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Running through the busy streets Akagi dodged and weaved around the pedestrian traffic, eyes lit with a prize. He stops in his tracks in front of the Spook House’s twin doors latching his hands on the handles. The doors don’t give way as he tugs on the pair. “Shiori!” Agaki hollers pounding on the door. Looking between the wooden ornations surrounding the glass he can see that Shiori’s office light is on. “He is in there. I bet he hears me too. What a jerk.” Akagi looks toward the alleyway. “I will show him.”
Watching to see if anyone is looking Akagi shifts his eyes around the crowded streets. When he feels his coast is clear, he slips down the alley, computer bag in arm. Going to the back door Akagi looks at the digital lock. “Now let’s see.” Akagi says placing his hand to the keypad. He presses his palm against all the keys. Across the LCD screen reads access denied. He presses again to have the system read the same thing. “Come on.” he does it again to have access denied appear again but this time it stays up. Removing his hand he backs away with a smug grin on his face. Soon enough the door opens revealing Shiori painted with a down-turned face.
“What do you want you little brat!” Shiori growls.
Akagi laughs. “I knew that internal alarm would go off.”
Shiori pushes Akagi against the wall. “You little punk, I am busy.”
“Nah,” Akagi says his face beaming up at Shiori as he leans over him. “You will drop it when I show you what I got.”
“We will see.” he growls.
Akagi sits at Shiori’s desk his laptop open as he works the keyboard with magic hands. Shiori paces the floor, his eyes fixed on the ceiling. “So, when was the last time you saw Mitsura Okabe.”
Shiori frowns. “A couple days ago,” he recounts his tone full of unamusement. “You got some compromising pictures of him or something?”
“Something like that, I got a few communications from the inner Okabe family council. I got into their D-Link servers like you asked.” This information raises Shiori’s eyebrow. “So, you might have thought you saw Mitsura the other day, but that isn’t Mitsura. It’s a digital construct of him.”
Shiori stops his pacing “What? You mean a hologram. He sick or something?”
“Nah, fraid not, he croaked. Murdered, hell from what I can tell half the council is dead.” Akagi turns his laptop so Shiori can view several open letters he collected. Shiori grabs the screen adjusting it to get a better look his eyes filled with fascination. “Good work?”
“Yeah, damn good work.” his grin grows as he reads more. “Akagi, do you realize what we have evidence of? This, this changes everything.”
Akagi smirks. “Mmhm, the only thing I cannot find out is who is behind it all. They just keep referring to them as the high priestess, or the empress. The high priestess died about a year ago. So who is this new one?”
Akagi never liked the look Shiori got when he became overly interested in something. It reminded him of a vicious wolf looking at its meal. There was something sinister behind that gaze but at the same time he was happy to bring it out of him. “Want to play a game? It will be a lot of fun for you my little prodigy. Let’s get this “empress” to make herself known.”
Shiori looks out the window of his high-rise apartment. A smile spreads across his face while he watches his television in the reflection. A live news broadcast played on screen. All the ministers and officials are gathered by a podium where Mitsura is scheduled to speak. The morning sun glows against the towers which block the beams. His face is calm as he took in a deep breath.
Mitsura takes his place in front of the crowd bending the microphone to reposition it closer to his mouth then begins his speech. He gestures with his hands explaining the future hopes of Okabe. About a minute into his speech it happens. Shiori grins closing his eyes as the sun glints in them. Mitsura is gone, the hologram deactivated in front of everyone. The speech still playing. The news broadcast shuts down. News anchors immediately attempt to explain away the situation their faces covered in horror. Shiori whispers. “I win.”
Blue Ash city, a city of shining silver towers reaching towards a crystal blue sky. The gleaming sun lights the morning streets with its easy traffic as Solenne rides her white and blue police tricoa. Dressed in her uniform she glances over the digital HUD while it scans each vehicle she passes.
“Another easy morning.” Solenne thinks to herself. The shadow of an overpass covers her in a chill while she rides under. The ramp opens to a vision of the city as she approaches the large tower of the Blue Ash City police station. Both the regular police and the special defense police are housed in the same building. The front two-thirds belonging to the regular police while the rear is exclusively the SDPs grounds.
“Good morning miss Solenne.” an older gentleman guarding the entrance greets her with a warm smile.
Solenne bows. “Morning Walter. You look rather rosy.”
A light blush covers his bubbly nose. “Well, it’s always a bright day when I see you.”
Solenne wears a smile as she enters past the automatic glass doors. The interior of the police station reminds Solenne of a hospital. The walls are a sterile white color that really didn’t belong. She continues down the hall towards her office giving subtle pleasantries to other officers along the way. Once inside her office she sits at her desk looking over a stack of papers in her work tray. “So much for an easy morning.” Solenne moans.
She immediately begins her work typing the usual daily reports. “Hey, you got it too.” says a young man. Solenne glances over to see a brown-haired man with a toothy grin hanging on her office door. “I got it bad too this morning. Apparently there was a lot of activity on the south side of town. Lots of missing persons. Not to mention that whole thing with Mitsura Okabe being missing.”
Solenne shakes her head. “Mitsura is missing!?”
“Apparently, they have been using a hologram for him speaking. Just got released this morning. No one knows what the hell is going on. Media department is going absolutely nuts trying to handle the situation. It’s going to be a long day.” the man says taking a swig of coffee.
“Seems like the workload doesn’t get any easier.” Solonne moans.
“It’s damn near a crisis.” the guy says before looking at the ground. “Heh, well, I will let you get to it.”
After several hours of work. Solenne has herself a healthy stack of papers to file. She shuffles the papers into a large binder. She opens the binder to the top page. Lifting a stamp from its well, she presses it into the page. When she removes the wooden rectangle, it leaves a red mark reading SDP Class 7. She takes the file with her down a long hall into a filing room with several large computers that line the walls. Placing the stack of papers on top of one of the large white machines she reaches for her badge. Drawing it from her side she places the ID tag onto a small glass screen. With a beep she is allowed access to the machine.
She hastily scans each page one after the other. Solenne is about halfway through the stack when she grabs the keyboard and begins searching the files. Glancing over her shoulder she checks to see if anyone is watching her. One she considers herself in the clear she adds a set of files to her print load, then returns to scanning the rest of the documents as if everything is ordinary.
“You could actually get them?” Apricot says with a huge grin covering her face. Solenne sheepishly hands over the folder in her hands.
“I feel so dirty.” Solenne groans.
Apricot shakes her head. “Don’t worry.” She flips through the pages in the manilla folder. “Not like these are not publically available. It would just have taken me forever to get my hands on all this info.”
Solenne shakes her head. “It really was nothing, right? Why are you doing an article on the ruling family? Did you know about Mitsura’s disappearance?”
“No that kind of came as a shock to me. However, the Okabe family has interested me for a long time. They were here since the feudal era. It is not often we preserve a rich history such as theirs.” Still eyeing the files Apricot stumbles upon a photo of a person torn to pieces. Organs visibly stretched from splintered and stretched flesh. Her eyes grow wide as she glances up to see Solenne’s stern eyes.
Solenne frowns. “That, you know what that is a picture of?” Apricot shakes her head. “That’s the detective you asked me for information on. He died, but the file has been scrubbed however this is the photo of his autopsy picture. There was no way to reconstruct the body,” with a sigh she continues “It apparently hit the department hard. It was before my time but I can’t imagine if someone I worked with turned up like that.”
“What did the report say happened to him?” Apricot could feel a lump in her throat forming as the words left her tongue.
“You got all of it in that file.” Solenne’s lips purse into a down turned frown. “What have you got yourself involved in Apricot? You have been acting funny lately. I don’t like this. I know this is not for some investigation. Fess up.” Apricot felt her heart tighten. The firm fingers of Solenne‘s hand ratches onto Apricot’s shoulder. “I am worrying about that neural agent you were exposed to.”
She felt her face scrunch as the words wrang empty in her mind. “Neural agent?” she retorts.
“How can you forget, you were ground zero, the market attack!” Solenne barks. “See this is what I am worried about. It’s not normal Apricot.” As Solenne’s eyes wince tears flow down her cheeks. “I am worried enough about Arjun. I don’t need this from you too. Tell me what is happening to you Apricot.”
Without any thought Apricot replies “I am just doing my job Solenne.” The words felt cold, colder than usual. They clearly stung as Solenne removes her hand turning away from Apricot.
“Whatever hun, just get some help or figure stuff out.” Solenne says as she continues walking towards the alleyway. Apricot wanted to reach out to her but her body is not willing. Solenne stops and without even a glance says “I don’t want to know why you needed those files and don’t tell me. This is the last time I help you though.” The clicking of her heels on the pavement grow more distant as Apricot watches her leave.
“Why are you sulking?” Shiori says looking across the bar at Apricot as she walks into the Spook House. She throws down the file in front of Shiori and Cortez who sat on a bar stool. Raising his glass of beer to his lips. Cortez takes a quick sip. “Well, you pulled through after all.” Shiori laughs. “That is my girl.”
Apricot pops herself onto the stool next to Cortez resting her arms on the counter. “So, you two friends now?”
“Hardly.” Cortez says. “I’m just here for this meeting. Think of it as a favor for helping me out. I hear you had yourself a good run with a phantom.”
Apricot shakes her head. “Fifth one this week. Shiori I really need a day off.”
“We will see about that.“ Shiori grabs the file and quickly parses it. “I see you got the list of locations I needed. Good, from here I should be able to locate some of their less than known shrines. If those don’t turn up anything I am at a loss. Cortez boy filled me in on your history. Oh, and no luck finding your monster. He must be lurking deep in the depths of that place. Under the city, licking his wounds.” Placing the folder down onto the table Shiori brings his face in close to Apricot’s. “So darling you never answered me. What’s with the long face?”
“Shut up Shiori.” she groans turning her back against the bar. “You just let me worry about my own problems.”
“So what do we do now?” Cortez asks.
Raising his eyes Shiori smirks. “We, don’t do, anything. I, will have a look through these and make ourselves a nice little list of places to deal with and then arrange investigations of those places from there. For now the two of you, don’t be suspicious. Go about your lives as if nothing is happening.”
“Tch,” Cortez chuckles. “Right, as if nothing is happening. I got some ghost clown from who knows where telling me the world is going to end if we don’t stop it, and now my boss turned into a damn beast. Sounds pretty freaking normal to me. The gang is probably after me if there is anyone left. Some demon spawns from hell are crawling all around while everyone seems to be oblivious and the nobles are in on it too. Yeah, real damn normal Shiori.”
Shiori shakes his head. “The “Okabe” nobles are in on it.”
“Hell, what’s the difference? They’re the only nobles who matter here anyway. The damn province is named after them.”
Apricot lays her head down on her arms. “Taking a rest sounds good. Seems like we been doing a lot of getting nowhere. I mean, how many of them have we killed. There is no end to them.”
“For now, but if I am right, and that Claw Fingers was right, we are about to turn the tide in this little war of ours.” Shiori places a glass next to Apricot. “Here, have a drink and get yourself home for some rest. Cortez, do yourself a favor and get yourself some too. I think the both of you could use it.”
The smell of the city covered Apricot. A foul sulfur smell mixed with sweat. She smirks seeing Togashi standing behind the bar shining glass as she approached from the rainy front doors. “So investigations turned up for not?” Togashi asks. Apricot shakes her head as she slouches onto the bar her mind filled with frustration. “Eh, we have the saying in home country. Rain comes when rains comes. A path, opens eventually.” Apricot nods her head not really wanting to hear Togashi’s little sayings right now.
Fact of the matter the group has been investigating the Okabe family for weeks now and still no clear plans are showing up. Their tracks are almost completely hidden as if they really were not involved at all. This gave Apricot pause to wonder if they are being sent on a rouse for nefarious purposes. Still the city had no shortage of monstrous phantoms to deal with. Aside from Shiori uncovering some sort of internal overthrow there is absolutely nothing to go on. Though she supposed that was a blessing.
As she rests her weary head on the hard redwood surface, she looks over to Cortez whose slumped over on a red leather couch, his face tucked down eyes closed. “How long has he been here?”
Togashi raises his head glancing in Cortez’s direction. “All day. Sleeping I think. Is he homeless?“
“No.“ Apricot says. “At least I don’t think so.“ then again the thought had never crossed her mind before. Since Cortez had that encounter with Genova he seems to have turned a new leaf. Though a lack of trust between him and the group appeared to be mutual. He even tolerated Shiori for the most part. He has been out with the group several times. She had also gained the affection of Sumai and the rest of the group but those are stories for another time. “Hey, Togashi, get me something to drink.”
“You, drink? That’s new.” Togashi comments.
“Yeah, well, a lot of new things have been happening lately.” Apricot replies with a weathered groan.
The twin doors to the back room open as Shiori walks out. His eyes lock onto Apricot. A smile spreads over his face. “Oh you arrived.” Shiori chirps. “Well, so did the shrine turn up anything?”
“We are in the dark Shiori.” Apricot sighs.
Cortez snorts. “Could be worse.” raising up from the chair Shiori takes a few steps over toward the bar. “We could have normal lives with nothing to do.” Apricot rolls her eyes the constant sarcasm grated on her but then again she was guilty of it too. Seems stress brings that out, like scraping to find a little humor just to lighten things up, even if sarcasm was its most desperate form.
“Where is Sumai and Junko?” Shiori asks.
Togashi grabs a bottle of amber liquid and pours a shot. “Sumai and Junko are out hunting.” he replies handing off the drink to Apricot. “Checking out the rumor of lake monsters.”
The entrance doors slam open with a boom startling everyone in the room. Through the doors walks a man dressed in vintage warrior cloths. His body is erect like a proud soldier, his strides are that of an official nature. “You two better get out of the way.” Glancing at Shiori Apricot rises from her seat alongside Cortez. From the corner of her eye she sees Togashi draw a pistol from his side cocking it with a click.
Apricot and Cortez make their way deeper into the room away from the bar. While Shiori approaches the man. His steps seem to echo throughout the room even above the dull chatter of the clientele. In a booming voice the strange man calls out “May I have everyone’s attention!” He turns his head towards Shiori who stands in front of the bar. “Master Kinjo, I have a message from our lady Kyo.” Apricot imagines behind the black mask the man is smirking. In the loud holler the man roars “Au Ra-voir.” Grabbing a metal cast iron baking sheet from the counter Shiori shields his chest and stomach as the man’s arms raise from his side with two black menacing sub machineguns. They scream peppering the cast iron plate in an instant. People dive over chairs and run for any exit they can find.
Shiori rolls over the counter releasing the pan taking cover. “Why are you running?! Accept your fate!” the man cackles as he drops both the guns allowing them to hang from tethered cables.
Seeing an opening Togashi opens fire on the man. “Run Shio.” he demands as he releases another barrage of rounds. The man dances dodging the bullets with impossible movements. Apricot cannot believe her eyes. The ambient panic surrounding slows to nothing as she watches the man move. He is, beautiful, like something out of a movie. However, this is the reality and it sinks in fast as he flicks his wrists retrieving two metallic tubes from within his sleeves. The two tubes fly in the air with his toss toward the counter. One fluid motion. Practiced a billion times before. Now set forth into action. Amazing Apricot thought to herself. Togashi grabs Shiori and drives him from behind the counter sending him sliding away from the twin objects. With a kick Shiori breaks the leg off a dining table shielding himself. The two objects bounce landing about a foot away from Togashi. He rolls over the bar as the counter blows into a thousand shards.
“You have meddled in the Okabe’s affairs for the last time. Your sentence is death.” The man says grabbing one of the guns from his side firing again at the table. Shiori rolls out of the way returning a shot with a very thick pistol at the man.
“What the hell! Apricot move!” Cortez growls latching onto her arm. The firm, sudden tug breaks Apricot from her trance. “We have to go!” Cortez yells almost dragging Apricot with him toward the back of the room. Looking back she watches Togashi return a few shots at the man but still the bullets miss every time. But that is impossible. Apricot then sees it, the bullets are moving away from him. Togashi fires another bullet, and the round hits the table next to him. As Apricot watches, she concludes the bullets arc away from him. The strange man takes a tremendous leap to the upper balcony floor. “Foolish Kinjo stray!” the man says before releases another barrage of shots. Shiori strains away from the volley just missing being hit while moving back behind the remains of the smoking counter.
Apricot hides with Cortez behind an ornate wooden pillar. “Cortez, do something!” Apricot shouts.
Cortez shakes his head. “That is an assassin, I hear they are engineered for this kind of stuff. Ta hell if I am going to get myself killed. If we leave him the hell alone, we might get out of here alive.” A steady stream of water sprays all around the building as the sprinkler systems are kicked off.
“Lady Kyo is crazy, what the hell does she want? A war!” Shiori yells to Togashi.
Togashi hides behind a back iron cafe table. “Sir, it be best to run.”
Apricot gasps as she sees a light flash behind Shiori from the wall. The image of the cloaked troopers at the bank flashes into mind. “Shiori behind you!” Before he could turn heel from the ruins of the counter, a hand out of static grabs his throat.
“Your execution is now!” declares the assassin as his knife rakes across Shiori’s neck.
“Master Kinjo!“ Togashi cries rising from his feet.
Grabbing the attacker‘s arms Shiori throws him over his shoulder hanging him on what is left of the countertop. Once the masked man lands Shiori kicks his heel releasing a spring-loaded blade. He kicks the man in the top of the head, sinking the dagger deep inside. He rips a chunk of the masked mans head out as he proceeds to repeat the process. Each kick leaving a sickening squelch and crack to follow. Shiori stops when he looks down seeing his foot is halfway in his head.
“Shiori!” Apricot screams as she runs over the debris slathered floor to him. He raises his hand to his bleeding throat glancing over to Apricot with eyes like a wild beast. It made her pause. She had never seen a look like that from him before. It was not human. “Are you alright.” she bursts out. Shiori just grins as he looks back down at the man.
“He thought he had me. Probably died thinking it too.” He looks up from the bloodied dead body. “Funny thing. I got dermal sheathing in my neck.” he comments poking the hole with his finger revealing metal plating. “My father insisted,” he snickers nervously. “I thought it was a little over the top. Guess I was damn wrong about that.”
Cortez snorts. “You had trouble there.”
“When they’re not allergic to silver… I don’t fare so well in the fighting department.” He rolls his head on his shoulders walking past Apricot and Cortez towards the broken glass bottles which once sat on the wall. “Well, I got to get myself patched up and then I got some cleaning to do. Would you two care to show yourselves out? Togashi, can you take me to the black clinic?”
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