To any other person, today might seem like a perfect winter day. There was but a light blanket of snow covering the streets and buildings in Akihabara, and even the normally noisy city ambiance was restrained in its intensity.
But all Arashi could focus on was that snide smirk on the face of the young man across from him.
They sat together by the window side in a small cafe, having ordered drinks and little else. Arashi’s remained untouched, but his companion had already taken a few greedy sips.
He was dressed in a nice chalk gray suit, hair slicked back and fingernails trimmed to perfection. His aftershave reeked like gasoline, and despite all of his nice clothes, one could still see the fanged teeth of his dragon tattoo visible on the bare skin of his collar.
Arashi’s eyes remained hidden as always under his sunglasses, and he held back any reaction as the man spoke. From when he first arrived, he had originally introduced himself as Sho.
“This is a pretty nice neighborhood, you know? I like it here. I’d like to raise some kids here some day. Get me a nice girl and have a nice little family.” he remarked, looking on wistfully onto the street as people bustled on by.
Arashi said nothing in response. Whatever games this man wanted to play, he would be no part of them.
Sho wasn’t too fond of that, of course. “Your sister is a nice girl. I saw her once at the arcade. She’s really a looker. She’s, what, sixteen now?”
To Sho’s surprise, Arashi didn’t flinch. He did, however, answer back.
“I’d like to think you called me here to discuss more than just my sister.”
Sho smiled. More than one of his teeth were clearly fake. “Well, actually no. God Symphony sent me to speak to you, that much is true, but Nami is very much the subject of today’s discussion.”
The man leaned in, clasping his fingers together. There was something very uncomfortable about the knowing smile on his face.
“We’d like to offer her a job.” he said, quite frankly.
“Really now?” Arashi replied, feigning just the slightest bit of interest, if it would end this infernal meeting any sooner. Arashi had always despised these Yakuza and their underhanded dealings, but for them to be Music Masters as well just made the whole situation all the more unpleasant.
“Don’t be so surprised. I mean, let’s face it, there’s a lot of untapped potential there. We could use a Music Master like her for some of the bigger stuff. Plus, the big boss seems to be a fan of hers. Says he goes to see her at Shori-Platinum once a month, at least.”
Arashi’s eyes narrowed under his sunglasses. He understood the situation perfectly now.
“My sister in your organization? Out of the question. I’m sorry, but you’ve wasted your time.”
Despite the sternness in Arashi’s tone, Sho was far from finished. “Oh come on. The perks are pretty nice. Good money, and just imagine the respect she’ll get from those regular Yakuza who don’t even know what we can do. The job’s to die for, I’ll tell you.”
By this point in time, Arashi was standing up. He was in the process of counting bills in his pocket to pay for his drink when the man’s tone changed from friendly to threatening.
“Did I forget to mention something? I wanted to be respectful and come to you as a formality. But if you’re going to be like this, then I have no problem letting my men know that they can pick up Nami within the hour.”
His snide grin was all too real for Arashi now. Defensive words seemed stuck in his mind as the man continued.
“The bill’s on me. Sit back down and get comfortable.” Sho assured, clearly in the position of power now.
Like a lapdog, Arashi slowly took a seat again. Even with all the seething rage boiling inside him from this criminal’s threats, Arashi’s expression never changed in slightest.
“Now we’re going to make this very simple.” Sho explained, taking a wad of yen bills out of his pocket as he counted out the tab for their drinks. “You’re going to take me to your sister, and you’re going to explain to her that God Symphony has offered her a wonderful position that you highly suggest she take. She’ll be going abroad for awhile per her assignment, but you’ll see her again.”
“And if I don’t?” Arashi stated, not a hint of fear present in his tone of voice.
“Then I will personally find her, and I will personally drag her out of that arcade kicking and screaming. And let me assure you that you won’t see her again in this lifetime.”
With that, the suit-wearing man put out for a handshake, basking in the power of his threat.
“Are we at an understanding, Nagataki-san?”
Many thoughts went through Arashi’s head before he took the man’s hand.
One thought surfaced among them as he replied.
“I’ll take you to her.”
Sho smiled, now clearly satisfied.
Arashi knew that he would have only one chance at this, lest Nami disappear from his life this very night.
It was only a half-mile walk between the cafe and Shori-Platinum, but it felt like an eternity for Arashi. Meanwhile Sho seemed to be talking with him as if they’d been friends for years. Every laugh and joke were only made worse by the threat beneath them. Still, it gave Arashi the time he needed to mentally plan out the situation. Anything to stop this degenerate and his Ensemble from forcing his sister into their ranks.
They were only two blocks away when Arashi found the secluded alleyway he’d pictured in his mind while they shook hands at the cafe. As they passed it, the boy stumbled, pretending as if he dropped something on the ground.
“Excuse me. Strong drink, I guess.” he commented in his best joking tone.
His music player tumbled out of his jacket pocket, and through sleight of hand, Arashi subtly reached for it. With his headphones already resting around his neck, he could have a song effect up in a few seconds.
His finger was just above the controls when he heard an audible click, and felt cold metal press against the side of his head.
“What, did you think I was born yesterday? I might be a Music Master, but I haven’t forgotten the good old-fashioned way of doing things.” Sho declared, as he held his gun steadfast on the now kneeling Arashi. “Or is this just your way of trying to say that you’d prefer to die in this alley, while your dear sister never finds out what happened to you?”
Arashi said nothing as the moment of tension held him in place. He felt his own breath, heard each thump of his own heartbeat, but despite it all, he willed himself to remain calm.
Nearby, the sound of a dog barking distracted Sho for but a moment. He turned his head expecting bystanders, and in that split-second, Arashi reacted.
There was a loud crack as the gun went off, but Arashi had been fast enough to knock Sho’s arm aside and avoid the bullet by a hair. He pushed forward with all his might, slamming Sho into the brick wall of the side street. Having clicked play on his music player, all Arashi needed to do was hold him down for but a few seconds more.
Arashi felt a punch across his face, and a kick to his stomach, causing him to stagger back. Sho’s snide smile was now gone, replaced with an expression of pure rage as he closed his fists in preparation for a beating.
“Or maybe shooting you is too easy. Well, I haven’t gotten my hands dirty in awhile, so I’ll make sure to take my time.” he assured the Japanese teen through his teeth, not initially aware of the music now playing in the air.
It was when he tried to take a step forward that he realized something was very wrong. His arm wouldn’t move from the wall, as is someone was physically holding him in place. Sho tried his legs but they too were stuck, firmly grappled into position.
Arashi stood up, shooting back at Sho a cold stare, as the former Yakuza realized that large, red-fingered hands emerging from the wall itself were what was keeping him still. They manifested from heart-shaped graffiti now sprayed all over the wall, and their grip was seemed unbreakable no matter how hard Sho struggled.
The music was so inconsequential to Arashi, and he addressed Sho with the same lack of emotion even as Concept of Love played in the air around them.
“I would tell you to inform God Symphony that my sister won’t be accepting their offer, but I sense you won’t be seeing them again in this lifetime.” Arashi told him without mercy, mentally pushing his song effect to finish its deadly task.
Sho could only scream as he felt his entire body being pulled back into the street wall itself.
There was no blood, as each of his particles seems to de-atomize as they were painfully integrated into the matter of the brick and mortar.
Sho’s hands grasped out weakly as the tiny graffiti-hearts with their red-fingered hands pulled him into the wall as if was the depths of hell.
But a few seconds later, and the wall itself now showed only an extravagant graffiti design of red hearts and arrows. No sign of Sho remained beyond the silver handgun he’d left behind.
Holding it in right hand, Arashi held the piece of evidence forward. Like urban gremlins, the red-fingered Sentonals grasped at the silver weapon, deconstructing it into the wall in the same manner as the human before.
Satisfied now, Arashi stopped his music, and in response, the graffiti design disappeared. Now all that remained was the blank alley wall that Sho had been standing in front of just moments before.
The transition from having just killed someone to thinking about his sister took but a second.
Nami was probably hungry by now, Arashi thought, from all her dancing at the arcade.
He would make tonight special for her. A new ramen shop had just opened by Shori-Platinum, and knowing his sister’s childhood love for the dish, he had a feeling she would be more than happy to try it out.
She wouldn’t leave his side just yet, no matter who God Symphony sent.
Arashi’s eyes snapped open.
He remained sitting cross legged among the detritus of Semi-Sound, having been pondering their situation for almost an hour.
The memories of his encounter with Sho over a year ago never became any less real.
The true reason behind their issues with God Symphony, the fact that their debt to them was Nami herself, was something that still remained with him and him alone to this day.
And though God Symphony never did make the connection between Arashi and Sho’s disappearance, they had only backed off so much from their pursuit of Nami. With that old man appearing at the arcade so brazenly, Arashi knew it was only a matter of time before they made their move and took her by force if necessary.
And he could never tell Nami a word of this. It would only cause her to act rashly and take her focus away from the task at hand.
Realizing his mind was wandering too long, Arashi physically shook himself. Clearly the time for thoughts was over. He lifted himself up, suddenly feeling somewhat naked without his sunglasses.
He mentally noted to pick up a replacement pair before he tracked down Nami to the nearby arcade.
With so few of them left in this country, it fortunately made it relatively easy to pin her down.
All Arashi could think of now was how he would reconcile with her. Apologizing had never been his strong point, and right now he needed Nami to be in top form if they would have but a chance at tracking down Rob Prototype.
But as Arashi walked along, his foot nudged a seemingly innocuous instrument nearby. There was a sound of strings being strummed as they popped against the ground, and Arashi’s eyes now focused on the white bass guitar that laid on the floor beside him.
That would have been it, until he saw an unmistakable detail on its pristine white surface. In the shape of a small thumb print, fresh blood stained the bass guitar’s painted surface.
In the span of a few seconds, the entire fight with Rob Prototype and Michael seemed to playback in front of his eyes. He remembered each movement from the afro-headed teen, and noted his dripping blood originating from both of Nami’s previous attacks.
Though he hadn’t seen it, Arashi quickly inferred that even in his weakened state, Rob had attempted to use this very same bass guitar. And in the chaos, some of Michael’s blood had gotten onto him, leaving physical proof of his contact with the instrument.
And physical contact for a Synkronized Music Master meant everything.
But rather than destroy it, Arashi picked up the bass in his hands, marveling at the beauty in its craftsmanship.
Suddenly this guitar had become very important.
Like some sort of glowing lure to a starving fish, it was something that even the stoic Rob would never be able to resist.
Michael couldn’t remember the last time he gotten so little sleep and felt this good.
For almost four hours he’d remained alone inside of the sound studio, practicing with a new song effect that he’d only decided on using out of desperation.
But there had been no fear in him when he’d Harmonized, and luckily it didn’t kill him in the process.
When Michael finally emerged at 3 AM, there wasn’t a single drop of sweat on his body despite the hours of dancing.
Expecting to see Colleen waiting with her arms crossed as he entered the living room, Michael kept any grin or smile off his face in an attempt to seem somewhat regretful. Anything to lessen the blow of having to explain everything.
Instead, Michael was met with the sight of his older sister fast asleep on the loveseat. She looked peaceful and uncharacteristically relaxed.
Next to her, Rob was breathing normally, now sitting up and awake.
Michael was about to open his mouth and loudly exclaim his relief, when Rob quickly put a finger to his lips. Thankfully, that was enough for his nephew to remain silent.
Motioning for his nephew to follow him, Rob walked with slow and clearly weak steps towards the soundproof studio.
When they were finally inside, and Rob clicked the door locked behind him, Michael’s words seemed to come out all at once.
“Look Rob, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any of it. Please, please don’t leave again. Colleen’s already going to ki-”
Rob put a hand over his mouth as quickly as he could, though it was a somewhat joking gesture.
“This place is only so soundproof, Michael. You really want to wake her up already?” he said, before taking his hand away and brandishing a smile.
“Good point.” Michael replied, now clearly more relaxed. “You feeling any better?”
“Still alive, it seems. You pulled some stunt back there.” Rob commented, but Michael seemed steadfast in his defense of himself.
“Hey, if I could bamf my way out of there, I would have. You’re one amazing Music Master.”
As Michael smiled, Rob began to stagger. Grabbing onto his nephew, he found himself sliding down onto the polished wood floor to rest. Michael knelt down as Rob took in each labored breath before finally speaking.
“Not without my bass. That guitar…I’ve had it since before you were born.”
Michael searched for any hint of reassurance on his uncle’s face, but it was always hard to tell what he was thinking under his wide-brimmed cap.
“It can be replaced, right? Maybe if we got to Audio Empire, we can fin-”
“No! It can’t be replaced!” Rob said as he cut him off. “But the next best thing is waiting for me at Semi-Sound. And the longer I spend away from it, the worse these spells are going to get. When you’re Synkronized, your body craves a musical connection. If I can just get my hands on that white bass…”
Michael stood up quickly now, realizing the magnitude of the situation for once. “Are you crazy? You want to go back to the place where we both almost got killed? Tell you what, why don’t I text Calvin and tell him to go get the bass for you. He’ll answer once he figures out this is an emergency.”
“You’re the crazy one if you think I’m having any of your friends getting involved in my mistake. Besides, I still have my cassette player. I’ll be fine.” His uncle assured, putting his hand on Michael’s shoulder as he began to stand up.
It seemed Rob was perfectly fine for the moment, his posture strong and confident. Unfortunately, it only took a few seconds for his legs to begin to buckle and Michael was holding him up for support.
“This is all my fault, Michael.” Rob admitted as the weight of the situation dawned upon him. “It’s my problem, and I need you here, so Colleen at least doesn’t completely freak when she wakes up.”
But his words just bounced off Michael. His nephew looked back at him with confidence in his eyes.
“I haven’t seen you for ten years, Rob. You really think that I’m going to let you walk to your death, just like that? I know everybody thinks I’m dumb, but I’m not that dumb.”
Rob said nothing in response. He had forgotten in all these years what it was like to have people by his side like this. Faces like Seth and Lex felt like they belonged in another lifetime.
“You need backup, and you know it. So either we go together, or I go by myself.” Michael declared as his ultimatum, though he was only somewhat sure Rob had no way of stopping him in this state.
If Rob was debating this decision, then Michael sure couldn’t tell.
“I’ve been practicing all night with a new song. I think I can take that girl now.” the boy added.
Rob simply adjusted his cap as he forced himself to stand up straight.
“Then we should head out now. It’s our best bet at avoiding them.” Rob suggested, much to Michael’s happiness. He grinned wide as he opened the door to the studio.
Michael was smart enough to whisper as they quietly checked for Colleen. Thankfully, she was still fast asleep as before.
Words seemed to just roll out of Michael’s mouth as they left through the lobby of Rob’s building. Talking had always been his stress reliever, and this situation was no different.
“Just wait until you see this new song. Those two won’t even see it coming.”
Rob nodded as he allowed his nephew to continue, ignoring the pain of keeping his movements as consistent as possible.
“That girl was all talk anyway. I mean, I didn’t actually fight her now that I think about it, but really, just how bad can she be?”
Nami shook her head as the competition walked away. She could feel frustration building even more inside her even as she stared at her perfect score. Her former opponent, meanwhile, hadn’t even come close to an eighth of her points, and they weren’t even playing on Heavy difficulty. Worse yet, they didn’t even look the least bit affected by their loss.
This so-called Dekozan in the heart of St. Marks Place had turned out to be a nest of clowns. In addition to the fakes that called themselves players, there were no people to cheer her on, nor were there any adoring fans to ask her for dance lessons or signatures on their body pillows.
As Nami sat down at a booth nearby, she buried her face in her arms. Their poor excuse for ramen remained untouched once she’d taken the first sip.
All in all, this had been the worst day ever in quite some time. As she looked up, she found herself actually missing her annoying spectators and fans. She missed Japan, she missed the lights and sounds of Shori-Platinum, and she even missed her ungrateful brother.
But most of all, she missed winning. To lose against Rob Prototype was a personal affront, and even here against these losers, victory felt beyond meaningless.
Nami hid her face back into her arms, silently praying that they had never taken this job in the first place.
An answer to her prayer came from across the table, from a voice she knew better than anyone else’s.
“All is not yet lost.” Arashi said in Japanese.
She looked up, narrowing her eyes angrily. Her brother sat in front of her, arms laid out in front of him and a shiny new pair of black sunglasses on his face.
“I’m sorry, Nami. I should have started with that.” he admitted with his best apologetic tone. It took a few seconds, but the frown on her face shifted to a smirk.
“Eh, I was getting bored of beating everyone here anyway. So did you take out Prototype-san all by yourself?” she joked, as she chuckled through the gap in her teeth.
“Of course not.” Arashi replied, his tone shifting back to be more serious. “But I need you back at the store with me. I sense he’ll be back sooner than we think.”
Nami was looking off into space now, joy beginning to rise in her chest as she began to fathom the thought that they might not have lost just yet. “How can you be so sure he’ll be back?”
In response, Arashi picked up the white bass guitar from underneath the table. Nami’s eyes widened as she noticed the spot of blood upon it, but she quickly grinned with satisfaction once the dots connected in her mind.
“This should be proof enough. I have a plan, Nami. And it accounts for his nephew, if he shows his face as well. I’m going to need you to keep him busy so I can handle Rob uninterrupted.”
At the sound of her brother’s words, Nami was now truly listening.
She leaned in close as she made a joyfully devious declaration in response.
“Keep Afro-kun busy? Oh Nii-san, I’ll do a lot more than that…”