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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 16

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 16

The Swarm In The Tower

Several boxes lay about the broken and damaged front of the Spook House. Most of the ornate wood is split or riddled with bullets. The railing over the upper loft became nothing more than several sharp spikes of various lengths. The counter remained a ghost, with large chunks removed from its top. Shiori unboxes the brand-new glasses for the freshly replaced wall rack. A knock on the side of his entry alerts him. An older man with slicked black hair and glasses makes his way inside the building. “Master Kinjo, am I interrupting you?”

Shiori rolled his eyes, shaking his head. “You come to do me in too, sir Okabe.”

“Hardly, though it appears to have been a fair, challenging scrap. It’s a shame you do all this alone. Where are your employees?” He asked, taking several steps over the tarnished wooden floor. As he walked, he was careful to avoid the broken slats.

With a grumble, Shiori set down a glass. “Afraid they’ll blow their heads off, I suppose.” Probably that or the bombs. I did not have the chance to call them up and tell them the war is over.” Shiori glanced at the man as he approached a stool and warns him, “My royal guard is still here.

“Well, I see you have not lost your sense of humor. Due to time constraints, I won’t make this long. I have a message from Empress Kyo.”

A chuckle escaped Shiori’s lips. “She’s calling herself Empress now?” Shiori asked. “Ah, so that explains it. The Okabe family did not seat her or dedicate her, but then she killed most of the superior nobles, so what more could be expected? Sure, she is empress all right, no one left to crown her, so she crowns herself. Shiori watches the man intently. “So it was Kyo that killed the others,” he thought to himself. Her young age made this very unlikely, but the man’s eyes confirmed everything: this is Kyo behind all these violent affairs.

“You are aware that the situation between you and the Okabe clan could escalate. I would hate for it to happen, but if the meddling in the Okabe family affairs continues, we will have no choice.”

“Affairs, what affaires?” Shoiri asked.

“I think you understand exactly what I mean. You seem to know a lot about our internal workings. I doubt I need to remind you that spying is a capital crime. We have our suspicions about other subjects. Your silly hologram game has caused our clan an economic nightmare. You have been warned.” The man turned to leave after finishing speaking without giving Shiori a chance to respond.

Shiori reaches over the counter and grabs the man’s shoulder, pulling him face-to-face. “Kyo screwed up. You are shooting blind. I did not deceive the people for who knows how long. You should never have tried to kill me. One call to my clan and an international war breaks out. If that is not enough to get Kyo’s attention, maybe this will. Natsukawa’s crimes would be embarrassing to the public if they became known. You can now go and get lost. Go lick your master’s piddle like a dog.”

The man pulls away from Shiori without missing a beat. His collar is smoothed as he looks at Shiori again. As he leaves through the front doors, He warns once more, “You have been warned.”

“Sis!” Jasper yelled, running into the room. Apricot is curled up on the couch in her living room with a blanket covering her. For the past few hours, a sci-fi movie had consumed her attention. “Look outside!” Apricot turned her head to see a sea of black covering the once blue sky. She pushed the blanket off and got up to see better from the window. “What do you think it is?”

Even complete cloud cover did not trigger the street lights to turn on, and yet they were on. This is very different. Toward the distance, the darkness blended into something like inky smudges in the sky. Outside of the city, blue skies still hung in the air. In a documentary, she had seen something similar. When locusts swarm for food out in the wilderness, this happened occasionally. “Apricot!” Jasper shouted, jerking her out of her trance. But this was not the wilderness and there were no locusts.

“Jasper, stay inside,” she told him as she walked to the front door. She opened the door to see that it was indeed an insect swarm. Its loud buzzing resembled the constant roll of thunder or a heavy engine running at idle. “What in the world?” she asked, as she returned to the house and shut the door. Jasper stares at her in disbelief. “Are all the windows closed?” Jasper looked at Apricot with partially closed eyes while nodding. “Good. Let’s go see what the news has to say about this.”

The two sit on the couch in the living room. A news report was playing in the background. This would normally trigger an alert from the authorities. However, every station she checked was on another topic. The lack of recent news reports on the topic was not subtle. Apricot suspects there was a media blackout on the subject. The resulting punishment would be severe if any journalist or outlet were to cover the subject.

Apricot heard a buzzing on her side and saw images of a monster clinging to her. Before realizing it is her phone, she let out a small chirp. Picking it up, she saw Shiori was calling her. “Hey,” she replied.

“You busy tonight?” Shiori asked.

“You asking for a date?” Apricot snickered.

“Heh, you wish I was that lonely. Nah, I am sure you saw the sky. Well, it is centered on one of the towers owned by the Okabe. I figured we should check it out. You in?” Shiori explained.

Apricot looked over at Jasper. “You‘re not asking, are you?”

“No, I am really not. Cortez is slated to be our navigator. For once, he is useful. We will meet up in about three hours. Can you be here by then?” Shiori asked.

“Yeah, if I must.” Apricot hanged up the call.

“Was that Sato?” Jasper asked.

“Another friend, my boss, actually. Hey Jasper, I have to go out. So you stay inside.” Apricot said.

“Again!?” Jasper moaned. “I thought we were going to hang out while Mom and Dad were not here.”

“Something came up, and I got to work. Don’t worry though. We are going to have a lot of fun soon. Tell you what. I will buy you a model if you don‘t pout.”

Jasper folded his lips up and bounced his head. “Ok, that is fair.”

“Even with this stupid mask on, it smells so horrible down here!here!here! ” Apricot lamented. Shiori trailed behind with a gas mask covering his face. They are knee-deep in mucky sewage lit only by their headlamps.

A western-style sword is held in the hand of Cortez, who led the group. “Hmm, yeah, who came up with this?”

“Tis mine, I got it from my lovely Apricot. It’s not your first time under the city, is it?” Shiori laughs. While they trudged through the thick waters, Apricot’s growl can be heard under her breath. “Well, how else were we going to get past the barricades? Every SDP officer and news outlet is running the circus. This is probably the best plan. Thank goodness Arjun had those extra radiation suits. If I do say so myself, I think it works quite well as a sewer suit.” Shiori said cheerfully. “However stop complaining, the ladder into the building is right there.”

Cortez directed his light toward a ladder leading up an ominous grate. He was at the front of the group. “These bags weigh a ton. What the hell is inside them?” His body ached from carrying so many backpacks.

“Torches, well, improvised torches,” Shiori said before reaching for the ladder’s rungs.

When Cortez saw the bagless prince ascending the ladder, he yelled, “Where are your bags? Can you believe this guy?” He said turning his head to Apricot.

Apricot raised her hands to her chest fidgeting. “Well, actually,” she said turning to the side showing that she too had no bags with her.

“What the hell. Why the hell am I the only one with bags?”

Shiori called down from the top. “I am injured, and she is useful. Makes perfect sense to me.”

“Screw you, man.” Cortez retorted.

Apricot was motioned upward by Cortez. Apricot laughed and shook her head. “You’re not looking up at my butt.”

“Well, shit, there is nothing to look at anyway in these baggy things,” Cortez grumbled grabbing the ladder. “Well, excuse me for being polite.” Tossing the bag out of the hole Cortez crawled from the dark abyss into the open basement of what appears to be a warehouse. Shiori shook his blond hair free of the suit as he peeled it from his skin. Lowering his hand into the dark Cortez helps Apricot.

Apricot immediately removes the suit. She is happy to take the smelly thing off. “Do you hear that?” Apricot asked. Cortez looked around. A low droning echoes through the building.

Shiori was already pawing through the bag grabbing a gas canister and attaching it to a hose. “Here.” He said tossing Cortez the canister.

“Whoa!” shouted Cortez as he grabbed it with the tips of his fingers. “That’s dangerous!”

“You caught it, we’re fine,” Shiori laughed. “Even if you didn’t, I’m sure it wouldn’t blow up.” Shiori reached inside the bag and pulled out a pipe attached to a hose. Turning the knob slightly, he placed the canister on his side and pressed a button to light the end of the torch. “Alright,” he readjusted the torch until it was a nice thin beam. “Now, this will deal with any critters we come across.” He points to the other trigger. “This will shoot out a spray of some mixed chemicals. All you need to know is, if you spray it, it spits fire.”

“But if it is a phantom we are after, the torch won‘t help us much,” Apricot said.

Shiori nodded his head. “Yeah but I am thinking the swarms of bugs on the upper floors have more to do with real-life bugs than the phantom itself. Also including, we don’t know for sure. We’ll see. Perhaps they’ll be burned by fire. I’ve never done it myself.”

Cortez looked down. “I am not about to light fires just to kill a few bugs.”

“Did you see it from outside or did you forget? The sky is black with the swarms around this building.” Shiori begins walking down the hall. “Suit yourself though. I am about to search the upper floors. Cortez, get familiar with the basement. Apricot, you cover the lower floors. We keep heading up after. If anyone has an issue, send a text.” Shiori said with a silver stave slung over his shoulder as he walked into the dark.

“Like I am taking orders from him. Come on, let’s stick together, Apricot,” Cortez said. 

“Actually, I like the idea of covering ground fast,” Apricot said as she heads towards a large metal staircase.

“Sure, let’s do that. Come on, let’s split up and let’s all be messed up one by one. Just like in the horror movies. Tcha’, damn,” Drawing his pistol from his side, Cortez holds the firearm close to him.

Shiori crunched into the crusty shell of another bug as he walked across an insect-infested floor. Walking along the dimly lit corridor, he noticed that the walls seemed to be alive. “PSHHHH!” the torch hissed as several insects were ignited by the flames. The relaxed expression on his face was replaced by the contemplative expression of a stoic statue.

He entered a large office filled with many cubicles and the loud humming intensifies. The floor changed; it was previously carpeted in the hall but is now a black and white checkerboard made of stone. “Mmmmm, I didn’t even realize so many insects existed in this city,” Shoiri commented as he looked around the hazy room alive with crawling insects. From somewhere in the dark room, he heard a low beetle like a screech. Shiori thought to himself: “That sound is from something much larger than a bug. Good, I found you,” he said, lowering his rod. A jingle is heard from the rings on the end of the rod. Then he added, “And you are not alone. Maybe an initiation?”

Despite the darkness, he saw two large, glowing red eyes like the eyes of a fly. The creature leapt from the edge of a cubical and was hung by its clawed toes. In the glimmer of firelight that shined on it, the thin body of the creature glistened like a green jewel. Its back was characterized by two large mantis claws. Four humanoid arms with long fingers extend from their sides. Each one of its four mandibles twitched with anticipation.

Slowly, Shiori approached the creature holding up his staff. Inside his head, a searing whisper greeted him. It said, “Fool. Did you come here to die? There are three of you. Where are your friends? They’ll make good meals.” The words rang in his head like an intense migraine.

“So you’re telepathic. Wish Junko was here.” Shiori said as he lunged at the creature with his rod. “Nice trick!” Shiori shouts before slamming his rod into the insect. It is blocked by its mantis-like arm. While Shiori watches the creature push off his silver rod, he widens his eyes. “What are you?! I’ve never met a phantom able to touch silver!”

Shiori’s head echoes with the voice again. “I see. You are like him? Phantoms. Kikikikiki!” the creature cackled. “I am not a phantom but rather a spirit summoned by an agonizing cry!” The creature stands on the edge of the cubicle, spreading its wings. “A young girl was slain above calling out for a god to save her. None answered, so a devil has answered and I intend to fulfill her final prayer, a curse. Sadly for me, the one who slew her has passed. Still, her blood cries out for vengeance against all the nobles. I have no toil with the blood of a Kinjo, it is the Okabe’s blood I seek.”

Shiori clutched the rod nervously. His answer was, “Serves them right.” Bending to Shiori’s level, it stretched out its head. He could feel the warmth and foul odor of the creature’s breath wash over her cheek. “I will leave you to your oath.”

Shiori dove backward to avoid the strike by mere inches as the mantis swung its sharp claw at his chest. “I’ve never promised to let you go.” it declared. “I am going to kill you just for the fun of it!” the creature said jumping off the cubicle wall onto the ground. With its scythes rubbed together, it made a metallic scraping sound while standing to its full height dwarfing Shiori.

Apricot’s nerves twitched as she walked the dark halls alone under the drone of the buzzing insects. Her gaze darted at every slight noise as she grabbed the hilt of her sword, ready to stab at any moment. The idea that this phenomenon might be caused by a phantom weighed heavily on her mind. Never before had she considered that these entities could control other entities. Could this one see through the insects’ eyes? She wondered. A sour expression appeared on her face at the unsettling thought.

“Apricot?” She let out a shriek as the voice startled her. Her chest grew heavy as she turned her head to see Sato standing with a camera in hand. “Hey sorry about scaring you like that. Wow, never thought I would see you here? What’s with the weird clothes? You look like a ninja.” He laughed.

Her heart pounded harder. She was found out. She had to play it cool. After all, she did not know if she had raised suspicion yet. “Oh, my goodness! Sato! You scared the hell out of me. This place is creepy as it is.”

“Oh, excuse me. I just happened to see a dark figure walking down the hall with a sword. What the heck is with all that stuff, anyway?” Sato asked. She could barely make out his perplexed face in the dim glow of the emergency lights.

Apricot nodded her head. “Yeah, I guess this would look kind of weird. It was an old costume I had. Heh, figured the bugs could not crawl down something so tight. The sword well, I did not want to get mugged in here. I have been thinking about that a lot lately. I know I’m a little paranoid but I figured it was better than being at someone’s mercy.”

Sato gave a suspicious nod of agreement, though she could tell he found her response strange. A nervous sigh escaped her lips. “Well, ah I guess I can kind of understand that after all you’ve been through.” Sato took a step forward. “Still why are you here? How did you get in?”

“I am investigating the infestation. I wanted a closer look.” Apricot replied, hoping her ruse would escape suspicion. “How did you get in?”

“Yeah, well, I am kind of here for the same reason. I sneaked past the police. You know this place is under lockdown right now. The police are not even coming in. Actually, from what I hear, there are still people trapped in the building. They have strict orders not to enter though.”

“That is kind of scary to think about. Hope they turn up. Seems like we both have the same idea.” Apricot laughed. Suddenly, she felt a vibration against her leg. Her eyes widen instinctually. She immediately concealed her reflexive action by adopting a dull expression. One of the guys must have spotted something. “Hey Sato, I ah I got to run.”

Sato shook his head. “I am not letting you walk around here alone. It could be dangerous. We should stick together.”

The vibration started again. “Really, Sato, I am fine.”

“I insist,” Sato replied firmly. “I would die of guilt if anything happened to you.” Apricot pursed her lips slightly blowing a puff of air. “What?” Sato asked.

“I don’t need you to babysit me. I am fine on my own,” Apricot said. Sato’s expression told her he was not having any of that. “I have to run,” she said to herself not really wanting to. “Well, Sato. Tell you what. I will let you follow me if you can keep up.” She laughed before disappearing into the shadows of the halls.

“Wait!” Her leg started vibrating again as she took random corners down the hall. “Apricot!” Sato shouted as she turned each corner. After twisting and turning in the halls, she arrived at the stairs. 

After continuing up and getting on another fire escape, she assumed that Sato was lost. The buzzing of bugs could be heard in the pitch blackness. The surrounding buzz grew stronger as she proceeded up the fire escape. “Thrack!” It was as if a rock had fallen on her. As she raised her hand to her cheek, Apricot could feel a red irritation beginning to form. “Thwack!” Another, then another, and yet another. She was being pelted by a variety of flying insects. As she looked around in the storm, she felt like she was in a movie. Absolute madness. Her heart pounded at the sight of the flashing lights of the police and the crowds growing, motivating her to run faster.

The razor claws of the insects clashed with the metal of Shiori’s segmented staff. Shiori blocked blow after blow from the mantis monster while alternating between her arms. Rotating the staff, Shiori saw his chance after the next block. Overextending the top segment of his staff, he clubbed the creature in the side of the head, causing it to stumble backward.  

When the staff whirled towards the creature’s feet, it leaped out of the way flapping its four wings. In a flash, Shiori retracted, and the segments fly back into his hand just in time to block a strike aimed at his side. It was remarkable how far the monster reaches, he noted. Although he moved quickly, Shiori felt his stamina ebbing away quickly.

Shiori leaped back, extending out his arm from the chain of his staff so that it was aimed directly at the creature’s head. When the monster whipped its arm, several pieces of its carapace fly into the air, knocking the bludgeon to the ground.

Shiori spun the silver rod around his body and unleashed a crushing blow on the insect. The creature stumbled backward with every strike. He forced the monster into a cubicle, the artificial wall tumbled over into a slope over a desk.

Despite Shiori’s best efforts, the creature grabbed the rod, pulling her closer. Within range of the scythe, Shiori dodged left and right as the blades stabbed at his body. The rod was released when Shiori kicked the animal in its abdomen. A shriek erupted as Shiori withdraws his kick, and blood pours from its side. Seeing the creature stagger, Shiori pulled the rod from its grasp.

Both scythes collided with Shiori’s rods, knocking him back a step. As the blades bit into Shiori’s rod, the power was so great he fell to his knees. As Shiori rose to take another step back, he blocked another pair of blades as he slipped out from the attack. A tide of battle is raging between the two, trading blows rapidly without an end in sight.

The creature’s razor scythe slashed through the sheetrock as Shiori rolled aside a wall. It scraped down on the wall as Shiori retreated, leaving a deep fissure in the white wall. Snapping the ignition switch off the handle of the torch, he turned the gas all the way on. An explosion of flame erupted from the nozzle at the same time as the monster pulled his arm from the wall. A scream of agony is emitted by the insect as it was engulfed in flames. After removing the strap from the makeshift flame thrower, Shiori swings the canister at the target, causing it to strike with all the force of a bowling ball. The canister exploded in a blast of billowing flames, igniting the atmosphere around it immediately.

Thousands of insects scurry from the heat as the walls glow, moving and changing shape. The creature leaned against the ground, groaning. His shadow appeared to rise to his feet, a portion of his body blown open and his wings mangled. A powerful roar shook the ground as it turns to charge forward, diving through the flames.

“Shiori!“Shiori!“Shiori!,” Apricot screamed from the shadows as she drew her sword. With long slimy ends, the creature’s cracked carapace slid off its body. Despite being burned and bleeding, the creature crashed into Shiori, knocking him to the ground. It raised its head to snap at his face, only to bite down on his rod. The creature continued to push as its three semifunctional mandibles cut at his face. Seeing the creature dive off Shiori, Apricot lunged toward the open air. As it broke free, its body rotated to dive directly at Apricot.

The beast was struck in the ribs as she evaded. A painful shock traveled through her arm when her blade bounced off its carapace. Watching Apricot stand against the monster, Shiori struggled to stand up with the rod raised. The red eyes of the creature shone through the smokey darkness as it turned back toward Apricot. “How is that possible?” she exclaimed. “The silver did not hurt it!” Apricot screamed in her mind. When the reality of the situation dawned on her, she was terrified. Huffing, the creature squirted dark fluid from its open wound.

As Shiori smashed the creature’s eye with a wet pop, Apricot felt the wind of Shiori’s segmented rod fly past her face. A thick, inky layer of gore painted Apricot’s skin with the juices it contained. Following that, he jabbed the other end of his staff inside the creature’s chest; the rings pressing through a gap in its natural armor. Apricot, escaping her shock, leapt in and attacked the creature’s mouth, its fist slamming into her stomach. The wind was knocked out of her, as Shiori blocked the remaining scythe’s attack aimed at him.

Apricot rolled backward, landing on her back. The room started to rain as the sprinklers hissed. A scream emanated from her as she lunged at the creature again, stabbing it in the throat. The creature was thrown over Shiori’s shoulder as he wrapped the segmented rod around its neck. The blade is ripped free by Apricot mid-swing, and the insect’s upper body collapses. As everything around it disintegrated, its legs twitch and its circulatory system fell to the ground.

Shiori turned around and walked away from the sight. Her stomach lurched, and Apricot pushed up against the wall. As she vomited, a torrent of water splashed at her feet. With an exaggerated huff, Shiori turns his head toward her. “Took you long enough.”

Apricot stared down at her vomit. Rice and fish were clearly visible in it. Another convulsion hit her and she turned her head to feel her chest pound. “It’s alive. It was alive,” she said before puking again. “What is that?” She cried in a panic.

It dematerialized into a purple flame, floated before the two, then disappeared from the building. Taking flight after the wisp as the razor wings of the insects collided with Apricot’s skin, she let out a scream and fell to her knees.

“We need to leave now,” Shiori said.

Apricot looked around. “Where is Cortez?”

“I would like to know that myself,” Shiori said. “Then again, I really couldn’t care less. He is exactly who I expected him to be.”

“Shiori, I am scared… someone saw me and they know me.” Shiori’s gaze shifted uncomfortably toward Apricot’s eyes. She could feel the fear that was shared.

“Looks like all our masks are being removed. Does it chill you to the bone?”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 15

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 15

Street Samurai

While running through the busy streets, Akagi dodged and weaved through pedestrians. Approaching the twin doors of the Spook House, he grasped their handles with both hands. Despite his tugging, the doors won’t budge. He yelled “Shiori!” at the door. From the wooden ornations surrounding the glass, he noticed Shiori’s office light is on. “He’s in there,” he said. Before kicking the door, he frowned. “He must hear me, too. You jerk.” Akagi looked to the alleyway. “I’ll show him.”

Keeping an eye out for other people, Akagi scanned the crowded streets. When the coast was clear, he slipped down the alley with his computer bag in hand. Approaching the back door, he checked the digital lock. “Now let’s see,” Akagi said as he placed his hand on the keypad. Using his palm, he pressed on each key. An access denied message appeared on the LCD. After a second press, the system displayed the same message. “Come on.” He repeated it again, but this time access denied remains on the screen. After removing his hand, he smiled smugly and backed away.

Eventually, the door opens, revealing Shiori painted with a down-turned face. “What do you want, little brat?” growled Shiori as the alarm blares.

Akagi laughed happily. “I knew the alarm would go off.”

In the end, Shiori pushed Akagi against the wall. He yelled, “You little punk, I’m busy.”

“Nah,” Akagi replied, pulling his computer out of his bag. Shiori leaned over Akagi. “You’ll drop it when I show you what I have.”

“We’ll see,” he growled.

Akagi works the keyboard with his magic hands while sitting at Shiori’s desk, his laptop open. Shiori paces the floor with his eyes fixed on the ceiling. “When was the last time you saw Mitsura Okabe?”

Shiori frowned in displeasure. “A couple of days ago,” he recalled, unamused. “Why? You got some compromising pictures of him or something?”

“It was something like that. I received a communication from the inner Okabe family council.” Shiori glances at Akagi, working on his laptop, “I got into their D-Link servers like you asked.” This information raises his eyebrows. “That wasn’t Mitsura you saw the other day, even though you might have thought you did. You saw a digital construct of him.”

Shiori stopped pacing and asked, “What? Are you referring to holograms? He sick or something?”

“Nah, fraid not, he croaked. Half of the council is dead, from what I can tell.” Akagi turned his laptop so Shiori could view the open letters he collected. As Shiori adjusted the screen, his eyes were filled with fascination. “Good work?”

As he continued to read, he smiled as he said, “Damn good work! Akagi, do you realize what we have proof of? This completely changes everything.”

Despite his smirk, Akagi continued. “Mmmhm, the only thing I can’t figure out who’s behind all of this. I keep hearing someone referred to as the high priestess or the empress. The high priestess died about a year ago. Who is this new empress?”

When Shiori became overly interested in something, Akagi never liked the look he got. It reminded him of a vicious wolf looking at its prey. Behind that gaze, there was something sinister, but he was also glad to let it out. “How about a game? My little prodigy, this will be fun. Let’s get this “empress” out to the public.”

Shiori peered out of the window of his high-rise apartment. As he observed the reflection of his television, a smile appeared on his face. He watched a live news broadcast. There are several ministers and officials gathered around a podium where Mitsura will speak. The morning sun reflects off the towers, blocking the beams. He takes a deep breath and his face calms.

Taking his place in front of the crowd, Mitsura bent the microphone closer to his mouth and spoke. Using hand gestures, Mitsura explained Okabe’s hopes for the future. After a few minutes, it happens. Seeing the sun glint in his eyes, Shiori grinned. Mitsura has disappeared, and the hologram has been turned off in front of everyone. The speech continues. Suddenly, the news station shuts down. Anchors immediately try to explain away the situation, their faces covered in horror. A whisper comes from Shiori. He said, “I win.”

Toward a crystal blue sky rose the city of Blue Ash, a city of shining silver towers. While Solenne rode her white and blue police tricoa, the gleaming sun lights the streets with its easy traffic. As she passed each vehicle, she glanced over her digital HUD, dressed in her uniform.

“Another relaxed morning.” Solenne thought to herself. An overpass’s shadow covered her in a chill while she rode under it. The ramp opened to reveal a view of the city as she approached the large police station in Blue Ash City. The regular police and the special defense police are both housed in the same building. The front two-thirds are the property of the regular police, while the rear is exclusively the SDP’s.

A gentleman at the entrance greeted her with a warm smile, “Good morning, Miss Solenne.”

Solenne bowed. “Morning Walter. You look rather rosy.”

A light blush covered his bubbly nose. “Well, it’s always a bright day when I see you.”

Solenne smiled as she walked through the automatic glass doors. The police station’s interior resembled a hospital. The walls are a sterile white color that doesn’t belong. As she continued down the hall toward her office, she gave subtle greetings to other officers along the way. After entering her office, she sat at her desk and looked over her work tray full of papers. “So much for an easy morning,” Solenne complained.

She immediately began her work by typing the usual daily reports. “Hey, you got it too.” said a young man. Solenne glanced over to see a brown-haired man with a toothy grin hanging on her office door. “I got it bad too this morning. Apparently, there was a lot of activity on the south side of town. Lots of missing persons. Not to mention that whole thing with Mitsura Okabe being missing.”

Solenne’s heart immediately skipped a beat at hearing the news. “Mitsura is missing!?”

“Apparently, they have been using a hologram for him speaking. Just got released this morning. No one knows what the hell is going on. The media department is going absolutely nuts trying to handle the situation. It’s going to be a long day.” the man said, taking a swig of coffee.

“Seems like the workload doesn’t get any easier.” Solonne moaned.

“It’s damn near a crisis.” the guy said before looking at the ground. “Heh, well, I will let you get to it.”

“Seeya Joji.” Solenne looked at her keyboard, releasing a deep breath.

A few hours later, Solenne had a stack of papers to file. She shuffled them into a large binder. Opening the binder, she reached for the first page. After lifting a stamp from its well, she pressed it onto the page. It left a red mark that reads SDP Class 7 when she removed the wooden rectangle. As she walked down the long hall, she found herself in a filing room lined with several large computers. With her badge in hand, she placed the stack of papers on top of one of the large white machines. She drew her badge from her side, placing it onto a small glass screen. The machine beeps, allowing her access.

She hastily scanned each page, one after the other. Solenne was about halfway through the stack when she grabbed the keyboard and begins searching the files. Glancing over her shoulder, she checked to see if anyone was watching her. Once she considered herself in the clear, she added a set of files to her print load, then returned to scanning the rest of the documents as if everything was ordinary.

“You could actually get them,” Apricot exclaimed with a huge grin on her face. Solenne hands the folder over sheepishly.

“I feel so dirty.” Solenne groaned.

Apricot shook her head. “Don’t worry.” She flipped through the pages in the manilla folder”It’s not like these aren’t publicly available. It would just have taken me forever to get my hands on all this info.”

Solenne tilted her head. “It really was nothing, right? Why are you writing about the ruling family? Did you know about Mitsura’s disappearance?”

“No, that kind of came as a shock to me. However, the Okabe family has interested me for a long time. They have been here since the feudal era. It is not often we preserve a rich history such as theirs.” Still eyeing the files, Apricot stumbled upon a photo of a person torn to pieces. Splintered and stretched flesh was visible on the stretched organs. Her eyes grow wide as she glances up to see Solenne’s stern eyes.

Solenne frowned. “That, you know what that is a picture of?” Apricot turned, feeling her face fall as she nodded. “That’s the detective you asked me for information on. Sadly, his file was tampered with, but here is a picture of his autopsy. There was no way to reconstruct the body,” she sighs. “According to reports, it hit the department hard. It was before my time, but I can’t imagine if someone I worked with turned up like that.”

“What did the report say happened to Detective Long?” Apricot could feel a lump in her throat forming as the words left her tongue.

“You got all of it in that file.” Solenne’s lips purse into a down-turned frown. “What have you got yourself involved in, Apricot? You have been acting funny lately. I don’t like this. This is not a matter of investigation. Fess up.” Apricot felt her heart tighten. The firm fingers of Solenne’s hand rubbed against Apricot’s shoulder. “I am worried about that neural agent you were exposed to.”

She felt her face scrunch as the words rang empty in her mind. “Neural agent?” she retorted.

“How can you forget? You were ground zero, the market attack!” Solenne barked. “See, this is what I am worried about. It’s not normal Apricot.”  As Solenne’s eyes winced, tears flow down her cheeks. “I am worried enough about Arjun. I don’t need this from you either. Tell me what is happening to you, Apricot.”

Without any thought, Apricot replied, “I am just doing my job, Solenne.” The words felt cold, colder than usual. They clearly stung as Solenne removes her hand turning away from Apricot.

“Whatever hun, just get some help or figure stuff out,” Solenne said as she continued walking towards the alleyway. Apricot wanted to reach out to her, but her body was not willing. Solenne stopped and without even a glance said, “I don’t want to know why you needed those files and don’t tell me. This is the last time I help you, though.” The clicking of her heels on the pavement grows more distant as Apricot watched her leave.

“Why are you sulking?” Shiori asked, looking at Apricot across the bar as she walked into the Spook House. She threw the file down in front of Shiori and Cortez, who were seated on stools at the bar. Cortez raised his beer glass to his lips and took a sip. “Well, you pulled through after all.” Shiori laughed. “That is my girl.”

As Apricot sat on the stool next to Cortez, she rested her arms on the counter. “So, you two are friends?”

“Hardly,” Cortez said. “I’m just here for this meeting. Think of it as a favor for helping me out. I hear you had yourself a good run with a phantom.”

Apricot shrugged. “Fifth one this week. Shiori, I really need a day off.”

“We’ll see.” Shiori grabbed the file and quickly parses it. “I see you have the locations I needed,” Shiori said. “Hopefully, from here I will find some of their lesser-known shrines. If they don’t turn up anything, I’m lost. Cortez boy filled me in on your background. Oh, and I didn’t find your monster. It must lurk deep within the depths of that place. Under the city, licking his wounds.” Shiori placed the folder on the table and brought his face close to Apricot’s. “Dear, you never answered me. What’s up with your long face?”

“Shut up Shiori.” she groaned, turning her back against the bar. “You just let me worry about my own problems.”

“So, what do we do now?” Cortez asked.

Shiori smirked as he raised his eyes. “We don’t do anything. After looking through these, I will make a shortlist of places to explore, and then we will arrange to investigate these places. For now, the two of you, don’t be suspicious. Carry on about your lives as if nothing is happening.”

“Tch,” Cortez chuckled. “Right, as if nothing is happening. I got some ghost clown from who knows where telling me the world is going to end if we don’t stop it. My boss has turned into a damn beast. Sounds perfectly normal to me. The gang is probably after me if there is anyone left. Some demon spawns from hell are crawling all around while everyone seems to be oblivious and the nobles are in on it too. Yeah, real damn normal Shiori.”

Shiori shakes his head. “The “Okabe” nobles are in on it.”

“Hell, what’s the difference? They’re the only nobles who matter here, anyway.  The damn province is named after them.”

Apricot laid her head down on her arms. “Taking a rest sounds good. Seems like we’ve been doing a lot of getting nowhere. I mean, how many of them have we killed? There is no end to them.”

“For now, but if I am right, and that Claw Fingers was right, we are about to turn the tide in this little war of ours.” Shiori placed a glass next to Apricot. “Here, have a drink and get yourself home for some rest. Cortez, do yourself a favor and get yourself some, too. I think both of you could use it.”

Apricot was engulfed in the smell of the city. It had a sulfurous smell mixed with sweat. Togashi leaned behind the bar, a shining glass in his hands, as she approached from the rainy front doors with a smirk. “So the investigations were fruitless?” Togashi asked. Apricot scratched her head as she slumped onto the bar, her mind filled with frustration. “Eh, we have the saying in our home country. Rain comes when rain comes. A path opens eventually.” Apricot nodded, not particularly interested in hearing Togashi’s little sayings at the moment.

The truth was the group had been investigating the Okabe family for weeks now and still no clear plans have been uncovered. Their tracks are almost completely hidden as if they had no involvement whatsoever. As Apricot contemplated this, she wondered if they were being sent on a rouse for nefarious purposes. There were still plenty of monstrous phantoms to contend with within the city. Beyond Shiori uncovering some sort of internal overthrow, there is absolutely nothing to base conclusions on. But perhaps that is a blessing.

Resting her weary head on the redwood bar, she glanced over to Cortez, who lay on a red leather couch, face tucked down, eyes closed. “How long has he been here?”

Togashi raised his head, glancing in Cortez’s direction. “All day. Sleeping, I think. Is he homeless?“

“No.“ Apricot said. At least she didn’t think so, but then again, she hadn’t thought of that before. In the aftermath of Cortez’s encounter with Genova, he seems to have turned a new leaf. However, the group did not seem to trust him. Although he tolerated Shiori for the most part. There were several occasions when he accompanied the group. Additionally, she had gained the affection of Sumai and the rest of the group, but that is a story for another day. “Hey! Togashi, grab me a drink.”

“Drink, you? That’s new,” Togashi remarked with a puzzled face.

A weathered groan escaped Apricot. She thought of the many ways she could respond to that line of questioning. Some sassy quip. Maybe she wanted to comment on his lack of reading a situation. She ultimately decided against it. If anything, she knew when her own nerves were stretched. She did not need to add to the tension. “Well, a lot has been changing lately.”

The twin doors to the back room opened as Shiori walked out. His eyes were drawn to Apricot immediately. His face lit up with a smile. “Oh, you arrived. I thought I heard you.” Shiori chirped.”Well, did the shrine turn up anything?”

“We are in the dark, Shiori.” Apricot sighed. Search for what seemed like endless shrines. Places of worship, altars and old stone statues, trees of strange shapes, and people of odd appearance. Nothing.

“Could be worse,” Cortez snorted while he arose from his slumber, stretching with a long yawn. Shiori made his way over to the back of the bar next to Togashi. “We could have normal lives with nothing to do.” Apricot rolled her eyes at the constant sarcasm. It grated on her, but then again she was guilty of it too. It seemed stress brought that out, like scraping to find a touch of humor just to lighten things up, even if the sarcasm was its most desperate form.

“Where are Sumai and Junko?” Shiori asked.

Togashi grabbed a bottle of amber liquid and poured a shot. “Sumai and Junko are out hunting,” he replied, handing over the drink to Apricot. “Checking out the lake monster rumor.” Apricot drank from the glass, taking a quick swig. Upon tasting the substance in her mouth, her face turned bitter. Her mouth opened as she swallowed and allowed some air to enter to stop the burning sensation. The glare Shiori gave Togishi could kill a man. “I gave her something light. It’s floral honey bourbon,” he replied quickly.

With a boom, the entrance doors slammed open, startling everyone in the room. As the door opened, a man in vintage warrior clothes entered the room. The way he walked reflected a seriousness of purpose in his strides – like that of a soldier, perhaps. “You two better get out of the way,” Shiori told Apricot as she arose from her seat alongside Cortez. From the corner of her eye, she saw Togashi draw a pistol, cocking it with a click.

Toward the back of the room, Apricot and Cortez made their way. Shiori’s steps seemed to reverberate throughout the room, amidst the dull chatter of unaware clients. With a booming voice, the stranger shouted, “May I have everyone’s attention!” The chatter dulled for the strange old soldier. He turned to Shiori, who had stepped in front of the bar. Apricot imagined the man smirking behind the black mask as he said, “Master Kinjo, I have a message from our lady Kyo.” As the man hollered “Au Ra-voir,” Shiori grabbed a metal baking sheet from the counter to shield his chest and stomach as two black submachine guns rose from the soldier’s side. In an instant, they scream peppering the cast iron plate. Everyone in the building scrambles for any exit they can find.

As Shiori rolled over the counter, he released the pan and took cover. “Why are you running?” he asked. The soldier marched closer, both guns hanging from tethered cables. The man cackled, “Accept your fate!”.

“Run Shiori,” Togashi ordered as he fired another barrage of bullets. The soldier danced as he dodged bullets with impossible movements. Apricot was in awe as she watched the man move. The panic surrounding her slowed to a standstill. He is beautiful, like something from a movie. In spite of this, he flicked his wrists and retrieved two metallic tubes from within his sleeves as reality sinks in. His toss toward the counter launched the two tubes into the air. One fluid motion practiced hundreds of thousands of times before. Now set forth into action. From behind the counter, Togashi grabbed Shiori and propelled him away from the twin objects. As Shiori was pushed beyond the bar, he stopped next to a table. He broke the leg off with a kick as he shielded himself behind the table. The two objects bounce and land about a foot from Togashi. The erupting power caused the counter to shatter into a thousand shards as he tumbles over the bar.

“You have interfered in the Okabe family’s affairs for the last time. Your punishment is death.” The man said again, grabbing a gun from his side and firing again at the table. Shiori rolls out of the way and fires with a thick pistol at the man.

“What the hell! Apricot move!” Cortez growled, grasping her arm. A firm, sudden tug jarred her out of her trance. “We have to go!” Cortez shouted, almost dragging Apricot with him. Watching Togashi fire a few shots at the man, she sees the bullets miss every time. But that is impossible. Apricot then notices that the bullets are fleeing from him. Togashi fires another round of bullets, and it hits the table next to him. While watching, Apricot concludes that the bullets arc away from him. The assassin lept from the balcony to the ground below. “Foolish Kinjo stray!” the man exclaimed before opening fire again. Shiori misses being hit by the volley as he moves back behind the smoking counter.

Apricot and Cortez hide behind an ornate wooden pillar. “Cortez, take action!” Apricot commanded.

Cortez shook his head. “That’s an assassin. I hear they’re specially designed for such things. Ta hell if I’m going to get killed. If we leave him alone, we might make it out of here alive.” Suddenly, the anti-fire system turned on and the building is awash in a steady stream of water.

“Lady Kyo is crazy. What the hell is she up to? A war!” Shiori yelled at Togashi.

Among the black iron cafe tables, Togashi hides from view. “Sir, it is wise to run.” A few bullets bounced off the table, leaving dents.

Shiori’s back is lit by a flash behind the wall, and Apricot gasped. The image of the cloaked troopers at the bank comes to mind. “Shiori behind you!” Before he could turn from the ruins of the counter, static grabbed his throat.

“Your execution is now!” The assassin declared, raking his knife across Shiori’s neck.

“Master Kinjo!” Togashi cried as he rose from his feet.

Shiori grabbed the attacker’s arms and threw him on top of the countertop, hanging him. A spring-loaded blade was released from Shiori’s boot and he kicked the soldier in the head. The dagger sank deep into his body. He repeatedly ripped chunks out of his head, leaving a sickening squelch and crack behind. After looking down, Shiori realizes his foot is half in his head; his brain is nothing more than a lump of meat.

“Shiori!” Apricot cried as she ran across the debris-smeared floor to him. As he looked at Apricot with eyes like a wild beast, he raised a hand to his bleeding throat. She had never seen a look like that from him before. It wasn’t human. “Are you alright?” she screamed. Shiori just grinned as he looked back at the man.

“He thought he had me. Probably died thinking it, too.” He glanced up from the bloodied corpse. “Funny thing. I got dermal sheathing in my neck,” He remarked, poking the hole with his finger to reveal metal plating. “My father insisted,” he snickered nervously. “I thought it was a touch over the top. Guess I was damn wrong about that.”

Cortez snorted. “You had trouble there.”

“When they’re not allergic to silver… I don’t fare so well in the fighting department.” He turned his head as he walked past Apricot and Cortez towards the broken glass bottles. “Well, I got to get myself patched up and then I got some cleaning to do. Would you two care to show yourselves out? Togashi, can you take me to the black clinic?”

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

Blue Ash Crisis: Chapter 14

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 14

Tooth And Bone

A young blonde was held in the arms of two rough men as she screamed and struggled. A fine layer of dust still clung to the abandoned warehouse, which smelled of dried chemicals. As she kicked her heels against the cement floor, the men drag her body toward a shadowy figure. They knocked the wind out of her after being thrown to the ground. Slowly, she pressed her knees as her runny mascara gaze shifted to a pair of dark boots and a man in jeans. With black-rimmed sunglasses covering his eyes, his dreadlocks concealed his face. A slow grin revealed toothy fangs like those of a wild animal. Taking off his black leather jacket, he revealed his bulging muscles. As he howled, they pulsed and expanded. The girl shrieked, seeing the man transform before her eyes. She tries to get away from his giant hand but fails as he gripped both of her legs with one hand. The monstrous man dwarfed the two men while he lifted the girl off the ground. “Help! “Please!” she cried, trying to free herself from his grip.

In horror, one man kept his eyes on the concrete floor, and said, “I can’t watch this.”

The monster of a man bit into the girl’s upper body with a loud crunch. “Do not speak, no one can defeat Genova. He is the king of the city now.” The abandoned warehouse is filled with the sounds of slurping and gnawing as the two men’s blood runs cold.

Across from Machi and Solenne, Apricot drank from a straw. The three girls are seated at a small black cast iron picnic table in the park’s center. It’s nearly impossible not to notice how artificial the trees are. There was no question that the trees were plastic sculptures. Moreover, they did not grow or take on any color. Apricot presumed that the plants had to be made of polysynthetic materials.. After unwrapping their sandwiches, the girls poured ice tea into their glasses. As Apricot finds herself lost in her own thoughts, Machi and Solenne have a lot of small talk. Apricot finds herself in a strange situation. Having to deal with Shiori has been exhausting to say the least. Sleep has been scarce lately. Machi’s face fell, and Apricot had no idea why due to her lack of listening. Now that the tone of the conversation had changed, she was roused from her thoughts. 

“It worries me.” Solenne continued. “I realize the military won’t risk any of its soldiers, but still… the fighting has already begun.”

In the news, Apricot had read about the situation. Miners had discovered a remarkably large deposit of Urizen resources. Currently, Uchella and Aslana are fighting over the deposits. There is a demilitarized zone near it, which has been off-limits for years. Arjun was deployed about a month ago. Since then, Solenne has been anxious.

Machi chimed in, “Well, he is not in combat, is he?”

“He is,” Apricot recalls the conversation she had with the general. Still, the situation continues to deteriorate despite her unease. Solenne sighed. “They’ve seen a few air scares,” she observed. “I think he was in at least one dogfight, but he won’t admit it. Having scrambled a bomber, he proudly told me how he had sent the accompanying fleet away. That scares me.”

“I’m sorry, that’s terrible.” Apricot says to comfort, even though she imagines it wouldn’t be much use.

Machi added, “We’re just a phone call away.”

Apricot imagines Arjun wouldn’t want to worry Solenne, and he must feel exactly the same way about her when she is on duty. Similarly, the town is becoming more and more like a battleground as it changes. Maybe even more so if things continue to unfold as they are. “Arjun is an amazing pilot. Even if he’s in a dogfight, he’ll win.”

“I hope you are right, Apricot. One small mistake is all it takes.”

A shadowy underground corridor echoes with footsteps. A wolfish grin appeared on Genova’s face as he heard the steps approaching. His lips retreat from the nape of a young girl. In his usual black leather trench coat, Cortez emerged from the shadows, seemingly unperturbed. As Genova embraced two girls, one sitting on each leg, he said, “Cortez, my friend.” Both are of the typical brand that Genova is known for; street girls willingly sell themselves to join gangs in order to make money. Willing to give it away just for the opportunity.

“The hell is this? You have a throne?” Cortez grunted as he observed Genova’s stone chair.

Genova’s black sunglasses frame Cortez with a simple nod. “Yeah, I found it down here,” he replied. “This was probably an old cult chair. The world beneath this city would amaze you.” Genova rose from his slouch as he bounced the girls on his knee. “So, what do you want?”

As he reached into his pocket, he pulled out a wad of cash. He said, “I got the money I owe you. So now things are square?” he asked. “We can end this here.”

As Genova snickers, the teeth of his mouth are barely visible. Cortez raises an eyebrow. “Don’t worry about it. You repaid me more than enough.”

This is a very generous gesture from you.” Cortez observed with stone-straight eyes. His refusal to accept money is an omen of ill tidings that makes him sick to his stomach. Tremors ran down his leg as the urge to urinate hit him hard. At this point, the expectation of a well-fired gun shot was high. His gaze was darting to every corner. However, this was a strange place for a gathering, it already gave Cortez an uneasy feeling. If he would be offed, this is the place where it would happen.

As Genova cradled both girls in his arms, his jaw fell to the throat of one of the girls, and he whispered, “I owe you.” Digging deep into the flesh of the other girl, he firmly gripped her. As she scrambled to free herself, she shrieked. The blood drains from her neck as she kicks and screams as a red burst wets her tank top. As Cortez watches in horror, the girl grew pale while Genova suckled her dry.

“What the hell!” Cortez shouted, backing away from the hall.

His face becomes tight, his ears bulge like goat ears, his eyes turn red, and his teeth become razor sharp. The pulse of his muscles continues as he tightens. His hair begins to grow, as if he were a beast. His gaze flutters faintly as blood splashes from his mouth. He mumbles, “You look so shocked.” Suddenly, he releases his jaws, and the woman falls to the ground, sputtering blood.

“What the hell are you!?” Cortez responded with a hand to his chest. Genova rolled his head back and forth to get used to his brand-new form. “Those books you hired me to protect. They’re fascinating. I was so impressed with your father’s work. It was something you should have taken seriously.”

Cortez’s eyes are filled with fury. “I told you not to look.” he yelled. “You are now nothing more than a monster!”

“What are you going to do?” Genova laughed. “This was what your father was looking for as well. As far as I can tell, the cult had not achieved it either, otherwise they wouldn’t be searching for it. But it didn’t stop me from waiting for them down here. I’m waiting for them, hoping to eliminate my rivals before they eliminate me.” Genova pointed a clawed finger at Cortez. “I owe it to you.” he proudly said.

“I have never expected you to do this, even though you have always been a jerk, you murderer!” Cortez hissed as he clutched at his fist.

The terrified girl in Genova’s arms looks up at him. Runny black tears are streaming down her face. “When I was younger, they teased me for being a runt. I did not have many friends. This girl in my arms never gave me another glance. Everyone cast me aside as a nerd.” He smiled as he reminisced. She struggled in vain as he tightened his grasp on her. She yelled in pain as he tears at her skin.

“As I grew older, I understood why my life was hell. My helplessness was overwhelming. Cortez, weak people have no place in the world.” He turned his piercing gaze back toward Cortez. “When I became strong, people looked up to me. The strength I gained came faster than I expected. The others sought protection from me. Taking advantage of this, I even started my own business. My job was to protect them from other vermin gangs; from the government’s eyes. The nobles kept their distance.” He stared at the ground. “But then you showed up. This scared boy was trying to support his family. You were a strong kid. When I learned what you were hiding, I was surprised. You had the power, but you chose not to use it.”

“That is not power! That is just evil!” Cortez yelled.

“Call it what you will, Cortez. But I’m the Lord now. I will not let anyone stand in my way. I am the gate of souls, a ruler of both men and devils.” Genova looked up, hearing a metallic click. Cortez holds a pistol in his hand. “Struck a cord?”

Cortez faced the hideous beast that Genova had become with his gun outstretched. “You’re crazy.”

Genova growled, “Go ahead, shoot me.” As soon as he heard the loud bang, his eyes widened. A gaping hole can be seen in his chest as he was battered. The girl in his arms desperately tried to escape. There was a heavy smell of wet iron as blood flowed from his wound. He moistened his finger tips by raising his hand above his chest. He murmured, “I’m bleeding.” before laughing. Then he smiles and said, “Go ahead, shoot me again.” 

Cortez continued to fire his gun several times. The bullets scatter around Genova’s heart with each shot. Holding out his arm, he clicked the trigger while it chirped. “No bullets left.” Genova said. Cortez’s chest suddenly rose and fell. As he lowered the gun, his hand trembled. Turning his tail toward the hall, he ran along the corridor as quickly as he could.

“Maggots don’t frighten Kings,” Genova yelled out to Cortez. “Run Cortez, it’s only a matter of time.” Even as the girl’s scream echoed from the hall, Cortez kept running without looking back.

“The more people you can bring here, the better! Shiori, everyone! All of them!” Apricot pulled the phone away from her ear as Cortez yelled; his voice tinged with fear. 

Apricot commented, “You must really need Shiori’s help if you want his help.”

“Look, look, tell him I am willing to work with him. Apricot, now is not the time to joke. It’s the worst thing that could’ve happened. These are my notes, these are my father’s notes! There was some ritual performed on them. Now he is eating people alive! We must kill him before he gets stronger!” shouted Cortez.

A man who became a monster. Her mind kept floating back to the image of the man’s face splitting apart. The woman in the tunnel too. It had not occurred to her until now, but were those phantoms, or were they people? “Cortez stay calm. Let’s just remain calm. I’ll call for help. I am heading out the door. The Spook House is my next stop, so I’ll try to get as many people there as possible. Afterward, I will try to help. Are you OK? Can you give me about an hour?”

“Yeah, I’m above ground. A gang hideout in the old city has him hidden away. I’ll send you my location. But if he comes, I’m out. I think he is enjoying himself right now with the girl I tried to save. Gah, my lord, what have I done?” cried, Cortez. “I abandoned her!” he sobbed.

Apricot felt like he had a lump in his throat. The cool street urchin breaks down as he speaks. Something terrible must have happened to him. Apricot swallows the information and assumes the girl has died or is on her way out. There is nothing she can do except gather help. “I’ll call you soon.”

“She will sell us out for an article she is working on! Or she is an Okabi spy!” Apricot heard a woman’s angry voice. Apricot pulled open the door to discover Togashi sitting at the bar with an off-put expression. Akagi was drinking what looked like a soda out of a glass. A slim black-haired girl sat next to him with her eyes shut. She appeared to be Apricot’s age or one or two years younger.

“You’re silly, miss Ohara, I am disappointed.” Shiori laughed from the back room.

There is a loud slam before a tumble. “Don’t give me that bullshit! You know they did not secure her! She’s one of them!” The argument between the two continued in rapid bursts. While Shiori chuckled with his usual casual joking manner.

“What is with all the yelling?” Apricot asked as she made her way to the bar.

Akagi smirked. “O’ don’t mind them, Sumai and Shiori are fighting like usual. It will end soon.”

“Tiring squabble this one is.” Togashi drummed his fingers on the counter, rolling his eyes.

The twin doors to the back room breach open, exposing a red-haired middle-aged woman with blue eyes, which locked onto Apricot after spotting her. Their ferocity felt as if it gripped Apricot. “You need to leave!” she roared.

“What is this all about?” Apricot asked in a calm tone.

Storming up to the counter, Sumai shoved Togashi aside, receiving a snicker from him. “I know all about you Apricot! You are an Okabi spy. How else would you be allowed to get out of all the messes you have been in?”

Apricot raised both of her hands. “Wait what! I am not a spy!”

“Where did you get a gun from?” Sumai pressed.

Shiori staggered out of the room, his tie out of place. “Sumai,” she turned her head toward him. “Outside, leave her alone and cool down. As of right now, you are not permitted to enter the Spook House. So out.”

Sumai shook her head. “You are such a bastard.” Sumai huffed, walking out from behind the bar. “I am not done with this!” she announced to Shiori. Her scornful gaze quickly returned to Apricot. “I got my eyes on you!” Sumai growled, wagging her finger at Apricot as she stomped out the front doors.

“You are very early, Apricot,” Shiori said. “What’s up?”

Apricot regained her composure as images flood her mind again. She felt a slight touch on her back. “Don‘t let her get to you. Sumai is the same way with everyone. It’s just the way she is. She is protective to the end, a bit hardheaded, but in the end she will treat you the same way.” Akagi said, his face beaming.

“Cortez called me and told me that there is a guy who used some weird ritual to become a monster. He is waiting outside of his underground gang hideout or something. Apparently, there is a girl down with him. Some gang members, too.” It surprised Apricot to see everyone give her an unamused look.

“Heh, no.” Shiori grunted. “Cortez is a con artist, Apricot. Don’t trust him.” Shiori turned his back to Apricot and walked toward his office.

“Wait!” Apricot said. “Help him for me. I think this is serious.”

Shiori shook his head placing a hand on his hip. “It’s your funeral. You showed a lot of potential, but I won’t waste my time on a dog like Cortez. So help him. I will not clean his messes.”

Fuming Apricot is on her way out the door. After several steps, she rested her back against the side of the building to catch her breath. On her back, the bricks were warm from the sun’s rays. “How am I going to handle this?” She wondered. As time passed, this entire situation became darker. New questions arise, what exactly happened between them?

“You’re a piece of trash and you need to get lost or else.” Apricot scowled looking beside her to see Sumai glaring at her. Without a word, Apricot leapt off the wall, taking off before she said something she regretted herself. Surely, she was not inclined to stand for such abuse from a stranger. After about a block, she hears footsteps following her.

“Would you leave me?” Apricot asked, turning to look at the black-haired girl with the sapphire eyes. “I’m so sorry, I thought you were,” Apricot said.

“It’s fine. I heard what Sumai said.” the girl replied without moving her lips. It’s a soft, calm voice accompanied by deep, dark eyes. “I am Junko Morie. I apologize for not introducing myself earlier.”

This seemed strange to Apricot, making her thoughts race. “How are you doing that?”

“I speak through mental conversions. It is more comfortable for me to speak this way. Also far more private. For me that is.” Junko explained. Apricot strains her face in thought. Junko laughed, covering her mouth with her gloved hand. “It’s okay to use your voice. I can’t read minds, but at least I understand what I see.”

“That is a pretty cool talent,” Apricot said to Junko who nodded her head. “It is nice meeting you but I really have to go now.”

Junko frowned. “You seem sincere.” Apricot nodded. “I will come too if only to ensure your safety from Cortez.”

“Why does everyone dislike him? What did he do?” Apricot asked.

Junko shook her head. “It is not my place to say.”

Walking through this area of the city made Apricot uncomfortable. With broken glass littering the ground, it was a ruin that had been abandoned for a long time. Known by many as the trash land. If only they could hire workers to clear the grounds, the property would be very valuable. However, superstitions about ghosts and spirits are still prevalent. Therefore, this part of the city was inhabited only by the poorest and least moral people.

Apricot turned to see Cortez at the bottom of a set of stairs leading to a collapsed subway tunnel. Her soft footsteps divert his attention. A smirk crossed his face. “Nice shorts,” he remarked. Her jean shorts and pink tank top contrasted with Junko’s gothic attire. Cortez turned back toward the tunnel. “I am surprised to see you here, Junko.” Cortez murmured softly. “He’s not coming, is he?” Cortez moaned gruffly under his breath.

“Yeah, it’s just the two of us.” Apricot walks beside Cortez and looks down at the darkness below. The deep darkness appeared cold and unwelcoming.

As Junko looks over Apricot’s shoulder, she places her hand on her back. “I just came for her. Don’t cross your lines.”

Cortez grunted, “Yeah. I figured as much, so Shiori is too busy or what?” Apricot’s suspicions about Cortez’s prior relationship with the group grew. Junko must have known him. In her cold eyes, there was a kind of fondness. Concerning Cortez’s words, they felt pained. Their relationship was like an old friendship. Although Apricot diverted herself, her attention cannot be diverted from the subject at hand.  She can wonder afterwards.

“No, he refused as expected. I take it he is still there?” Apricot asked.

Cortez does not avert his gaze. The man has not yet appeared, if that’s what you mean. There are tunnels everywhere. He could have escaped through another route, but I doubt he would bother. I shot him. It did not even phase him. We need Shiori’s entire group, hell, we need a damn army.”

She waited for Cortez to continue, but he remained silent. “A monster?” she asked, hoping for more information.

Silently, he nodded. Both hands were clenched. “Call Shiori,” Cortez growled, “I want to confront that asshole myself.”

Apricot drew the black slab phone from her front pocket and opened it with a click. “You know better Cortez. He is not coming,” Junko said.

Take the phone from Apricot. Cortez said, “I want to know for myself.” 

The phone rang briefly, then clicked. In his usual condescending tone, Shiori said, “Heh, the dog boy wants to talk to me.”

“I don’t have time for bullshit.” Cortez said. “I saw a man transform into a monster. He’s already killed several people.”

“Cortez, maybe this isn’t the job for us. We should call the police. Leave it in their hands.” Apricot suggested.

Shiori’s laughter can be heard over the phone. “That would not be smart Apricot. They would kill you for seeing it.”

“What!?” Apricot shouted.

“What you did not know? My dear, you have figured out anything of this nature was covered up by the Okabe government. No witnesses will be allowed for these spooky rumors.” Shiori pauses. Doggy boy, what exactly led you to the badlands? Is it the work of your traitorous father?”

“Shut up, you don’t know anything about my Dad,” Cortez yelled. “But yeah, that file he had is down there. It was a gang I was paying to watch over it for me. Heh, you met them Apricot. Remember those guys who kicked the crap out of me when I met you?”

“Seems to be a common occurrence for you.” Shiori gloated.

“Shiori.” Apricot chided.

Shiori’s stifled snicker reached through the receiver. “Be truthful Cortez, we both know you were not paying them to look over that file.”

“I did but anyway, the tall one with the black dreads is named Genova. He is their leader.” Cortez said turning his gaze towards Apricot. “He solved the riddles in my father’s work, apparently. I figured he was a meathead and could not figure stuff out like that.”

“So your drug lord boss has a hit out for you and you want our help?” Apricot drops her jaw. “I’m not interested in helping criminal dogs like you, Cortez. You made your own mess. Apricot, I suggest you do the same.”

“Shiori, please, I need your help!” Cortez begged.

Apricot furrowed her brow. “Shiori, this is a lead in the right direction. We should at least investigate it. We will deal with Cortez after.”

“I won’t be a lap dog for this man’s gang troubles. Fair well.”

“Shiori, don’t go. I need your help.” Cortez once again asked.

After a moment, Shiori said, “And you lack it.” A click signaled the end of the phone call.

“You didn’t mention you were in a gang!” Apricot yelled, grabbing Cortez’s arm. “What have you doing with a gang?”

His gaze fell toward the ground. “I had no other choice, my family, they needed the money. The gang… well, they helped me.”

“Do you sell drugs?” Apricot asked.

“I sell all kinds of things.” Cortez turned his back toward Apricot pulling away. “I will deal with it myself if you won’t help me.”

“How?” Apricot asked.

“I don’t know. I was hoping Shiori would help… he might not seem like it, but he is strong. I kind of figured he would not be around so I had an idea of my own. It would be a lot easier with you two. Junko, please help me.” Cortez said.

Junko stretched her posture. “I am listening.”

“I will help you too. But I am not happy with you. So what is this plan of yours?” Apricot asked.

Cortez pulled out a vile containing some kind of putty substance. “I got this, it’s called Lyiatris, and I use it to break into places. A dot of it can blow a lock off.” Cortez’s gaze shifted away from Apricot. “But this tube carries a lot more danger. I’ve got a cell phone and a burner with me. I need another. I need a few wires, any wires will do. From this, I can rig up a few bombs. Three. There’s an extensive tunnel down there. We can string bombs along it. Three of them, not too far apart, but fairly close together. When he is in the middle of them, use a group call to detonate them all. That should collapse the walls around him and trap him. We need kindling because we want him to burn.” Apricot grimaced as Cortez described the gory details of his plan. “I figure he’ll be unable to reform if he’s burned to ashes. Just like old troll legends.”

She nodded her head in agreement. “Why not just light him on fire?” Her stomach turned at how casually she came up with such a terrible idea.

“Well, trapping him would keep him stuck in the flames. So, he will die for sure.” Cortez said as he stares at the ground.

Junko looked at the tube. “Will it be strong enough to do that? Those walls are made of concrete,” she said aloud.

“I hope.” Cortez turned to look away. “I am not sure though. I will act as a bate. Have him chase me. So, what I need you two to do is wait here while I scavenge the parts.”

“You are not leaving. I don’t trust you, Cortez,” Junko said.

“Fine you two, go find some kindling and a cable for anything, as long as it is for an electronic. I can rig it up with that.” Cortez said resting his back against the concrete wall. “You only have a half an hour before I do it myself.”

Blood flowed down the corners of the tunnel. Apricot shuffled her feet to avoid the puddle of blood at the entrance to Genova’s “lair”. An irony smell filled the air, making her nauseous. There are pieces of torn flesh scattered about the room. As Cortez walked along the dark corridor, he shielded Apricot with his body. In the dimly lit room, the only source of light was a small sewer grate that projects light down. A red glow emanated from a set of eyes in the shadows. A low growl echoed through the empty concrete walls, “Your bravery to return Cortez and what an offering.”

“Something like that,” Cortez said as he walked. His body jerked against each step. “I want my father’s file back.”

Genova sat upon his throne exposing himself to the light. He had to duck down when he stood up to the ceiling. His grin reminded Apricot of a wolf’s face. “You’re joking.” Genova grabbed his gut and cackled. Isn’t it obvious to you the situation you are in?”

“I am not,” Cortez said as Genova takes a step forward. The sole of his hooved foot clopped on the floor. “Now where is it?”

When Apricot saw the face of the man from the grocery store, her knees began to tremble. She felt a burning sensation down her arm as her heart pounded. She whispered, “Was that man?” Genova interrupted her train of thought with a loud roar that morphed into a laugh.

“You dare to make demands of me?” he howled. “I will break your legs and make you watch as I rip your friend‘s skin off.” He raised both his hands to the light displaying a set of large bear-like claws as he chuckles. “Scream for me!” he yelled stomping his foot.

Cortez backed away from Genova yelling, “Run!” Apricot turned tail and scurried back into the dark tunnels. Apricot clutched her cellphone tightly. Upon pressing the button, the bombs would go off. It was a relief to run past the first bomb. Junko awaited her at the end of the hall. Cortez can be heard running close behind her as the stomping of hooves thundered toward her. She passed the second one and continued until she reached a green x on the floor marked with chalk.

Watching Cortez cross the final red line, she turned around. Behind him followed the beast. Clicking the microswitch, she hudled. Nothing happens. As she does it again, her hands tense on the controls. “What are you doing?” Cortez yelled.

Apricot yelled, “It’s not working.” Her vision blurred as her heart sunk deep into her chest. “Oh no!” she shrieked. As the purple glowing aura returned, she felt a burning sensation in her arm. She looks at Cortez facing the monster and said, “Wait…” Junko grunted.  Genova stops dead in his tracks. Genova lets out a pained howl. Bobbing back and forth, Cortez draws a knife from his side.

Apricot noticed Junko holding her hand out, her eyes white and rolled back behind her head. Genova’s veins pulsate as he grimaces. She reaches for her arm band and pulls out a single knife. Genova raised his arm high above Cortez’s head. The knife flew straight into Genova’s chest as Apricot prays that she is correct. A burst of wet smoke sent him flying backwards. With heavy breathing, he stares down Apricot and Cortez. Junko gasped, falling to the ground. She cried, “I can’t.”

Genova grabbed the silver knife and ripped it from his chest. It sizzled as he screamed out “It burns!“ Throwing the knife onto the ground, Genova retreated down the hall leaving a trail of blood behind him. Cortez stares rigidly into the darkness.

“Should we follow him?” Apricot murmured, her body trembling uncontrollably.

In response, Cortez drops to his knees and let out a long sigh. “I don’t think we should.” as he rasped his breath.

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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

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 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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