I have never had to find so many synonyms for the awful term "silverette". I don't know what I was thinking when I wrote this chapter years ago, but I'm so glad I realized silverette is not a socially acceptable term. Neither is unnecessary use of the expression "oi!"
It was almost funny how much louder everything was when he couldn't see.
Maybe it'd be funnier if it weren't for that timer that seemed to sear deeper into his hand with each passing day.
"Shall we get this over with?" Joshua sat up with a sigh. He received no response. "Sho?"
A sense of déjà vu washed over the boy. The last time this had happened, Sho had simply been teasing him. So, he had to be hiding somewhere, probably laughing at him. Joshua stood up and walked around in random directions, occasionally calling Sho's name. He must be just out of reach. Was a joke first thing in the morning really necessary?
"This isn't funny Sho, let's just get on with the mission."
"Welcome to Sunshine Stationside!"
The silver-haired child jolted at the sound of the cheery woman. He hadn't meant to walk into the open doorway; he'd only been looking for his partner. Who was still MIA. Of course he would have the luck to stumble into one of the few shops in which he was actually visible to the living.
Joshua immediately stopped griping when he caught a whiff of greasy, grimy, food. Well, if he couldn't find Sho…
Was that minestrone?
The bowl was half empty by the time Sho burst into the restaurant, shouting his name, reprimanding him in the most mathematical way possible, and…eating a burger. After four days, even dead kids had to eat.
"Do you know how hard I looked for you? What if the Noise got you? I'd never find you until we were both erased!" Sho demanded with a mouth full of food.
"I looked too. I guess we were separated as part of the mission."
"Then why the Hell were you hiding in a dingy restaurant if you were so worried about the mission?"
"There was minestrone." Joshua shrugged as if that was a perfectly sufficient explanation.
"You- you...GROW UP!"
Joshua did not even have the time to set down his bowl before the hand struck. His cheek stung, and molten soup singed his skin and clothes. The other patrons were stirring, the waitress was not sure if she should make them take it outside or protect the frail child.
The ten-year-old rose from his seat quickly, ignoring the minestrone dripping off his nose.
"J. I didn't-"
He bolted. He was not going to cry. He was not going to cry. He was not going to cry-
Tears splashed the ground, and Joshua's hands met smooth stone. Hachiko. He crouched at the loyal dog's feet, curled into as small of a ball as possible. All he needed was rain, and he would look as emo as Neku. As hard as he tried, he still couldn't laugh at his joke. The thought of his living friend, who would never, ever hit him, only made his eyes wetter. For once in his life, Joshua wanted simply that. Life.
The ten-year-old made no move to acknowledge his partner's voice far above him. From the sound of Sho's voice, Joshua figured that the boy was sitting on top of the dog statue, peering down at him.
Sho reached down to place a hand on Joshua's shoulder, but the boy only flinched.
"You hit me." Joshua said softly.
The hand went away. "Yeah, well, the Noise do a lot worse than that." When he had no reply, Sho sighed. "You're the blind yoctogram practically throwing yourself at the Noise's feet-Look, I'm sorry. But the way you act, I feel like I'll never get out of this Game. You scared me."
"Scared that you'll never see your brother again?"
Sho began to argue; then stopped. "Yeah. I was worried about you, for Jun."
The words stung, but not as much as his cheek. And that was already apologized for. He rose.
"I'm used to it."
"Being at the bottom of everybody's list."
"C'mon Josh, you know that's not true."
"You'll die again without me. You need me. That's all." Joshua crossed his arms and, without realizing it, stared straight at Sho's face.
"Wrong again, radian. We're partners. Friends."
"Do you really mean that?"
Before Sho could answer, Joshua simply startled him. "You're right. I don't WANT to leave this Game, and I won't. But I still couldn't be any more serious about winning, Sho, because after these three days, I'm joining the Reapers. But you-"
"I will keep Minamimoto from killing my brother like he killed me. But I thought 'bout what that crazy coffee guy said, and I'm gonna do it as a Reaper. You and me, we'll be the most bada**, zetta-f***in' Reapers Shibuya's ever seen." Sho hopped off Hatchiko and grabbed Joshua's hand. "Until then, we have a mission."
Grinning, Joshua let Sho pull him up. "What is it?"
Joshua's exhilaration faded quickly when he heard Sho's words. "No more Players."
The child's first thought was somewhere along the lines of "Battle Royale", and he shuddered. They couldn't really mean to set all the Players against each other? Joshua had never, never seen a Game where Players did anything other than help each other.
"Let's head to the Scramble. We'll see if we can make sense of this irrational mission there."
Joshua nodded, feeling sick to his stomach. They could take on Noise. Would they be able to survive against Players? Lost in his thoughts (and, of course, blind…) Joshua walked directly into a wall.
"Let us through!" Joshua shouted, slightly panicking.
"There's no wall Reaper, kid, there's only a wall." Sho paused. "Calm down, Josh. What are you so afraid of?"
The last thing he heard was a beep. Then it was just the crackling of flames. Searing heat everywhere, Joshua was a human barbecue. It was almost as if it was directed across him by some unseen hand. The shock and pain was bad enough for Joshua to deal with alone, but sensing Sho writhe and burn made it all the more agonizing. Suddenly, mercifully, the fire abated.
"Dammit!" An unfamiliar voice shouted. "C'mon you stupid pin!"
"Are you outta your vector?" Sho screamed. "We're Players!"
"Misa's gone. I've got four minutes." The voice said, muttering more to itself than to the pair.
The flames returned. With it came only Sho's screams and more pain. And then some part of Joshua decided that the assailant had even less than four minutes. He reached robotically for his cell phone, which was somehow still impeccable even as his own skin blistered. Barely conscious of himself, he began pressing random keys, faster and faster, relishing the screams of the other Player until finally, the roar of the inferno was replaced by the sound of static.
Only the boys' panting filled the silence, until finally Sho stopped his heaving enough to speak.
"That factoring hectopascal…did you just…erase him? But you…you're just…"
"I think he erased his own partner." Joshua said with a shudder. Even after Sho had smacked his face, even after Sho's arm had splattered molten minestrone all over his clothes, the thought of erasing his own partner had never even been a possibility. It was unthinkable. It was unforgiveable.
"And you just erased him. That was…I've never seen you fight before. …Glad you're on my side." Joshua had expected to hear disappointment, shock, or fear. Instead, Sho's voice contained…respect?
After years of watching Players be erased, Joshua decided now it meant little. Help your own partner, help yourself. Everyone else is as good as Noise.
"Hey, Josh, did you hear that beep just before the factoring hectopascal attacked? Thought so…there's a 'P.S.' to the mission…" Joshua raised an eyebrow. "Asterisk. New. That's all it says."
Joshua stared at Sho, or at least where he thought Sho was. That adjective made an enormous difference. There had been need for an all-out war among the Players. If it weren't for the ambiguous wording of the mission, Joshua wouldn't have had to break a sweat erasing that Player, and there would be at least one more pair to do the missions for them.
"So now we're after new Players…?"
"I don't think we're going after any Players. Think we gotta find out whatever the source of the 'new Players' is, and take it out. My guess is there is some sort of accident that's going to kill a lot of people, and we gotta stop it."
Joshua nodded. "Sho, how old are you?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Okay. Good. Most Players are under 18. So whatever accident this is, it's probably targeting kids in school. A bus accident?"
"We can get to the West Exit Bus Terminal through this way." He grabbed Joshua's arm. "Come on, just walk with me."
Joshua was slightly irritated to be led around like a child, but still grateful that Sho now catered to his handicap. The fact Sho was so close to his age made the hint of inferiority sting less anyway. Who knew he was thirteen? He seemed much older, at least in high school. Maybe he would've realized Sho's age if he could actually see him…
There was a small part of Joshua that scoffed at his disbelief of Sho's age. Shouldn't he be more worried about how easy it was to erase that Player?
He silenced the voice when he heard the commotion. Gun shots. Screaming. The sound of pounding footsteps in all directions, except for exactly where he was heading.
"…I'm really glad you can't see, kid."
Joshua didn't know what Sho was talking about, but he could sense the thick throng of Noise as he neared the bedlam. "Noise!"
"Are there?" Sho fumbled for his Player Pin. "You're right. Did you even scan?"
"I'm special." Joshua said with a smirk.
"And I'm going to be sick. Okay, Josh, there's a factoring punk with a gun on top of a bus covered in bullet holes. And there's a lot of 'new Players' around him. And even more Noise. The source?"
"Let's take out the Noise."
Both boys took grabbed their Player Pins, and Joshua felt that wonderful flying sensation again. Which was rudely interrupted by a porcupine quill in his shoulder.
"Everyone just loves ruining my clothes today…" Joshua muttered as he grabbed his cell phone. He tried to face the Noise, but he realized it didn't matter. As he entered the numbers onto his phone, large objects fell onto the Noise anyway. All he had to do was button mash. "This is nothing."
Apparently he spoke too soon, as a wolf Noise suddenly knocked him to the ground. He could feel Sho wince at Joshua's distress. The Noise snarled above him, and drops of drool dribbled onto Joshua's collar. Joshua snarled back. He was really going to need new clothes.
It took him a few panicked moments, but he soon located his phone on the ground, still without a scratch. He kicked at the wolf Noise's belly with every ounce of his ten-year-old might, but it did not budge.
Okay, Plan B.
Joshua quickly rolled away from the howling beast, mashing buttons all the way. Even as he ran, he could feel the hot breath of the wolf on his back. Then, he heard a loud thunk, and the oh-so satisfying sound of static.
Joshua turned back around, using his Player Pin to sense the location of the Noise. There. With a characteristic smirk he began entering combinations, hoping he was going to squash the porcupine that tore his shirt. Instead, he cringed as more quills pierced him. With a sigh, Joshua began running around the battlefield with his cell phone. It was a sad attempt to dodge, and it was not very effective. Now they were really going to pay. Ruined clothes AND sweating? Fortunately, it did not take much longer for the Noise to be erased. Joshua welcomed the rush of flight, but it was gone again all too soon as his feet touched the grimy ground of Shibuya…Just before the boys reentered another battle.
Button-mashing. Ruined clothes. Static. Repeat. Noise after Noise, the pair kept on fighting, but nothing seemed to put a dent in the man's progress.
"Why are the Noise still coming?" Joshua demanded.
"I think we have to target the killer, not the Noise."
"I'm gonna try something."
Joshua kept asking Sho what he was doing, but received no response. All he heard was a few grunts from Sho, but the screams dissipated…then turned into sounds of surprise and laughter. After what may have been half-an-hour of Joshua's impatience and the people's amusement, he finally heard the sirens of a police car make its way to the Bus Terminal. As the police officers addressed the killer, Sho finally returned to his side.
"What's going on?"
"Our killer is doing ballet."
If there was ever a moment in the past four days that Joshua wished he could see, it would be right now. Even if it wasn't for the serial ballet dancer, he wanted to see the devilish grin he detected in his friend's voice. As he pouted to himself, the timer disappeared. There were no more new Players.
Joshua waited a few moments, but the ensuing darkness did not come. "The day isn't over?"
Joshua wore a devious grin of his own. "In that case…I believe you owe me a favor for that little outburst earlier today…the one that ruined my outfit?"
"I believe a shopping trip is in order!" Joshua sang.
Sho groaned. "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally. You've really got to be kidding."
"Nope! Come on, you owe me!" He couldn't stop grinning at his friend's despair.
"I don't even have any yen!" Sho defended himself quickly. It seemed he would do anything to avoid shopping.
"Yes. We do. Haven't you even taken a peek at all of the pins you've earned from fighting the Noise? And the pins the Reapers give us for completing the mission? I see Players cash these in all the time- they're worth quite a bit."
As Joshua spoke, he could hear Sho ruffling through his bag, searching for the pins. Sure enough, the math-obsessed boy gasped when he realized just how much money was in his bag. "This is more yen than I've held in my life." Sho admitted. "Minamimoto's lazy ass could never keep a job long enough to bring home any cash, even if people did give him pity jobs when he said he had two orphans to take care of. All this yen, and we're going to spend it on clothes…?"
"UG yen disappears when you leave the Game anyway. Might as well enjoy it while it's there! Now then…the clothes I'm wearing now are Pegaso, but I'll wear Dragon Couture if necessary. Of course, I'm extremely fond of Natural Puppy too, it's dressy but still casual enough to wear on the street, and-"
Joshua felt a hand over his mouth and debated whether or not to bite it. "Just stop." Sho whispered. "Stop while you can still pretend to have a shred of masculinity."
The yelp as Sho leapt away was almost as satisfying as digging his teeth into his partner's hand. "What was that for?"
"Just shut up and shop."
"You shut up. I'll see if we can get to 104 now. That's my only offer." Joshua crossed his arms and his sighed. Then he gave a melancholy nod. "Let's go prissy boy." Sho sang.
Sho gave no reply, and merely yanked Joshua along by his wrist. After a few moments, Sho startled Joshua with, "Hey, Josh. I tell you how much Minamimoto sucks all the time, but you never say a word 'bout your life."
"Does it really matter to you?" Joshua sighed at Sho's insistence. "My father was a wealthy businessman from England. My mother was the only existing heir to a failing company. My father changed his last name to match that of the family, promised my grandfather he would restore the company, and received my mother as prize. I serve as proof of that contract and as an occasional psychiatric patient. Satisfied?" He lifted in his hands in a gesture of nonchalance.
"Life is shit." was Sho's only comment. It was not an apology, not an "oh you poor soul!", and it was ten times more reassuring than those two statements could ever be. "SOH CAH TOA. The wall is gone." They passed into the Scramble and up to 104 in silence.
"So. This ain't Pegaso. But maybe Edoga can satisfy Mr. Kiryu anyway?"
No sooner had the words left Sho's mouth than a sales clerk stopped mid "welcome" and rushed over to them. "Are you all right? What happened?" He said to Joshua. Did he look that bad? Sure, he had minestrone stains, numerous rips and tears, wolf drool, and a possible black eye, but he couldn't look THAT bad.
Before he could reply, Sho shoved Joshua in the man's direction. He heard the jingle of yen passing between hands.
"Kid's fine. Needs new threads. Can't see. You handle him."
"Sho?" Joshua sounded slightly panicked as the too-excited man started to lead him away.
"I'll wait for ya by the door." He said coolly.
After numerous embarrassing outfit selections that Joshua was glad he had only a description of, the silver-haired boy finally found clothing he could accept. It was nothing more than a blouse and skinny jeans- battle-ready street wear in Joshua's mind, but it was much better than the shredded jacket and dress pants he had on before.
"Ready to go?" Sho said impatiently as Joshua waltzed over to him.
"Aren't you even going to compliment me on my outfit?" Joshua demanded.
Sho paused. "Nice. Now let's go."
"What do you want me to say? They're clothes! They're nice! Whatever!"
"Ugh, you are just…" The fight was never finished, as the boys suddenly blacked out.
"Two pairs of Players left. The trick mission worked perfectly….I think it's time to give the weapon a little test."