I kicked off my shoes at the door to our apartment. Mother had something cooking in the kitchen and she glanced up when I approached. "Josh! You're back late." She was right too- another few minutes and it would have been past nightfall.
"Sorry, mother. My friends had nothing scheduled today, so we just hung out the whole time." I replied casually.
"That's great, honey. Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes or so." She smiled and turned back to cooking. I was glad she didn't feel the need to press the issue.
Not feeling the need to respond, I sidled off to my room, to write down what I found out from today. After speaking with the shopkeeper, I'd explored Shibuya to hunt down more of CAT's artwork. Anything from posters to t-shirts, video to graffiti. Nothing drew the music out like the mural, but as far as I could tell, they did resonate a little. At the very least, they seemed to all echo CAT's "enjoy the moment" sentiment.
At this point, I didn't even care if it had to do with the players and the noise. I flipped to the page with the theories on them, tore the page out, and dropped it on the bed. I wouldn't need anything but notes now. The way I figured it, CAT could control the message. Whether consciously or not, he sent his words out to all of Shibuya.
By the time Mother called me for dinner, I'd filled up half a page from all I'd learned about the players and noise. The amount was disappointingly small, but it would have to do for now. I would also need to organize them on the computer later, but on paper, I could carry them around and they would be ready for tomorrow's trip to Wildkat. I would confront Hanekoma about what he knew of the music. Subtly, of course. I'd have to figure out how to work it into the conversation.
WildKat's windows were dark as I approached. At first I found myself rather annoyed. Here I was about to get to the bottom of something interesting - one of the few things that idid/i interest me anymore, and here was an incredibly inconvenient roadblock towards my destination. Maybe someone in one of the other shops knew why the place was closed down?
"Yo, yo, yo! Lemme know what yo, gonna be lookin fo'" I tried not to cringe at the rap that greeted me upon entering the sports store, Urban Images.
This sort of place wasn't where I usually did my shopping as I'm not a huge Jupiter of the Monkey fan, but it was the closest to WildKat, so I figured I'd try here first. "Do you know why the café is closed today?"
"Ah, the WildKat. That place is pretty phat. The owner, well he scat, Gone to who knows where at."
The rap was a stretch at best. Did the shopkeeper really have to rhyme all the time? "Thank you sir. Does he do this often?"
The boy behind the counter shrugged. "That cool cat, knows where it's at. He'll take weeks off, at us workers he'll scoff?" Even the boy behind the register cringed at that one. "'Aight, 'aight. That one was bad. Just don't tell my boss or he'll be mad."
I nodded slowly, wondering at how Hanekoma could keep the café open if he wasn't even in for days at a time. "Thank you, sir." Well, if that was all the storekeeper knew, I could be on my way…
"There's some pretty funny rumors 'round that place." The boy said, stopping me on my way out the door.
"No more rhyming I see?" I asked as way of response, turning back to see what he had to say.
"It's annoying you, I can tell. And anyway, you might buy something if I get you to stick around longer." He laughed, but went on pretty quickly. "But people say the place is haunted or something. Sometimes there'll be people in there without anyone actually going in or out. I've heard a hundred different versions of the story, but the owner himself seems like a cool dude, whether or not he's around all the time."
"Ah, thanks…" I glanced at his nametag, "Mister Okada." What he said certainly gave me something to think about. Grabbing one of the pins from the display on the counter, I asked, "How much for this?" I figured I ought to thank him somehow for giving me the info.
He beamed and answered swiftly, "3500 yen!"
I handed over the money, and stuck the pin in my pocket before leaving the store. That pin was expensive for just a pin, but the information was worth it - Hanekoma was out, and he'd be out for a few days, if Okada knew what he was talking about. I checked Wildkat once more, and even knocked in the hopes that he might answer, but when nobody came to the door and the lights didn't flicker on, I turned towards home.
I didn't really want to go back, but I'd had enough of wandering Shibuya yesterday and the day before to last me a lifetime. I'd told Mother that I was hanging out with friends again today, so I'd have to find something to do…
"Someone! Forge a pact with me!" a boy shouted. I jumped and looked around, but nobody else seemed to have noticed. "Are there any Players left!"
Or maybe, something would find me! I searched for the source of the shouting, but there were too many people and too much noise (of the natural type) to pinpoint his location immediately. Finally, he managed to break through the crowd. The boy looked about fifteen, dressed in a sporty, yet trendy outfit, and had longish, wispy hair. I barely had time to locate the skull pin on his tank-top sleeve - confirming that he was, in fact, a Player - before the symbols hovering dangerously near him spat out the animals.
I wasn't sure I wanted to stick around for him to get erased. I stood up, preparing to leave before the butchery began.
"Pact?" A new voice rang out from somewhere in the opposite direction. "Are you a Player?" This second voice belonged to a girl. From what I could tell, she had bleach-blonde hair and wore the retro clothes of the Hip Snake brand. She wore the pin on what looked like a shoe lace around her neck.
They raced to each other and met not more than ten feet in front of me. If movie of their life was a romance instead of a horror, the two would be long-lost lovers. A blinding flash of light later, and the two fought together to fend off the animals.
When the only noise left was the babble of civilians, the pair finally relaxed, panting hard and looking a little worse for wear. The girl caught her breath first, and introduced herself with an air of flippant confidence. "So, my name's Takayuki Koboyashi. You?"
"Tanaka Watanabe at your service! It's nice to meet you." the boy replied with a dramatic bow. The girl laughed at his display, but I was too caught up in what the boy had said.
His name was Watanabe? He was dead though, right? How was he standing there in front of me, smiling and laughing if his body was in the morgue? This boy in front of me was even the right age… I walked up to them slowly, waiting for them to notice me first.
"Aren't you dead?" I asked. They jumped a little, surprised that I approached and addressed them, instead of walking on past as they had assumed I would.
Watanabe's eyes narrowed in confusion. "Wait, you see me? Are you a Player too? Or a reaper - you don't have a Player pin!"
"Tanaka … He's just a kid." Koboyashi admonished before turning her attention to me and saying, "Hey, how do you know we're dead, and why are you able to see us?"
"So you are dead then?" I asked. "Watanabe, you went to my school."
"You did? I don't think I know you. Are you sure you're not a reaper?" He started to sound a little suspicious.
"Don't you two have a mission today?" I reminded them, not liking these questions I didn't know the answer to.
"Oh SNAP! We gotta get to Ten-Four!" Watanabe cried, grabbing the girl's wrist and half yanking her towards Scramble Crossing in his sudden panic. Koboyashi waved back at me before scrambling to get her feet back under her and race with him to their mission destination.
So the invisible people were actually dead all along? All those people from before… All of them were dead? It made sense in a way, even if two peoples' answers didn't hold true for everybody else. Nobody else could see them and they left no body behind when they were erased.
The next day after school, I wound up by Hachiko, wondering if the two would show up. This place was as good as any to wait and better than most - the Scramble was far too crowded so I wouldn't be able to tell the players from those still alive. I also wouldn't get blamed for loitering, as other kids hung out her all the time.
Despite waiting every day after school until dark, I didn't see a hint of the Game until Thursday when the two sprinted by in the direction of the bus station. Wondering what they could be up to, I chased after them.
A huge shadow flashed across the pavement in front of me and I froze. I seemed to be the only one who noticed though, so I knew it must have been from something from the other world.
"There it is!" the girl shouted. I followed her pointing finger to a bird the size of a small plane zipping across the sky. "How do we get it down here?"
I watched the beast circle back around, and as it eclipsed the sun, I could see the tell-tale tattoo like body parts signifying it was another noise. It was huge though! Definitely the biggest of these creatures I'd seen by far.
A handful of smaller birds zipped down at the Players. The girl, Koboyashi, faded to white, while Watanabe darkened. They seemed to make quick work of the smaller birds, going so far as to laugh as the last one disappeared, but when a car fell out of the sky and just missed them, they sobered up pretty quickly.
"Yuki, are you still in one piece?" Watanabe asked worriedly.
"Yep. Worry about yourself. You're the clumsy one."
As if to prove Yuki's point, the bird swooped down from the sky, sending Watanabe flying into the Moyai statue. I flinched, knowing that had that happened to a normal person, they'd have broken their back and probably most of the rest of their bones too. Luckily for him, whatever held together these ghosts was stronger stuff.
"Tanaka you idiot!" the girl cried out. "I felt that too you know!"
"I'm fine!" He shouted back, pushing himself off the statue and out of the way just in time to avoid a lashing beak, while at the same time launching some sort of counter attack. He slammed into the underside of the giant bird Noise and it crashed into the ground.
I'm still not totally sure how he fought, but whatever he did next set the bird on fire. Another flock of the smaller noise descended on the pair and Takayuki set upon them, wielding what looked suspiciously like a paintbrush and palette. She hit each bird in turn, darting from one to another. When she landed on the other side of the birds, a streak of lightening followed her path, devouring the Noise as it went.
A screeching sound split the air, sending both Players sprawling. The giant bird noise flapped its great wings and shot up into the air again. "Get back here!" Watanabe shouted after it, though it did him no good as another flock decided that moment would be a nice time to harass him. "Dude! Not cool!" he yelped, ducking the barrage.
"I got him!" Takayuki shouted, leaping up impossibly high and slashing at the soaring bird with the brush. The bird screeched again as the brush sent out sparks where it touched. She took this opportunity to land nimbly on the back of her enemy. "Let's paint you a new future, hmmm?" She stood up like the bird was a surfboard and splattered gobs of paint around the beast. The paint congealed into stones that latched onto the wings and back of the noise.
Before it could shake off the boulders and regain its flight, it slammed into the ground. The resulting crash rattled windows and shook the nearby trees. None of the pedestrians seemed to take notice at all. Takayuki used the bird's momentary daze to leap away from the wreckage and onto the safety of a nearby bus stop shelter. She turned to see the earthen tomb melt away into the paint used to create it.
The bird swept its wings open again, sending the liquefying paint splattering across the arena. I threw up my hands to stop it from getting in my eyes, but it passed right through me. After all, it was from the ghost world.
Watanabe appeared just above the monster and shot down at it like a human cannonball. He leapt back out of the way of a huge tattoo-like claw, and then sent a stream of flames racing towards the creature.
The noise flapped its wings and shot straight up into the air. Yet another flock of smaller noise descended and took over harassing Watanabe. I watched as he fended them off. There were more than before though, and for each one he vanquished, another took its place.
A shriek of terror turned my attention back to Takayuki. A vendor cart had smashed into the support beams of the bus shelter, sending one side of it crashing to the ground. I blinked as my vision went hazy, trying to make out the difference between the bus shelter from my world, and the one from hers. The pedestrians took no notice as the ceiling above them fell onto their heads.
The girl slid down the roof and tumbled to the concrete below. She rolled out of the way as the bird aimed a peck in her direction. Scrambling from the claws that followed, she hid under the partly collapsed shelter.
Watanabe finished off the last of the noise pestering him, and upon seeing the giant noise, vanished from sight. For a moment, I thought he'd been erased, but the bird screeched in pain or surprise as he rematerialized above it only to come crashing down into its back. A bolt of lightning flickered along its length, and with another downward jab from Watanabe, it flashed out of existence, leaving only a haze of static.
Watanabe looked around once, and then twice with a bit more fervor when he didn't find what he was looking for. "Yuki? Takayuki?"
"Under here! Wait a second, this was destroyed!" Yuki said, standing up in the newly fixed bus shelter.
Watanabe laughed as he replied, "I guess what happens in the noise plane stays in the noise plane. It's good to see you're okay though. I nearly had a heart attack when I didn't see you." He put his hand to his chest to illustrate.
"I flew back there, you know. I flew that demon spawn before making it crash. I flew Tanaka. Can you believe that?" She threw her arms out to the side as though she were the bird. "It was awesome."
"Excuse me?" I interrupted. "Could you two tell me what that thing was?" As neat as watching the battle was, I needed answers, not more questions.
"Oh hey!" Takayuki said, sounding mildly surprised, though still speaking only to her partner. "It's that kid who saw us day one. You think he's talking to us?"
"Woah, kid…" Watanabe stepped away from me, not sure what to think. "What are you doing back around?"
I nodded in the direction of where the bird had been moments ago. "Watching you guys fight. Fantastic job by the way. That was a pretty awesome trick with the paint, if I do say so myself." I beamed up at Takayuki. A bit of sucking up can't hurt, particularly when I want information.
A smile brightened on the girl's face at my complement. "Thanks!"
I indicated the place where the bird had vanished. "That noise you two fought. It was bigger than most."
"Sure was! That was the mission for today. I'm not totally sure what we had to fight it for. There's still a couple more days left. Isn't the boss battle supposed to be at the end of a game?"
Watanabe snorted, "Most games you get lives and save points. Oh and you don't actually die when you die." He shot me a look and asked the familliar question. "You never answered us last time. What are you?"
"I'm just a kid with schizophrenia. You guys are my hallucinations." I replied, feigning innocence.
Takayuki shook her head quickly. "Nope. We're as real as you, just in the UG instead of-"
"Son?" Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you okay?" I turned to see an elderly man looking at me with a concerned expression on. "You're talking to the post there, and I thought I heard you say something about hallucinations."
Whoops… My expression betrayed my surprise for a moment as I looked for some sort of excuse. "Hee hee!" I giggled obnoxiously as I crossed one arm, bringing the other hand up to conceal a smirk. "Tricked you, didn't I?"
He scowled and shook his head, returning to waiting for a bus. "Disrespectful little…"
"So you are in the RG… Maybe we ought to go somewhere else." Watanabe offered. "That thing over there seems pretty vacant." He indicated the Moyai statue across the street.
We made our way over to the quieter area. Takayuki pulled out a book and flipped through it along the way. When we reached the Moyai, she showed me a page in the book. The top half was dominated by a picture of the noise they just fought while the lower half had numbers and bits of info. "It's called Buteo Cantor. It's some sort of hawk- thing." She said, indicating the name. "The noise show up in this book after we beat them."
She shut the book and stuffed into her backpack. "So… I know I'm not a hallucination of yours. I couldn't think about that if I was, so why can you see us? You're in the RG otherwise the man couldn't have seen you. You don't act like a reaper…"
"I can see ghosts." I replied with a shrug. "Always have. By the way, I'm Joshua Kiryu. I don't think we've been properly introduced." For the most part I knew their names, but introductions seemed in order as they didn't know me.
"I'm Tanaka Watanabe. You already knew that though." The boy said politely. He still seemed wary of me, but not to the point of being rude.
The girl introduced herself next. "Takayuki Koboyashi's my name, but you can call me Yuki. It's nice to meet you, Kiryu. Or… can I call you Joshua?"
"Sure thing, Yuki. It's only fair after all." I glanced over at Tanaka, wondering if he would offer the same, but even as he opened his mouth to reply, he collapsed, crumpling in a heap without a sound.
"Oh!" Yuki yelped when she saw him. "Hachiko! Meet us-" She stopped mid sentence as she joined her partner in unconsciousness.
Were they dead? Or rather, dead again? They didn't erupt into static like usual, so they weren't erased. I tried to shake the girl awake, but my hand went right through her shoulder. Oh, right. They were in the UG, whatever that meant. I'd wanted answers, but now I just had more questions.
A humming sound caught my attention and I looked up to find a green noise symbol hovering over the unconscious players. I'd never seen a green one before, so I hadn't the faintest idea of what they meant. If red killed people and yellow made them unhappy, were the green ones neutral? Or, more importantly, did I want to stick around to find out?
I strangled the yelp that threatened to burst from me when a small, bright pink pig popped out of the green noise. It landed on the ground next to the two Players and nosed them over onto their stomachs. Then it grabbed Tanaka around the middle with its tattoo-like feet. With a huge leap, it yanked the player up to the symbol. After doing the same with Yuki, the pig bounced back into the green thing, and zipped away with the two players in haul.
The whole thing happened so fast that I found myself wondering what exactly had happened. They weren't erased, but the pig Noise had just carried them away. What did that mean anyway? Were they dead or not dead?
Hachiko. Yuki's last few words came back to me as I worked on settling my mind. She hadn't seemed worried about her partner fainting. She just wanted to get her message across, as though she knew the same would happen to her. Okay then, if they aren't at Hachiko the next day, they were probably erased. I'd wait there a couple days just to make sure, and if they didn't show, then I'd move on…
I'd also have to find a different way to learn about the game. The sudden disappearance of this player pair scared me more than I want to admit. I shoved my hands in my pocket to stop them shaking and tried to pretend that my heart was only beating so loud because I was excited for tomorrow.
With that, I left for home.
Gah… This chapter wound up longer than I wanted it to. Also fail on sticking to the schedual. Life caught up with me, and I got my art muse back. Also yay schoolwork…
As for the pig noise… Just a thought, but what's their point? They seem to be simply prize-bags in the game. Maybe they yoink pins off the slumbering players when they transport them to the new local or something? It also would explain how the players get from one place to another. (Though the real explanation is probably just teleportation. Boooring!)
The Noise have to feed on something though, and with only one exception, the pigs don't seem very harmful. Maybe these ones earn points like the Wall Reapers do (or are simply summoned to move the characters to where ever the Reapers want them.) Barring teleportation, I can't see the Reapers lugging players around Shibuya, however amusing it would be to watch them wake up in random places. (in a dumpster, or hanging from a lightpost, for example.)
I figure it doesn't change this story much either way; poofing players would be just as scary to someone who would see a vanishing act as being deader than dead, so why not throw it in? /random thoughts
On a final note, the names are from a random selection of (what I assumed were) first and last names from the credits. I figured I'd try to avoid naming them cliché Japanese names, even though Takayuki wound up getting shortened to Yuki. I figure it's better than patrolling a baby names site for fifty different variations on Moon-Flower though, so I'll take what I can get. :)