The Story So Far: Joshua is faffing around a whole lot over at the Pig Sigil Motel, finally taking care of that stupid UGharmony thing – or at least trying to. OJ is still unconscious. Meanwhile, Neku has had ENOUGH of this laying around in the squishy butt tubers of Pamela's sweet arms or whatever. How will he ever get out of the squishy wriggly grossfest unmolested? STAY TUNED!1!

Rating: Rated T for Tako Otoko, who will not be appearing in this fanfiction

OF NOTE IN THIS CHAPTER: Joshua and OJ are ignored in favor of Neku (finally!)

Genre: Parody/Adventure, with a dash of Horror here and there. The Parody part implies the humor, otherwise this would be a Parody/Action/Adventure/Horror/Humor/NOTyaoi fanfiction.

When we last left Neku Sakuraba, he was writhing around in the fleshy canals of Pamela's stomach, feeling sorry for himself. Which is understandable – what else would you feel in such a situation? Endlessly proud of your life's accomplishments? Blissfully, blithely happy, giggling stupidly as you stare vapidly off into space? Hungry for tacos?

Well, tacos are pretty good, but that's beside the point.

You will remember that Joshua had a whole adventure in the last chapter. However, I am going to tap into the Time Lord powers inherent in all authors and back up a while – roughly one hour prior to Joshua jumping out the window like a freak.

While Joshua was skipping away from WildKat, heading to the Pig Sigil Motel and wreaking of havoc, Neku was getting fed up completely with this sorry state of affairs he'd somehow gotten squeezed into.

He was thoroughly sick of fermenting in the muck, terribly tired of the convulsing green walls constricting on his sides in spastic ripples, and totally repulsed by all the slime everywhere. What with the gunk coursing down the rubbery, slippery walls in torrential gushers, it was nearly impossible to not get the stuff in your eyes, nose, mouth... And it tasted like twenty-day-old broccoli and bug-infested grass, blended together with a delicate blend of raw egg whites and vitreous humor.(Vitreous humor is bloody hilarious, by the way.) The bitter, cold sludge coated him in an inch-thick layer of milky mucous, slathering every sharp crook and jagged spike of his bony body with what looked like a rubber suit made of incredibly disgusting rice pudding.

The tunnel, you see, did not like Neku's sharp corners, and kept writhing around, trying to push Neku out. If he didn't dig in with all his might, he'd be pushed out and sprawl on the vine-covered floor, helpless to resist the many, many Gulliver's Travels-esque vines as they lashed him down and eventually choked him to death. This meant Neku could not easily just slip off into a daydream about chainsawing lumberjacks and wait it out; no, he had to exert painstaking focus to make sure he wasn't forcibly ejected from his hiding spot. This also meant he was constantly flipping around in hilariously compromising positions.

It was humiliating and revolting. And it also smelled disgusting.

Now, Neku had been willing to put up with such torture so far for a few reasons: it was better than getting molested by creepy tentacle-vines; it was warmer in here than outside; with no clothes to speak of, he would be as defenseless as a soft pink dango dumpling set before a pack of hungry, hungry weeaboos; and, finally, he trusted Joshua. He trusted that Joshua knew what he was doing, being an all-powerful ruler of the underworld. He knew he could count on Joshua to make the right decisions. He just had to hold on to that faith, blindly, as if it were the only plank of wood in an ocean full of sharks – he just had to hold on and wait for Josh to come back with some nice clothes and a towel, and then they could go home. And once there – fuck hopscotch, he would make a beeline for Shiki - he'd smash through every building in his path, total every car, plow through pedestrians like a runaway train, seize her roughly by the shoulders and toss her joyfully in the air, singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of his angular lungs - "IS THIS THE REEEEEAAAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANTASY?"

And never read fanfiction ever, ever again.

But even that delightful thought could not keep his spirits up indefinitely. Joshua was just taking too long, the lazy ass. Neku's inner emo swelled with every passing moment, bellowing bloodcurdling roars and straining fiercely against the shackles that bound it Simple indignation bubbled into irritation, which mutated into anger, which quickly exploded into a boiling rage. Neku ground his teeth, hating that creampuff of a demigod, hating Pamela for literally stripping him of his dignity, hating the Celcius degrees in the immediate area for being too low, hating the author for bringing this shame upon him, hating for hosting this epic-long chronicle of his humiliation, hating Square Enix for putting him in a game that would later develop a fandom that would later necessitate the need for parody such as this, hating Tetsuya Nomura for not giving him enough zippers, hating the Earth, hating the trees, hating the way certain carpets feel when you rub them the wrong way, hating miniature marshmallows – he lied there and fumed, hating everything without discrimination.

The only thing keeping his fearsome hatred in check was the thought that Joshua would come back. Any minute now, this agony would end.



But, you see, Joshua's triumphant return was not going to be "soon," a fact that slowly became evident. It had only barely been about two hours, and yet it felt like an eternity of purgatory, of hellish punishment and no end in sight. As time slowly trickled by, Neku found himself giving in to the urges – the emo urges, long-suppressed but still ever-present.

((Neku,)) they whispered. ((Join us, Neku)).

No! No, I'm a new man now! I don't have time to wallow in impotent hatred of everything that breathes. I have friends now, in case you didn't realize. He snarled like a caged werewolf, sliding on the rubbery walls of the tunnel and twisting his arm painfully in the process. Hell, I practically have my own slice-of-life harem comedy!

((Where is your harem now, Neku Sakuraba? They cheerfully abandoned you to the yonic voids of unspeakable eldritch horrors and their vile machinations! Don't you just want to cut yourself?))

It's not their fault! Plus, Joshua's coming to help me... any minute now...

((Come to the dark side, Neku.))

...Ha ha, yeah, right. J-Just leave me alone, already –

((We have cookies~))

N-No! Must... suppress...

He fought bitterly to preserve his character development, but that all went out the window when a fat, glistening blob of mucous dripped from the ceiling and slapped him on the face with a wet splot.

With a howl of anguish, the demons took over.

Flicking his head so that his soaked bangs covered approximately three-fifths of his face, radiating an aura so corrosive it caused any iron object in the radius of twenty feet to collapse into a pile of rust flakes immediately, and muttering MCR lyrics under his breath, Neku almost seemed transformed. Gone was any trace of the grumpy Sora expy we all know and love to roll our eyes at – he seemed almost inhuman, nearly demonic. His blue eyes glowed an impossible crimson red, redder than the reddest of red velvet cakes - or even, dare I say, stoplights - as if to underline this fact. Arcane whispers dripped from his lips like the ropy yellow saliva of a pit fiend. Interestingly enough, these whispers turned out to be a stanza from one of Neku's spontaneous poetic gems:

Life is pain.
Love is pain.
Nobody understands me.
That shallow prep Josh ditched me.
He's such a freaking manwhore.
I hide my pain behind my coll-lore
But I just can't take it any more!

His black aura of soul pain grew darker with every heartfelt, emotionally-charged, colder-than-the-gates-of-Tartarus-itself word, its power only growing with each painful, painful rhyme. As the blade of each butchered stanza grated against the roof of his mouth, so too did he feel his senses sharpen, his awareness heightening. Through the red haze of anger he rose; as he broke the scarlet cloud cover of blinding rage, it fell away below him, and thus he was left in the perfect clarity of utter insanity.

A state of mental flow took hold. Focus. He knew only focus. He wanted there to be blood – and there WOULD be blood. He wanted there to be pain – and there WOULD be pain. He wanted Joshua to hurt – and by the gods above, SO IT WOULD BE.

That revolting abomination – no, that ratty, twitching piece of mouth-breathing roadkill mistakenly given immortality – no, that sweaty, maggot-infested shambling mound of moldy tissues and atrophied blobs of clammy fat – no, that... that SHEEP-HEAD - that sheep-head had a lot of nerve, dumping poor Neku in a slimy plant asshole and leaving him to rot like this. He had probably just run off completely, only thinking about saving his own pasty behind from being clawed apart by cannibals - "If zombies attack, I'm tripping your ass," clearly another one of Joshua's many mantras. How very typical of him. Always caring only for himself, treating other people's lives like they were nothing more than knock-off plastic toys from a gas station in Arizona, the dick. Neku ground his teeth, sparks of flame flying out from his bulging eyes, which were beginning to leak a fetid mixture of eyeliner and blood. He was going to choke that chicken-necked freak with his bare hands! He was going to rip Joshua's spine out and bash him over the head with it! He was going to send him a bunch of nasty, nasty e-mails!

But, first things first – before any beatings could begin, Neku had to get out of this hole.

Neku scooted backwards, fighting the convulsing walls of Pamela's canals. The slimy mucous coating his body made him slippery enough that the going wasn't as rough as it could have been, but the vines still ground painfully against his skin in undulating rings, pushing him forward a little each time.

I cut myself that I may feel, otherwise the feelings just aren't real.
So much pain in the world, I just can't deal.
My mind is so awfully surreal.
My favorite color isn't teal.
I like to play the glockenspiel.

Drawing upon the power of terrible, meter-less poetry, Neku found a fresh wellspring of new strength and tapped it like it were some kind of magnificent ass-goddess from outer space. He grit his teeth and basically kicked his way back down Pamela's emergency exit with the calm temperament of a furious grizzly bear.

He wormed his way down a few more feet, battling the bucking tunnel every step of the way, until finally it felt like he was in the right position at last. Grimy rivulets of slime dripped down his face in thick, snotty strings; his hair was plastered to his scalp, face, and neck; his features were twisted menacingly into a scowl of pure determination. He dug his neatly-trimmed fingernails into the thick layer of mucous coating the wall, holding himself in place as the passageway rebelled against him again and again with wave after choking wave. It was incredibly hard to breathe in here, but Neku had to time this exactly right.

Backing up served two purposes: it ensured that the surrounding tunnel tissue was less used to Neku being there, and as a consequence, ensured that what he was about to do would hurt more.

The rage he had bottled up within him suddenly exploded into a volcanic eruption of anger, and with a furious roar he stabbed his bladelike kneecaps as hard as he could into the virgin green flesh. Milky-white fluid gushed from the wound, welling up around the boy's legs and getting all over everything.

The tunnel around him seemed to deflate for a moment, almost as if paralyzed with shock.

Then, it began to rumble.

It began to rumble, to ripple, to vibrate, as if an earthquake had chosen that moment to strike. The boy could feel every fiber in the tunnel seizing up, rattling and shaking with tension as every tendon was drawn taught. Neku gripped the walls tightly, bracing himself.

Suddenly, a distinct, guttural slurp sounded from below – and it was getting closer, fast. Neku took in a deep breath and tucked his arms to his sides as the most massive contraction yet shot out of the darkness and slammed into his feet with painful force, dragging him upwards at a staggering speed. The walls were so tight together not even Neku's skinny ankles could fit inside, and so he was rudely and decisively removed.

Perhaps "removed" is a little too domestic for our purposes. Neku was forcibly evicted from the tunnel like a cannon shot, bursting from the quivering slime-hole so fast that he was launched through the air. He slammed into the opposite wall so hard his nose started bleeding again.

His face was a wreck, his body was naked, and his entirety was covered in slime, but Neku would not let that slow him down. Wasting no time, he sprung off the vine-covered wall and sprinted down the overgrown hallway like an Olympic medalist going for the gold. And not a single pace too quickly – the creeper vines practically fell over themselves in their haste to grab at his ankles, his angles, his wrists, his thighs – one particularly ambitious one dropped from the ceiling and tried to make off with his nose, but Neku just punched it in half and kept running.

After a second or two he smashed through the door and tumbled out into the evening sun, an enraged warble ululating from his general being. He bounced a couple of times and rolled a few feet, eventually smacking into the wall of the building across the alleyway. For a moment he simply lay there, sprawled in the golden dust, oozy and slippery. The artificial, man-made flatness of the concrete below was the most beautiful thing he had ever felt – softer than any silk, more comfortable than any mattress. He wanted to dissolve into the asphalt and cement and lay there forever, entombed in his own bliss.

But he could not rest here for long. Neku hauled himself up from the gritty ground, grumbling and roughly wiping blood from his lips.

The blood was, unfortunately, noticed by a nearby Joshua.

Before Neku had a chance to react, a pallid, howling creature barreled into his stomach like a crazy hairless werewolf. Neku's lungs crumpled with the impact, breath abandoning him with a painful hooklike jerk – and he slammed into the ground backfirst, scraping his bare skin a little. He cried out in pain, then made an angry howl of indignation as the Joshua unit grabbed him roughly by the hair and tried to drag him off.

Something clicked in the monstrous thing's hideous black eyes, and it dropped Neku's soggy ol' head as if it were on fire, shrieking. Neku scuttled backwards and jumped to his feet, blood 99.99% adrenaline.

The Joshua unit screeched in agony, a sound comparable to nails being dragged down a chalkboard. It staggered backward, clutching its hand – which appeared to be melting.

Neku got a nasty grin on his face.

Kids: don't try this at home.

Neku charged at the clone and punched it in the gut with the force of an incoming train. The thick coating of slobbery acid that glazed his knuckles did exactly what you'd think it would – the flesh was bubbling and boiling in seconds, tissues liquefying and dribbling out as steaming, sizzling holes in the flesh opened like yawning, glistening mouths. The clone made a final noise of surprise and flew backward, gurgling, smashing thickly onto a twisted iron candelabra. One curly metal spine speared deep into its convulsing back, and it didn't take long for the thing's brain to simply shut down from the sudden stress. Nekus never hit back.

It twitched violently for a moment, then lay still. Neku cracked his knuckles, sniffing in disgust.

Joshua betrayed him, and now, a black cauldron of anger long-left to simmer was boiling at full blast. He had dragged Neku to this alternate universe, possibly trapping them forever; he had gotten them thrown in a pit of acid, nearly digested, nearly fried alive in a furnace; he had left Neku to get stuffed in stupid Lolita threads, left him to die alone and without pride in a plant's ugly and distended waste chute – perhaps the best way to accurately describe the way Neku felt about Joshua that moment would be with the (terrible) song he happened to be singing at the moment: "He betraaaaayed me, he left me to die~ He discaaaaaaaaaarded me, hung me out to dry~ I doooon't knooow whyyyyy he did it, but that guy~ he's gotta die~~"

In other words, he was ready to pound the tar out of any vaguely Joshua-like object that just happened to be stupid enough to enter his field of sensory detection.

Unfortunately, this "acid-punching a clone in the guts" was not exactly a silent procedure.

Suddenly, the pit-pat sound of small feet on the dry ground could be heard, and two more Joshes emerged into the alleyway. They were the packmates of Mr. Impaled On A Candelabra, but Neku didn't really know that. Nor did he care. All he saw were two fresh new targets.

When they saw what had happened to their comrade, they were understandably pissed off.

"Oho~" sneered one, who had not yet activated. Its face was somewhat normal, and that much more detestable. It gently nudged the corpse of its compatriot with its sharp toe, sneering. "Oh, F-65. You poor dear." His lazy gaze rolled up to meet Neku's, a smirk stretching across the clone's too-perfect face like a ballerina doing calisthenics. "Somebody's been a bad, bad bunny..."

The other one snarled, pupils expanding and jaws opening wide, too wide. Teeth, glistening. "LeT'S MakE an EXAMplE oUt oF thIS OnE, sHAll wE?"

"I concur." The Unactivated's smirk etched itself deeper, like a widening crack in a pane of glass, and he cracked his delicate knuckles as he glanced over his shoulder. "Children, pay attention. This is what we'll do to you if you get any ideas, mm'kay?"

There came a light, despairing titter from beyond the alleyway. This titter was largely ignored.

Neku let a curtain of wet hair fall over his eyes, his black aura oozing out of him in more torrents than in all of the pirate bay. "Hey, Joshes. I want to play a game."

"A game...?"

A dark whisper slithered out from between the boy's emo-tastic lips. "How many hits does it take..."

Abruptly, Neku made his move. Like a viper he struck, springing forward and tackling Activated to the ground. Apparently this was such an idiotic, stupid, and plain suicidal move – to tackle a psycho cannibal in the throes of Murder Mode? - that it was completely unforeseeable by even the uncomputerized parts of the Josh's brain. The Unactivated clone jumped backwards, colliding roughly with the wall as a small, choked hiccup-gasp flew from his throat. He shivered uselessly for a moment, rendered slightly catatonic with surprise. He could have at least finished his sentence, good grief!

" get to the center..."

Neku's body was, as you'll recall, still slathered thickly in the graywater.

The Activated one got around an instant of surprise to his name, which was quickly destroyed by the pleasant sensation of a searing hellfire boiling his flesh from the inside out. The clone struck the ground painfully, bones crying out in protest as Neku began punching the crap out of the clone with the fury of a thousand burning suns. The clone's vision burnt and curled like paper, red and blue and purple pain exploding from his skin with enough force to make him wail and convulse in agony – each impact of fist against flesh drilled deep channels into his body, turning the bones white-hot, soft... molten...

"...of a cream puff?"

Answer: About ten.

Puddles of bubbling, pink flesh dripped from the clone's elbows, leaving burned trails in their wake. Its gut was a like a gross, dirty sink, full of bubbling soap and throbbing, glistening viscera. The clone screamed and writhed as the acid dripped from Neku's thighs and boiled his exposed nerve endings. A hole like a bullet's kiss was opening in his stomach, and Neku, for a moment in his frenzy, noticed the thing was full of partially-digested human flesh. Bluuaggh. If he had been in a normal state he probably would have recoiled in horrified nausea, but at this point all he cared about was pummeling the snot out of Josh. He was... he was just really pissed, okay? Really, really... pissed.

Damn, Neku. You scary.

He pulled back his arm for a final punch and jammed his fist squarely in the thing's snapping jaws. Out of instinct, the clone bit down, only to have his teeth abruptly melted off. This says nothing of what happened to his throat.

Still shaken, the Unactivated Clone forced himself to come to his senses at this point. He had to... to throw something at the berserk Neku unit, or something. Yeah. Something.

The most terrifying thing about the situation, for the clone, was that the crazed cattle was absolutely covered in the graywater. To a clone, this was akin to seeing your colleague get tackled and beat up by a giant hamburger that was on fire. It was incredibly surreal.

The clone gave up on his two fallen buddies and reached for the nearest thing at hand, which just so happened to be a plank of wood. He chucked it at the raving lunatic with all his might, hoping this might clock him out for a few seconds.

The raving lunatic caught it.

It melted in half.

Unactivated Clone ran for his life.

Emo Emo Revolution-mode Neku stood up, laughing like a maniac. "HEY JOSH, COME BACK! Hahaha! Come on, dude! HAHAHA!"

Unactivated Josh Tripped over a loose coil of rope and came crashing down, bashing his chin on the pavement and letting loose a clipped, animal cry of terror. Neku strode forth, giggling like a psycho, and placed a foot on the clone's back. Pinned him down.

The shirt practically evaporated under his sole, turning into little but a bubbling foam. The skin took a good moment to really get boiling, but once it did, Neku's foot began to sink slightly in the pinkish slurry. The clone thrashed and cried and tried to drag itself away, cycling between activation and inactivation as it writhed in agony. Ribs, spine, nerves. All liquefying slowly, burning horribly. Imagine molten lead being pumped into your back through a foot-shaped nozzle. Imagine the slow, agonizing collapse of tissues and organs as they burned to useless, leathery pouches, consumed and melted by the heat and the acid bite. Imagine them melting into a horrific liquid ooze that burned ever deeper into your flesh, even as you were pinned down, helpless to do anything but squirm and flail uselessly as the muscles of your back twitched and spasmed in agony.

Neku waited till the thing's back was the consistency of bubbling mud, burning warmly around his foot, and then he kicked it away into the corner. It would continue convulse for around for around an hour longer before giving up and shutting down completely, but that's not too important.

Having taken out an entire Joshua pack with nothing but the goo on his skin, Emo Emo Revolution Neku swaggered out of the alley with a really obnoxious grin on his face.

He was greeted with quite a sight. Four Neku clones, huddling together, fearfully looking up at this slimy abberation with something like reverence. Laying nearby was a Neku corpse, splayed out against the building, ribcage torn open and all that business.

"Hey," said one of them.

"Hey," said our Neku.

"Y-you saved us," whimpered another, who seemed to be gripping onto the first. He had abnormally huge, ocean-blue eyes and soft pumpkin-colored hair, which made him look vaguely like a gangly Troll doll: ugly and harmless.

"They were gonna eat us, like they ate C-Coco..." muttered another wimpy-looking one in the back. He sobbed and then tried to pretend he hadn't. "B-but now... we're free."

"F-free," three of them murmured as one, eyes sparkling. "You freed us..."

Holy crap, are they all defensives or what, Neku thought, crossly. "Who's Coco?"

"I'm Alpha. Neku Alpha," said the first Neku. He wiggled his arm, and consequently, the clone latched onto it. "This is Neku Bravo."

Neku Bravo smiled shyly. "...You're... cool, mister."

"The other two are Charlie and Delta," Alpha continued. Insecure sniffle boy and the brooding, as-yet-unmentioned one offered curt waves. Charlie's hand had on the weirdest rings Neku had ever seen.

Alpha glanced at the corpse over on the wall, shuddering a little. "And that one...used to be Coco – er, Neku Echo."

"Fascinating," our Emo Emo Revolution Neku drawled, folding his arms. "Why should I care?"

Neku Alpha stiffened. "N-no reason!"

"U-uh, it's not like we... like you or anything!"



Neku could barely handle the onslaught of tsuntsun. "J-Jeez! Okay!" His gaze drifted over the various Neku clones, who appeared to each have varying injuries. Alpha, for example, had two dark gouge marks on his cheek, and one of Bravo's ears was missing. Charlie had a bite mark or two on his shoulders – like shark hickeys – and Delta had one eye clenched painfully shut. All of them were somewhat banged up – the soft, pink flesh of their arms and legs was spotted with contusions and small nicks and scratches. Their hair was matted with dirt and sweat and what looked uncomfortably like blood.

It was disconcerting and surreal to see four of himself, all cut up, with haunted eyes leering at him from sunken sockets. It was like seeing yourself as you'd appear in a Saw film, all gross-looking, multiplied by four. Neku was slightly agitated by the sight – those clones, man. Just... those clones!

Eyebrows knitting, he pointed at Alpha's wounds. "Did they do that to you?"

"H-huh? ...Yes, our masters..." The clone winced and touched the crusty, black lacerations with ginger fingers. "If we disobeyed, they would get angered, and... and sometimes, even when we were good, they'd hurt us anyway." As if realizing he'd said too much, he turned away, gritting his teeth. "It's really none of your business, though..."

"So you just let them carve you up whenever they wanted?" Neku asked, tone sharpening like a blade. "You didn't even try to fight back? You called them...master?" He spit out that last word as if it were poisonous, poisonous poison. Neku opened his heart to the darkness and let the emo rage flow into him once again. The pississitude meter was rising.

"They would kill us if we didn't obey!" protested the wimpy-looking Bravo, huddling closer to Alpha. "It's not like we didn't try!"

"We don't want to be had, you know," Charlie snapped, curt.

"We resisted at every turn! Every night, they'd hold one of us down and have their way, b-but we didn't make it easy!"

"We scratched at their faces! We clawed at their eyes like really, really angry kittens!" Bravo whimpered, insistent. He clutched at Alpha's thin arm with his grubby fingers, clinging to the other clone as if he were a security blanket.

Looking closely at Bravo's hands, Neku suddenly realized something.

Bravo had no fingernails.

A quick glance around the group confirmed that neither did any of the other members.

"W-We tried," Alpha said softly.

Bravo shuddered faintly, fat tears leaking out of the corners of his vapid, watery eyes. "P-poor Foxy..."

"Your hands," Neku said, unsure of how to broach the subject. He tried again, but still couldn't properly finish the sentence: "Your nails..."

"Our n-nails..." Bravo repeated lamely, bottom lip quivering like a cold chihuahua.

Alpha bit his tongue and looked away, rubbing his shoulder in typical Neku fashion. "With our nails, we scratched them. They... ripped them out."

"All of them."

"Delta shouted at them once... and they clawed the teeth out of his skull."

"They tore his tongue away."

Neku's brows tightened further, emo rage beginning to transition into pure, cold horror. "How...?"

The Neku clones as a whole looked at him, confused. "Huh?" They looked like they were ready to give him some dumb answer, like, 'With their hands, silly-head!' so Neku decided to extrapolate.

"Surely you could have overpowered them?" our hero asked, frown deepening. "There's four of you and only three of them-"

"Oh, uh..."

"They made us... d-dumb," Bravo said, groping for words.

"The roses..."

Stiff silence fell over the troupe for a moment.

Since Delta couldn't very well talk, missing half his mouth as he was, Alpha spoke up for him. "They... embroidered his eye... they kinda... pinned it open and held him down, and they took a rusty sewing needle a-and... and..." He couldn't finish, evidently. "They... they forced us to watch, you know..."

Delta sniffled faintly, folding his arms tight and looking rather serious.

Charlie grunted. "They tried to kiss me, once. I smacked them. They drove nails through my fingers." He held up his hands for illustration – and Neku realized that the rings were actually spikes of rusty iron, impaled through the flesh. The clone's fingers were stiff with infection, and he winced at their slightest movement.

"And one time... one time, th-they set my pants on fire!"

Neku felt sick – those were his hands, after all; that was his eye, stitched up and flecked with black infection and dark flakes of rust; that was his body, clawed and bitten and mutilated and touched and kissed...

Tears began to slip out of Bravo's eyes. "Oh, Coco... F-Foxy..."

Even though he was staring blankly into space, trying to process this, Neku must have somehow looked like he wanted to question Bravo's strange infatuation with Foxtrot, because Charlie took that moment to curtly explain: "They made Bravo eat Foxtrot's remains."

"So you see," said Alpha, rubbing his shoulder. "It's not so much that we didn't fight back, it's that we couldn't..."

The entire group looked thoroughly miserable for a moment. It was undoubtedly poetic.

...Oh, boo-hoo, all of you.

Neku smacked the author upside the arrogance for being such a cold-hearted bastard. "Ahem... anyway..." He was starting to feel glad he'd ripped those clones to shreds back there; why, what convenient justification for senseless murder this was! Even if the things being murdered were clones programmed to eat his flesh.

...Wait a minute. You know what? Those Joshua clones could have been the nicest little trio ever and they'd still deserve what they got, if only because they were hopeless cannibal serial killers who liked to bait teenagers in with promises of tea and cookies and proceed to rip them apart and eat them.

(Allow the author to once again reassure the audience, because by now they're probably wondering, that yes, Neku was indeed still naked.

Yes, this is a problem.

Yes, we are working on fixing it.

No, fangirls, you don't have any say in this.)

The Neku clones weren't any better, now. But there are a few reasons Neku was feeling kind of sympathetic for the wretched little chaps: reason one, we have yet to see the Neku clones in action. Reason two, hello? They were routinely tortured by Joshua units. Neku would not stand for this travesty – this was an outrage! A slanderous scandal! Finally, the most important of them all - reason three: the four had the most gorgeous faces Neku had ever seen.

In addition, the idea that his doppelgangers could be bloodthirsty fleshmongers kind of escaped Neku. He had a bit of a bias. You might be saying to yourself, "That isn't the Neku I know! My Neku could spot a trap from a mile away!" Remember that our Neku's soul had been augmented and entwined with the souls of an egotistical jerk, a self-worshiping melodrama-queen, and a attention-hogging foreigner. Of course Neku's own pride would have been elevated by this lethal cocktail – jacked up, like, sixty stories or something – until it pierced the "logic and reozone" layer and left his psyche to bask in the sunbeams of self-centered praise. In other words, he thought quite highly of himself, most of the time.

"That's... that's terrible," he mumbled, quite Shiki-like. "It's sickening, is what it is. This isn't right." He glowered fiercely at the dirt, shifting into bigshot hero mode, his eyes smoldering like two cobalt coals. "This isn't right. I can't... I can't let this continue."

"But this is how it always is," Alpha protested. "You can't just... change how the world works, because you don't like it. That's not... how it is." His orange bangs, sticky with dirt and matted with dried blood, fell over his eyes. "This is just the way things are... we just have to take what we're given and swallow the bloody tears we cry, endure this painful torture we call life-"

"NO!" Neku snapped, jabbing his finger at the crybaby with flaming conviction. His conviction was so hot, you could smelt swords on that shit. "That isn't the way to look at things, you idiot! A long time ago, I was in a similar situation – forced to run around and do pointless errands all for the entertainment of a cream puff-like, glimmerous fop, who took pleasure in my pain and also shot me a few times while constantly packing my head with meaningless drivel whenever possible! Every day I had to fight demons, crack codes, solve riddles, buy lunch for reapers, wear girl clothes for reapers (yuck), deal with being partnered to a dangerous-button-pressing, skateboarding wonderboy, that vapid, tittering fashionista, and Shiki... all for his perverse enjoyment. He made me sleep in the street, for Pete's sake! It was torture on my back, I tell you!

"Every day and night, I kept on fighting – and I still don't know why I did. I didn't have anything to live for. There was no reason for me to suffer like this, day after day; I could have just given up and faded away at any time. Just let myself be dissolved by Noise. But I didn't. And you know why? I couldn't give up. I refused to let myself – my partner – down, at the very least... when I was ready to give in, I thought of them, and kept going. And I found myself reasons to live. Their names were Shiki, Beat, and Lady Gaga. She is just such a brilliant performing artist. A day without Lady Gaga is like a rave without drugs. I kind of went off on a tangent there.

But those weeks, those weeks taught me a very important lesson..."

He flexed his arm triumphantly.

"If the way of the world isn't right, just beat the shit out of the Composer until he fixes it!"


"Yes! The asshole running this godforsaken circus!" He thrust his finger towards the sky, caught up in the thrilling clutches of giving a rousingly-cheesy motivational speech yet again. "We have to find the one responsible for this twisted sister system, and BREAK HIS FACE!"

"...B-Break his face?"


"Wreck his shit?"


"Burn and crush...!"



They were hungry for revenge! Revenge against those who had wronged them! Revenge against those who had brought them suffering! And here, here was an almost godlike figure, liberating them from their tormentors so easily where they had been unable to! Of course they would follow him! Of course they would cling to this great one's legs, cluster and clamor in his golden shadow, drink up his every word like sacred scripture! He promised revenge, he promised blood! BLOOD, I say! Even Delta seemed mildly animated by this rousing chorus, offering hoarse barks from his scabby throat where he couldn't actually speak. They hopped around, cajoling like a tribe of bloodthirsty savages. "Burn and crush! Rip and tear! Burn and crush! Rip and tear!"

"WAIT!" shouted Neku all of a sudden. "Stop having fun!"

"L-Leader-sama!" cried the Neku clones, quickly switching into 'nervous broad' mode.

Leader-sama whipped around to face his freshly-acquired followers. He looked down at himself and scowled. "Before we go off and wreak havoc, I need some clothes."

"Yes, Leader-sama! Anything you say!" They quickly began stripping.

"No! No, stop!" Neku grimaced. "You don't need to prance around naked too. Just find me something to wear." He struck a cheesy pose. "And then we can all be... as equals!"

"Leader-sama is so smart~!" they cooed, sickeningly sweet.

"Aughaah," Delta agreed, sounding like a choking seal.

What a bunch of boneheads.

With a stiff salute, Bravo darted off into the night, presumably heading out to beat up some poor chaps and rob them of their clothing. Neku nodded in approval and, figuring that things ought to be a lot more organized under his reign, rounded on the rest of his lackeys.

"All right. You guys. I'm looking for a fellow named Yoshiya Kiryu. He answers to 'cream puff' if you're brusque enough about it. Now, pay attention: I want you to find him and bring him back to me as soon as you can." Neku crossed his arms and beamed a very serious look into the skulls of Alpha, Delta, and Charlie. "It is of critical importance that we, as allies, all stick together. This fanfiction is starting to dabble its toes in the urine-saturated, chemically-untreated waters of the Horror pool; let's keep our savviness towards the genre handy and proceed with caution."

The clones nodded, looking slightly confused. As one, they wondered: What's a fanfiction?

"I'm only sending you out now because there's little possibility of you getting picked off barely a page divider after your introduction. Also, I know the author needs to somehow steer that meandering dork back towards the plot pretty soon or there's gonna be a revolt. Therefore, the odds are in our favor." Neku nodded to his followers, who nodded back slowly, figuring it was best if they just copied what he did.

Our protagonist continued to babble. "Now, about this guy... He looks just like your average Joshua unit, but don't be fooled: his hair is a little longer than the clones' hair, he has these scraggly little nubs for fingernails, and he smells kind of like roadkill. He's no cannibal, he's just kind of a jerk. ...More importantly, he's my friend. Don't hurt him, okay? Just go get him."

Charlie cracked his knuckles – well, he thought about doing it, then looked down at his messed-up hands and wisely decided otherwise. "You sure we can't stomp him?"

"No stomping!" Neku insisted, shaking his head. "If anyone's gonna be doing any stomping, it will be me and me alone, understand? He's my friend, and he deserves a personal punishment." Neku's desire to snap our Joshua's neck was declining steadily, as the cream puff's crimes were beginning to pale in comparison to the committed atrocities he saw before him. He now desired more the collective snapping of the Joshua units' necks. For the actual Composer of Our Shibuya, Neku'd probably settle for just a punch in the arm – yeah, that would fix him.

The clones said they understood.

"Great," said Neku. "When you find him, take him to Hachiko and wait for me. I'll stay here and get dressed, and check up on some people who could possibly help us raid the Shibuya River. Then I'll come meet you, and we can all go and case the joint as one merry band of hellions. We'll go from there."

"Yes, sir, Leader-sama!" the two Neku clones capable of speech shouted.

"UUAAH!" shouted Delta, not to be outdone.

"Go forth, my minions!" Neku grinned evilly, shooing the little rascals away. When the three clones were out of sight, he stood there proudly for a moment, nigh aglow with the satisfaction of a father that has raised several successful sons.

Then he finally remembered he was naked and hid behind a trash can, smacking his face with an exasperated palm. "...What is WRONG with me?"

It is probably worthy to note that Neku did not seriously believe beating up a Composer would make them any more agreeable. That had kind of been his inner Beat talking. However, it struck Neku as mind-numbingly stupid that they hadn't just gone to the Composer for help in the first place. He assumed Joshua's colossal ego had very deliberately blotted out the sun of reason with its black, prideful shadow – it seemed logical that the persnickety old fool wouldn't want to be indebted to an alternate version of himself. If you've read this far, you probably know as well as Neku that two Joshuas cannot exist on the same plane and be on good terms with each other.

A while later, our Neku was rejoined by Neku Bravo. And not a moment too soon – it was cold and dirty behind the trash can, and his brain was practically radiating lists of the dangerous bacteria likely to be dwelling in these shadows. Because of the hypochondriac mantra rattling around in his brain, Neku refused to let any part of him that wasn't already dead touch the ground or the walls, and so wound up balancing precariously on his toenails for ten minutes.


Neku fell over at the sudden shout and wound up sprawled on the grungy pavement. He cursed eloquently and without remorse.

Bravo came limping over, holding a variety of clothes. "L-Leader-sama-tan, what are you doing? You look silly..."

Neku spat out a mouthful of concrete and screwed his bashed jaw back on properly. "Call it a power nap."

"Uh... okay," Bravo said slowly. "All right... Well, I didn't know which kind you liked, so I got a few different choices." The blushing clone promptly blushed and set the clothes down, blushing. Neku descended upon them like a starving vulture, examining the garments ravenously. A maid outfit with a scandalously short skirt, a seersucker-patterned lolita dress, a purple bikini, something that looked suspiciously like a dominatrix outfit (well, it was that or a pile of belts), a really sissy-looking blouse covered in smiling daisies -

A momentary pause.

"Bravo," said Neku. "What the hell is this?"

"I-Is it not your color? Oh... o-oh, oh no..." The clone bit his lip and looked away, somehow blushing even more. An interesting fact: the Neku unit had matrices of pink lights installed under their facial skin. They could illuminate dark rooms with a single embarrassing thought.

"Why? In the name of all that is good and decent, why?" Neku stared at the blouse with unending revulsion, feeling a little personally insulted. Plus, it was kind of stupid-looking.

"I-I'm s-sorry, these are what J-Joshua units like a-and I've never gone sh-sh-shopping for anyone e-else," Bravo whimpered, his voice a pale and emaciated mouse squeaking hoarsely and painfully in the back of his throat. "P-Plus I don't really have much of a p-p-personal style... N-Not that I actually w-w-went shopping, I, um, I just went back to the hideout and r-raided the Masters' c-closet... S-So..."

Neku immediately stared at the dominatrix outfit/pile of belts with fresh horror. "God damn." He glared daggers at Bravo – if looks could kill, this would have gotten Neku elevated to serial murderer status.

Eager to respond in kind, Bravo gave Neku a fairly bashful look – blue eyes opened incredibly wide, eyebrows tied in an apprehensive knot, quivering bottom lip.

Though thoroughly sickened at the parody of death-glaring Bravo was putting on, Neku wanted to wear something, at least. The lesser of five evils. Neku gingerly kicked the dominatrix belt pile away and sighed bitterly. ...Make that four evils.

The maid outfit looked ridiculous, but it had the "advantage" of a shorter skirt. If he had to run, he wouldn't be tripping over miles of fabric. ...Of course, he'd leave a trail of pungent fanservice in his wake. He might as well not wear anything at all.

The pearly-pink and white seersucker Lolita dress was much more conservative, but Neku had just gotten out of a Lolita thing and didn't exactly feel like putting one back on. Plus, he was kind of annoyed that he even knew what the word "seersucker" meant.

The purple bikini would pass as underwear. Grumbling obscenities, he jammed his feet into the bottom half and yanked it up, feeling awfully silly – the little bows on the sides of the swimsuit sat awkwardly on the sharp corners of his pelvis, tickling his legs in an annoying fashion.

Now, I'm sure you're getting an adorable image in your head where little Nekkun is wearing a cute bikini the color of Josh-Josh's eyes and blushing because it tickles. Meanwhile, in this picturesque vision of yours, the swimsuit itself seems to fit him like it would fit any (cough) female swimsuit model – smooth and flat. Well, cut that out. Neku didn't exactly shave, to put it somewhat tactfully. Combine this with the other obvious factor and you should probably understand that the bikini looked absolutely awful on him. He was only blushing because... well, he knew Shiki got extra fusion stars from wearing something like this. More specifically, Neku remembered he had made Shiki wear one all the time for that very reason, and now... Yikes.

He briefly considered the bikini's top half and then promptly punched himself in the jaw for considering it.

The smiling daisy blouse could die in a fire.

Seersucker it was.

Even though he was dry by now, Neku made sure to exfoliate himself of the crusty exoskeleton using the crumpled-up maid outfit, and he wrung out his hair with the daisy blouse to get rid of the acid lurking deep inside. He took dim pleasure from the way the ugly garb hissed and bubbled and melted away into mush at the touch. But victory was bittersweet; when he had deigned himself acid-free to an extent, he slid the dress over his head.

Wriggling around until all limbs were in place, Neku pulled his gungy hair out of the dress's collar and glared at the patterned skirt kissing his kneecaps like a two-dollar whore.

He could stand to wear a dress for the time required it took to grasp Shibuya firmly by the ankles, hold it upside down and shake vigorously, and then pick through what fell out in search of boy clothes. If Pi Patel could find giraffes and orangutans, Neku figured he at least would be able to find a pair of shorts. After that, he would take great pleasure in throwing this godforsaken girly garment into the acid pits.

"What would Shiki think if she saw the mannequin I have become?" he muttered, rubbing his temples. The answer was obvious. "...Well, Neku, she'll never see you again if ya don't get home sometime soon."

And with that, he decided it was high time to get down to business.

"Come along, Bravo," he said as he stomped out of the alley. The clone nodded, crawling after him on all fours like a limping animal – or at least, a person who thoughthe was a limping animal. This was standard procedure for Neku units, who were accustomed to scuttling around in the shadows when they weren't being fussed over by Joshua packs, but it pissed Neku off. "Walk like a human, don't... don't creep around on the ground like that! It's disturbing."


The two walked away from 104.

Of course, nobody had noticed the pile of (male) clothes laying around near the entrance of the building; in the dark, it just looked like a pile of trash, so I suppose it's somewhat justifiable. But still, let us giggle knowingly behind our hands at the crippling irony of it all.

Hee. Hee.

So Neku and Bravo traversed Shibuya. "How very riveting," you may drawl, apathetically sipping your coffee and taking a haughty puff on a cig.

The sky seemed to flicker and pulse, stretched over their heads like a membranous, dark amber liquid. Like a quivering sheet of skin that jaundiced the night sky and rippled with haze, through which stars could thinly pierce. The streetlights that weren't busted bronzed the street with flickering gold pools of light, gathering clouds of moths and gnats and stuff. The rose-vines looked like dark and knotted tree roots, or gnarled hands, gripping handfuls of concrete as though it were as pliable as dough and digging twisted fingers into the walls.

Neku kept to the gold-husk shadows at first, but gradually he came to realize that the Joshua units were all either asleep in their hideaways or laying splayed on the ground in plain sight, snoring. Bravo simply followed Neku without paying much mind, his sharp toenails occasionally clicking against the ground. Gold roses twitched in dark corners, swiveling jerkily to track their progress through this smashed-up realm.

The clone's thoughts were of other things than our Neku's weird patterns of walking. As a defensive unit, Bravo was wont to follow. And Bravo had, by this point, already deduced that this Neku was defective on some count – the acid had probably damaged his brain circuitry or something – so his erratic and needless wandering in the shadows at this late hour was easily explained, even if it was exasperating. This Neku had come out of nowhere, raving about things that made no sense – composers made music, not Neku units – and was obviously off his rocker, but... he might make a tasty meal later on, who knows. Bravo would have to survey the defect's behavior for longer before he could be sure. Right now, though, the clone was altogether more interested in the twitching Joshua bodies laying on the sidewalk. Hey, he was hungry.

Our Neku paused for a moment to stretch, scratch at the back of his hair.

The defective Neku was dangerous, though. He was immune to the graywater. If he suddenly went berserk and attacked, Bravo could be burned by some of the residual acid left on the defect's skin, possibly to the point of bleeding. Blood painted you a bright red target. And so, Bravo hung back a safe ways, keeping his face nervous and meek-looking.

They continued on.

Our Neku was heading for AMX. You might question why he didn't go to Ramen Don first, but... Neku didn't really like Sho Minamimoto too much, for understandable reasons. He did, on the other hand, like Team Masa-Enojo-Aki-Ta, or at least the idea of the members. Neku figured it would be better to have some moral support behind him when he went back to Dogenzaka to confront the mad leather-clad lion of the math lesson. Besides, while Team MEAT seemed to have a degree of fighting experience between them as well as the advantage of numbers, Sho seemed to have little to offer other than his loud, unwanted-attention-grabbing gun and perhaps the odd bout of geometry tutoring.

Neku shivered in the night wind and warily glanced about him, bare feet stepping carefully over a fallen, sparking streetlight. Without the comfort of sunlight, the desolate waste of this Shibuya was deeply disturbing. The smashed-in windows of Center Street gouged at his eyes, a deep sense of wrongness permeating the air. Broiling shadows, spun through the city like black cobwebs, masked hidden faces and hid spidery fingers. Dark shadows flickered back and forth in the alleys, wide eyes occasionally glaring as the duo walked past. Our Neku noticed them, noticed the mats of dirty hair and the pallid, filth-covered skin, out of the corner of his eyes.

But none of his other doppelgangers ventured out of the darkness – they could smell the perfume of Pamela's sacrificial pits sticking to Neku like white on rice, and kept well away. He smelled like the Joshua units' little clubhouse – the one where they performed the sacrifices, of course. No, thanks. They would be keeping well away from that grimy piece of garbage.

At this point, Neku and Bravo found themselves before the hollowed bastion that was AMX. The entrance was bathed in dull effulgence, but everything above the goofy running guy on the sign was cast in amber darkness. Neku waded through the puddles of flickering yellow streetlight and clambered up the stairs to examine the store more closely, Bravo trailing after like a lingering stench. It was empty, or at least it certainly looked that way from the darkened windows – at the very least, it was definitely closed for business.

After a moment filled with pulling and straining and unabashedly coarse swearing, it was revealed that the door was locked, too.

Neku stepped away from the door, panting slightly. He crossed his arms angrily and glared.

For a while, it appeared as though he were either attempting to shame the door to opening or actually melt the lock off with the raw, furious power of his glowering eyeballs. Once he seemed to realize that physics refused to be cowed into submission this time, he huffed and whirled around, quickly pattering down the concrete stairs.

Bravo watched him with faint, muted curiosity stirring in the uncomputerized parts of his brain, even as he complained pitifully. "Mister door is stuck-stuck... uguu..." He suddenly burst into tears. "W-Waaah...!"

"Quit yer yapping," Neku growled out of the side of his mouth, emulating Popeye. He was searching for something, scalding the ground with his ferocious gaze, scanning every irregularity and liable hiding place. Unfortunately, it appeared that Team Meat took great pains to groom the area outside AMX of any debris whatsoever.

Suddenly, his face lit up at the sight of something on the other side of the road – a grocery bag sitting there, as coy as can be, plastic handles stirring weakly in the breeze.

Think about that for a second – there was wind, and yet the plastic bag was not moving. Indeed, it appeared to be quite solidly anchored in place, as if by some heavy weight. Neku grinned. Perfect.

Neku quickly dashed over to the bag. Cradling it in his arms like a precious artifact, he scrambled back across the street and practically threw himself up the stairs, the rough pavement digging into the soles of his feet.

Bravo blinked the crocodile tears out of his eyes, his voice garbled and strained from the exhausting task of forcing an emotional breakdown. "W-Whach ij Nekyu doingch wich michter baj?" he blubbered out from under a thick curtain of snot, wiping the manufactured secretions from his puffy eyelids. "Ij ich michter schweejsh-schweejsh for Brabo-tan?"

Neku promptly smacked him. "Fool. Observe."

He held the bag out for Bravo to see. The contents were certainly not mister sweets-sweets. Contained within the abandoned plastic bag was a gallon of milk, nothing more. Never mind how expensive milk is in Japan – the stuff was well-expired anyway, and pungent clumps of salmonella were no doubt brewing in its curdled gut. Bravo blinked at the thing stupidly, sniffling.

"We cansh drinch dis," he whined.

Neku rolled his eyes.

He then proceeded to hold the bag in his hand like a traditional sling, and began to whirl it round and round as fast as he could. When it became as nothing more than a pallid smear of afterimages, Neku let it fly – and fly it did, smashing through the door of AMX with a deliciously satisfying report, spurting less-than-delicious rancid milk all over a rain of glass daggers.

The boy quickly shielded his face with his arms, while the clone just stood there, watching, even as a few small shards careened off in wild directions and became deeply wedged in his corneas. Bravo promptly summoned a fresh deluge of salt water, whimpering, and the glass was washed away.

Neku gave a low whistle. "I didn't think that would actually work, but... sweet!" He immediately ducked through the hole of jagged, milk-covered glass, pinching his nose shut. His skirt got all wet.

"That ich not chanitary," Bravo grumbled in disgust, but he followed anyway.

The soulless, milk-wasting ginger stepped gingerly through the puddle, then immediately proceeded to wipe the soles of his feet off on the nearest mousepad. "...This isn't sanitary," he mumbled, disgruntled by the revolting smell. Bravo didn't bother to clean off his filthy feet and so proceeded to track milky footprints all over the place for several minutes.

And so, they headed toward the back of the store, toward the wall of junk tied up with police tape.

"Hey!" Neku shouted. "Meatheads!"

Bravo's stomach growled and he whined pitifully, leaning against a nearby CD display.

The cavernous belly of AMX echoed slightly, rows and rows of music stations standing apathetically before him. The shaft of dull streetlight pouring in from the doorway pierced the darkness for a flimsy fifteen feet, but the rest of the store was blacker than creamless coffee and decidedly gloomy-looking. In the entire store, there wasn't a sound to be heard.

Neku scowled and tried again. "Hey! Hello!"


Bravo rolled his eyes. Suddenly, a CD whistled through the darkness and – SHUNK – imbedded itself deep into the meat of the clone's cheek.

The clone stood there, stunned, eyes widening. "What is... this...?" he mumbled, pulling the CD out of his flesh. It stuck there for a few tugs but eventually slid out with a wet shllk, and Bravo spent the next second examining the strange object, heedless of the blood pouring out of the gaping wound in his face.

Neku turned around, saw Bravo. A feeling of dark premonition lanced his guts - "B-Bravo! GET DOWN!"


The boy tackled his clone to the ground just in time – the display Bravo had been reclining against was suddenly riddled with Aerosmith's entire discography. Neku tensely pushed himself off the clone's chest, wondering vaguely why the ground was suddenly flooded with dull pink light. He needn't have dwelt on it.

"Close enough to kiss... kyaa, Bravo's first... you pervert," the blushing clone muttered shyly, blood spurting out of the side of his head and puddling disgustingly on the dirty floor. Their heads were indeed in close proximity, and for the first time Neku noticed that Bravo's breath smelled like rotting flesh. Disturbed at the surreal sight, our hero's brain briefly shut down.

A wake up call was administered in the form of what looked like a roughly-hewn wooden club crashing down inches from the two's collective left ear, accompanied by a loud, lispy curse. Neku squeaked, grabbed Bravo in his arms and barrel-rolled out of the way at light speed.


"Uwaa!" Bravo murmured. "Such a man... ehee~..."

For a brief moment the sparse light caught on a pair of slightly-crooked glasses. Glasses that were approaching uncomfortably fast, glinting murderously.

"Now is not the time to be cute, or whatever you're trying to be," Neku spat at Bravo, as if the concept of cute itself was poisonous, poisonous poison. "Now is the time to run."

The two scrambled to their feet and ran like headless chickens for the exit.

"Yeth, RUN! COWARDTH!" The heavy patter of water shoes against the ground informed Neku that the shemale was basically inches away – he glanced behind his shoulder and WHOOPS – his/her grimacing face was literally a foot from his, snarling like a mother grizzly in the throes of a berserker rage. Suffice it to say Neku's heart attempted a suicidal escape through the mouth. Ohshitohfuckohshitohfuck-!

Panicking, he threw himself blindly to the right, crashing painfully into a music display and crushing his ribs into a sharp plastic corner. The air drained from his lungs like water from a popped balloon. "GUH-!" It didn't help that he fell to the ground almost immediately after. Hitting the ground, he didn't linger in his agony – gritting his teeth, he clambered desperately to his feet and kept running, staggering like a blind drunk and crashing into things at every possible turn.


"I-It's not natural!" Neku moaned, clutching his bruised entirety. "I swear!"


Suddenly Neku smacked into a wall of flesh.

He fell to the ground with a bump, crashing into the androgyne's shins and causing him/her to catapult over his head, smashing into something with a terrific noise. It was too dark to tell exactly what.

Never mind her... him... it, Neku thought irritably, scuttling backwards blindly. What did I run into?



A skateboard slammed down in the immediate area – Neku felt the whoosh of air kiss his calves – and suddenly it became apparent that Neku was nose-deep in the kill zone. The skinny boy launched himself to his feet and ran back where he came from, narrowly avoiding the Bito's path of destruction. (Bravo was all but forgotten at this point.)

"S-stop! Beat! It's me!" CRASH! "F-from yesterday!" SMASH! "You gave me a computer – AGH!" SIS-BOOM-BASH! "Su-Su-Sushi pins! And a c-coupon! A PROMOTIONAL COUPON-" The rough edge of the skateboard scraped Neku's back in a wide, white arc of pain. "...AAAAAH!"

"Your kind took may SHIFTER," Beat gargled. It took his crippled lexicon a few minutes to warm up after being roused from slumber. "NO SYMPHONY."

Neku ran and ran and - "EEP!" was intercepted by the faint whikka whikka of compact discs slicing the air in front of his nose into wafer-thin membranes. Masanori Ito emerged from the shadows, looking every bit like the boss.

"All right," Masa snapped. "Everybody STOP. What's all this racket about?"

Beat ceased his rampage – well, actually, he just diverted his latest swing to crash into the headphones instead of Phones himself, since it was basically unstoppable. Predictably, the flimsy audio device exploded – didn't even have a chance.

Neku's legs gave out at the blasphemous sight and he fell to his knees. "N-Not the 'phones! Gghk-"

He proceeded to gargle incoherently for a moment.

"Entrepreneur!" Beat barked hoarsely, a vein in his neck bulging. "Enterpriser! Epicure!" He paused here to rub his eyes and yawn. "I... Interloper? Uh..."

Shemale roughly shoved Beat's back out of the way and stuck his/her ambiguous head into the partial beam of streetlight. "Intruder! I, I think he meanth intruder!"

Masa shook his hands, as if through his jostling fingers he could somehow scatter a field of meditative state of mind. "Everyone! Calm down!" His cold eyes glinted as they fell upon our Neku, who was sitting on the ground and looking dazed. "An intruder, huh? After our PRICELESS TREASURES, perhaps?" Masa cocked his CD-launcher, pointed it at our Neku's vegetative face.

"N-No," Neku blurted, coming back to reality all of a sudden. "I'm the dude from yesterday! You already gave me a computer, dumbass! Quit attacking me!"

"I discreenctly remember that Neku wasn' wearin' no duress," Beat sniffed, poking Neku gingerly with his toe, the way one might poke an interesting specimen of roadkill to see if the guts come out.

"I would have remembered THAT," Shemale added, a bit too eagerly.

Neku scowled. "I'm... oh... this," he murmured, embarrassment quickly flooding his capillaries with the blistering heat of a bazllion pastry ovens. "Uh, this can be explained..."

Masa sighed in a gravelly sort of way, massaging his temple. "What are you doing here? At this hour? In that getup?"

"Um-um-um! Mithter Ito!" Shemale waved his hands around in a way identical to how Shiki Misaki did. "There were TWO intruderth!"

This seemed to change everything. Masa looked up all of a sudden, his face contorting in a dark scowl. "What did you thay – I mean, say?"

"I thaid," Shemale reiterated, sounding kind of testy. "Thith degenerate let in another one of hith kind to our building after hourth! He'th a double-crothing thcoundrel, a backthtabbing betrayer!" Dramatic pause! "H-He probably wanth to thteal everything and pee on the carpet!"

Neku whirled around to look at him/her, aghast. "I WAS FOUR, okay? Quit bringing it up!"

Suddenly Masa swooped down and grabbed Neku by the, er, blouse, shaking him violently. Neku's teeth rattled until his brain was basically reduced to well-stirred oatmeal. "Did you bring a clone in with you?"

"Uh... yeah?"

Masa dropped Neku and descended upon Shemale. "AND DID YOU CHASE IT?"

Shemale straightened his/her back, indignant. "Y-Yeth! But that'th my job, to keep intruderth-"

"You idiot." Masa spoke with deadly precision, panic audibly gripping his throat. "YOU LISPING IDIOT!"

"Uh," said Neku, slowly. "What's the big deal? These guys are harmless-"

All of a sudden a bloodcurdling scream could be heard from somewhere nearby.

"Shit," Masa murmured, eyes widening until they somewhat resembled flying saucers. "Shit! Where's Shinta?"

"He's asleep -"

"Where, oh, for the love of the gods, WHERE IS HIS ALLIGATOR?"

There was heard the rending sound of metal being ripped from metal. And then, a dull whistle as an entire display case went soaring over their heads, crashing into the aisle behind them with an absolutely devastating CRASH!

All eyes carefully turned, as one, to the thrower of said display case.

The answer to Masa's question pierced the air in Jesse David Corti's dulcet tones.

"IT'S BITING MY FOOT!" Bravo shrieked.

He stood, silhouetted in the gold-dust streetlight leaking from the windows, eyes as white as the puddle of rancid milk pooling around his clawed toes. Flecks of foam frothed from the corners of his mouth.

"Did he just throw the-?"

"Yes, Neku. He just threw the entire Country section at us."

And indeed, the baby alligator was clamped onto Bravo's left foot like a vice. The clone's blank eyes began to tear up and he wailed:


"Wh-what's happening-?" Neku cried, flabbergasted that the blushing fool could rip an entire section of store directly out of the ground, never mind use it as a projectile.

Masa looked grim. "To put it simply, he's... flipping the fuck out."

Bravo gnashed his sharpened teeth, clawed at his eyes and moaned like a trapped animal. "I... don't like it! I DON'T LIKE IT! IT HUUUUURTS! IT HURTS IT HURTSIT HURTS IT HURTS-"

He abruptly swung his taloned fingers downward, grabbed the baby alligator by the tail, and brutally ripped the poor thing in half with a strangled wail. Reptilian blood went everywhere, glistening viscera splattering onto the milky ground with a disgusting series of fwops. And so, in that most Kodak of moments, Bravo became completely inhuman.

The clone's glassy, frenzied eyes turned to the shell-shocked group of stunned AMX employees and our protagonist.

It howled.

"You... you hurt me... I'm... i'M gOiNG tO HURT YOU!"

Neku looked at Masa.

Masa looked at Shemale.

Shemale looked at Beat.

Beat looked tired.






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