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Dim moonlight streams through Shiori’s guest room window and illuminates the deep slumbering Apricot. She rolls under the covers, adjusting her aching body as the cool night air fills her lungs. Tears streamed down her cheeks, her heart absinthe as the horror of what unfolded stained her soul. This marks her as a murderer; she helped kill people. No longer a reluctant participant, she knew that what she had to do was right. Still, she could not stop the endless guilt that prompted the fountains she sailed upon as she sailed into a dreamland.
In the back of her mind, haunting questions echoed. Had tonight been a victory? Her doubts were growing. It was hard to believe that this was the end of their struggles. Rather, it felt like their true battle was just beginning. There was still one seal left, and Kyo was still alive. Her dreams would be written by nightmares. Pictures of death befalling everyone she cared about. Her life as a fugitive. Knowing that she would never return home. By now her parents have seen some semblance of what they have done. Eventually, her name will be attached. She would be labeled a terrorist for slaying the Okabe officials. This would be considered an act of insurrection.
As she sat in bed, her restless mind was tossed asunder as the door to her bedroom slowly opened. While half-dazed from sleep, she is abruptly awoken by the touch of cold steel against the bottom lid of her left eye. Her mouth is gently covered with a firm velvet glove. “I will pierce your broca if you scream.” said a playful honeyed male voice. “It allows you to speak, so screaming won’t be a problem if I cut it.” Apricot is held firmly by this stranger’s hand as he bent over the face of an elderly man with deep wrinkles. His hair was graying black or perhaps dark brown. In the dark, Apricot did not know. “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.”
His hand became more supple as he released his hold. In a moment, he retracted the knife from Apricot’s eye and got up. But she didn’t catch where he put it. Perhaps inside his coat or up his sleeve. It didn’t matter who this man was or what weapon he was carrying, Apricot knew he was very quick with it. Too quick for her to escape. Her covers fell off her as she sat up cautiously to avoid startling the man, revealing that she was already dressed in a pair of spare clothes Shiori gave her. “My, you’ve dressed already. You make it easy.”
Apricot began to speak before the man covered her mouth once more. “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.” As he exited the room, Apricot felt a pounding fear as though she were being hit with a hammer. She considered how he moved about so confidently. A separation between the two could trigger an attack, she thought, so it is best to prevent him from getting too far ahead of her.
In the next room, Apricot was sure Togashi would be waiting armed with a gun. Earlier, the group had drawn straws to select the guard for the night. Tragically, it was Togashi who drew the short straw. This man would regret his carelessness if she just waited.
No sign of worry could be seen on the man’s face as he advanced into the hall. As Apricot glanced back toward the guest room, he noticed that the window was closed. But how exactly did he get into the room? Upon seeing the man enter the living room, Apricot felt a sinking feeling. The absence of a commotion lent weight to Apricot’s steps. In a strange way, it was as if she suddenly found herself in concrete. Nevertheless, her question was quickly answered by the horrific image sitting up on the living room couch. A pool of blood soaked the floor as Togashi’s intestines lay open before all eyes. A closer look at the vivisection revealed the contents that were once hidden behind the ribcage, still beating gore. His left eye was filled with an eerie stream running down his cheek. She muffled her gasp as she covered her mouth. Her stomach retched as it tried to empty itself. In the face of such horrors, she was quickly dwarfed by the moment. As she turned to face the man, he is grinning widely at her. He said, “Oh, yes, I can handle knives well. Don’t you agree?” Apricot nodded her head to indicate agreement. “He wasn’t so fast with his gun. Caught his wrist before he could draw it. Shame, it might have been fun if he had.”
The remaining eye of Togashi pivots toward Apricot. A squelch of blood erupts from his exposed tubes. “He is not dead!” Apricot screamed inside.
“A fine work, if I do say so myself.” the man pronounced, opening the front door.
As Apricot emerged from its entrance, a white stretch car was awaiting him, ornate with silver trim and metal sculptures decorating each side of the vehicle. “Come now, darling. I don’t have much patience for loitering.” Stepping inside the open door of the car revealed red seats with gold trim and white interior. A few seconds later, they found themselves directly across from each other. The stranger stretched, and his white suit opened up to reveal a sky blue interior.
“Where are you taking me?” Apricot asked.
“To my dear young lady,” he smirked. A concerto orchestra is heard from the speakers as the car moves. The sophistication of the music unnerved Apricot. Before her, sat such a savage man with a pedigree yet the heart of a demon. “You don’t like the music?”, he asked softly. Her gaze was fixed on him. “A brilliant composer, Galeno Maogagoitia. You are young though, 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?”
It’s traumatic to be kidnapped, Apricot mused to herself. There were many things she did not want to talk about, but one nagging question still plagued her. “Who are you?”
As he diverted his attention from Apricot for the first time, he smiled a broad toothy grin. “Well, that is a tricky thing. I get called a lot of things. But I owe you a bit of honesty. I am Natsukawa Okabe.”
Her face was etched with strain, proclaiming her terror. “I’ve heard that name before,” she whispered back.
“O’ I am quite sure you have.” He laughed. Sitting back with a smirk on his face, he asked “May I smoke?” From his coat pocket, he pulled out a stylized pipe from his pocket. Apricot shook her head, unsure of what to do. “Smoking a good stack before I start work always calms the nerves. I don’t need to if you are worried about getting cancer in the old age; though I am sure you have little reason to worry about that. All things considered, that is.” The chuckle that followed assured Apricot that her situation must end with death. However, she is more fearful of the moments before that death.
Having lit his pipe, he gently puffs a few times, letting out a plume of smoke. “Why are you doing this? From what I understand, the clan does not particularly value your presence. 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. Now that I have had a look at you, I think I may want the flesh as well.” Apricot felt her throat closing up around her as her eyes grew wide with horror. “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.”
Inhaling heavily, Apricot tugged at her shirt to relieve tension in her throat. “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 moved back against the corner, trying to put as much distance between her and him as possible. “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.”
Although she wanted to resort to screaming and shouting, she had to speak to him more to gain more information from him. “So, you’re abiding by Kyo’s commands?” Apricot asked. “Seems a bit strange for you. Is my skin really that valuable?”
“You made a lot of faulty assumptions about me,” Natsukawa said. “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 asked. Natsukawa just snickered. From the window, Apricot can see that soon they will be approaching a populated area 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’s smirk displayed 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 grinned. “You are a family matter.”
“A family matter what is that supposed to be about?” Apricot asked inquisitively.
“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 one troubling us. We have been at work collecting witches like you 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 snapped back.
“You’re getting comfortable,” Natsukawa said snapping a grin back at her. He drew 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 lit up as he gave her another toothy smile.
“You are right, now, I can‘t contain myself,” he said with all the excitement of a child looking at a new toy. He flicked a knife from his palm. “Let’s have a look inside that arm. “I’m too curious to wait.” He said lunging at Apricot. Then, she kicked him in the face with both of her feet from the corner in which she found herself. By grabbing the latch to the car door, Apricot quickly opened it so that she could roll out of the moving vehicle. When she hit the side of the road her ribs cracked. Onlookers reacted with startled reactions as Apricot rolled several feet on the pavement.
As Apricot leaped off the black pavement, she ran on foot to escape Natsukawa’s coasting car. She suddenly sprinted towards the crowd of people who were going about their normal routines, many of them unwilling to participate. He laughed the whole time. “You can’t run from me,” he said, standing outside the car. The area was populated and that meant safety. He can’t make his move now, or at least Apricot would bet her life on it. At least she was certain: He wanted her alive. Possibly, it was not even a want, but rather a necessity that he keep her alive. As she watched the white car drive away, she could feel a growing relief. Until she realized he was going in the same direction they came from.
Panic sat on top of her again. Patting her sides down, a lump in her pocket was the grace that she sought. Apricot grabbed the slab from her pocket and called Shiori. Several rings followed before Shiori answered with a sleepy voice. “Why don’t you knock? I am down the damn hall.”
“Shiori, you need to listen to me. Get everyone out of bed and into the living room. Togashi is dead.” Apricot murmured, hoping he won’t be an ass like usual. “Natsukawa kidnapped me and he’s going after you.” The line goes silent abruptly. “Shiori?” Apricot whispered, her heart pounding.
“He is after you and your family. Run.” Shiori coldly said.
The technicolor midnight streets are alive with an intrusive clamor as Apricot ran through them at a sprint, disdaining any consideration for respect. Apricot vowed to herself, “That bastard will not hurt my family.” As she breathed, her heartbeat accelerated. Kiting through alleyways, Apricot was moving as fast as her legs would allow her. “I might be able to get home before him if I take the railway.” Apricot jumped over a pile of litter on the side road hoping to be lucky and have the train leave when she arrived.
She reassured herself, “Just one more block.” Out of the shadows, she encountered a figure that halted her in her tracks. Her eyes catch a glimpse of a knife as the figure takes a lunge at her. She shudders and a loud scream erupted from her. The hand around her neck tightened with tremendous pressure, forcing her down on her knees.
“You little bitch.” Natsukawa grumbled. “I knew you were going to Hunter’s tunnels. He gestured with his knife. “You provided me with all the evidence I needed.” Apricot notices that an empty glass bottle lies on the ground beside her. “What made you think I’d forget to lock the door? You rats are so easy to catch.” His toothy grin contorted into a demon’s face as he snickered. After rapping her fingers around the neck of the bottle, Apricot swung as hard as she can, hitting Natsukawa in the face and shattering the glass. He let her go for the moment that she needed to get back on her feet.
Among the many pieces of glass stuck into his torn cheek, he lifted one large shard with his free hand. Slowly peeling back the shard from his skin, he inspected the blood-drenched shard before flicking it aside. “Ooh, you’re fun. I like this.” He chirped before taking another pass at her. This time she sidesteps him, cutting him against the neck with the bottle. “Gaaa,” he shrieks falling on his face. Apricot wasted no time, diving onto his back, hammering the glass bottle as hard as she can. Her brutal stabs pierced holes in his coat, revealing white that is being eaten away by blood.
With a twist of his body, he flung Apricot off his back onto the ground. Suddenly he was on top of her before she could even look up. Face to face with the bloodied visage of the beast, she could feel his warm, scarlet tears dripping onto her skin as she tried to free herself from his grasp. Unable to free her braced arms, she arched her back and bit into his already sliced throat. Apricot caught a full mouthful of flesh when he pulled away from the burst of wetness. Upon spitting the unsettling bite on the ground, Apricot rose to her feet. Natsukawa glared back at her as he walked away limping. You win tonight, but I enjoy the hunt.” Natsukawa wheezed before taking off at full speed. Huffing for air, she wanted to chase him, but she knew if she chased the bloodied-up Okabe, she would be arrested.
After feeling the pain of the glass shard she gripped so tightly, she realized how intense it was. As she huddled in the alleyway, she dropped the bloodied bottle from her hand.
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