?” Apricot gasped.

“What else are we supposed to do?  I got eyes on Lady Kyo right now...  she has not attended from what I can tell.  That disturbs me even more.” Shiori says as he pushes hard on the peddle.

“Shiori your speeding.” Apricot softly says touching his arm.

“I am pretty sure Shiori knows more than he is telling us Apricot.” Cortez suggests. Apricot glances back at Cortez who is holding a sub-machinegun.  She sits quietly as they rush down the road towards the ruined city.

~

Hundreds of lanterns light the ruins of the old city.  The night sky canvases the warm orange glow as a small group of people chant around the large circle.  One man is wearing a white dress shirt with suspenders and black slacks holding an old weathered book in his hand.  “We will avenge our fallen fathers.  If Lady Kyo thinks we will hand her the keys to the new world, she is starkly mistaken.”  The remaining dust coating the ground swirls in phantom winds.  The stone ring unveiled clean of dirt.  Green flames dance in the supernatural storm blowing the clothing of the ritualists.

“So you have heard me!” says the man.  Shiori and Apricot look down from the side of a toppled building.  Cortez pops his head out of a window climbing up onto the fallen wall.

“Awaken!” the man with the book calls out.  He holds up his white gloved hand.  Apricot can make out a star sown onto the back.  Pointing his middle and index finger to the sky thunder calls out as a bolt of lightning strikes in the center of the stone circle.  The winds roaring stronger, pushing the man back with its force.

The ritualists struggle to stand firm against the winds.  One stumbles, his black slacks catching fire immediately.  A horrified scream escapes his mouth as the flames engulf his entire body.  Rolling onto the ground he splatters like a crushed grape.  The winds throw his remains colliding into another person who blows to pieces without so much as a cry.

Cortez looks down at the site and then back at Shiori.  “Well, if you’re not going to do anything.” he says tugging up on the black leather strap of his gun.

Shiori firmly slaps the gun down from Cortez’s arm.  “We are too late.  We can’t stop it now.”

“To hell with that!” Cortez grunts ripping the gun from Shiori’s arm aiming it at the group.  Apricot grabs Cortez around the neck yanking him back.  “Shit!” he shouts.

This causes a ritualist to glance up, their clothes igniting and their flesh turning to a shadow in the blaze.  “We can’t risk it.”  Among the flames shadows of other creatures form encircling the ring of fire.  They take a variety of forms but their black silhouettes become more pronounced as the event continues.  Voices chanting alongside the others grow, their voices deeper, stronger, more powerful than the humans.  “What is happening?” Apricot whispers.

Shiori grits his teeth.  “Not sure.  This is a seal though.”  The fires grow more wild pushing hard enough to move the ritualists back.  The growing force push even the caller leading the ritual.  His face stretching as though he was experiencing heavy G forces.  “Ahhhh!” he growls as his cheeks tear, his blood flying in the wind in sloppy streams.

Blue waves of light rise from the circle as a thick haze of ghostly spirits fly about in a smog like smoke.  Their faces twisting and turning into skeletal forms as they float about the fires.  The center of the ring ripples as though it is made of disturbed waters.  Rising from inky blackness is a massive wad of bodies curled into each other.  Their decomposing forms gazing in all directions huddled as one mass.  They appeared blood red saturated in a thick gel.  Apricot felt her stomach twitch.  The smell from the bodies reminded her of long-rotted rice.  

At the sight the other ritualists stumble their bodies blowing to pieces aside from the one standing caller.  Their entrails flying like tassels in the wind.  Raising his hand in front of him the man stops an even stronger blast of wind.  “Why don’t you submit to me?!” He screams.

“We are the dead of this city.  It is the blood in your veins which buries us here.  We were the sacrifice that brought your family power.  Now you wish to exploit us unwilling again.  Let us slumber below the city.  Let us rest.” a thousand voices cry out.

“I offer you revenge.  I free you for a time.  Use that time, destroy the Okabe family!  Ruin this retched city!  Kill Lady Kyo!  Do not deny me!”  the man yells.  “My vengeance is yours to have!  Avenge my father Lord Heigia and I give to you this!  A time to feast upon those who have soiled you, who have brought this upon you.”

“You bring us to this place of terror, on a leash.” the wad of corpses replies.  “Let us slumber! In peace!” the fires grow even stronger, the faces of the dead burning in them flickering away just as quickly as they appeared.

Terror struck Apricot’s heart, it aches.  She places her hand on her chest to feel it pounding.  “How interesting.” Apricot glances over at Shiori to see his eyes filled with fascination.  His jaw square with determination.  It is a look she had never seen on him before.  As though he is curious more so than disturbed by the situation.

Cortez must have noticed it too as shortly after Shiori uttered words Cortez snaps back.  “The hell is interesting about this!  Lets stop this now before it is too late.”

“You don’t even understand.” Shiori whispers.  “You have no clue what has just occurred.”

“No, so fill me in?” Cortez growls.

The man all the while pleading with the abomination.  “Those are the spirits who were sacrificed to create this city.”

Apricot is reminded of the story she was told by Chino.  “Are these really the people who died during the Crisis?”

“Mhmmm.” Shiori softly replies.  She had not meant to speak and didn’t even realize she had.  

“Who is that?” Cortez says pointing down the road.  Apricot looks over to see a person running up to the other side of the circle in a cloak.  Shiori stands up to get a better view.  The man performing the ritual must have noticed as his eyes grow so wide they nearly fall out of his head.

“Violator!” he roars.  The person slams their hand down on the ground outside of the circle.  Glowing runes surround the ring brightly shining before both Shiori and the ritualist scream out “NO!”  A blinding light beams out from the center of the ring as Shiori grabs Apricot and Cortez pulling them to the down flat against the building bricks.

A loud boom rumbles everything.  The vibration rattles Apricot to the bone, her ears ring as though she has just heard a bomb go off.  When the light dies out and Apricot can hear again, Shiori is pulling her up off the ground screaming something but it is muffled.  Cortez is stands dazed as well.

With his rod out Shiori hold it up into the air the rings rattling wildly.  “Get up!  Get up!  We got to run!” Apricot hears as she is tugged off the ground.  “Get up!”

Apricot’s vision is caught up in purple flames.  Her entire body immolating in the radiance.  She feels Shiori let go taking a step back away from her.  Stumbling forward she nods her head to Shiori.  Turning from her he runs down the side of the building.  Following, Apricot is close behind Shiori.  Remembering Cortez she looks back to see Cortez staring down from the top at the white beam shining out of the circle.  “Cortez!” She screams out.  Her voice did not carry as the rumbling sounds and paranormal screams were like a perpetual thunder.

Running up the side of the building she grabs onto Cortez’s arm.  “Leave him!” Shiori yells up to her.  Instead Apricot tugs on his arm dragging Cortez.  Snapping out of his shock Cortez pulls away from Apricot running down the building closely behind her.  The rest of the night was filled with the sounds of helicopters, sirens and that awful thundering.

Comments


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:iconinheri7or:
Inheri7or Featured By Owner 6 days ago  Hobbyist General Artist
Hey, Jayce! I've been away from the site for a good while. I'm glad to see you're still creating! Looking around I see a lot of my old friends have disappeared from the face of the Earth, but you were always one of my biggest supporters and you were far too talented to fade away like that, so... yeah, it's good to see you. I have a lot of your deviations to catch up on!
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner 5 days ago  Hobbyist Writer
Hey, it's good to see you too.  Yeah I am kind of a fixture of time.  I need to do more on this site and post my stuff I have made.  How have things been going for you?  What part of the states are you in now?  I am back up north in Maine.  So if your ever in the Bangor area hit me up, we can get drinks or something.
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:iconpajunen:
Pajunen Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2018
Thanks for the +fav

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:icon29238:
29238 Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2018
happy birthday dude!
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:iconluvidicus:
luvidicus Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2017
Hey, haven't heard anything from you in over a month.  Just checking in.
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:iconshrodu:
shrodu Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Please allow me to be the first to say "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!"  :)
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks ^_^  I appreciate it.
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:iconflorapolitis:
florapolitis Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2016   Digital Artist
Are you Jayce?
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 21, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Ummmm... yes?
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:iconfascher:
Fascher Featured By Owner Oct 20, 2016   Digital Artist
Thank you for the watch! :dance: It's much appreciated!!
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:iconlittlesblueseas:
LittlesBlueSeas Featured By Owner Oct 18, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks For The Watch by TheJanie
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I never been a sparkle before!
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:iconlittlesblueseas:
LittlesBlueSeas Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well, get ready to shine  and to be the best you, you can become!~
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 19, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I'll be the brightest Katamari in the universe!
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(1 Reply)
:iconspikelikegwah:
spikelikegwah Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2016  Student General Artist
Thanks for the watch some much!!
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Yeah no probs.  You do very good art.  Your forum thread made me a new fan.
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:iconspikelikegwah:
spikelikegwah Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2016  Student General Artist
My forum thread? Which one?
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 16, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
The one about drawing and needing some new drive.

forum.deviantart.com/community…
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(1 Reply)
:iconmarchosiasvx:
MarchosiasVX Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2016  Student General Artist
Thanks for the watch, much appreciated :D (Big Grin) 
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Yeah well you seem pretty cool.
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:iconmarchosiasvx:
MarchosiasVX Featured By Owner Oct 7, 2016  Student General Artist
Thanks, the same to you :) (Smile) 
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:iconaeyerlock:
Aeyerlock Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2016  Student Digital Artist
Happy Birthday!Have your cake and eat it too :cakerun: :ihavecaek: Fun cake cake Cake for Shifteh Cake OMG CAKE Free Avatar - CupTardCake :deliciouscake: 
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:iconjayceran:
JayceRan Featured By Owner Jun 25, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks that means a lot to me.
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:icondanny19000:
danny19000 Featured By Owner Dec 25, 2015
Happy holidays my friend
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