Grasping at her chest Apricot catches her breath.  She looks behind her from the dark alleyway which has become her sanctuary.  To her delight she sees a group of officers run past without paying much regard to her.  Letting out a long sigh of relief she rests beside an over filled dumpster.  The sound of shoes walking down the narrow grungy expanse between buildings raises Apricot’s eyes.

“Apricot.” a familiar voice calls to her.  Apricot glances from behind the dumpster to see Solenne in uniform standing several yards away from her on the other side of the alley.  “Don’t move.”

“Solenne?” Apricot gasps sitting up.  “I don’t know what you have,”

“Stop!” Solenne draws her pistol leveling it in Apricot’s direction.  “Don’t move! I will get you off the ground.”

“It’s not what you think!” Apricot cries.

Solenne’s cheeks turn red as she grits her teeth.  “I could not believe it.  I really did not want to.  I knew something was off about you.”

“I swear!” Apricot shouts.

“Shut up!” Solone cuts her off.  “You’re a terrorist.  You tried to murder the ruling family.  It all makes sense now.  The strange behavior.  The being in all those strange events.  The shady movements.  The questions.  Everything.  Its so clear! You betray’d me Apricot.  I trusted you!” Solenne screams.  “You killed so many people.  You are a traitor!”

Apricot shakes her head.  “No, it’s not like that!  Solenne you have to let me go.  I need to get to the old shrine.  You would never believe me but there is an evil being trying to take over the city!”

Solenne pauses staring at Apricot her firm hard face softens slightly.  A tear grows in her eye before she sniffs.  “I don’t know what happened to you.  I don’t know.” Solenne again sniffs.  “Put your hands up!” her voice quivers.  Apricot follows her order.  “Behind your head.  You are lucky it is me who found you.  You left your cell on.  Stupid.  I was tracking you all around the city.  I know what you been doing today.”

“Solenne, you have to trust me.  Please.  There is so much I have wanted to tell you.  You cannot do this!  After, take me to the shrine.  Arrest me after I get to the shrine!” Solenne shakes her head as she draws a pair of mechanical cuffs.  With a swift hand Solenne firmly presses Apricot’s face against the cool brick wall.  Her wrists are bound tightly by the ratcheting cuffs.  With a tug Solenne draws her off the wall.  She grabs her wrists lifting Apricot to her feet.

“Spread your legs.“ she commands.  Apricot follows her orders.  Solenne bends down putting the mechanical cuffs on her feet.  She assists Apricot to the edge of the alleyway.

“I have to inform you, you are now considered a captive of the state.  Your rights are officially revoked.  You will be given a chance to prove your innocence before a tribunal selected by the Okabe government.  As of this moment all social credit you may have is invalid until further notice.  All monies procured will be revoked and returned only after receiving personhood again.” Solenne presses a button on the side of her head.  “I got that 52-50.”

Apricot looks over to see Solenne’s face scrunch up.  “Excuse me.  Sir, this is a police matter.” she replies with a voice laden with confusion.

Listening closely Apricot can hear over the earpiece “Orders are from above.  Comes from Empress Kyo herself.  She is to be handed over to the royal guard.”

“That cannot be.” Solenne says turning her head to look Apricot in the eyes.

“Sure as hell beats me too Miss Solenne but what can ya do?  Sorry to do this but I had to lock down your vehicle.  They will be picking her up shortly.  Until then hold her.” the young man says.

“Got it. Thanks Joji.” Solenne says switching off her ear piece.  She turns her head from Apricot stroking her chin.  Solenne glances towards her.

Apricot sheepishly looks down at the ground.  “You should let me go Solenne.  The Okabe’s are not what they seem.”

Solenne face changes to one of indifference.  This was not between friends anymore.  Apricot sees it written all over her face.  This is simply an official police matter.  “Sorry, this is how it’s going to be.” Solenne sighs looking at the device on her armband.  “They did not even let me log your arrest.”

“They are going to kill me Nene.” Apricot tells her.

Solenne nods her head.  “Shut up Apricot.  Don’t do that cute stuff with me right now.” she says in a soft voice.  “I got a duty to uphold the law.  You broke it.  I can’t violate my orders.”

Apricot sighs.  “I understand Sol.  I forgive you.”

“Well, that is good to know.  However, I don’t need the forgiveness of a traitor.” Solenne says looking over to see an empire guard vehicle pull up.  “The fact remains you’re still a killer, regardless.”  The black cruiser stops next to the pair, the interior completely obscured by tinted glass.  The passenger side doors open as two men dressed in black suits with glasses walk around to Solenne.

“Officer Solenne,” one guard says.  “Thank you for apprehending this rogue agent.”  The other agent grabs Apricot by the arm and tugs her out of Solenne’s resistant grasp.  Apricot glances behind her toward Solenne, who shifts her eyes from her.

Solenne lifts her arm to show the agent the screen on her forearm.  “It won’t let me log her arrest.”  Apricot hears Solenne point out to the other royal guard.

“This is no longer a public matter.  It is best you forget about this little incident.” the guard retorts his expression unchanged.

Apricot feels the hand of the man push on her head forcing her into the back of the car.  “Get in there, sit.” he grunts.

“She is my responsibility while she is under my arrest.” Solenne bluntly points out.

The guard chuckles.  “Cute, she is not your concern anymore.” Apricot can’t even see out of the car.  The man steps inside and sits next to her.  Once he closes the rear passenger door, she knows her fate is sealed.

Looking over the balcony of her high-rise tower Empress Kyo watches the cars traveling along the highways.  Their lights battling against the dying rays of the setting sun.  “There you are my queen.” says a man in a gruff voice.  Bowing on one knee before the gold hem of her red long-tailed dress.

“Report.” Kyo says.

“Your majesty, we have captured the traitors.  They are in transport to the holding cells to await your judgement.” the man says keeping his head lowered.

Kyo smiles turning a glance towards Natsukawa who lays against the rail a wicked grin growing ever larger across his cut up face.  “Very good.  The prophecy is complete.  It is time for us to play our part.”

Natsukawa chuckles at her remark.  “Are you ready?”

“I am.” Kyo replies turning towards the man bowing.  She places her fingers on the back of his neck.  “Rise.  You have done well.  Go inform the others that Natsukawa shall be my escort.  I only want a small retainer with me.”

“Yes, Empress.” the man says placing a hand on his chest before bowing.

Kyo raises her hand as the man leaves.  “One more thing.  Begin the ritual cleansing.  I want it prepared before I arrive.”

“Get in there!” yells one of the guards as Apricot is tossed onto the frigid concrete floor.  Her body tumbles as her elbow presses into her ribs.  “You’re done girl.  You’re so done.” says the guard as he turns heel walking down the hall.

Apricot squirms to sit upright against the empty cell’s wall.  The bricks are uneven pushing into her back allowing her no rest.  The floor is not even smooth.  It’s even sharp in places.  Apricot thought to herself it is as if designed in such a way to ensure that result.  “So they got you too.” Shiori’s voice calls from a nearby cell.

“Shiori?” Apricot calls out.

“Yeah,” he swiftly replies.

Apricot feels a warmth of joy come over her.  “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” Shiori says after a long pause Shiori continues “Looks like this is the end of the line for us.”

The gate to the holding cells opens with a metallic clank.  “Damn it!  Let go of me!” Hunter screams.  Apricot watches as four officers carry him completely bound up like a worm.  They take him to the cell across from Apricots hoisting the door open and in the same fluid motion throw his body onto the floor.  He lets out a cry of pain as he lands.  Left gasping on the floor Hunter moans.  “You bastards!” he weezes.

“Shut up, kid.  You are going to hell soon enough, anyway.  That goes for all of you.” says one officer as they are exiting the room.

“Hunter! You’re alive!” Apricot says.  Hunter nods his head.  “Shiori are your arms free?”

“Fraid not.  They got me bound up pretty tight.  How about you?” Shiori asks.

Apricot slumps.  “I am too.”

“Figures, they consider us dangerous.” Shiori chimes.  “Even in these cells.”

“Shiori?” Apricot asks.

“Yeah,”

“Where is Cortez?”

“He got away I guess.” Shiori says.  “Heh, he was always good at that.  Last I saw of him he was being treated with the street doc I left him with.”

“Shiori.  How did you get captured?” Apricot asks suspecting something more was there.  She could not put her finger on it but her suspicions were Shiori is lying.

“Heh, I didn’t make it far.  I dropped Cortez off and got jumped by the police about three blocks away.”  Shiori says.  “Hey this is a little much right now.  I think I will sleep some.”

“Why?  How?” Apricot asks.

Shiori chuckles.  “Not much else to do.  Might as well get rested for whatever comes next.”

“You can sleep when you are dead.” Hunter growls.

Shiori laughs.  “I am sure we are dead.”

The words rung harshly in Apricots ear.  Shiori has nothing to save them.  She does not and Hunter can’t either.  They are as good as dead; he is right.  It hurt to hear it.  Even if Apricot already knew it.  Still, he might be right.  The best thing they can do is rest.  Placing her head onto the cold floor Apricot shuts her soggy eyes.

Slumber is broke by the rasping hands upon Apricot’s forearm.  “Get up.” A voice grunts as they hoist her to her feet.  In groggy grasp the surrealness of the situation escapes Apricot.  Her eyes dangle open as her senses come to.  Halfway down a hall as the sound of hollers grow louder.  They do not give her more than a moment as she blinks to see a well-kept man place a black blindfold over her eyes.  “Get your mitts off of me!” she hears Shiori roar.

“Shut up.” a man says as she hears Shiori let out a guttural retch.

Something wet hit the floor.  “Heh,” a man laughs.

“Ah shit.” another man groans.  “Seriously, did you have to puke.” a loud thwack followed.

Shiori let out a cry before screaming “Damn you!”

“Hey, cut it out.  Empress Kyo wants them alive.” an older man growls.

“Yeah yeah,” a girl’s voice comments.

The trek seems long, but shorter than it should have seemed.  Apricot is lead along a path for quiet a distance before they allow her to sit.  She figured it is a car or a van with the others.  She is not entirely sure where exactly where she was or even where she is being taken.  There is the smell of exhaust but after the movement stops, they lead her down a few flights of stairs.

“Where are you taking us?” Shiori barks.

Apricot hears what sounds like a punch before Shiori let’s out a gasp.  “Speak again and I’ll leave your tongue behind.  That goes for any of you.”

A stretch of length hit her leaving her to question exactly where they are going.  The sounds of the city became silent and disappeared replaced by silence.  The low hum of something growing louder as they continue on their journey.

She notes an elevation change as they were heading down what seems like several ramps winding deeper and deeper.  She concludes they are somewhere under the city.  She is lead into a room of some sort, Apricot can not tell exactly how large it is but it is fairly sizable.  Her back is pressed against something cold and round.  Someone grabs her by the arms and she can feel a coil being wrapped around her wrist again.  With a hiss the mechanical cuffs tighten automatically.  Someone removes her blindfold, the light peers through causing her a fair bit of eye strain as they adjust to the sudden brightness.

A white room, a large white room.  In the middle is a strange-looking machine of some sort with a large circular mirror.  Polished black, of pure darkness reflecting everything in it.  She looks around and notes she is tied to some sort of metal post.  At her feet there is an indention in the ground much like a trough.  Looking around the room she notices Shiori and Hunter too are tied to similar posts along with several other people.  Her heart skips when she spots that black-haired man Cortez knew.  She could not place her finger on his name, however.  Geno, Genva something like that.  His face appears twisted still, like caught between his demon form and his mortal body.

She counts five armored guards in the room.  A pair of by the altar, two at the sides of the room and one waiting at the entrance to the room.  Her attention diverts to the clicking of a pair of people walking into view.  In a red dress with gold trim Kyo prances with an expression gleeful with the scent of madness.  Following by her side is Natsukawa who appears scarred and wounded.  “Well, she finally shows herself.” Shiori grunts.

“What is going on?” a young girl screams who too is bound.

Kyo smirks as she takes her place in the middle.  In both of her hands is a long object wrapped in cloth.  Apricot assumes it is some kind of relic, or a gun.  In this moment her worries are not of death but rather the moments leading up to that death.  Knowing Kyo’s love of ritual she figured it would involve some kind of unknown taboo torture to invoke some kind of secret power.

“When I get out of here, I will rip your spine out!” yells that Geno man while his jaw elongates into that of a canine’s.  He snarls and snaps his jaws as his body ripples.  His muscles expand out as he turns into a beast.  The girls chained next to him scream in terror.

Kyo gives a coy glance towards him, her eyes lined in a thick coat of eyeshadow.  Her face caked with makeup making her look more like an artificial model than a human.  Her lips peal open to reveal the devil’s smile as she unwraps the cloth.  With a pull she reveals a silver decorative knife resting in her palms.  Natsukawa walks in front of her bowing his head holding his open palms out.  She places the blade into his hands, turns, and walks over to the large black mirror.

Before her feet is an empty well.  Reaching to her neck she grabs a red orb attached to a necklace.  Lifting it from her head she allows the orb to hang from the thin chain dangling over the pool.  “The blood of the dead for you to drink.”  Out of the red orb flows a pillar of blood like a rushing rapid into the pool.  Kyo lets the necklace drop from her fingertips into the growing pool.  It glows from under the pool as the machine lets out an oscillating groan.  The black mirror behind her twinkles as blue orbs float in the darkness’s distance.  “I have prepared the way.  It is time to finish this bridge to evermore.  Natsukawa do the honors.”

He takes an upright step forward, the pain of doing so etches around his splintered face.  Geno let’s out a roar gaining an audience with Natsukawa.  His eyes lock onto the big growling beast.  He slowly walks up a massive grin filling his torn cheeks.   A drop of drool from Geno’s jaws drip onto his lapel.  He glances down using his finger to remove the spittle from his chest while the beast strains to bite him. With a speed that seems almost inhuman Natsukawa presses the side of the blade onto Geno’s chest.  Immediately it sizzles as Geno releases a roar of agony.  “Silver!” he screams.

“Mighty big weakness for all the power your pact gave you.” Natsukawa laughs.  “Does it seem worth it now?  I know it has paid off to allow your transmigrations.”

“What do you mean?” Geno asks.  With another pat of the blade Natsukawa sends Geno into screams of agony.

He grins stepping away from Geno.  “You see. We would never have known to what extent those arts could transform a person.  If we had known you could infuse people with Naraka, we would have been producing our own blood for sacrifice.”  Natsukawa stands looking up at the face of a pretty young Uchellan girl whose wears a paper white mask of horror.  “Nor would we have known how to find these witches.” Natsukawa looks up into her brown eyes and smiles.  He then presses the edge of the blade on her leg.  It seers into her just like on Geno.  She screams and struggles in the same fashion as him.  “See, witches like you.”

Natsukawa steps back almost dancing when he returns to Kyo’s side.  “So what the hell do you have planned?  If you are going to cut our throats, then just get it over with.” Shiori barks.

“You, Prince Kinjo, shall be last.  I want to savor that strong facade falling to pieces as we butcher all around you.” Kyo says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Shiori snorts “You think I care about anyone here.”

“I do.” Kyo sings.  “I think you care an awful lot about people.  Why else would you have risked your life Shiori?  You gave up a cushy royal life just to stop me because of your dying grandfather’s wishes.  Was it an omen that told him?” she mocks.  Apricot looks over to see Shiori’s steel face unphased.  “What quiet now.”  The stiffness in it told her something is off.  Is this Shiori when he is scared?  Her heart beats harder.  She looks over to Hunter who seems to be relaxed.  “You seemed so confident, proud, when you thought your little, peasants, ruined my ritual.  O’ I am sure you knew it was a trap.  I wanted you to think that.  Amazing how poorly my guard’s aim is.  Oh, it was worth the sacrifice.  See, you made it happen Shiori; you were my fated key.  Foolish Shiori, I have orchestrated your every move this whole time.”  Apricot watches as Shiori bares his teeth tightly.  She had never seen him as composed as this.  Behind his eyes he is dying.  She knew it.

“Natsukawa, I tire of waiting, let us begin with the big brute.” With this Natsukawa walks over toward Geno, holding the knife in hand.  He plays with the tip of the blade before raising it and plunging into his inner right thigh.  Stepped back he withdraws the knife clean of blood as a river immediately flows out of Geno’s body.  It is a steady and heavy stream.  It reminds Apricot of thin paint as it flows down the trough.

“Please, no!” the girl cries with puffy sullen eyes.  “I will do anything, let me go!” she screams as Natsukawa plunges the dagger in her in the same manner.  Dancing away from her he stands next to the other girl who just screams hysterically.  The blood pools at the front of the room in the center where there is a divot in the ground.  Inside the circle it begins to glow.  Apricot notices her arm burning.  A purple flame shoots forth igniting her body.

She looks up from her arm to see Kyo smiling looking into the pool.  Her body surrounded in red flames.  Looking towards Hunter, Apricot could see his eyes are locked onto the dying girl who turns pale and lifeless as her blood drains dry from her body.  “Shiori!” Apricot screams.

His gaze does not divert from Kyo.  The third girl lets out a shriek as Natsukawa plunges the dagger in her thigh as well.  “Shhhhh.” he softly says.  “It’s ok, you will be dead soon.”  Apricot watches as he steps over to her.  She looks down from her post and struggles.  “Hello dear.” Natsukawa says with a large grin on his face.  “Would you believe this is the one who stabbed me.” he comments turning to Kyo.  Kyo looks up and smiles.  “I shall enjoy sending you to hell.  Heh, and no.  I won’t be so kind as to just give you a prick.  I am going to dismember you, piece, by bloody piece.”   He reaches up to Apricot’s left hand holding it.  “Starting with the tips of your fingers.”

The sound of boots walking down the hall towards the room stops Natsukawa who looks up.  The guards go to the entrance pointing their guns.  As the man walks into the room Apricot cringes seeing his masked face.  They try to stop the person from entering but as they approach him he raises his hand sending them all falling dead.  “Who is this?” Kyo’s voice fills to the brim with anger.

“You are performing my ritual.” Urias says in a soft voice.

Kyo lets out a yelp of joy like a child’s excitement from seeing a long-lost parent.  Immediately she charges him diving into his embrace with both arms.  “You have returned.” Kyo yelps in a tear voice.  “It’s been so long.  I thought you were dead.”

“No Kyo, I have been here.  Waiting, with the black god.” Urias murmurs.  Kyo’s eyes grow wide as she backs away.  Apricot jaw opens wide as she notices the dagger sticking in Kyo’s stomach.  She stumbles mouthing inaudible words.  A small croak escapes her dying breaths as she falls backward into the pool of blood releasing a gurgling shriek.  She struggles in the blood but can’t stay above the red tide.  Natsukawa stands at the edge of the pool gazing at the sight.  A fascination filling his eyes.  He takes a couple of steps toward the blood pool gazing down into the last dying bubbles.

Natsukawa burst out laughing.  “And so the bitch is dead!  Moments before she finishes the work none the less.” He takes a couple measured steps over the rivers of blood towards Urias.  “Drowned in her own sacrifice.” He laughs again.  “No one’s left to complete this task.” Natsukawa’s tone grows sour.  “And I sure as hell am not going to let you do it.” he roars as he dives at Urias who side steps him before placing his hand on him.  “What going to rub me to death old man?”

Natsukawa explodes into pieces.  Urias looks at the pile of inverted flesh.  After a few moments he disregards it to focus his attention on the group.  “Hello Hunter.” he says.  “I must admit my jealousy.  I was hoping I would have been the one to capture you.  But I will at least be the one to end you.  Black god, are you watching?  See what I do for you, let me be your vessel.  Come and dwell in me!”  Bang, the side of Urias’s head explodes.  Apricot looks to the entrance to see Solenne rushing into the room with her pistol drawn.

“Solenne!” Apricot shouts her heart pounding with excitement.  Shiori rolls his head letting out a heavy sigh.  Hunter’s face still lit with panic.

Solenne looks around the room her face covered in horror.  She shakes it off turning her attention on the group.  “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but we got to get you all down.”