You've Left Me Speechless
It was the cold that woke Neku. He felt damp and sticky, and the room smelled, bluntly put, of sex. That was hardly surprising, but cold... it shouldn't be cold. He groaned, sitting up sluggishly. Something wasn't right. Then it hit him.
"Joshua?" he called, climbing out of bed. He didn't have to try twice; their mental link was gone too. Stupid, Neku, stupid... Of course that was what the ass would do. He should have known better.
He ran into the bathroom for a quick shower, dressed quickly, grabbed all the pins he'd need and sprinted out of the apartment. There was only one place the Composer could have gone, and he mentally berated himself as he took off towards the River as swiftly as his legs could carry him. There was no time to call Shiki or Beat and explain things. He had a sinking feeling he was too late, that some random Angel had already erased his insufferable snot of a Partner, and he'd never get to choke the bastard himself. The thought was like a dead weight in his chest.
"Goddammit, Josh. Why the hell do you always have to be like this?" he muttered angrily as he reached the Scramble Crossing by Ten-Four.
In the sudden crowd, he'd hurtled right into someone, sending them both crashing to the ground. Picking himself up, he got a better look at his victim, a girl with shoulder-length auburn curls and jade green eyes dressed in black skinny jeans and a green jeogori. Slung over her shoulders was what appeared to be an electric guitar case. There was something oddly familiar about her, but he couldn't quite remember where he'd seen her before. The metal heels of her boots clacked loudly on the asphalt as she stood and dusted herself off.
Screw it, I don't have time for this. "Um, sorry. Gotta run," he told her, turning towards Hachiko.
"Ah, you again!" she exclaimed before he could even step away.
"What? Hey, look. I don't care what this is about. Save it for another day. I'm in a hurry." He started running.
"No, no, wait!"
"Why the hell are you following me?"
He stopped. What. The. Hell.
"You're Sakuraba Neku, right? Finally, a stroke of luck."
This time, he turned with a battle stance. "Who are you, and how do you know my name?"
"Whoa, calm down. Yohan told me to find you. I came from Kudanshita because we heard Shibuya is in trouble."
The girl held up both hands to show she wouldn't try anything and stepped closer. "My twin brother, the Composer of Chiyoda. A few years ago, we beat the last Composer. He took the throne and returned me to life."
"How does he know me?"
"He's met Mister Kiryuu, and you're pretty famous in the UG, you know?" She laughed. "News gets around. How many people can say they've beaten the Game thrice? Most people don't even play more than once. Anyway, Yohan said I should find you. Orange hair, brightest Soul in the crowd... sounds spot on to me."
"Well, you've found me, so what do you want?"
She ran a hand through her hair. "Probably the same thing you do. You might be aware of this, but Shibuya has a great influence on other grounds, and none greater than within Tokyo itself. If Shibuya falls, the rest of Tokyo is dead in the water. Yohan can't leave Chiyoda, naturally, so he asked me to come check things out, which was precisely what I was doing when you bumped into me at the ramen place the other day. I'd ask you to tell me the deal with the weird shadow people this place is infested with, but..." She shifted the case and opened it to pull out a maroon and white electric guitar as she glared over his left shoulder. "I think they're on to us already."
"What?" he spun around and searched the crowd. At first, he didn't see them, but then he noticed the shadows surrounding them. "They're even attacking in the Scramble now? Crap, I can't fight them like this!"
"Bold, aren't they? Look, I know we've just met and all, but this isn't the time for details. Yohan taught me how to make pacts in the RG, and dying here won't serve either one of us. May I?"
Neku looked at her warily. She knows too much, and I don't know how much of her story checks out. A pair of shadows moved in closer. Crap, I'm out of options! Ugh, best to run with it for now. "Gotcha. I'll make a pact with you for now."
He felt the light link them both just as the shadows lunged towards them. "Look alive! Here they come!"
As they were pulled into the Noise plane, he heard her voice in his mind. Hey, can you hear me? If we're to fight in sync, I expect you'll need to know how I fight. Basically, I attack using sound waves from my guitar and my voice. Just think higher, lower or equal pitch, and let me worry about the finer details. Am I making sense?
It sounded simple enough, probably simpler than Beat's. Got it. Let's do this!
He dodged the incoming blades and sent projectiles in return, summoning flames beneath the shadow in quick succession. In response, it tossed an orb into the air that exploded in ice shards. He couldn't avoid them, so he used Dark Saturn and barrelled into his opponent to take full advantage of it.
The blades are likely poisoned, he warned, backing away and sending lightning bolts at the target.
No shit. Keep moving. If you stand in one place for too long, it'll try to freeze you.
It shot a familiar looking ray at him, which he evaded in the nick of time. Don't get hit by the ray.
She laughed. How about just "Don't get hit"?
Good call. He kept up the assault, evading when necessary. Easier said than done.
Have a little faith. I've beaten the Game too, you know. You're on your way to see Mister Kiryuu, aren't you?
He sent flames at his enemy darkly. Yeah... Even if it might already be too late.
Then we can't afford to waste time here. Another fusion star charged the Harmonizer pin. Think this suffices?
Worth a shot. He activated it, feeling the pull of energies. "Turn it up!"
Giant speakers sent sound waves at the enemies as the pair crashed into them on a giant guitar. The sound dislodged pieces of buildings, dropping chunks of rock and debris on them. Neku heard the static burst even before the attack was over and was thoroughly glad to be back in the RG when it ended.
"Heh, that's how it's done."
"Come on! Before the rest arrive!"
Neku didn't have to be reminded twice. He quickly ran after her, taking the lead at Hachiko and leading the girl towards the Station Underpass. Joshua. They had to reach Joshua. She didn't seem to be an Angel at any rate and held her own decently in battle, so maybe it would be worth keeping her around for now.
"Eh, there's a wall. Do you have the keypin for it?"
He stopped in front of the Wall. "No..." Naturally, he didn't get to keep any of the keypins he had acquired in the third week, least of all this one. Just when he needed to get inside the River most. "Ugh," he grunted, punching the Wall. Only his hand passed right through it, so he ended up hitting thin air. "Huh?"
"We're in the RG, so the Wall won't physically keep us out, but it might keep us from accessing the UG only part of this place. We might get all the way to the end, and it'll just be a normal sewer to us. Any ideas?"
He thought for a long moment, then started walking quickly. "There's a door further in that can only be seen when we scan, even from the UG. We could try to get in directly by scanning there."
"All right. We'll try that. Hm, Yohan says it should work as long as the door hasn't been sealed as well."
"Hm? Oh! Yohan and I were born with a really strong psychic connection. We've always been able to sense each other's emotions no matter how far we were apart. Ever since he became the Composer, we've been able to exchange specific thoughts. He figured that since he can't leave, the best he can do to help is send someone who can pass along information from him." She followed him further into the sewer. "Say, I heard that you won the Game three times, and Mister Kiryuu himself was your Partner once, right?"
He glanced sideways at her suspiciously. "How much do you know?"
"Eh? Hm..." She paused thoughtfully. "Sketchy details, I suppose? It was the talk of the UG at the time. I heard Mister Kiryuu was going to destroy Shibuya, which is why every Composer in Japan knows about it. In any case, it seems his Conductor begged him to stay his hand, so he agreed to give Mister Kitaniji a chance to save it by playing the Game and picked a proxy instead of playing personally to keep the playing ground roughly even. Then he found out that the Game Master for the second week was this guy who'd been after his throne. I heard that the guy's a weirdo, but a powerful one. You met him, right? Is that true?"
"The Grim Heaper? Yeah, definitely a powerful whack-job," he agreed. Well, I suppose her story's plausible.
She chuckled. "Sounds like an interesting sort. I'd like to meet him sometime. Anyway, I heard that, contrary to what he'd told Mister Kitaniji earlier, he decided to play the Game personally with you to protect you from that guy."
To protect me or to make sure I wouldn't shoot him at the end? I suppose he did block that attack on the last day, but for me or for his victory? Rrgh, Neku, what are you thinking about now? Didn't you decide that it doesn't matter?
"Hey, you two!" They froze at the voice as they were about to enter the Rubicon. "Hold it right there!" They turned to the left to see three Reapers approaching. One glimpse at the blond in the front, and Neku realized with a start why that voice had sounded familiar. "Heh, I knew you two could see us. Oh hey, my man, I remember you. Ugh, you the cause of this Emergency Call again, bro?"
"W—Wait, 777? A—Aren't you..?"
"Erased? Yeah, I guess I was. But then the Composer brought me back, so I won't let anyone get to Him. I don't like owin' people, you hear me? So no can do, bro, not even you."
Neku clenched his fists, looking resolutely at concrete. "Why would I want to harm him? He's... He's..." What, not just a friend anymore...? A... A lover? I don't even know if last night was just a distraction to get me away from the door. He swallowed the sudden lump in his throat. "He's important to me," was what he settled for at last, pushing those thoughts away. "Let me through. Please. I need to see him. And I'd rather not have to erase you guys to do it."
"...we were told not to let anyone pass," Tenho said from behind. "Besides, who's the chick?"
"Me?" She seemed surprised by the sudden attention. "I'm—"
"Kirikawa Maya," BJ spoke up for the first time suddenly, quiet.
"Eh?" 777 exclaimed suddenly. "The Kirikawa Maya? Of Ura Parade? No wonder I thought you looked familiar!"
"Ah, Def March has heard about us? What an honour!" Maya said, clapping her hands, clearly delighted. "I had no idea you guys were Reapers though. This is a real surprise!"
"Hey, you're an indie sister. 'Course we keep up! And you can even see the UG! Rock! Say, word on the street is you guys are playing at that fashion show in two weeks. That happenin'?"
Neku hid his surprise. Huh... a rising indie artist? Guess I didn't give this girl enough credit. She did beat the Game.
"Hell yeah! I'm super excited! Ruka's writing a new song, and Karin just got her new electric violin. Her friend's brother is trying out for drummer next week, so we might get a new member if he's a good fit. Give some of our music a bit more of a rock edge, you know? If people like us, we might get signed or at least a debut gig. I can't wait!"
"Meteoric! Even so, you a fan, BJ? You recognized our sis here on sight, bro!"
"M—Me?" The black-hooded Reaper stammered, looking up suddenly. "O—Of c—"
"AH! It's you!" Maya cried suddenly, pointing at BJ as she caught sight of his face.
"Hmm?" Tenho glanced from BJ to Maya and back, confused. "What—"
"You're that guy from back then! Back when we first started playing the club circuit, doing covers and stuff. The one that was hanging around that bar on Spain Hill all the time! The one that stole my number from the office!"
"Wh—What? How did—"
"About a year ago! You're the one that called me from a pay phone like some kind of creep, right?"
Neku blinked. Pay phone? A year ago? That sounded familiar. In his memory, he heard Joshua's voice. "You weren't at Dogenzaka. You were chatting up some tramp near Molco." Eh? Then that lady friend...
"Bro, you serious?" 777 turned to his bandmate, shocked.
"No wonder she blew you off, man," Tenho added quietly, pressing his palm to his brow.
Talk about coming full circle... Neku winced. "Uh, dude, even if the Phone Booth of Love actually worked, it couldn't have fixed your situation. Speaking of which..."
"Right. Guys, you've gotta let him through." Maya indicated him. "Your Composer needs him."
"H—How do you figure? A—And what about you?" BJ countered in a failed attempt at haughtiness. "Y—"
777 held up his hand. "Naw, I believe them. Phones here is a good sort, and he's already had his chance to take the Composer out. Heh, come to think of it, not like we can stop him anyway. I couldn't do it while he was a Player, and he'll be stronger alive. Be glad he ain't the one we got to keep out, boys."
"...sure. Best of luck. I should warn you; Uzuki and Kariya are waiting up ahead," Tenho added.
Those two again? Ugh, no matter. Whatever it takes, I have to do this! He nodded. "...Thanks. Now, come on, we've wasted enough time!" He started sprinting towards the Room of Reckoning.
"Thanks, guys! We should play a show together sometime!" Maya called over her shoulder, running after him.
"Huff... Huff..." Neku slowed down as they approached the Dead God's Pad, panting heavily. "If... we haven't... seen them yet... then they must be up ahead."
"Huff... Hah... Got it. We'd better... pause... and prepare for a fight."
They kept walking, but slowly to catch their breaths. "...Ura Parade, huh? I should check your music out sometime."
She chuckled breathlessly. "Mm, will you both be coming to the show?"
"Huh? Both who?"
"You and Mister Kiryuu, of course! Our music probably won't meet his standards though."
He kept looking straight ahead. "What makes you think he'll come if I asked?"
"Won't he? Weren't you two together at the ramen place that day? That was him, right? You most definitely called him 'Josh' when you bumped into me... I spent most of yesterday worrying I'd never find you again."
"Ah... Right." That's right; she did say something about that earlier. Crap, I didn't even notice that was her. Careless, Neku. It could have been an Angel. He glanced sideways. Not that there's any guarantee she isn't... Still, I guess if she's going for public fame, maybe not? Mr. H probably doesn't do public appearances as CAT because of that, right?
"So you must be really important to him if he's breaking the Rules for you."
"The rules? Oh, you mean by not erasing my memories of him?"
"That and by seeing you again in the RG with you fully aware of his identity. Composers can't maintain relationships with RG folks. They're supposed to be objective beings, see. The Higher-Ups were going to punish Yohan over me too. That is, until they realized we weren't consciously trying to stay in touch. We simply can't break our psychic link. If we just think of each other, we'll be mentally connected. It's hardwired into our Soul or something, apparently."
...so that's what he meant when he said he was breaking one that day. Is that why he disappeared for a whole year? If that's the case, then all the more... Maybe I don't understand him. Maybe he's right, and it's impossible, so I never will. But as long as there's something real...
"But that's why Shibuya can't fall now, you know?"
"Huh?" She'd continued speaking for sometime while he'd been zoned out in his own thoughts.
"Hm? I said Shibuya's the birthplace of movements, trends, ideas, culture... I grew up by Kudanshita, near Burokan, and every morning, I'd wake up, and right outside my window, I'd see that great arena. And I'd tell myself, someday, I want to sing a concert there." Maya turned to look at him as they walked on, her green eyes bright. "I'm going to start there, then tour the world. That's why Yohan sent me back, you know? I said I'd be the one to take the throne, or at least be his Conductor, but he insisted... and picked our cousin, Miharu, instead." She looked away. "We died together in that accident, the three of us, on that road trip to Sendai. Some stupid car ran a red light and crashed into us. Her brother, Yuuichi, was the only one that survived and even then, he's... A—Anyway, Yohan told me I had to be the one to come back... Because I had to live that dream, because he believed I'd be a legend! So I can't give up; I can't let him down. And A-East is the first step. The energy of Shibuya has always been special. It's like... a podium, a podium standing in the eyes of the world. Shibuya's going to be the place that makes or breaks us, but that's why it's important. That's why I can't let it fall!"
Heh, who would have thought? I guess everyone's got a reason. Huh... Come to think of it, all this talk of podiums and stuff... Where have I heard it before?
They entered the Dead God's Pad, and Maya whistled. "Wow, I guess Shibuya's definitely a unique place. A bar in a sewer? Now I've seen everything. I—Is that an aquarium in the floor?"
"You don't say," Neku muttered.
"Who's there? Eh? You again, kiddo?" Yashiro Uzuki stood by the beige settee Kariya Koki was lounging on.
The blond gave a lazy wave, twirling the bean paste in his mouth. "Easy, girl. Hey, kids. How goes?"
Neku got into a battle stance. "Don't stop us. We don't have time for this."
"Zing! Where's the love? Now that we've met again after all this time~"
"So, like, what? Trying to take over the UG? Didn't you get your chance?" Uzuki struck a battle stance herself. "No matter. If I stop you, that'll mean another promotion for me~ So be a sweetheart and help a girl out, 'kay?"
"Whoa, cowgirl, slow it down," Kariya cut in. "I doubt they're the people we're trying to keep out."
"Yeah, save the fight for the real villains," Maya added, arms crossed. "Come to think of it, now's as good a time as any to bring us all up to speed. Yohan said those were the shadows of an Angel that we fought. Just what is going on here?"
"...shadows?" Kariya repeated, his expression suddenly tight. "Did you just say shadows with a second 'S'?"
"Uh-huh. All over the city out there. Haven't you seen?"
"Naw, been down here working. Ugh. I'm sick of this job. I miss being in the field."
"Look, I don't have all the details, but J—The Composer was being followed some days back. They even made Taboo Noise to smoke him out. The next day, these shadows appeared and started hunting him en masse. I don't know why. And now he's poisoned to go berserk in his Noise form, and—"
"He's p— No wonder he barricaded himself in the Room of Reckoning and told everyone to keep out..." Kariya looked grave. "High level Angels after the Composer with stealth and poison? Ugh, something about this REALLY stinks."
"Hey, look, this is a waste of time. I need to go." Neku headed towards the back of the room.
"Wait! Ugh, Kariya! What are you DOING? Our orders are to let no one pass! You may want to get demoted, but I don't!" Uzuki screeched. "Do something!
"Naw, Uzuki," Kariya replied, still not having moved from his position on the couch. "Lay a finger on the Composer's pet, and you can kiss your career goodbye. We're not meant to stop Phones here."
"Pet? The C—but if we REALLY weren't supposed to? And what about the girl?"
"It's rude to talk about someone like they're not there, you know. The name's Maya. The Composer of Chiyoda sent me."
"Chiyoda? To do what? Why does Chiyoda care what happens in Shibuya?"
"We care plenty. If Shibuya falls, much of Tokyo will soon follow. Our side is acting in self-interest too."
"Let them go, Uzuki."
"But Kariya! If something happens and we're found out..."
Kariya shrugged, unwrapping another stick of bean paste. "I'll take responsibility as Acting Conductor."
"Acting Conductor?" Neku echoed. "So you're the guy he suckered into doing the job."
"Exactly! That's the word! 'Suckered.' Or maybe 'blackmailed!' Point is he wouldn't take no for an answer."
Neku couldn't help grinning slightly. "That sounds like him, all right."
"Ugh, fine." Uzuki sat down by Kariya's feet on the couch sullenly. "Once you see him, what will you do, kiddo?"
Neku faltered for a moment as he reached for his Player Pin. "I don't know. He told me that the only person in Shibuya who could 'cure' him is... was Shades, so I don't... But even so, I have to go. There must be something I can do!"
"Kitaniji, huh?" Kariya tilted his head back to look at him upside down, bean paste in his mouth. "That's a cryin' shame, I suppose, an ironic cryin' shame. Well, then what?"
"Hm?" Maya seemed to listen to something intently for several seconds before speaking. "Yohan says that if you had a strong connection with him from before he was poisoned, you should be able to as well."
"There, 'atta boy! You should be all set."
"What? How do you figure that?" I have no idea where to even start!
"Yo, Phones, you know that the Composer likes to sit on the roof of Ten-Four and watch the city?"
"Uh... no?" And this is relevant how?
"Well, he does. Never tires of it too. Does it every week. Funny thing is... he only does it on Saturdays."
"Saturdays?" Neku's eyes widened. Wait, that's... That's the day of our weekly get-togethers when we're not on summer vacation! And from the roof of Ten-Four, you can see...
"Looks like that's got some kinda meaning to you. Now, weren't you two in a hurry?"
"...yeah, I'm going." He gripped the Player Pin and scanned, finding the hidden doorway. Wait for me, Josh. Hang in there. I'll find a way, no matter what it takes! He disappeared into the door without looking back.
In the meantime, Uzuki glared at her Partner. "Are you sure this is okay, Kariya?"
"C'mon, girl, take it easy while you can. It won't be long before those shadows show up." He twirled his snack. "And 'sides, if all else fails, and Phones ends up taking down the Composer, he'll make a fine Composer himself. Now let's do our part and hold down the fort here. If all goes well, girl, you might get your promotion yet. Buy me a bowl of ramen when this is all over?"
"Hey, no fair! You'd still get paid more than I do!"
Cyril Benoit let his fingers dance over the piano keys without thought, the music flowing easily to him. Once upon a time, he'd wanted to be a manga artist, but he was never as talented at drawing as he was with the piano. At any rate, he hadn't had much time to explore other options. Behind him, the grandfather clock struck six, and Eliza rose from where she had been sitting in the armchair he usually occupied when he wasn't at the grand piano.
"That should be enough time for the poison to completely take hold. Who will go to collect, Lord Cyril?"
"I'm sure Mirabelle would be affronted if we didn't let her do the honours," he answered without even a pause in his playing. "She's been rearing for payback since the day we started."
"Then I will let her know. Should I go with her?"
"It might be prudent for you to distract the small fry while she carries out the main objective. N— The boy with the orange hair, she might have to fight him before or with the Composer himself."
"There is one more thing you should know. Chiyoda has made its move."
He stopped playing. "Tsk. I was hoping, for once, that they wouldn't interfere." Rising, he closed his eyes, perpending the situation. "Still... Proceed as planned, Eliza," he said at length. "I will watch closely and step in if necessary."
"As you wish, Lord Cyril." She bowed once, then exited.
Running through the Trail of the Judged, Neku took in the sight of CAT's graffiti all around him. The last time he'd been here, the left wall had been completely covered, while the right wall was a quarter of the way done. Now the right wall was two-thirds of the way covered in mural. There really was no art like CAT's. Every square inch of it screamed 'Enjoy the moment more!' He'd been in awe for half his life now, since he'd first discovered CAT. It had given him inspiration, both in art and in life. He'd never dreamed he would someday know the artist personally.
Speaking of which, I wonder where Mr. H is..?
Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks at the end of the painted two-thirds. The last few feet of painted wall weren't CAT's work. He walked closer. A winged unicorn looked like it was about to take off on the far left against a backdrop of skyscrapers and other urban buildings. Beneath it, on asphalt, lay a pair of blue headphones. The raised wings disintegrated midway into feathers that billowed to the right, slowly morphing into rose petals that gradually formed butterflies. Its tail flowed into a huge tidal wave, the water curling up and over at the far right, and in the middle of it all, in the roughly circular space formed between the unicorn's wings and the wave, sat a furry brown dog in a pose and likeness that was recognized the world over. Hachiko. He knew this picture well.
This was the sketch he'd made at Molco, only every detail had been painted to perfection here, complete with all the edits he'd wanted to make; it looked exactly as he'd envisioned, an ideal work he didn't yet have the skill to paint. The blending of the paint for the unicorn's shimmery coat and the dog's shaggy fur had been done beautifully in a muted realistic style that flowed seamlessly from the tail into the stylized bright blue wave and contrasted with the stylized buildings behind it. The stylized purplish blue headphones contrasted starkly with the realistically textured grey asphalt it was on. The realistic wings and feathers slowly curled into rose petals that darkened, shifted and merged into the shape of butterflies, growing increasingly stylized as they underwent the transformation. He exhaled the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. He only wished he could paint like this; someone had given his vision life.
Mr. H...? But he's never seen it. Did Josh show him? But he's never even seen the edited version of the sketch. And why would he paint this? Why here? He touched the painted surface. It rippled. Huh? And then everything was abruptly enveloped in a radiant white light. He shaded his eyes, but couldn't make out anything. "W—What. The. Hell?"
He spun at the sound of that voice. "J-J-Joshua! You're... You're okay!" He ran towards the boy, but just as he was about to reach him, the Composer vanished. "What..."
"I knew you'd come." He turned again. Joshua had reappeared behind him, a hand in the pocket of his expensive slacks, staring wistfully off into the distance. "Unfortunately, this is just a... oh, call it a recording of sorts, shall we? How do you like the painting, Neku? I reproduced it from the mental image I saw of how you'd ideally like it to look."
"A recording? You reproduced it? Then..."
"I suppose, since I can't keep you out of this, the next best thing I can do is give you the power to defeat me by granting you access to the energy of Shibuya, and you'd definitely know to check this place. Super CAT fanboy that you are, you'd notice the smallest thing out of place, hm?" He giggled, twirling a lock of silver hair around his finger.
"D—Defeat you? Will you cut the crap, Josh? I'm not erasing y—"
"You know, one could say Shibuya is my life's work. I'd rather destroy it than see it fall to ruin. I've been Composer longer than I've been alive, after all. You understand, don't you, dear?" Joshua kept speaking without waiting for him to finish, stepping closer. "Naturally, I know my replacement will be better... because I've already chosen."
Neku clenched his fists. "Goddammit, Josh, stop saying such selfish things! Y—"
"I can see how this must unsettle you. Maybe we shouldn't have spent all that quality time together, hm?" Slender fingers caressed his jawline, tilting his chin up to make him meet an unusually gentle lilac gaze.
It all felt so real; it was hard to believe it was just a 'recording.' God, even a 'recording' of Joshua made him want to punch the prick's face in. "Don't screw with me, Josh!" he yelled, pulling away, more for his own satisfaction than anything else. He knew the real one couldn't hear him, and even when he could, he didn't listen. Neku doubted this one could process his input either.
"Hee hee~ Surely you care enough not to let me die by some stranger's hand, hm?"
"You bastard," he whispered, looking down to hide his face, voice hoarse and choked. "You devious, manipulative, heartless bastard." His vision swam. "D—Don't you dare, goddammit!"
"Neku," the other said his name softly, the way he had only the night before sighed it into his ear as they lay entwined in his bed together. "You'll do it for me, won't you?"
"Stop it, Josh. Please stop..." he heard himself plead. It was like a leaden ball of cold fire had sunk into the pit of his stomach. God damn it all... You always do this, Josh; you always do this to me. Why, why, WHYYYYYY?
"Oh, and since you're you, I expect you'll have blown last night completely out of proportion."
Neku's eyes widened. "B—Blow..." he spluttered in his sudden rage, shaking. "T—THE GALL YOU HAVE, KIRYUU YOSHIYA! BLOWN IT OUT OF PROPORTION? YOU ASS! YOU GIVE ME ALL THIS BULLCRAP ABOUT THE... THE 'QUALITY' TIME WE SPENT TOGETHER, ASK ME TO ERASE YOU MYSELF, AND NOW YOU TELL ME I'M BLOWING THINGS OUT OF PROPORTION? SCREW YOU, JOSH! I'M—"
"Since you're my dear, dear partner, I suppose I'll say this much," Joshua continued as if he hadn't said a thing, hands cupping his face, and smiled the least smug, most sincere smile he'd ever seen in the history of their acquaintance. "It wasn't just a diversion."
Whatever he had been about to say next, he lost. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but no words came, and he just stared at the silver-haired boy helplessly. He could barely even breathe.
"Hee hee~ Your face is priceless, partner." The image of the Composer levitated off what appeared to be the 'ground' in this formless white space. "I know you'll do a bang-up job as Composer, dear." He floated and leaned closer, tilting Neku's face up and looking right into flabbergasted blue eyes. "I was happy, Neku. You'll remember me, won't you?" Then Joshua kissed him, the image bursting into feathers, and he was blinded once more by the white light.
Kirikawa Maya had only just caught up to her temporary Partner, who seemed quite absorbed by one particular segment of the beautiful and vibrant mural covering the walls of this part of the sewer, when the other suddenly staggered backwards from the wall, eyes blank and distant as if something terrible had been burned into his mind. To her horror, the boy didn't stop, stumbling backwards blindly.
"H—Hey!" She darted forward to grab his arm, steadying him not a moment too soon. He had been one step away from falling into Shibuya River sludge. "Hello, you in there?" She shook him when there was no response. "Hey! Snap out of it, dude! You hear me? Neku? Neku!"
He seemed to come to his senses then, much to her relief. "Y—Yeah..." He shook his head as if to clear it as she let go.
"Whew, that was close! Are you okay?"
"Yeah," he said more firmly this time. Gingerly, he lifted a hand to his cheek. He closed his eyes, remembering the unmistakable tenderness in a certain demigod's touch. I won't falter anymore. I don't know the first thing about this girl, but if she can help me save Joshua, I'll deal with the devil. Any clue is better than none at all. Trust your Partner, right? He opened his eyes and turned towards the Room of Reckoning. "Come on. All those distractions have cost us way too much time."
"It looks sealed though," she observed in response as they walked towards it. "Hm?"
He blinked, realizing he could see the Wall as well. He'd never been able to see Walls before. Was this what Joshua had meant by giving him access to the energy of Shibuya? "Well, we'll have to get through somehow."
"Eh? Yohan says to just try entering first." She blinked. "It seems that according to the sigils on the seal, it's supposed to recognize a specific kind of energy. If that doesn't work, we'll have to either find that energy or break in. I hope we don't have to break in."
"A specific kind of energy?" He approached the barrier. As in Shibuya's? He reached out to touch it. True enough, his hand passed right through. He really expects me to erase him personally, that prick.
"Well, that solves it! Let's hope our Pact means I can get in too." She tried edging her foot across the line first. It didn't keep her out either. "Sweet! Now, let's get this show on the road!"
They ran into the vast chamber together, their footsteps echoing loudly. There didn't appear to be anyone in the room. "Josh? Joshua!" he called, looking around frantically.
Abruptly, Maya gave a shout. "Look out!" An all too familiar beam of blue light struck the place he'd been standing in just as Maya barreled into him and knocked them both out of the way. "Up there!" she pointed as they got to their feet.
Looking up, so many things suddenly made perfect sense. It was a gigantic winged unicorn, glowing a white so brilliant that it was almost blue, with a long white serpent for a tail. There were bright cobalt blue markings on the serpent, and over its cobra-like hood something that looked like the multi-coloured feather crown of a phoenix adorned the center of its head. The feathery wings burned bluish white flames at the ends like the wings of a phoenix would if they had been white. Out of the blue, it folded its wings, lowered its head and dived at them. They jumped out of the way just in the nick of time, and it landed between them. The unicorn tossed its long shimmering silver mane as it rose to its full height and regarded him proudly with glowing lilac eyes. Beneath the single horn that glowed with the same lilac light, the Reapers' skull decal was emblazoned on its forehead in bright red. The serpent hissed at Maya, lunging forward to strike her, but she leaped out of the way again, hurrying to his side. It coiled around, turning a glowing yellow gaze on them both and hissed fiercely as the unicorn scuffed a front hoof against the floor impatiently.
"Joshua...?" he called again, tentatively this time.
As he gazed upon the regal creature before him, ugly black markings glowed faintly on the white, and then the unicorn was rearing up fiercely. They narrowly escaped being stomped upon by rolling away.
"It doesn't look like we can escape a fight!" Maya shouted, swiftly freeing her guitar from its case. "Pins! Hurry!"
That's right! That time against Shades, didn't we fight in this room too? He tested Black Mercury. Sure enough, the orb of water appeared even as beams rained down upon them anew. Ugh, he really isn't pulling any punches! He used Black Jupiter between evading attacks, sending lightning at his opponent. The serpent darted at him as the lightning struck, but before it could reach him, a blast of sound waves from the side sent it reeling.
"Focus on the horse and leave the snake to me!" Maya called, keeping up the assault as she danced around the beams.
He summoned flames below the unicorn and tried to shut out the way his heart wrenched at the sound of pain that was at once a neigh and a scream, surrounding it with orbs of water before throwing it into the orbs using Black Uranus. Just then, he heard a cry of frustration and turned to find his Partner trapped in a familiar bubble. He aimed and unleashed Black Venus on it, bursting the bubble before the serpent could sink its fangs into it, and she attacked fiercely as she leaped back. It hissed loudly, seemingly in both pain and anger, as it backed away, but his lapse had given the unicorn the time it needed to recover. It charged forward, and they leaped backwards and apart to evade, before rearing up and blowing a blizzard at them. Neku swore as he was hit first, the cold biting into his very bones as ice solidified around his body. It was so cold it hurt, but he couldn't move, couldn't even shiver as it got Maya too, and then Joshua was upon him once more, both unicorn and snake poised to strike. He stared up into glowing eyes, wanting close his eyes but unable to look away because it was Joshua and terrifying as the creature moved towards him, and he thought he was going to die, again, erased, right then, and no one would save Joshua or him or Shibuya. Then, for just an instant, it slowed, and in the next, a sharp shrill sound pierced the air, reverberating loudly in the room, and he winced as the ice all around them shattered and their opponent reeled.
"Holy... how did you do that?" he asked loudly, following up with Black Mars and Black Jupiter.
"Many things will break if hit with the right frequency." she shouted back, evading the serpent's darting attacks by leaping back towards him. More quietly, now that they were closer, she added, "My psych allows me to create any pitch at will, but most times, I have to experiment to find the right one. I got lucky."
They darted away from more beams of blue light, but could not escape them all, and the damage was staggering. He swore as he retaliated. They couldn't take much more of this.
"I hate to break it to you, but you can't afford to hold back here," Maya said quietly as they backed into each other.
He felt cold dread sink in. It was true. They couldn't keep this up. Joshua was far too powerful. He could sense it, the energy of Shibuya just within grasp, waiting for him to draw on it. He hated how it always came down to this: the two of them standing in this room, trying to kill each other. It wasn't fair. And just like the last time, he'd have gladly taken the shot. Only this time, things weren't so simple anymore. This time, if he faltered, things wouldn't fix themselves. Joshua would still be erased, and Shibuya would be ruined. He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes.
"Shibuya is my life's work. I'd rather destroy it than see it fall to ruin. You'll do it for me, won't you?"
That's right. I just promised I wouldn't falter anymore.
He steeled himself. He couldn't let that happen. He couldn't let Shiki, Eri, Beat and Rhyme lose their home, the city they'd all met in and fought for, the world Joshua had poured his heart and Soul into. His world. Their world. Finally, he was starting to think he could understand the Partner he'd always thought was more than a little whack. He wouldn't let their enemies take Shibuya.
"We're short one star," he said grimly as he surrounded their opponent with orbs of water.
Maya threw an attack that sent her flying back towards him. "No, Partner." She turned to give him a sad smile. "You earned it with your answer." Even as she spoke, the Harmonizer pin glowed. "Ready for the last song?"
Neku didn't answer as he channelled everything into this final attack. He wouldn't get another chance. "Goddammit, Josh. You know what I hate the most about you?" he whispered, knowing the Composer would hear it somehow, even if it wouldn't mean a thing. "You can't even be the selfish snotty ass you are without first making me love you."
When the attack connected, Joshua didn't even make a sound.