The morning rays of light peek over the dark cityscape. Apricot runs along a sidewalk, her backpack skipping with each step. As the early traffic passes her, the dull breeze sways the skirt from her legs. Her treck stops in front of a large apartment complex. Somewhat winded she catches her breath. Her shoes echo as she walks up the concrete steps toward a pair of double glass doors. Leaning into the metallic bar on the doors gives her no purchase. Glancing over to the side she sees a large white box on the wall, an intercom. The panel’s sheer number of rooms bewildered her. After navigating to 15E, she presses the white square with her digit. With a beep queuing her she says “Bon Bon. Hey Bon Bon, it’s Apricot. Buzz me in.”

A few seconds pass before the intercom beeps again. “Api what the heck are you doing here so early,” Bonni replies with a groggy voice.

“Bonni!” Apricot shouts. “Just let me in.” Another pause passes and continues. “Is she not going to let me in?” Apricot ponders to herself.

“Fine,” Bonni sighs as the front door’s automatic latch clicks open. “Come on up.”

The apartment complex is uninspiring indoors. The carpeting brown and the walls a color from a year apparently out of style. It reminded her more of a cheap motel than a place people would live. The immediate scent of cigarette smoke greets her. “Bonni, what are you doing here?” The whole experience left Apricot contemplating that thought all the way into the elevator.

Upstairs everything is much the same. Apricot made her way down the musky hall towards 15E once there she knocks. “It’s open,” Bonni replies from behind the several times painted door. Apricot turns the brass doorknob to see a much more pleasant sight. Black coal ceilings with studio lamps, a polished faux stone floor, and clean white walls. It is definitely Bonni’s style. “Good morning!” Apricot says to Bonni who is covered in a fluffy pink bathrobe.

Her eyes half shut and her hair uncombed. “You are awful spry already. Going to school?” Bonni asks.

“Sure am. Hey, I had a question to ask you?” Apricot smiles as Bonni rolls her eyes.

Bonni walks over towards her noisy coffee maker. “Not yet girl. Look I was sleeping, do you need a ride to school or something?”

“No, no!” Apricot shouts waving both of her hands. “Nothing like that.”

Bonni takes a sip from the black cup of coffee.  After the swig she swallows and steals an exaggerated deep breath.  A slow exhale follows. “Well, what is it then?”

“How many of those Paranormal Monthly’s do you got?”

“You mean Eerie Truth’s Monthly?” Bonni chuckles. Her demeanor changes. She is awake as she walks up to Apricot poking her in the chest. “I knew you would get hooked!” Bonni chirps. “You want to borrow past editions!”

Apricot shook her head. “Yeah if you could, as many of them as you have. I got the latest one, and I could not stop reading it. Did you read the one about the vampire club!” Apricot says to Bonni.

“Yeah, I did, what a weird group of people. You know, I think I met those people once! I was auditioning for a movie.” Bonni trails off in her conversation as she walks out of the room. Apricot looks around the apartment. She imagined it would be rather easy to make this place look messy. A minimalist style is always so minimal any one thing out of place would throw off the entire appeal. A few papers rest on her coffee table. Apricot could not help take a glance. A script for a play or movie, a few bills, and a sci-fi book called Robicon. Glancing out the twin pan windows, Apricot could see a good part of the city. The view is beautiful, it made sense now why Bonni lives in such a place. The lobbies suck, but the apartments are not half bad.

“Here we are,” Bonni says carrying out a stack of magazines. “I got more, but I figured this is plenty enough to keep you busy.” A wide grin fills Apricot’s face.

She takes off her backpack placing it on the floor. Carefully, she slides each magazine inside and zips up the bag. “You are a lifesaver Bonni,” Apricot hoists the now heavy backpack onto her shoulders. She slumps backward before regaining her posture.

“Well, you know, I like to help,” Bonni comments. “So you heading off to school?”

“Yeah, sadly I got to,” Apricot tells Bonni. Bonni nods with a smirk. “Have a good day Bon Bon.”

Bonni gives Apricot a hug. “You too, we can talk later about the stories!” Apricot nods before heading out the door.

Class didn’t seem necessary as Apricot listens to Miss Akagi’s lecture. Concentration evades her as she speculates about that Kinjo noble. He seems to know what he was doing. So these phenomena cannot be something new she concludes. If he perceives the crisis being linked to these creatures, then maybe all the nobles recognized this as well. That might be why they are so desperate to cover it up. It would explain things, but that only left more questions to be answered. If what Chino Tokuma said was correct, then she had much more to consider. Like who was this Uraias guy and why would he be eating people. Now that she thought about it, Solenne mentioned something about that the other day at the arcade.

More so if the nobles knew of this and planned a city as a sacrifice for that ritual what else were they capable of and what do they have planned in the future. She concluded her best choice right now is to investigate the phantoms and carry on as if that is her only goal. To stay open-minded but to not veer from her task. If the phantoms are what is causing all the disturbances the less of them there is the more stable her situation would become.

“Apricot,” Miss Akagi’s voice booms. “What are the four tenants of journalism?”

“Seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to act independently, and to be accountable.” Her response must have been beyond what Miss Akagi expected as she gave a slow nod before continuing her lecture. A warm satisfaction fills her knowing she bested her teacher. In all honesty, though, it almost seems trivial considering the more significant issue at hand.

The reaper, how would she find and talk to the reaper. She has questions, and she wanted answers. Her hope for a meeting is a strange encourter at the reapers convenience. For now, she just possessed small fragments to follow leads on. From this point forward things will be different she resolved. Earie Truth’s Monthly would become her roadmap and the path to an ultimate end. To what end she was not entirely sure but whatever it was had to be better than this limbo. 

After class Apricot took a detour towards the gym. Once inside she is greeted by some old acquaintances, she couldn’t quite place the names of. A smile and wave satisfied her as the proper greeting. Routing towards the aerobic equipment, she began the usual stretches she had learned in primary school. It had been a long time since she was in competitive gymnastics and fencing but if she would undergo such a dangerous journey, she considered it best to be as prepared as possible. She spent several hours at the gym before packing up her things and heading home.

Tsungdung is always a busy street, many markets lined this particular stretch of road. The smells of various cuisines from the many diverse restaurants became a pleasurable aroma that would make anyone’s mouth water. While deep in thought she glances beside her to see a polished midnight cruiser coasting next to her. The mirror glass side window rolls down. A man in a black suit leans out of the door directing his sight at her behind black sunglasses. “Mam, I have to ask you to step into the car.”

Are these guys be connected to that Ji Li guy or maybe that Shiori jerk? Whoever they were she would not be getting into that car today. “I am not.” Apricot shot back.

“It isn’t a request.” the man says pulling a badge from his pocket that reads “Okabi Special Investigative Force #2044”. Apricot felt her body become weighted, chest heavy, and a cold sweat coming on. The rear passenger door opens as a man dressed exactly the same steps out of the car ushering her inside.

Apricot scoots across the black leather seat. The other man stepping back inside closing the door as the vehicle resumes coasting. “Apricot.” says the front passenger. “We understand that you were involved in the Ichigari Grocery incident.”

“Yes.” Apricot replied knowing it was best to be tight lipped as possible not knowing what this event unfolding is.

“How have those biologicals been affecting you? Any strange visions since then? Any odd behavior?” the man asks.

“None at all.” she lied.

“Good good, that makes me happy to hear.” the man says. His voice however to Apricot hints there is something more he is looking for. “So, ever see anything strange on Ikijoji street, perhaps at night, walking home from Ichigari Grocery.” The man leans his body over the armrest to look back at Apricot. He lowers his glasses to reveal his dark brown eyes.

“I fell there a few weeks ago,” Apricot replies. “Nothing other than that.”

The man raises his glasses back chewing with his closed mouth. “Nothing out of the ordinary? You did not see any monsters, right?”

“Monsters? What do you mean by monsters? I heard about the murders if that is what you mean. I saw nothing.” Apricot insists.

The man is quiet as everyone else in the car seems almost inanimate. “Funny thing, you recently purchased a copy of, Erie Truth’s Monthly. That is kind of a strange thing to be purchased out of the blue. Isn’t it miss Signa?”

“A friend of mine had recently shown me an issue. I find them amusing as a journalist.” These guys knew everything about her, Apricot realizes. Her throat felt as though it was about to close on her as her breath turns shallow.

“You would not have been trying to purchase a gun at a shop called, Bullseye’s, the other day would 
 you?” the man says holding up a paper. Several screenshots from a security camera in grainy low-resolution photographs covered the page catching her at several angles. “It looks like you did. You really got that shop owner twisted in a knot.”

Apricot nods. “I was doing an investigation into illegal gun trades.”

“Oh, well, sounds like you are a persistent journalist aren’t you. Some on the ground investigative journalism. I like those kinds of things. I read an article about something like that recently. Actually, I think it was by you.”

“By me?” Apricot inquires.

“Yeah, about being a hostage. I need not remind you of it. I am sure that experience was a terrible one for you.” he says. “Well it appears as though you remember little, so let me fill you in. Your little investigation has to stop. That visit with Chino Tokuma was the final straw for us. Not to mention you broke into a restricted area, Eastway Park. I suppose you found out about that because of that magazine you got. Probably about Chino from it too. We wanted to make it clear to you miss Signa that we are watching you very closely.”

The moments after didn’t even seem to register to Apricot’s mind. One moment she was in the back of some anonymous government cruiser and the next she is standing on the sidewalk of Tsungdung street staring off surrounded by people who could not have known what she went through. The smells and sounds go, a phone presses tightly against her ear.

“Hello,” says a gruff male voice over the phone.

“Arjun, are you off duty?” Apricot hears the quiver in her own voice.

“Apricot?” Arjun replies his voice fills full of concern.

“Come get me now, please.” she sniffles.

“It is beautiful isn’t it.” Lady Kyo gloats looking over the private balcony of a crowded theater. In her hand, she held the red Azoth as it gazes back up at her. An eye now exposed rolling in all directions. “My child… the new world will be born for you,” she whispers. Beside her, an elderly gentleman sits upright, tight dressed in expensive fatigues. Several other people surround the two in black suits standing with arms folded.

The song of a rather stunning opera singer is all but drowned out by Kyo’s own thoughts as she looks at the thing. She presents the Azoth to the man next to her. “I believe this makes you the master of the Okabe family. I sincerely doubt anyone would object to your rise to power, considering these circumstances. With this new position, what is it you have planned?”

Kyo paid no mind to what the man had asked her but instead keeps her eyes fixed on the jewel. “Tell me Hegia, how long have our ancestors sought this. What do you think it means? Look around you. We are the privileged few who can really appreciate this moment. This calm. Look at her down there. Brilliant and pretty youth,” Kyo says turning her sights to the opera singer on stage. “What value is her talent?”

Hegia smirks. “I suppose you will tell me?”

“No. I am not. It does not matter. All things considered. It won’t save her.” without moving her face she glances over towards Hegia. “To answer your question. What should it matter if I tell you? It won’t matter to you anyway.”

Hegia stiffens, raising a hand to fix his collar. “Lady Kyo?”

“The new world does not need any of us. It only needs a mother, and she too can die in labor.” Kyo muses. Hegia attempts to keep his composure as best he can, but his face poorly conceals his discomfort. He swallows rocking in his seat. “All these people in this room are already dead. They just don’t recognize it yet. We are all going to be sacrificed for the coming age. Just like the last world and worlds before that. So what power do I have?”

“You envision a new world left to be decided by chance? Who will guide this new world if the nobility is gone?”

Lady Kyo chuckles “You disappoint me Hegia, there is always order out of chaos.”

“The hidden hand guides in that chaos.” Hegia lashes out.

“Foolish Hegia, the hidden hand has never been the nobility. We simply serve at his,.” The singer had finished her song, and the audience had began their applause. Hegia opens his eyes wide as he feels a burning sting across his neck. Immediately a coldness comes over him as he glances up to see an agent with a bloody knife in hand. “Goodbye Hegia.” Kyo stands from her seat an agent places a black fur cloak around her shoulders.

Lady Kyo glances down at Hegia whose final shakes left him as the crowd’s applause began to die down. “You are not a worthy sacrifice. I realized all about your true motives. Hegia, you are the last of the traitors. You had planned to have me killed tonight. Throw me off the balcony to save the world, well I couldn’t have that. It is already too late for the world either way. You benefited from what we did for centuries. How old are you Hegia? How many lives have prolonged yours? The praetorian guard is dead with you, Hegia. In your last moments, I want you to appreciate this.” she tells Hegia just before the life leaves his eyes.