The sound of the large wooden doors does not turn Kyo from the book in her grasp. “Forgive my disruption my lady,” a middle-aged man dressed in a black suit stands in the door’s threshold. “The order has brought to my attention that Kiva has not returned from his mission. Shiori of the Kinjo clan has appeared to have survived the assault furthermore the incident was very much noticed by the public. I have avoided an investigation although I am not sure for how long.” There is a long pause of silence. Kyo’s eyes refuse to divert from the book she peers over. “What do you desire us do?”
After she finishes the section she had been reading, Kyo closes the book placing it onto a metallic table next to her as she lays sprawled on the purple chase. “What has been the reaction from the Kinjo clan?”
“It appears none at all.” the man replies. “He appears to have sent no communications regarding the incident.”
A smile slowly graces Kyo’s beautiful white skin. “My suspicions are correct. He either lacks the support of the clan or is up to no good. Keep him under watch and anyone else he associates with. Until we can confirm the truth of his ordeal, he is to be considered an eminent threat to our new age. Send an apology with a warning, I am tired of his meddling in our affairs. That stunt with the hologram he pulled will not be forgiven. Now leave me.”
“Yes, my lady.” the man replies, promptly exiting the room. Kyo rises from the chase trailed by her long scarlet garment. She carries the book to a large black oak bookshelf. Several other withering tombs adorn the shelf that held the books proper spot. “I am glad you didn’t die Shiori. I may need you when the final hours approach. After all, I believe you are the one to open the gates to the evermore.”
Several boxes laid about the broken and damaged front of the Spookhouse. The majority of the ornate wood split or riddled with bullets. The railing over the upper loft became nothing more than several sharp spikes of various lengths. The counter remained a ghost with large chunks removed from its top. Shiori unboxes new glasses for the freshly replaced wall rack. A knock on the side of his entry alerts him. An older man with slicked black hair and glasses makes his way inside the building. “Master Kinjo, am I interrupting you?”
Shiori rolls his eyes shaking his head. “You come to do me in too, sir Okabe.”
“Hardly, though it does appear to have been a fair, challenging scrap. Shame seeing you do this by yourself where are your employees?” The man says taking several steps over the tarnished wood floor. He is careful to avoid the broken slats with his stride.
Shiori sets down a glass with a grumble. “Too scared of getting their head blown off I assume. Maybe that or the bombs, not sure I did not have a chance to call em up and tell em the war-zone in my bar is over. Be warned my royal guard is still here.” Shiori looks up at the man as he approaches a stool.
“Well, I see you have not lost your humor. I can see you have much work to do so I will not make this long. I come with a message from Empress Kyo.”
“She is calling herself Empress now? Well, that explains things. Last I checked she was not seated by the Okabe family or ceremonially dedicated, then again she killed most the superior nobles so what more can one expect. Sure she is empress all right, no one left to crown her so she crowns herself.” Shiori watches the mans face. So it was Kyo he thinks to himself. She is very young for doing such a thing. The man’s eyes confirm everything. It is Kyo behind this whole ordeal.
“You are aware that the situation between you and the Okabe clan could escalate. Now I would hate for this to happen but if the meddling in the Okabe family affairs continues, we will have no other choice.”
“Affairs, what affaires?”
“I believe you understand exactly what I mean. You seem to know a lot about our internal workings. Spying is a capitol crime, I doubt I need to remind you of that. We have our suspicions about other subjects. That little game you played with the hologram interruption has caused an economic nightmare for our clan. You have been warned.” the man turns to walk out.
Reaching over the counter Shiori grabs the man’s shoulder tugging him back over towards him. “Kyo messed up. You should never have tried to kill me. One call to my clan and there is an international war. If that is not enough to get Kyo’s attention then maybe this might be. It would be a real shame if Natsukawa’s crimes became a public matter wouldn’t it. Now you can go and get yourself lost. Lick up your masters piddle like the dog you are.”
The man grunts pulling away from Shiori. “You have been warned.”
“Sis!” Jasper yells as he runs into the room. Apricot is curled up on her living room couch with a blanket covering her. Her interest consumed by a sci-fi movie that had been airing for the last few hours. “Look outside!” Apricot turns her head to see the once blue sky covered in a sea of black. Pushing the blanket off she rises to her feet to get a better view out the window. “What do you think it is?”
Even complete cloud cover did not make the street lights turn on. This is something else entirely. In the distance the darkness gradiented into something more like an ink black color. Beyond the city are still hanging blue skies. She had seen something like this before in a documentary. This happens sometimes out in the wilderness when locusts would swarm for food. “Apricot!” Jasper yells breaking her from her trance of thought.
“Jasper stay inside.” she commands as she heads to the front door. Opening the dark she walks out to see indeed it is some kind of insect swarm. Its loud buzzing sounded more like the constant roll of thunder or a heavy engine on idle. “What in the world?” She returns inside closing the door. Jasper looks at her with wide eyes. “Are all the windows closed?” Jasper nods. “Good lets go see what the news has to say about this.”
Going back to the living room the two sit on the couch. The news is reporting on some other subject. Normally something like this would get an emergency alert. Every station she checked is onto another subject. Is not subtle the lack of any new reports on the subject matter. Apricot supposes it is a media black out on the subject. They are rare but if any journalist or outlet dare to entertain the subject, the resulting punishment would be severe.
A buzzing on Apricot’s side sends images of some insect monster clinging to her. She lets out a small chirp before realizing it is her phone. As she picks it up she sees Shiori‘s calling her. “Hey,” Apricot says.
“You busy tonight?” Shiori asks.
Apricot snickers. “You asking for a date?”
“Heh, you wish I was that lonely. Nah, I am sure you noticed the sky. Well it is centered on one of the towers the Okabe own. Figured we should go check it out. You in?” Shiori explains.
Apricot looks over at Jasper. “You‘re not asking are you?”
“No, I am really not. Cortez is going to be our navigator. For once he is useful. We will meet up in about three hours. Can you be here by then?” Shiori ask.
“Yeah, if I must.” Apricot hangs up the call.
“Was that Sato?” Jasper asks.
“Another friend. Hey Jasper, I have to go out. So you stay inside.” Apricot says.
“Again!?” Jasper moans. “I thought we were going to hang out while Mom and Dad were gone.”
“Something came up, and I got to work. Don’t worry though. We are going to have a lot of fun soon. Tell you what. I will buy you a model if you don‘t pout.”
Jasper folds his lips up and nods his head. “Ok, that is fair.”
“Even with this stupid mask on it smells so terrible down here!” Apricot complains. Behind her Shiori follows her with a similar gas mask covering his face. The group is walking knee high in mucky sewage only lit by the headlamps on their heads.
Cortez leads the group holding a western style sword in hand. “Heh, yeah whose idea was this?”
“Tis mine, I got it from our lovely Apricot. This is not your first time under the city Apricot, now is it?” Shiori laughs.
Apricot growls are muffled under her breath as they trudge through the thick waters. “Well, how else were we going to get past the barricades? Every SDP and news outlet is out there running the circus. This was probably the best idea. I am just glad Arjun had those extra radiation suits. Works fairly well as a sewer suit if I do say so myself.” Shiori says with a chipper attitude. “Nonetheless stop your complaining the ladder into the building is just above.”
Cortez shines his light over to a ladder leading up an ominous grate. “These bags are heavy man. What the hell is in them?”
“Torches, well, improvised torches.” Shiori says before reaching onto the rungs of the ladder.
“What where are your bags!?” Cortez yells to Shiori. “Can you believe this guy!?” He says turning his head to Apricot.
Apricot raises her hands to her chest fidgeting. “Well, actually.” she says turning to the side showing that she too had no bags with her?
“What the, why the hell am I the only one with bags?”
Shiori starts up the ladder first. “I am injured, and she is useful.”
“Screw you man.” Cortez retorts.
Cortez motions Apricot up the ladder. Apricot responds by shaking her head letting out a chuckle. “You will not be looking up my butt.”
“Well, shit, there is nothing to look at anyway in these baggy things.” Cortez grumbles grabbing the ladder. “Well, excuse me for being polite.” Tossing the bag out of the hole Cortez crawls from the dark abyss into the open basement of what appears to be a warehouse. Shiori shakes his blond hair free of the suit as he peals it from his skin. Lowering his hand into the dark Cortez helps Apricot.
Apricot immediately removes the suit. She is happy to peal the smelly thing off. “Do you hear that?” Apricot says. Cortez looks around. A low droning buzz echoes through the building.
Shiori is already pawing through the bag grabbing a gas canister and attaching it to a hose. “Here.” He says tossing Cortez the canister.
“Whoa!” shouts Cortez as he catches it with the tips of his fingers. “That’s dangerous!”
Shiori chuckles “You caught it, we are fine. I am sure it would not explode even if you didn’t.” Reaching through the sack Shiori draws out another pipe with a hose connecting it. He places the canister on his side turning the nob slightly before pressing a button to light the end of the torch. “Alright,” he readjusts the torch until it was a nice thin beam. “Now, this will deal with any critters we come across.” He points to the other trigger. “This will shoot out a spray of some mixed chemicals. All you need to know is, if you spray it, it spits fire.”
“But if it is a phantom we are after, the torch won‘t help us much.” Apricot says.
Shiori nods his head. “Yeah but I am thinking the swarms of bugs on the upper floor have more to do with real life bugs than the phantom itself. Not sure, we will find out.”
Cortez shakes his head. “I am not going to light fires just to kill a few bugs.”
“Did you see it from outside or did you forget? The sky is black with the swarms around this building.” Shiori says as he begins his stride down the hall. “Suit yourself though. I am going to search the upper floors. Cortez, get familiar with the basement. Apricot you cover the lower floors. We keep heading up after. If anyone has an issue, send a text.” Shiori says walking into the dark with his silver stave slung over his shoulder.
Cortez shakes his head. “Like I am taking orders from him. Apricot lets stick together.”
“Actually, I like the idea of covering ground fast.” Apricot says as she heads towards a large metal staircase.
Cortez shakes his head. “Sure, let’s do that. Split up and let us get screwed up one by one by whatever it is.” Drawing his pistol from his side he holds it close to him.
Crunch goes another bug as Shiori walks across the insect smothered floors. The walls appear alive as he walks down the dimly torch-lit corridor. “PSHHHH!” the torch hisses as a burst of flames ignites several insects. His characteristically at ease expression replaced with that of a stoic statue in contemplation. Crunch, goes more popping bodies as he continues his treck through the office building.
The loud humming intensifies as he enters the offices open cubicals. “Mmmm, I had no clue so many insects even lived in this city.” Shoiri comments as he looks over the hazy room. A low beetle like screech could be heard as something much larger in the room sounded off acknowledging Shiori’s presence. “Good, I found you.” he says lower ing his rod from his shoulder. The rings on the end of the rod jingle. “And you are not alone. An initiation perhaps?”
From the dark two large red glowing eyes like a fly‘s look back at him. The two orbs stare at Shiori as the creature reveals itself from the dark. It jumps upon the edge of a cubical. The thin body of the creature is armored like a beetle, shining like a green jewel in the little light that shines. Its face like a mantis along with two mantis claws coming from its back. Two humanoid arms hang from its side with long claw fingers. Its four mandibles twitching with anticipation. Shiori approaches the creature slowly raising up his staff. A searing whisper greets him from within his head. “Fool. Have you come here to die? I smell three of you. Where are your friends? They shall make for good meals.” The words ring in his head like an intense migraine.
“So you’re a telepath. Wish Junko was here.” Shiori says raising his rod by his side before lunging at the creature. “Nice trick!” Shiori yells before slamming his rod at the insectiod. It is blocked by its mantis like arm. Shiori’s eyes grow wide as the creature pushes his silver rod off as if it is nothing. “What the hell are you?! I’ve never met a phantom able to touch silver!”
Again the voice rings in Shiori’s head. “So that is what you call them? Phantoms. Kikikikiki!” the creature cackles. “I am no “phantom” but rather a spirit called her by a painful wail!” The creature spreads its wings standing tall balancing on the edge of the cubical. “A young girl slain above calling out for a god to save her. None answered, so a devil has answered and I intend to avenge her wailing spirit. Sadly for me, the one who slew her has passed. Still her blood calls for vengeance against all the nobles. I have no toil with the blood of a Kinjo, tis the Okabe’s blood I seek.”
Shiori stands nervously grasping his rod. “Serves them right.” he replies to the creature. Bending its knees it gets down to Shiori’s level stretching out its head. The warmth and foul stench of the creatures breath washes over Shiori’s cheek. “I shall leave you to your oath.”
The mantis creature swings its sharp claw at Shiori missing him by mere inches as he dives back. “I never said I was going to let you go. I intend to kill you just for the sport of it!” the creature says jumping off the cubical wall onto the ground. Shiori backs up as the creature stands to its full height rubbing its scythes together causing a metallic scraping sound.
The drone of the buzzing insects grates on Apricot’s nerves as she walks the dark halls alone. Her eyes dart at every slight noise as she fondles the hilt of her sword ready to stab at any moment. The idea that this kind of phenomena is the power of a phantom weighs heavy on her mind. Never had she considered that they could control other beings. She wonders if perhaps this one could see through the eyes of the insects. Her face down turns at the idea that she is being watched through their tiny eyes.
“Apricot?” She let’s out a shriek as the voice startles her. Her chest grows heavy as she turns her head to see Sato standing with a camera in hand. “Wow, never thought I would see you here? What’s with the weird clothes. You look like a ninja.” he laughs.
Her heart pounds harder. She is found out. She had to play it cool. After all she did not know if she raised suspicion yet. “Oh, my goodness! Sato! You scared the hell out of me. This place is creepy as it is.”
“Oh, excuse me. I just happened to see a dark figure walking down the hall with a sword. What the heck is with all that stuff, anyway?” Sato asked. She could barely make out his perplexed face in the dim emergency lights glow.
Apricot nods her head. “Yeah, I guess this would look a little weird. It was an old costume I had. Heh, figured the bugs could not crawl down something so tight. The sword well, I did not want to get mugged in here. I was thinking about that a lot lately. I know a little paranoid but I figured it was better than being at someones mercy.”
Sato shook his head though she could tell he found her response strange a nervous laughter escaped her mouth. “Well, ah I guess I can kind of understand that after all you was through.” Sato takes a step forward. “Still why are you here? How did you get in?”
“I am investigating the infestation. I wanted a closeup look. You know to report what is going on.” Apricot replies hoping that her ruse would escape suspicion. “How did you get in?”
Sato gave her a strange look. “Yeah, well, I am kind of here for the same reason. I sneaked past the police. You know this place is on heavy lock down right now. The police are not even coming in. Actually, from what I hear, there are still people trapped in the building. They have strict orders not to enter though.”
“That is kind of scary to think about. Hope they turn up. Seems like we both have the same idea.” Apricot laughs. She feels a vibrating against her leg. She can feel her eyes widen. Conceal. One of the guys must have spotted something. “Hey Sato, I ah I got to go.”
Sato shakes his head. “I am not letting you walk around here alone. It could be dangerous.”
The vibrating starts again. “Really, Sato, I am fine.”
“I insist.” Sato replies firmly. “I would die of guilt if anything happened to you.” Apricot purses her lips slightly blowing a puff of air. “What?” Sato asks.
“You don’t need to baby-sit me. I am fine on my own.” Apricot says. Sato’s expression told her he is not having any of that. “I have to run.” she told herself not really wanting to. However, she supposed that was the only way. “Well, Sato. Tell you what. I will let you follow me if you can keep up.” She laughs before she runs into the shadows of the halls.
“Wait! Apricot!” Sato yells as she takes several random corners down the hall. The vibrating on her leg starting again. Twisting and turning through the halls she makes it to the stairs. She assumes she lost Sato as she continues up and runs through the next floor getting on another fire escape heading up the building. In the dark of night she can see the cloud of bugs buzzing. As she rises the fire escape soon the surrounding buzz grows stronger. She is pelted by a variety of flying insects. Looking around the city it reminded her of something out of a movie. Absolute madness. Looking down, she could see the flashing lights of the police and the growing crowds.
The metal of Shiori’s segmented staff clangs against the razor claw of the insects clash. Rotating between each arm Shiori blocks blow after blow from the mantis monster. Spinning the staff around Shiori sees his chance after the next block. Over extending the top segment of his staff he clubs the creature in the side of the head causing it to stumble back a step.
The staff whirls towards the creatures feet but it jumps flapping its four wings out of the way. Quickly Shiori retracts the segments into one hand just in time to block a strike aimed for the side of his head. The reach on the monster is incredible Shiori notes. He felt himself quickly getting breathed from the rapid movements of the creature.
Jumping back Shiori pushes his arm forward allowing his staff to extend from its chain aimed directly at the creature’s head. With the whirl of its arm it knocked the bludgeon aside sending several shards of its carapace to fly into the air.
When Shiori lands he spins the silver rod like a whip around his body smashing at the insect. Each strike causing the creature to stumble backwards. Diving into a cubicle the creature sends the artificial wall tumbling over into a slope over the desk.
Shiori makes one more attempt, but the creature grabs the rod tugging Shiori closer. Now within close range of the scythe Shiori dodges left and right as the arms stab at his body. Shiori releases the rod kicking the creature in the side of its abdomen. It lets out a shriek as Shiori quickly withdraws his kick as blood spills out from its side. Shiori tugs the rod away from the stumbled creature.
Both scythe clash into Shiori’s rods as they knock him back a step. Ducking down Shiori slides out from the attack blocking another pair of attacks as he rises taking another step back. Trading blows in rapid succession the two are held in mortal combat with little hope of ending.
Backed against a wall Shiori rolls aside just as a razor scythe stabs through the sheetrock. Diving back from the creature he grabs the torch from his side snapping the ignition switch of the handle opening the gas all the way. Just as the monster yanks his arm from the wall a blast of flame roars out of the nozzle. Covering its body with its arms the insect steps back letting out a scream of agony. Ripping the strap off him Shiori wings the canister at the creature diving back as it slams into its body with all the force of a bowling ball. The canister booms.
Shiori coughs from the smoke as the room is lit from the fires on the floor. The walls come alive in the glow moving and changing form as the countless insects scurry from the heat. On the ground the creature lets out several groans. Its shadow rises to its feet a portion of its body blown open wings mangled and missing its left arm. A powerful roar shakes the ground. Diving through the flames the creature charges him.
“Shiori!” screams Apricot as she rushes out of the shadows with her sword drawn. The creature’s cracked carapace slides off its body with long slathered slimy ends. Burned and bleeding the creature impacts into Shiori tackling him to the floor. It raises its head to quickly snap at his face only to bite down on his rod. The creature keeps pushing as its three semifunctional mandibles attempt to cut at his face. Apricot lunges at the creature she meets open air as it dives off Shiori. Breaking it rotates its body to dive directly at Apricot.
She side steps the beast taking a strike at its side. Her blade bounces off its carapace causing a painful shock to go through her arm. Getting to his feet Shiori huffs lifting the rod. The creature turns back towards Apricot its red eyes staring back through the smokey dark. “How is it possible! The silver did not hurt it!” Apricot screams in her head. Suddenly, fear grips her. The danger of the situation growing more clear. The creature huffs as blood squirts from its chest.
Apricot feels the wind of Shiori’s segmented rod fly past her face as he lunges at the creature smashing its eye with a wet pop. He follows up jabbing the other end in the creature’s chest the rings pressing through a gap in the bugs natural armor. Escaping her shock Apricot jumps in stabbing at the creature’s mouth meeting its fist bashing into her stomach. The wind is knocked out of her as Shiori blocks an attack aimed at him from its remaining scythe. Apricot lands on her rear rolling back a step. The sprinklers hiss as the room rains. She raises to her feet letting out a scream as she lunges again at the creature stabbing through its throat. Shiori wraps his segmented rod around the creature’s neck turning his back and throwing the beast over his shoulder. Apricot rips the sword free mid swing and the upper half of the insect’s body bursts collapsing. Its legs twitch as everything else caves in expelling its open circulatory system onto the floor.
Shoiri turns around walking away from the sight. Apricot presses up against the wall as she feels her stomach lurch. She lets out a torrent of vomit onto the floor splashing at her feet. Shiori turns his head. “Took you long enough.”
Apricot just looks down at her vomit. She feels another convulsion coming. She turns her head feeling her chest pound. “Its alive. That was alive.” she says before she pukes again. “What is that?” she asks in a panic.
The body ignites into a purple flame; it dematerializes and floats before the two then wisps out of the building. The insects take flight following like a storm after the wisp. As the razor wings of the bugs collide and cut into her Apricot lets out a scream falling to her knees.
“We need to leave now.” Shiori says.
Apricot looks around. “Where is Cortez?”
“I would like to know that too,” Shiori says. “Then again, I really couldn’t care less. He is exactly who I expected him to be.”
“Shiori, I am scared… someone saw me and they know me.” Shiori’s gaze shifted uncomfortably towards Apricot’s eyes. She could feel the fear she felt shared.
“Looks like all our masks are being removed. Does it chill you to the bone?”