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The moonlight from Shiori’s guest bedroom window dimly lights Apricot who now lays deep in slumber. She rolls under the warm covers adjusting her aching body. Her cheeks runny from tears as the horror of the events that unfolded stained her very soul. Tonight, marked her as a murderer; she helped in killing people. No longer an unwilling participant but she knew it was the right thing to do. Even still, that could not prevent the endless guilt that brought about the fountains which she drifted upon as she sailed into dreamland.
Her mind droned haunting questions. Was tonight a victory? She doubted it. It was hard to believe that this was the end of their struggles. If felt more like their true battle had just begun. After all Kyo still lives, and there is one seal left. Her dreams would be wrote by nightmares. Images of death befalling everyone she loved. Her fate as a fugitive. That she would never be able to go home again. By now her parents have seen some semblance of what they have done. Eventually her name would be attached to it. She would be labeled a terrorist for slaying the Okabe officials. It would be looked upon as an insurrection.
Her restless mind tossed asunder as the door to her bedroom slowly opens. Half dazed drizzled by sleep she is abruptly awoken by the touch of cold steel against the bottom lid of her left eye. A firm velvet glove gently covers her mouth. “I will pierce your broca if you scream.” says a playful honeyed male voice. “It allows you to speak, so screaming won’t be a problem if I cut it out.” The firm grip of this stranger’s hand forces Apricot to the face of a man with deep wrinkles testifying to his age. His hair a graying black or perhaps dark brown, it is hard for Apricot to tell in the dark. “My darling someone has told me to bring you alive, that does not mean intact though. You need to be breathing and plump with blood. Now get dressed.”
The resistance of his hand loosens as he removes his grasp. He returns to his feet retracting the knife from Apricot’s eye. She did not catch where he placed it. Perhaps up his sleeve or inside his coat. Whoever this man is, Apricot knows he is very quick with his weapon. She sits up cautiously as to not startle the man allowing the covers to fall off her revealing that she is already dressed in a pair of spare clothes Shiori gave her. “My dressed already. You make this easy.”
Apricot goes to speak before the man puts his hand over Apricot’s mouth again. “Pshh, no talking remember? If I have to cut out your nerves, I will have to kill everyone in here. Such a dreadful amount of work for these old bones. Now my lamb, follow me.” He exits the room, and the fear pumps heavy beating through Apricot like a hammer. She decides it is best not to allow him to get too far ahead of her for fear any distance between the two could provoke some kind of attack.
In the next room, Apricot knew Togashi would be waiting armed with a gun. Earlier the group had drawn straws to decide who would stand guard for the night. Togashi was the unfortunate one who drew the short straw. All she had to do is wait and this man would regret being so careless.
Into the hall the man carries on his stride with no sign of worry. Apricot glances back into the guest room and notices the window is shut. How exactly did he get inside the room? Apricot felt a sinking feeling coming over her as the man walks into the living room. The absence of a commotion gave weight to Apricot’s steps. It was as if she suddenly was encased in concrete. However, her question is fast answered by the horrible image sitting up on the living room couch. Blood soaked the floor as the lumpy coils of Togashi’s intestines laid open for all to see. As she looks up the vivisection exposes the contents that was once hid behind his ribcage. His left eye a sunken streaming hole. She covers her mouth as she lets out a muffled gasp. Her stomach retches attempting to void itself. The horrors she had witnessed to this point quickly dwarfed by the moment. Her eyes look up to see the man grinning wide. “Ah, yes, I am quick with a knife. Don’t you think?” Apricot nods her head in agreement to avoid offense. “He was not so fast with his gun. Caught his wrist before he could draw it. Shame, might have been fun if he had.”
Togashi’s remaining eye swivels to meet Apricot. A squelch of blood squirts out of his exposed tubes. “He is alive!” Apricot screams internally.
“A fine work I do say so myself.” the man pronounces opening the front door.
Once outside Apricot sees a white stretch car, its ornate with silver trim and florid metal statues lining the front and rear of the car. “Come now darling I haven’t much patience for loitering.” Stepping into the open door of the car revealed red velvet seats with gold trim and white interior. The two sat across from each other face to face. He sprawls out his white suit revealing its inner sky blue interior.
“Where are you taking me?” Apricot asks.
“To my dear young lady.” he smirks. As the car moves a concerto orchestra sounds from the speakers. It unsettled Apricot with its sophistication. Such a savage man with the appearance of pedigree yet the heart of a demon sat before her. “You don’t like the music?” he asks softly. Her eyes locked on him with terror. “Galeno Maogagoitia a brilliant composer. You are young, would you care for something more modern? Something more to your liking.” Apricot did not answer. “You are silent dear, and your eyes spell nothing but fear. Is there any reason to be uncomfortable?”
Being kidnapped does that to you. Apricot thought to herself. So many things she didn’t want to say but she has but one nagging question on her mind. “Who are you?”
The man smiles diverting his gaze from Apricot for the first time. “Well, that is a tricky thing. I am called a lot of names. However, I owe you a bit of honesty. My name is Natsukawa Okabe.”
Apricot’s face etched with strain proclaiming her terror. “I have heard that name before.”
He smirks and sits back. “Do you mind if I smoke?” Drawing a stylized pipe from his pocket. Apricot shakes her head. “Always eases the nerves to smoke a good stack before starting my work. I don’t have to if you are worried about getting cancer in old age though I am sure you have little to worry about that.” The chuckle that followed assured Apricot that her situation is most likely going to end with her death. It is the moments that lead up to that death however that worries her more.
As he lights the pipe, he gently puffs a few times releasing a plume from his mouth. “Why are you doing this? From what I know of you, you are not particularly esteemed by the clan. It seems like you would not work for the clan. That is what this is right? You‘re capturing me for Empress Kyo, right?”
“Frankly, if you know who I am, I can understand your fear. Someone promised me your skin after they were through with you. I think I may want the flesh too.” Apricot felt her throat closing up as her eyes grew wide unable to hide her consternation. “Fair child, you sit upon the bodies of several people right now. Commoners and nobles alike. Unlike my family I do not see us as nobles. When we are dead, we are all the same.”
Apricot pulls at her shirt trying to release tension in her throat as she looks up gasping for air. “You appear breathed. Calm down. You are all right for now. I do not intend to hurt you, yet. I am actually enjoying your company. It is rare that I get to talk with my prey so openly.” Apricot smalls back into the corner trying to get as much distance between her and him as she could. “Most of the time they just scream, and shout, scream and shout, scream, and shout. You on the other hand have engaged me. I would expect as much from a curious reporter.”
She had to talk to him more, this is her chance to gain information from him even though she wanted to resort to described screaming and shouting. “So, you’re abiding by Kyo’s commands?” Apricot asks. “Seems a bit strange for you.”
“You made a lot of faulty assumptions about me.” Natsukawa says. “I am only in this for my own interests. I seek a day when I can openly slaughter as many as I please. I need more material for my art. The human body can be crafted into so many things. Transformation. I seek to see real transformation. Kyo understands this. Except she will transform the world. So of course I would assist her. After all she is my great great great great grand niece.”
“How old are you?” Apricot asks. Natsukawa just snickers. Looking out the window Apricot sees soon they will be heading towards a populated part of the city which is very much awake at this late hour. “So you enjoy killing the phantoms as well?”
“Phantoms hmm, if you mean the things that crossover, of course. No one complains when killing a ghost.” Natsukawa smirk displays his toothy fangs. They remind her of a vampire pretty fitting for his character. “Everyone seems to get upset when you carve up a useless dreg of society. I have you know I only kill those who have already forfeited their life. I am an honorable man.”
“Is that why you will kill me?” Apricot asked.
Natsukawa grins. “You are a family matter.”
“A family matter what is that supposed to mean?” Apricot inquires curious if he would indulge her.
Natsukawa nods his head. “Well, you attacked my family. Humiliated Kyo. So she bartered with me to get you. Actually, the family has grown small. She does not have many people of age she can ask to assist. You might not know of this but your little group is not the only ones troubling us. We have been at work collecting witches like yourself and spending them feverously to build Kyo’s little stone. She believes that stone is the key. The idea of it collecting and growing from the blood it drinks. Now that is a fascinating thing. Don’t you think?”
“It’s macabre.” Apricot snaps back.
“You’re getting comfortable.” Natsukawa says snapping a grin back to her. He draws in a deep breath releasing a long sigh. “So tell me, why are you risking yourself? What is it you think you can accomplish? You are a lamb fighting a pack of vicious wolves. That fire that hides in your arms. It makes me curious to find out what else you hide under there.”
“I did not want this. They forced it upon me. These monsters are your doing. This whole situation is because of your family not being satisfied with being royalty. You will ruin the world for what? You are all insane.” Natsukawa’s eyes light up. He gives her a toothy smile.
“You are right, now, I can‘t contain myself.” he says with all the excitement of a child looking at a new toy. He flicks a knife from his palm. “Let’s have a look inside that arm.” He says lunging at Apricot. She backs into the corner kicking him in the face with both feet. Grabbing the latch to the car door Apricot swiftly draws it open allowing herself to roll out of the moving car. Her ribs crack as she hits the side of the road rolling several feet onto the pavement provoking onlookers startled reactions.
Lifting herself off the black pavement Apricot runs on foot away from Natsukawa’s car. She rushes towards the crowd of people who have now gone about their normal activity mostly not wanting to get involved. “You can’t run from me.” Natsukawa laughs standing outside of the car. The area is populated. Too populated for him to make his move now or at least Apricot is betting her life on it. He wanted her alive that was one thing she is sure of. Maybe it is not even a want. He needed her alive. She looks back to see the white car driving away down the road. A sense of relief comes over her. Until she realizes he is heading the same way they came from.
Patting her sides down a lump in her pocket is the grace in which she seeks. Grabbing the slab from her pocket Apricot quickly calls Shiori. The phone rings several times before Shiori answers in a groggy voice. “Why not knock?”
“Shiori, listen to me. Go into the living room and get everyone up. Togashi is dead.” Apricot says hoping he wont be an ass like usual. “Natsukawa kidnapped me and is coming after you.” The line goes dead silence abruptly. “Shiori?” Apricot whimpers her heart thumping over the lines.
“He is going after your family. Run.” Shiori coldly says. Apricot tosses the phone back into her pocket and moves at a full sprint the technicolor midnight streets shoving through the crowds with little regard for manners. “That bastard will not touch my family.” Apricot vows to herself. Her breath carrying her faster. Kiting through alleyways Apricot rushes as fast as her legs will take her. “If I can get to the railway, I might get home before he does. If I am lucky, it will leave when I arrive.” Apricot says to herself jumping over a pile of litter laying in the side road.
“Just one more block.” she assures to herself. Out of the shadows a figure jumps in front of her stopping her in her tracks. In the dim light she sees the glint of a knife just before the figure takes a lunge toward her. Stepping back Apricot let’s out a scream. With incredible speed his hand grips around her neck forcing her down on her knees.
“You little bitch.” Natsukawa growls. “I knew you were heading to the tunnels to meet with Hunter! You gave me all the proof I needed.” He says gesturing with the knife. Apricot sees an empty glass bottle on the ground by her side. “You thought I would be too stupid to lock the door? You little rats are so easy to trap.” his toothy grin contorts into a demonic mask as he snickers. Rasping her fingers around the neck of the bottle Apricot swings as hard as she can smashing the glass into Natsukawa’s face. He lets go of her for the moment she needs to get back to her feet.
With his free hand he lifts a large shard among many sticking out of his torn cheek. Slowly pealing it the shard from his skin he holds it up examining the bloody piece before flicking it to the side. “I like this.” he chirps before taking another pass at Apricot this time she side steps him cutting him against the neck with the bottle. Diving onto his back Apricot hammers the shattering glass bottle as hard as she can. Tearing holes in his coat she can see the white sopping red as his blood pools with each stab.
With a twist of his body he throws Apricot off of his back onto the ground. Her gaze does not even come to before he is diving on top of her. Face to face with beasts bloodied visage, she can feel his warm scarlet tears dripping onto her skin as she struggles to free herself from his claws. Unable to get her pinned arms free arches up biting his already sliced throat with her teeth. A wet burst causes him to pull away giving Apricot a mouth full of his flesh. Spitting the unsettling bite onto the ground Apricot rises to her feet. Natsukawa steps away limping before glancing back at her. “Be at comfort, you win tonight but I love the hunt.” Natsukawa wheezes before taking a full sprint. She huffed for air wanting to give chase to him but she knew if she was chasing a bloodied up Okabe everyone would surely arrest and pursue her.
It is only then that the burning pain of the glass shard she gripped so tightly registers. She dropped the bloodied bottle from her hand huddling in the alleyway. Laying next to a dumpster Apricot waits, her mind racing with fear and pride of her victory.
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