Running through the busy streets Akagi dodged and weaved around the pedestrian traffic, eyes lit with prize.  He stops in his tracks infront of the Spookhouse’s twin doors latching his hands on the handles.  The doors don’t give way as he tugs on the pair.  “Shiori!” Agaki hollars pounding on the door.  Looking between the wooden ornation 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 downturned 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 accross 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 was scheduled to speak.  The morning sun glowed against the towers which blocked the beams.  His face is calm as he took in a deep breath.

Mitsura took his place in front of the crowd bending the microphone to reposition it closer to his mouth.  Then began his speech.  He gestures with his hands explaining the future hopes of Okabe.  Then about a minute into his speech it happens.  Shiori grins closing his eyes as the sun glints in them.  Mitsura was 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 again.”

~
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 this morning.”

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 continued down the hall towards her office giving subtle pleasantries to other officers along the way.  Once inside her office she sat at her desk looking over a stack of papers in her work tray.  “So much for an easy morning.” Solenne moans.

Solenne immediately begins her work on her keyboard typing up her 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 work load 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.”

“Seeya Joji.”

After several hours of work.  Solenne has herself a healthy stack of papers to file.  Each one of them marked with a red stamp SDP Class 7.  Walking down the long hall Solenne carried the stack in a large binder.  As she entered into the filing room several large computers 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 begins to hastily scan in each page one after the other.  She is about half way 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 as to which she sees she is still in the clear.  Adding a set of files to her print load she returns to scanning the rest of the documents as if everything was 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 moans.

Apricot shakes her head.  “Don’t worry.” She flips through the pages in the manilla folder. “Not like these are not publically avilable.  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 a rich history such as theirs is preserved.” Still eyeing the files Apricot stumbles upon the photo of a person torn to pieces.  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 had been corrected however this was the photo of his otopsy picture.  There was no way to reconstruct the body,”  with a sigh she continues “It apparently hit the department pretty 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 turn frown. “What have you got yourself involved in Apricot?  You 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 itself 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.”  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.  “But we need each other right, for now.  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 groaned in a tired tone.  “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.”

Shiori shakes his head.  “The “Okabe” nobles are in on it.”

“Hell, does it matter?  They’re the only nobles who matter.  The damn province is named after them after all.”

Apricot lays her head down on her arms.  “Taking a rest sounds good.  Seems like we been doing a lot of getting no where.  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.”

“So investigations turned up for not?” Togashi asks Apricot.  She shakes her head as she slouches onto the bar.  “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.  Aside from Shiori uncovering some sort of internal overthrow there is absolutely nothing to go on.

Cortez had proven to be an ally though.  He had been out with the group several times.  She had also gained the affection of Sumai and the rest of the group.  “Hey, Togashi, get me something to drink.”

“You, drink?  That’s new.” Togashi says.

“Yeah, well, a lot of new things have been happening lately.” Apricot replies.

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 comments.  “Well, so did the shrine turn up anything?”

“We are in the dark Shiori.” Apricot sighs.

Cortez snorts.  “Could be worse.  We could have normal lives with nothing to do.”  Apricot rolls her eyes.

“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, his stride of an official nature as he steps into the room.  “You two better get out of the way.” Glancing at Shiori Apricot rises from her seat alongside Cortez.  Apricot hears a click as Togashi draws a pistol from his side.

In a booming voice the strange man calls out “May I have everyone’s attention!”  He turns his head towards Shiori who stands behind 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.”  Kicking up a metal tray from behind the counter Shiori grabs it tight as the mans arms raise from his side with two 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 drops the plate ducking behind the counter.  “Why are you running!  Accept your fate!” the man cackles as he drops both the guns allowing them to hang from tethered cables.

Togashi opens fire on the man.  “Run Shio.”  The man dances dodging the bullets with his impossible movements.  He flicks his wrists to hold two metallic tubes.  He tosses the tubes in the air toward the counter.  Togashi grabs Shiori and drives him from behind the counter.  With a kick Shiori knocks over a dining table shielding himself.  Togashi rolls over the top 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 and firing again at the table.  Shiori rolls out of the way returning a shot at the man.  Apricot and Cortez made their way to the back of the room.  Togashi returns a few shots at the man but still the bullets miss every time.  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 counter.

Apricot hides with Cortez behind an ornate wooden pillar.  “Cortez, do something!” Apricot shouts.

Cortez just shakes his head.  “That is an assassin, I hear they are engineered for this kind of stuff.  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 sprayed all around the building as the sprinkler systems are kicked off from the explosions smoke.

“Lady Kyo is crazy, what the hell does she want?  A war!” Shiori yells to the man.  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, Shiori feels a hand grab him.

“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 repeatedly.

Shiori raises his hand to his bleeding neck.  “Shiori!” Apricot screams as she runs over the debris slathered floor.  “Are you alright.”  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 some cleaning to do.  Would you two care to show yourselves out?  Togashi, get me a broom.”