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The Mantra Device
Having walked through the putrid sewers, Apricot was left grasping at her chest as she caught her breath. From the sewer grate, she looked back toward the streets, spying a police patrol run by without much regard for her. A long sigh of relief escaped her lips as she rested beside a dumpster filled to bursting. A pair of shoes stepped across the grungy expanse between buildings, raising Apricot’s eyelids.
She heard a familiar voice call out, “Apricot.” Getting out from behind the dumpster, Apricot spotted Solenne standing on the other side of the alley in uniform. “Don’t move.”
“Solenne?” Apricot gasped. “I don’t know what you have,”
“Stop!” Solenne exclaimed as she drew her pistol and pointed it at Apricot. “Don’t move!”
“It’s not what you think!” Apricot protested.
With gritted teeth, Solenne’s cheeks became red. “I could not believe it. Honestly, I didn’t want to believe it. I knew something wasn’t right.”
“I swear!” Apricot tried to defend herself, but instinctively she knew it was too late to argue.
“Shut up!” Solonne snapped back. “You’re a terrorist. You tried to murder the ruling family. Everything makes sense now. That strange behavior. That being at the center of all those odd happenings. The shady movements. Those questions! Everything. It’s so obvious! Apricot, you betrayed me. I trusted you!” Solenne cried out in anger. “So many people died because of you. You are a traitor!”
As Apricot began to shake her head, she raised a hand in front of her. “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 and the world!”
Solenne stared at Apricot, allowing her firm hard face to soften slightly. A tear rolled down her cheek before she sniffed. “I don’t know what happened to you. As she regained her composure, Solenne whimpered, “I don’t know. Put your hands up!” her voice trembled as she spoke. Apricot complied. “Behind your head. You are lucky it was me who found you. You left your cell on. Stupid. I was tracking you all around the city. I know what you’ve been doing today.”
“Solenne, you need to trust me. Please. I have wanted to tell you so much. But you can’t do it. Please take me to the shrine. Arrest me after I get to the shrine!” She shook her head and put on a pair of mechanical cuffs. Apricot’s face was firmly pressed against the brick wall by Solenne with one swift movement. She is tied tightly to the ratcheting cuffs around her wrists. With a tug, Solenne pulled Apricot off the wall and lifted her.
“Spread your legs.“ She ordered with authority. As Apricot stretched her legs for Solenne, Solenne bent down to pat her leg carefully. Her hand touched something long and hard. A look of surprise crossed her face.
“It’s a sword, a rapier to be particular.” Solenne inserted her hand under Apricot’s waistband and removed the blade.
The arcaic weapon caught Solenne’s attention. She stared up at Apricot with an expression of shock. “This is made of silver, isn’t it?”
“It is. It’s a long story.” Apricot looked amused.
A sigh escaped Solenne’s lips. She then kicked Apricot’s ankle to get her to place her legs together. Apricot’s feet were also cuffed by the mechanical devices. Taking hold of Apricot’s wrist, she guided her to the edge of the alley.
“I must inform you, you are now a state possession. The state has officially revoked your rights. The Okabe government will select a tribunal from which you will have the opportunity to prove your innocence. Until further notice, any social credit you may have is invalid. All monies procured will be revoked and returned only after receiving personhood again.” Solenne pressed a button to the side of her shoulder. “I got that 52-50.”
Seeing Solenne’s face scrunched up, Apricot looked over at her. “Excuse me. Joji, this is a police matter.” she said, her voice ringing with confusion.
As Apricot listens closely, she can hear over the earpiece, “Orders are coming from the top. From Empress Kyo herself. She is to be handed over to the royal guard.”
“That cannot be.” Solenne glanced at Apricot as she turned her head.
Yes, it beats me too, Miss Solenne, but what are you supposed to do? On the other hand, kicking a nest of wasps will result in a swarm. I’m sorry, but I had to lock your car. They’ll pick her up soon. In the meantime, keep her close.” he said.
“Got it. Thank you, Joji.” Solenne said, switching off her headset. Leaving Apricot to stroke her chin, she turned her head away.
Apricot looked down at the ground reluctantly, not wanting to see her friend in such humiliation. “You should let me go Solenne. The Okabe’s are not what they seem.”
Solenne’s expression changed to that of indifference. Now, the conversation was not among friends. Apricot saw it written all over her face. “Sorry, this is how it’s going to be.” Solenne breathed out, examining the device on her arm. “They did not even let me log your arrest.”
“They are going to kill me Nay-nay.” Apricot warned.
“Shut up Apricot. Don’t do that cute stuff with me right now.” She whispered softly. “I got a duty to uphold the law. You broke it. I can’t violate my orders.”
Apricot sighed in frustration. “I understand Sol. I forgive you.”
“Well, that is good to know. However, I don’t need the forgiveness of a traitor.” Solenne said, looking over to see a cruiser from the Empire Guard approaching. “The fact remains you’re still a killer, nonetheless.” The black cruiser halted next to them, its interior hidden behind tinted windows. As two men dressed in black suits and glasses strolled around Solenne, the passenger side doors opened.
“Officer Solenne,” said one guard. “Thank you for apprehending this rogue agent.” Another agent grabbed Apricot by the arm and pulled her away from Solenne. As Apricot glanced behind her, she caught the attention of Solenne, who shifted her gaze away from her.
In front of the agent, Solenne raised her arm to demonstrate the screen. “It won’t let me log her arrest.” Apricot heard Solenne pointing out to another guard.
“This is no longer a public matter. It is better that you forget about this little incident.” The guard replied with no change in expression.
Suddenly, Apricot is forced into the back of the car by the hand of a man. “Get in there, sit.” He muttered.
“She is under my charge while she is under my arrest.” Solenne said bluntly.
Laughing, he walked away. “Cute, but she is not your concern anymore.” Apricot cannot see out of the car. Having climbed inside, the guard sat next to her. She knew that her fate was sealed once he closed the passenger door.
Watching the traffic traveling along the interstates from her high-rise tower balcony, Empress Kyo admired the scenery. The lights of the cars fought against the dying rays of the setting sun. “Here you are, my Empress.” said the gruff man getting down on one knee, bowing before the gold hem of her red long-tail dress.
“Report.” Kyo commanded.
“Your majesty, we have caught the traitors. They are being transported to holding cells to await your judgement.” the man explained, keeping his head down.
Kyo smiled and cast a glance toward Natsukawa who laid against the rail, his vicious grin growing ever more ferocious. “Very good. The prophecy is fulfilled. It is now our turn to act.”
Natsukawa chuckled at her comment. “Are you ready?”
As the man bowed, Kyo replied, “I am.” Kyo touched the back of his neck with her fingers. “Rise. You have done well. Please tell the others that Natsukawa shall be my escort. All I want is a small retainer.”
“Yes, Empress,” the man said, placing his hands on his chest before bowing humbly.
As the man left, Kyo raised her hand. “One more thing.” she said. “Start the ritual cleansing. I want it prepared before I arrive.”
“Get in there!” shouted a guard as Apricot was tossed onto the icy hard surface. Her elbow was pressed against her ribcage as she tumbled. “You’re done girl. You’re so done.” he muttered as he walked down the hall.
Apricot struggled to sit upright against the wall of the empty cell. There were uneven bricks pushing into her back as she struggled to sit upright. In addition to the uneven floor, there were also several cracks on the wall. In fact, at some points, the wall was sharp. She pondered how it was set up in such a way as to achieve a perpetually restless outcome. “So they got you too.” Shiori called from a nearby cell.
“Shiori!” Apricot called out to him with some assurance.
“Yeah,” he replied promptly.
She felt a warmth of joy overtake her. “Are you ok?”
Shiori said, “Yeah.” Shiori took a deep breath and replied, “Looks like this is the end of the line for us.”
An air of metallic clank filled the holding cells as the gate opened. “Damn it! Let go of me!” Hunter shouted at the top of his lungs. In front of Apricot, the four officers bound him up in a wormlike manner. Taking his body across from Apricot’s cell, they heaved the door open and threw him on the floor in the same fluid motion. A cry of pain arose from his lips. Sighing, Hunter collapsed on the floor. “You bastards,” he wheezed.
“I told you to shut up, kid. In any case, you’re going to hell soon enough.” As they left the room, an officer commented, “That goes for all of you.”
“Hunter! You’re alive!” Apricot exclaimed, although she could not see him. “Shiori are your arms free?”
“Fraid not. They tangled me up pretty tight. How about you?” Shiori asked.
Apricot slumped. “I am too.”
“Figures, they consider us dangerous.” Shiori chimed. “Even in these cells.”
“Shiori?” Apricot said.
Her mouth was dry as she asked, “Where is Cortez?”
“He got away I guess.” Shiori grunted. “Heh, he was always talented at that. Last I saw of him he was being treated by the street doc I left him with.”
“Shiori. How did you get captured?” Apricot asked, suspecting that there was more to it. However, she had a feeling Shiori was lying although she could not put her finger on it.
“Heh, I didn’t make it far. I dropped Cortez off and got jumped by the police about three blocks away,” Shiori said. “Hey this is a bit too much right now. I think I will sleep some.”
“How can you rest at a time like this?” Apricot blurted. To be able to sleep at this time, however, either signified good luck or that you had no control over the events that were unfolding.
Shiori chuckled. “Not much else to do. Might as well get rested for whatever comes next.”
“You can sleep when you are dead.” Hunter growled. “We need to figure out a way out of this mess.” Shiori laughed and laughed and laughed to the point it chilled Apricot to the bone. “What is so funny?” Hunter yelled.
“Can’t you see? We are already dead.”
Apricot felt the words ring harshly in her ear. Shiori did not have a means to save them. And Hunter had no means to save them either. They are as good as dead; Shiori was correct. The news was painful to hear. Even though Apricot had already realized it was true. The best they could do was rest. As Apricot puts her head on the cold floor, her eyes become soggy.
Sleep was broken by the rasping hands on Apricot’s forearm. She was hoisted to her feet as a voice grunted, “Get up.” Her surreal perception of the situation was clouded in a drowsy fog. After a few seconds, her eyes dangled open as she regained a semblance of her bearings. Suddenly, a loud holler was heard halfway down the hall. She is surrounded by sterile white walls, light above her. She blinked at a well-groomed man placing a black blindfold over her eyes. They don’t spend much time with her. “Get your mitts off of my face!” Shiori roared.
“Shut up.” The man said after Apricot heard Shiori retch guttural sounds.
There was something wet falling on the floor. “Heh,” someone laughed.
Another man grumbled, “Ah shit. Seriously, did you have to puke?” There was a loud thwack.
Suddenly, Shiori cried, and groaned, “Damn you!”.
“Hey, cut it out. Empress Kyo wants them alive.” Another man hissed.
“Yeah, yeah,” the voice of a girl replied.
With a hand on her back, a voice said, “Walk.” Wearing the blindfold added to the eerie experience. They traveled quite a distance in total darkness. Once she smelled the street rot and heard the twin doors opening, she realized that she was outside. At first, she considered screaming but eventually decided to play along. Her ears then heard the sound of a truck’s door opening. “Get them in the back.”
It was unclear exactly where she was or the direction she was being taken in. It’s obvious they are inside some kind of moving vehicle. She felt herself crashing in and out of touch. The smell of exhaust was present at first, but after the movement stopped, they led her down a few flights of stairs.
“Where are you taking us?” Shiori barked.
Shiori let out an audible gasp as Apricot hears what sounds like a punch. “Speak again and I’ll leave your tongue behind. That holds true for any of you.”
While she was a bit surprised at the length of the trip, she began to wonder exactly where they were being taken to. Suddenly anything that could be heard in the city disappeared. A low hum was audible throughout their journey, and it becomes louder as they advanced blindfolded.
She noticed the elevation changing as they descended what seemed like a series of ramps winding deeper and deeper. In the end, there was no doubt that they were headed toward a never-ending abyss. They had to descend thousands of feet below the city to the place where it all began. The cold air swept over her. As she crept closer, she realized that the narrow walls led to a larger room. When she was pressed against something cold and rigid, she realized the room was larger. After someone grabbed her by the arms, she felt another coil wrapped around her wrists. A hissing noise was heard as the mechanical device tightened, pinning her arms around a big pole. Then the blindfold was removed, revealing the light, causing her eyes a good bit of strain as they adjusted to the sudden brightness.
She found herself standing in a large white room her arms bound to something. There was an odd-looking device in the middle with a large circular mirror; polished black, reflecting everything around it. The ground lay flat at her feet with a trough-like depression leading to an open part of the ground. Afterward, her eyes flicked around the room and she saw that Shiori and Hunter are also bonded to similar poles with other people. After that, she noticed that the black-haired man Cortez knew was chained up as well. It made her heart skip a beat. The devil man was among them. Unfortunately, she did not know his name. Geno, Genva, or something like that. A sinister expression appeared on his face like he was trapped between his demon form and his mortal body.
She counts five armored guards in the room. Two of the guards remained stationed at a table adorned with metal and a large ceremonial blade. Suddenly, her attention was drawn to a group of people walking into view. In a red dress trimmed with gold, Kyo prances with a gleeful expression that’s tinged with madness. Immediately behind her was Natsukawa. A sly grin slowly appeared across her face as she saw Natsukawa’s scarred and wounded face. Shiori grumbled, “Well, she showed up today.”
“I demand to know what is going on? You can’t do this to us!” screams another young girl bound in chains.
Apricot was disgusted by Kyo’s obnoxious grin and how she moved along with that happy little jont. In the middle of the room, Kyo positioned herself before the altar. A long, cloth-wrapped object occupied both of her hands. When Apricot saw the item Kyo was carrying, she assumed it was some sort of relic or weapon. Rather than worrying about death, she worried about how it would be handled. Knowing Kyo’s passion for ritual, she guessed it would involve some kind of taboo torture to invoke some kind of secret power.
“When I get out of here, I will rip your spine out! I promise!” shrieked that Geno man, as his jaw elongated something that could be described as canine. As he spat a snarl, his body vibrated like he was having a seizure. The muscles on his body grew out, and he turned into the monster he had once been. It sent the girls chained next to him forlornly screaming for help.
Kyo tilted her head toward him with a coy glance, her eyes lining in bold eyeshadow. Makeup caked her face, giving her a look more like an artificial model than a person. In her excitement, she unwrapped the cloth and the devil’s smile appeared on her lips. With a pull of her hands, she unveiled a silver decorative knife resting in her hands. In front of her, Natsukawa bowed his head while holding his hands out wide. After slipping the blade into his hands, she walked over to the large black mirror and closed her eyes.
An empty well stood before her feet. With her hand on her neck, she grabbed a red orb attached to a necklace. After lifting it from her head, she hung it from the thin chain above the basin. “The blood of the dead for you to drink.” The red orb emanated a torrent of blood. Allowing the necklace to fall from her fingertips, Kyo plunged the orb into the growing fountain of blood. While the machine made an oscillating groan, a glowing light shone under the pond. Blue orbs flitted through the darkness far away as she twinkled in the black mirror behind her. She whispered, “I have prepared the way. It is time to finish this bridge to evermore. Natsukawa does the honors.”
His splintered face was etched with the painful results of taking a step forward. Geno let out a roar which resulted in him gaining an audience with Natsukawa. Looking at the giant man-eating beast, Natsukawa locked his gaze upon him. Slowly, he strode toward the monster in the posture of a butler. As Geno lunged toward Natsukawa, Apricot thought Geno had him but he escaped his grasp by inches. Natsukawa grinned hugely as the skin on his cheeks ripped exposing the muscle hidden beneath. The saliva dripping from Geno’s jaws covered his lapel. Almost inhumanly fast, Natsukawa pressed the side of the blade against Geno’s chest. Immediately it began to sizzle as Geno let out an agonizing cry. “Silver!” he screamed.
“Such a weakness for all the power you’ve been given by your pact.” Natsukawa laughed. “Does it seem worth it now? Your transmigrations have certainly been worthwhile.”
“What do you mean?”, Geno queried. Geno shrieked in agony with another bladestroke from Natsukawa. Geno seemed almost scared as his body seized up.
He smiled as he stepped away from the hideous beast. “You see. Without those arts, we never would have known the extent to which a person could be transformed. If we had known you could infuse people with Raka, we would have been producing our own blood for a sacrifice.” Natsukawa stared pensively into the face of a pretty young Uchellan. As Natsukawa’s torn up face occupied her attention, she wore a white paper mask of horror. “Nor would we have known how to find these witches.”
“Please, I am not a witch! I am nothing like that monster.” After that, he pressed the blade against her leg. She screamed and struggled with the same vigor as he did when it seared into her flesh. “See, witches like you, are perfect for sacrificing.” The other girl was drawn speechless from the terror before her.
He almost danced when he returned to Kyo’s side. “So, what the hell do you have planned? If you are about to cut our throats, then just get it over with.” Shiori snapped back with a face that showed pure indignation.
“You, Prince Kinjo, shall be last. I want to savor that strong facade falling to pieces as we butcher your friends but first, the strangers.” Kyo replied with a matter-of-fact tone.
Shiori snorted, “You think I care about anyone here.”
“I do.” Kyo sang. “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?him?him? she asked mockingly. Apricot observed Shiori’s steel-like face, which was unnerved. “What quiet now?” The stiffness in it told Apricot something was off. Could this be Shiori when he is afraid? Apricot’s heart was racing. She looked at Hunter who was relaxed. “You seemed so confident and proud when you thought your naive peasants had 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 was. 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 watched as Shiori bared his teeth in frustration. It was the first time she had ever seen him so composed. Behind his eyes, he was dying and she knew it.
“Natsukawa, I’m tired of waiting, let’s start with the big brute. I’m offended by that face.” Holding the knife in hand, Natsukawa walked over to Geno. He played with the edge of the blade a few times before piercing it into his right thigh. He stepped back as Geno’s arms rushed toward him. As Geno’s body immediately began to erupt in blood, the knife was washed clean and a river of blood immediately poured out. An intensive and steady flow poured out. As it flowed down the trough, it reminded Apricot of thin paint. The monster continued his fruitless snarls and snaps, though he grew slower as the blood flowed. His body eventually grew limp and pale. His snarling withered on the wind like an empty lighter. Natsumawa merely smiled as the light left his eyes. As if he were tasting a delicacy, he was able to appreciate it. He took the time to relish each taste before snapping to the next girl.
“Please, no!”, the girl cried with puffy sullied eyes. “I will do anything, let me go!” she yelled in exasperation as Natsukawa plunged the dagger into her eye. Apricot watched as he ripped at her, tearing her eye from its socket. A devastating cry of agony filled Apricot’s ears. When he raked the knife against her inner thigh, the blood flowed more rapidly out. Suddenly the third girl began screaming bloody murder as Natsukawa danced in front of her. The blood pooled at the front of the room in the center where there is a divot in the ground. When the blood fell inside the circle, it began to glow. Apricot noticed her arm burning. A purple flame shot forth igniting her body.
From her arm, she caught a glimpse of Kyo smiling and staring at the pool. In the same way that her body was surrounded by purple flames, hers was engulfed in red ones as well. Apricot could see Hunter’s eyes were fixed on the dying girl whose blood was draining from her body as she became pale and drowsy. “Shiori!”, Apricot said as she crossed the queue, as she was next.
Shiori’s gaze never wanders away; instead, he bears an ever-widening grin. As he broke, Apricot could almost feel the machine itself grinding into dust. Suddenly, a shriek erupted from the third girl, as Natsukawa plunged the dagger into her hip. “Shhhh,” he said softly. “It’s ok, you will be dead shortly.” Apricot watched him as he stepped over to her. Her eyes gazed downward as she struggled for her life. “Hello sweetheart,” Natsukawa said with a large smile. “Would you believe this is the one who scarred me?” he asked, looking at Kyo. Kyo however, was too occupied with the sickness of her bloodlust. “I shall enjoy sending you to hell. Heh, and no. My kindness won’t extend to just pricking you. Piece by bloody piece, I am going to dismember you.” He moved behind and reached for her left hand. “Starting with the tips of your fingers, we are going to saw away.”
Natsukawa’s attention is caught by the sound of boots walking down the hall. The guards immediately draw their guns and point them at the entrance. Her stomach was in knots when Apricot saw the man enter the room. As they approached him and tried to stop him from entering, he raised his hand, sent them all falling to the ground and they all died. “Who is this?” Kyo’s voice filled to the brim with anger.
“You are performing my ritual,” Urias said.
Kyo burst into tears of joy like a child being thrilled to see a long-lost parent. With both arms around him, she dove straight into his embrace. “You have returned.” Kyo cried out in anguish. “It’s been so long. I thought you were dead.”
“No Kyo, I’ve been here. Waiting, with the black god.” Urias murmured. The young woman backed away and her eyes became wide. When Apricot noticed the dagger sticking in Kyo’s stomach, her jaw dropped. Her words were inaudible as she struggled to keep them from falling out. In her dying breath, she let out a weak croak before falling back into the pool of blood. A gurgling shriek escaped her lips. As she struggled in the blood, she was overwhelmed by the red tide. At the edge of the pool, Natsukawa stood and stared. His eyes were filled with fascination. The last dying bubbles are observed as he lurched across the spring of blood.
As Natsukawa arose, he regained his balance. After a moment of thought, he looked at Urias, paused again, and burst into laughter. “And the bitch is dead!” he said. “Moments before she finishes the work nonetheless.” He stepped over the bloody rivers of blood toward Urias. “Drowned in her own sacrifice.” He cackled again. “No one’s left to complete this task.” Natsukawa’s tone grew acrid. “And I sure as hell am not going to let you do this.” He charged at Urias who dodged before grabbing him in the hand. “What going to rub me to death old man?”
As Natsukawa exploded, pieces of him fell all over the place. A pile of inverted flesh lay in front of Urias. Despite the distraction, he focused his attention on the group and brushed the gore off. “Hello Hunter,” he said unphased by the display. “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? Allow me to be your vessel, and see what I can do for you. Come and dwell in me!” Bang, Urias’s head stretched out revealing its disfiguring contents as he tumbled to the floor. Apricot glanced over to the entrance to see Solenne rushing in with her pistol drawn.
“Solenne!” Apricot screamed, her heart pounding. As Shiori rolled his eyes, he sighed heavily. Hunter’s eyes still shoned with terror.
As she looked around the room, Solenne’s face was filled with horror. However, Solenne shrugged it off and chose to look at the group. “I don’t know what the hell is going on, but we got to get you all down.”
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