"Tokyo's gone dark."
In any other circumstances, adding chaos to mayhem would be a cause for celebration. Joshua would love nothing more than to sit back and watch the Higher Plane eat itself, a game of tug-of-war with everyone already in the mud and trying to strangle each other with the rope - except they're all silent now, Minato freezing the entire hall in place just as effectively as he'd nearly started a riot the moment before.
"Over half the city's affected. At least seventeen wards. Including Shibuya."
A power outage is a matter for the mundane world, not the Game. Barely of notice even in those places in the world where rolling blackouts are a fact of life. Except this is here and now, with Joshua's district past most reasonable definitions of the word 'control,' with the Angels locking it down from the outside and that doesn't happen for no reason and there's Brede, working his way to the front of the crowd with his phone still at his ear.
He's showing his hand, to push right up to the edge of the dais where the Higher Plane holds court. It's even more unnerving that he doesn't seem to care.
Hanekoma's asking him a question, and beyond that Minato's still talking but Joshua ignores them both, keeping his eyes on Brede, wishing he had one atom's worth of power, a heartbeat's worth of connection to his district. As if his precognition hasn't been passing him cheat sheets all this time, no fault but his own that he's failed the test.
Neku's Soul is blindingly brilliant - Joshua should know, he'd chipped a fair share of those facets himself. All for his pride, to mock the Angels, to turn Neku into something… irresistible, to anything out there that might want to take a bite.
He may have made a terrible mistake, and not at all the one he thought he was making.
Manhattan is gone. The unhinged canary in this little coal mine has left without fanfare or warning, and the rest of the boroughs quickly follow suit. Returning home to batten the hatches and fortify the defenses, because the Higher Plane tearing itself apart is apparently no longer the biggest problem they're facing, and Joshua feels the first twinge of true foreboding like an ice chip under his tongue.
Neku hated being alone, being left behind - and Joshua knew that, and he left anyway.
"Reinstate me." Joshua rises, speaking to the Higher Plane but with his attention on Brede. "Return Shibuya to my care, and I'll let your pet prosecutor back inside. Everyone likes the path of least resistance."
It's never going to work, they won't listen. Or they will, but only after some interminable amount of time they don't have - they don't have this time, and even as Joshua thinks it, even as he's compiling the first of an endless landslide of arguments to bury the Higher Plane in until they concede the point, the whole world upends itself in one violent, agonizing jolt, and Joshua is slammed to the floor.
It's the tattoo, Neku's gift, pinning him in place like a moth to a maelstrom and Joshua can feel the line of that connection traced straight down through him, all the way to Shibuya - can feel it as it begins to crack and splinter. His district is screaming, grief and horror, a cannonball through a house of mirrors, fragments upon fragments and Shibuya howls and Joshua feels himself crumbling in the wake of it. At a great distance, he can see Hanekoma shouting - to him, to the Higher Plane. There's just enough focus left in him to think that he's never actually seen Sanae panic before. It's not a great look, hysterics don't do him any favors.
Shibuya's Music carves through him like a razor dragged along overtight strings, hysteric grief popping one right after the next, twisting notes into impossible heights of pain until Joshua can't feel anything else, aware that he's down on the ground with whatever whisper of will he's still made of caught in it, twisting like a kite at the end of an impossibly long string and maybe his distance from the district, censure on top of censure on top of whatever it was Shibuya itself did to him, maybe that's the only thing keeping it from hurting worse, from destroying him outright.
Which is probably why the Higher Plane chooses exactly that moment, to give it all back.
Either it fixes Shibuya fast or Erases him in an instant - win-win - but they don't know Joshua, they've never understood him or his district as well as they think they do, and feeling that agony amplified a thousandfold just makes things sharper, clearer than they've been since he was censured. It's his element, no matter how hostile or broken, and this is what he is and exactly where he belongs.
I have you. It's all right. I'm here, I'm here.
Joshua lets it all in, lets that panic and fear fill him until it spills over, sharp and unforgiving as ice water, a deluge in every space that had been parched dry for far too long. Whatever the city felt for him before, any anger or disappointment has been replaced with fear and confusion, by an attack it doesn't understand, the kind of brutal rending that isn't supposed to happen under normal rules. Joshua's strong enough, he can stand there and let those waves of panic ebb, hear the Music soothe from its panicked, high staccato and there's a part of him calming Shibuya - the perfect, untouchable Composer - as another, quieter part notices what he'd been hearing from the start: his Conductor isn't there, the only trace of Neku left in the Music is Shibuya grieving his loss, calling out in plaintive melodies that receive no reply.
Neku's still human. He can't be Erased. If he were dead then he wouldn't be human anymore and still wouldn't be Erased because Joshua wouldn't allow it. Will not allow it.
Calmly, as he pushes the pain to the side, as he gets to his feet, the Composer of Shibuya begins composing a very simple list of what's going to happen next.
One - Return to his district, and see exactly what he's been left to work with.
Two - Find Neku, and repair the damage done.
Three - Figure out who is responsible. Make a list. Check it twice.
Four - An unholy amount of violence. Which will certainly - perhaps even literally - bleed into steps five through however many it takes for Joshua to stop feeling the way he currently does, or until he runs out of pieces of his enemies to turn into smaller pieces.
Simple. Easy. Fun.
He opens his eyes. Hanekoma's looking at him. Everyone's looking at him. He can feel the blank, chill space, the icy furrows along his spine where Neku's drawing used to be.
"Composer," The Higher Plane rumbles, "now that you have-"
"Sorry," Joshua says, "you're not on my list."
In any other circumstances, he'd enjoy the convenience of having the entirety of the Higher Plane in the same room, that he can annoy everyone at the same time. Joshua would savor the surprise and outrage left in his wake, as he vanishes, drops back to Shibuya - but he has work to do.
It's not that the screaming isn't nice, but there's usually a lot more of it. Saika stares down at the Conductor's body, nudging it with a toe and sighing to herself as logic drains the fun right out of the mayhem. It's her fault, really, for getting caught up in the moment.
"Riiiiight. You're still alive. Because that was your thing, being human. I knew that."
If only by the barest of technicalities. Neku's gaze is vacant, empty - still breathing, but that's about as far as it goes.
"Usually it's more dramatic than this." Saika nudges him again. "I mean, it was great and all, it was - but maybe sort of just a little bit underwhelming?"
She casts a look around, but their little squabble has vaporized any trace of Noise in the area, and she can't feel either of her pretty Angels anymore. Even Uzuki's momentarily slipped the leash - but that's fine, that's fun. Saika can track her down later, no problem at all. It's still pitch black, so the buildings all look abandoned and though there are headlights from slowly moving cars and the shadows of people carefully navigating the Scramble, it all feels more distant than ever. Echoes from a world that's already fading.
Saika glances back, and lets out a little huff of surprised laughter. The Conductor's body is nearly invisible beneath a blanket of pale gray arms - they're shuffling him away from her, working to pull him down, although there's not enough left of him in the UG for them to get a proper grip.
"Are you trying to protect him, from me? Oh, that is precious."
The arms scatter, falling away and the Conductor's body flops to the ground, and Saika had mostly been talking just to talk, threatening him with whatever sounded most fun in the moment but…
"So, yeah… cheap suit? Why not? What do you think - which one of us will do better at being you? 'Who wore it best'? I doubt it will last long, but I bet we surprise a few of your little friends before they figure it out." Saika reaches for him. "Imagine the looks on their faces-"
"You leave him alone!"
Saika turns slowly, regarding the little girl standing alone in the middle of the street with a… phone pointed at her. Interesting Music, mostly there but somewhat here. Somewhat Noise.
"Oh. Hello." Saika glides forward, and the girl takes a half step back but holds her ground - oh, wonderful. Brave is good. Brave is always more fun. "What are you supposed to be?"
The girl doesn't answer. Her eyes are wide, afraid, but she stands her ground and keeps the phone raised.
"Are we taking pictures? For who?" Saika smiles, poses. "You're one of Neku's little friends, aren't you? I'm afraid there's been a bit of an accident, but I was just about to wake him up."
"Liar." The girl smiles back, and it's not a nice smile, and that's even more interesting.
"All right, then." Saika steps slowly forward, until the girl finally loses her nerve, backing slowly away. It would be pretty funny if she accidentally stumbled into traffic, or down a flight of stairs, but obviously she's considered the route in advance, nothing behind her but pavement.
"It's not a Player…" Saika takes a swipe, shadowed claws lashing out of the darkness, and the girl jumps back anyway, a little more fear there now. "… but it's not human either, not completely. I wonder, did it play the Game, once upon a time?"
The girl has the blade in her hands, the one the little Conductor was wielding. It flickers in and out of the UG, the ghost of a memory of anything that might threaten her. Saika pulls at those traces of Noise she can feel, echoes of what the girl once was but nothing comes of it. She only shivers, as if dropped in ice water, scowling - a surprisingly effective look of disdain for her age.
"You're not that scary. Last time, I got eaten by a shark."
Saika towers over her, just for a moment, before crouching down so they can face each other eye-to-eye. Moving fast enough that the girl startles, and can't really hide it.
"You know," Saika says, "I think I'm not the only liar here."
Oh yes, she can feel it now, that glittering lure of the real. The places in this girl that remember what they were, that had crossed over. If only Saika could reach out and break through. Smash that barrier between the worlds and wouldn't that be fun? Wouldn't that be something new.
Saika reaches out, feeling the space between UG and RG give a little, around her fingertips. Watching the little girl's hands go white with how hard she's clutching the blade-that-isn't, still standing her ground but her eyes are wide and fearful, she makes a quiet little sound as reality itself begins to warp and bend and Saika pushes all her will into it, the tip of a knife against a piece of plastic wrap and almost… almost…
It holds. Saika's focus slips, and the barrier ripples back into place, undamaged as all her power slides away. Always a next time, though. Always another chance, and when Saika tries again it will be with all the howling tatters of the UG behind her, with the RG buckling, all ashes and falling down.
"Well, here we are." She sighs. "You can't hurt me, and I can't hurt you. So I don't get to be the monster, and you don't get to be the hero."
The little girl smiles, that not-nice smile again.
"I'm not a hero. I'm just the distraction."
Saika turns on her heel. Never sees the girl slams her hands over her ears, trying to block out the roar of rage wild enough to shake two universes because the place where Neku was is empty.