I didn't have much time left. The clock on my hand was ticking out the seconds left of this death match, and it was almost empty. The moment it clicked to zero, my should-be opponent and I would both cease to exist, and we couldn't let that happen before we reached our destination.
Reapers sprung up all around us, but we sliced them down; we were nowhere near the championship match, but we were still much stronger, together, than any of these Reapers alone. My opponent-turned-partner and I shared a quick high-five of victory before we were off again, running desperately through the twisted maze that was the Shibuya underground.
We made it with only seconds left, but in this room, we were safe – his boastful declaration that any who reached his throne room within the time would have their timers shut down was now in full force.
His eyes narrowed at us, and we stared up at him, my partner and I standing side-by-side.
He was lavish on his throne, wearing his true form that all might see his majesty – the Composer, the Judge of Souls, reclining on a throne of solid gold that glimmered with the light cast by his form, created of pure energy. Eyes that seemed to carry the knowledge of the world were set in that almost-featureless face, and it grinned mercilessly at us. A voice that seemed to come from everywhere around them spoke.
"Foolish mortals," it said, and my partner trembled slightly. I reached out and grabbed his hand – a gesture of comfort and the only thing I had left to give. In person, the voice was the most frightening thing I had heard in my life. "You have come to challenge me for my throne, have you not?"
"Of course we have!" my partner shouted bravely. "We've come to end your reign of tyranny!"
My partner had been aspiring to be a poet, before his death. It was occasionally obvious.
The Composer laughed, leering down at us with his ageless eyes.
"You, end me?" He laughed again – he, not it, I eminded myself – and leveled his gaze on me. "And you too, Joshua? Was being a Reaper too much for you, little boy? You, with your sick, diseased body… couldn't make it as a Reaper, couldn't hack it in the Games… now you think you can kill a god?"
If he thought to upset me or my partner with his words, he was badly mistaken. In death, my weakness wasn't a thing that bothered me – it made combat difficult, but no more. The wasting sickness that had claimed my life was gone, now, and only its aftereffects remained. And my partner already knew that I had once been a Reaper.
I met those terrible, terrible eyes. "You are no god!" I cried, feeling the energy of the Psychs I'd been given fill me. "You're nothing but a bully, fat and lazy on the throne, who's abandoned his position for his own entertainment! You say you are the judge of souls… but this? This so-called 'court' is a joke!" My fists clenched at my sides, and anger only seemed to boost my abilities.
A 'prodigy', my mentor in the Games had called me. The ability to use so many Psychs, and so well, was nigh unheard of.
"This ends NOW!" cried my partner, and he leaped at the Composer.
The fight itself was a long, dragging battle, filled with moments of terror and moments of triumph… but for every small victory, it seemed our opponent only got stronger. Somehow, our life forces had become linked – whenever he received a strike, my own energy dropped a little lower, and I had precious little to spare. The Composer called Noise to his side, and we destroyed them to strike at him directly; Reapers joined the battle and were defeated as well. A pile of bodies lay around us, broken, but not completely destroyed, and we still fought the Composer.
I could feel something changing, the balance of power shifting, and suddenly, the world split in half, my partner disappearing. I couldn't see him, but from his effect on my life force, I could tell he was still there. Soon, the Composer began to tire. Perhaps he existed in two worlds – I wondered. His powers struck me, harder and harder, but he was weakening, I just knew it. I felt my Partner's energy filling me, and we struck out together.
The Composer fell to one knee, his radiance flickering like a cheap candleflame.
"H-how?" he demanded of us; my Partner stood behind him, and we both glared down at his dying form. "How could you do it? HOW?"
His radiance left him, to reveal what appeared to be a normal human man, in his mid twenties. His eyes were filled with hatred and agony.
"This is our Game now," was my response.
He gasped with breath, the echo gone from his voice. "You are fools," he spat at us. "There can be only one Composer. You must choose… choose which of you should gain my power. But be warned – you've only doomed yourselves." He laughed weakly. "The Composer may never again live as a human."
My partner and I looked across at each other, eyes meeting.
"I'll do it," he told me.
I closed my eyes, shook my head, and smiled sadly. "No, Shirou," I replied. "This is my duty. I'm the one who convinced you along; I'm the one who wanted this."
"But, Joshua! What about your family?" he demanded. "Your… your parents… You wanted to see them again, so much!"
I felt tears on my face. "Shirou, I've known since I was very young that I was going to die. You haven't come to terms with that yet." I put my hand on his shoulder. "I have nothing left to live for; you have your dreams – your poetry, your baby sister, your girlfriend… go, Shirou. That world holds nothing for me."
Then I felt it. An amazing power, welling up within my Soul, as the old Composer died and the one who defeated him was passed his power – and that successor, that heir, was me. I knew in that moment what I had to do to return my friend to life; I let the power grow and swell within me, burning away the physicality of my body, and I took my friend's soul in my hands and returned it to the world, with a few creative adaptations to make it as if he had never left.
"Goodbye," I whispered, hearing in my voice that same duality that had once belonged to the Composer before me.
With the pure force of Imagination, I spun my body back into place, covering the glory that my predecessor had been so eager and so proud to show off. It was false, a shell, but at least it was not the shape I had come to hate, staring at it from below in a pile of the broken bodies that I had been forced to leave there by cruel malice.
I heard approaching footsteps, and I raised my head to glare at the door – but instead of a Reaper, I saw an amiable-looking man standing in the doorway. Our eyes met, and I felt certain knowledge shock through me – as I had become the Composer, so too was this man even higher than I, and possibly even something I might someday become.
"So," he said, a smile in his voice and interest in his eyes. "So… the Game changes."
I nodded. "The Game will change for certain. It's my Game now."
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this little look into Joshua's past, or at least my version of it. A large inspiration for this is a series of roleplays that I did with the Black Scepter writing team - the idea that Joshua's predecessor ran a cruel, gladiatorial-style Game comes from - I believe - Mark of that team, whereas the fic itself was inspired by - though not entirely based on - a roleplay I did privately with Michael. The idea that Joshua died of a terminal disease, or that he was a Reaper before becoming a Player, is something that I came up with myself, however, to add an extra area of depth and interest to the character. Let me know what you think in a review! ~Miri