I stayed up until one AM on a school night to post this! I hope it's worth it!
NEXT CHAPTER IS VERY IMPORTANT!!! For revision purposes, elements of what had been planned to be chapters twenty-seven and twenty-eight have been combined into THIS. Therefore, the all-important chapter twenty-nine (in which the secret of Corn and Gum's relationship will be revealed) has been moved to chapter twenty-eight. Next chapter, the truth will be revealed! I promise!
So stay tuned!
The descent into the blackness of the sewage facility seems to take centuries. Each pulse of the three GGs' hearts and each clack of their skates on blue-gray cement is painfully loud and drawn out, echoing everywhere like rolls of thunder. Combo is at the front of the pack, though every once in a while he'll glance over his shoulder, just to make sure that Gum and Soda are both still behind him. He feels the tension radiating out of the two of them: so much pressure that his mind is spinning slowly. It's built upon, built upon, built upon with each step, so mangled and angry and frustrated and sad and confused and worried and terrified that he can't even tell how much is coming off of whom, or if it's equal parts from both of them. When he looks back, he notices them skating strangely close together, almost side-by-side: neither one pushing the other back, they seem almost like equals, now. Combo would be impressed if the situation weren't so dire, he thinks. Occasionally, Gum will ask a quiet, simple question about the dead Immortal, and Combo will answer just as simply: only enough to keep the situation from getting too unsettling. Soda's hands clench into fists, the fabric of his gloves stretching and scratching. The look on his face tries so hard not to reflect the pain that screams just beneath the surface.
At last, they come upon the antechamber of Poison Jam's hideout. The throne room smells, but in an odd way: the scent of sewage is always almost completely covered up by various perfumes, but now, there's a sharp edge to the odor. Copper. Blood. Soda, Gum, and Combo skid to a halt on the threshold of the throne room, and Soda's dark gold eyes quickly focus on slick sections of grating. Stains, from earlier, not yet cleaned, caked onto the metal. And Poison Jam is nowhere to be found. Combo skates forward, approaching the throne with a tight fist squeezing his heart, and he's devastated when he sees that the chair is empty.
"…They're not here," Soda hisses angrily, watching Gum climb back down into the half-pipe. A moment or two passes, and she lets out a single breathy sob, climbing back onto the main level with a floppy teal hat clutched in her shaking hand. Soda's eyes widen slightly at the sight of it, and he skates back over to Gum, staring at the hat, almost not believing that it's real.
Combo grinds his teeth when he sees what's happening between the two of them. "…Corn was definitely here. Cube's gotta be somewhere close by…I don't think Poison Jam would want to hurt her, but she's probably in bad shape, by now, anyway…"
Gum gathers herself—getting used to the necessity of it, now—before she gently brushes the hat off, returning it back to its normal shape. She stares at it blankly, blinking only when Soda gently touches the tip of its brim. His hand curls back into a fist, and she looks up at him emptily. He looks back, his chin quivering. She flinches.
…All of a sudden, he opens his mouth and he screams, thrashes around and throws a punch at the vacant air behind him. He tears at his face, too little hair to rip any out, and slowly, slowly, his scream becomes a language.
"COME OUT HERE, YOU FUCKING COWARDS!!!" His words echo like gunshots through the chamber, down the twisted corridors, deeper down into the sewers. He skates toward the guardrail and grips it to keep himself stable, focusing down the opposite corridor as if to pull Poison Jam out with both his voice and his eyes. "COME OUT HERE AND FUCKING FACE US!!! I'LL KILL YOU!!! I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU ALL!!! AND IF YOU DON'T COME OUT, I'LL FUCKING FIND YOU!!! I SWEAR IT ON MY SISTER'S GRAVE, I'LL MURDER YOU BASTARDS, I'LL MURDER YOU FOR WHAT YOU'VE DONE!!!!!"
"Soda!" Combo says, startled. Of all the things to say, that seems the most illogical: the one that's least likely to make them reveal themselves. Gum is staring at Soda, Corn's hat still clutched loosely to her. Her eyes are softening, her ears ringing with something she's not sure he meant to say. Combo approaches Soda and grips his arm to get him to calm down, but he jerks away, his yellow eyes wide and cold.
"Don't touch me," he hisses through clenched teeth, tears welling and flowing down his cheeks, out of place, yet somehow suitable. He looks down, can't meet Combo's eyes. "…Don't touch me, man…"
Gum breathes as slowly as she can, listening, though she's not sure what for. Those seven words reverberate in her mind, and she tries to understand but can't, too caught up in the moment, her worry, her passion. She clings to the hat and stares at her companions, at a loss. Combo backs off and stiffens when Soda lets out a painful sob, clutching at his chest as if someone's just stabbed him there. His breaths are strained, but deep: grating to hear, terrible to watch. Gum watches his face, taking in the agony, the terror, the frustration. He has nothing, she realizes. No one else.
He couldn't be alone. He could NEVER be alone. He…
She shivers, then swallows. Confusion reaches through her when she thinks she hears skates approaching, and when both Soda and Combo jolt and turn to look behind themselves, she realizes that she's not imagining things. A line of dark, looming figures skates toward them from the opposite corridor, each of them, in their costumes, looking like terrible monsters in the darkness. Another bubble of anger bursts inside of Soda, and the lanky redhead adjusts his goggles on his forehead, reaching into his jacket pocket for a can of paint (though Gum has a feeling that he wishes it were something much different).
"Where's Cube, you assholes?!" Soda snarls, his voice strangely controlled despite the fact that he's still half-crying. "Where the fuck is she?!"
"She…she's safe, I assure you," the leader says quietly, and Combo is surprised by how weak and tired he sounds. I'd almost feel sorry for you if you didn't have my girl prisoner, he thinks bitterly, pulling a spray can out of his own pocket. The Poison Jam leader raises his hands in defense. "…GG's…please…leave us be…we don't want to start any—"
"Where is our leader?!" Gum cries, waving the hat in the air, clutched tight in a white-knuckled fist. "Where did they take him?! Is he safe?! Huh?! You can't promise that, can you?!"
At this point, the line of Poison Jams has stopped on the grating just a few yards from the three GG's. Combo feels himself getting angry, his blood boiling, his temper lost. The fish-faced leader stares at Combo, knowing him, knowing his face.
…You knew how much the rest of us hated him…you just wanted to go back to that—
—IF YOU SAY IT I—
—NIGGER boyfriend of yours—
…You'll regret that. I swear to god, you're going to wish you'd never even thought that. How dare you. How fucking DARE you…
…He is a thousand times more of a man…than you will EVER be…
The Poison Jam leader shudders, casts off the unpleasant memory. "…They…they took him to Rokkaku."
"And you just LET THEM?!" Soda roars, boosting forward and tackling the leader. The others scatter for a moment before they regroup and start trying to fight Soda off, but Combo and Gum come to their own friend's aid, pushing and punching Poison Jams back and letting Soda have at their leader. The leader kicks Soda off of himself and pins him to the grating: Soda struggles and glares wildly up into the mask of his adversary.
The leader leans down close to Soda's ear, talking fast. "…You don't understand…they would have killed us…all of us…and him, if we had tried to fight them…Rokkaku wanted your leader, he needed him to complete his plan…"
"Are you fuckin' stupid?!" Soda snarls. "You want him to do whatever the fuck he's planning?! I'D RATHER DIE THAN LIVE IN A CITY RULED BY THAT SON OF A BITCH!!!"
"We were promised peace!" the leader argues, almost begging. He doesn't want to be here. He's terrified, for the first time in his life, of confrontation. There's something odd about these three GG's: something frightening. They'd kill to save their friends' lives. They honestly would. "We were promised that we'd be left alone—"
Soda wrestles his arm free and socks the Poison Jam leader in the jaw, knocking him backward. Getting to his feet, Soda wields his paint can, pointing it into the leader's eyes as he digs his skate into the young man's broad chest. Soda's arm is trembling. "They're liars," he hisses, his voice full of pain and hatred. "Each and every one of them are liars…they're going to kill Corn, and then they'll kill us, and they'll kill each and every one of you, and the Love Shockers, and Rapid 99 and the Doom Riders…there won't be a Tokyo-to left…and goddamnit, it's already begun…an Immortal is dead, and Corn is…"
There's an eerie moment of dead silence. The sewage bubbles. Then, all of a sudden, Combo hurls himself at the nearest Poison Jam, locking his massive hands around the Rudie's throat, and the others spring into action. Gum falls back, pushed, as a mass of hulking bodies flies past her, pulling at Combo, at Soda, huge fists pulling her arms behind her back and twisting them painfully against each other. She flies backward, screaming, helpless, and she hears Combo and Soda grunting, pain and exertion, the thud of fists, and she sees blows land and miss on both sides, blood trickling out of Soda's nose, and from Combo's lip. Soda throws his arm down and there's a sickening crack when his paint can collides with the leader's now-exposed mouth, the mask thrown somewhere, forgotten, and blood pours out from between the Rudie's lips. Soda sweeps the can around again and slams it into the side of the Poison Jam's face, jerking his head to the side and making him spit out the free-flowing blood. A powerful hand grips and pulls on Soda's hair while a knee digs into his upper back, and he throws his head back involuntarily, groaning in pain as his neck is bent.
Gum squirms, her eyes clouded by frightened tears. What will happen if they don't succeed? If they can't get Cube back? If they can't find out where Corn is? She thrashes against her captor, who clings more tightly to her, hurting her arms, her back. Combo yells something when Soda starts gasping for breath, his attacker's other hand gripping his exposed throat, and Gum sobs, hears herself babbling unintelligible things. Pleading for Soda. For his life.
Please don't kill him don't kill him don't hurt him please oh god don't do it no oh god please no
Soda gags, and Combo lets out a low, throaty yell, throwing all of his weight forward and sweeping his leg around. It collides with a Poison Jam's head with a loud, sickening thhhuck, and Soda chokes to get his breath back. Combo, now free, whips around and slams his fists into the faces and stomachs of the three who were holding him, sending them stumbling backward over the guard rail and into the sewage below. He grabs the one that had been strangling Soda and throws his unconscious body aside as if it weighs nothing, leaning down and easily hoisting the leader up. Soda gets to his feet shakily, looking at Combo for a moment before his eyes focus on Gum and the last Poison Jam. His breaths ragged, Soda advances toward the two of them, ready. Gum is pulled backward, then dropped, and her captor runs for his life, not wanting to get pitched into the sewage, or worse. His skates echo down the corridor as Combo shakes the Poison Jam leader and Soda stares awkwardly down at Gum.
"…You…were worried about me," Soda says quietly. Gum says nothing, gets to her feet, brushes herself off. She doesn't look at him. She can't. He leans down in her wake and picks up Corn's hat: crumpled now, torn, dirty. He stares at it, then at her, and he thinks for a long moment before he puts it gently into his pocket. Combo pulls the Poison Jam close to him.
"I am done playin' games here, dickhole," he murmurs, his voice full of boiling hatred. "You're gonna give me my girl and tell us where those freaks of nature went with our leader in a total of ten seconds, or I'm gonna make you suffer so long that you're gonna wish I'd just killed you as soon as I saw you today."
"P-please," the leader begs him, obviously in shock. Blood is still dribbling down his chin, his face beaten and bruised. "…Please, n-no…she…she's in the next room…"
"And how 'bout our leader?" Combo demands, giving the Poison Jam a little shake. It's odd to see such a huge man cowering in fear, Gum thinks distantly.
"…He…Rokkaku's headquarters are supposedly in the Skyscraper District," the Poison Jam says quietly, and Soda stiffens. "Where, I don't know for certain."
"Nngh," Combo grinds his teeth and throws the Poison Jam down, turning to Soda and Gum. The three of them exchange frantic looks, and it takes a moment before any of them speak. Combo slowly opens his mouth, a deseperate, guilty expression on his face, but Gum reaches out to him, touching his hand softly, and his jaw snaps shut.
"…It's alright," she says quietly. "You go to Cube. We'll go and look for Corn."
Relief mixed with a small bit of shame floods into Combo's face. He looks at Soda intently. "…You sure…?" he asks. Soda nods when Gum does.
"It's best if we split up at this point," Soda says cryptically, his eyes trained fiercely on Combo's face. He wants to look somewhere else, Combo realizes, but he won't let himself. Combo nods slowly.
"I owe you two a huge solid," he says, his voice warm, and Gum steps forward and hugs him, telling him to take care of Cube. Soda just watches awkwardly for a moment until Combo gently grips the front of his jacket and pulls him into the huddle. Long arms find themselves around Combo's shoulders and barely touching Gum's back. Combo looks hard at the two of them. "…You bring Corn home safe, you hear?" he murmurs. "I'm countin' on you two."
"We'll protect him with our lives," Gum breathes, and Combo knows she's being entirely serious. Soda nods slowly in agreement. Combo smiles grimly.
"Right on. Tell him that Cube and I are safe, now. Oh…hey, shit," he mutters, reaching suddenly into the pocket of his pants. "If you see an Immortal…give this to him. Tell him…his leader asked you for help. I think both of them'll understand what that means." He pulls out the ankh of the dead Immortal and gives it to Soda, who nods again, solemn, and puts it into the same pocket with Corn's hat. Combo grunts in satisfaction and releases them, boosting and grinding out of the room as quickly as possible to find Cube in the vast vacuum of the next chamber. Gum and Soda look at the fallen Poison Jam leader, who stares back at them, shaking, not knowing what to do or say. Soda's eyes narrow and he bares his teeth, raising one hand to point at their enemy.
"You'd better pray that our leader is okay," Soda murmurs. "'Cause whatever damage Rokkaku's done to him, you're gonna get in spades, fucker. I promise you that."
The Poison Jam says nothing, just watches him blankly. Soda finally lets himself look at Gum, whose shoulders are quivering.
"Let's move," Soda says. "We have a lot of ground to cover."
"…Right," Gum replies. She follows him as he skates back toward the entrance to the sewers, her heart pounding in her head, her chest, her legs.
Benten Tower is a volcano of flashing bulbs and neon lights. It looks decorated for some twisted version of Christmas, with ropes of bulbs cascading down the dragon, making it impossible to grind. They flash on and off randomly, lighting up the whole of Benten Plaza as if it's daytime. Beat, Jazz, Yoyo, Rhyth, Garam, Boogie, Girl, and the Love Shocker leader stand strong on the edge of the plaza, staring up at the top of the tower, where Clutch stands with Hotpants and the Doom Rider boss beside him, the three of them illuminated and eerily glowing in the neon light.
The rest of Rapid 99 and the Doom Riders have surrounded the group of eight, fists and spray cans raised and ready. No one makes a sound, no one dares to move.
Clutch jumps onto a new wire that's been installed on the tower, allowing for almost instant access to ground level. Hotpants and the Doom Rider boss follow suit, furious—yet strangely amused—expressions on their faces as they do so. Clutch folds his arms behind his back, looking at Jazz only when necessary, but they both can hear the lies in his voice and see them in his body.
"What are you doing here?" he asks quietly, seriously. "This is our territory. We've made it clear that we want all outsiders to stay out." None of them say a word. The circle parts slightly to let the trio inside to examine the prisoners. Clutch frowns deeply after a moment or two. "…Well? Who's gonna talk before we start the slaughter?" Yoyo shudders, and Hotpants and Clutch turn to look at him. He bites his lower lip, and Clutch approaches him slowly. "…What is it?" he murmurs.
Yoyo swallows, shakes his head. He's terrified. He doesn't recognize this Clutch. He can't see the act. Jazz gently reaches down, unseen, and touches Yoyo's arm to comfort him. Hotpants lets out a laugh.
"How cute," she spits, shaking her head. "He's scared."
"Let's roast 'im," the Doom Rider boss mutters, and the rest of them whoop in excitement. Yoyo chews on his tongue. "Let's cut off all 'is fingers and toes, eh? Strip 'im naked and 'ang 'im upside down from the towertop? Make 'im fuck one of 'is little girlfriends, 'ere? Or 'is little red-'eaded boyfriend down there, getting all upset, yeah, I see you, you little cocksucker—"
"Shut up!" Rhyth shrieks, stepping forward. "You won't touch him! You won't!"
The Doom Riders mutter a collaborative oohhhh of glee as their leader turns lazily to Rhyth. "…What're you gonna do about it, little girl?"
Rhyth's face screws up, and she stares at Clutch helplessly. "…I…I can't do anything to stop…anything that you want to do…but…it isn't a matter of anything other than time, Clutch…all of you…p-please listen…if only for a moment…"
"We've been listening," a Rapid 99 girl says bitterly. "You haven't said a goddamn thing in your own defense. We're about fifteen seconds away from thrashing the lot of you."
"Our leader is in danger," Boogie continues for Rhyth softly. "Corn. He's been taken captive."
A silence falls over the group, and some of the Rapid 99 girls only hesitantly continue to hold their spray cans up. Clutch looks hard at Boogie.
"…What do you mean?" he asks quietly. Jazz can see his face paling, and she loves him for it.
You still care…you've always cared…
"…He's being held prisoner by Rokkaku," Beat says stiffly, staring at the ground. The group surrounding the GG's and the Love Shockers all tense and glance at each other uneasily. A chord has been struck. Clutch backs one step away from Yoyo, moving his eyes to Beat.
"…You're certain…?" he asks, his voice deathly quiet.
The Love Shocker leader nods her head slowly. "I and the rest of the Love Shockers witnessed it. The Rokkaku robots…the GG copies…they carried him out of Rokkaku-dai Heights, unconscious. Injured."
"They might kill him if we don't do something," Garam breathes. "We came to get you guys to stop doing this crazy shit. You said it yourself…something nasty is brewing. Before whatever that is happens…don't you want to at least try and stop it?"
Hotpants glares at Garam, then looks at Clutch. She opens her mouth to say something, but she sees, out of nowhere, the way that Clutch is looking at Jazz, and the way she's looking at him. Hotpants stares at Clutch, dumbstruck. Still…you STILL refuse me…
She gathers herself quickly and takes his arm. "…I don't think it's our—"
"I won't have this," Clutch breathes, pulling away from Hotpants. Jazz's heart lifts, and the rest of the GG's and the Love Shockers fixate on Clutch, surprised and a little thrilled. "…We can't do this. We have to help. We have to find him."
"Your old leader?" the ex-leader of Rapid 99 asks, lowering her spraycan. "…But…why?"
Clutch looks at the ground, but there's no trace of shame in his face. Only shock, and, to some degree, fear. "…I…I never wanted anything like this to happen," he murmurs. "…Didn't you hear…he might die…? Doesn't that mean anything to you? A Rudie, killed by the Rokkaku? A free spirit, destroyed by the system? When you boil it down, that's all it is…fucking injustice…the shit we've been fighting all along…ever since we were little kids…"
"It has nothing to do with us," Hotpants says bitterly, crushed. "…He's not really a free spirit, is he? He has a job…he acts like a homemaker—"
"Don't you dare say shit about him," Beat snaps, stepping forward and getting into Hotpants's face. She stares at him, startled. The rest of them are shocked, as well, silent and staring, confused. "You don't know him, you bitch…none of you assholes really know him…h-he's the best leader…the b-best fuckin' leader the GG's have ever known…you'll never understand…never get it…"
"…Beat…" Boogie says quietly, watching him carefully. The redhead bows his head against the sneer of the Rapid 99 girl, facing concrete as he takes his goggles off. Beat looks up, tortured, at his friends, his brown eyes shining, his cheeks flushed.
"…Corn is…what makes us a family…you all know it…you know he's better than I ever was. He knows you all better. He cares more. He…if he died…we'd split up…there would be nothing…Rokkaku would take over…" Beat struggles with the words, searching, scraping for them. It's painful for him to dig, to find the truth he's known for so long, that he's been denying for the sake of his own ego. When he runs out of things he can bring himself to admit, he shudders, covering his eyes with his hand. Boogie moves quickly forward and gently pulls him back, whispering carefully into his ear. Clutch trembles at the sight of it, and at the thought of the things that Beat has just said.
"…What…can we do?" Clutch asks breathlessly. "How can we help…?" The GG's look hard at him.
"You know anything about what's going on?" Garam asks weakly, desperately. "Where they might be? Where we could look?"
There's a long, miserable silence. Then, at long last, the Doom Rider leader raises his head, his face firm and unyielding.
"…I've 'eard they 'ang around the Skyscraper District."