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There was concrete and rubble along the sidewalk. A city once engulfed by skylines that stretched to the heavens appeared more like a junkyard to Apricot. While walking the blood-stained streets, she took in the sights of a freshly infected nightmare. Armed soldiers were removing bodies from the destroyed buildings along the long stretch of road. In the street, she saw a pair of men hoisting a body into the back of a large convoy truck. Inside, she saw an unbelievable number of dead eyes looking back at her. Stacked on top of one another like lumber.
A wise decision or a poor one? Did the reaper lie? That had to be the case. Suddenly, the world was without hope. Here they stood, the price of a new day. Without these wicked haunts, there will be peace. Despite any doubts in her mind, she knew that she had made the right decision. A teenaged Uchellen boy wearing a green shirt stared out the window. She saw her face meet his, and she knew they were both thinking the same thing. How do we proceed from here?
As she watched, a group of soldiers armed with guns marched past her. They paid her hardly any attention. It seemed everyone was focused on cleaning up. “I guess that is all we can do. Pick up the pieces and carry on regardless of what happened.” Apricot mused. She sees a group of young kids pick up small pieces of metal and carry them over to a dumpster, where their parents help them toss the scraps in.
She heard a woman weeping in the distance, probably in a state of regret over losing a loved one. The ending was not what Apricot hoped for. Sure, the threat was eliminated, but its mark will live on forever. But, lo and behold, there it was. It was a line, with people walking the streets as they should. There were no more ruins or rubble. Untouched by the terror that befell the city that dreadful night. Apricot was relieved to find that. Family, her family! Her eyes gleamed as she raced to her neighborhood as fast as she could.
When she opened the gate to her house, everything appeared in order. It was as if a warmth was filling her as she reached for the doorknob. As she wrangled her hand around the knob, she opened the front door. “Thank goodness.” she thought to herself. “Mom, Dad,” Apricot called out. “Jasper!” as she took a few steps inside, she shut the door behind her to see that the house was exactly in its place. As she walked down the hall, she looked into the kitchen. Upon peeking inside, there were no dishes in the sink. “Everyone must be still asleep.” she concluded.
Apricot opened the cupboard to grab a clean glass from the cupboard. Her first stop was the sink, where she poured a glass of cool water. While drinking, she leaned against the sideboard. There was something refreshing about the slight chill on her lips. When she glanced toward the hallway, she saw a shadow pass over the wall. “Jasper?” she called out.
There was no response. Having put the glass down on the sideboard, Apricot turned to enter the hallway. She could see a faint ripple in the morning sunlight in the living room. As the shadow slowly disappeared across the wall, she watched. Turning from the kitchen, she looked into the living room from the hallway. Her view was restricted by the entryway, and she had to approach more closely. She called out, “Mom,” as she stepped forward. Still no reply. “Dad?” she questioned. The moment she stepped into the living room, she turned her head to see a disfigured humanoid holding Jasper in its claw. Both her parents were tied together in the corner of the room. As she stared up at the thing, part of its face was missing. Its lower lip hangs several feet from its head, exposing its sharp teeth. Its neck stretched out as if it had dislocated, like a gooseneck faucet. Its eyes were hollow and white with blood. The other side of its mouth was on its throat and one arm was missing. Although it looked as though his body flesh was melting like wax, it was still clearly flesh.
“Hello, apostle.” Urias said in an eerie voice. The girl’s eyes grew wide. She had no idea what to make of it. “I was waiting for you.” He said raspily.
Apricot clenched her fist. It was as though she had locked eyes with the horror in front of her. “Let my family go.” she insisted.
Absent pupils, she could not tell how his eyes were looking. “I can’t sense the black god anymore.” he groaned. “Where is he?”
She furrowed her brow in irritation. “Put my little brother down now.”
“I don’t think he is here anymore. I think, you made him go away.” He grinned, exposing his gums above his teeth in the process. “I think, you are responsible for all this. You ruined everything,” he mused.
“How are you alive?” Apricot asked.
A childish laugh emanated from Urias. “Oh, I didn’t. I have been dead for a long time. Join me,” He exclaimed throwing Jasper from his grasp. He screamed as he crashed into the wall and knocked pictures down with him. Using one clawed hand, Urias charged at Apricot. After a short hesitation, she jumped into the hallway. As he moved, he snapped his many mouths. Drool dripped from their mouths and reminded her of weeping sores.
Another lunge from Urias was directed at Apricot. The girl dodged his arm, backing into the kitchen. He sauntered into the room quickly. “I expected more from you Apricot. It seems you have lost your powers. Mmmmm, no more favors from the black god aye?” he cackled. On the counter, Apricot pulled a pair of knives from a wood block. “Oooo,” Urias groaned. “You sure about wanting to fight me? But then again I am sure your blood will be enough to call him back.”
Taking both knives, Apricot charged at Urais with a shrill scream. Kicking her in the thigh, she tumbled backwards. Urias regarded her with a cocked head as she covered herself. He took a swipe at her, catching her by surprise, and she slashed at his throat. Using both hands, she blocked his claw-like fingers. After snapping back his claw, he nicked her in the ribs. A loud noise of meat ripping filled Apricot’s ears. It was intense, but not enough to cause any significant damage. After ducking low for another strike, she was grabbed by his hand, Urias’s arm pinning her to the ground.
After that, he picked up her body and threw it against the wall. His follow-through on her arm left her with no time to recover after he was standing over her. Her body ached while holding the gaping wound with exposed muscles oozing. As she snapped her head up and saw Urias standing over her, she struck him once more. Her swing through the open air was completely missed because he stepped back. As she went round for another strike, Urias sidestepped her attack and raked his claws across her back. Her jacket was sliced open, exposing her shirt and torn skin underneath.
Urias came at her again, causing her to bend over as she suffered from the pain. She grabbed his wrist and held it up. By raking the other knife against his pale stomach, she penetrated the flesh. It became sliced open, releasing an awful odor. Stepping back, he examined her with an open jaw. With his lower lip dangling, he gazed at her. The little spear-like points of his teeth reminded her of a fish’s mouth. As she gazes into his damaged body, she can see that his insides are writhing with life. Black bubbling blood seeped out from the center like sap dropping from a tree.
Apricot was hit by Urias as she was standing on the counter top and several objects fell on the ground. Urias eventually latched on to Apricot’s throat. Taking both knives, she stabbed them into his wrist, ripping through his forearm. Urias released the grip, but he did not back away. Using the counter, Apricot kicked him in the face, causing him to fly through the air and into her refrigerator. She let out a groan as the burning pain in her stomach sent her off the counter onto her feet.
Urias leapt toward her again, reaching out a split hand for her neck. As Apricot dropped to her knees, she stabbed both knives into his lower calves, raising them up the length of his legs. The man fell backward onto the ground screaming in pain. When Apricot collapsed onto his horrid body, he slashed both knives against his throat, cutting off his head. As Urias turned up, he let out a shrill gasp.
After rising to her feet, Apricot looked down at the head that was gripped by gasps. Seeing the desperate movements, she raised her foot and stomped on his skull as if it were a grapefruit. Taking several puffs of air, Apricot caught her breath, feeling her body seethe with rage. As Apricot walked into her living room covered in blood, she saw her parents taped up in the corner. “I think it’s over now.”
Apricot’s mind flashed images of a dull burgundy glow as she rubbed her eyes in slumber. In the background, an annoying buzzing continued to ring in her ears. After a period of deep sleep, she opened her eyes and saw a red glow and a shade of purple obscuring her room. While ignoring the time, her head turned to her alarm clock and she touched the alarm button with her hand. When she removed her covers, she felt the slab patches on her. Looking out of the window, she saw blue skies. “It’s nice to see the morning without fear again,” she said.
Rolling out of bed Apricot strolled to her closet looking through her clothes. She grabbed a red and white striped shirt throwing it onto her bed along with a pair of black jeans with several fashionable tears down the legs. She looked over at her clothes giving a soft smile.
First time eating breakfast at home since she was released from the hospital. Upon walking down the stairs, she noticed the familiar aroma of her mother’s home-cooked salmon and green onion miso. Shyly, she stepped into the kitchen. “Good morning,” Apricot said incapable of looking at her family.
Her mother entered the living room with a plate of cooked rice. “Apricot can you get the soup kettle?” Her father was already seated at the table next to Jasper. Apricot lowered her eyes to the floor with a smile as she placed a kettle on the table. Sitting next to her mother, Apricot bowed her head.
As Apricot glanced back at Jasper, a smile was beaming on his face. Jasper was wearing a white collar around his neck. “Are you like a superhero or something?”
“No,” Apricot softly replied.
“Well, you saved our lives. I consider you my hero.” Jasper said with a smile. His eyes welled up with tears. Apricot furrowed her brow in surprise.
In an attempt to control the feelings welling up inside of her, she snapped, “That is not very manly little boy.”
Her response caused Jasper’s jaw to drop. “What! I am a man.” Apricot smiled. It was, indeed, home. “Dad tell her!”
Apricot was filled with joy as she heard the morning banter. Her eyes were ablaze as she marveled at this moment. She felt comforted as she listened to the mundane conversation of her parents. Jasper’s little nerd remarks were amusing. Exactly how it was supposed to be. After all, the nightmare was over.
The vibrations from her leg prompted her to draw out her phone from her side and see the words “Okabe Government” displayed. Closing her eyes, she realized how fast good things ended. The moment of serenity had gone.
White marble floors glistened like silver throughout the Okabe capitol building. Each of them was immaculately polished. As she walked the hall alone, she admired the pictures and artwork that lined the walls. However, they left her feeling uncomfortable. She tried to forget the faces of those whose lives she had ended. Additionally, the odor of the building was uncomfortable. It was hard for her to identify it, but it reminded her of something like pepper. Her throat closed as she approached the high council’s conference room, just as it had done before.
Weirdly, they allowed her to turn up voluntarily. Even if she wanted to escape, she couldn’t. Upon entering the courtroom, she was plunged into black and white. There was a silver gray and black palette everywhere. The large light fixtures above rendered the room pure white, their light nearly blinding Apricot. A circle of long, metallic desks surrounded the room’s floor. They sat a few young children at each of them. The middle child is probably around the age of thirteen.
“Apricot Signa, thank you for your cooperation,” he said firmly.
Apricot inspected each member of the council and found no one older than the boy in the middle. Would children be making decisions about her life? Could this be possible? “Your welcome, pardon, but I do not know how to address you,” she said, unsure of what she was in for.
“Forgive me, I am not familiar with these formalities myself. My name is Yushio Okabe. I am the inaugurate emperor.” He sighed. “These circumstances are, unusual. I ask that you bear with me.”
Apricot bowed knowingly. “Of course.” she said. Inaugurate, that’s right. Kyo was gone. It was impossible to establish a formal emperor at this point in time. Therefore, this young boy was forced into the position. This made sense, but no sense was made by the other children.
“The events that have unfolded in the last few months have been a long series of unfortunate events. The results of which have ravaged the lives of everyone living in Okabe. You are one of the few people living to have first-hand knowledge of these events.” Apricot felt her hands tingle a bit. “There are holes in our investigation. You see, the last administration did not leave us clear records. We do have a thorough understanding of your role in this. Empress Kyo had a clear interest in you, and Shiori of the Kinjo clan as well. Do you have any knowledge of this?”
“I do.” Apricot said, acknowledging the need to be honest.
His head nodded in agreement. “Good, well, I understand they arrested you for an act of terrorism against the Okabe government. Shiori Kinjo, along with a small group of people attempted to usurp the rightful rule of the Okabe family. Were you in fact a willing participant in that act?”
She bowed sheepishly without saying a word.
“Interesting. What you may not be aware of, perhaps you are, Empress Kyo murdered my grand uncle. Mitsura Okabe. She was in fact a rebel herself. Her actions were vile. Look around Apricot. All of us were touched intimately by these events. This is what remains of the Okabe empire. We are children, not rulers. Everyone else however is dead. It is left for us to uphold the family name and carry on a lasting tradition.” His face remained stone cold. “We understand our history. You have spent years investigating those subjects. A skill I am quiet aware that you hold a degree in. You must have known at that time of the corruption that found a home in our household.” Apricot hesitates. “Our council has spent several hours deliberating on what exactly to do with you. You are a liability.” he said to Apricot.
As her chest tightened, she felt a sharp pain. She felt as if someone was squeezing every vein in her body at once. “I will make a deal with you. I will offer you a complete and total pardon for all the crimes you have committed. In return, you will never talk about the reality of the incident to anyone ever again. Do I have your agreement?”
“That sounds fair, I agree.” Apricot said feeling like she dodged a bullet.
He nodded. “I foresee no further action from the Okabe government regarding you. For your comfort, I will inform you that we are dismantling everything Kyo and Mitsura had assembled. While there was disagreement among the council regarding my planned actions, we agree that what they tried to achieve was pure madness. There will be no more insane projects going forward while under my rule. However, on another note. We have yet to locate Shiori Kinjo, who is of particular interest to us. You would not know of his whereabouts?”
“I do not.” Apricot solemnly said. While seated next to the young boy, he glanced over at the girl next to him.
“She is telling the truth.” Looking into a screen, the girl remarked.
“All right,” he groaned wearyly. “Our conclusions must be true. Shiori has escaped in secret back to the Kinjo clan. Apricot, I have restored your citizenship to Okabe. Your social credit has been restored to its former value as well. Your jade marks have also been returned to you in full. Your license as a journalist has been permanently revoked. You are prohibited from participating in any form of journalism. I hope you understand seeing as how things are. I would consider you a hero if not for the circumstances that led up to these events.” Apricot swallowed hard and felt a lump in her throat. While holding back tears, she knew that her future had just been ripped away. However, she realized journalism was something she couldn’t return to after what she had experienced. “However, as a consolation, I have arranged for you to receive your full pension as though you had fulfilled your duty as a state journalist. I suggest you pursue a life abroad or whatever life you would have wanted instead of journalism. You may leave.”
Apricot sat surrounded by her friends with a half-savored burger in her hands. A burrito was wrapped around Machi’s mouth as she struggled to bite into the steak inside. “So, as I said, I got this new issue of Eerie Truths! No more Claw Fingers sightings, but check this one!” Bonni tossed the mag onto the picnic table. “The valkyrie of Okabe!”, the headline read. Although there are a number of images of a girl, their static made it virtually impossible to see any details. “It’s like we got a superhero!” Bonni exclaimed.
As Apricot smiled to herself, she remained silent. “Thank goodness for Akagi.”
Snapping her head back, Machi swallows the wad down as she chews her food. “Bonni, you can’t even see anything in the pictures! It could be just some random person.” She barked.
“Pshh! Like whatever Machi!” Bonni retorted. “A monster could slap you in the face and you would deny it even existed. What about the monsters who attacked the city a few weeks ago?”
“Everyone knows it was a chemical hallucination. People just erupted into a frenzy.“ Machi responded to Bonni. Solenne gave Apricot a knowing smile. The blush that Apricot wore on her face diminished as she realized Solenne could not be lied to anymore. That, for some reason, made her feel comforted.
“Girls, girls, does it really matter?” Sato said, attempting to diffuse the situation.
“Shut up, Sato!” the two yelled at him together.
“Well, that is something they agree on.” Apricot laughed.
Sato rubbed his head, smirking. “So what do you say we go to a late-night movie?”
From the other side of the street, Hunter gave a slight nod to her and then climbed into the shadows of an ally. A smile appeared on Apricot’s face. “Sorry Sato, but I got a night shift again; clean up duty. You know how it is.”
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