Forty-seven seconds.

Precisely forty-seven seconds was all it took for Neku to make the decision to murder another human being in cold blood, with only the promise of a ticket out of this twisted, backwards Game as incentive. The accusation of the Reaper that Shiki, as they would engrave on her tombstone, was a spy may have helped initially, but in the end it wouldn't have made much difference whether she was or was not a spy.

"Please... don't... don't kill me..." Pleading for her life, as an invisible hand wrapped around her throat and lifted her into the air.

Forty-seven seconds to make the decision. Two more to act on it.

The pink-haired Reaper idly noted that the girl's body hit the ground and vanished into a burst of static at precisely the fifty-second mark. "Woah." she said, in spite of herself. Sure, she had issued the non-mission, but she hadn't expected the boy to actually go through with it.

It was a shame, really. The Reapers could have used someone like him in their ranks. "Well, a deal's a deal, so I'll tell you all about the ticket out you just bought yourself. See, something you might not have known is that a Player can only survive in the UG for seven minutes after their partner is erased."

Neku's eyes widened slightly. "You said you'd get me out!"

The Reaper just laughed. "Being erased counts as getting out, doesn't it? Well, I'd start making your goodbyes, if I was you. You've got, oh, about... wait for it, wait for it... six minutes left. So, bye-bye!"

On that note, the Reaper left. In an alley nearby, a man with shades noted to himself that this would need to be reported, before leaving. He couldn't bring himself to approach the boy, to offer a way to partially restore the girl he'd just erased himself. And he knew in that moment why that boy had been chosen as the proxy for this Game.

Tch, tch. Over before it even began, I see.

Neku was vaguely aware of the endless static surrounding him. The experience was rather disorienting, as if he'd been floating through a disconnected TV screen. Well, mostly disconnected because he could still hear a voice coming from everywhere and nowhere.

Maybe I made the wrong choice, after all...

He had no idea what the voice was talking about, and frankly he didn't care. It was far more interesting to feel his body slowly decomposing into some sort of gas or fog, starting at his feet and moving upwards.

Oh, but don't think this little slip up is going to excuse you from our little Game.

And how do you figure that? Is what Neku would have shouted into the static, had he the ability to do so. Sadly, his body seemed to be ignoring his mind. Only the fact that his head was bowed down allowed him to see that everything below his chest had dissolved into that bizarre fog, and that his arms were starting to go as well.

I'm nothing if not a thorough planner, after all.

Funny, that almost sounded as though he could hear what Neku wanted to but couldn't say. Either way, the boy doubted that sentence meant anything good for him.

Well, back you go, dear. And this time? Try not to get yourself erased...

Neku's body finished dissolving, but his mind was still somewhere in the cloud, and he could still feel. And the gripping sensation of being ripped through the static and dragged along to some unknown fate was not something he cared to repeat any time soon.

Shiki watched as Neku came to. She wasn't sure what to say to him, after all, he'd spent all of yesterday doing his best to be as unapproachable as possible. Nervously, she flipped open her phone again and stared at the picture of two friends as though the answers to the universe would reveal themselves if she looked long enough. Or maybe fiddled with the zoom or the resolution a bit.

So focused on her phone was she, that she barely noticed as Neku's head was thrown backwards violently, as though someone had just punched through his jaw, and his momentary gasping for air as though that same fist had been shoving some sort of object down his throat.

"...nngh... where am I...?" he choked out, fighting off the last of his (likely Reaper-induced) sleep.

"...I hope this works out." Shiki moaned, oblivious to Neku's plight.

Or rather, she was oblivious, until Neku laid eyes on her and panicked. "Shiki!? How?! I... and we... you were...!" 'What the hell is going ON, here...?'

Shiki screamed, her heart jumping into her throat before she realized that it was only Neku. "D-don't scare me like that!"

"Stop it." Neku said, a bit more forcefully than was probably warranted.

'It's your fault for frightening me in the first place...' Shiki's words, however, did not match up with her thoughts. " something wrong?" spoken in her best 'worried' tone of voice.

"I said stop it! Stop repeating! You said the exact same things yesterday! Made the exact same actions! What are you doing on that phone, anyway!?"

As if prompted by the word phone, their phones went off in unison, Neku pulling his out to see what the third mission of the week was.

Set the cursed statue free. You have 60 minutes. Fail, and face erasure. --The Reapers

"Argh! Even the Reapers are in on it, now!?"

"Neku, you're scaring me..." Shiki said, as though the words would actually impact Neku's actions in any positive way.

"You're making the same actions you did, yesterday. We woke up in the same place, yesterday. This is even the same mission from yesterday! What is going on here!?"

", it didn't. This is all new to me..." Neku was willing to bet if he squinted, he could see the gears turning in her air-filled head.

He was far more concerned with connecting the dots in his own mind, however. First, the Reaper tricks me into signing my own death warrant. Seven minutes after I killed Stalker, I died as well. I found myself floating through some white noise, my body decomposed into fog... and then I somehow ended up at the start of the day, choking on an unknown substance. Could it be that I...

"Neku, are you psychic?" Despite her best efforts to the contrary, she couldn't hide the awe from her voice in that last word. Her partner was psychic! This is totally awesome! Even if he was an anti-social jerk... or maybe because he was an anti-social jerk! I mean, if she saw the future all the time, she'd probably find it hard to relate to people...

"Don't be stupid. There's no such thing as psychics." the boy deadpanned in response. "It was probably just a bad dream and some deja vu."

The girl would have retorted, but the look on Neku's face made it quite apparent that the discussion was over. "Well, I guess..." she conceded, "We should probably get going on this mission."

In lieu of an actual response, Neku just started strolling over to where he knew the wall was, deciding he could worry about the implications of his jaunt backwards through time later. They had a lot of ground to cover, after all.

SECRET REPORT 2 – Version 1

As the game was set to end, an intense burst of Soul led me to the Composer's handpicked proxy – one Neku Sakuraba.

However, I arrived too late to prevent the proxy from erasing his partner.

In the UG, Players are required as part of the first mission to make a pact with one another in order to fight the Noise.

Once a pact has been forged, a communal exchange of Imagination begins.

This allows a pair of Partners to effectively counteract the ability of Noise to shift between the two folds of their native plane.

If a pact is abruptly severed, such as by one of the two Players being erased, a rapid entropy of Soul begins, causing the surviving player's existence to run out within seven minutes.

Though there are several ways to prevent this from happening, I am forbidden from personally acting on any of them.

The Composer must now either select a new proxy, or else concede his Game with the Conductor.

I await the Composer's response to this development.

Congratulations on making it to the end of Chapter 1! This fic, which I'm still deciding whether or not to see any further (or to completion, even) is both my way of dealing with Writer's Block and examining a plot bunny I've always been fascinated by - what if the characters in a game could remember dying and being thrown back to the last save point?

And so it begins - maybe. Review if you like it, or even if you don't. I enjoy hearing people's thoughts!