“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 tare, 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 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.