Hello friends, and welcome to my newest giant AU project! Unlike the others I've worked on, this is going to be my exclusive until it's done. That means no other fics will be updated unless it's already been written, of course. But YES. This fic. The plot is from The World Ends With You, but you do not have to have played the game for this to make sense. I explain everything - literally EVERYTHING - so we're all on the same page. Except for the things I plan to explain later, that is. Everything about this will be explained in detail, so this chapter may be a bit long because of that.
Each chapter will represent a single day, so in total there will be 7 chapters plus an epilogue.
I don't think I have anything else to say other than this project has me really excited, and I have more passion for this fic than I've had for any in a while! I hope you all like this as much as I do. Now, without further ado, enjoy and review!
The first thing Gilbert registered upon waking up was noise. He was on the ground, his head was pounding, and he was downright confused. It took him a moment to gather his senses, and once he did, the memories flooded back to him.
Heat, scorching heat all around him, caressing his skin with long orange tendrils, eating him, devouring him
Smoke filled his lungs, choked him as he tried to get out, but he couldn't, everything hurt and nothing could stop the sensation of being boiled alive, the scent of burning flesh overwhelming his senses and there was no way to stop it
The thought startled him, scared him so much that he screamed, but slowly he realized that his flesh was not burning, his throat was clear, and there was no fire to be found. He rose, standing on shaking feet and tried to ignore the vertigo that spun his head. His mind defogged enough for him to recognize his surroundings as the Hima Central Subway Station, bringing forth more confusion.
Hadn't he died?
Why was he here?
"Excuse me, miss, but can you tell me what—"
The woman passed right through him, as if he were a ghost.
Gilbert looked all around him, noticing for the first time that not a single person could hear him, see him, feel him, anything him.
"Welcome to the Reaper's Game, Player."
THIS WORLD WE SHARE
THE REAPER'S GAME
He started at the voice, it was so much clearer than the hum of the crowd's chattering all around him. He craned his neck to look behind him, a woman standing solitary as people buzzed about the station. Her gaze held his, and it became clear that this woman was speaking to him directly. A pair of giggling girls fazed through her.
She was the same.
Gilbert turned to her fully, eyes studying and absorbing the details of the first person that was able to see him.
She was pretty yet plain, her green eyes and blonde hair –leaning more toward yellow than most people he'd met— a stark contrast to the varying shades of black she wore. A light coat covered the top of her snug-fitted dress that ended mid-thigh, followed closely by a long pair of sleek black boots. A matching ribbon held some of her hair back, and the ensemble was all-in-all quite simple. The only thing that begged a second glance was the wiry wings behind her.
"Who…" Gilbert choked out, throat dry as his mind ran rampant, "What the hell are you?!"
"Well that's not a very polite greeting, is it?" she teased, and her eyes held an unsettling glint that sent a chill down Gilbert's spine. "The name's Lotte. I'm a Reaper."
A shuddering breath left his lips. "You called me a 'player'. What does that mean? Why can't anyone see me?"
Lotte clicked her tongue and mumbled something to the tune of "Do I have to explain this to every single Player?" so low that Gilbert had to strain to hear it over the bustling masses around – and in, his frazzled brain reminded—them. "They can't see you because you aren't actually there," she said by way of explanation. "People in the RG can't see people in the UG." The words were cryptic, and the perpetual state of confusion and anxiety Gilbert was experiencing was beginning to grate on his last nerve. "They exist in the same space, but not on the same plane. Get it?"
"The Realground, also known as the RG," she gestured at the unaware individuals surrounding them, "is where they are. Think of it as the base level of a building. We are in the Underground, the UG, which is like a higher level. We can see them, but they can't see us. I'm here because I'm a Reaper. You're here because you died." Gilbert's already pallid skin paled further, tugging Lotte's grin a little bit wider.
An inferno of images blazed through Gilbert's thoughts –firefirefire somebody HELP ME—and his breathing became more shallow and inconsistent –I'm dying I'm dying GET ME OUT OF HERE I'm going to die—labored with fright.
"Why did you call me a 'player'?" He had difficulty forcing the words out over the thick emotions clogging his throat. "What am I playing?"
"The Reaper's Game," she said simply. "You've got pins, don't you?"
A bewildered frown settled on Gilbert's features. Pin collecting and trading was a popular hobby, but Gilbert had never found himself in the habit of doing such. He patted himself down, looking for the pins she claimed he had, and was just about to tell the Reaper she was wrong when he felt a lump in the left front pocket of his jeans. His brow creased in confusion. From his pocket he pulled a handful of pins, all unfamiliar in design.
A soda can. A flame. A hand. A gust of wind. A bullet. A thunderbolt.
Gilbert nearly jumped out of his skin when she reached out and tapped the black-and-silver skull pin, suddenly close. "This pin is called a Player pin. It means you're a part of the Reaper's Game. The game lasts seven days." His eyes were transfixed on the oddly-shaped skull, as if the heavy cloud of confusion would dissipate if he stared at it hard enough.
"Reaper's Game," he echoed, testing out the words on his own tongue. "If it's a game, that means there's a prize, right? What do I win if I beat the Reaper's Game?"
"A second chance at life."
His eyes widened. She laughed.
"You mean I can go back?!"
"If you win," she reminded him. "You have to prove you deserve it."
"How do I do that?"
Her smile sharpened, lips laced with malicious intent, and the abrupt change startled Gilbert into staggering backward, a foreboding sense of dread overcoming him. She raised her hands slowly, two large crimson symbols manifesting behind her. Sweat began to bead at his hairline as the ominous symbols seemed to pulse with life, emitting a warped snarling sound that chilled Gilbert to his very core. An unseen force lifted Lotte from the ground, the Reaper hovering without a single bat of her barbed wings. She leered at him with a wicked grin and darkened eyes and offered him her answer.
"Don't get erased."
And then Gilbert was running, running as fast as his legs would carry him, the stale station breeze brushing through his hair as he dodged between the faceless pedestrians. He took the steps two at a time, frantic half-thoughts weaving through his mind and telling him the monsters were gaining, growls growing louder and louder.
When he reached the surface he broke into a sprint, the adrenaline pumping through his veins willing him to speed up. His heart was beating a mile a minute, and Gilbert had never been so thankful for his knowledge of Hima's layout as he was now, recklessly running down 8th Avenue toward Bookington Square. His frenzied mind vaguely registered the piercing screams coming from every which-way, the bizarre symbols descending upon what must have been other Players. They were devoured without hesitation, dissolving into static and leaving not a trace.
Arriving at Bookington Square Gilbert whipped his head around, hoping to find someone, find anyone that could help him. A frog-like symbol surged toward him, and he was frozen, doomed to die yet again.
"Hey you! Make a pact with me!"
Gilbert turned just in time to see a petite woman racing toward him, wearing a police uniform and a fearful expression that rivaled his own.
She lunged at him, grabbing him by the shirt and glaring with desperate too-green eyes. "I said make a pact with me! Do you accept?"
He looked from her to the approaching symbol, blurting, "I accept!"
Suddenly a brilliant light bloomed around the pair, wrapping them in green and entwining their souls. He could feel it vividly, feel the life between them and the bond they now shared. He had closed his eyes without thinking, and when they opened he found the red symbol to be right in front of them, hungry.
The woman yanked her gun from its holster on her waist and said, "Get ready. Here they come!"
And then Gilbert experienced the terrifying sensation of his molecules shifting, rearranging themselves of their own volition. He almost felt sick, even after they settled. Everything felt fuzzy, like he was detached from his own body, and when he found grounding he finally took in the horde of frogs surrounding him, and the brown-haired woman was nowhere in sight. His limbs turned to lead as he muttered, "What the hell is going on?! Where did she go?"
"Is that you? Can you hear me?" her voice resounded in his mind.
"Yeah, it's me!" he shouted, backing away from the mutated green frogs hopping toward him. "What's going on? How do I get away from these guys?"
"We have to fight them."
"You have pins, right?" she asked, sounding rather out of breath. "We have to use those to fight. Hold it and try to focus on the enemy, I think you should be able to kill them that way!"
"You think?" Gilbert couldn't believe his shitty luck. The person he'd made a 'pact' with was a total fruit loop. Nonetheless, he snatched one of the pins from his pocket, pouring all of his concentration onto the closest frog. Nothing happened. "It didn't work!"
"Then try a different one, moron!" she hollered back.
He pulled another out, the red pin decorated with a flame. Refocusing his attention on the frog, Gilbert's brain blanked out as fire erupted from the cement below the monster, consuming it completely. It vanished in the same kind of static that the Players had, and when he waved his hand, the flame followed its path. On instinct he directed the wisps of fire toward the next one, a distorted croaking sound strangled from the frog as its rubbery flesh was melting before Gilbert's eyes. A frog further back dissolved in a flurry of black and white, causing him to falter in confusion. That single second cost him, and a barrage of attacks nearly knocked him over.
"Watch out!" the woman's voice resounded in his mind, continuing on to say, "That hurts!"
"How can that hurt you too?" he bellowed in response, slipping into a slight panic when the fire teetered out. He pulled another pin from his pocket, focusing on the enemies in front of him. There was nothing, and Gilbert angrily unclenched his hand to look at the pin, glaring at the small soda can. He flicked it, hoping that somehow the pin would work if he did so. That seemed to do the trick, a warm glow encasing him and soothing away the ache left by the frogs. Another disappeared from his field of vision, leaving one. He reached for another pin, pulling out the hand pin. He squeezed it tightly and was shocked to see the frog rise into the air, its throat constricted visibly. The life was very literally being choked out of it and Gilbert pressed on, grip not relenting until the creature dissolved.
He briefly caught sight of small objects hurtling toward him, but before he could take time to contemplate it his body was altering yet again, leaving him in the Bookington Square he had started in, panting in exertion. The short woman stood alongside him, breathing as strained as his own.
"We did it," she gasped, an incredulous smile painting her features as she returned her gun to its holster. "We killed them—" She was cut off by her phone beeping, Gilbert's own phone vibrating in his pocket at the same time. "My phone? I didn't think I had any service though…" Overcome with curiosity the pair took out their phones, both having received a text message. "It's from a restricted number."
Gilbert gulped, trepidation tingling in his nerves. "Same here…" He opened the text, reading aloud, "'Reach the Waterfront within 90 minutes. Failure to do so will result in erasure. –The Reapers.' Erasure? What kind of sick joke is—GAHH!" Gilbert gripped his wrist, his hand throbbing and burning. His partner mimicked the action, groaning in pain and lifting her hand up to see what was causing it. She gasped at what she saw.
"A… is this a timer?" He looked at his own hand, red numbers blazing up at him and ticking downward. "What is it counting toward?"
"Your erasure, if you don't hurry the fuck up. How stupid are you?"
Gilbert's head jerked toward the voice, seeing a pair of winged Reapers looking at them, one with disdain, the other with an absent smile. The pair looked almost identical, clearly related, but their eyes and hair were slightly different shades. They both had odd curls that refused to fall with the rest of their hair, the frowning Reaper's protruding upwards and the grinning Reaper's to the side.
Their clothes, much in the same way as Lotte's, were grayscale. The frowning Reaper (Gilbert had half a mind to just refer to him as Douche) was sporting a business casual look, a pristine charcoal vest worn over a smoky gray button-up shirt with rolled-up sleeves. His slacks were pressed and a perfect match to his vest, and the ensemble was finished off with black fingerless gloves and loafers. The other Reaper wore the same outfit but in reverse, his shirt charcoal and his vest and pants gray.
He was snapped out of his observation when his pact partner grit a furious, "Excuse me? Who the hell are you to talk to me like that?"
"Chill out, lady," the Reaper scoffed, and the comment had the odd effect of shocking her into silence, though her sneer remained in place. "I'm Lovino Vargas, a Reaper, so consider who you're talking to before you start going off at someone like a damn idiot! I should fucking erase you."
"But fratello, you know we're not allowed to erase Players!"
Lovino blushed bright red and barked, "They don't know that, Feliciano! Just shut up!" The Reaper, who Gilbert assumed was named Feliciano and his brother, shrunk back a bit. "This is the fifth pact we've come across," Lovino groused. "Who's going around and telling Players how to make pacts?"
Feliciano patted his brother's shoulder and said, "Well we have to give Players information! Otherwise it wouldn't be fair."
"You say fair, I say a pain in the ass."
Feliciano grinned. "You're just mad because pact Players are harder to erase."
"Damn right I am," Lovino huffed, crossing his arms and glaring at the Players as if all his life's grievances were their fault. He sulked a minute more before a cocky grin tilted his lips. "We got rid of a pair earlier, though. The hot chick and the nerdy-looking blond guy she was with? Her tits were huge!"
"They were, they were!" Feliciano gushed. "She was so pretty! I wish we could have kept her around for at least another day or two."
"Not many beautiful women this Game. I swear, out of the 37 Players we erased today, only four could be considered moderately attractive. The fuck's up with that?"
A nauseating feeling of disgust began to churn in the pit of Gilbert's stomach, sloshing around until he felt ill. The Reapers were speaking so casually about killing, murdering innocent people who had done nothing but be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"You…" Gilbert began, voice tremulous, "you bastards! What the hell is wrong with you? You're talking about people! How can you just fucking talk about them like they're nothing?! They were people! People with lives, with dreams, with family and friends—!" Gilbert's thoughts stuttered to a halt.
'Why can't I remember…?!'
Lovino's harsh laughter jolted him from his reverie. Something on Gilbert's face must have betrayed his thoughts because the Reaper followed up by jeering, "Hah! Looks like someone just discovered his entry fee. Did you forget something? Family? Girlfriend? How pathetic." A sad frown flitted over Feliciano's expression and he tugged at his brother's arm, but Lovino kept on. "You're a real special kind of asshole, huh? You call us bastards, but you can't even remember what's most important to you! So who's the real bastard?"
Any control Gilbert had over himself was gone, and without hesitation he pulled his fire pin out, intent on reducing the freak in front of him to ashes. No flames shot up to consume Lovino, and his attempt was met with a mocking snicker. "Pins only work in battle, dipshit."
"How can you be so heartless?!"
All eyes turned to the brown-haired woman beside Gilbert, the shrieked words causing Lovino to flinch as if he were struck. He recovered quickly, but the sneer he wore couldn't hide the traces of bitter melancholy. "Our hearts stopped beating years ago, bella." They were given but a moment to process the words when Lovino said, "If you keep acting like every single person on the street is important you're going to lose. They're still alive, who cares? They'll die eventually. And Players that get erased are just the same.
"There's too many people, more than you could even count, so why bother? The only way to survive the Reaper's Game is to watch out for yourself. Surviving is all that matters in the end." Lovino sucked in a deep breath as if to steady himself. He spoke, his voice cold and even, "I'm tired of this shit, Feli. Let's go hunt Players that haven't made pacts yet." Without another word Lovino took to the air, flapping black wings leaving a trail of annoyance.
Feliciano's eyes flickered between his brother and the Players. Wordlessly, save for a tuneless hum, he reached into the breast pocket of his vest, pulling out a patternless white pin. He flicked it at Gilbert's partner with a wink. "For you, bella. It's called a Harmonizer Pin. Lovi would be mad at me for giving you that, but I think you guys will be able to make good use of it! It'll make erasing Noise a lot easier." He lifted himself from the ground and followed after his brother, leaving the pair with the parting words, "From here on out we're gonna try real hard to erase you guys, okay? Ciao~!"
The Players stood in silence, watching the Reapers fly away. It was Gilbert who broke the silence.
"The frog things we fought."
"Ah." He heaved a heavy sigh and turned to the woman, extending his hand and forcing a grin to his mouth. "Sorry about not introducing myself earlier. I'm Gilbert Beilschmidt."
She smirked in response. "Da… Elizabeta. Héderváry. I should be the one apologizing, I kinda pact-attacked you." She shook his hand, and Gilbert was surprised at how firm her grip was. Painful, really. Elizabeta pulled away and looked at her hand, saving Gilbert the utter embarrassment of having to ask her to let go before she broke his fingers. "The timer says we have 82 minutes left. We should hurry. The Waterfront's only a few miles east, but I don't want to waste time if we get attacked by more Noise."
Gilbert nodded in confirmation as his mind worked out the best route to get there. "If we take Hidekaz it ends up pretty close."
"Sounds good. Can we walk for a little bit, though? This whole thing is wearing me down."
"Me too," Gilbert said, relieved that Elizabeta and he were on the same page. They began their speed walk down Hidekaz Way, and as Gilbert tried to sort through his jumbled thoughts a question surfaced. "So how come I can only use some pins and not others?"
"A person's Psych abilities depend on their personality and soul," Elizabeta explained. "Something about 'Imagination'? The Reaper I met wasn't very clear. I can only use the bullet pin, which makes exploding bullets. Just as well, though, since I'm trained to use guns."
A hum of understanding left his lips, which twisted themselves into a frown. "Your Reaper was way more helpful than the one I met."
She shrugged. "I'm pretty sure the guy was half asleep. He didn't even try to erase me. He answered most of my questions though."
"Lucky." He was about to ask another question when a now familiar red symbol barreled toward them, but this time they were ready. Somehow Gilbert was able to force the bile down as he was transported to the fighting plane again, frogs hopping around, followed by a horde of tadpoles that vaguely resembled eighth notes. When his flame pin loaded up he encased three in a small inferno, the creatures disappearing a lot faster than the frogs had. He cleared them out in no time at all, and it was only a matter of minutes until they had killed them all, and this time he was completely aware of the small objects flying at him as he returned to the UG. He looked around himself once he reoriented, a glint on the cement catching his eye. He kneeled down, recognizing the two small objects as pins. Turning them over in his hands he noticed the messy '$1.00' scrawled on their face.
"We… get pins for fighting the Noise?"
Elizabeta groaned. "That means we have to keep fighting them, huh?" When Gilbert gave her a horrified-yet-quizzical look she elaborated, "We have to get stronger if we want to survive. It's going to get more dangerous the further in it gets, and the only way that's going to happen is if we keep killing Noise."
He breathed a tired sigh. "Yeah." Everything seemed so surreal, an out-of-body experience, but as sweat painted his forehead and back, as the muted voices of the living drifted through his ears, as the mild autumn wind bit at his skin, Gilbert was resigning himself little by little to the fact that this was all real. This was his fate. "Let's get going."
The Players continued their trek to the Waterfront, encountering Noise and killing them to the best of their abilities. The task was both mentally and physically exhausting, but despite this he felt himself getting just a tiny bit stronger, learning more about fighting and his Psych abilities with every monster slain.
And then it was in sight, the tall blue lighthouse a beacon of hope that stood at the oceanside, not too far off from the boating docks.
Gilbert looked at his hand.
"C'mon, Elizabeta, we gotta hurry!" Gilbert barked, a distinct note of panic tingeing his words. Without waiting for a reply Gilbert snatched her hand, all but dragging her down the street and toward their destination.
The Noise became more bold the nearer they got to the Waterfront, as if they were aware of the fact that the pair was close to the goal. Perhaps they did. Gilbert didn't care enough to contemplate such things. He didn't have time to, they just needed to run.
And they did.
They ran and ran, footfalls heavy and reckless as they bounded toward the water, the crowds in the park and on the beach becoming clearer with each step forward, until all at once they were there.
The instant their feet hit the grass the burning sensation in their hands stopped, leaving nothing but the clamminess of their conjoined hands. The adrenaline settled, and only then did Gilbert realize (and Elizabeta if her more-than-just-exerted flush was anything to go by) he was still holding her. He let go abruptly, and a glance at his hand revealed that the timer was gone, looking for all the world like it had never even been there in the first place.
"So… we finished the mission?" Elizabeta wondered aloud, stuffing her hands into the pockets of her navy blue uniform pants. "What now?"
"I don't know about you, but I'm really hungry." On cue, Gilbert's stomach rumbled.
"You should eat something."
Gilbert and Elizabeta jumped with a yelp and a shriek, spinning around to find the speaker. A few feet away from them was a bench, and on it laid a Reaper, brown hair with a split curl springing from the top and eyes a deep forest green. Unlike the other Reapers, this one was quite lazily dressed, a black t-shirt and pants. On his chest laid an orange cat-like Noise, purring away and getting hair all over his shirt.
Elizabeta exclaimed, "You! You're the Reaper from earlier!"
He blinked slowly. "…Oh yeah. That's me. I'm…" he yawned loudly and continued, "Heracles Karupsi."
"He's the one I met when I woke up." When Gilbert tensed up she clarified, "He won't erase us."
Muscles relaxed a bit, and when he was convinced Heracles posed no threat he asked, "Well, you said for us to get food. How can we do that if we're invisible?"
The long, sleepy pause that Heracles took before answering seemed to be a common occurrence for the Reaper. "See the graffiti on the side of that building?" The Players' gaze turned to the small strip mall. On the brick wall was a black skull reminiscent of the Player Pin design. "Buildings marked with that," yawn "you can go inside."
"We'll be visible in there?" Gilbert pressed.
"Yeah." A moment passed before the Reaper pointed at a couple walking by. "They think the ice cream at Sunshine's good."
"Wha… How do you know that?"
"Scanning." When Gilbert and Elizabeta stared at him uncomprehendingly he said, "You haven't tried scanning?"
"What's scanning?" Elizabeta asked.
Heracles yawned for the umpteenth time. "Hold your Player Pin and concentrate on the people."
With a puzzled expression she pulled the pin from her pocket, closing her eyes. She released a sharp gasp and her lids snapped open. "I can hear their thoughts…?!"
Gilbert shut his own eyes, Player Pin squeezed in his palm. Concentrating…
What should I make for dinner tonight?
I wish he'd notice me for once. Maybe I should dress cuter…?
I can't believe I lost my phone. Mom's gonna be so pissed!
Voices. There were voices in his head. Wide eyes opened and he asked frantically, "Why can I hear them?"
"I don't know the science behind it," Heracles mumbled, sleep heavy in his voice as he continued petting his 'cat', "but we can. It gets pretty annoying, though, all those voices at once…"
Gilbert and Elizabeta shared a look. Being able to hear the thoughts of other people; what was the point of it? Everything in the Reaper's Game seemed to have a rhyme and reason, bizarre or otherwise, so perhaps it would come in handy later. They turned back to Heracles to ask more questions, but the Reaper was already asleep.
"Well, I guess that's all we're gonna get out of him."
A sigh left Elizabeta. "We'll probably see him again. In the meantime, wanna get some ice cream?"
"Sounds good. Maybe a hamburger too." The pair walked in companionable silence to Sunshine, and sure enough they were greeted when they got up to the counter, completely visible.
"Welcome to Sunshine!" the dark-skinned cashier chirped, smile stretching wide over her face. She twirled one of her pigtails around her index finger as she recited, "What can I do for you today?"
"I'll have a vanilla ice cream and a cheeseburger."
The girl tapped a few keys on the register. "And you, officer?"
"Oh, uhm…" Elizabeta's seemed to have forgotten she was in uniform, but she quickly followed up with, "I'll just have a chocolate-vanilla cone."
"Aaaalright!" She clicked a few more keys. "Your total is $8.63."
Gilbert patted down his pockets, his wallet nowhere to be found. "Shit, I don't have my wallet."
"I've got it." Elizabeta pulled out a few bills and handed them to the cashier, her change returned.
The register clacked shut and the cashier grinned again. "Alright, your order will be done in a minute!" They moved so the next customers could order. Sure enough, their order came with an announcement of "Cheeseburger and ice cream for the cute couple~!"
Snickering, Gilbert commented, "Hear that, Lizzy? We're a couple."
An affronted frown turned her mouth. "Lizzy?"
"Yeah, Lizzy," he drawled, picking up his cheeseburger and ice cream cone. "Let's go outside, we need to figure all this out."
Their reality settled under her skin as she took a lick of her treat, but she did her best to not let it show. Gilbert could tell, though. They were connected now, souls entwined.
"Yeah, let's go."