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The morning sun greets the noisy train as it road along its channel. Carefully walking down the long stretch of black grooved rubber floor Apricot works her way towards Cortez’s usual spot avoiding falling from its sporadic bob. As the doors to Cortez’s usual cart open, it is empty much to Apricot’s disappointment. He seemed pretty upset the other night. A coil of guilt binds her as she wonders to herself if she should have gone after him. Apricot makes her way toward his weathered seat where he would usually rest. Placing her fingers onto the blue vinyl seat she felt it is cold.
She laid on it resting her head against the window like Cortez did. Taking up far too much space. A part of her hoping the action would summon him to chide her away from what is his. Tracing the lines on the window Apricot found herself deep in thought. She felt overwhelmed. So much to consider. Looking over the metal paneling she noticed a spot had been scratched, most likely with a knife. As she runs her fingers over the odd texture, she could tell something is written. Looking closely at the cut metal someone carved the words “Old Shrine On A Hill.” Apricot let out a yawn before straightening up. She knew where her next stop would be.
The trek from the train station to the shrine is not all that long. The walk is surrounded by hill lands and outskirt huts and shacks. Along the road are many trees, unkept and not trimmed like the other trees in the city. The dirt and brick pathway is lined with sculptures of crude bulbus headed people. Apricot knows these as spirit guardians and is traditionally made to guide the dead towards the afterlife. The statues are unkept as well heavily grown over with moss. Where candles used to be resting in their hands had all melted and congealed between their round feet.
Cortez’s father’s notes mentioned this shrine. The old shrine on the hill is also known as the shrine of the forgotten god. Looking up the hill of stairs at the top there it is the gates to the shrine. Painted red and accented black, the gates canvases nicely against the clear blue sky. As Apricot climbs the steps, she figures it is over one hundred. Normally shrines had traditions of not making their steps above such a number. This is a rather unusual place as it was thought the dead could not climb over one hundred steps. Once at the top it opens to a cleared courtyard in front of the small shrine and there he is. Cortez rests on his knees in front of the small shrine. To Apricot’s shock on the step of the shrine the body of the reaper laid, inanimate.
The clicking of Apricot’s feet on the dusty stone floor alerts Cortez who turns his head slowly. “Cortez?” His eyes have life but turn away to look back at the avatar of the reaper.
“Saw my note on the train. I am surprised you came, seems like you care about me after all.” Cortez comments his voice dull monotone and uninterested.
Slightly offended by the remark Apricot approaches, regardless. “What does that mean?”
Cortez pats the floor next to him, Apricot bends down onto her knees. “It’s nothing.” There, claw fingers is, the reaper, or at least what he wore, because now the body rested as though in slumber. His clothing hung on him like one would expect it to hang on a manacan. The mask which covered his face hung forward revealing his unnaturaly textured skin.
“Why are you here?” she inquires placing her hand on Cortez’s.
He gently closes his fingers around Apricot’s. “I wanted to see if the reaper would talk to me again.”
“How did you know he would be here?”
Cortez smirks. “He told us when we met him he would be here. Seems he is not here right now or sleeping. I am not sure how these kinds of things work.” Apricot remembers some garble he said about the hill on the firsty but honestly who could make out half the things he says. Cortez’s face grows real serious. “When I looked into that pit, it looked like a horrible place. An endless tower of pain. I could not stop looking at it. Looking into it, it felt as though, it was welcoming me. If you had not… I might have jumped in.”
Apricot shivers at the imagery used. “What do you mean by a tower?”
“It was like looking up a tower from the bottom but only I was looking down. Like it was inverted. I can’t really explain it but those spirits being awoken were in agony.” Cortez shivers.
“We need you Cortez. Don’t do anything stupid like that.” Apricot softly utters.
Cortez shakes his head. “You don’t need me. Even if you did, it would not matter.” Tears flow down from his cheeks. “There is no way we can win. It is us against another world Apricot, another world and the powers of this one too. We are fighting with gods. What are we even doing!” Cortez yells getting to his feet. “What the hell are we even doing? Do you know! Does Shiori know! Cause I sure as hell feel like I am fighting against the night with a damn candle. You can’t defeat the night Apricot. It comes whether you like it or not.”
“Thou are wrong.” the reaper stirs slightly sitting up jumping both Apricot and Cortez. “Their window of opportunity is closing swiftly.” he continues. “Cortez, thou hast help me greatly. Alas, I am dying and I doubt I remain through to the end. The Okabe hast one last ritual to mere their devastation upon the orb. They are preparing now at their shrine. This is the broil for the orb. Mercy Cortez, for sustaining me for as long as thou hast. Hie doth this one last office for me. Apricot, thou hast awoken greatly since we first met. Thy power is growing. Seek to merge yourself. The victory is at hand. I hast one last crave ere I might not but rest. Seek out the destroyer of the seals and forbear him. If the devil occulted below the town is unleashed, all shall be lost.” Lowering down again the reaper rests itself forward.
Cortez screams “Wait I have questions!”
“Thou go as I gentle down.” says the reaper before he goes back to resting on the ground as before.
Cortez grits his teeth together putting his head down. He grabs the sides of the thing shaking the reaper back and forth. “Tell me damn it! Tell me what it was I saw! Gawd damn it! Why! Why is everyone ignoring me! What do I have to do!” Cortez roars striking its body with his fist. He pounds on it again and again. Apricot wretches ahold of Cortez pulling him back. She looks down to see him with bloody knuckles. “Why won’t anyone explain to me what is going on?”
Apricot steps back away from Cortez. “I have felt the same way from day one Cortez.” she sniffs. “Look this is hard on everyone. However, this is coming to a head. The reaper is not lying. The Okabe family are preparing for a ritual tonight. This is why I came to get you.” Cortez turns from Apricot looking down at the reaper which laid on the ground, with all the appearance of death. “I have a feeling the reaper has been at work on our behalf for a long time Cortez. Come on lets go. He is gone right now.”
“I gave my blood to him.” Cortez roars. “The least the leech can do is answer my questions.” Cortez lifts up the sleeve of his coat to show the strange symbols and marking on his arm. “I was feeding him to keep it alive. He never answers me. He only gives me a comment or a thanks.”
Apricot feels sick to her stomach. “How long has this been going on?”
“Since he first appeared to us.” Cortez turns his head getting to his feet.
Apricot stands up as well saying “Let’s go tell the others what the reaper said. We need as many people as we can get to stop them.” Cortez nods shaking his head. Apricot grabs his arm and leads him next to her as the two continue back to the train station.
“Apricot, I am not going.”
Apricot stops in her tracks, she does not even look at him. “I can’t convince you can I?”
Cortez lets his hand go turning around. “I am sorry.”
Laid on top of the table are several rifles with accompanying clips, improvised bombs, and a case of ammunition in a specialized plastic container. Next to it are several clips marked with a red symbol. There is also a pile of form fitting body armor, with pads and other gadgets. Akagi looks at the pile with wide eyes. “Wo which one do I get?” he asks playing at the weapons.
“Nothing.” Shiori laughs. At this Akagi looks up pouting. “You have an important job and your fast hands are not going to have time to fight.”
Togashi is slumped up against the wall. Next to him Apricot sits at another desk her arms folded. Sumai is looking over the table inspecting the items. She picks up a rifle testing its weight. “Yeah, this is solid stuff Shori boy.” Junko stands across from the others next to Shiori.
“Are we really doing this?” Junko asks.
Shiori smiles. “Don’t have such a grim face. We are only about to become fugitives.” Shiori jokes. “Look, I don’t want to do this either. However, the price of not doing it means everyone in the city will die for sure. Maybe even everyone in the world. We have no clue what a new world means. If this ritual is complete, it is clear that something bad will happen to everyone aside from Kyo and her wicked ilk.” Shiori stands from the table. “If you don’t want to do this. I won’t blame any of you.”
“Hmmm, well, it end of road no matter what.” Togashi chuckles. “I help. Fixed up caustic bullet like you ask.” he points to the plastic container of bullets. “Don‘t touch with bare hand, wear rubber glove. They burn flesh. I made strong. Quick kill.” Togashi clears his throat adjusting the collar of his shirt. “I don‘t like at all.”
“If I got a chance to kill one of them assholes, I will take it. Teach them a lesson for what they did to my daughter.” The vicious grin on Sumai’s face makes Apricot apprecaite not being on her bad side anymore.
“I’ll help. I don’t want to kill anyone though.” Apricot comments.
Junko nods her head. “I will.” she says in a hoarse voice. “There is no other way.” She picks up a rifle looking down the sights of it. “I have not fired a gun in a long time. Mind if I go to a range before we do this?”
“Go ahead. Don’t get caught.” Shiori chirps. “So we are all in agreement. Alright. Here is my plan. Apricot you will stay in the shadows. I want you to be there to protect us from any phantoms that may come out from their ritual or maybe guardians of the clan. Sumai, Junko, Togashi, I want you to be cover fire. When things go down, there will be guards. I want you to keep them away from Kyo. If you have a shot on Kyo kill her. Kill her first. She is priority one.” Shiori growls.
“What about me?” Akagi moans. “I want to help too. I don’t want my family to die. I want to fight Shiori.”
He looks over to Akagi. “You are going to have the most important job. I want you to hack the security systems. I also want you to keep the lights off of us and on them. On top of that I want you to jam their broadcasts. If you can also manage to keep us anonymous during this, that would be great. I am counting on you so don’t screw it up.”
Akagi nods looking a little nervous. “I, that, that is a lot of things to do.”
“If anyone can do it, it is you Akagi.” Junko says walking over towards the boy placing her hand on his back.
“Yeah, you think so?”
Apricot looks at the table. “So, what are we doing after? Do we wait for them to arrest us? What is the end game Shiori?”
“The end game, is we stop the Okabe from this ritual? I have arranged for several cars to pick us up. There will be so many arriving it will be impossible to track anyone particular vehicle. I bought a secured apartment in the outskirts of town. I have owned it for years. It is nothing special, but I fortified it and it’s anonymous. We will hide out there. If that fails I have a second location we can hide in. It is quite literally a bunker. These two locations will serve as our new HQs until we clean up the rest of this mess. I will clear all our names. Even still, the Kinjo clan will come to my aid if need be. That includes all of you. As a last ditch effort we can leave Okabe if necessary. So don’t worry.”
“What about before then?” Apricot asks.
“We will be considered terrorists.” Shiori firmly states. “So let’s save the world at sunset. You know where to meet up.”
The Okabe family shrine is in the heart of the city. The slanted roofs and towering pillars are lined in gold, with the light from the shrine it glowed almost supernaturally. It reminded Apricot of a golden burning torch. The image of the ornate building contrasting against the skyscraper high rises that surround the temple court made for an interesting blend of modern and historic architecture.
Inside the temple court yard Kyo is in the middle of a large circle of candles. She is kneeling in a crimson red dress lined with gold and black and red and white stripes. Silver pieces crown her head. Her hair styled to not cover her eyes. Metal charms and jewels adorn her. A head-cover trains down her back. Her wrists barred in bright shining silver and golden armbands. Her lips painted red and her eyes shadowed with black.
Around the ring are men dressed in black and red robes swinging metal baskets with incense burning from their long swinging chains. The fires from the candles flash colors into purple and blue flame. Kyo is whispering something quietly to herself. Surrounding the courtyard are armed soldiers dressed in heavy black armor.
The click of Shiori’s shoes through the main entrance alerts Kyo to look up from a small bowl in front of her. A smile crawls over her face. “Shiori Kinjo, prince of the Kinjo clan. You have arrived, as expected.” she calmly states. Shiori looks around as the soldiers aim their guns at him. Kyo lifts to her feet raising her hand. “It is alright. Be at ease. We finally get to meet.”
“Nice ritual you got going on. Looks like this is the final act of our little drama. But I noticed something. Where are your sacrifices?” Shiori snidely remarks.
Kyo hides her face behind her palm. “It appears like it has just arrived. Now, Shiori. How foolish do you think I am? To just allow you to walk in here with no one stopping you. I thought you were a smarter man. Now please come calmly. Arrest him.”
The armored soldiers march towards Shiori. He takes a glance at them and turns his gaze back to Kyo. “It’s all or nothing when your back is against the wall Kyo. It isn’t wise to trap noble beasts.” Shiori smirks drawing his pistol from his undercoat. A group of soldiers immediately charge towards Kyo as Shiori lets a single bullet fly from the chamber. The bullet lands square in the armored soldier’s chest as he dives taking the hit. They tumble to the ground as the other soldiers turn their rifles toward Shiori. “Come and get it.” Shiori roars.
“What do you expect to accomplish Shiori? You cannot win this fight!” Kyo laughs.
From atop a sky scraper Akagi rests on the edge allowing his feet to dangle off. His laptop in arm. He has a clear view of the shrines court from so high above its walls. He had watched the entire drama play out. As the soldiers surround Shiori Agaki glides his hands over the laptop’s keys. “It looks like its action time.” he says with a smirk. He checks a window, to see that a live news feed is reporting cell and roaming power outages around the city. A carefully devised plot. A worm of his own design barreling through the Okabe network infecting everything connected to the national database.
“I hope you’re ready for a light show Shiori.” Akagi comments as he types a few lines of code on his computer. The lights surrounding the shrine turn off. The front end of the shrine also dims out. All the automatic doors to the shrine and gates open. “Alright!” Agaki cheers.
On the ground an armored soldier yells “Ah, shit I can’t see.” He rips off his helmet. Several other soldiers follow. All of them looking exactly the same facially. Kyo takes a step back. “What is going on?” The lights on Shiori disappear. The guards circle around Kyo using their own bodies as shields. “My lady, we have to end the ritual and leave now.” says the captain of the guard.
A barrage of shots follows from atop of the shrines wall. Togashi kneels over the railing aiming down his sights. The roar of a motorcycle comes buzzing through the gates as Junko rides in. Her hair flying while Sumai sits on the back of the bike. She pulls down on the trigger of her gun releasing a torrent of rounds at the group. “Die imp bastards!” she shouts laughing all the while.
The soldiers surrounding the shrine return fire. The lights behind Shiori’s group begin to strobe. “Damn it! I can’t see!” yells another soldier as their shots keep missing the moving targets.
Sumai watches as the circle of soldiers move together towards the rear of the shrine. She can see that a couple other guards await the group by a large gateway. “Junko! Kyo is trying to escape out the back.” Sumai yells. Junko acknowledges her with a small “Mmmm,” immediately focuses her attention toward the exit rushing around the sides of the shrine narrowly missing being shot. Sumai fires at Kyo’s personal guard as they pass by them to the exit. Grabbing a pair of small rods from the side of the bike, Sumai tosses them at the exits entrance. With a flash they both ignite into fires.
The shot soldiers that laid on the ground begin to smoke. As the other soldiers who stand next to them are caught up in the fresh plumes, the air itself corrodes their armor melting it against their skin. They let out screams as the acid breeze soon does the same to their flesh.
“I have had about just enough of this!” Kyo yells. “Rise up, aid me forbidden guardians, come protect this child from these thieves who stole my future.” Out of the circle a creature crawls out of a dark pool. Its body is bent in all the wrong ways. Its chest bares a large eye, its pelvis the face of a man with sharp teeth, its legs were like a bird’s, its upper body like a mans, its arms like long hooks, its head nothing more than a snapping mouth. The abomination stands about ten feet tall.
“What is that thing?” Apricot says to herself as she runs out of the dark with her rapier in hand. As she charges the creature her body immolates in purple flames. Her speed is unnatural and the force of her first piercing blow knocks the creature backwards.
“There is my witch.” Kyo says to herself. A smile growing over her face. The creature does not have much time to react as Apricot strikes the thing in the leg with her sword. It buckles to get away swinging its hooks at her. Apricot jumps back missing the strike. It stabs into the ground allowing the creature to lift itself back to its feet. Apricot moves in for another strike and her blow lands straight into its chest eye. It breaks away from her the sword still stabbed deep in, sizzling as it burned the creature. It bursts into flames immediately. The creature does not have much time before it shatters onto the ground into burning pieces.
“Kyo give up!” Shiori says. “Nothing you can do now.”
Kyo laughs as the circle glows bright. “You fool.” she laughs.
Apricot feels a burning sensation coming over her. The ground below her is radiating and distorting. “Shiori something is wrong!” she screams. She can feel herself drifting and sinking. Shiori runs over latching ahold of Apricot lifting her out of the gate that had appeared under her feet. Out of the corner of her eye she sees someone jump down from the wall. He is dressed in black and runs to the edge of the circle. “Shiori? Who is that?” he turns his head. It only takes him a moment to yank Apricot to her feet half dragging her as the two run toward the entrance.
Other entities begin to rise from the circle in swarms as the cloaked person places his hand onto the circle. Kyo‘s group is left fighting these entities as the shadows tell the story of their attackers. Apricot stops to look but Shiori keeps pulling her. “We have to get out of here!”
No sooner did Shiori finish his words that the ring lights up. A loud sound is heard as a pillar of shadows rises from the circle then immediately falls descending backwords turning the ring into a pit. An ear-shattering roar booms from the circle as the group make their ways to the parking lot. A string of cars awaited them. “Come, let’s get out of here.” Shiori says as they pile into the vehicle.
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