Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 23

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Chapter 23

Some Day, Dominion

Throughout Apricot’s core, the muted touch of slumber permeated. The warmth of her stomach washed over her as she lingered in the darkness of her sleep. Her eyes were shut tightly, and her body rested. Nothingness, broken, by a sharp burning pain in the back. She opened both eyes and mouth in exhalation. Panic pushed her up with its anxious arms. Stumbling from the icy smooth concrete dust-slathered ground, the sharp pain in her side made her fall to her knees.

“You‘re alive,” Cortez coughed. She turns to her left and sees him propped up against a wall, holding on to his side. In a V-shape, his legs were spread. “You got to get that kid. “That cloaked freak is evil.” He covered his stomach with a scarlet river flowing between his legs. “Run before it’s too late.”

Despite seeing spots, Apricot sprung to her feet and made her way down the hallway. After gaining her second wind, her stride changed into a limping trot. It was as if her muscles protested against the pain running through her body. Singing similar to opera filled the corridor leading to the underground city. Apricot had never heard such a language before; it is off-putting to her. As she neared the city, the voice became clearer; it was that of the old man.    

On entering the shrine, Apricot saw the old man standing at the altar and a short, black-haired boy lying on top of a concrete slab. “What are you doing!?” Apricot shouted.

“I must thank you. I couldn’t have caught this one on my own.” the old man’s gratitude tasted like poison. “The boy opposes our Lord, the black god. I am glad that you are able to witness this event.”

Her back was still burning from the attack he had inflicted on her earlier. While he grinned at her, she clutched her fist tightly. “Who are you?” she asked as the elder rubbed the edge of his dagger with a childlike curiosity.

“If you must know my name is Urias.” Apricot recoiled from the name and scrunched her face. “You know my name. Brilliant.” Urias laughed with a drawl that sounded like bile. “With the death of this boy, the black god will accept me as his host. Watch me become a god!” he roared, raising his knife to the sky. Apricot’s heart skipped a beat as she lunged across the sanctuary hall and the man plunged the dagger directly toward the boy’s chest. A purple blade of flame emerged from Apricot’s arm, slicing its way through his forearm. When the arm fell to the ground, the fingers spread out to release the dagger. Screaming loudly, the old man steps backwards while holding his bleeding wound.

Taking hold of the boy in both arms, Apricot lifted him off the alter, paying him no mind. While he is heavy, she nevertheless carries him through the ruined cathedral. “It’s gonna be alright, kid,” Apricot murmured, unsure if the boy even heard her. The dragging of Urias’s limp could be heard behind her. He called to her as he said, “Wait, you don’t know what you’re doing! You’ve got to kill the boy.” She ignored the crazed man and kept walking. Taking it for granted, she assumed the crazed occultist was close at hand. The boy was ferried out of the city and to the corridors above so Apricot could return to the others.

The sound of Cortez growling could be heard as she approached. “You owe me more than those damn rubies.”

After hearing Shiori’s laughter, she sighed with relief. “Maybe I should just let you bleed out in that case.”

“Real funny,” Cortez said as he turned to see Apricot. “Hey,” He said then he gently slapped Shiori across the chest.

Shiori turned to Apricot as she set the boy down, smiling at her. “Is he dead?”

She shook her head. “We will take him back.”

“Why not just kill him now?” Shiori asked.

“I agree with Apricot, let’s hear him out first.” Cortez shrugged, still holding his gut. “That man stabbed me. Ranted about how the black god would be so pleased with his catch. That with the death of the boy no one would have the knowledge to stop his greater work.”

“He told me something along those lines as well. That man down there Shiori is Urais Heldric.” Shiori raises an eyebrow. “I think we might have got things wrong.”

“So where is old Urias, anyway?” Shiori asked.

“Bleeding somewhere down there. I cut his arm off with my spirit weapon. Which troubles me a bit. I have never been able to do that before with a human being.” Apricot mused.

She stroked Shiori’s chin as if deep in thought. “It does not much matter. Do you think he is in a condition to follow?”

“If he tries to get up here without treatment, I am pretty sure he will bleed out. I don’t think he will be a problem.” Apricot said coldly. As the boy’s chest rose and fell with heavy strokes, she gazed down at him.

Upon opening his eyes, he immediately tries to sit up. As Shiori lunged at the boy, he slammed his head against the ground while placing his foot on the boy’s neck. “Cool it, kid.”

“I am not a kid!” He screamed while clutching both hands onto Shiori’s leg as he wrestled to remove it. The boy cried out as Shiori pressed harder onto his neck, “Get off me.”

“You’re lucky to be alive. Apricot just saved your ass.” Shiori gestures with his nose to Apricot. “If I had it my way, I would have killed you.”

“I won’t let you summon the black god!” he croaked amidst his struggle. A futile attempt to throw Shiori off of him leads to him trying to kick and buck with his legs.

“Calm down.” Shiori applied more pressure to the kid’s neck, completely suffocating him. His face became red and his eyes watered as his struggles became limp.

“Shiori get off him now! You’re about to kill him.” Apricot shouted, pushing Shiori in the chest. This irritates him, but he does not remove his foot. “He is freaked out. Also, Urias wants him dead too. I want to hear what he has to say.”

As Shiori let go of the boy’s neck, he barked, “I saw what you did. You‘re all murderers. You killed people!” With a look of disgust, Shiori lifted his foot from the boy. He sat up at once and looked around at the group.

Apricot glanced down at the kid. “How old are you?”

“Fourteen. You should have died at the supermarket. I should have known then that you were a servant of the black god.” The boy glances between the group.

Apricot thinks to herself, “The supermarket.” Looking at him, she suddenly recalls the boy she helped when the phantom attacked her three years ago. After so much time, she almost forgot about it. “Hold on, I know you.”

“You’re pretty slow,” he grunted. As Shiori glanced at Cortez, he rolled his eyes.

Despite his rudeness, Apricot ignores it. “What do you mean about being a servant?”

“Don’t play dumb with me! I know you serve the black god! He was with you during the attack.”

Just then, Shiori’s eyes got really wide. Looking directly into the kid’s eyes, he asked, “What’s your name?”

”Hunter.” he said under his breath. “You will regret what you have done. You won’t be forgiven, you are all cursed. You might be able to kill me but he is going to betray you. Then we will see who is laughing.”

Apricot furrowed her brow. “We don’t want to hurt you. Well, at least I don’t want to.”

“Liar!” he screamed.

Shiori yanked Hunter’s hair. “Why are you breaking the seals if you are so worried about the black god”? Suddenly the boy flung his head from Shiori’s grasp and leapt to his feet. When he tried to run, Shiori caught his ankle and pulled him down. As he hit the ground hard, Apricot winced. “Answer me! Why are you trying to break all the seals?!” Shiori pulled Hunter in front of him flipping his body over while viciously grabbing Hunter by the throat and holding him down. “I am done playing! I want answers!”

“It’s what keeps him bound here.” Hunter choked out.

The tightening grip of Shiori around his neck was deafening. “So you are releasing him!” Apricot looked at him in surprise. “What did I tell you!” He is full of that animalist fury she saw once.

“No,” Hunter gasps while struggling against Shiori’s grasp. “It will suck him back into the other world.” Shiori loosened his grip. The Okabe family sealed the black god here many years ago. It feeds off the seals. They are made by sacrificing people and tying them to him. He would not be able to survive without them. The Okabe family is evil. They want to make their own world using him. He, however, is tricking them. They were promised a new world, but really he wants to merge the dead world with the living one. By breaking the barrier between worlds they will sacrifice both worlds. He will become the god of the new world.”

Shiori pondered it. “Why would Urias want you dead?”

“Urias was his pawn. Still is. He went mad. The ritual failed, and the sacrifice was incomplete. The ritual only broke a hole between worlds. But it did not merge them. In spite of this, the inhabitants of that world can now enter ours due to the black god. Having been weak after the ritual, he had to use most of his power to create the hole. After that, he could barely function. As he waited deep beneath the city in the tunnels, he slowly gained strength. He has been feeding on all the pain and tragedy beneath the city for years. He tricked people into believing he was helping them. That energy is held in the seals. Without the seals, he cannot remain here and will fade back into his world. If I break all the seals, he will be defeated.”

Shiori snorted, putting a hand over his eye, letting go of Hunter. He raised his head to look at the ceiling. “So, the reaper is the black god. We have been duped.” Both Cortez and Apricot stare at Shiori with wide eyes. “Think about it. He was fine until these seals broke. Now he is using Cortez’s blood to sustain himself and he has gone dormant. He needs to regain his energy. The kid is our ally.”

“What? What kind of trick is this?” Hunter yelled. “You just tried to kill me!”

Apricot said to Hunter. “We work together. Put an end to this black god. The Okabe family can’t perform their rituals anymore, so they are out of the picture. If we break that last seal, it is all over.” 

“The only problem is I don’t know where that last seal is. It will be someplace the black god guards. I was searching the tunnels for the seal. I ran into you though.” Hunter said uncomfortably. “I’m also looking for Urias’s soul device. It’s down here somewhere. If we destroy it, this won’t happen again.” Hunter told the group.

Shiori raised an eyebrow. “The soul device?”

“The machine that caused the Blue Ash Crisis. It’s called the Mantra or soul device. It reaches into other worlds. Thins the barrier between them sort of.” Hunter explained.

“So what we need to do is find the seal and break that machine,” Cortez grumbled. “Do things keep peeling like a damn onion or does this nightmare never end?”

“I think I know where it is.” Apricot chirped, grabbing everyone’s attention. “I mean the seal, it is in the shrine where the reaper sleeps. I think at least. I could be wrong though.” Apricot told them.

“Only one way to know for sure. However, I can‘t investigate it. I will need your help.“ Hunter said.

Shiori turns her head to Hunter with a downturned expression. “Why can’t you investigate it?”

Hunter shook his head and grunted. “You’re not that bright either I see.” Apricot chuckled as she couldn’t recall the last time she heard a stranger talk to Shiori like that.

As for Cortez, he laughed a tiny bit at the same time. “Damn it hurts. Don’t make me laugh.” He moaned.

“If the black god is there, he will kill me.” Hunter grinned. “So you need to be there for me.”

“Of course, I can do it,” Apricot replied immediately.

“Okay, so it always takes the form of a ring. This ring is usually large. Like the summoning circle the Okabe family used for their ritual. Can you recall how that looked? You can take a picture of it and show it to me on your phone. I’ll be able to identify it then. You believe you can do it?” Apricot nods in agreement.

“While you are doing that Apricot, I will get Cortez to a street doc. Hunter, you wait here. Stay away from Urias, please. If you get caught, I swear I will kill you myself.” Shiori threatened. Hunt smiled hesitantly. After that, everyone went their separate ways.

The bricks against Shiori’s back remind him of the cool winters at the shrine where he grew up. His mind drifted to the pure scent of the mountain’s snow. He longed for those mornings again. Passing by the alleyway, he noticed that the street was still quiet, without the usual early morning traffic. Looking back toward Cortez, he heard him rasping his breath as he limped. He said, “Come on. It’s not much further. Try to keep your cough at bay.”

“It better be, I’m feeling a little lightheaded.” Cortez scrambled as he stumbled step by sloppy step leaving a trail of crimson drops behind. As his legs dragged, his stomach tightened, causing Cortez to let out a distressed groan. The deep laceration burned with every painful step.

The sight of Cortez suffering so pathetically made Shiori express a slight leer. Strolling over to Cortez, he lifted him up over his head with his right arm. Assisting or rather pulling Cortez, Shiori quickened the pace. They rush through the crumbling alley, over the cracked and decaying surface. They kept repeating this several times until they stood in front of an old store window full of old appliances from another era.

Shiori pushed the door open first, followed closely by Cortez. “Hey,” Shiori shouted. “I got rice for you.” There was no response in the empty shop.

“Your street doc ain’t here.” He grunts, slumped against the side of a shelf holding himself up as blood drips off his shirt.

As Shiori walked toward the back of the room, he growled, “He isn’t out. Now where the hell is he?” A man in a blue button-up shirt stepped out of the back of the store with a shotgun. “Wo, what is this?”

“Get the hell out,” the man shouted to Shiori.

Shiori shakes his head in frustration. “I have a friend who is bleeding out. I will pay twice the normal rate. Get him patched up for me will you?”

“You are hot,” the man growled. “Get the hell out now, or I’ll send you down a drain.”

A sigh escapes Shiori’s lips. “He is dying. At least treat my friend. I will get gone, ok.”

Cortez smirked slightly at the two fighting. A black spot encroached on his vision and caused it to blur. As he turns to the window, Cortez notices a patrol car slowly coasting down the road. “Hey, we got wet streets outside.”

He stood up and moved to the other side of the shelf. Taking a look at the man, Shiori glanced back over his shoulder. “You enjoy housing fugitives?” Shiori said with a smirk.

“I will turn you in.” the man grumbled.

Shiori grinned confidently while placing his chest against the barrel of the man’s shotgun. “Go for it. After what I have done to the Okabe family, do you think they will let you live?” The man placed the shotgun barrel to his throat. “Let’s gamble.” Shiori snickered. “Care to.”

Sweat dripped from the man’s brow. “That’s what I thought,” Shiori replied, flicking the beads off his head. “Patch up my friend, before I get ugly.”

Dust blows from the polished white stones of the unkempt shrine courtyard. The reaper lies lifeless before the altar where Apricot last saw him. While approaching the object, Apricot thought to herself, “He’s still at rest.” His red and purple colors have almost faded in this state. His beaked mask obscured his face as he hung dangling from his slumped-over form. While exploring the courtyard, Apricot pulled out her phone to snap pictures of the tiles.

Over the ground are several small symbols about the width of a pen. Is this the seal they’re searching for? Did she actually get it right? Grinning, she realizes that she was correct. Static covers the screen of her phone as the surrounding air becomes warmer. The heat grew so quickly that she felt as if she was sweltering out of her clothes. Weakly, the reaper lifted its head. He whispered, “Apricot.”.

Taking a closer look at the object, she turns around. “I see that you’ve woken up,” she said.

“I has’t, little, has’t thee did finish, Okabe?” his voice became more challenging to hear. It was evident his weakness. Apricot nodded slowly. “Is the seal breaker dead?”

Her heart welled up inside her throat as she replied, “No.” She felt a wave of terror wash over her; almost certain that it was the black god. It was clear that he manipulated her for his own ends. In this weakened condition, she still wanted to take his life. As she refused the urge, her anger rose to her fingertips.

Using his metallic claw, he gently touched Apricot’s hand. “Hie swiftly issue. Time runs short.”

Apricot nodded. “I found him.”

“Has’t thee?  Wherefore has’t thee not hath killed him?” he growled. “What has’t I command’d of thee!  Didst I not instruct thee to end their life!  The fate of the ordinary depends on their end.”

Apricot smiled half-heartedly, “I came to report we are tracking him now.  He lives below in the tunnels.”

“In the tunnels thee sayeth? Sadly, yond is one lodging I cannot wend. Nevertheless, i am too weak to travel anyways. Beest quick, I am dying and cannot sustain much longer. The ordinary shall falleth into chaos without me holding back the phantoms.”

“Of course. I will return when he is dead.” Apricot told the reaper. The reaper slumped back down lifeless. She looked away from him as she walked away, half expecting him to stab her in the back. At least he can’t read minds, or at least she hopes he can’t.

The street doctor plunges the hot end of a hand-held instrument into Cortez’s skin while he screamed loudly. As his flesh was abruptly burned shut, it sounded like the loud hiss of grilled meat. “Damn you!” He hollered, mouth agape in pain.

“Kid, you’re lucky to be alive with stabs like that. I can’t do much for the torn muscle you just gotta let the machines do their job,” Cortez grunted, pulling the cautery device from his stomach. “Don’t touch it.” The Doc looked up at Shiori. “Put a wet rag on it will ya,” he said as he walked from the metal desk to a nearby refrigerator. “I got derms for you. Expensive but I am sure your friend here can afford it.”

Shiori said sharply while holding a wet towel. “Only the best.” Shiori spread a towel out over the burns. The man jumps up and grabs the towel when he feels the wet towel placed on his stomach. “Contain yourselves!” Shiori commanded, grasping his arms. “You will be fine in a moment. Just bear it.”

“It burns man,” Cortez said, his eyes filled with tears. “It burns like a hot iron.”

“It was a hot iron,” Shiori smirked.

Cortez’s face frowned into a scowl. “The hell man, why don’t you try it?” He said retching his arms away and grasping the iron device.

Taking a step back, Shiori said, “Shit,” as he blew a tiny puff of air.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Cortez growled putting the iron down.

The Doc walked over holding what looks like a large piece of bacon. Almost knocking Cortez off the table, the Doc’s hand slammed into Cortez’s face. The Doc stared at Cortez in shock. “If you touch it again, I’ll shove it down your damn throat.” he roars. “Now lie on the table,” he ordered. “What type of company do you keep “Lord” Kinjo.”

“He is for entertainment value alone,” Shiori said with a smirk.

As the towel is pulled off Cortez’s stomach, the nerve endings on his clean flesh are revealed. Shiori can barely look at the macabre display of porphyria before him. After slapping the flesh on top of Cortez’s stomach, the man skillfully massages it in. Within seconds, the strange material covered Cortez’s stab wounds and molded into his side. The strained expression on Cortez’s face fades away. “Don’t scratch it. Your guts will fall out,” he said. “Also, take a break for a few weeks. I’m sure you’ll be fine. Now get your asses out of my shop.”

As the Doc approached the front door, Cortez got up and walked away from the table. Yet Shiori kept an eye on him. “You will be rewarded greatly for this,” he said. “I guarantee it. After all, this blows over.” The Doc just smiled with a half-grin.

“Don’t sweat it,” he grunted. “I am a good hostage.”

After exiting the room, Shiori entered the main shop. Cortez looked at Shiori with a smirk on his face. Shiori then asked, “What is that smirk for?”

“You saved my life. I thought you cared only about yourself,” Cortez said.

As Shiori looked down his nose, he frowned. “What? Doesn’t a good master not take care of his dog?” He said as he walked by Cortez.

“Is that how it works?” laughed Cortez.

Shiori surveyed the street from her storefront as he watched a rippling wave. A second wave followed. As if a short tide of water floated by the storefront. Before he screamed, his eyes widened. “Get down!”

As Shiori dove on Cortez, he felt Cortez’s head explode as a bullet pierced the space between his eyes. “Cortez!” Shiori shouted in a tearful yelp the warmth of his blood splattering him. As the bullets flew, the room was ripped apart. Cortez’s headless body was spraying blood as he hit the ground hard. “You bastards!” he shrieked. “You Bastards!” Shiori screamed, pulling the segmented staff out of his sleeve.

“No, no, no, no!” Hunter’s worried voice echoed down the hall. Approaching the bend, Apricot rushed down the corridor, her heart sinking. When she came upon Hunter, everything seemed fine at first, except for Hunter’s wandering gaze. When she examined closer, it appeared that his sigils had been destroyed by a series of sharp claw strikes. His eyes grew large as he turned to Apricot. “It’s not safe to be here,” he said in a panic. “The ghosts will come.”

As Apricot shook her head, she sighed. “There is no more running Hunter.” She lowered her gaze. “It’s time we were on the attack. Let’s deal with Claw Fingers.” Apricot looked at him with serious eyes. In the dull light, Hunter’s eyes are teary and glistening.

“Where are we going?” Hunter asked Apricot.

Apricot keeps marching forward, “We are going by train. That shrine I went to check out. It’s the last seal. I am sure of it.” She pulled out her phone and brought up the picture with a few taps on the screen. “The reaper, he is the black god. There is no question anymore. To think he got me into this mess and is orchestrating every detail of my nightmare.” Holding up the screen, Hunter inspects it, his eyes widening in enjoyment. “Don‘t get too excited yet. I don’t think this is going to be all that easy.”

“I know. He will try to kill me. I will need you to distract him while I get ready to perform the breaking.” Hunter explained.

Apricot folded her arms as she walked out of the corridor. “I kind of expected that. Truthfully, I’m not disappointed by that.” Hunter covered his eyes as he reached the surface. “It’s been a while since you have seen sunlight, huh?”

“I suppose you could say that.” Jumping over a barrier, Hunter ran ahead to assist Apricot. He held her hand as she crossed the barrier. Her cheeks began to flush a little bit. Her thoughts turned to how gentlemanly he is. However, he is still too young to develop any kind of interest in her.

Throughout Apricot’s walk, she felt her heart pound. Whenever someone’s gaze met hers, she felt a sense of dread. There is only one hope for her: Akagi is still working hard to keep them from being detected. On that note, she wondered how Cortez and Shiori are doing. For a while, they seemed to disappear from her mind. Despite feeling guilty about that, it was not pertinent now. All they had achieved was laid out before them. Her nightmare would soon be over. Or at least the immediate threat would be over.

Using his hands to pull the hood down over his head, Hunter led the way to the train. “Apricot, what happens afterward?” Hunter asked.

“I was just thinking about that myself,” Apricot said. “I am not sure. I think my life is over but you can still run away from all this.” Hunter’s face fell. “The train platform is not far from here,” Apricot told Hunter trying to get his mind off her rather grim revelation.

There were hardly any passengers on the cart Apricot and Hunter rode this morning. Those at the front are mostly salaried men on their way to work. The ones closest to them had a criminal bent. Apricot leaned back in the spongy seat and felt her ankles burning slowly, a slight stiffness taking control of her. Among the cart’s occupants are three men dressed in commoners’ street clothes. A group of delinquents where chatting with each other. As they kept looking in Apricot’s direction they chittered further. Eventually, they began their trek toward the back of the cart. She tucked her fingers gently into her sleeve, readying a blade. Her fear was a thing of the past; now they are merely an irritation, posing no real danger. As they sat around the pair, Hunter nervously glanced at the group.

“Hey there, cutie. What are you doing with the kid? He’s your bro or something?” one guy asked. He has rotten teeth and a festering odor that reminded her of spoiled meat.

“I am not her brother,” Hunter said defensively. “Now get lost.”

They chuckle at each other. One of them snarkily commented, “Wow, tough guy.” More laughter ensued.

“Think she is a kiddie fiddler?” Apricot flushed and narrowed her eyes. “Wo, I think she is, man.”

As the man with bad breath barked, “Well, kid you gotten lucky with her?”

“Shut up!” Apricot said the guys laughed and slapped the seats without a second thought. She repeated, “Shut your mouth.”

“Wo, girl, calm down. I am sure the boss has work for a kiddie fiddler like you.” said one of the larger men. The man stood to his full height, an impressive six and a half feet at least. Apricot arched her back into the seat, shielding Hunter. “What, I don’t wanna hurt ya. How about both of you come with me?” He asked taking a step forward into her reach. In a flash, he let out a loud yell as Apricot charged him, pressing a throwing knife against his throat.

“Back the hell up or I’ll slit your throat!” She snarled.

One guy yelled, “Holy shit.”. Apricot was filled with a prideful warmth. Strength. Her strength. As four razor-like claws pierce through the man’s head, her thoughts are shattered. In one powerful throw, the man is hurled through the train window. Before her stood the reaper. “Oh my god!“ screamed the man with bad breath, scrambling to get away from him. As the reaper raised his hand from his side, the man was thrown through the wall of the train with an invisible force.

“Apricot thee has’t did betray me.” Shouted the reaper through his mask. As Hunter screamed, the wind from outside the train tossed his clothes around. It seemed as if everything in her world had faded away; she could only see the reaper before her. “Nay matter, thee still has’t did provide me the lamb I seek to slaughter.”

“No!” Apricot shouted at the reaper.

“T’wast not a request but rather a statement. F’r thy valorous worketh I shalt maketh thy death quick.” Apricot sees the reaper point his hand at her. While she is diving onto the ground, she feels a force like the vibration of a powerful amplifier. It smashes a hole in the back of the train destroying the right corner seat. Hunter dives over the seat and launches a stone at the reaper. As Apricot got back to her feet, the stone exploded into powder. Grabbing the knives under her sleeve Apricot charged the smokey air. She immediately met the reaper in the plume slashing at him vigorously. In response to her stabs, he blocked both her blades with a single hand, pushing her away from him.

With his claw, he stroked his chin as he stood tall. “Is this the length of thy talents? Thee foolish wench. Thither is nothing thee can doth to stand ho me. Thee see, I needeth not thee any more.” Despite the backdraft from the gaping holes in the train, she noticed the temperature was rising. While standing in the reaper’s presence, she felt as if her face was searing.

“You were dying! How did this happen?” Apricot asked.

“An act. Twas a rouse to confuse mine own true enemies. As long as I hath appeared weak, thither wast nay way thee couldst has’t known I did feed from the seals he hath broken. Anon I am just short of a divine creature. I shalt rend the gates open and claim mine own kingdom ov’r both worlds.” Declared the reaper. Apricot jumped as she saw Hunter run by behind her. Spreading his arms, the reaper knocked Apricot backward as a flash of light blinds her. Her head turned, and she caught her last glimpse of Hunter before he fell out the back of the train.

“Hunter!” Apricot screamed. She turned back at the reaper who was charging her.  The reaper dodged all of her attacks and blocked them effortlessly.

“Yond’s right. Surprise me. Alloweth it fill thee and infect thy core. Cometh findeth me at the shrine. I shalt beest waiting f’r thee. Enjoy the hell thee unleash’d.” The reaper laughed as he backs away down the train from Apricot. She follows him as quickly as possible. He smashes through every door as if it was nothing.   She let out a scream of frustration when she couldn’t keep up with his pace as well as the people around her who now realized what had happened. Immediately upon passing each person, a bloody mess splattered out of them as their corporal forms were turned inside out.

From out the train’s windows, Apricot was overlooking the city’s heavy traffic, the train hurries into the air as it reaches the sky rails. She lunged onto a chair to keep herself from tumbling down the hall of carts. Buildings passed alongside the train track. As the train leveled out, Apricot rushed to the front. When she passed by the bloody remains of the destroyed passengers, her eyes focused on the large door to the front of the train that she opened. The room was largely empty, save for a few switch panels controlled by the conductors in the station. In a panic, she checked the panels looking for any hint to how they worked. To her dismay, the sheer amount of knobs, buttons, switches, and screens made no sense at all to her.

Her attention was caught by the gaping hole as she sprinted to the rear of the train. When she looked out, she saw large drops with rushing streets below. She knew that she wouldn’t make it. Even so, she wasn’t sure if she would die of the fall. There was a lot more traffic than usual on the ground.

“Bang!” The metal roof above her echoed. The sound was repeated several times before a voice commanded, “Put your hands behind your head!”

As soon as she realized what was happening, Apricot leapt from the back of the train, free falling. Tumbling through the air, she screamed. In a split second, a moment of peace overtook her as air soared between her fingertips. When she passed by a pole supporting the rail, she noticed an advertisement banner hanging off the side of it. By pulling at the fabric, the banner tore from the pole. Grabbing the banner tightly, she swung forward at incredible speed. Her momentum was broken as she neared the ground, allowing her to let go and roll onto the sidewalk.

Several curious onlookers gawked at Apricot as she rose to her feet. Their faces are twisted with shock. As she fled, she tried to reach anywhere but here. Apricot continued to run for several blocks. The sound of police sirens grew closer and closer. Looking in the direction of the sirens, she saw a squad of SDP vehicles heading straight for her. Her vision was suddenly blinded by a flash of lights. The street lights ahead of her have begun flashing just like Akagi did, and the buildings in the distance have done the same.

However, this time she was quite sure it was not Akagi doing this. A complete meltdown had taken place. “What’s happening?” she questioned. As her body dribbled blood, faded bloody prints were left behind. In an attempt to escape, Apricot rushes into an alleyway. Her eyes scan all around in an effort to make her way out. Seeing a manhole, she grabbed hold of the metal bars and moved them aside before diving into the sewer below. Tunnels are hotter than open-air above, and they are filled with foul smells.

Her eyes are filled with tears as she walks through the dark. There are many fears and she doesn’t know what to do. In fact, she doesn’t even know if Shiori and the others are alive. Not to mention Hunter, who seemed to be her only hope. Was the reaper really victorious? Is running even worth it?

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 21

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 21


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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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 18

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Chapter 18

Over Kill

“I don’t know how much more I can take of this.” said one officer to another. “I thought I would be helping people, you know, when I joined the police department. Today it seems like all we do is investigate strange incidents. It’s like this whole city has become the set of some bizarre horror movie.”

“Yeah, first there was the insect swarm, now there are explosions in the ruined part of town. Not to mention the ever-growing population of witches.” Bracing against the wall, the other officer peered around. Swigging his coffee, he continued. “Just be glad, rook, your dispatch. We need to get out and look at this crap. Damn, the city is a madhouse. Last week, I had to deal with people eating each other. People are becoming cannibals. Cannibals! Tch, it’s crazy.”

The younger officer shook his head in disbelief. “Just knowing about all these things is enough to make someone go mad. I never thought the SDP was like this. I imagined we would be going after the more hardened criminals. Not spooks and monsters.”

“You didn’t get the memo kid?” grunts the older officer. “They changed the S to Spectral.” the group of officers laughed. “Sure as hell seems that way at least.”

Over the radio, a voice calls out “Hey, ah, is anyone inside the Valkner room?”

At the desk, the young officer glanced at his display, which showed no heat signatures. He answered, “That’s a negative.”

“Well, there is a lot of noise coming from there. Was one of the Valkners left on?”

“That’s a negative as well. The indicators are displaying them all as inactive.” 

“I need backup down here, now. Something is moving around inside that room. It is big and made of metal.”

“I’ll send someone down.” The rookie looks toward the older officer. “Could you?”

“Yeah yeah, I am there.” he retorted, setting his coffee down.

An alarm blared from the console just as the officer was about to leave the room. Looking down at the board, the young officer saw a red light flashing. “Hanger three has just been breached from the inside.”

“Shit, help!” the officer cried out over the radio.

“What the hell is wrong with him?” The words rang in Apricot’s ears. Cortez stared into the pillar of radiance as she gazed up. In addition to the thunder, there were subtle screams. The sensation of her chest pounding was intense. Cortez did little more than moan when she tugged at his arm. Slowly, he turned his head towards her, his eyes brightening with life.

Finally, they were running, following Shiori. The shadows of every object stretched out like long spikes, casting themselves upon every wall. As they raced down the alleyway, they saw the white car approaching. Lights from helicopters streak across the roadways as they give way to the bright night sky.

“What the hell was that! Shiori what was that!” Cortez screams, cowering in the back of the car. While Apricot’s tears were too shellshocked to escape her eyes, she still felt the same anxiety. She hears the car’s roar as it races along the ruined road.

“Things got more complicated,” Shiori whispered.

Cortez shook his head. “What the hell was that?!” Apricot tried to ask the same question, but the words wouldn’t come out. Her throat tightens, and her mouth was dry. “Are you going to say something?” Cortez shouted.

“Yes, I am just thinking.” Shiori calmly said. “That was one of several seals around the city. They are old sights around this region.” Shiori explained. His driving slowed as they arrived on more commonly traveled roads.

“What the hell is that supposed to mean!”

Shiori clears his throat. “I think one of them was just broken.”

The ringing of Apricot’s phone jolted her from her thoughts. Back inside her bedroom, the events of a few weeks ago were still heavy on her mind. Looking down at her table she saw her phone gliding as it vibrated. Grabbing hold of the pink plastic plush case she raised it up to see it was a text from Bonni.  

“Wanna do some window shopping?!”

Gunfire echoed in the hall of the SDP’s hanger. Like splattered bugs, the bloody remains of officers are smeared across the pavement. “We must stop it!” shouted an officer hiding behind a support beam. There are two more officers concealed in the adjacent pillar. As the war machine marched down the hallway, the officers keep their pistols pressed against their chests. “These weapons are useless. That is reinforced alloy. We will never be able to penetrate that armor.”.

”What are we supposed to do?” yelled the female officer.

The first officer who was monitoring the machine replied, “We need to run and close the gate.” Looking to his colleagues, he added, “It will give us a few minutes to prepare the special units.”

There was unanimous agreement among the officers. From their cover, they run down the corridor to the end, where the machine lumbers towards them. The female officer reached the other side of the corridor and pressed a memorized set of numbers onto the keypad. A creak accompanied the twin doors as they opened. Watching the doors descend, the machine stopped. “It’s not moving.” said the older officer.

Through the doors, the other officers ran hurriedly. As they stared back at the machine, the metal gates slid shut. “Well, that won’t buy us much time. Especially if it rips through this one like the other two.”

“Let’s get out of here.” suggested the female officer.

A groan could be heard coming from the twin doors as the group turned tail down the corridor. When the officers turned back, they saw the door open once more. The Volkner suit remained where it had been. As the red lights on the suit began to glow again, the female officer exclaimed, “What is this?”

As the suit continues to approach the group, it makes another loud stomp. The older officers shouted, “Run!” as the machine fired its thrusters, leaving a glow of blue-white to burn, propelling itself forward.

It was impossible for Apricot not to see the world differently. Walking down the familiar stretch of shops, her gaze wandered to every corner and every shadow. Her experience was similar to this when she was still in the dark about the phantoms. Just for a few more moments of peace, she denied everything. The darkness had returned. She felt Bonni’s fingers resting on her shoulder. That was comforting. Momentarily at least.  Although, the recent events are still ringing in my ears as the local city guard surrounds the quiet mall corridors. Nowadays, instead of police walking around, armored police with long rifles guard each intersection in pairs. On the escalator to the next floor, Bonni said, “I was worried about you.”

“Worried? You?” Apricot asked admiring the murals of party officials lining the walls. “Normally, you are only concerned about yourself, Bonni.”

Bonni’s lips pursed coyly like a cat’s mouth. “Well, I will remember to do it less often,” Apricot smirked. The two shared a giggle for a moment, once it had passed Bonni continued. “So, what is the deal with that cutie Shiori?” Bonni asked, raising an eyebrow. “You two an item?”

Bonni watched Apricot with bulging eyes as she wore a heavy layer of blush on her cheeks. “What!” she barked, shaking her head and lightly tapping Bonni on the shoulder. “It’s not like that. He is just my boss. Nothing more.”

“Really?” Bonni pouted. “What a shame, and here I thought you had landed yourself a fairytale catch. Figures though, I could not see the two of you together, anyway. Common girls like us don’t interest nobles.”

It hurt Apricot to hear those words. While she was a common girl, she never considered that around Shiori. His views on Cortez were influenced by his heritage. Perhaps he felt the same way about her as well. “I think you might be right.”

Bonni gestures towards the skylight in the mall’s center. She asks, “What is that?”

Apricot’s eyes darted up to see a shadow looming over the glassy roof. The shards of glass tumbled down in a brilliant display of crystaline color as the shadow grew. Apricot only had time to raise a hand to her mouth. As the rain of fractures fell, the two girls huddled together, desperate to escape the avalanche. She raised her eyes in surprise when she saw a metallic shadow rising from the rubble. Two long rifles could be seen once it lifted its arms, allowing the glass and framing to cascade from its arms. “Get down!” Apricot shouted before the thunder of bullets rumbled through the environment.

As Apricot leapt over the escalator bars, she grabbed Bonni’s arm. The machine warrior was engaged in combat with several armored police opening fire. Apricot locked her eyes on Bonni who was still curled up on the ground. She places an arm around her screaming “Bonni!”, tugging on her dandy coat. “Get over here!” she ordered, and Bonni complied sheepishly down the escalator. She heard the armored soldiers yelling orders and another gun popping out at the top of the escalator, which she assumed was the police returning fire. A torrent of debris was raining down on the crowd of people on the ground floor. The gunshots have ceased, but the panic has continued. Bonni raised her head to gaze up the escalator as a single whirl, a bullet narrowly missed Bonni. Immediately she fell to her knees. “Bonni! We got to move.” Apricot yelled knowing death was fast approaching. She grasped Bonni’s hand and tried to get her to stand. With one more powerful tug, Bonni was dragged by Apricot like a child.

A soldier gestured in the direction of an emergency exit while shouting, “This way!” Apricot was terrified by the tower-like helmet the man was wearing. With one large red glowing sphere, it looked like a cyclops. Two smaller spheres flanked the larger one in a V-shape. Apricot’s train of thought was interrupted as the man raised his rifle in their direction. Both Apricot and Bonni let out shrieks when he fired a shot past them. Stepping forward, he fired another burst of shots while his gray cape flowed. “Get behind me!” he shouted as he marched past the girls. Apricot glanced back at the Volkner at the top of the stairs. In their direction, she could see the red monocle adjusting its focus and turning its radius.

The large machine turned its body ajar, aiming its right arm at the group. It shot a barrage of bullets that landed all around Apricot and Bonni. The armored soldier dives in front of them, using his own body as a shield. Even though Apricot is almost certain that soldier has just been killed, they had to continue down the hallway. “You stabbed me in the throat!“ Apricot heard a voice groan from within her head. Turning around, she saw the bayonet of the mechanical warrior’s rifle slicing through the soldier. “I shall cleave you in half, servant of the betrayer!” it roared into the small hall causing a painful ringing in Apricot’s head. As the migrant passed through her body, she gritted her teeth. Bonni screamed which was not helping, but the fact she was running faster on account of the giant death-machine certainly did.

“This isn’t happening!” Bonni cried.

As Apricot and Bonni crashed out the exit doors, they are greeted by even more of the Volkners. Apricot froze at the sight of the massive police mecha suits with their guns pointed toward them. “Get behind us!” one of the officers commanded. From behind, the other Volkner chasing them broke through the wall. Apricot turned just in time to see a large slash aimed at her. In a burst of sparks, the blade is caught in midair by the arm of the police’s Volkner. As the gun was ripped from the attacking machine, the SDP mecha held it back. “Run.” the officer yelled. Between the legs of the machine, Apricot and Bonni ran to safety.  

Bonni screamed “Help!” to a line of armored officers who had formed a wall with their armored trucks. The mecha’s guns roared against the walls as they thundered across the parking lot. Apricot watched the two mechas as they fought, seeing the familiar phantom fire aiding the attacker.

Apricot’s hand releases Bonni’s fingers as their grips part ways. She watches her dive into the arms of an armored soldier who is directly behind the barricade. After another crack, Apricot turned heel to a frightening sight. The Volkners were still fighting, ripping each other apart. Insects had begun to fly about the mechanical soldiers. However, one broke ranks and flew directly to her. “Hold back!” yelled the armored soldier. The police began shooting at the huge mechanical suit that was rapidly advancing.

“That thing is after me!” Apricot gave Bonni one last glance whose eyes are filled with fear like a small child in a panic. Behind the steel door of a truck, Bonni peeked at the oncoming manifestation of death. Apricot bit her lip, looking straight into Bonni’s eyes. As she nodded to her, it may be the last time Apricot does so. In the midst of running through the makeshift vehicular wall, she heard Bonni’s cry, “Apricot!” She dove past the armored soldiers and sprinted through the stagnant traffic to the other side of the parking lot. A loud boom sounded as the machine burst through the barricade. The heavy clash of metals followed and the high-pitched screeching grated on her nerves. “Please let Bonni be OK.” Several cars are speeding towards the end of the lot trying to escape the Volkner. By jumping the barrier, Apricot plunged into the full flow of traffic, narrowly escaping the speeding automobiles. When she reached the other side of the road, her heart pounded as she saw a drop off to another platform below. Without hesitation, she slid down the concrete and landed hard on her feet.

In the background, an upbeat tune played over a pair of pure white dress shoes atop the wood of a chocolate brown computer desk. Sitting in his office chair, Shiori had opened a book and was casually reading the dusty tome. From the window of his highrise apartment, he had a clear view of the city just past the edge of the book. “Bzzzt Bzzt.” His phone vibrates across the desk. Looking at his phone, Shiori saw the text “Apricot Signa” Letting out a sigh, Shiori placed his book down and lifted the phone to his ear. As soon as he finished he said “Hello Miss,” a barrage of panicked words assaulted him.

“Shioriyougottohelp!Arobotistryingtokillme!Idon’tknowhowmuchlongerIcanrunbutyouneedtodosomethingnow!” The words came so fast it is almost incomprehensible.

Shiori snickered, “You got to slow down, honey. I have no idea what you are saying.”

“Shiori! I have no time for this!” shrieked Apricot.

“Well, if you need my help, that is not the way to go about it.” Shiori snickered again.

Apricot lets out a frustrated growl. “One of those police machines is trying to kill me!”

“That sounds dangerous. I’ll come help you. Keep your phone on, Akagi will locate you.” Shiori said as he clicked his phone. Yawning, he through the slab onto his desk. “That crazy girl, I don’t think she’s even worth the trouble.”

Getting smashed through a car, the mecha suit’s green electronic HUD locks onto Apricot running through an alleyway. Spikes fly from its thrusters as it turns into the stretch of narrow lanes. She uses the passages to her advantage as she jackknifes through the maze of off-roads, trying to lose the machine. From its thrusters, the mecha blew a boom after every turn. Apricot, noticed an open door that led the back of a building.

Apricot ran through the steamy hot room when an older man in a white chefs cloak shouted “Lady, you can’t be here.” A group of waitresses let out a collective gasp as Apricot burst through the double doors open into the dining room. In the front of the building, Apricot could see outside the dining-room window the mecha outside adjusting its arm.

“Get down!” Apricot screamed as the machine unloaded, causing the room to explode into a flurry of steel and wood. There was a lot of ripped fabric flying around the room as the guns tore through everything. “How in the world do I get out of here?” Apricot screamed as she crawled toward a fire door. It was unclear how many people were hurt or if any are still alive, but she could hear moans of agony. Blood painted the waitress as she lay dead. The expression was one of pure terror. Her eyes were like glass. Everything was her fault. She put them in danger. Whatever this thing was, it showed no mercy at all. Could it be Okabe’s doing? It seemed they were slaughtering their own police.

The fire exit allows her to gain a few seconds. The world blurred around her. She ran in the opposite direction until she reached the main intersection. An oncoming white car nearly strikes her as she only has a moment to react. “Get in!” yelled Shiori. Having slid over the hood of his car, Apricot jumped into the passenger seat. Shiori started driving. Pulling the door shut with the handle attached to the still-raised door, Apricot latches it shut. “What the hell is this? It’s all over the news! Why is that Volkner after you? Who is the pilot?”

“It came after me when I was with a friend!” Apricot cried.  “I don’t know what the hell it is!”

As Shiori stomped on the gas, he sped past cars appearing in front of him. Apricot realized that they were at risk of a collision at any moment. “Well, way to alienate the rest of the world. This is a problem!” Apricot looked back to see the mechanical warrior close behind him. The device annihilates cars without any regard for the surrounding environment. The armor of the machine has been damaged as the metallic plating has begun to peel off exposing the chasse below. “Where the hell are the cops!” Shiori barked.

Once again, Apricot saw purple flames blazing on her arm. While watching the fire dance, she held out her hand open palmed. “So, there’s a phantom controlling it.”

When Shiori nearly veered off the road yelling “What the hell!” she is jerked out of her seat. “You’re going to kill us. Put that thing out.”

“It doesn’t harm physical objects.” Apricot quietly replied. She turned to Shiori, declaring, “I think it’s just a phantom. At least the phantom is controlling it. It told me earlier that it had stabbed its throat.” A shadow crossed in front of the car. In an instant, Shiori slammed on the brakes; his tires came to a screeching halt. An ear-piercing hiss is heard from the machine. A loud clang was heard as a projectile penetrated deep into the hood of the car. “Get out!” Shiori commanded, pulling his door open. Apricot followed suit, diving out just before the car is lifted and thrown into a building.

In front of the mecha, the two stood. Shiori stood to his feet, clicking the small switch to extend the rod. “I do hope you are right, Apricot.” Shiori said. The fires around Apricot’s arm grew brighter as she nodded her head. “There is only one choice.” With a metallic snap, the cables reappear from the car and slide into the hand of the machine. The imposing device dwarfs the pair as it stands about ten feet tall. “You know Apricot. If you are wrong, we’re gonna die, right?”

Without warning, the machine lunged forward at Shiori. After leaping back, he missed its fist aimed directly at him. The powerful machine slammed into the pavement harshly, pelting Shiori with debris. No matter the minor impact, Shiori struck his rod against the fist of the machine, thrusting through the shrapnel. As the metal moiled against the alloy, the rod sparked. “Shit this is useless!” The machine straightened its back as Shiori roared. As Apricot ran by the machine waving her arms, it positioned its other arm in Shiori’s direction. As the hulking metal soldier turned his attention towards her, he shot down his claws at her. Apricot lept over the metallic tethers as the razor claws sail in the air. A second time, the servos were rapidly retracting their lines, narrowly missing her.

After regaining her sight, Apricot caught a glimpse of Shiori directly under the machine. “Have to be creative.” Shiori roared as he stabbed his rod directly into the chestplate of the mecha. He ripped the pilot’s door off with his rod after removing the chest panel from the machine. The open cockpit is crawling with insects of every kind. The carcass of a dead soldier hung out, his mouth open in agony, and his eyes wide. Maggots oozed from the putrid body. There was a purple orb floating inside the cockpit that stretched throughout the whole machine. Shiori lets out a loud cry as the machine’s powerful hand wrapped around his waist. As if he were a rag doll, he was tossed through the air. He rolled several times on the ground, tearing up his clothes as he did so.

“Shiori!“ Apricot shouted. As soon as it saw an opening, the machine raised its fist to smash Apricot to mush. Apricot let out a scream as the fist descended, diving directly into a purple orb held by the mechanical soldier. She slashes it directly. In a flash, the machine falls forward, smashing its fist into the pavement as its aura bursts. The whole thing collapsed. A cloud of insects fell over her. Apricot panted looked up at the body hanging above her still strapped into the suit. His dead eyes are looking at her, but not at her. A pool of blood dripped from his limp, open mouth.

A liquid flowed from Shiori’s mouth onto the ground as he stands up wheezing and coughing. “Well, it didn’t kill me.” He laughed sheepishly. He roared and writhes in pain, “Damn it. That hurts. Looks like you survived as well.” He grunted, letting out another cough. After stepping out of the machine, Apricot nodded her head. “I’d appreciate your assistance.”

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis Chapter: 13

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Chapter: 13

Falling Pieces

Apricot took her usual route to the morning train, her eyes heavy and her head foggy with sleep. There was heavy pedestrian traffic on the sunrise sidewalks, which are bordered by a wall of cyclists. She galumphs sleepily whilst mumbling to herself. “Heh, darling, you look nearly dead. A late night on the town?” A male voice asked. Turning her head, she saw a man in an elegant suit standing on the curb. The moment she recognized that coy smile on his face, she was startled to see Shiori. “You won’t be returning to school today. Come, we’ve got much to talk about.”

“This rich brat has another thing coming if he thinks he can order me around.” Apricot scoffed, “And why would I do such a thing?”

“Because I’ll make it worth your time. Now, now, darling, just get in my car.” Apricot sighed, feeling as if she had been getting into quite a few strange men’s cars lately. Still, she was curious enough. Worthwhile means a lot of things to a noble, and she must admit, he’s cute—and most importantly, he’s rich.

The seats in the car are more than comfortable. Her body curves were perfectly shaped, the material being some kind of combination of leather and vinyl. One might compare it to the feeling of lying on a cloud. Aside from the blacktops, the armrests are made of a clear material. As Apricot surveyed the luxury car, she murmured to herself, “It’s nice.”

“I suppose a commoner would find this impressive. However, I find it quite boring. It’s a little too flashy for my liking.” Shiori said. The irony was not lost on Apricot. “Hands and feet inside, my dear.” Shiori pressed a button on the dash and the doors swung down slowly. As he continues, he sighs heavily. “Yet how can you resist your mother’s flamboyance when she is so persistent?” Shiori mused as he shifted the car into drive. He let go of the steering wheel and looked at Apricot, letting the internal AI systems handle the situation. “I’m really frustrated with you, darling.”

Her brows furrowed. “What? Why? What did I do?” she asked.

Shiori dragged out “That,” trying to either be dramatic or find the appropriate phrase, “The thing, was a reliable informant. Those who live on the other side aren’t all enemies, Apricot. At least, not directly. I was in contact with that monster last night, the one you slew, about what was happening on the other side. Your actions have harmed the entire society.”

“Society?” Apricot barked. “What society?”

A cocked head accompanies Shiori as he bends forward. “You’re not the only one who hunts these creatures. As I recall, I had clarified that earlier. In fact, quite a few of us do that. I must admit, you were reckless when you started out.”

Apricot blushed. “Thank you for the compliment.”

Shiori rolled his eyes and said flatly, “You still are.” That had been his plan from the start she thought. How snobby. 

“That phantom almost killed me,” Apricot said.

Shiori looks up at the ceiling, relaxing into his chair as he said “So you say.” With crossed legs, he turns his head to one side and gazes directly at her.

“I was going to be ripped apart.” He simply sighed in response. “You weren’t there!” she replied. “You have no idea.”

“In his domain, you were reckless, as I said. You were a trespasser from that moment on. Imagine how offended you would be if someone entered your home and began asking you questions?” Apricot shrinks back into her seat. The girl lowers her chin in shame and plays with her fingers. To her, the creatures were horrible monsters, so she never considered whether they were good or evil. “Oh well, at least you can learn from your mistakes, no matter how grievous they are. From now on, you are my pet.” 

What a condescending way to address someone, Apricot thought to herself. Fists curling as she prepares to strike him for his vagrant disregard of her. “What the hell does that mean?” Apricot shouted, nearly jumping from her seat.

Shiori laughs, “It means you’ll do what I say. In addition to going to school and studying, you will be working with me at night. As someone of potential, you’ve attracted attention. By following the path you are on, you will attract the attention of others, even more than you already have.”

“How did you find out about that?” Apricot asked.

“I am a noble and keep track of persons of interest in regard to the Okabe family. I will keep you from getting into trouble. Consider me a friend of yours. The royal guard knows your name now. Did you know that? They have been keeping a close eye on you missy. The hell did you do to get that kind of attention?” Shiori scorned.

Apricot murmured. “It turns out my suspicions were correct.”

Apricot watched as Shiori raised his eyebrow, and his eyes hid something at that moment. Was he concerned? “And what would those be?” he asked.

Apricot pointedly said, “The nobles know about the phantoms.”

“Well, they are not ignorant. Yet, you continue to call them phantoms. Does that name have any significance or is it just shorthand you adopted?” Shiori chuckled as Apricot shook her head. “Of course, I have secrets as well.”

“Why would I work with you?”, Apricot asked as she turned her attention to the window. Old buildings surrounded them. Though it was probably less than a decade old, she assumed the locals would refer to it as an ancient part of the city.

“First of all, I’ll pay you…hmm…hmm, what is a journalist’s salary? About eight thousand marks per job, I guess. And bonuses if I think you deserve them.” Apricot nearly fell out of her chair when she heard that number. It was more than she could have hoped for after laboring for months.

Apricot said, “That’s over six figures a year.”

Shiori looked unamused. “Girl, accept it. I’m not inclined to negotiate.”

“No no. That’s fine.” Apricot raised both hands.

“Now that that is settled, it’s time for you to meet the rest of society.” Shiori turned his head and placed his legs on the steering wheel.

Apricot feels ashamed to have been so easily purchased. She said, “You know, you’re a right ass.”

“Darling, I can afford that opinion,” Shiori replied.

Dusty old antiques and trinkets surround the market tent. As she walked through the inner city labyrinth, Apricot was unsure about her choice, but after measuring Shiori, she knew he wasn’t dangerous. When she looked at the displayed goods, it was difficult for her to decide if they were junk or if they were valuable. Either way, they were a testimony to time. The objects are covered in dust and a layer of patina that appeared to be growing on them. Ancient artifacts and old technology created a style all their own. As if by a process of overgrowth, the two have merged. “Don’t forget this location, darling.”

“What is this place?” She asked, her voice filled with confusion. Despite everything appearing to be junk, she was almost certain they held substantial value. She resisted the urge to touch them for fear of damaging them.

It’s a friend’s place, and if he likes you, it’ll be yours too. You might be able to get him if you show a little more cleavage.” Apricot blushes, feeling the sudden urge to switch shirts. With a casual pluck, Shiori rings a bell. Unseen behind a pair of curtains, a man emerges with gray hair concealed by a black ushanka.

He stretched out his arms toward Shiori and said, “Hello, my friend.” His gaze briefly turned to Apricot. “And who is this?” The man eagerly inquired. “Come here, girl.”

In response, Apricot glanced at Shiori, who gave a smirk and lowered his forehead while raising his eyebrows in an expression that said, “Don’t be rude.” As a result, Apricot walked toward the strange man. Wrapping his arms around her, he embraced her. His eyes are deep brown and inquisitive, probing into the very core of her being. “Is this the one everyone talks about?”

Apricot stepped out from under his grasp and said, “I don’t believe I am.”

“She may well be. How about showing her around? Give her special treatment.” He dropped a stack of cerulean bills on the table in an unassuming yet commanding tone. Once upon a time, Uchella attempted to gain access to Castor’s banks, but that is a distant memory now.

Aprit glanced back at Shiori, who is leaning against a painted black metal pole in the tent. “What do you mean by special treatment?”

“That dreadful pistol of yours is far too loud. Additionally, it is illegal, and that silver pipe you got is smart, but you need a real weapon.” Shiori replied, looking up toward the sky.

“How the hell did you know about that!?” Apricot screams.

Shiori laughed loudly. “I told you, I keep an eye on subjects of interest. You seem so shocked.” The idea of Shiori “watching” is bothersome, to say the least. It also implied that others might be watching closely as well.

“Introductions! Darling, this is Harjal, think of him as your outfitter. Harjal, this adorable darling is Apricot. She is a student journalist. She tells everyone that, more than once. I’ll save her the trouble.” Shiori’s winked. That really grinded her gears. “Pity the girl’s entire identity is that ridiculous trope.”

“I am standing right here!” Apricot thought to herself. “And I do not say that… that often.” A faint blush covered her cheeks as she realized Shiori was right but he didn’t have to be so direct.

“Fair enough. Welcome, Miss Apricot. Let’s find you something worth Shiori’s patronage.” Harjal grasped Apricot’s arm as he led her into the back. The room is full of weapons. In barrels, spears are stacked. There are swords hung everywhere. There are various kinds of firearms, some of which have long chains of bullets. Apricot couldn’t name half of the weapons, but she knows when she is looking at something highly illegal. “Pick your poison, Missy,” said Harjal. “I recommend sticking with silver. Shiori believes it kills them.”

Apricot searches the lanes like she is in some sort of post-apocalyptic grocery store. She had a hard time grasping the situation. “You’re not planning to kill me, are you?”

“Only if you have loose lips,” Harjal replied. “I do the service. One your group needs. There is no discrimination against the clients I serve. People from many walks of life use my services. You may be surprised to learn how many people use them. In any case, I stay silent. We are the closest of friends if you stay silent too.”

Apricot saw several throwing stars. They initially fascinate her since they remind her of a ninja, but she lacked the skills and time to master them. Her eye caught one of the short blades. Her hand easily grasped it when she gave it a full grip. However, the length did not appeal to her.

“You seem to know what you are looking for,” Harjal commented.

Nodding, Apricot runs her finger along the edge of a knife. “I used to fence, so that might explain it. Are you a member of the society?”

“The society? I don’t have a clue what you are talking about?” Either he was acting dumb or he wasn’t. Apricot really couldn’t tell which. A whip crossed her eye, but that was too stereotypical for a girl. The mere thought of holding such a weapon would make her feel embarrassed. Including, she isn’t hunting vampires. She notices a decorative straight blade across the room. An opening in the tent’s roof allows light to shine on the blade as if it was made for her. She lifted it by the handle. “It’s long,” she thought. After slashing the blade a few times, she found it most convenient. The handle is a simple cross guard that’s easily concealed. She turned to Harjal and said, “This one.”

“That’s a very useful little weapon. It doesn’t look unattractive either. I bought it from a sword maker in Eindzaal. I’ll throw in these too.” he said, flinging down a black armband with several throwing knives hidden inside it. “You can wear that under your shirt. They are pure silver,” he added. “These babies could solve problems distantly. You wouldn’t even need to get up close to them. It would be quiet too, if you hit your target. Miss and you’ll hear metal clanking, so don’t do that.”

Shiori glanced at Apricot as she exited. “Took long enough. Got what you need?” Apricot nodded, holding up the blade. “I see. You went with a sword. At least you have taste. I guess we better get moving. The Spookhouse is about to open. It’s almost noon.”

The “Spookhouse” is dimly lit, nearly empty, aside from a bartender and a few staff members chatting. Apricot was guided through the empty bar by Shiori’s hand on her back. “This, my darling, is the Spookhouse. Many of the patrons here are well informed about what is happening in Blue Ash. Most importantly, I will always be here as I own the business. You can think of this as the resistance’s headquarters against the phantoms. Our efforts have been tireless in securing this refuge. Not even the Okabes can reach us here. Not without starting an international dispute between the clans. You are therefore free to express yourself here. Upon entering, we will let you know if a stranger is present.”

“You must be away from the Okabe family for some reason,” Apricot suggested.

He strokes his chin. “If you have to ask, then you’ll never know.” He turns to a woman with long black hair and said, “No point in explaining. Just a moment, dear. I have some business to attend to. Have a seat. I think you will find Togashi to be a wonderful conversationalist.”

Apricot walks toward the bar as instructed. In a stylish waiter suit, a man polishes a glass. With his grin, he looks almost like a cat. White bleached hair adorns his head, accentuating his polished blue eyes. “Hello. How do you say, a friend of Shiori’s?” he asked with a thick accent from another country she could not place. How odd. The man appears to be of Uchellan descent. Apricot nodded while she plopped down on a bar stool, resting her arms on the long stretch of polished wood. “Care for a drink, yes?”

“Just a glass of water would be nice.” Apricot said. “So you‘re Togashi?”

Taking a glass, he walked over to a black slate polished fridge. “Indeed, I am.”

“Where did you get your accent?” Apricot felt prehension as the words left her mouth. Was it insulting to ask where an accent came from? His eye upturns towards her as that sly cat-like grin grew.  “I meant nothing by it.”

“No my dear.  How you say, it is fine.” Taking a blue bottle from the fridge, he pops the cap off and pours a decent amount into the glass, topping it off with a few rocks of ice. “I hope you don’t mind the ice. But you are Castor are you not?”

Apricot half-smiled some. “Oh, how could you tell?”

“No Uchellan would have such fair skin.” Apricot felt a slight blush coming on. “I am not the native of Uchella. I hail from Sarlimar. My father is Uchella but my mother is an Estarius.”

“Wow, how did you end up back in Uchella?” Apricot asked while Togashi slides the glass towards her. 

Togashi smirked. “All the questions are we, dear. Ah, I see, I know you. You must be Apricot, the reporter girl. Am I correct, no?”

Apricot blushes. “I am, but how did you know my name?”

“You are, how do I say this, topic of interest around these parts. However, to answer your question I am chemist and in Sarlimar chemistry viewed as witchcraft, you may know. Sadly, mother and father were murdered by locals. They viewed my father‘s sciences as weapon of evil. I escaped attack. Left to the world as teen-aged adult, I searched for family name. I traveled UIchella and accepted by family. Togashi Siochiro, not famous house but servant house. Still it’s life more than I could have dreamed having in Estarius.”

“I had no clue. Your story is amazing. Would you mind if I wrote an,” Apricot is swiftly cut off by Togashi’s white-gloved hand.

Raising his index finger, he shakes his head. “Not the slightest words. I tell you why! I am vassal of Lord Kinjo. My mission is to protect him. Any address of me will bring, unwanted attention to my Lord. So no, no interview, no story, no topic of interest.”

The tug on Apricot’s shirt nearly caused her to fall out of her seat. When she turned her head, she saw a raven-haired boy of about eight or nine years old looking up at her. “Hey Miss!” he shouted. “You’re Apricot, aren’t you?”

“Ah, who are you?” Apricot asked a little baffled.

His grin spread across his face. “It took me a while to research you. I’m Akagi. I’m probably the finest hacker in Okabi, perhaps even the world.” He beamed with pride. “By the way, I suggest that you tape your webcam,” he adds. “Your computer is extremely vulnerable. By the way, heh, do you always sleep nude?”

“What?!” Apricot shouted. Apricot felt violated by a young deviant, no less.

As Shiori entered the bar, he yelled, “Akagi, leave her alone, and he is only joking. Go play some video games or something. It’s time for the adults to talk.”

Furrowing his brow, Akagi stares at the ground. “I was just introducing myself,” he said. “Gee, Shiori, why are you being such a jerk?”

Shiori points to the back and said, “Go.”

The young hacker sighs. “You know I will just listen to you anyway using your cell phone.” As Akagi walked out the back door, he smiled smugly.

“I left it in my office.” Shiori smiles. Akagi stamps his foot, leaving. “Let’s talk business now, now that the little terror is gone,” he said.

“So, what now Shiori?” Apricot sip’s her water and looked into his calm face.

“You addressed me by my name. I believe for the first time,” Shiori replied warmly. Shiori begins, “Right now, you can rest. We need to decide what to do next. There is no clear answer. It seems we need to look into this further. Could you please explain why you chose this path? You know my biggest secret. I am trying to make sense of these strange events.”

She felt a lump growing in her throat. However, she was comfortable all the same. Apricot described the events that led up to her meeting Shiori. Initially, he appeared distant, but as the conversation progressed, he became more interested. Even though it seemed like Togashi wasn’t listening, he too seemed to be interested when she told them about the attack at her house. She left out the reaper and Cortez in her story.

As Shiori drummed his fingers, he said, “That’s an interesting story.”

“It looks like you’ve got a pretty good network going on. Who else is involved?” Apricot inquired.

Shiori pauses for a moment of reflection. He takes a deep breath and glances at Togashi who nods in agreement. “I’m not quite sure,” he admits. “There are others who aren’t in my network. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t very good. I was hesitant to pursue you at first because I thought that you would soon die. But I was proved wrong. When did you discover Apricot?” the bartender smirked.

“About the time she broke into East Way Park. You can thank Akagi for notifying Shiori of your wandering.” Togashi said. “There is how you say a fondness for you around these parts.”

Shiori nodded in agreement. “You’re right,” he said. “Our team has been watching and protecting you for quite some time. When you were recorded by their surveillance systems, we have disrupted the police’s operations frequently, so they couldn’t collect data about you.”

Apricot sighed. “It’s a lot to take in, but I’m glad someone has my back.”

“Truly, it is a two-edged sword. While it may be comforting to know someone is protecting you, it does mean that we have violated your sense of privacy. I apologize for that. I had to know if I could trust you.” Shiori paused. “I do by the way.”

Apricot rocked her head in a slight nod. “Now, when you say not all of them are good, do you mean they work with the phantoms?”

“No, I don’t think so. At least, that’s not my impression. A lot of them are just killers. It is a way for them to live out their fantasies. Sickos. However, there is one insane person. That person is Natsukawa Okabe. A dirty, little-known secret of the Okabe family. As well as being a serial killer, he also deals with phantoms. Basically kills everything that comes his way. Sincerely, he scares the hell out of me.” Shiori said grimacing. “They should really put him down. It’s no life to live as a mad dog.”

Togashi laughed “So we call phantoms now?”

“Can you come up with a better name for them?” Shiori laughed. “We will count it as Apricot’s first contribution. She is our shorthand maiden.”

Apricot blushed at being called a maiden. Apricot replied sheepishly, “I know someone who knows something about the phantoms too.” Shiori raised an eyebrow at this. “Well, sort of. Honestly, I am not sure. I have no idea what’s going on. He probably has no idea as well. I’m sure something terrible will happen if we don’t stop it. The more information we can gather, the faster we can solve the problem. I also believe he is trustworthy though.”

Nodding his head, Shiori continued. “All right, let’s find this friend of yours. With their help, perhaps we can figure something out.”

Only a single wall light illuminates the alleyway. Apricot leans against the brick wall while Shiori sits on top of the dumpster. A shadow emerges from down the alleyway. Cortez said, “Hey. You had something to talk about?”

“It’s been a while,” Shiori said, waving. “I didn’t realize you meant him, Apricot.”

Shiori gazed at Cortez as he paused in his stride. “Oh shit, what is he doing here?” he yelled, cutting the air with his arm.

A little surprised by Cortez’s reaction, Apricot said, “Oh, you both know each other.”

“Sort of,” Shiori added.

“What are you doing hanging out with noble scum?” Cortez yelled.

“Excuse me!” Apricot erupted.

Shiori laughed as he slapped the top of the dumpster with his gloved hand. “Listen to the bark of the common dog.”

“Shut up!” Cortez shouted. “Apricot, if you expect me to tell him anything, you’re crazy!”

“What? What is going on?” Apricot asked utterly confused.

“He is a user Apricot. In no way does he care about us. Shiori isn’t like us!” Cortez exclaimed. “He thinks of us as his puppets. He flashes his money around like it’s something special. He lives above everyone else, but gives us common folk table scraps.”

“It is the right place for impure muts like you. Cortez, you should be glad the ruling families paid blood for this land.” Shiori replied unflinchingly. As Cortez approached Shiori, he stared down at him atop the dumpster.

“Our families fought in your wars!” Cortez replied, causing Shiori to laugh.

“The masses are nothing more than animals.” Cortez grabbed Shiori’s leg and pulled him off the rubbish bin. Shiori stumbled and fell to the ground. “Is the dog about to bite me?” Shiori scoffed as he stood up.

“You’ll regret that!” Cortez took a swing at Shiori only to find his fist in the grasp of the metal claw. Between them stood the reaper who materialized out of nowhere. It squeezed down on him causing him to scream in pain.

“Thee fools, wherefore doth thee speaketh such ills for each other?  Doth thee not see that thee art allies?  Cease thy combat at once.” The reaper said throwing Cortez back. Shiori’s jaw dropped in disbelief. As the reaper turned to face Apricot, he asked, “Haven’t thee desired a meeting with me, Apricot?”

“Do you know this freak?” Cortez backed away with his arms raised.

“How shameful?” The reaper grunted. “Cortez, lay down thy guard.  Thee art mine ally.  I seek not to harm thee.”

The grin spread across Shiori’s face. He replied, “So you finally decided to show yourself to us. Why didn’t you tell me you knew claw fingers? It seems like you are allying with us. Please prove it.”

“Claw fingers? This yond what they art calling me?” He remarked toward Shiori before turning his gaze toward Apricot. “I cameth to giveth thee a treasure in the form of knowledge. Hark, thither is much to be done. Thee art hunting the phantoms and has’t done well so far but thou has’t been doing so without direction. Blind, in the dark. Allow me to pardon your burden. The phantoms has’t cometh for thy world. Thither art people assisting them for their own ends.” He said, turning toward Cortez.

“Coequal now these phantoms buildeth an army. Thither art warlords leading the phantoms through the threshold. Tis not with their own power, however. Thither art witches that direct these beings. They assist the phantoms crossing ov’r from the other side. Tis thee that must cease those doing so. The Okabe family hath refused the calleth and art not worthy to carryeth out their duty to cease this.” The Reaper slowly approaches Shiori.

“Tis by their meddling the phantoms entered this world as you must know. In thy words the “Blue Ash Crisis” causes all this. A passage between their world and yours wast hath opened and nev’r closed. Now the phantoms lay in between worlds, as ghosts until they art manifest as flesh.”

“You want us to kill people?” Cortez asked.

“Sadly, if ‘t be true, that is what must beest done.”

“How do we know we can trust you?” Shiori wondered.

“Prove me wrong. If ‘t be true I has’t lied then I must not beest trusted. But if ‘t be true I has’t given truth than thou has’t no choice but to trust me.”

“Why reveal yourself now?” Apricot was frightened by what he was suggesting.

“Time is short. I cannot sustain the situation much longer. If ‘t be true something is not done all wilt beest lost and in the hands of careless ones who seek to maketh a new world and consume this one. This cannot beest allowed. I seek to returneth home myself. I cannot doth so until either this world is restored or destroyed. I seek to save this world, don’t thee?”

Shiori pondered, “So these phantoms, where do they come from?”

“The phantoms art the original inhabitants of the world ere this one. Those gents cursed themselves and destroyed their world. At which hour the new world wast born all who hath lived in the fusty one wast sealed. Now, these beasts seek to devour this one and taketh this world for their own. I tire, I must leaveth thee now. At the fusty shrine on the hill thee wilt findeth me. Thither I rest, please hie time is short.”

At this, the reaper ascends into the sky like a shooting star disappearing behind the buildings. “What do we do now?” Cortez inquired.

“We work together,” Apricot said softly.

Snarling, Cortez turned his back and walked out of the alleyway. Shiori stared at the starry night sky. “Apricot.”

“Yeah,” she replied distantly.

“Cortez is a coward. At the first sign of trouble, he will run. Remember that.” She turned to look over at Shiori who too is walking in the other direction out of the alleyway. She sighed staring up at the sky wondering what exactly is about to unfold.

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels, Perosnal Journal

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

Rumble Stadium

A number of books line the walls behind the graying diplomat in the redwood study, while the lighting competes with the cool winter blues from the large window. Across from Apricot, the elder sat at an expansive desk. Looking at the questions in her notepad, she identifies the most pertinent ones. “Thank you again, Lord Ietsuna, for agreeing to be interviewed.”

He was a man of impressive size, dressed in military fatigues. A row of medals ran down the center of his chest, and pins decorated the collar of his shirt. A large military cap mostly hid his snowy white hair. Other than a pair of thin strips above his lips, he is clean-shaven. “My pleasure, you have a very impressive portfolio. You have achieved so much at such a young age. You may call me Tetsuro.” he says gruffly. That is not an option Apricot will accept. Calling a Lord by their first name is too uncomfortable for her. Especially one as powerful as this man. That is why she rarely blurred the line between the two. She would resign all her statements and not mention his name at all in order to avoid such embarrassment.

As she looks at her notes one last time, Apricot bows her head in gratitude. “Can you clarify what your role is as the Ietsuna clan’s representative?”

While Lord Ietsuna bobbed his head, a bubbly smile spread across his lips. It appeared that this man was in a cheerful mood, Apricot wrote. “I present the Okabe clan’s perspective to the Ietsuna clan. Having embraced the western world, the Okabe clans require greater respect. Hence my presence. I oversee the modernization of Okabe and make sure it remains distinctively Uchellan. In a secondary capacity, I assess military movements and Uchellan reactions to those movements.”

As she asked such an absurd question, Apricot laughed inwardly, raising Lord Iestuna’s eyebrows. Apricot immediately returned to her previous professional demeanor. “For any foreign readers, I was wondering how the Ietsuna clan is connected to the other clans of Uchella.”

The posture of his body stiffens as he grins. “We are Uchellan’s true rulers. Other clans, such as the Okabe, fall under the Iestuna clan. The Ietsuna clan has been responsible for maintaining peace between warring states since the Uchella agreement. Emperor Uchella Ietsuna led a most glorious campaign to conquer all the lands of the Empire five hundred years ago. Instead of destroying the clans, he formed a coalition to end the age of war. With the advance of the west, they would soon reach the eastern shores, bringing conquering armies with them. Thus, we have maintained our hegemony in the world. I hope you do not take offense, but we are extremely proud of our people. We treasure our traditions.”

Apricot bowed her head in respect. She raised her head and continued. “I think that’s a fine response. Pride in one’s ethnicity is a good thing. We become better people when we do that.” Her next series of questions make her uncomfortable. She breathes deeply and speaks. “I was wondering if you might be able to speak with me about the tension between Uchella and Arslana. According to the Sotaro clans, Kubebna ships have been passing through their waters to reach the demilitarized zone. How accurate are these claims?”

“I’ve heard the rumors as well. I believe them. Kubebna, Stezyl, and Tvekala have positioned themselves as possible aggressors in Uchellan waters. As you may already be aware, we have had several naval standoffs. A military alliance has been formed between Akiyama, Iori, Kinjo, and Sotaro in the event that Arslana escalates the situation. As of now, the Tatsumi and Okabe families have not gotten involved. In contrast, Armaryol and Tortau have been moving vessels through western waters. I’m afraid we’ll have to begin military operations against the Aristocracies of Arslana if this trend continues. Almost certainly, the Uchellan Empire would unite to defend her lands if that were to happen.” The smile that had once been so bright was now fading. Although it wasn’t much, Apricot noticed. 

Apricot diligently wrote his words. She glanced up from her page. “Off the record, just out of curiosity between us. What do the Ietsuna believe?”

The man smirked as he sat back in the large padded chair. “That’s intuitive of you to notice that I haven’t offered you that. You can record this. Our lands should not be invaded, and our support for the Empire is unwavering; we are the Empire. While they are small and easy to deal with, the northern clans are still our people. Uchella, the ancient dragon, will awaken if Arslana thinks they will violate our sovereignty.”

Slowly, Apricot nodded. “What about Castor?” Apricots asked. “Would the Uchellan Empire make an alliance with Castor?”

“No. To maintain our borders, we do not need invitations from other countries. And we don’t want them either.” He asserted firmly.

“I suppose you feel the same way about Estarus.” Apricot replied.

Lord Ietsuna nodded toward her in a measured manner. “Estarus is a peculiar case,” he said. “We have an agreement of non-indulgence. We remain on our lands and they remain on theirs. This is what we prefer. We do things our way.”

“So, what are your thoughts on Okabe’s robust immigration policy?” she inquired, no longer paying attention to her notes.

Ietsuna’s eyes changed, and he seemed to be filled with a positive light. As he smiled warmly, he said, “I am proud of Okabe’s openness to foreigners. Their presence makes our community more colorful. Discovering novel things requires fresh eyes. As long as it stays in Okabe, I don’t see anything wrong with this experiment.” 

She extended a handshake to him, which he warmly accepted. “I really appreciate you taking the time.” She said. “I think that’s all I need to ask. Is there anything you would like me to strike out?” Apricot asked the man as she presented her notes. Normally, she would not do such a thing, but a man in this position could easily ruin her family. Having examined the pad, he gives it back to Apricot.

“This is fine with me. Journalists rarely feel any responsibility toward the subjects they interview these days. They’re more inclined to go for big scoops than the truth.”

Apricot replied, “I try my best.”

This is how Apricot’s life continued. After meeting those strange men, her life appeared to have returned to something reasonable, ordinary, and completely free of curiosity. After class, she headed to the gym and exercised, then returned home to prepare essays and finish her studies. A few times a week, she conducted a casual interview with a member of the community when she had investigations to perform. The interviewees were usually government officials or local celebrities. On weekends, she spent time with her friends. Since then, several months have passed.

After the sun had set, however, in the evening…

A strong smell of mildew and dust emanated from the abandoned building. Apricot emerged from the hall into a ruined auditorium. The stadium was littered with torn-up chairs and bleachers covered in layers of dust. The stage was adorned with a few props that were leftover from whatever was held before the shutdown. A gray-scale humanoid with wings and a horn that grew from the front of his head and sat atop a splintered piano. Apricot thought he looked gargoyle-like. A starry night sky could be seen through the open, destroyed ceiling of the room. “So we finally meet,” he said in a deep voice, rising from his stance. 

“I’m glad the reports were true about you.” She pulled a pistol from her side and replied, “I can talk to you.”

The creature snorted at her in response. “I am different from my peers.” He roared so loudly that the wooden bleachers burst into fragments. Apricot veered to the side just in time to avoid being directly hit by the blast. Several pieces of wood, however, cut her arm partially. “Yes, you are pretty fast, aren’t you?” Apricot looked down at the rubies that gushed across her skin, cascading down her arm. An iron odor filled the air. With Apricot clearly wounded, the gargoyle grinned proudly, “But it’s not fast enough.”

“It’s nothing devil,” Apricot growled, looking away from her arm. “Before I kill you, tell me something.”

“The hunter of my kin seeks an audience with me. Child, I am a lord of vengeful spirits! Why should you have this privilege?” he asked.

As Apricot walked down the aisle of the auditorium. “This can turn out either way. It can go peacefully, or it can become brutal.”

As Apricot neared, the creature opened his wings and cried, “I prefer the second.” She dove to her side and pulled the trigger, shooting precisely in mid-air. After impact, the bullet fizzles as it burns into the creature’s skin like acid. “It burns!” he shrieked. 

Apricot snarled, “Silver bullet,” as the monster tumbled through rows of benches. The bleachers covered his body in splinters as he arose from the ground, grasping at his arm. He ripped at the injured arm with a roar. The wet bursts caused his skin to pop, revealing the muscle beneath as the tendons thinned. A torrent of blood poured from the limb after he severed his arm. Apricot winced at the sight of blood. He flung his useless part to the ground. As Apricot looked at the maimed creature, she remarked, “That is dedication.” The creature looked surprised by her comment. “What is your purpose here?” Apricot asked.

From across the room, laughter echoed as his gaze engulfed her. When he took a step forward, his blood flowed to the ground in measured beats. “We’ve been here a long time,” he said. “The wait was long. We came first. The intrusion came from you. Now, our world must unite with yours. As they merge, everyone will be able to see the real world.” As he approached, Apricot pointed her gun at him.

“Sure,” Apricot replied as she squeezed the trigger. When the monster flicked its arm, an invisible force flung the gun out of her grasp. With his drooling fangs out, he charged at her in a fury. A vicious slash comes from his clawed hand, forcing Apricot back a step. The nails on his claws barely missed her chest as she backed away from him. She pulled a baton from her side and struck the creature in the face. Similar to Shiori’s rod, a burn appeared on its face. She tried to strike the monster again with the baton, but it grabbed it instead. Shivering, he gripped the rod in his hand. He ripped the smoking baton from her grasp, then threw it away.

“Even silver can’t save you, girl,” he growled, spreading his fangs as he opened his jaws and lunged for her throat. As her hand glistens purple with fire, she punched the creature. Besides shattering the creature’s spine, the flames burned through its stomach. Apricot extended her arm and cut its upper body in half. Within a second, the monster was divided into two halves. She watched the creature disappear into the open air, leaving no trace of its existence behind.

With her teeth clenched, Apricot breathes hard. She looked down at the ground with wide, furrowed eyes. The sound of clapping on the other side of the room made her sigh and think, “Not tonight.” She felt a shiver run down her spine.

Her head snapped rapidly when the clapping man emerged from the shadows, and a familiar voice called out, “I thought you were a goner. It has been a while, reporter girl.”

She was drawn to the man’s shabby appearance. He is immediately recognizable to her. “Cortez?” Images of the train ride flow through her mind. The alley where he spat blood. She remembers the camera he gave her, too.

“Yeah, you remembered me this time.” Cortez laughed. “I didn’t think you were a mage, but look at you. There’s more to you than meets the eye.” He jumped off the stage and walked to the bleachers. “So, you handled everything yourself,” he exclaimed. “Heh, wow. Never would have guessed you were capable. I assume you have done this before. At least experienced enough to bring silver.”

“Do you know about all this?” Apricot asked, puzzled.

“No, not really. To be honest, I probably do as much as you do. Come on, let’s grab a bite, shall we? Is that alright with you?” replied Cortez. Apricot was thrown into an ocean of confusion. His audacity, acting as if they were friends. Of all times, too.

“What are you crazy?” Apricot shouted.

A sigh escaped Cortez’s lips. “No, I am hungry. After that fight, I’m sure you are, too.”

Despite Apricot’s indignation, Cortez was right. Apricot was hungry, and the idea sounded intriguing, to say the least. “Sure, whatever,” she replied.

“Yes, I have a place where we can eat and it is private, too.”

There is a little smoke in the room, and the floor is black and white tiled. The diner is decorated with red and white booths and black tables. To Apricot, it was a strange place. It seemed as if the people sitting around were shady. Even the waitress was wearing a low-cut uniform implied she was a lady of the night. “What kind of place is this?” Apricot inquired.

“Heh, a booth where we can talk and no one cares,” he said, his head resting against the cold window. “I am curious how long you have, you know, worked at it?”

Apricot made sure nobody was paying attention by looking around the room. “For a few months. Around the time I met you.” She shrugged. “I picked up a couple of tricks, but I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“So, how did you do it?” Cortez whispered, leaning closer. Apricot frowned, furrowing her brow. “The thing with the fire. Can you tell me how you did it? Could you show me?”

Apricot shrugged. “I can only do it when those things get close to me. I don’t know how it works. The first time it happened, I nearly died. It kind of clicked after I hunted those things. I’ve killed twelve, well, thirteen tonight.”

“Hmm, you’re pretty tough, right?” he replied. “I had not met any other girls this brave. So what makes you do it?” Cortez asked.

Putting her hand up, Apricot paused. “Wait a minute. I have a few questions of my own. I’m wondering how you know such things.”

“Well, if you insist.” Cortez rolled his eyes.

She lowered her gaze. “Yes, I do. I want to know who I am dealing with.”

“Okay, so this city is pretty shady. Right, so my father was a cop. Great guy. He was an investigator with the SDP. A very smart man whom I respected a lot. Probably about a year ago, maybe closer to two. Like he had this case dragging on. Something about internal corruption among nobles. Apparently, they were kidnapping kids for sacrifice rituals around town. He gets called out one day to respond to an emergency. At the mall, someone had become a gunman. They dispatched my dad and other officers to deal with the situation. The active-shooter got away, but my dad got shot in the face.” said Cortez, gnashing his teeth. 

“I am sorry.”

She could see Cortez rolling his eyes. “Save it; I am not done yet. In case of his death, my dad wanted me to keep his records hidden. When the old man came knocking in uniform, I knew dad was dead or gone. Under the floorboards, I tucked his file away. When the police searched for it, they almost destroyed our home. They really wanted it. He told me to burn it. But I didn’t. I looked through it. It contained many horrible things. Little girls with their bodies chopped up like they were in a butcher shop. The floor was soaked in blood. Unending reports of monsters. Okabe’s are to blame. After I got some balls right, I looked for a temple in that area. I found a few scattered around the city in unexpected places.”

Apricot raised her soda to her mouth and sipped out of the long straw. She couldn’t take her eyes off Cortez. “Yeah, well, I found one.” he continued. “In the industrial district, I guess. Man, it was just like any other temple. So, while I’m walking around this temple, I notice it was empty, and it really is an abandoned temple with no groundskeepers or anything. I had the feeling that I was being watched the whole time. Suddenly, something hideous came from the shadows. This was like some type of rat dog creature. It had a big mouth, like half its body.”

“Made of shadows?” Apricot added in a dull tone.

Cortez choked. “Yeah, you saw one too?”

Apricot nodded. “In my kid brother’s room.”

“Shit. “ Cortez’s breathing rasped. “I grabbed anything I could find. A silver rod was hanging from the wall. After striking it, it exploded into dust. I rushed out of there in a flash. I figured there were more of them, but didn’t want to find out. I did a little more digging and discovered there are places around the city where people who know about this congregate. This is one of those places. It’s safe here, and people respect each other enough to keep out of each other’s business. Like all these stories about terrorists, they’re all lies. No bombs, no chemicals. This stuff’s been carrying on for years. And they keep happening. There’s a panic brewing on, and I feel like something big is about to happen.”

“I have felt the same way, too. So what now?” Apricot asked.

On this issue, Cortez remained silent. Outside, a light drizzle fell against the window. He stretched his arms and his back. “Hell if I knew. Keep in touch. After all that, I feel a little uneasy myself.” Cortez said. Reaching into his jacket pocket, he pulls out a wad of marks, leaving it on the table. “You be careful. If you need help, you know where to find me. Every morning, the train still rolls in.” Apricot nodded as he left the diner. As she sipped her soda, Apricot muses on what she heard just now.

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 10

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 10

Chino’s Story

Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis

“This is an inspiring entry. We at Eerie Truths Monthly receive a fair number of letters from aspiring informants. Usually, they deal with a variety of subjects, from aliens to cryptids, and even sometimes government conspiracies. Last week, we received a letter from Chino Tokuma, who claims to have been involved in a secret project that led to the Blue Ash Crisis.”

Apricot skimmed the article and concluded that it was mostly opinion. There are a lot of sensitive topics in Chino Tokuma’s letter, but even Eerie Truths avoided going into them. Apricot gently brushed the magazine from her lap and headed to the hallway to get a directory. With a little searching, she found Tokuma’s address. “What were you on about, Shiori?” she said to herself as she penned the address on a legal pad.

A few children were playing in the alleyway next to Apricot. Yhanjo proved to be an enjoyable, quiet urban neighborhood. She had always considered the inner city to be devoid of nature, so the sight of plants spruced up in several houses was a welcome sight. There is so much concrete and so little green space in cities like this. However, this area was stunning. So much foliage surrounded brick apartments that it appears to grow naturally from the walls.

From the other side of the road, a stream echoes. Apricot smirked as she saw 1514 Dujho street’s black cast-iron fence. The address is a few years old. She hoped this remained as Chino’s current house. She hiked up the concrete stoop and knocked on Chino’s forest green door. The door opened a few moments later, revealing a mature Uchellan woman. Apricot couldn’t place her age despite graying hair and crow’s feet at the corners of her eyes. In a blue button-up shirt and blond slacks, she looked cheerful. “Hello dear, is there anything I can help you with?”

Apricot bowed her head. “My name is Apricot Signa. Currently, I’m a student journalist. Your story about what happened during the crisis fascinated me.” Apricot tried her best to sound professional. “I was wondering if you would mind doing a follow-up with me.”

Chino smiled half-heartedly. “Come in.” When Apricot stepped onto Chino’s finely polished hardwood floors, her Uchellan heritage was on full display. The low black furniture with mats, the lighting is soft and the tray planters are attractive. All the marks of a traditional Uchellan. Apricot followed Chino through a narrow hallway to sit at a small table in a much larger living room. “I’ll make us some tea,” Chino said.

“Thank you, I would much appreciate that,” Apricot replied as Chino left down the narrow hall. The experience of drinking tea with an elderly Uchellan brought Apricot a fair amount of distress. While she tried to recall the proper etiquette for drinking tea, she couldn’t remember any of it. Uchella’s mannerisms were lost on her being a foreigner and all. She worried Tokuma would perceive her as a “galijoh,” a derogatory term in Uchellan for a careless overstayer.

Apricot put her knees together as Chino returned with a plate of hot tea. She is seated so her rear just touches her feet. While bowing, she tried to hide the fact that she has forgotten most of the conventions of tea drinking, which are very important to the local culture. Chino chuckled. “My dear, you are an immigrant. Are you not?” Apricot blushed sheepishly. She continued, “With a name like Signa, I could expect nothing less. My children don’t even seem to have learned the old way of doing things. I appreciate your effort, though. Now sit down as a modern lady.”

Apricot’s body initially felt tense, but she soon relaxed. At the back of her mind, she felt it disrespectful. “Your home is so beautifully decorated, Miss Tokuma.”

“Flattering an old lady like me will not get you anywhere. You develop a little intuition when you’ve been around for as long as I have. So it’s only natural you’d want to hear what I have to say. I won’t waste your time with pleasantries.” Drinking her tea, Chino said, “I understand you young people are so busy.” Apricot smiled, appreciating the thought. “Before we begin, I would like to know why you want to interview me,” Chino replied.

“Well,” Apricot said.

In response to Apricot’s words, Chino raised her hand. She lowered her gaze, revealing a perceptive expression. “I want the truth. Not a slippery way of saying things.”

Apricot chuckled, enjoying the old woman’s demeanor. “I don’t know why, myself,” she said. “Maybe it’s just that I’m curious. I might find an answer to a question I have if I understand the question, to begin with.”

“What question is troubling you?” Chino placed her teacup on the table and covered her hands with her chin.

Apricot stiffened. “No, my answer will sound crazy.”

Chino stroked her chin ever so delicately. “As a young girl like you, I would also have thought the same thing. I won’t force the matter. If it is the Crisis, I imagine it would be a difficult subject. It is unusual for a foreigner to be interested in such a serious issue. You could never write a credible article about it.”

“It’s something I already know. I’m not writing a report. I lied about my intentions. It was more of a personal interest.” Apricot wondered if Chino already knew. Considering her claimed experience, she imagines that this elderly woman has gained a lot of wisdom over the years. She had become an oracle or something like one. Apricot dismisses it as dreaming. “Did you hear about the Ichigari Grocery attack?”

“How could anyone have missed that?” Chino said. “The news covered it for days.”

“I was there. I saw it. Can you believe what they are telling you?” Apricot asked.

Chino leaned over to pick up her tea. “I suppose I shouldn’t.” She took a sip.

“If I told you there was a monster, would you believe me?” When she finished speaking, Apricot fell silent.

A slow, uneasy smile crept across Chino’s face as she answered the question. “If you mean, if I suspect you to be crazy, then no,” she said. “I’ve seen some strange things myself,” she added. “I am now an old woman, and I can no longer continue. That strange man who runs that rag of a magazine listened to my story. But he didn’t publish it.”

“What is your story?” Apricot asked.

“Well, I grew up as a farmer’s daughter in Yoshima. My parents, their parents, and so forth, until antiquity. As a child, my parents noticed I was proficient at studying. At ten, I became fascinated with electricity. Around twelve, I designed a water-powered electric generator. As a result, the state contacted me to work on the Blue Ash project. Blue Ash was a small mining and fishing community. Very rural. As soon as I arrived, my first task was to help set up power lines with city planners.”

“Within a few years, we turned Blue Ash from a sleepy little town into a bustling metropolis. Meanwhile, a drilling expedition was underway.” Chino finishes her last cup of tea and says, “It became a cover for what we were doing.” Lifting a silver pitcher from the table, Chino inquired. “Would you like me to top off your drink?”

The story completely enthralled Apricot, “No thanks, but keep going.”

Chino poured herself a cup of tea and set the pitcher back down on the table. “Below the city, we built an elaborate machine. It facilitated teleportation. We were rather proud of our work. Previous tests showed we could transport matter from a single end of the base to the other in a matter of seconds. Our first manned test, however, changed everything. It proved that our assumptions were incorrect. There was a black void, like the vacuum of outer space surrounding the gate. We called it the between plane.” Chino smirked. “This is where things get weird.”

“The Okabe family and an individual named Urias Hilderic led the group. Urias had an eccentric personality. I later learned why, but he seemed focused on his work.” In the main corridor, Uraias would mumble to himself while taking notes. The plans and schematics he created were far superior to anything anyone had ever seen before. His demands were met. The gate was quite unlike anything else. Rather, it looks into hyperspaces. Additionally, he had specific coordinates.”

“We had built a satellite that would serve as our observer. The process went smoothly. Using the transmissions of the satellite, we observed what hyperspace looked like. Despite what we expected, everything turned out to be different. There were orbs in the hyperspace. We had believed they were pockets of energy that had balled up similar to ball lightning and could not disperse as they were trapped in the void.”

“Urias built a second satellite to harness the energy. After it was inside the void, we sent a technician out with it in a suit. That day, I handled the electric output. It was a laborious task. It was important to keep the power on for those above the gate while maintaining it so our technician would not get trapped. Urias did not appear. This only compounded my initial feeling of unease. Then I noticed something large in the distance. It rushed through, destroying everything it touched. Its sound was so loud that the radio speakers were damaged. Several pieces fell on me. They burned.”

“We suddenly found ourselves in a panic. Everything went black. After we left the control room, we found Uraias surrounded by those orbs in the main corridor. He had torn apart a pair of workers before devouring them. He mumbled crazy things while saying he was in a new world. Balls of light kept flinging out of the gate. Whispering around the room as though they were alive. The Okabe clan emerged and destroyed the gate. They arrested and took all of us into custody. The charges against me were dropped, and I was told not to mention it.”

Apricot nodded in concern. “That sounds terrible.”

“I’m not done yet,” Chino said. “They built the city according to a particular plan, and sigils are magical symbols used to enhance the power of spells. Everything was part of a ritual. The residents of the city above were spirited away. I can only imagine what happened to them. The city, however, remained intact. No explosions occurred. The sun turned black for a few days, but it wasn’t due to smoke. I never found out what those blue orbs were or where they went. The only thing I did was stay. I did nothing. The fate of Urias remains a mystery. Nonetheless, he wasn’t alone.”

“In our minds, he was always talking to himself as if that was the way he thought. He seemed to take orders from somewhere. But it wasn’t just him. That device didn’t come from him. This is my story.”

“Who designed them?” Apricot inquired.

Chino frowned as she looked down. “I don’t know,” she replied. “Apparently, something grabbed his ear. Perhaps he was just crazy enough to listen.”

“Thank you, Miss Tokuma,” Apricot said. “I’m grateful for all the information you’ve given me. I understand better now.”

“I am delighted to hear that, dear. With my story living on beyond me, I can now rest easy.” Chino said. “The nights are getting longer lately, aren’t they?” she said. “Now, get on with your day. I did my good deed for the day.” Chino left Apricot at the front door. She couldn’t help but wonder if Chino didn’t tell her everything, and as she left, Apricot fears that those blue orbs could be phantoms that escaped the reaper.

After leaving Chino’s home, Apricot boarded a train. She traveled over several lines before reaching the public records library. If Chino was telling the truth, it should be easy to prove it with a few key pieces of information. The baroque wooden front desk was manned by a young Uchellan girl who is a couple of years older than Apricot. Standing in front of a flat-screen, she used a scanner to scan documents as she checked them in. Apricot cleared her throat. “Excuse me.”

As she glanced up from her pile of documents, the lady sighed. “Yes,” she replied.

“Hi, I’m looking for microfilm of the city’s original zoning plans. I’m hoping you have them. I know this was before the crisis, but I can’t seem to find anything else on it.” The woman tapped her fingers rapidly on the table with a blank stare. Upon closer inspection, Apricot noticed a faint light emanating from a holographic keyboard. “That’s an interesting keyboard,” she said.

“Given how much we use our keyboards, the department thought this would be better.” As she typed, the girl had no inflection in tone. She glanced over at Apricot and said, “I liked the old ones, but you know how it is with the government.”

Apricot gave a nod of agreement despite having no clue what she meant. “Well, computers, you know?”

Blowing a puff of air out of her mouth as if blowing bubblegum, she further replied, “I am afraid I cannot provide you with that information without the necessary clearance. It’s not a public record.” Apricot pulled her badge from her wallet and placed it on the counter. The lady nodded as she inspected it. “It appears you’re a state journalist. So dressed as you are, I wouldn’t have guessed you were one. It’s a stereotype that state journalists are all rich men, you know?” Apricot resisted rolling her eyes. “Let me see if you have access.” The young woman placed the badge on the counter, typing the numbers into it. “You’re in luck,” she said. “Your clearance has been granted. I will gather up the viewing room key for you and grab the film you are looking for.”

“Thank you,” Apricot said to the librarian as she returned the card. With a smile on her face, she rested her back on the counter and looked at the library’s entrance doors.

“What are you doing here?” A male voice asked to her left.

When Apricot saw Sato approaching, her eyes lit up. “I’m just getting some info for an article I’m writing. So, what are you up to?”

As Sato shook his head, he looked down. “I had to register again.”

“The review’s a pain! How did you earn that?” Apricot asked.

“My photo caught a state official breaking the law. Instead of chasing after him, they took it out on me instead.” Sato smirked. “I had to pay back my earnings and make restitution to the state. That’s how it works.”

“Yeah,” Apricot replied, unsure of what to say. As a foreigner, there are advantages and disadvantages. She was untrusted by the government, and as a result, what she did as an Uchellan citizen was never taken seriously. Misgivings by natives are harshly punished. In most cases, what she did at the bank would have prevented her from becoming a journalist or even caused her to serve a long jail term. In other words, a foreigner working for the Uchellan government was a sign of progress for the societal position of the Uchellan in the world.

“I’ve got something to show you, Apricot. Would you mind dropping by my house later?” Sato asked Apricot.

“What is it?” Apricot inquired.

“It’s your pics. Heh, but I can’t explain it right now.” Having to explain a picture she took intrigued her.

“Sure, Sato,” she replied.

“Great. I’ll see you later. I hate to leave, but I’ve got to go. Machi needs a ride home from work, and I’m running late.”

Apricots smirked. “Go get her. I know how sensitive she can be when waiting.” Sato chuckled and waved to Apricot.

The librarian returned at last. Then she handed Apricot a small rod and said, “Mam, follow me.”

Only the mechanical squeals and hums of the viewing machine can be heard inside the darkroom. Apricot pressed her face against the viewfinder as she turned the knob to browse through photos and zone information. Half an hour later, she finds what she was looking for. A map of the city’s oldest streets. She traced out the paths with approximate sizes on the paper. As in the image of Vs and Xs, the roads converged, and the last road looped around everything in a complete circle. “It’s true what Chino said. They built the city around some kind of massive sigil.” As she pulled away from the machine, she sat back down in her chair. Looking up, she took a deep breath.

Sato’s apartment is in a large office building. It is for rent as office space, but Sato has converted it into a dwelling. Apricot is certain that if the right people found out, they would make him move. There’s a gray door outside a hallway where people are dressed in their usual business fatigues. Suits, ties, dresses. As the door opened, Sato had strung photos around every corner of the room. The place is a collage of memories and events preserved in gelatin resin. “Welcome,” Sato said, ushering her in.

Apricot hesitantly stepped into the rather wild-looking apartment. “Sato, I’ve never seen your apartment before, but your decor reminds me of a serial killer.” She laughed, to which he joined in.

He closed the door behind her, smirking. “I started with a few, but I have so many good ones that it grew into what it is now. Can’t part with them.”

Apricot smirked. “How was Machi?”

Sato shook his head. “Machi was feeling like Machi.”

“A little upset about being late?” Apricot asked.

“Just a little bit.” Sato walked over to his desk and picked up a pair of photos. “I have to ask,” he said, turning the images toward Apricot. “Where were those things when you took them?”

At the center of the photos, someone is disappearing into smoke. The figure is blurred and pitch black. Her jaw dropped as she shook her head in disbelief. “Nope, but I dropped the camera, so the negatives must have got damaged.” Apricot tried to play it off as best she could.

Astonished, Sato turned back to the photos and remarked, “I have never seen anything like that before. I thought the same thing, but these are the only two I’ve seen. Other photos are fine before and after. What’s scary is that there are a couple of images between them.”

Apricot laughed. She told him, “They weren’t there when I took them.” Sato nods his head. “Maybe something has gone wrong with the roll since it arrived from the factory.” Apricot speculated.

He laughed, “Anyway, they freak me out.”

“Likewise,” Apricot thought to herself. “Likewise Sato.”

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 9

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 9

Long Nights In The Park

Apricot looked at the spray-painted crown and pitchfork on the sidewalk and thought, “Finally.”. The tail-end pointed toward a dirty, worn-out automobile shop. Over the rusty doorway, “Grease Monkey’s” was displayed in large letters made of dead halogen tubes. Apricot strolled through the streets, following signs and symbols as she traveled. The sun had set by now and it was getting dark. She repeatedly ventured into bars and other shady-looking places without success. She had been kicked out several times today, and she was certain the police had been contacted at least once by now.

Leaving the shop, Apricot walked out with a hanging head. Despite her inaudible sigh, she grumbled, “This is impossible.” Just as she was about to give up on the entire idea of finding an illegal gun, she heard a loud “Psst!” from across the street. As she looked up, she saw a middle-aged man wearing normal clothing waving at her. “Here, miss.” The man directed her with a hand toward an alleyway. “I got it, we don’t do business in the front.” An extreme amount of apprehension had gripped Apricot. This was not what she was expecting. Even so, she didn’t know what to expect, but she knew that it wasn’t this. In this part of town, walking into an alleyway with a stranger seemed dangerous. Although she was reluctant, she decided to go. The man put his hand on her back and guided her down the empty backstreet. “Yo, kid, you’re looking for the wrong thing.”

Within seconds, she knew she didn’t want to be with him. There were enough memories in her mind from movies to know this is where the girl got kidnapped. Several men with bats, clubs, and metal poles popped out of the backdoor of the building she stood behind, confirming her most dreadful fears. Trying not to be cornered by the man, Apricot tries to back away. An additional three men are waiting at the entrance she just walked through, blocking her escape. The man next to her sneered, “There is no way out.”

“I don’t want any trouble,” Apricot yelped, holding her hands up to her face. The thought of being brutalized and trafficked has her heart pounding.

While they circled her, the man spat on the ground. “Sure, kid. One of my boys said a funny girl was moving around town looking to buy a gun. Real pretty girl with brown hair. You would not be her, would you?”

Her mask of horror was covered with an enormous smile of joy as Apricot turned her head towards him. Like chocolate and onions, her horror of death and her excitement of her excursion felt so strange together. She trembled in stutters. “Y-yes, I am.”

“Sure kid, funny thing, you have no clue what you’re doing, yet you knew how to find your way around.” The man did not appear amused as he approached the brick wall. She was surrounded by a group of dangerous men, who were waiting to tear her apart, or worse, and no one knew where she was.

“First-time buyer.” She jokingly replied, trying to lighten the mood. A few chuckles and even a smirk escaped the man she now believed was the leader.

Nodding his head, the man continued. “Yes, first-time buyers.” He shook his head. “I can’t believe a first-time buyer just cracked our code. Who told you?”

“No one,” Apricot responded.

Taking a deep breath, the boss man closed his eyes. Then he said, “See, I have a hard time with this because you did what the cops do. We got those old pitchforks, but you didn’t ask properly. Your persistence was annoying. I feel like a cop told you this. Not a good cop. Even the cops are not as sloppy as you.” A lump formed in her throat as the man nodded. “Heh, well, I guess you don’t want to talk about it.”

“I am interested in purchasing a gun. I urgently need one.” She burst out hoping they would believe her if she insisted. “Please.”

The boss-man cocked his head. He glanced over to a young man holding a black plastic baton, wearing a red hoodie and a white shirt. “Yeah, you will need protection,” he said. The boss man nodded. Jumping up to Apricot, the young man let out a grunt. As he weaved in her direction, she backed up.

Her heart nearly leaped out of her throat when she bumped into something solid. Glancing up, she saw a huge bald man grinning down at her. His arms wrapped around her and lifted her up. Dangling in his grasp, she kicked her feet. In response, the group merely snickered. As the man was about to strike her, a voice from the crowd yelled, “Ji Li, man, this isn’t right! You don’t need to do it that way.”

“Oh yeah, I see. You willing to vouch for her?” Apricot’s eyes scan the group to find the guy who may save her, but the two men in front of her block her vision.

The man hesitated. As she listened to the silence, her mind raced to the possibilities. Whether they would just beat her up or kill her, Apricot didn’t know. “Look at her, she’s not no one. Neither has she done anything. Just let her go.”

Ji Li snorted. “You gotta vouch for her.”

In a gang of hardened criminals, who would stand up for her? A gangster with a golden heart, perhaps? That kind of drama is unlikely to occur in real life. Maybe a cop? What did it matter? The only thing she knew was that someone might just get her out of this alive. “Please!” Apricot pleaded. A thump burst into her stomach as she grunted. Everything stopped at that moment. She lost consciousness as her eyes fell blank. As she looked down, she saw the young man pressing the baton against her. The tea she drank earlier spews out of her mouth onto the man.

“Whatcha do that for?” Ji Li inquired of the young man. “Ah shit, she’s got it all over her. Get her something to wipe her face off.” Ji Li told the guy next to him. “Can’t you see we’re talking? Are your ears broken?”

The man trembled. “She was disrespectful,” he said.

“You’re disrespectful. Heh, Balbo, you let that girl down.” Ji Li gestured his hand. The big dude set her feet down as he lowered her. “You’re spitting up shit, kid, get the hell out of here. Walk her out, man. Ensure she is okay.” The other guys are heading in all directions as they begin to clear the area. 

Seeing that her situation had improved, Apricot took a deep breath. The men walked around her as they avoided eye contact. She looked up at another man with a half-smile, holding out a rolled-up towel. He said, “Here, wipe up with this.”. Apricot accepted the towel and covered her face with the white rag. After removing the towel from her face, she felt faint. When she buckled at the knees and stumbled to her feet, she said to herself, “Don’t faint.”. As the man stepped away from her, she saw his expression. “Shit, what you thinking?” She heard Ji Li grunt as he walked into the back of the building.

As a result, she was alone in the alley with the other man. His hair is neat and he is clearly of Uchellan descent. A little androgynous, he had short, spiky mint-green hair that was strange to her. Wearing a red shirt with a high collared neck and black pants, his clothes are more traditional in style. The sleeves of the shirt were too wide. Apricot had noticed the style becoming popular with some subcultures. She assumed this one was likely a member of a nationalist gang. “You okay?” Apricot asked as she walked straight toward him. Her legs were trembling. She was straining to breathe.

Regardless of these facts, she huffed, “I’m fine.” The man walked with her until they were several blocks from the shops. The secluded alleyway provided the perfect cover, Apricot thought. “I was interested in buying a pistol.”

She was told, “Kid, stop that.”

“You don’t get it. My life is at risk. Please help me. I need a gun. I cannot explain it.” Apricot insisted.

The man stood straight up. “You are lucky to be alive, kid.” he said. “Imagine if there hadn’t been anyone to speak up for you. You would have died. But I knew you didn’t work for the cops. They wouldn’t hire someone as obvious as you.”

Apricot smirked. “Yeah, because you’re a cop.” The man rolls his eyes at her joke with an uncomfortable glance. Her suspicions were confirmed by this reaction. Apricot repeated, “You’re a cop.”

The man snapped, “Don’t even joke. So what does a girl like you need a gun for?”

“I am fighting phantoms,” Apricot told the man with a straight face. As a cop, he would have heard about spooks. Perhaps he saw some himself.

His thin lips were curved into a grin. “Right, aren’t we all?”

“No,” she replied. “I mean phantoms. Monsters, things that appear and then disappear right back into thin air. The terrorist attacks, heh, foolishness.” Apricot said to the man. His eyes widened in discomfort. “You know what I mean because you are a cop.”

“Stop with the cop thing and anyone will look at someone funny talking like that. Now get the hell out of here.” He turned his back on Apricot, taking a few steps away from her.

Apricot assured herself, “He won’t walk away. He knows I am telling the truth.”

Just as she predicted, the man turned back and sized Apricot up again. He pursed his lips and blew a puff of air after examining her. “You are not wrong about those things, though,” he said. “Do you know what they are?”

“I have not a clue. I know I would be better off if I kept quiet. Ichigari Grocery is where I worked. Hence my need for a gun. One of them was at my house the other night. In my little brother’s room. I’m sure he wanted to eat him. A horrible wolf monster. I killed it with his baseball bat. I wish I could tell you more, but I have to stop them.” The man took a deep breath and reached into the pocket of his shirt. Apricot found the object she sought. A gun at last. As he approached her, he placed the gun in her hand. She wrapped her fingers around the handle, feeling a sense of power and security wash over her.

He squinted down at the gun and did not let go. “It’s a 45. That means the bullets it uses have points four, five on them. “Don’t get caught with it.” he warned, letting go of the pistol. “It carries the death penalty.” The man shook his head. “The number has been removed, and the tracking device has been removed. It should work in jammed areas. It’s the real deal. Even though I am not sure why I am doing this, I feel like it is the right thing to do. Whatever you do, I hope it works.”

Turning away from her, he headed back the way he came down the road. Putting the pistol in her purse, she zippered it. A smile spread across her face as she petted the side of the purse with her hand.

“Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster ………………………………………………………………P. 04

Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster

“If you have been out at Eastway Park at night and have found yourself lost, you are not alone. A startling number of reports from passers-by have said this small little park at night appears as an endless labyrinth. So many, in fact, that the city of Blue Ash has put a ban on entry after dark. So you won’t be able to check this one out for yourself. We would not suggest you try, anyway. If you thought those reports were strange, what lies inside police records might have you even more on edge.”

“People said inside that labyrinth, there were monsters. Strange creatures of various descriptions. Some reported seeing strange shadows along the walls. We have also received many letters pertaining to this matter. One letter detailing a monster reminded us much of a flying squid. The only thing we know for sure is something strange is going on in Eastway Park.”

Apricot jumped off the barricade and stared into the darkness of Eastway Park. She is determined to test these claims for herself. The rest of those stories may hold some merit if this one is successful. While walking home, she had a thought. What if all these “paranormal” things are actually the phantom’s effects? Since she already knew they could cause electrical disturbances and alter the temperature, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch. There might be other things they can do. If that was the case, she would have to investigate these weird urban legends around town. Her peace of mind was heightened by the thump of the gun against her hip.

As she walks around the pavement loop, she passes a fountain located at the center of the park. It wasn’t long before she found herself back at the beginning again, unable to find the “labyrinth”. Rolling her eyes, she walks towards a small patch of trees, the overgrowth battling with the man-made order. While strolling through the park, she felt like an idiot for even trying this stupid charade.

Apricot decided it’s best to leave, all but done with this embarrassing fiasco. As she abandoned the park, her eye is drawn to something she hadn’t seen the first few times. There was a tunnel with strange markings. It had spirals, triangles, and circles painted on it. “If there was a labyrinth, then this must be it.” Apricot concluded.

Her nose was filled with a rancid smell, reminding her of the sour scent of rotten meat wafting from the labyrinth. Taking hold of the pistol’s grip, she slowly slid it from the waist of her blue jeans, leveling it into a stance she had seen on TV. Peering into the tunnel, she surveyed its interior. The walls were covered in faded and peeling paint, revealing blackish brick underneath. As she walked deeper into the room, she noticed red puddles on the floor. However, there were no bodies to be found. But it still looks like blood. Warm wetness hits her head as she continues into the dark tunnel. There were some very large veins visible in the ceiling as she glanced up. 

Her heart raced as they wiggled like they were pumping. The walls of the tunnel pulsed to a rhythmic beat as she listened closely. As fingers touched the side of her arm, she let out a shriek. A pale hand rests on her arm, catching her attention. Looking up, she is greeted by cold dead eyes staring at her face. Laughing, Apricot said, “You scared me.”. No words came out of the thin lady’s mouth, but her face moved closer to Apricot’s. When she felt the sudden sense of danger engulf her, she pulled back as if a dog was about to bite her.

“How long have you been here?” Apricot asked, noticing her clothes were from another era entirely. The woman opened her mouth, still stretching her face toward Apricot. Her tongue snaked out but then sank back inside. “Do you understand me?” she asked without replying. Her nerves were on edge. Such behavior cannot be human.

Her neck appeared to be stretched further as she strains it. As she leans forward, her arms are straight. Like dried paper, her face splits down the middle, revealing a skull with skin covering it. Apricot estimated that the woman stood to a height of at least ten feet as it stretched several feet from her body and its pulsing muscles became visible. Its chest bursts out, revealing its larger shell-like carapace and arms resembling a praying mantis’ scythe. Its shell was brown, and its legs curved oddly and her thorax wiggled from the rear.

Apricot leveled the barrel at the creature and screamed. Her hand flew into the air when she pulled the trigger, and pain flooded her wrist. And worst of all, it appears the bullet has little effect on the creature. Apricot ducked to hear the blade scraping across the wall as it slashed.

After turning and running toward the entrance, she was unable to see it from this distance. Instead, the tunnel seemed endless and dark. Her only source of light was the dull red glow of the veins above her. A strong vibration indicates the creature’s approach. It wasn’t far behind her. As it continues down the tunnel, it hisses at her. As she turns around, Apricot fires again at the creature. This time, she watches the bullet impact its chest. Sparks fly as the bullet hits and then disappears. “What!” Apricot screamed. This was it. Apricot was going to die. As she huddled into a ball, screaming, the creature dove.

“That’s not apt to help you.” remarked a male voice. The girl turned her head to see a young man holding a decorative rod in front of the creature’s scythes.

Apricot was stunned. “Who are you?”

As he pushed with his arm, he forced the creature back. “So you like picking on little girls?” he growled, walking towards the creature who was now screaming a high-pitched roar at him. “Yeah, yeah, you can complain all you like.” The creature lunged and swung its blade. The man parried the blow, knocking the claw aside. He repeated this several times until he used the back end of his rod to strike the creature in the face.

A large spark erupted from the creature in the blink of an eye. The skull underneath was exposed after the skin from the creature’s face fell off. It appeared that only a few pieces of the creature’s visage remained, dripping out like slime. Turning away, the creature fled into the distance. “What?” it asked. “Don’t like silver?” he sneered and threw the rod at the creature, knocking it to the ground as though it was being electrocuted. As it lay on the ground, its body convulsed. Once the monster had shrieked for a while, the flashing tunnel returned to darkness, and the monster became quiet.

Getting closer to the rod, he lifted it off the gunge. Looking back at Apricot, he gloated. “Hello, my name is Shiori Kinjo,” he said.

“Kinjo!” She felt a wave of shock wash over her. “He is royalty!”

She feels as if the man can read her mind, since he confirms her thoughts. “And yes, I am that Shiori, the heir to the Kinjo family nobility. Now tell me, dear, why are you carrying an illegal weapon in these tunnels?” Apricot was taken aback by his firm tone, thinking about her response.

Apricot murmurs, “I’m hunting phantoms.”

As Shiori rubbed his chin, he smirked. “How interesting.” he said. Maybe I can get along with you. “However, I have never seen anyone hunt a phantom while curled up in a ball like a coward.” Apricot had not realized, but she was still lying on the ground. She sprung up immediately.“For now, I will not take any notice of your pistol. If you plan on using it, you should learn how to use it.” Apricot is unsure what to say. Rather than speak, she nodded. “It appears. You don’t speak much. Star-struck? Hmm?” he beams.

Apricot said, “I almost died.”

Shiori said, “Get used to it, miss “phantom” hunter.” He continued walking past her toward the end of the tunnel, “Most things aren’t too friendly when you’re trying to kill them.”

“Hold on!” Shiori glanced at her back. “Do you know what these are?” she asked. “Why are you here? What is happening?!”

“I will answer just one question. You decide.” Shiori replied smugly. Apricot reviewed the questions. Which was the most significant? Where would the most information be found? “If you are going to waste my time, I have elsewhere to go. The night hasn’t ended yet.”

Apricot makes a snap decision. “Do you know what these things are?”

Shiori walked again and smiled as he said, “I do.”

“What! “Aren’t you going to tell me?” Apricot shouted.

“Not a chance, dear. As I promised, I answered one question.” Shiori laughed. “If you survive, I might reconsider.”

Apricot followed him. “You’re a jerk, you know?”

“A jerk that saved your life, my dear. Remember that,” he chuckled. “There is one thing I can give you. The Crisis. Start there.”

Grasping at her face, Apricot squinched up. “What do you mean by the Crisis?” This time, he didn’t respond. Instead, he accelerated. At the end of the tunnel, Apricot expected Shiori to at least say goodbye to her, but he doesn’t even pause to say goodbye. “You’re such an asshole,” Apricot said in a growling tone. “But at least I’m not the only one.”

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 8

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Chapter 8

Buy A Magazine, Get A Gun

The wooden gate opened with the tug of Apricot’s pale hand. Cars and well-kept shrubbery lined the streets around the Signa family home. The shadows from the fixtures under streetlights purpose a constant suspicion of danger. “They are coming to my house now,” Apricot whispered under her breath, her eyes darted towards every strange shape. Stretching her fingers through her hair, she tugged at her roots, the pain stealing any hope that this was a bad dream. The cool night breeze made her shiver as it brushed against her skin. Strangely enough, this brought her comfort, as the air was not frigid.

Apricot had concluded these phantoms cause phenomena in their surroundings. Arctic temperatures followed them along with electrical disturbances. These two signs satisfied her as guiding stones to identify when these beings were near. Moving through the night streets, Apricot could not help but notice how empty her quiet burrow seemed. As if the civilized world had vanished with the night, like crossing some forbidden threshold. All the talk of terrorist attacks must have people scared of going out, she figured.

She stops in the middle of an intersection. A convenience store lights the night street, shining like a glowing beacon, and there it was, the subject of her curiosity. Peering through the large store window, she noticed the magazine rack with a stack of Erie Truth’s Monthly on a lower shelf. The store door opened with a synthesized bell. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” she mumbled under her breath as her heart pounded with embarrassment. Behind the counter, an elderly man gave her a quiet nod, acknowledging her presence. She waved back at him, a simple but kind gesture of reciprocation. She passed by several assorted racks of junk food, a fixture displaying new gum, and a cooler filled with various soft drinks. Glancing over the magazine rack, she considers grabbing several, hoping to mask her intended purchase. Instead, she looked through the issues pages. She held the copy reading over the embellished cover as a bead of sweat dripped from her nose onto the magazine’s face. “Well, I can’t go back now,” she said as the splotch seeps into the paper.

Apricot tossed the magazine onto the counter, flashing a smile at the gruff-looking old man. “Will this be all for you dear?” he inquired with professionalism from a time past Apricot admired.

“Yes, weird thing to get at night huh?” Apricot submitted.

The old man chuckled. “I have seen stranger things, hun. These can be quite the entertainers. I read the Daily Notes myself.” The Daily Notes, Apricot, grunted in her mind. No one but the most desperate journalist wrote for that one. Then again, the same could be said for Eerie Truths, and yet she looked for answers where she knew better not to.

“You don’t say.” Apricot sensed the heat around her getting more intense. “You like this place kept warm, huh?” she commented. “Perhaps, maybe… no, that is not the pattern.” She thought to herself.

“The place gets a little chilly every time that door opens. So I like to keep it at a solid 75 degrees,” he said after ringing up the magazine. “Your total comes to five Marks, my dear.”

Apricot drew a plastic card from her pocket, swiping against the reader. The little screen displayed the number of marks being taken out of her account with a short animation to show the transaction going through. “75 degrees, you say.” Apricot hesitated, feeling as though the heat was well over a blistering one hundred and twenty.

“You know now you mention it. It is feeling a little warm in here.” the old man offered. He raised his hand to his head, removing several beads of sweat. He walked over to a beam behind the counter looking at a small white box. “Nope, the heater is set to 70. It seems cooler over here. Must be my dang computer system overheating again.”

“Yeah, the computer system,” Apricot added, reassuring herself. “Maybe temperature changes are a signal.” Apricot considered. “But if that is the case…”

The older man doddled back over to the counter. “Young lady, I am sorry if it caused you any discomfort.” He apologizes, handing the magazine to her in a white plastic bag.

“Oh, not at all. It is fine. I feel bad for you having to work in this kind of heat.” Apricot commented. “Thank you, sir.”

“No, no, thank you. Now you go enjoy that magazine of yours.” the man said before lowering behind the counter grumbling about unclogging the dust from the computer’s fan system.

Apricot could not get home fast enough. As she left the man’s store, she was close to a full sprint. The heat seemed to follow her. Through her front door, she snapped the locks shut and up the stairs, she went. Once in her room, she jumped onto her bed, flopping on her stomach, flipping open the magazine. As she rested on her bed, she glanced over at the window. “It’s locked. It’s not open.”

She begins by flipping through the first few pages, spreads of various advertisements for survival equipment, something with a man with a taped-up face. She was not entirely sure what it was about and some other uninteresting text plastered pages. Once she found the table of contents, she scanned the magazine for anything that might explain things. “I can’t believe I am doing this,” she thinks to herself while browsing the page.

Paranormal Experiences Of Eastway Park And The Eastway Monster – P. 04

Religious Cult And Ritual Performance On Stage At Matsume Theater – P. 15

Tricked Into Initiation By Vampire Club – P. 28

Man-Eating Leeches Found In Okabe Sewers – P. 33

Boy Claims To Be Alien From Another Planet – P. 40

Claw Fingers Linked In Ikijoji Murders NEW PHOTOS – P. 42

Mental Travel And Astral Projection – P. 51

Woman Claims To Have Caused The Blue Ash Crisis – P. 57

International Conference For Paranormal Studies Blocked By Okabe Government – P. 62

After looking down the list, she chuckled to herself, “What am I doing?” Apricot flipped to page 42 to see an image of “Claw Fingers” caught on surveillance footage.

“It appears wherever disaster strikes, Claw Fingers appears. Many people have theorized that Claw Fingers has caused disasters around Okabe since he appeared several months ago. Claw Fingers was first photographed during the subway disaster in Tsungdung, appearing inside the subway tunnel while crews were removing the wreckage of redline 45.”

Some grainy images showing what appeared to be the reaper standing accompanied the text of the article. However, it is hard for Apricot to tell considering the images are so blown up and manipulated.

“He has had several sightings around the city since then. There were reports of him watching from the rooftops at the mysterious Bokohara antique shop attack. Still no information on what that was about. Now we have new reports of him being sighted on Ikijoji street last week before and after the murders had occurred. What we can say is that Claw Fingers is not going away and is being increasingly sighted. Authorities have refused to comment on the sightings but have suggested that this is some kind of mass public hysteria. I think they know something and they are not telling us. What do you think?”

Apricot stopped reading the article by putting it down. “He said something about being a reaper. Maybe he is there because that is his job or something.” Apricot let out a laugh. “Listen to me. I am theorizing about a freaking urban legend,” her giggle frenzy came to a halt with a sober acknowledgment, “One I saw.” With a hard toss, she sent the magazine flapping across the room. It struck the wall and landed on the floor. With one glance at the open page of Claw Fingers, she turned away and leaned back in her bed. “They are as clueless about everything as I am. I was crazy to think one of these magazines could hold the answers I was looking for. This Claw Fingers is not my threat right now, though. It’s these phantoms. I can’t keep running away from the truth. The reaper said something about having to stop them. What is he crazy? I can’t fight those things on my own. I can’t even see them. And I can’t tell the police, that is for sure.” Apricot mused. She let out a sigh, placing both her palms atop her eyes laying against her pillow.

She glanced back over at the magazine on the floor. On the other page next to “Claw Fingers” is an advertisement for a pistol. “A gun,” she said aloud, removing her hands from her face. “I need a gun.”

The next morning, Apricot made her way across town. Two subways, a bus ride, a bite to eat at a small restaurant called “The Blue Lady”, window shopping and still she could not find the nerve to purchase a weapon.

She had passed Bullseye’s several times. The shop window was plastered with flyers for ammunition and new tactical gear along with Ready To Eat Meal specials. She watched as a young lady about her own age strolled out of the shop with two bags. “Well, maybe it won’t seem so strange to them,” Apricot assured herself, rousing what little courage she had.

She crossed into the storefront until she noticed her fingers tingle. The unoiled door opens with a creak, greeting her with walls overspread with every kind of black tactical weapon she had ever seen and even some she hadn’t. Her eyes grew wide as it struck her with intimidation. Several glass cases displayed various knives, along with some decorative swords. Survival gear and backpacks with an assembly of accessories line the other walls. As she looked around, she was overwhelmed. “You look a little lost, hun. Whatchya in here for?” commented a young man at the counter.

Apricot sheepishly walked to the counter. Each step was small and deliberate as she scrutinized the room with her eyes. “I want a gun. A pistol,” she said.

“A lady that knows what she wants. I like that in a girl.” He chirped. “A pistol, huh? First-time buyer?”

Apricot nodded, looking at a rather menacing long-barreled rifle. “Is that a sniper rifle?”

“Why yes honey, that is a rifle. Why this is a Maji-O’ B15A112, a pretty little girl isn’t she? If you got the right sights, you can land a shot dead center from half a mile away. Gas piston, so she needs a little more love than your spring variant, but she is hell’a more accurate.” the man told her. He bent behind the case, picking up a small pistol from the back. “Since this will be your first gun, I suggest the Markov C14, also known as Justice,” he chuckled, admiring the short-barreled silver polished weapon in hand. “This little gun is a standard issue for civil servants. It has a carrying capacity of seven 9mm rounds, plus one in the chamber. Lightweight, easy to carry, and won’t break the bank either. You don’t need to clean it as often, but she still needs love from time to time. It is good for first-time buyers because she is easy to care for and the recoil won’t be breaking your wrist.”

Apricot’s stary eyes could not be missed. “Yeah that. That will work. How much?”

“Well, tell you what, normally I would sell this to you for 400 but since it’s your first gun, how about 250 Marks?”

Apricot drew several Jade cards out of her wallet, placing them on the counter. “Done,” she said.

The man smirks at her. “I like your enthusiasm. I do. But you need a background check first.” he said, drawing several papers out of a folder. “I need you to fill out these forms and then we can send it on in.”

“How many hours do I have to wait?”

“Eager, heh, well, it takes about a week. Sometimes longer depending on how many are sent in.”

Apricot shakes her head. “No, no, I need that gun today.”

The man shakes his head. “Sorry sister, that won’t be happening? Gun laws, you know. Did you get into trouble? If you do, I would suggest going to the police before taking things into your own hands.”

Apricot nods. “I am a student reporter, sir. I need a weapon for protection.”

“Heh, you think that will convince me to break the law? Honey, do you understand the amount of trouble I could get into if I let you have this gun without a proper check?”

“I do, but this is different. I really need it. I can’t explain why but I need it.”

“No. I am sorry hun,” he said, taking back the papers. “I don’t feel comfortable selling this to you. Like I said, if you are having trouble, go to the police. I can’t help you. Sorry.”

“Fine, I will do the background check. Look, I need this, OK.” Apricot retorted.

The man turned his back on her. “This is not something I’m comfortable with. I will have to ask you to leave my store. Since you are searching for an article, I won’t report this to the police. However, I would suggest you don’t do this with anyone else. You got it.”

“I just want to buy a pistol.” Apricot fumed turning away from the counter and out the front door.

Apricot relaxed on a bus hunched over on the small window sill ridge. She watched the buildings and cars below pass by as the bus continued down the long stretch of roadways. Deep in thought, her mind spiraled with worries and fears. She realized she sure as hell was not getting her hands on a gun, not legally, that is. However, even illegally, it is not like people advertise that sort of thing. She thought about wandering around the more shady parts of town. However, without knowing what she was doing, she figured she would be in danger of being trafficked. She could ask Cortez, but she was positive he wanted nothing to do with her after the whole camera incident.

Her thoughts turned to identifying people she may know that know something about illegal firearms. That is when her mind landed on Solenne. She is an officer. Traffic cop most of the time, but an officer nonetheless. Though she considered her reaction to asking her about getting a firearm illegally. If she were to do something like that, she may find Solenne handcuffing her. She had to uphold the law, after all. But being a journalist, she could offer the idea of being for an article. Apricot smiled to herself, taking out her cellphone.

“So why did you want to have tea with me at this hour?” Solenne asked sitting back in a private secluded corner. The fabric of the lounge chairs in the teahouse was gray, matching the carpets in the cafe’s center. The floors on the raised platform where Apricot and Solenne sat are warm hardwood. Above them hung large red ball lanterns with golden tassels hanging from their light. The cafe had a conic shape for it. A live pianist serenades the air with background music.

Apricot sipped her tea with a flushed smile. “You don’t waste time.” She chuckled.

Solenne grinned. “Rarely do we go out for tea, just the two of us? So I got enough intuition to know,” she said lowering her gaze to Apricot. “What exactly do you want to know?”

“To know?” Apricot said innocently.

“Well, your text kind of made it obvious. Solenne, I am so stressed about my next article. I can’t think of anything to write about,” she mocked Apricot, rolling her eyes. “Want a scoop?”

Apricot nodded. “I kind of want something specific. I was looking through the official reports about that bank robbery.” Solenne smiled. “Well, they had illegal firearms. How does a criminal get an illegal firearm here?”

“Oh, there are black markets all over the place girl.” Solenne gestured with her hand. “You would not believe how many there are. We have an entire department dedicated to busting up illegal markets and almost all of them have firearms.”

“Yeah, so how do you guys find those guys?” Apricot asked.

“Well, they don’t make it easy. It’s not impossible to find them, but as I said, it is difficult. Especially for police. They know who is a cop and who is not normal. A lot of our officers get messed up looking for them. We use undercover cops. Infiltration is the best method.” Solenne explained, taking a sip of her tea.

“So, how do the undercover cops find these groups?” Apricot set her tea down, grabbing her notepad from her side.

Solenne chuckled, seeing the notepad come out. “Oh, I am being interviewed now.”

“Something like that,” Apricot said. “Completely anonymous, of course. Just for my research.”

“Well, the first thing to look for is their calling card. It’s normally a bar with a crown with a pitchfork going through the crown. That is how you know it is an illegal arms seller. However, you just can’t ask to buy a firearm. They won’t like that. So we have to find these spots. The symbols can be hard to find, but normally the pitchfork’s base is the arrow pointing in the ship’s direction. You can search all over town until you find the specific shop.” Apricot bobbed her head as she jotted down Solenne’s words.

“So how dangerous are these places normally?”

“Hey, you’re joking, right?” Solenne said smirking. “Dangerous. I know I would not want to be on assignment anywhere near those types of people.”

Apricot frowned. “I know, right? I can’t imagine having to do something so dangerous daily.”

Solenne pauses, straitening her posture. “Apricot,” she said in a firm tone, looking her in the eye. “Don’t do anything crazy with that knowledge. I think that is enough to give you an article.”

“Plenty,” Apricot punctuated. “Thanks, Solenne.” She puts down the notepad, placing it back into her coat pocket. “So, tell me, how are things with you and Arjun?”

The constant clatter of the decorated glass plates and small teacups and the murmurs of distant conversation filled the room. A group of men sat in a distant corner of the teahouse. A house servant poured their drink from a large kettle. She bowed as the men raised their drinks to her with a smile. With a chirp and a giggle, she made her leave to the men in their private section of the room.

“Now we are alone. Let us begin the proper conversation. Something needs to be done about Kyo. She has no respect for the order.” A man with short, fading black hair said. “We all watched her murder my brother and everyone celebrated because of old stories written by a senile woman. I can’t allow this to stand.”

Another man nodded his head, his head a field of gray. “Yes,” he coughed. “I agree, Naju. Yet, what can we do? She has the support of the lesser order. If we were to remove her, people would blame us for the failure of the rituals.” He took a sip of tea.

Another man spoke up. “The four of us know what needs to be done. Ujima, don’t act innocent. We need to kill her. The question is who will carry it out?”

“I will,” Hegia stated. The other men turned to face him. “I already planned to speak with her. We are going to the theater to discuss plans for the future. I will push her off the balcony. The fall will kill her for sure. I will do this, in Mitsura’s honor. He did not deserve that death. May his soul find peace.”

“Then it is settled,” Naju said. “We must keep this meeting secret. If anyone were to find out our discussion took place, it would be rather ill-received. Do we have an agreement?” The other men nodded their heads. “Good, then let it be considered no more.”

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 7

The previous chapter may be worth reading first if you have not already done so. To access the previous chapter, click the button below.

Chapter 7

A Dog In The House

An elegant spire, far from the imagination of commoners, filled with low chants as the nobility of Okabe gathered. They are seated in their stilted chairs, dressed in the most expensive suits, ever vigilant and omnipotent; in their own minds. A circle of candles surrounded Lady Kyo, the young high priestess, as she rested on her knees. Her brush painted bloody signs and symbols all over the checkered floor. As she sang her haunting croon, the shimmer of her cloak flew through a haze of dull red smoke.

In front of Kyo, on the ground, is the body of a young girl. As blood poured onto the floor from a pool that kept growing, the throat of the girl was slit open like that of a lamb. As the girl’s body paled in front of Kyo, she dropped her arms to her sides and took a deep breath. The girl is about 12 years old, Kyo thought inwardly to herself. That is about the age when she should be going to middle school. Maybe. However, the sacrifice she made did not seem to be appreciated. Despite this, however, it was for the sake of appeasing her masters and it must be done.

Tonight, however, will prove to be one of many useless killings in the future. With her sights lowered, Kyo gazes into the scarlet pool once more. “It is I that have watched you in your perpetual slumber, and in return, I have given you that which you seek. Blood, drink of it off the floor like dogs. For you stand at the threshold of paradise, but paradise eludes you. You have brought the place that you had once regarded as the highest low, and now you have unlocked and opened the door, but you have not found habitation in it, rather you have given a home to every unclean being. Hence, your nightmare will begin, and I will release you from the shackles of that seduction tonight, and I will do this favor only for you and transcend where you have failed so far.”

“What is this?” Mitsura hissed from his ceremonial throne. This act usually would have scared Kyo, but not tonight. In fact, she was surprised that she had little reaction. Now she was High Priestess, not Kyo; niece of Lord Mitsura. Compared to her duty to her Lord, her duty to the Okabe clan was far greater. “Is this a joke? Lady Kyo, you violate our ritual so foolishly?”

Kyo stood at this point, shutting down Mitsura’s outburst. Brazen courage surrounded her. “My chance has not come to me. You gave your alchemy to a secret weakness, and you could not capitalize on it. There is a pressing need for quick action, for fresh blood to resurrect the Okabe family.”

Like hounds waiting on their master, the other cloaked men drew their daggers. The blades, though sharp, don’t frighten her. If the scry was true, she would stand in front of the gates of Evermore and see the New World born from her own hands. A feeling of curiosity sat in Mistura as he raised his hand, putting the cloaked men at ease. The mask remained on Lady Kyo’s face as she rounded a glance at the other men, her expression obscured behind it. As Mitsura went back to his previous position, she took a deep breath. “All these sacrifices. For years, you have been performing these rituals without understanding what you were doing. Do you not realize how many children like her have died? Have you not seen the results yet?”

“The result,” Mitsura smirked. “I suppose with a mouth like that you should know better?” Mitsura asked. “We cannot see the spiritual realm. What we do, the world beyond responds to.”

As Mitsura watched Kyo take the dagger out of her own sleeve, his eyes grew wide. She cut her palm clean open with the cold steel held against her palm. It gushed, pouring out blood as the steel made the wound. Suddenly, her hand closed, causing a stream of blood to fall into the scarlet pool. When it landed on the ground, it reflected like silver. “My Lord,” she said. “You’ve never understood.”

“She has done it.” A noble clapped as the onlookers craned their necks to see the spectacle. As all the noble outbursts are heard, the room is in a commotion at the new revelation.

The throne’s armrests are gripped by Mitsura as he jumps to his feet. “How is that possible?” he barked as a small stone formed from the blood puddle. Astonishment filled the room. While looking out over the others, Kyo looked up from the pool locking eyes with the Lord. “I have received a vision. The time here has dwindled. What they have completed, you have failed to accomplish. Because of your ignorance, the nobility of Okabe has forgotten the greater work to accomplish. The Azoth’s death was because of your corruption.”

“You are just a child. You dare to speak this way to your elders. Kyo, do you think this kind of trick impresses us? This is not an Azoth either.” Mitsura snidely remarks, “That stone is hardly complete.”

“I would agree with you. There is a need to create a new world as soon as possible. That was my call, was it not? Yes, that is exactly what I shall be doing. We can no longer stay here. The long night is upon us and with it, an endless nightmare as well. I am sure that you have heard of the birth pains that we have all experienced. We are now living in an era of oblivion. If we do not complete the greater work, all will be lost. There has been a time when I have seen you eating the bones of your children, Lord Mitsura. We will all be forced to eat the flesh of the dead until we become one with them. It will be the night of the full moon, and the sun will never rise again. Light will be robbed from us and everything will fall into disarray. Despite the plans of disaster you have drafted, I refuse to follow them. I know the way to the new world and I am determined to follow it. There is still a hunger for what we have forgotten in this Azoth, therefore it is not complete.” Lady Kyo beckons Lord Mitsura into the circle, holding out her hand. “I shall show you.”

Throughout the silent room, all eyes watched eagerly as Mitsura’s reluctant steps echoed. Kyo grabbed his hand and led him to the pool, where he stood in front of the dead girl. Like a babe sucking on its mother’s milk, the stone below trembled as it consumes Kyo’s meager portion of blood. Then Kyo moved in close and rested her head on Mitsuru’s shoulder, breathing warmly over his earlobe as she did so. “We used to use our children. That is the secret. That’s what we did, it’s what we still do.” A stinging pain entered Mitsuru’s stomach as Lady Kyo plunged her dagger deep into his gut. In eviscerating his body, she carved a hole that was open to the sky. Amid Mitsura grabbing his side, he saw blood spraying out of his body. The blood glistened between Mitsura’s fingers as it falls to his feet like a fountain. Taking a step back, he stumbles into two men who grab hold of his arms and grab hold of his neck. Mitsura, gasping in agony, screamed until he realizes he is about to go unconscious. “Your lack of enthusiasm is troubling Mitsura. To be honest, I thought you would be happier.” As Mitsura looked down, he noticed the stone had grown in size as his blood flows into Azoth. “This is actually the first true Azoth since the old ones were corrupted.”

By pulling Mitsura’s hair, Kyo raised his head and revealed his throat. As he hung agape, sweat pours from his red face. His lips trembled as a low moan emerged from them. Kyo chirps, cutting a nasty laceration in his neck, “It’s all in the nobility.” She told him. The moment she released Mitsura’s head, it fell to his chest, the torn muscles no longer able to support the weight. Kyo raised her hands, she looked back at the rest of the nobility singing, “Our great work has begun! Let us begin!” With her hands still in the air, she walked out of the circle of candles spinning like a ballerina on the floor. The black-and-white tiles where she walked left a trail of bloody footprints every time she stepped on them. The last thing that Mitsura heard between his wet gasps was the sound of his compatriots clapping their hands and giving Kyo a standing ovation for her performance.

A white-haired man appeared to be part dragon, as a pair of horns crowned him and had eyes that looked like those of a serpent. Using a long spear-like sword, he attacked another red-haired man, who blocked the attack with a large blue cross shield. During his leap into the air, the red-haired knight slashed at the horned attacker, but his sword met the grip of the dragon man mid-air, and he pulled the sword from his grasp. The dragon-man wrested the sword from the man and knocked him to the ground with a roar. Using a powerful hack, he sliced the mighty knight through the middle, draining his life bar. In shining golden letters, the words “Falaris Wins!” flashed across the screen.

“Haha, I won! I won! I won!” Apricot shouted, raising her controller in the air. “Sweet, sweet, victory.”

Jasper kicked up his feet as he growled under his breath. His face twisted into a frown. “Of course, you won,” he said. “You picked Falaris.” He glanced at the floor as he folded his arms together. “He’s so much better than Brigeld. You only won because of that.”

“Are you interested in a rematch?” Jasper looked at Apricot with a smiling face on his face. Giving a slow, slight nod, he smiled to himself. Apricot thought to herself that playing games was always fun when both players have emotions. A deep, satisfying feeling welled up in her heart when she won with both players trying hard. Actually, she enjoyed competing with Jasper the most. Although he had pride, he never went overboard.

As she hovered her cursor over a man in red armor, Apricot said, “All right, well, I’ll pick the moonstone guy this time.”

“Well, if you’re going to pick a Drakr,” Jasper said, grinning while moving the cursor over the big black dragon. “I’ll pick Valis!” he shouted as he started the match.

Apricots went wide-eyed. The screen turned black, displaying a loading screen. “You chose the dragon! How am I going to win?” Jasper stuck out his tongue at her. “Fine, fine, even if you play with a dragon, I will still win and wipe that stupid smile off your face.”

Over several matches, each of them won a fair amount. “You know Apricot, you should find a husband,” Jasper suggested.

Apricot nearly dropped her controller at the random statement. “What!” she laughed to disguise her surprise.

Jasper commented while he mashed buttons, “Well, you are in danger a lot.”

Even though she knew he was right, Apricot still chuckled. However, no husband could save her from such danger. Apricot said, “I haven’t found the right guy yet.” Deep sadness overtook her at that moment. She hasn’t found the right guy, and never will at this rate. Not until this nightmare that has encroached upon her life is over, and who knew if that was even possible. The idea weighed heavily on her mind.

“What about Sato?” Apricot’s face flushed at the thought.

“Sato and me!” She shook her head. “No way, that would never work.”

Jasper looked over at Apricot. “I don’t see why not? After all, you both are into journalism. He could take photos and you could write the articles. Besides, you two are great friends, right? You probably think he’s cute, too. It’s obvious. You would be safe, too. You could stay at home instead of working at the supermarket. These days, I don’t think it’s safe to go out. Just let him take care of things.”

“Sometimes you’re such a kid, Jasper.” a faint smile crossed Apricot’s lips.

“What!” Jasper shouted. “What do you mean by that?”

Apricot laughed out loud and continued playing the game. “He’s worried about me. That is kind of sweet of him.” Apricot thought to herself.

“Where are Mom and Dad?” Jasper asked. Apricot looked up from her desk, which was cluttered with papers and her laptop.

“They’re on a date tonight. And then they’re going away for two weeks.” She continued typing her grueling report on the duties of a state journalist. In the past, the subjects were just as boring as ever, topics that really had nothing to do with journalism at all. It was still necessary to do the work as an assurance to the state that you understood when it was time to shut up. Whenever Jasper stood in front of Apricot’s door, he waited for her to open it and invite him inside. However, after a while, he would get tired of waiting for her invitation and enter. He leaped on top of Apricot’s bed with a loud crash and slammed into it. “Jasper!” she shouted.


“Don’t break my bed you little monster.” She snapped at him.

Rolling onto his back, he snuggles up under her covers as he lies there. “I’m not.”

Apricot continues to read her textbook “The role of media in civil society is to control the collective narrative and to propel people in a positive direction. The advancement of,” she stated when Jasper interrupts.

“Is it likely there will be more terrorist attacks in the future, Apricot?” Jasper asked, in a concerned voice.

Apricot puts her book down, pausing her reading. It seemed like terrorism was the buzzword of the day at the moment. Almost every day, an attack occurs. These attacks are all pseudonyms for paranormal activities that took place; Apricot considered. And yet, the public is going bonkers over all of them. “I hope that is not the case. You never know though.”

An awkward pause ensued between the two. “Was it scary? The attack I mean.”

“Very,” Apricot said, picking up her book once more. “I don’t have time to talk now, Jasper. I have to finish this paper for school.” She said, half wanting to avoid the subject as she had finally put those memories behind her. Those thoughts she wanted to keep buried among the layers of slumber and the relaxing calm of gaming.

“Yeah, I know but, can’t you do it later?” Jasper asked.

“No Jasper. I played games with you earlier, and now I have to finish my paper.” She raised her book to her eyes. As she scanned the page, Jasper let out a sigh. “Jasper, go to your room.”

“Well, can’t I stay here?” He whined.

Apricot groaned a bit before she added, “Yeah, but you have to be quiet.”

“Ok.” he chirped.

As she picked up her book, she glanced at what she had read last. “So, what is that book about? Let me see.” Jasper asked, bending over her shoulder.

Apricot gestured to her door with a finger as she said, “Out.”

“I was just wondering what it was all about!” said Jasper, in a state of shock.

“Out Jasper. It is way past your bedtime, anyway. Go to your room.” Apricot said to Jasper.

As soon as Jasper gets off the bed and runs out of the door. He yelled, “You are such a jerk!”.

Apricot shut her door and walked back toward her desk. Before she even got to her seat, however, she heard a knock at her door. As she opened the door, she saw Jasper standing there, looking up at her with a disheveled look on his face. “What do you want now?”

“There’s a dog in my room,” Jasper quaked, his eyes filled with an almost convincing look of fear.

Her eyes roll back as Apricot sighed. “You’ve been taking home stray dogs again.”

Jasper then spoke so fast that the words were hard to understand. “The window had been open, but I didn’t even realize it was open. I think it had come through the window.”

Considering the weakness of the excuse he used, there’s no doubt that he was trying to rouse her. Apricot shakes her head in disbelief. “On a two-story house, of course.” She said. “Are you really expecting me to believe that? I don’t have the time for this Jazz.” How foolish did he think she was? It was almost to the point of being insulting.

“I’m not lying. There is a dog in my room.” Jasper whimpered. “It has a lot of teeth and red eyes.”

“Then go downstairs,” Apricot replied, not believing anything he said.

“Apricot!” he shouted at her in a loud voice.

As she gripped her fists, she felt a wave of anger wash over her. Jasper shivered to the bone by the roar that followed. “Downstairs, Jasper, don’t bother me again or else I will ground you when our parents get home.”

“But Apricot!” Jasper cried, clutching his fists to his chest.

“No! I said. I have heard enough. Now go downstairs and let me study.” Apricot stomped her foot, causing Jasper to rush down the stairs in a hurry.

Getting back to her desk, she reached for her book and sat down. During her study, she heard a stirring in Jasper’s room. Then she smiles to herself. “Silly kid.”, she thought. “Thought he was going to make a fool out of me.” A few moments later, she heard a loud crash coming from his room. Apricot jumped to her feet and made her way across the room towards Jasper’s room, yelling with a loud voice: “What are you doing?”

Jasper had turned the lights off. “Jasper, stop playing around. I have to finish this report by the end of the night!” She growled. Flicking the switch on to see Jasper’s shelf lying on the floor with pieces of his models scattered around it. Apricot felt a sudden chill in the air as the room’s light flickered off and the temperature plummeted. “Phantom,” she whispered to herself in a hushed tone. As she reached toward the door, she grabbed Jasper’s baseball bat. While looking through the darkness, she detected several red eyes lurking in the shadows. As she raised the bat to her side, Apricot clutched it tightly in her hands. Apricot murmurs to herself “Just like softball,” and takes a slow swing at the ball. Her memories of proper softball form suddenly flood into her mind. Apricot whispered to herself, “Feint, Perry, Riposte.”

Apricot recalled her fencing technique from primary school as the creature approached her. It moved through the shadowed room, it appeared to be more like smoke than flesh. The many red dots on its head suggested that it may have many eyes. With the streetlight outside of Jasper’s window, Apricot can just make out its prowl across the room.

“Come on!” Apricot roared, feeling herself grind her teeth. It seemed as if her fear was being washed away by a surge of unimaginable anger. The wolf monster opened its thousand razor teeth at her and lunged. Apricot dives into the creature, slamming it in its mouth and promptly throwing a few bloody teeth into the air. She turned her head toward it and saw it land on the ground behind her. “I think it’s blocking my exit.”

Apricot watched as the monster stared at her, baring its teeth, before preparing the bat for another blow. Suddenly, the creature once again dove at her, this time biting her on the arm. Apricot worked the bottom of the bat and slammed it against the monster’s head, which caused its teeth to tear into the sleeve of her shirt. When the snarling beast struck into her again, she did not have time to recover from the attack. In a single blow, her bat mauls the creature in the head, crushing it to the ground. As the smokey creature rose to its feet, it snapped at her only to be met with another swing that knocked it into a wall. It stood up injured and snarling at her.

Grasping the bat, Apricot drew back. “Get out of my house!” she screamed, jumping up and slamming the bat as hard as she could onto the monster’s head. Apricot continued her flurry with the bat as the beast crashed to the floor. The beast’s body erupted in a puff of smoke as each blow was dealt. It sparked like a blown circuit when it was struck. After the flashing has stopped, the lights turned back on, leaving the creature nowhere to be seen, as though it had vanished into thin air.

She dropped the bat to the ground as she fell to the ground on her knees. She could feel the sweat running down her face. When she turned her head, she saw Jasper staring at her wide-eyed. “I told you there was a dog.” Apricot nodded, her eyes wide with fear. The look in Jasper’s eyes is almost the same. For several moments, the two stared at each other in silence.

“We can’t tell Mom or Dad.”

Jasper nodded shaking, “Where did it go?”

“Out the window.” She groaned. “Keep your window closed from now on.” She advised. “I’ll keep mine closed too.” She has been lying a lot lately since everything happened. There is a part of her that is feeling guilty about this. It is better if no one knows what is really going on she told herself. This is especially true for jazz. After all, he doesn’t need to be bothered by these kinds of problems.

Jasper looked around the room. With a frown on his face, Apricot can see that he was frustrated and worried. “What are we going to tell Mom and Dad?”

The room was a total mess; everything was scattered all around it; broken plastic and model pieces littered the floor. “We better clean this up before they get home,” Apricot said. “They can’t know anything about this, Jasper. They wouldn’t believe us even if we told the truth, and you, mister, will get in trouble for bringing in a stray dog.”

“But I didn’t!” Jasper yelled.

Apricot nodded. “I know. They will think that I am covering for you if I tell them it came in from your window. In that case, I might also get in trouble. We will then clean up before they get home and forget that it ever happened.”

Apricot’s blood has seeped through her light orange shirt and Jasper noticed it when he looked over at her arm. “It bit you, didn’t it?” he asked. “Are you all right?”

Apricot glanced at her arm with little thought. Looking back at Jasper, she tried her best to smile. “Yeah, it got me when I was trying to shoo it away. It’s not a big deal.” Her eyes drift back to the ripped sleeve. The wound was stinging but not as bad as she had expected. At most, she felt a dull throbbing pain from the gash. Apricot picked up a piece of Jasper’s model as she gazed around the room. “Come on, let’s get this done.”

“You have to study.” Jasper’s voice quivered.

Apricot reached out and grabbed Jasper’s wrist. She rubbed his hand, sighing. “It doesn’t matter now.”

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Blue Ash Crisis (2018/2019), Fiction, Novels

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

A Bad Dream

A deep, weathered voice commanded, “Tell me what you’ve found out about Roe’s death.” Before a magnificent throne, two men stood clad in suits. Below their feet was a black-and-white checkered board. Gold lace and ebony wood interiors line the room.

As he adjusted his glasses, one man said, “It looks like we initially thought. Roe committed suicide of her own volition.” The room emitted an audible gasp. “The note she left behind explained the reason for her actions.”

As he cleared his throat, the throned man spoke. “What does it say?”

This man retrieved a folded piece of paper from his lapel. Slowly, he unfolded the document, gaining the full attention of the room. Taking a deep breath, he held the note open for a moment. “This is my last divination to the council,” he read. “I have confirmed that the bleak omen I saw has come true by the recent reports of the otherworlders.”

The time has come for a new world to begin. No longer am I capable of carrying forth the greater work. I advise whoever becomes high priestess to have the strength to deal with the responsibilities ahead. Thus, after I have completed this letter, I shall end my life. New worlds impose prices I cannot bear. It is my responsibility to prepare the tools the high priestess will need to complete the ritual. As a result, you will have the right tools to finish the greater work. The new high priestess will need to be initiated by the secrets of sacrifice and given the keys to the craft.“ read the man, folding the paper back into his pocket. “The correspondence ends with this, Lord Mistura. She wrote it with her own blood.”

“Interesting?” Mitsura considered.

An older man snickered from his balcony seat. “Not the stomach for it.” he uttered.

A loud sigh escaped Mitsura’s throat. “Do you consider her lesser than you, Natsukawa, because she isn’t a killer like you?”

Natsukawa laughed. “We live, we die. That is all.” Mitsura rocked back and forth.

The man who read the report added, “There is another developing issue. Another otherworldly sighting has been reported.” He said.

Mitsura mutters, “Continue.”

“There is something perplexing about this one, as it took place inside a grocery store, in a public place. We’ve detained the victims for examination and interview. Four were injured and killed three. According to the latest reports, two of the injuries are life-threatening. We have informed the witnesses that a terrorist exposed them to a biological agent and caused them to experience a group hallucination.” the man stated.

“We need to get rid of the witnesses. They will not believe such a ridiculous explanation.” From nearby seats, a man cries out, “It will also cause tension in the community.”.

Standing from her seat is a woman with a white-painted face. “What would we recommend if several people went missing? In what manner would we explain that to the public? We’re not just talking about a few people here, we’re talking about an entire market full of people.”

Another man rose from his chair. “I agree with Hegia. The witnesses should be removed. If needed, we can inform the people that they died during the attack.”

“No, that is wrong. We cannot conduct ourselves in this way.” said another man.

Mitsura stands up from his chair. He roared loudly, “Silence! We will not make a hasty decision like that,” he said. “We will hold all those who refuse to conform to the narrative separately and keep them in a detention center. It is possible to convince the community that they have suffered mental harm because of the effects of the toxins. After they are treated, it may be possible to release them. Until then, I do not want any of this to leave the lodge. Do you understand me?”

Everyone in the room called out, “Aye.”

Mitsura continued. “I see it as a matter of necessity for us to find a new high priestess. Lady Kyo, my niece, will be the next in line for the position. Does anyone object to her appointment? Does that offend anyone?” Mitsura pauses for a moment, waiting for his reply. Silence reigns in the chamber. “In that case, it is Kyo who will assume the role of high priestess. Make all the arrangements for the rites.”

The warm yellow inner glow of the police station was comforting for Apricot. Still shaken by the night’s events, Apricot sat in a wooden chair. She ran her fingers along the chair’s decorative grooves. The clerk’s desk was cluttered with various papers, folders, and photos. A small lamp trained over the mess gave off just enough light for the reports in front. “Your description of what happened is troubling, Miss Apricot.” commented the clerk, as he rubbed his cheeks. “You were a hostage earlier this month, and now you’re experiencing a terrorist attack. You are not having an easy month, are you?” he said jokingly.

Instead of letting him have it, she nodded her head instead of allowing her urge to take hold of her hand. “Yes, sir.”

After setting the paper on his desk, he grinned. “I am almost finished with you, but the state psychologist will want to talk to you. Based on those biologicals, they will decide if you were affected or not.” The officer narrowed his eyes and whispered, “I have some advice for you. Play along,” he said. “Surely you know what happened. Just follow the state’s narrative and you will be out in no time.”

“Excuse me?” Apricot asked.

Over at his desk, the officer gestures for Apricot to get closer. “I don’t know what you saw tonight.” He said in an eerie tone. “Honestly, I don’t know what you saw, but you’re not crazy. What you told me, I didn’t write down. However, I wrote that you blacked out and woke up in the warehouse.”

Apricot swallowed hard. This was a textbook coverup. “Don’t make a fuss, just follow along. Things will go much smoother. Although they’re not real, these things are here nonetheless. You seem like a good kid. You got your whole life ahead of you. This little incident. Poof, put it out of your mind.”

Apricot saw the officer get a look of fear in his eyes. “They’re like ghosts or something. Everyone in the office is scared out of their minds right now. Any witness in the department who acknowledges them is being jailed under insanity charges. No matter what you say, forget it ever happened. Honestly, I shouldn’t be telling you that. I just need you to listen to me.” In his chair, he leaned back, his eyes glassy with tears. His words were firm and direct. “Well, mam, I think I can handle the rest on my own.” He flipped a switch on his desk. “Hey, I need someone to take Miss Signa for her evaluation.”

A voice replies, “Right away, sir.”

“Keep in mind what I said,” Apricot nodded to him.

She is uncertain of what to do about her situation. Her mind replayed the events of the day, hinting at what may come. A uniformed man opened the door, interrupting her thoughts. With a hand gesture, he motioned toward Apricot. She rose from her seat and followed him down the hall.

“So you didn’t see anything?” A woman wearing a black police uniform inquired. Despite the officialness of her dress, her rose-colored glasses overshadow the official appearance. “There was a lot of panic in that room tonight. The chemical attack appears to have had little effect on you.” She examined her notes. “Thus, you blacked out during the duration and ended up in the warehouse.”

“That’s right, mam.” She lied. The rules of the game were not stated, but they were very clear. Both parties were lying to each other. According to Apricot’s summary, those were the facts. In Okabe, compliance with the narrative was all that mattered. It was the illusion of stability. It is possible that everyone was aware of these things, but no one spoke of them for fear of being exposed. And even if they did, no one admitted it. It was a clever little trap, Apricot thought.

Using a pen, the woman tapped her clipboard. She looked up at Apricot and said, “Many people said that there was a monster. What do you say about that?”

Without hesitation, Apricot said, “People often see things when they are hallucinating.”

“Superb point. Well, I won’t occupy your time anymore. In case of hallucinations, contact the police right away. Your cooperation is highly appreciated if you remember anything.” Holding out a card, the woman said. “You can contact me.”

As Apricot takes the card from the woman’s hand, she pretended to examine it before palming it into her pocket. “Thank you,” she replied, intending to throw the card away at the first opportunity.

“You are free to leave. The exit is on the left.” the woman said, exuding a sense of quiet confidence.

An unstoppable torrent of bile oozed from Apricot’s mouth into the toilet. As she looked into the messy water, she wiped the sides of her face. She then gagged and pushed the contents of her stomach back into her mouth. It made a loud splash as it left her. She grabbed a towel off the shower rod and wiped her mouth before tossing it into a laundry basket in the corner. As she completed her act, she flushed the toilet. When she looked into the mirror, her makeup is smeared, her eyes are red and puffy, and she is sullen from tears. Her lips are chilled, her skin is pale yet rosy. And her hair is a messy, tangled nest of strands. “What the hell is going on?” she wondered. The tears flowed as she thought about the monsters that surrounded her everywhere. “This isn’t happening. This is a nightmare.”

As she sniffled, she wiped her nose with the sleeve of her shirt. She desperately wanted to be crazy right now. To her absolute agony, she realized she wasn’t. In Apricot’s mind, the bathroom had become her only refuge at this point.

She turned on the water and drew herself a bath. It was a relief to feel the warmth against her naked skin as it released the tension in her muscles. It was at this moment that she could let go of everything. As soon as her eyes closed, she fell asleep.

Upon waking up, she felt a chill in her body. As she slept, the warm water that once soothed her slumbering body had become uncomfortably cold. With her pruned fingers, she pried herself out of the tub. As she walked into her bedroom, Apricot draped herself in a towel to keep warm.

While peering over to her desk, she noticed her phone was blinking. She picked up the black slab off her unmade bed and gets to work flipping through it to see how many messages she had missed from her friends. When she had finished looking at her phone, Apricot let it sit on her desk without responding. She shifted her gaze to her bed and the clothes that were hanging on it. In a pink and white plaid button-up shirt with a cartoon bunny patch on the front, together with a pair of blue jeans, Apricot dressed for the day.

As she descended the wooden steps down to her living room, she noticed Machi laying on her couch. “Machi?” Apricot asked. Yawning and stretching her arms, she raised her head.

As she sat up, she rubbed her eyes like a child. Machi glared, her face braced with a kind smile. “You were out like a light,” she said. “I heard what happened at the store. Since I have time off, I wanted to keep you company.” Apricot nodded as she walked down the stairs. After reaching the living room, she settled down on the couch next to Machi. She calmly assured Apricot, “We don’t need to discuss it.” Apricot embraced Machi’s thin frame. As Apricot’s tears dripped down her shoulder, she patted Apricot’s back. “It’s okay, honey. Everything will be okay.”

Apricot shrugged. “I’m not. No. I’m not ok at all.” Apricot sighed.

Machi kissed Apricot’s forehead. She whispered, “I know, I know. It’s okay to cry, dear. You don’t have to be okay,” she said.

The sentiment was kind, but she would not be saved by anyone. “It doesn’t end.”

Machi said, “It might seem like that right now.”

The lump in Apricot’s throat grew as her heart pounded. Imagine if Machi could perceive the true terror lurking inside her. “It won’t end.” she thought.

Machi, who wiped tears from her face with her hands, nuzzled Apricot. “Alright, let’s go get some food. We can meet at Bingo Burgers, I’ll call the others.”

Apricot shook her head. The last thing that she wanted to do right now was to leave the safety of her house and venture out into the world. Outside the walls, there might be things that might harm her, but at home she was safe. “No. I don’t want to go out right now.” she groaned.

Taking a deep breath, Machi nodded. “I can see where you’re coming from.”

“I am fine,” Apricot said with a pitiful moan as she wiped her tears on her sleeve. “At least as fine as I can be.”

In the silence that followed, Machi bowed her head. To show her gratitude, Apricot walks across the carpet of her living room into the tiled floor of her kitchen. “Machi, would you like some tea with me?”

“Of course, sounds good to me. I’ll make it.” Machi said as she walked by Apricot. “Go sit down.” She said.

Apricot sat back in the living room, watching Machi move about her kitchen as if it were her home. Apricot found it surprising that Machi remembered where everything was in her house from the few times she had visited it.

“You know my house well, don’t you?” Apricot observed.

“So, I peeked during your sleep.” As she grabbed the saucers, she paused. “It’s dangerous, you know.” Machi sung.

“What do you mean?”

Machi filled her kitchen with a faint giggle. “Falling asleep in the bath.”

“Machi, that snoop.” Apricot thought to herself. Machi, that little minx, peeked into her bathroom while she was in there. But now was not the time to confront her. “It was just so comfortable.”

Machi giggled again, “I can’t say I’ve never done that.”

In the middle of the black glass table, Machi placed a tray with two teacups and a few cookies on it. As Apricot sat cross-legged on the floor, Machi was curled up on the couch.

“It seems so strange. We’re adults now, but… nothing’s changed. I remember when I was a little girl in primary school. Now, everything feels overwhelming.” Apricot said.

Machi smiled, “Yeah, I see what you mean, sort of. Exams are still exams, but now they seem more important.”

Apricot sighed long and deeply. “Thanks, Machi.”

Machi muttered as she looked into her tea, “Yeah, it could’ve happened to anyone.” Stirring her tea with a spoon, she added sugar to it. “It scared me, Apricot,” she said. “There was an announcement that it was a terrorist attack. In a flash, I saw on the news that it was the store that you worked at.” Machi’s voice quivered. “I was so scared for you.” Apricot looked up to see Machi’s lips quivering in fear. “I thought you might have been seriously hurt.”

“Nothing happened to me.” Apricot sipped her tea. “I was just scared.” She said. Trying her best to stay as calm as possible. The thoughts of the monster, the man’s head, that slow snap of his muscle tethers breaking. She could hear it even now. The screaming and crying. It all rushed through her mind as the taste of tea danced on her tongue and so unceremoniously she recalled her childhood memories. The entire experience is surreal in some ways.

From the tray, Machi picked up a cookie. After dunking it into her tea, she bit into the soggy sweet. “I saw the hideous clothes they gave you.” she said. “Those blue-green scrubs. Where are your old clothes?”

“Taken for evidence,” Apricot said, considering what that evidence may have been.

Machi shook her head. “That seems odd.”

Apricot said, “Fabric analysis so they can identify the agent used.” It made no sense to search for that, and they knew it. “There must be a reason they are keeping her clothes,” she thought. Given the amount of blood on her uniform, she almost gagged at the thought of keeping it.

“How was your interview?” Machi asked.

Apricot glanced up. “The interview?”

“You know the one about the robbery,” Machi added.

Apricot forgot about the interview she had earlier this week. “I had a wonderful time, but you reminded me I have to see your brother.”

Machi frowned a bit with the suspiciousness of a little sister. “Why is that?” There was a hint of anger in her tone.

“Camera, I got him a new one,” Apricot replied. “It’s used, but it’s a Nihon Dazzler. Bought it from a friend of mine.”

As Machi rolled her eyes, she sighed. “Give it to me. I’ll make sure he gets it. Stay home tonight and get some rest. You better not get sick.” No doubt attempting to keep Apricot from meeting him one on one. Apricot nodded and hugged Machi one last time. Apricot climbed back under the covers in her bed immediately after Machi left. Until Jasper came home from school in the afternoon, she closed her eyes.

Apricot was in the middle of a room. She could see herself standing in the room at the same time. There was darkness outside of the floating room. When the floating room was further examined, she discovers it was actually her bedroom. The room was silent in the floating void. However, it was only then that she heard scraping sounds coming from the walls. There was an invisible barrier which fingers dragged, but whatever was clawing was desperately trying to make its way a crossed it. There was an endless ocean of monsters outside the room that were battling with each other to tear a hole in the room, and she could see them from outside the door.

She heard an inner voice speaking something. “Let us in.” Apricot looked around in a panic while holding her chest as she screamed. Although the things couldn’t get inside the room, the walls buckled and shook. It was a loud bang that brought her door crashing to the ground. At the threshold of the doorway, there floated a head about the size of a human torso. The face was covered in a thick layer of flesh that reminded Apricot of an uncooked hamburger wad. She could hear a shrill scream when the pulverized face collided with Apricot.

As she pushed herself up from bed, she let out a scream of her own. It is cold in her room and she shivered as she curled into her pillow and looked around. Her gaze traveled over to the closed door of her bedroom as she shook. She wondered whether she will even have the courage to open the door.

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