The road to the shrine had changed in appearance. The trees which once appeared to be full of life are stripped of their leaves, left with sharp fingers splaying against the murky red horizon. The statues that line the road have faces that appear more like people in perpetual agony, their round holes for mouths of horror open toward the sky. The road itself dark and foggy. The wax that lines the edges of the road ablaze leading to the staircase rising up the hill to the shrine’s gates. A black inky liquid drips and pools at the bottom of the stairway. Two winged beast stand atop the red arch to the shrine baring their teeth openly snarling as they watch Apricot’s approach up the stairs.
Reaching the top, she sees the reaper standing inside the courtyard moving his hands his back facing her. She stops to observe the creatures who stood atop the gateway. They razor teeth more apparent as she has come closer. Apricot as she steps in front of the archway the two winged beasts drop in front of her roaring. With a long boney arm one creature slashes toward Apricot. She jumps back feeling the wind of the fingertips brush against her nose. Lunging forward her blazing hand lets loose a bolt of fire directly into the creature’s head. It’s skull caves in, crushed from the impact. Falling limp like a rag doll the creature slams into the ground.
Wielding the flame like a blade Apricot retracts from its fallen body, placing her arm up in the air. The other creature steps forward striking at her but she taps the arm away cutting off a segment. It immediately steps in for another go at her. Apricot slides her flaming blade along its other arm parring its attack. Apricot’s blade slices the arm in half splintering down the middle. The beast howls in pain holding the ruined limb. She does not hesitate for a second and brings her blade clean down the creature’s head to its pelvis. The split falls aside spraying blood before turning into blue orbs.
She catches her breath her eyes not moving from the reaper. Walking through the threshold of the red gate she enters the shrine’s courtyard. Her mind races with the knowledge this is the end and that he held the ability to kill her with the snap of his fingers. She did not know how he did that trick when she first met him and hoped it was just that, a trick. The reaper repositions his arms in front of his chest and turns to face Apricot. “My thou has’t the fury of a devil burning in thy eyes. What is it that thee plan on doing with that blazing fire of yours?”
She points her blade to him. Portions of the flaming blade dripping off onto the ground rippling out from their landing. “I have come to kill you once and for all!” Apricot tells the reaper. He let’s out a small chuckle.
“A motley-minded endeavor. Thee cannot killeth me. I can understandeth the sentiment though. I too findeth this world a horrible lodging as well. Thee art still blind.” The reaper says extending his hand to Apricot. “Cometh walketh with me.”
Apricot shakes her head. “The time for talk is over!” She yells with tears rolling down her cheeks. The heat of the reaper’s presence alone causes them to dry before reaching the edge of her cheek.
He lowers his head regarding Apricot with what to her appears like a solum stance. “Peradventure mine method wast too harsh. I apologize but I hadst to has’t thee understandeth the true nature of this world. It’s retched festering evil. So I hath sent thee on this journey, to gain wisdom. Now I giveth thee a new journey.”
“What are you on about?” Apricot croaks still pointing the blade in his direction. As he glides toward Apricot she brings the blade in closer readying a stab.
“Understandeth me Apricot. From the beginning I hath brought thee through the nightmare.” His voice soothing, slow, calm and full of comfort. Apricot hated it more than anything. Such wicked magic lays in his tone. “Thee knoweth the rate of thy friends. Thee seen the deepest torment of those above. The cries of those sacrificed in vain. Now thee art eft to taketh a rightful lodging. To end this chaos, tis in thy hands now. Thee alone has’t the choice to save this world or alloweth it to rot eternally.”
Apricot shakes her head. “I don’t understand?”
The reaper stops moving closer to her landing onto the ground. He nods his head bowing. “At which hour we first hath met. Thee wast a fool. Thee hadst no knowledge of the real world. The truth of this city. The ruling powers who abused its people. Thee didst not knoweth about the vile criminals who harm the people.
Now thou has’t seen the reality of the gangs and their overlords. Thou has’t seen the poor folk trodden upon and given nothing but misery. The royals who treat those below those folk as livestock for slaughter. The unruly demons who haunt this world.
The wars and those who maketh wars. The uncaring hearts of the hath lost. The savage minds of the abusers. The dreams, stolen from valorous people. See this truth Apricot. Together we can changeth this all. Join me, beest the god this world needeth.
By thy hands those gents don’t needeth to die. We can save all those who died. Those who were undone to this world beest hath brought to death. All those sacrificed given new life. In a paradise which thee shalt rule. All thou has’t to doth is allow me to bringeth thee across the threshold. We can cease all this evil.” The reaper says holding out his clawed hand to Apricot. “So doth thee chooseth life or doth thee chooseth death?”
Apricot’s eyes fill with tears. “Why me!” she cries out with a scream.
“The Okabe abused mine plan. Instead, those gents tormented people for their own selfish gain. Those gents hath used me as a nexus for power. Urias, that gent is a madman. Kyo, the lady too wast hath lost. The ones ere thee, those gents hath lost their minds. Thou has’t endured. Tis thee I searched for and forged from hellfire. Cometh Apricot, tis time.” Apricot hesitates. Her steps slow like a child’s first steps as she enters into the seal. Looking up at the reaper she can see the eyes behind the mask observing her. Adjusting like a machine’s, cold dead artificial eyes. “Very valorous, I am glad thou has’t madeth the right choice.”
Apricot lifts her hand to place it into the reapers. Her fingers hovering just above the tips of his claw. She let’s out a roar as she stabs her blade into his chest. “You are a liar!” The reaper flies back away from Apricot letting out a howl. She points the burning blade at him. “You’re no better than the Okabe. You murder and scheme and manipulate people. You’re no righteous god! You are a devil.”
The reaper growls under his breath. He uses his claw to check his body. There is a massive gash in his chest, his claws peak below the sliced fabric into the metallic casing. “I am not flesh. This is a manifestation of me. If ‘t be true this how it must beest, then I shalt taketh what is mine by force. Apricot thee shalt beest mine, willing or as mine unwilling host. I shalt ride thee as a horse if ‘t be true I must!”
He lunges toward her with his claws stabbing for her chest. Side stepping the reaper she blocks his attack with her arm. “You want to strip people of their will. Even me, the one you want to change the world. You want to strip my will from me.” Apricot huffs ducking his next strike. She retorts by making an upward strike against his leg severing the mechanical prosthetic. The leg falls onto the ground twitching revealing cables and hanging cords.
“Every world is not complete without a god and a devil. Thither cannot beest valorous without evil. Balance is the key.” the reaper growls slashing Apricot in she shoulder. Blood spirts out as she feels the burning of her muscles. She lets out a cry of pain backing away from the reaper.
Apricot rolls off the blow but her face twitches from the exhausting pain. “Balance is a lie! Evil always wants balance because it is nothing against good. Evil is evil and good is good! The only ones who try to blur the lines are evil ones!” Apricot roars slashing her flaming blade at the reaper’s face. The beaked mask shatters. As the pieces fall away Apricot can see the face of a mechanical manikin; its artificial blue eyes and blond white hair hanging down from the jester’s cap. “Nothing about you is real.”
The reaper shakes his mechanical body. To Apricot its seems to be falling apart. Taking this opportunity she strikes again cutting clear through its torso and left arm. The upper body of the machine floats looking at her with an artificial grin. “Flesh is undone by mine spirit. So I has’t addressed thee with the spirit of phantoms. Wherefore doth thee bethink I hadst thee hunt those folk and gaveth thee the power to absorb their energy. That is wherefore thy soul blade hath grown stronger. Now thee art eft to beest wed with mine spirit. Alloweth me in!”
Apricot jumps away. “You want to possess me?”
The reaper nods his head. “Forsooth. You art mine vessel. That is what you art destined to beest. Now surrender yourself. I has’t damaged thee enough already.” The flying body lunges at Apricot spraying black fluid in its wake. Apricot tries to dodge the attack but he is moving far too quickly. A silver rod guards the reaper’s claw from touching Apricot. She let’s out a gasp as she sees Shiori pressing the rod against the reaper glaring into its eyes. “Shiori wherefore doth thee cease me? We hadst a deal!”
“Don’t you know when you have been doublecrossed.” Shiori grunts throwing the reaper to the ground. Heuses his teeth to take off the white glove that covers his hand. “Run Apricot. Get outside the seal.” He commands slamming his hand into the reaper’s body. A red glow comes over Shiori as though he was struck by lightning. “What has’t thee done!” he yells. “It’s over for you.”
Apricot hesitates, the sight she is seeing causes her heart to flutter. “Shiori, what is happening?”
“Apricot, help me. The reaper is in me. Come help me out of the seal!” Shiori gasps his mouth foaming.
Apricot approaches him with a careful step as he shakes his head. “Apricot no!” Hunter screams. “Don’t touch him.” She turns her head to see Hunter standing at the edge of the seal. “Get out of the seal!”
“But Shiori.” Apricot whimpers. She turns to look at him as his skin splits, his body decaying right before her eyes. “Shiori, I am sorry.” she says. He smiles as a tear escapes his eye. Apricot turns and runs out of the seal. Hunter holds up his hand as Shiori’s body jerks attempting to move but instead holds in place.
“Thee wench! Cometh back thee wench! Don’t leaveth me! Thee art going to rid the world! No, this cannot beest! Shiori, thee fool. Doth thee very much expect to survive. We art going to beest trapped in the dead world! Is this what thee wanteth?” the reaper screams from Shiori’s mouth.
“Let’s see what your world is like.” he cynically comments as Hunter’s hand presses onto the rim of the seal. The symbols and signs light up as the ground turns pitch black like a void. It sucks Shiori into the darkness as the symbols explode with a roar. Hunter grabs Apricot’s arm pulling her away from the ring as the two escape from the powerful vacuum winds. With one last boom the grounds disappears, reappearing as a deep chasm in the temple’s court.
Rising from the ground Apricot walks towards the destroyed temple’s courtyard looking at where the polished brick grounds once was. Her heart pounds harder. He is gone. He was taken to that horrible place. “Shiori!” she cries out as the rivers loose from her eyes. She grabs her face squeezing. “Why did it have to end like this?” She sniffles. “What the hell Shiori?” She turns her head towards Hunter. His back is to the pit watching the distant city as the skies clear from the glow of red into a fading distant haze.
“You!” Apricot screams. “You did this! You knew! You knew he would die! Didn’t you?” She waits for his reply but one never comes. Instead, he walks to the staircase without a word. “Don’t ignore me.” Stopping at the top step he sits. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hunter pats the ground next to him. “Because, you would not have allowed us to do it.” he comments in a dull tone. Apricot walks up to the staircase sitting next to him. “Don’t be mad at me. He made me swear not to tell you. I knew, and he did too.”
As the first beams of morning light peaked over the horizon the two could see that the sounds of battle have all but gone away. Now the sounds of sirens bounded from every street. “It’s over now.” Apricot says looking toward Hunter who too had tears rolling down his cheeks. She grabs onto his shoulder pull him in for a hug. The two waited for hours until the morning light had come over the city. As the sound of sirens dies down Apricot and Hunter leave together.