Hiya everybody! Well, it's finally here, the third and final chapter! Perhaps not surprisingly this chapter needed a lot of work to make sure it lived up to the epicness of everything before that. And with lots of stuff added/rewritten, I hope I have accomplished that.
Good music to listen to during this chapter: Blood Music by Zeromancer.
"I have been no more than a medium, as it were." -Henri Matisse
Scale 3: The One Star's Transformation
"Get down!" shouted Beat, yanking himself and Rhyme to the ground. The crazed Minamimoto sailed over their heads, loud static-like popping coming from his tattoo-covered body. He landed with a mighty thud behind the siblings, and then quickly spun around to face them. Beat and Rhyme did the same. His eyes had a deep red pinprick of light shining in them.
"Wha's goin' on, yo?" Beat muttered. "How can Pi-Face still be around? Me and Neku and Shiki all saw him crushed under a pile of junk."
"Did he turn into static?" Rhyme asked.
Beat gave his sister a simple, long stare. "Now that you mention it, we didn't. He jus' wasn't moving, so we assumed…"
Of course that was a stupid thing to assume. The only time a Noise or Reaper was confirmed dead was when he/she/it dissolved into static. Beat knew that, but he tended to be stupid. He was surprised Neku and Shiki didn't know better though. They were way smarter than he was.
Still, Beat didn't have too much time to dwell on the matter. Minamimoto was charging dark beams of energy in his hands and his open mouth. Both of them dived out of the way as black lasers shot over their heads. The attack left smoking dark scars upon the alley walls they passed so close to.
"We need to activate our pact," Rhyme said calmly as she observed the half-Noise before her. One would have thought she was just talking about a mangy street-cat by her passive tone.
"No we don't. I can take this guy myself!" announced Beat, his wings spreading wide as he stood back up. "I'm a Reaper now. I have my own power."
Beat felt himself get jerked back down by Rhyme as Minamimoto fired another series of black lasers. He felt the overwhelming heat they gave off as he shot just above him. In fact he thought he smelled something burning…his hat! He hurriedly took it off, and saw that it now had a smoldering hole at the tip.
"But I don't have any powers outside of the pact," pointed out Rhyme coolly. "And I don't want to be a helpless target during the fight. Let's pact."
Beat gritted his teeth, but he knew she was right. She was smarter than him. Everyone was smarter than him. Drive never made up for logic. "Alright. Let's do this."
They took each other's hands and there was a flash of blue light. Beat felt his Soul mingle with Rhyme's as their existences were weaved together. Soon he felt his sister's quiet thoughts tickling the back of his brain, mostly wordless processes rather than active reasoning.
Normally Rhyme was transported into the "bottom" Noise zone while Beat was taken to the "top" Noise zone, but this time neither sibling was spirited elsewhere.
"I guess the dimensions are so mixed up right now that we don't need to be taken to another plane," noted Rhyme. "The RG, the UG, and the Noise zones are practically one right now."
Their pact complete, both Bito siblings leapt out of the way of more black blasts. Beat flew around on his now-animated skateboard, while Rhyme used one of her many pins to summon winged shoes. She whipped out a red-and-yellow yoyo, her medium, to whack Minamimoto upside the head with. It was the first time Beat had actually seen his sister fight, he realized, though their pact connection had made him familiar with her graceful combat style. The ringing of her bell pendant throughout all her movements was surreal and almost distracting.
The insane lion-man spun in Rhyme's direction, but Beat rammed into him and sent him soaring into a wall. Minamimoto quickly regained his footing and lunged at Beat, but the blonde Reaper blocked the charge with his skateboard. He was knocked back a few feet from the sheer force of the blow, scaring up dust and dirt as he was sent skidding back.
The half-Noise then became entangled in the golden wires of Rhyme's yoyo, restricting him. Her target bound, Rhyme then tapped another one of her pins to strike the lion-man with three successive lightning bolts. Minamimoto roared in pain and anger, breaking the wires trapping him. The shock wave sent Beat into a pile of trash and Rhyme through a store window.
"Rhyme!" Beat called as he suddenly resurfaced from the garbage. One of his Reaper wings got caught in a black plastic bag and cut it open, spilling its filthy contents everywhere.
I'm fine, Rhyme called mentally, startling Beat but also relieving his worry. It seemed strange that she had a telepathic connection to him now, though that was typical of any activated pact. It didn't feel like the usual pact though, with her in the same dimension as him. Then again, not much was usual lately. Would he even recognize the usual if he saw it now?
Minamimoto fell onto all fours, but not because of weakness. The writhing black tattoos now moved to swallow his face, leaving the former official Reaper completely bound by slithering lines. The tattoos on his body then became much more wild, out and lashing about like a black fur of crooked serpents.
Shit, is he- thought Beat.
Going full Noise, probably, answered his sister, as she reappeared from the depths of the store. There were some bleeding cuts on her face and arms from the broken glass. While Rhyme bruised and bled from wounds, Beat flickered when he was injured. The difference between being alive and being dead. Watch out!
Minamimoto's tattoo mane fur stood on end, and black-to-white barbs shot out in all directions. They flew about like wasps, zigzagging throughout the air randomly until they became embedded in something. Even with Beat's skateboard shielding and Rhyme's agility both blondes got struck by some of the ragged missiles.
For a moment Beat literally saw red as a bestial rage flared in him. Then his sight returned to normal as he pulled out the sharp projectiles.
"Rhyme! You aight?" Beat called to his sister.
"Yeah," Rhyme answered, calmly pulling out her own barbs and throwing them back at Minamimoto. The lion-man's own fur grew and distorted into a cage-like barrier to block them. During the distraction Rhyme tapped her Healing Bunny Pin, summoning a healing glow that restored some energy to her and Beat.
Beat fell back to his specialty of bashing with his skateboard and then retreating, while Rhyme provided long-range support in the forms of pins or yoyo strikes. Minamimoto countered or blocked each blow with either his swipes or tendril fur. Despite both of them taking constant hits in the vicious melee, only Beat and Rhyme seemed to be wearing down.
Then the lion-man swung away to avoid being entangled in the string of Rhyme's yoyo again. He used his wild tattoo fur as numerous legs to climb and strike, like a spider made of snakes. More sharp fur fragments plummeted down like a storm of knives.
"Man, nothin' we're doin' is workin'," Beat muttered, flying out of the way of black energy blasts as well as the falling tattoo barbs. He suddenly skidded to the side to avoid being skewered by one of the many fur-legs.
"No, we're doing damage," Rhyme corrected, pointing to some broken, flickering tattoos in the lion-man's arms, fur-legs, and left side. There was also some blood leaking through the Noise armor. "But I think he's so far gone that he can't even feel pain. That's going to make him much harder to take down."
His sister had said this matter-of-factly, but it unnerved Beat. Were they going to have to outright erase Minamimoto? Sure, he had never liked the math-obsessed Reaper any more than anyone else, and did not exactly have sympathy for someone who purposefully made themselves into a Taboo Noise. But did it count as erasure or murder here in this odd RG-UG mix? And if he couldn't be saved, then what about Neku and Shiki, or the rest of Shibuya? Would they have to-
Minamimoto spun around in the other direction, where Mr. Doi was now standing. The ramen master looked both determined and horrified at the sight before him. With him were Uzuki, with her Reaper gun drawn, and Kariya, who seemed mostly better. Joshua was nowhere in sight.
"Whatchu guys doin' here?" shouted Beat from the other side of the distorted beast. Rhyme seemed only mildly surprised.
"Saving your butts, that's what," Uzuki growled. "What were you guys thinking, running off with all these crazy half-Noise around?"
"Uh…wasn't thinkin' really," admitted Beat.
Uzuki groaned. Kariya chuckled.
"Sho!" Mr. Doi yelled again, ignoring the others as he kept his gaze locked with the lion-man's. "Sho, listen to me! You're stronger than this, kid!"
Minamimoto roared back, almost causing Mr. Doi to fall over from its supernatural power.
"You know Pi-Face?" Beat asked, confused.
"He was his old partner in the Games," explained Kariya. "And one reason he knows as much as he does. Believe it or not, they've been buddies ever since."
"Wha? You serious?"
"This look like the time for jokes, Skulls?" asked Kariya, though his amused expression suggested otherwise.
"I should have interfered earlier," Mr. Doi went on to the lion-man. "I won't let you fall so far. There's only one option for saving you now."
There was a flash of blue light, and then Minamimoto roared again as a cerulean glow enveloped him and Mr. Doi. The others turned to him in surprise and alarm.
Wait, don't tell me he's offering himself for consumption! It'll destroy him! Beat thought fearfully. "Don't do it, yo!"
"A bit late for that," Kariya said grimly, his expression now serious. "Once consumption's started there's no stopping it until one side wins and evolves by absorbing the other. Unless you got a way of cutting the connection."
Mr. Doi gritted his teeth as the blue aura around him grew brighter, but his eyes stayed open and fearless.
Minamimoto suddenly became even wilder. The lion-man spat out garbled cries that sounded almost like words as he began to thrash about, smashing and clawing anything near him. The fur legs buckled and sent him falling to the ground. Beat thought the screams sounded more human, but he wasn't sure.
Then the half-Noise let out a ripping screech that sounded neither human or animal. The black-to-white tattoos on his body uncoiled and lashed out like whips. Both Uzuki and Rhyme became entangled in the lines, the sharp edges cutting into her skin.
"Stop it!" yelled Beat. "Stop it now, Pi-Face!"
The chaos ignored his warnings. Mr. Doi was starting to look strained despite his bravery.
"Stop it…" Beat growled, now more enraged than upset. His vision began to turn red again. "Stop it, stop it, stop it…"
"Beat…?" asked Rhyme with what sounded almost like concern. Her voice seemed far away. Everything seemed far away really. Only the lion-man seemed real, as if he was the only one that mattered. Other voices were becoming loathsome blurs of sound.
Then something broke inside of him, like a wooden board put under pressure for too long. A new something came in its place, seeping into his bones and soul. Everything suddenly seemed sharper and clearer. He no longer saw a lion-man but a Noise half-undone, feeding upon itself and the blue light that engulfed it. A deep rumbled bubbled out of his throat, mere words unneeded and forgotten.
The Noise beast noticed the shift too, and focused its pinprick red pupils on him. It barreled toward him, claws, fangs and unwinding fur extended like scorpion tails.
He spread his wings and shot forward, his skateboard chasing behind him of its own accord. He swatted the Noise down just as its claws dug into his arm. The skateboard then proceeded to slam into the Noise beast relentlessly, driving it back.
He wasn't going to let it run away, however. He got behind the Noise beast and pile-drived it into the ground. The skateboard in turn began ramming away on the back of the lion Noise's head. It let out a roar of pain and then sunk its teeth and into his shoulder while whipping him with its tentacle-like fur. None of this fazed him. He would win. Nothing else mattered, including that burdensome racket in the faraway background.
The Noise beast's constant roaring was annoying him. What a pathetic roaring it was, all sound and fury. He would show it what a real roar was. So he roared back.
The Noise beast shrieked as it shook and cracked from the raw force of his sound. Other things like walls and trashcans trembled and shattered in respect. The blue glow around the Noise beast abruptly dissolved as the creature knotted onto itself and shrank. Big parts of its tattoo body began to break off and fall on the ground. The fragments became other, smaller Noise such as wolves and minks, which attacked him immediately after forming. He smashed them easily with massive swipes from his broad tattoo arms.
The Noise beast reformed into a lion cub, frightened and shaking. The little Noise skittered back to its human master, where it unwove itself and merged once again with its master's body. The gray-haired Reaper moaned a little but otherwise remained unconscious.
He was not happy with his prey fleeing. He had wanted to devour it once it was weakened, and now it was beyond his reach. Now he wanted- needed -something else to fill his ravenous, beastly hunger. Yes, he was-
He whirled around to see a white-and-red fox with golden tails starting him down. Its gaze was cool but unrelenting.
Stop this now.
He did not stop, however, instead heading straight for the fox. He would make this his prey. The fox did not attempt to move or attack in return, but stayed seated.
I command you to stop this.
His body suddenly froze in mid-step, causing him to fall down. He could not move. All he could do was growl at his vulpine aggressor.
Go to sleep.
Suddenly he felt so tired, like he had run for days and days without resting. He struggled just to keep his eyes open.
He lost his fight with drowsiness, and slipped into slumber.
Beat woke up feeling sore and groggy. Everyone was crowded around him, which puzzled him. Couldn't a guy get some privacy while getting a nap? Wait, he didn't remember falling asleep here. He had been waking up clueless like this too much lately…
"You okay?" asked Rhyme. She seemed even more tired than he was.
Beat sat up gingerly. His head throbbed for a few moments, but the pain soon faded. Then he noticed the broken alleyway, littered with shredded junk and deep claw marks in the walls. "Wha happened?"
"You went Noise there for awhile," Uzuki explained, seeming both irritated and worried. "Lucky for you that you passed out from exhaustion before you went full Noise."
"No, tha wasn't…wait, my Noise?" Beat asked with wide eyes, as the news sank in. Now that he was fully awake he felt it, the quiet but alive power laying patiently underneath his skin. "You mean I've got that madness that everyone else has?"
"Something along those lines," Kariya replied casually. Beat thought he saw something other than the orange-haired Reaper standing there, but the confusion only lasted a couple of seconds. "Nearly took Skulls Jr. with you."
"Whatchu-" Beat began, before realizing what Kariya meant: consumption. He had nearly consumed his own sister in his Noise frenzy. A nauseous pit opened up in his stomach. He was no more immune to the growing lunacy than anyone else, even though he should have been. Where did that leave Rhyme?
"Don't worry, I'm okay," Rhyme assured with a fatigued smile. This only made Beat feel worse instead of better. "And Mr. Doi and Minamimoto are fine too." She gestured to where Mr. Doi was helping the gray-haired Reaper get to his feet.
"Well, it could have turned out ghastly," remarked Joshua, literally appearing from out of nowhere. Everyone jumped at his sudden arrival. "But it didn't, so you're good."
"Hey, where have you been?" snapped Uzuki. "We could've used your help earlier, you know!"
"Only you didn't, because you're all still here," Joshua countered mildly. "So I stayed out of it. But my, Daisuken-"
"Don't call me that!" Beat shouted.
"…As I was saying, you've turned out to be much more powerful than expected," Joshua went on. "Then again, considering how your Imagination is formatted, I guess I shouldn't be surprised."
"Whatchu babblin' -" Beat began.
"Composer!" shouted Minamimoto loudly, charging for Joshua. "Prepare to be subtracted from existence, radian!"
Joshua raised his hand and blasted Minamimoto with a light beam without even looking. Mr. Doi got in front of his Reaper partner before he could attempt any more attacks.
"Why don't we take this elsewhere?" suggested Joshua to Beat. Before the blonde had a say he was whisked away.
After a brief flash of white and static, Beat found himself on top of the 104 Building, overlooking the Scramble Crossing. Most of the horizon was smothered by graffiti, as was the bottom part of the 104 Building, but the top remained untouched. Roaming the streets in packs were the half-Noise. Beat wondered where Neku and Shiki were among all the colors.
"Anyway, as I was saying," Joshua restarted, paying little attention to the insane city below. "There are actually two types of Imagination, positive and negative: that is, creative and destructive. The names are self-explanatory: creative Imagination makes things while destructive Imagination takes things apart. How much creative and destructive power someone has varies per person."
"So?" asked Beat. He didn't get the point of this conversation, nor why Joshua decided to take him to another place to explain it.
"I, for example, favor destructive Imagination, though I have a fair amount of creative Imagination as well," the Composer continued. "Neku has exactly equal amounts of creative and destructive Imagination. Shiki has 100% creative Imagination, which is unusual. And you, my friend, have 100% destructive Imagination."
"I do?" asked Beat dumbly, pointing to himself. "Wha's tha' mean?"
"It means you're especially good at breaking things down into simpler parts," Joshua explained. "It makes your attacks more powerful because they go through the usual defenses. You can even break regular and spiritual laws of physics for both the UG and the RG. In other words, you cannot be restrained and there's literally nothing you cannot break."
"You serious?" Beat asked. A raven half-Noise soared over their heads, paying them no mind as it cawed and danced about in the sky. Beat wondered if that half-Noise had once been a person who dreamed of flying.
"Oh, I'm serious. I first suspected it when I heard about you breaking Reaper barriers with sheer force during your third Game," Joshua answered with a smirk, before his expression turned more serious. "It is a simple but dangerous power. Break the wrong thing and who knows what will happen. It might end up being beyond even the Angels' repair, much less mine. But it might be just what we need right now."
"The seal on Minamimoto's Noise was very similar to the self-imposed barriers on everyone else," Joshua began. "Yet you were not only able to break that seal made by Sanae, but you were able to break down his Noise to a more manageable size, thereby saving his sanity. Or what little he had to start with, anyway. So…"
Joshua sighed as if he was talking to a child who didn't understand anything. "So, if you use that power on the half-Noise, we should be able to return them to normal."
"Really?" Beat asked, feeling hopeful for the first time since…when? It had been too long.
"It's not as simple as it sounds though," warned Joshua. "You would be fighting against all of Shibuya. While me and the others could hold off and weaken some of the half-Noise, and there would be some natural in-fighting among the half-Noise themselves, it has to be you who breaks the barrier of each one. You can't use too much power, or you'll just break them outright. It also means you would have to allow your own Noise some control, and if it completely takes over and breaks something it shouldn't…well, goodbye Shibuya. And possibly the rest of our reality."
Beat's mouth was set in a firm straight line as he contemplated the consequences of things gone wrong. "Well, if there ain't no other way-"
"Ah, but there are other ways," said Joshua. "Would you like to hear about them?"
"Wha? Why didn't ya say so?" Beat barked with some irritation.
"I hadn't gotten to it yet," said Joshua with a lazy shrug. "Anyway, option 1: you consume someone to evolve and stabilize your Noise. Rhyme or Uzuki or…no, not Kariya…"
"What's wrong with Kariya?" questioned Beat.
Joshua gave him a knowing grin. "Don't you know what's wrong with Kariya?"
Something about the way the Composer said it gave Beat chills. No, it wasn't just that…it was Kariya. There was something wrong with Kariya, but what?
"Well, it don't matter," Beat growled. "I ain't consuming nobody, ever."
"Actually, you would have to consume someone at some point, so now might be the best time to get it out of the way," Joshua suggested. "It would make success with the half-Noise plan much more likely as well."
"No," Beat said firmly. "I ain't gonna give into my Noise."
"Alright then, so I guess we won't be doing that," answered Joshua with a slight smile. "Option 2: I reset Shibuya back to how it was before your Games."
"You can do that?" questioned Beat incredulously.
"Yep, and I have done it on a couple of occasions. I don't like to, though. Makes me look bad to those up above," the Composer explained, pointing upward. "But it would be the most simple solution. And it's what I will have to do if you are unable to win against the half-Noise, or if you turn full Noise yourself."
"Would we remember anything?" asked Beat.
"No," Joshua answered. "It would be as if the Games never happened for any of you. As a plus point, none of you would die young like you did before, and all Reapers erased during those Games would be brought back and never erased like that again. You would never become a Player, much less a Reaper, and all of you would have long, peaceful lives."
"Never in the Game…never a Player or a Reaper…" Beat repeated to himself, thinking back to all the horrors during the three Games he was in. Rhyme never becoming erased and then becoming a Noise, Rhyme never losing her passion. No fighting Noise and seeing other Players erased. No Joshua. No Shiki. No Neku. No escape from the trap of his previous life, no getting closer to Rhyme. No realizing of everyone's power. No friends. No future.
"No," said Beat, looking down. "It ain't worth it, man. None of us would be us anymore. It ain't worth it."
"I see," replied Joshua with a nod. "Well, those were my options. So you would rather do this the hard way and fight Shibuya?"
"Yeah," said Beat, standing taller. He gazed out to all the other graffiti-swathed buildings.
Don't go the distance for other people, he remembered Neku saying to him back in their final Game. Do it for yourself. You're an idiot, so start acting like one.
Beat smiled. A whole flock of bird half-Noise soared above them, before diving down back into the streets below.
"Very well then," replied Joshua. "Of course we must tell the others and then come up with a battle plan…"
It was the evening before the grand melee began. Everyone was staying at the higher floors of the 104 Buildings. Joshua was out hunting down and recruiting Reapers stranded out in the chaos of Shibuya. Mr. Doi was scrounging the abandoned food places for dinner ingredients, while Minamimoto was happily plundering the unguarded electronic stores for his newest garbage-pile masterpiece. Kariya was sleeping, stretched out on a couch for sale. Rhyme was slumbering too, curled up in one of the changing rooms.
Beat was gazing outside again, having grown bored of wandering the spaces of the mostly-empty building. Somehow he wasn't tired enough to doze off. In a way, he was too tired to doze off, though that should have been impossible. The sunset was the red, orange, and gold: the color of fire.
"Hey Skulls," Uzuki greeted blandly, as she walked over to join him. She was carrying a bundle of clothes that still had the shopping tags attached. "You restless?"
"Yeah, guess so," Beat answered, leaning against the window. "Hard to relax when everything's goin' nuts, you know?"
"No kidding," Uzuki replied, also looking outside. "I don't know how Kariya does it." She paused. "You know, I usually get so mad at him when he stays so lax, but at the same time I kinda envy him."
"Yeah," Beat agreed. "Hey Pinky?"
"It's Uzuki," she growled. "And what?"
"Why do ya think Neku and Shiki went crazy, while I'm jus' startin' to go nuts?"
"Huh? Didn't that Joshua kid say it was because of those Red Skull O-Pins?" asked Uzuki.
"Well, yeah, I know that, but it ain't jus' that," Beat answered. "Neku and Shiki, they're strong, and I'm not, at least not compared to 'em. I ain't known for self-control, like, ever, and Noise are all 'bout impulse, right? So why do ya think I've lasted this long?"
"Because you're tough," said Uzuki simply. "Ridiculously tough. You don't let things fester inside you either. You just let it out for everyone to know. And you're the kind of guy nobody can ignore."
"Really?" asked Beat, at first sounding hopeful, but then appearing skeptical. " 'Cause it seems like that's what happens whenever I'm with Rhyme or anybody else. People remember Rhyme and other people, but they don't remember me. I'm just that older brother, or that big guy, that funny guy, that stupid guy. I jus' wanna be remembered for who I really am, you know?"
"Oh, you'll be remembered," Uzuki assured seriously. "You've got all of us here, and Neku and Shiki too whenever they're fixed. People are only forgotten if people let themselves be forgotten, and sometimes even that doesn't work. People fight for lifelong causes for people they barely know. The death of a single person can cause war and revolution. So go on and keep being your usual loud self, and it shouldn't be a problem. Really this kind of moodiness isn't like you."
Beat nodded and smiled. "Yeah, you're right. Gotta start actin' like an idiot again."
"As long as your stupidity doesn't get you erased," Uzuki replied.
"I can't get erased," said Beat. "Ain't possible. Got too many people countin' on me."
They all stood waiting at Shibuya Crossing. Right now it was empty, perhaps the emptiest it had been in years, or decades. But the swarms of half-Noise would come soon enough. They could hear their wild cries in the distance.
They had gathered up what Reapers they could find for the upcoming battle. Minamimoto was also there, blathering on about decimals and fractions to Mr. Doi, their pact active. Uzuki and Kariya remained unpacted, for Kariya refused to pact and Uzuki only wanted to pact with him. Once again Joshua's words about Kariya haunted Beat.
Rhyme was in a new pact with Joshua. Both Beat and Rhyme agreed it was for the best. Beat would have to be partially taken over by his Noise in order to access his peak breaking power, so anyone in an active pact with him would be in danger of being consumed. As Joshua was the most powerful partner anyone could have, they chose him. He claimed a debt to Beat for saving him earlier anyway.
Rhyme turned to Beat with her usual smile. "We can do this."
Beat smiled and nodded back.
"They're here," said Joshua with a serious expression, flipping his phone open. He was staying in his non-ultimate form because his ultimate Composer form would completely erase anything that so much as touched him. He was here to weaken, not destroy. Rhyme tensed next to him, bringing out her yoyo.
The half-Noise came slowly, appearing from all sides. They nipped and growled at each other, apparently trying to decide what to do with the non-Noise beings before them.
Here we go, thought Beat, forcing himself to relax. Almost instantly he felt the Noise power seep into him and saw his vision turn red. I've gotta control this. Everybody needs me to. I can't screw this up.
All the people seemed to turn transparent, revealing their Noise forms in such stunning clarity he couldn't believe he hadn't been able to notice it before.
He glanced to his allies. They too bore Noise, but their Noise stayed inside their masters. There were many small Noise within the low-ranked Reapers, most still yet to awaken.
Joshua's Noise was huge, filling up every inch of his slim body. It was something human in shape but not in nature, wanting to devour everything but kept under restraint by the Composer. Beat suddenly had a new respect for Joshua.
Rhyme's Noise was completely still, the tattoos tied up into a tiny tight ball. He couldn't even see what animal it was, though he knew it was supposed to be a flying squirrel. That was what she had come back as after her Soul was bound to a pin.
Minamimoto's lion Noise was now raring to fight again, though it was still weakened from before. It was doubtful Minamimoto would be able to take his Noise form in that state. Mr. Doi's shrew noise sat silently, waiting for the chance to show its surprising power. The two Noise seemed to be aware of each other, probably because their masters were currently connected by pact.
Uzuki had a horse Noise awake and active, but not strong enough to manifest itself yet. Beat wondered if she felt its stirrings within her and was realized what it was. Perhaps that was behind part of her endless drive.
Kariya's Noise was a fox. Beat remembered that fox, but that was not what caused him to stagger in shock. The Noise…it was nothing but a Noise. The human body he and the others had been seen was merely an illusion. But the eyes didn't have the usual Noise pinprick light in them, and watched Beat with perfect understanding.
As soon as fox locked eyes with him, a rapid rush of images flashed through Beat's mind. Kariya feeling persistently ill after the third Game, Kariya's Noise emerging while he was in the RG, Beat himself skating by as Kariya tried to recollect his senses, Kariya feeling better, Kariya feeling much worse when he realized that he was now Noise when he looked in the mirror of his apartment, Kariya trying to make sense of it all when he saw Uzuki running to him and saying something about Beat and Reaper Wings…
Don't tell, Kariya the Noise told him telepathically, a firm urgency and shame to the tone. Unless I lose myself. I don't know how long my mind will last in this state…
Beat didn't need to know any more details at the moment. It was unlike Kariya to talk like that, but it was Kariya.
Beat turned to the half-Noise. There were all kinds of animals: frogs, kangaroos, wolves, ravens, minks, cats, dogs, penguins, pigs. All of them were opponents he needed to defeat, ghosts that were entangled in bestial tattoo lines. Then they all screeched, rushing forward to attack.
Beat's countering roar was enough to stun the half-Noise in front, interrupting their lunges and slowing down the opponents behind them. While they were still recovering Beat swatted them with his purple tattoo-covered forelimbs. His swipe took out many half-Noise at once, with several having their Noise shattered outright. The core Noise, weakened and frightened, retreated back into their now-ordinary humans. The regular Reapers focused on moving these unconscious people out of the battlefield and into the safety of the 104 Building.
The fragments left behind turned into regular chump Noise, which soon turned on the half-Noise rather than the Reapers. Beat was puzzled until he noticed how most of the Noise surrounded Kariya protectively. He remembered vaguely how the fox Noise was able to exert control over his own Noise, and guessed he was doing something similar with these regular Noise. He was a boss-ranked Noise right now, after all.
"So zetta slow!" proclaimed Minamimoto, doing surprisingly well in his regular Reaper form against the hordes of half-Noise. His kicks often knocked out his opponents in one hit. "You're just imaginary numbers! I'm the infinity!"
Near Minamimoto Mr. Doi tapped a pin on his shirt and summoned a stream of fire to roast in half-Noise around him. Any half-Noise still eager to fight afterward were soon subdued by a frying pan to the head, his medium. Uzuki spent most of her time evading and shooting at her opponents, not wandering too far from Kariya.
The crossing was soon little more than a writhing mass of many colors, though to Beat it was only many shades of red. The half-Noise went down surprisingly fast, but more came in faster despite everyone's efforts.
Man, they jus' keep comin', thought Beat with frustration. I mean, Shibuya's jus' a city. There can be only so many people, right?
Suddenly the half-Noise skittered back from Beat, though they kept attacking the others. At first Beat was confused, but he soon spotted the reason for their sudden retreat. Neku and Shiki had arrived.
They were more three-fourths Noise than half-Noise now. Their heads were completely masked by tattoos, giving Neku a red wolf head and Shiki a violet cat head, while long tattoo tendrils lashed around on their backs. Their postures and were bestial and hunched forward, their sharp tails whipping back and forth as guttural yet musical growls emitted from them. What first appeared to be a small floating cat Noise was in fact the stuffed toy Mr. Mew swathed in tattoo lines. The battlefield was soon flooded by Shiki's living objects, making the battle needlessly harder for everyone else, including the other half-Noise.
Beat felt his own Noise react to their presence. His Noise knew they were the biggest threat, the leaders of this haphazard pack. The urge to attack, rend, and utterly break threatened to overwhelm Beat. But Beat knew that he had to remain in control. His goal was to save them, not destroy them. Still, he knew that in order to save them he would have to fight them and break down their Noise.
A rhino half-Noise charged for Beat while he was distracted, but it became entangled in the string of Rhyme's yoyo. She then fired a barrage of energy bullets at the trapped creature.
"We're going to handle the rest of them," shouted Joshua over to Beat, as he blasted several half-Noise with white beams of light. "If you take them out, then handling the rest of them should be much easier. Think you can do that?"
"Yeah, no problem," Beat replied, a slight growl to his voice. He wasn't going to betray any weakness to the Composer. Who knew what Joshua might do to Neku and Shiki if he failed. No, Beat had to do this himself.
"As long as you're sure," answered Joshua, as he summoned and dropped a vending machine on a large elephant half-Noise. "Just know we're here for back-up if you absolutely need it."
Beat nodded, and then flew over to Neku and Shiki on his skateboard. Both mostly-Noise rushed toward him on all fours. Beat turned sharply upward to avoid their coordinated assault, but was struck in the gut by Mr. Mew. The blonde Reaper then leapt off his skateboard, which continued to move on its own, and left it to deal with the mostly-Noise Mr. Mew. The possessed skateboard and possessed stuffed toy matched each other blow for blow.
Beat dove down straight for Shiki, pointed wings spread out wide. He tried to slash her with his wings, but she guarded against it with her claws and tails. The tendrils on the cat-girl's back stretched out to capture Beat, but he evaded. Neku ran in to assist, but Shiki swatted at him and hissed, apparently not wanting the wolf-boy to steal her prey. He growled back at her and skulked away.
Beat roared at both of them, but it had little effect. It only seemed to remind them that their real opponent was in the air above them, as they turned their angry attentions away from each other.
Shit. They're so consumed by their Noise that they can hardly even hear me, thought Beat. I gotta get through all the Noise around them.
Neku threw his head back and let out a long howl that was both monstrous and melodious. Any half-Noise that were too close screeched and crumpled to the ground. Kariya cried out, his human façade flickering for a moment. Beat himself was stunned briefly and had to fly back up to avoid hitting the pavement.
Damn, I can't get near them without gettin' all torn up.
Beat snarled, his expression halfway between a smile and a grimace.
But since when have I let that stop me?
Beat dove down and rammed into Neku, and then carried him high into the air with him. The wolf-boy bit and slashed at him furiously, howling all the while, and Beat's Noise was being driven mad by the onslaught. Beat ignored it all.
"This is for your own good, Neku," said Beat to his thrashing captive, looking to the sky. "You saved me back then from myself. Now I'll save you from yourself."
Beat plummeted down and slammed Neku down into the pavement. Some of Neku's tattoos shattered on impact, and he let out a yell that sounded somewhat human. Beat let loose a roar that further broke Neku's tattoo armor. Neku howled back at him furiously. All other sounds were drowned out by the animal screams, and all allies and enemies were kept at bay.
The howling made Beat's head hurt, and his Noise couldn't stand it. No, I cannot lose. I will not lose. I will…not…lose!
A louder, more bestial roar ripped out of Beat's throat. His wings flared out, stretching and stretching. The raw power of the destructive sound blew what remained of nearby bystanders away. Neku stayed pinned under him and took the full force of the scream. Beat only stopped when he ran out of breath to yell with. It was enough to leave Neku unconscious.
Beat got up, his body hunched over and alert. Somehow things felt different, though he wasn't sure how they were different. It was hard to think, much less speak. But he felt good, he knew that much. He had just defeated the strongest opponent yet. And if he felt good, then what was there to worry about? He hadn't felt this good in weeks. Hell, he hadn't felt this good in years. He growled with every other breath.
Everyone's attention, all on him. Yes, this was what he wanted, recognition and respect. He had always wanted it, but nobody ever gave it to him. He was always just the joker, the fall guy, the one trailing behind the others. But now he was the respected one, the boss. He slammed his foot onto the ground and they all trembled. He grinned widely. Yes, yes! He would make them listen!
His senses were going into overdrive, causing everything to become a hurricane of crimson colors and blurred sounds. He didn't understand any of it, by he didn't care as he thrashed and roared at everything freely. Yes, free! There were no rules except his, and he had no rules.
He felt a blue power rush into him, turning his dark red vision purple. For a moment he was unhappy, though he didn't understand why. What was wrong with more power? Especially if that power was being purposefully offered to him…The voice of the power, so small, what was it saying?
"Now that's enough," echoed a very different voice.
Suddenly that very power seared his veins and his very soul. He - His Noise - screeched and lashed out at everything neared it, desperate to stop the terrible pain. Him…His Noise…Him…It wasn't just him screaming…His Noise…This was-
Beat's vision abruptly went to being just blue-colored and became focused again, though he was still hurting a lot. He became aware of how painfully bent over he was. But he was unable to straightened himself, or even move. There were his friends, staring up at him rather oddly (Up? Was he floating too?). Even Minamimoto was staring, and he didn't stare at anything besides an especially confounding math problem and maybe Konoshi. Kariya's Noise state was no longer hidden. What was their problem?
Well, everything around them was torn up almost beyond recognition. Were those lampposts and road pieces floating? Were those bottomless holes that were ripped open in the street? Maybe that was their problem. Never had Kat Street seen such…wait, when did they get to Kat Street? That was nowhere near the Scramble Crossing. No half-Noise were in sight either.
Except…Except…what were these wriggling lines all over him, covering every inch of him like a living cage? They held him so high, so tight…and then he caught a glimpse of one of his wings to the side, now at least three times as bigger as it had been before. He knew it was his wing because he felt it move, such a surprising strain on his normally sturdy back. All these lines cutting into him…this was, this was-
The street underneath became cloaked with water, overflowing from a broken fire hydrant. It made the ground a liquid mirror, showing a huge hulking figure. It had the head of a bear and shoulders like a football player's outfit, only with two lightning-bolt spikes coming out of each shoulder. Its tattoo paws were over a foot long, not including the sharp claws. The rest of the creature from the abdomen-down, Beat soon realized with growing horror, was him, the part not yet taken over by the purple tattoos.
He let out a scream, which came out of his grizzly Noise mouth as a screeching roar had further cracked the road and buildings around him. Joshua created a barrier to block the shock wave from reaching the others.
Do you get it now? said Joshua's voice in Beat's head. How was Joshua talking to him telepathically? He wasn't in a pact with him like-
Beat! Rhyme called to him, also in his mind. Do you hear us now?
Rhyme! Joshua was communicating with him by using Rhyme as a medium between them. Neku had done something similar with him and Shiki in the past, so they could have a three-way telepathic conversation when they wanted to. Rhyme had an active pact with Joshua, and then he must have activated her other pact with him to reach him. But that meant-
Rhyme's expression was stern but tired. When Beat looked carefully, he could see the shimmering of a blue aura around both her and Joshua. His own blue vision, caused by the same blue aura, had made that hard to see. Which meant Rhyme was in consumption right now.
You have saved everyone but yourself, Joshua went on. Now you're turning Noise, and I cannot allow that.
Beat felt that searing pain in his blood and spirit again, only now it was worse. He thought he heard his sister protesting, but there was too much roaring, agony, and shattering for him to know for sure. Everything slipped to blackness.
Beat wasn't sure if he was awake. He wasn't even sure if he was alive. Well, he knew he wasn't alive alive, exactly, but was he still-
He wasn't at Kat Street anymore, he knew that much. At first there was only darkness, but as his eyes adjusted he saw gray walls and water running in a channel next to him.
Shibuya River, he thought weakly, surprised that he could think at all. He was below Shibuya. How did he get there? Seemed like he could never keep track of himself these days.
His Noise laid broken all around him. He knew this because he saw pieces of himself - his Noise - on the ground and water a few feet away, twisted purple fragments now fading into static. Was he fading to static? He didn't know. He couldn't move to check. And honestly, he just didn't care anymore. He felt numb, and after all the pain and horror and rage numbness felt good.
"So there you are," Joshua commented as he lazily floated into Beat's limited sight. "Still not quite gone, huh? Thought you might have been done for once you fell down and though the ground. But here you are, still kicking."
"What…do you want?" Beat asked tiredly. He just wanted to sleep. If he slept now, he could sleep forever. He would never have to leave this peaceful state again. He would never hurt anyone else again. He had hurt so many people.
"You are such a fascinating specimen," remarked the Composer, his smile far too relaxed for the situation. "You act loud and selfish, yet neither is your true nature. You push others away and yet you love them more than you do yourself. Or, perhaps I should say, you love their attention and love more than yourself."
"Whatchu…babblin' about?" asked Beat, in no mood for one of Joshua's speeches.
"Your parents never loved you for what you were. All they cared about was what you did, or didn't, accomplish," Joshua continued. "So they paid all their attention to your sister, the perfect student and daughter. And you hated that, and hated yourself for not being able to compete. You couldn't hate your parents, because they were right, nor could you hate your sister, because she was perfect and loved you along with everything else. Love from a person who loves everything equally is cold comfort, isn't it? So you blame yourself for everything, because who else could you blame?"
Beat said nothing.
"You isolated yourself, pretended you didn't care, but you did," Joshua added. "You always cared, even moreso than most others. You were taught that appearance was everything, that performance was everything, and that people were nothing but judges of that appearance and performance. If you let them get close, they would see you for what you really are: a paper tiger easily shredded. Hence why you value people's attention over the actual people, because any person can hurt you, but any attention is good attention, right? Hence why your fee was just your sister's memories of you, and not your actual sister, right?"
Beat glowered at the Composer. "It's better than…bein' someone like you."
Joshua laughed. "Well, I like the way I am. I personally consider it better than the lot you have cast for yourself. We are what we think we are, as it's said. You think you are terrible and beyond saving, and you will become terrible and beyond saving."
"Wha…?" Beat began, before he felt something tighten in his chest and head. There was a distant roaring reverberating deep inside him. His Noise wasn't erased, only severely injured and severely angry. Now it was bubbling up quickly like a coming geyser, one that would soon reach the surface and drown him. The shattered tattoos on him began to reform, and a low growl crawled out of his throat.
Joshua's casually smiling face became more serious. "Of course I cannot allow you to become such a threat. Understand?" He dialed numbers on his cellphone and three refridgerators popped into reality, hovering in midair over Beat.
Beat could not move. He wasn't sure if he really wanted to, with the deadly Noise thrashing within him. He closed his eyes. "I…"
There were footsteps, which grew quicker and louder. It was accompanied by the ringing of a bell.
Beat forced his eyes open. Was that-
"Stop!" Rhyme shouted again, as she thrust herself between Beat and Joshua, spreading her arms wide. "Leave him alone!"
"Rhyme?" Beat croaked, trying to keep the beast of his voice. He wasn't sure if he succeeded.
But more importantly, this was Rhyme…with emotions. How could she be emotional if her passion was taken away? But no, it wasn't quite emotion. There was still an emptiness and coolness to her words. Her voice was firm, commanding, but not concerned or frightened or angry like it should have been. But then why was she here in the first place, if she didn't care?
"Why should I?" asked Joshua, not sounding very worried as the floating refrigerators vanished. "He will turn into a Noise otherwise, a Noise of pure destructive power. No one wants that, not even him."
"He won't do that," said Rhyme resolutely. "Beat is stronger than that."
Beat couldn't help but be amazed at his sister's faith in him. Why did she trust him, even now? He certainly didn't trust himself right now.
"And if you are wrong?" asked Joshua.
There was a flash of blue light, and Beat felt his feeble spirit mix with Rhyme's in a pact. Though he felt stronger now, so did his Noise.
"I am not wrong," Rhyme replied seriously.
"Why do you have so much belief in your brother?" questioned the Composer. He seemed curious rather than angry.
"Because he is a good person," said Rhyme simply. "He has always looked after me and everyone else he cares about, even though he doesn't like taking credit for it. He won't let people down when they're counting on him. That's not the person he is."
But…that's not me at all…thought Beat, as he felt the Noise twist within him. I'm weak, selfish…
No, you are strong, Rhyme's thoughts answered him. So many people look up to you, even if you don't know it. You have so much drive. The kind of drive that inspires people. It's contagious, and it lasts. Trust me.
"I might be more convinced if your tone was so robotic," remarked Joshua to Rhyme. "Do you really believe that, or is that response just automatic, what you know you should say?"
Rhyme's eyes narrowed, making the petite blonde look somewhat formidable. "I believe in him. And I will protect him, because he has always protected me. Brother is always sacrificing himself for others. He deserves some protection himself."
"So you believe you owe him then?" asked Joshua.
"This isn't about debt," Rhyme growled, as if insulted by such a notion. "This is about my brother. This is about bonds."
Rose-colored tattoos began to form over her small frame, turning her outstretched arms into web-like wings and her feet into clawed appendages. A wide, segmented tail emerged behind her and small tufted ears appeared on the sides of her head. A yellow pinprick light shone in her pupils.
Rhyme! thought Beat with shock and alarm. He forced himself to sit up. What's happenin' ? How is this possible?
"This is about not standing by as I've always done before," Rhyme went on, her voice rising. "This is about not letting a bastard like you have your way with people. I will not let you take my brother, because my brother means everything to me!"
Beat could only stare, partially in wonder and partially in horror. His sister, so calm a few minutes before, was suddenly swamping him with raging emotions. The Noise in him retreated back, fearful of this one creature his sister wielded. "Rhyme…"
Rhyme shut her eyes tight and gritted her teeth, her entire body trembling. She let out a loud gasp and then a long wail as large Reaper wings broke out of her back.
"Rhyme!" Beat shouted. He knew what was happening. It was what had happened to earlier, when his own Reaper powers reemerged. It meant-
She crumpled to the ground, struggling to catch her breath.
Joshua neither attacked or retreated. Instead, he broke out into a smug grin and began to clap. "Well done, Raimu Bito. You have shattered your seal."
"What?" Rhyme asked with a slight animal growl to her voice, unsure whether to take this comment as a compliment or a threat. She got back onto her feet.
"The seal on your passion," Joshua answered. "Any Game entry fee involving the self is sealed away because it cannot be directly taken, you see. Memories, personality, emotion, that kind of thing. But if one becomes strong enough, or if the seal is weakened enough, or if someone wields the right power, that person can break that seal, just as you did. Congratulations."
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked Rhyme tensely.
"It means you have become strong," Joshua answered. "Worthy. You too, Daisukenojo."
"Don't call me-" Beat started to protest, before he was seized with sudden overwhelming pain. He cried out, doubling over. The Noise! It was-
"Beat!" Rhyme exclaimed, this time with real fear and anxiety in her voice.
"Oh, don't worry, he won't fade," Joshua said with a mild smile. "I won't let him. Because this is all according to plan."
Both Bito siblings stared at the Composer.
"Whatchu say?" growled Beat.
"Look down," said Joshua. "Both of you."
Puzzled, Beat and Rhyme glanced down, and found themselves lying on the ground.
"Wha…?" Beat asked, confounded. "Why am I down there? I'm here."
Rhyme stayed fearfully quiet, just gaping at her other self on the ground.
"The reality of the Shibuya River is currently much more stable than the rest of Shibuya. It's specially guarded against such threats, after all," Joshua began, seeming amused by their stunned expressions. "The UG and the RG are still separate here, and so the living and the dead are forced apart as it is natural."
Then Beat understood. That wasn't him down there. That was his body, which had failed to separate properly before due to the dimensional mixing. Like Kariya was currently both Noise and not Noise, he had been both dead and not dead. Until now. But if Rhyme was also looking down at herself, that meant-
"Welcome to the land of the dead, Persephone," Joshua spoke to the frightened Rhyme, his latest grin the widest yet. "You bit the bait, and now this is your new home."
"Y-You bastard!" Beat yelled. "You were just after Rhyme all this time, yo? Is that why all these half-Noise and crap's been happenin'?"
"No, that was all Megumi's fault there, and a foolish oversight of mine. And I didn't plan on leaving you out either," Joshua replied, turning to Beat. "But it did make this part a lot easier in the end, so I suppose it worked out. I've got both of you here now, your powers unlocked."
Rhyme quickly recomposed herself, though Beat could still feel her fear. "What do you want, Joshua?"
"A Conductor," stated the Composer simply. "One that is potent and intelligent, able to support Shibuya and erase any threats to it, while staying loyal to me. One that keeps all Games and Reapers in line, yet is revered rather than reviled. The typical requirements, really. And you and your power, Raimu, are perfect for the job."
"What power?" asked Rhyme.
"You, like your brother, have 100% destructive Imagination, but it works differently from his," Joshua explained. "While Beat has the power to break things, you have the power to neutralize things."
"How's that any different than my power, yo?" asked Beat.
"It's…well, you'll find out soon enough," said Joshua with a mild smile. "Because you do realize what is about to happen, don't you?"
Beat didn't understand. Why couldn't Joshua just be straightforward for once, instead of all these roundabout-
"Beat…" Rhyme said, almost whined. "Beat, I feel strange…" She slowly turned back to him at him, the whites of her eyes becoming black as her irises shrunk. Her small frame, half-covered in spreading tattoo lines, trembled slightly. "S-Something's wrong…"
Beat's breath caught as he felt his own Noise broil within him, infecting his very bones and blood. Already the tattoos lines were snaking around him, bindings his limbs, as his vision turned red and then purple. It roared at the challenging Noise within Rhyme, eager to defeat it and devour it, consume it…
Consumption! No! They were already bound by their active pact, and there was nothing to break the pact this time. No, no, no! He didn't want to do this! But more and more his Noise wanted to do this, and more and more it was taking over him.
"Now I told you what I want," Joshua went on. "But what I really need is to defuse two imminent threats, With Daisukenojo's shabby seal and Raimu's neutralizing powers eating away at the lock on her Soul, the leaking of your powers was inevitable. But you've seen the unnatural effects of mostly-blocked power on Minamimoto and the half-Noise. Most likely you notice the especially primal Noise both of you have. If either one of you went full Noise, the whole of Shibuya would be threatened."
Beat tried to speak, but all that came out was a warped growl.
"But if I have one of you consume the other, one Noise with be erased and the other will become stable and controllable," Joshua continued. "Nothing is wasted by erasure on either side, and I happen to get a Conductor-class Reaper out of it. I talked about Raimu earlier, but really it doesn't matter who is victorious. The city wins either way by losing two enemies and gaining one ally."
"Y-You…" Beat snarled, though he was unable to move. His body was too caught up fighting with itself.
"What…What's…" Rhyme pleaded, tattoo lines slithering up her exposed neck. She tipped her head up like she was trying to keep her head above water. Her arms, already heavily weaved into tattoo wings, hung limply at her sides.
"Well, I hate to involve myself in family squabbles," said Joshua casually, as he slowly disappeared from sight like the Cheshire Cat. No, they were the ones fading, as they were being spirited away to the Noise zone.
"Be-" Rhyme tried to cry out, but the tattoos lines wove an animal muzzle over her mouth, making her unable to speak. She sank to her hands and knees. Beat also felt himself drop down under the weight of the growing lines and madness.
"…So I will stay out of your way," Joshua finished, his voice a mere echo. "What you are about to go through is not so much for the sake of Conductor as it is for the sake of Shibuya. Try to keep that in mind."
It was just them now. His entire body hummed with power as if his veins were filled with nothing but rivers of sound. And what intense sound, and what giddy sound that was pulsing through him. It almost overrode the throbbing in his wings and in his head.
Before him was a rose-colored lying-squirrel Noise, its body slender and graceful. It floated in the air before him, lithe limbs stretched out to keep it aloft. Instead of just one tail, it had two twin tails. It had large tufted ears, making it almost look bat-like.
The flying-squirrel Noise felt the same eagerness he did, as it circled over his head. He knew it because they were connected, and everything he felt, it felt. In fact, it was such a violent whirlpool of wordless thoughts and wild emotions that it was hard telling which feelings belonged to who. Not that it mattered. Only one thing mattered to either of them: defeat the opponent, and then devour them.
The flying-squirrel Noise dived-bombed him, digging its claws into him and gnawing on his tattoo arm. He flung it off, and it landed on all fours a few feet away, chattering angrily. The area she had bit him was flickering violently and cracking some.
He charged after it, but the flying-squirrel Noise was far faster than him. Whenever he got into range it scampered elsewhere, often pausing to taunt him or to fire tail segments at him. The tattoo tail reformed almost immediately after the long-range attack. The sharp projectiles had the same brittle effect the bites did. Though the areas eventually regenerated, the strikes seemed to cancel out the power in the wounded places. There was a word for that, he knew it.
Fed up with chasing it, he slammed the ground with his paws. The gray ground trembled beneath him, and so did the flying-squirrel Noise. But as soon as some of the Noise's tattoo fragments fell onto the ground, it canceled out the effects of the roar in the area around it.
Neutralization. That was the word. Where had he heard that before?
The flying-squirrel Noise climbed up the gray wall with its sharp claws, and then jumped off and spread its limbs to soar. The wall it touched began to crack like his tattoos, as did whatever ground it had set foot on. It began to chatter loudly, and suddenly everything, including him, was flickering and cracking. The blue aura around it strengthened.
Everything this Noise touched, whether with claws or sound waves, became withered, neutralized. Its effect was slow but required little power behind it and could effect more things than his breaking did. That was the difference between them. Why was he even thinking this? Why was he even thinking?
He let loose a shattering roar to drown out the neutralizing chattering. The reality itself twisted and warped as the two destructive forces clashed. He felt his tattoos and very wings start to crack, but he was louder than the flying-squirrel Noise, and that extra volume gave him extra power. He felt the blue flow of light began to favor him again.
Soon his sound began to overwhelm the flying-squirrel's, until the sound reached the Noise itself. It gave out a shriek as several large tattoo pieces snapped off it, and it began to fall. It made a ringing sound as it fell.
He was right below it, so the tattoo pieces embedded themselves in him, causing him to roar in pain. It also caused him to think: No, this wasn't right. He didn't want to do this. This wasn't, he wasn't-
But then the flying-squirrel Noise landed on top of him too, and started to bite and claw and stab him with its sharp tail. It drove him into a frenzy, as he thrashed and bellowed to get the flying-squirrel Noise off of him. Eventually he began throwing himself and the flying-squirrel Noise into the wall, until the wall broke and the Noise was forced to let go. There was a space of nothing just outside of the wall.
As the flying-squirrel Noise fell beside him, there was that ringing sound again. He slammed one of his paws down on the Noise before it could run away again, breaking even more of its tattoos. It made a sound halfway between a squeak and a wail. He growled triumphantly in return. All he had to do was snap its wings, and it would be-
Then he saw it, the sound of the ringing sound. It was a bell that hung from a string around the flying-squirrel's neck. He stared at it. Why did this Noise have a bell? Didn't that belong to someone else, someone else he knew? Wait, what was that, lying beneath the tattoos? A human? A girl?
The paw that he was using to keep her pinned down cracked and crumbled away. He had forgotten about her neutralization powers. Beneath the tattoo paw was…a hand. A human hand. He was human. He was-
Beat! And suddenly everything flooded back to him, like it had been sealed behind a dam. He was Beat, and that was Rhyme, and my god what had he done?
Rhyme was lying on the ground unconscious, encased in a raging blue aura and flickering violently. Most of her tattoos lay broken on the ground, though her Reaper wings were still intact. Her bell was cracked.
He tried to call out her name, but all that came out were growls and roars that caused her to shudder. He realized that his entire head, and almost all of his body, was entombed in tattoo lines. Even the broken spots were swiftly mending, as he and his breaking power got stronger and she and her neutralizing power got weaker.
The horror of his current reality made Beat want to sink back into the insanity that he had just emerged from. He would have almost welcomed the embrace of his Noise if it made him oblivious to it all. Indeed he felt his Noise quickly rising again, eager to swallow both him and his sister.
But he refused to give into it, even now. Especially now. He would not let himself and his Noise consume Rhyme, and he wouldn't let Rhyme die. Even if…Especially if…
He reached back and put both regenerated tattoo paws on the base of his wings. He felt his Noise give cries of alarm and warning, rumblings that he felt all the way to his blood and bones.
Screw you, Noise, he thought.
And he broke his wings.
There was a deafening screech in his head, or maybe that was him screaming. Regardless, the next thing he knew was that he was lying on the ground, powerless. Everything was so blue, including Rhyme…Rhyme? Yeah, that was Rhyme, bent over him with tears in her eyes.
"Yo…" Beat spoke, the first word he had said to her since the consumption began. He finally had his voice back. "You…okay?"
Rhyme simply lifted his head and cradled it close to her, as she buried her face in his hair. His hair? Where was his cap? Oh well, didn't matter. Not much mattered at this point really. Rhyme would live. That was what mattered. He was tired.
"Don't go," Rhyme murmured into his hair. She gripped him tighter, and Beat saw that her Noise tattoos were starting to reform. She carefully wrapped her Reaper wings around him.
"…Ain't goin' nowhere," Beat replied softly. "You're gonna be gettin' me and my power. You gonna be strong, Rhyme."
Rhyme gave a quiet sob. "It shouldn't have to be this way. Joshua used us."
"That's why you gotta be strong, Rhyme," Beat answered. It was so hard staying awake. "You gotta…protect everybody now. You gotta…be there for 'em."
"Beat…" Rhyme said, her voice cracking. She started to weep more openly now.
"You gotta…" Beat went on, voice barely above a whisper. "We gotta win this. We gotta beat 'im. Break everythin' down. Make everythin' start again. We gotta do it, Rhyme."
He closed his eyes. It took too much effort to keep them open.
"…Hey Rhyme? You think Mr. Doi's found his cookin' stuff yet? You know, I never did find it myself…maybe Pi-Face found it for 'im? Never thought those guys would ever be buddies…Heh…Never thought Lollipop and Pinky would be…our friends… either…Never…thought…"
He stopped thinking.
Mr. H hadn't expected such a mess when he got back. Indeed Shibuya's reality still had some conspicuous holes and tears in it, though apparently most had been fixed by Joshua while he was away. The memories of the populace had been modified to think that a great cyclone had been through the area. The ex-Players and the Reapers knew better, of course, especially the new Conductor.
Rhyme was visiting his coffee shop right now, actually. She hardly looked any different physically, just that her hair was a slightly darker blonde. She wore her brother's old skull cap, which now had a big tear across the front as well as a singed hole at the tip. Around her neck was her brother's heavy skull chain as well as her necklace with the cracked bell. She was currently downing some bouillabaise, even though she had never cared for the stuff before. Beat had loved it though.
"So, how've you been?" she asked with a winning smile.
That smile didn't put Mr. H at ease like it used to. "Oh, just the usual. Neku and the others stopped by earlier." The others with Neku now included Uzuki and Minamimoto, though the latter tended to come and go as he pleased.
Kariya was not with them because he had become a full Noise when the dimensions were repaired, and was just a Progfox now. A Progfox that was friendlier than usual and with a preference for lollipops, but a Progfox.
"Really?" asked Rhyme, adjusting her brother's cap as it fell over her eyes. It was too big for her, so it did that a lot. "When was that?"
"About a half-hour ago," answered Mr. H, pouring himself another cup of coffee. "You just missed them."
"Aww man, I was hopin' to talk to 'em," Rhyme replied, looking disappointed. She slumped on the counter.
"About what?" asked Mr. H.
"Oh, I think you already know, yo," she said with a grin, but her eyes did not match the smile.
Mr. H paused. "Josh probably already knows too."
"Probably," Rhyme replied. "He just don't take us seriously."
"Not the first time someone's tried to overthrow him," said Mr. H. "Part of the hazard of being Composer, no matter how well liked you are."
"Well, he's certainly not well liked," said Rhyme, and this time she didn't try to hide the malice in her eyes. "Neku don't like him, Shiki don't like him, the Reapers don't like him, and I certainly don't like him for what he forced me and Beat to do. Minamimoto goes without saying. I don't think even you like 'im at this point, or you would be tellin' Joshua lots more than you've been. Is it true that you tried to overthrow him yourself once?"
"Where did you hear such an atrocious rumor like that?" asked Mr. H, his tone playful.
"It's surprising the places you find and the people you meet," she said with a smile. "Especially when you make a hole in reality to travel between dimensions."
"You shouldn't do that," Mr. H said, his tone now serious. "It creates imbalance between worlds. It could create chaos."
"And Joshua doesn't?" Rhyme countered cheerfully, before her face grew somber. "He's used and backstabbed everybody he's ever known, or not known, and he expects to stay in power?" She fiddled with her brother's hat again. "Yeah, he's dealt with Reapers tryin' to assassinate him, but what will he do about a war against him, a revolution? He can beat anyone one-on-one, but can he win against Shibuya?"
She stood up and pushed her chair in. Then she picked up the old skateboard that had been propped up against the counter.
"Well, it's not time yet anyway," Rhyme said, now back to her chipper self. "We're still ain't ready yet. I myself ain't ready yet. I still need to get stronger, for him and for everybody else."
She turned to Mr. H with a perfect smile.
"Well, I'll see you later! I've got things to do and people to meet!"
Rhyme left the restaurant, her cracked bell ringing each step she walked. Mr. H plopped down with a sigh, gazing down at his coffee.
"…You may have made a big mistake this time, Josh," he murmured to himself. "People are erased from existence, but not from memories. People don't stop fighting for the people they love just because they're gone. In fact, they fight all the harder for them."
And it is finished! I thank everyone who has read this to the end and had added this to fave/alerts/done reviews/etc. It has been quite a ride for a short fic. I never thought this story would be as popular as it is, considering people tend to hate on Beat. Guess there's more Beat fans out there than I thought.
About the ending: it was not what I had initially planned at all. The original ending was actually a mostly peaceful one, but it felt hollow. So I re-thought about it, and remembered where this story originally started: as a failed Noise of Regalement segment. Then I knew what needed to happen (consumption), and it fell into place from there.
Seriously, I'm so honored by you guys. I hope you enjoyed this fic all the way through.