What was in actuality only no more than five minutes felt like an veritable eternity from Nami Nagataki’s perspective.
There she sat on her knees beside Deji, who remained leaning against the cold wall as he breathed slowly, the burning wound still present on his stomach.
It might not be bleeding right now, but it was certainly causing him pain, despite his best attempts to show otherwise.
They couldn’t just stay here forever, Nami thought. She had no way of healing him. And if she did, the risk of trying to find out would waste time and possibly do more harm than good.
Quickly, Nami replayed her most-used song effects in her mind.
Nihon No Mikata was strictly a combat song effect, discovered by Nami a few weeks ago during her appointed training. Of all the things to rub off on her from Michael, it appeared that his disco music had successfully invaded her musical subconscious and prodded her towards songs of the same vein.
Hyper Eurobeat and the Sweet Survivor could do nothing further to quell his pain, which only left her with the recently Harmonized One Night.
She could try it, but Nami knew better. All Music Masters did.
Anyone worth their song effects was also smart enough to know that using a song effect randomly was among one of the dumbest and most reckless things a Music Master could do.
As it was long since public knowledge that there was no way to truly pre-determine what a song effect would do, it was no surprise that they could sometimes prove fatal to their own Music Masters.
Nami kept silent as she mulled over all the possible consequences in her mind.
No, she came to her choice quite quickly.
There was no way that she was dying to her own random song effect in an attempt to stabilize Deji.
It would be a most awful and not to mention embarrassing way to go.
Like purposely missing steps in one of her rhythm games. A detestable end, Nami thought.
So as Deji continued to focus on willing his pain away, Nami just reached her hand out to his.
The warmth of her fingers served to improve his situation somewhat, as evidence from the small smile on his face.
He spoke, voice clearly weak. “You didn’t have to stay with me. Unless this is your idea of a date.”
The joke made Nami smile just a little. Deji took a deep breath, and she could hear him struggling as he did so.
The smile vanished, as Nami squeezed his hand tighter, sensing finality at hand. Just the mere thought made her heart thump in her chest, and her words were similarly grim.
“Do you want it to be?”
Deji shook his head, and slowly but surely, he began to stand up.
He winced quite audibly as he got on his feet, the cut in his stomach comparable to being stabbed with a knife dunked in boiling water.
Thankfully, he managed to power through the pain, though it became quickly obvious that Nami had to help him stay standing unless she wanted to watch him collapse in front of her.
“Just leave me, Nami. Go find your brother. I can manage, I think.” he insisted, but of course Nami didn’t let go.
“No!” Nami demanded. “You got this far with me already. We’re finishing this together. No rage quitting this one.”
He should have known better by now. Arguing with Nami was pointless.
And so, Deji just shut his mouth, taking slow steps forward as Nami assisted him.
The door out of the storage room seemed like an entire country away.
As he plodded along, Deji took a brief moment to eye the fallen form of Omiko, still unconscious and still bleeding profusely from her nose.
She’d given him quite the souvenir, Deji thought to himself. He winced as he felt agitation and movement begin to jar his wound.
They just had to make it out of here, Deji thought.
Once they were out, and Arashi was with them, he could get this checked back at the Symphon, and they’d be truly home free.
Trying to ignore the growing pain, the urge to make small talk came back to Deji.
“So what’s your brother really like? I’ve heard quite the tales about him. I imagine there’s some truth to them.” he asked, between pained groans.
Nami laughed, still holding onto Deji tightly before turning the knob to open the door out of the storage room. The light from the hallway poured in, illuminating the two teenagers in the process.
“He’s pretty legit. And he always looks out for me.”
She turned back to face Deji, almost playfully sticking her tongue out through the gap in her teeth.
“But that one story about him taking out like two dozen Yakuza by himself? Totally fake.”
Deji nodded with acknowledgment.
It was painful to walk, but with Nami here to help him, he sensed he might make it.
The two left the room, and up above, their departure was noted by foreign eyes.
Out of their line of sight, a small, closed circuit camera had detailed their battle with Omiko and their every move from that point forward.
Sitting in his private office, an older Japanese man, clad in a dark gray suit with grey highlights in his hair, observed multiple situations on-screen with dignified patience.
On one screen, there was the triumph of Nami Nagataki and Deji Akiyama, both of them having defeated his niece and somehow kept themselves alive.
On the other, there was the death and failure of the Asakawa Clan.
Reina’s was a bloody, destroyed mess. Through the LCD screen footage, the man could see almost two dozen of his associates all across the floor, on furniture, and on top of and under each other.
Some were unconscious, other broken and beaten, and a few unlucky ones quite dead.
But Asakawa would have no time to think over their unfortunate fates any further.
There was a loud crack, as the doorknob into his office was broken and the door itself pushed forcefully open.
Kazama Asakawa turned in his chair, his face unsurprised as he saw the awaited guest in his midst.
Arashi stared ahead through his sunglasses with no discernable emotion, walking forward into the room as the elder Yakuza finally spoke.
“Ah, you’re here.”
He leaned back in his chair, making himself comfortable, his words casual despite the incoming threat.
“My name is Kazama Asakawa. So good to finally meet you in person, Nagataki-san.”
Arashi had to give the Asakawa’s men credit where credit was due.
Even after being beaten within an inch of death, not a single one of them gave up even a hint of their boss’s location. All he could get out of one of them was where his sister and the boy who had accompanied her were last being held.
Once he was finished dealing with them, having left Reina’s a violent mess, Arashi followed his one lead with no time to waste.
After searching the second floor for Nami and the mentioned clan runaway, Arashi was greeted with nothing but fresh corpses; one dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
From there, it was simply a process of elimination before he calculated where Asakawa would be. With his men sent to kill Arashi, it appeared that guards and backup were of short supply once the elder Nagataki had dealt with them.
Wherever his sister was, Arashi would get it from this man, painfully or otherwise.
Now, Arashi stood face to face with the patriarch of the Asakawa clan, the feared Kazama Asakawa himself.
Feared might have been a little bit of an exaggeration, however.
To the normal people who made their lives in Minato, the Yakuza were a relative afterthought, only really feared by their fellow criminals.
Zero Beat kept tabs on them, but they’d still been classified as an MT, otherwise known as a Mute Threat: a common term used for non-Music Master organizations that Zero Beat dealt with on a daily basis.
That now appeared to be a misclassification; Omiko Asakawa was a Music Master, and one that Arashi himself had expected to have to deal with at some point.
But she was nowhere to be found, despite all her threats and her zealous use of a pet name.
And so all that Arashi was left with was her uncle, who spoke to him as he might speak warmly to his own nephew.
“You are rather impressive, I must say. I should be angry that you killed so many of my men, but honestly, it’s somewhat refreshing. My boys never really do get challenged.”
Arashi kept his guard up as he approached. Ultrasoul still blared in his ears, and Asakawa could clearly see his headphones in place.
“That’s nice. Where’s my sister?” Arashi said immediately, stopping right in front of the patriarch’s desk as he contemplated just how lethal he would get with his next action.
“Oh, she’s perfectly fine. She’ll probably be on this floor within a few minutes, actually.” Asakawa said, turning towards the television that showed the downed Omiko in the storage room. Arashi’s gaze shifted, and he quickly absorbed the situation in his mind.
“My niece is still so young, and so impatient. A lot like your sister, in fact. They let her live though, so I imagine Omiko-chan will learn from this.” the elder Yakuza commented, quite wistfully.
The mental calculations ran through Arashi’s mind again, as Asakawa’s words became but an afterthought.
If she was alive, and had escaped her captors, then it was a quick matter to find his sister from here.
Arashi stared forward, sizing the Yakuza up in front of him up as he clenched his fist.
As a non-Music Master, Kazama Asawaka couldn’t see the spandex, helmet and scarf that now draped Arashi’s form. He couldn’t see orange energy that radiated from his fist with possibly lethal intent.
If you weren’t a fellow Music Master, then you couldn’t hear the music in the air, and you couldn’t see the song effect.
Thus, all he could see was a teenage Japanese boy in sunglasses, maroon pants, a yellow jacket, and roller skates. He was about as much of a threat as one of the nerdy teenagers Asakawa had bumped into on his trip to Akihabara.
But despite that, he could hear the boy’s music just so faintly, and he knew the true meaning behind it.
Appearances were deceiving whenever Music Masters were involved.
Asakawa leaned forward, speaking casually despite the inherent danger of his statement.
“So have you come to kill me? Your sister eluded my men with that Deji boy, so that’s all that’s left for you to do, isn’t it?”
Arashi’s fist shot forward. He knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Asakawa didn’t move an inch. Fear was long gone from him, ever since he’d first watched someone die from a beheading all those years ago.
He’d long since accepted the idea of his own death, and thus closed his eyes as he waited for the black infinity to arrive and claim him.
But the seconds passed, and it did not.
Instead, Arashi held his fist just an inch away from Asakawa’s forehead, speaking in a clear but threatening tone.
“Give me one reason why I shouldn’t.”
Asakawa took a deep breath. He’d wanted to say this since he first saw Arashi killing Amane with his bare hands some time earlier.
“You have a gift, it appears. The art of killing without emotion is not as common as it seems, even among Clan associates. You kill like you’ve been doing it for years.”
Arashi kept his fist in place, slowly giving a low but serious reply.
“Those aren’t the first Yakuza to die by my hand. And they may not be the last.”
Asakawa nodded in agreement, which Arashi found off-putting.
“I imagine. And I notice you and your sister share my niece’s gift as well. That Deji boy too. I can’t see any of it, but I can tell. Clan brothers don’t just kill each other for no reason. Suffice to say, I’ve always been fascinated by these so-called Music Masters.”
Arashi pulled away, but kept his guard up nevertheless. There was a knowing glint in Asakawa’s eyes. It was almost as if the man had the whole world’s secrets behind them, each one just waiting to be given up.
He might have killed this man before, but it was a rare occurence to find a normal person who knew of their kind’s existence.
In a case like this, Zero Beat often had a no tolerance policy, to the point of lethal measures.
But thankfully for Asakawa, this wasn’t an official Zero Beat-sanctioned operation, so their policies meant little.
“What do you know about us?” Arashi asked, more demanding an answer then asking question.
Asakawa rubbed his old fingers together, as if reminiscing for a brief moment.
“A few things. I know that God Symphony wants your sister, not you. I know that your people keep an eye on all major criminal activity in Minato, and that they could wipe this building off the map if it so pleases them.”
Asawaka smiled, his tone making it seem as if he’d just lifted a gargantuan weight from his shoulders.
“Which is why I’ve decided to let God Symphony know that you’ve already escaped. Unfortunately, your sister and Deji never tried to come and save you, because they never needed to in the first place.”
Arashi, of course, was immediately confused, and it showed in his voice.
“Why…why would you do that? Don’t you understand what they’ll do once they realize you double-crossed them?”
“I imagine it won’t be pleasant for us. But I’ll arrange for my niece to have other accommodations up in Osaka, and she should be fine at least. Consider this a gift from me to you.” Asawaka replied, before leaning back in his dark red chair, seemingly satisfied.
Arashi stood silent for a few seconds, still thinking it all over.
Then his fist shot out like lightning, grabbing Asakawa by the throat and dragging him forward onto his desk.
Now there was just a hint of anger in Arashi’s voice.
“I could still kill you. I could kill you, and God Symphony wouldn’t know any better as to what happened here tonight.”
He didn’t squeeze, but Asakawa’s voice was strained nonetheless.
“You could. Is that what you want?”
Arashi seemed to debate over those words for what seemed like an eternity.
His grip remained, only to then falter as he pushed the older Yakuza back and freed him from what could have been a quick death.
“No. I just want my sister back. Take this as your only warning. You involve her in anything like this ever again, and I will come back here, and you will die.”
For that one moment, Arashi had allowed himself the luxury of impatience. It had taken all of his willpower to reign it in, and because of that, Kazama Asakawa might keep his life for now.
“I appreciate the token of mercy. You can see yourself out. There’s no one left to oppose you. Your sister and her friend are expecting you, I’m sure.” Asakawa told him, and Arashi made note of it as he made his leave.
The sunglasses-wearing boy opened the door out of his office, listening for one last moment as he debated over his decision and if it was indeed the correct one in the end.
Asakawa could have shot him when he turned around.
Then again, perhaps he knew it would be a wasted effort, and would only earn him his demise. He was not an unintelligent man, it seemed.
His last words were foreboding and almost theatric.
“Music Masters are the future, Nagataki-san. Soon enough, they may make the rest of humanity redundant. I hope you will spend all the time with your sister that you can. Life is short, after all.”
Arashi had nothing to say to that. He closed the door behind him, leaving Kazama Asakawa alone in his office.
Once Arashi was finally gone, the older man allowed himself a deep sigh.
On the closed circuit television, some survivors in Reina’s had began to stir.
It appeared Arashi was not as bloodthirsty as he might have thought.
He reminded Asakawa of his own son; quiet, calculated, and seemingly immune to worldly emotions and trappings.
Of course, that was clearly a front.
He cared for his sister, and that was something Asakawa could relate to.
Family was everything. Unfortunately, it was a weakness that Arashi would continue to have used against him. It was something he would need to steel himself against, sooner or later.
For now though, Nami and Arashi would stay together. It was the least that Asakawa could do if it meant pushing against God Symphony in some small way.
And even if it meant his life might be forfeit, whether they believed his story or not, Asakawa would still gladly tell God Symphony that they could all drive straight to hell.
As Nami and Deji waited for the elevator to come down, it seemed that neither of them wanted to completely acknowledge the truth of their current situation.
Though Asakawa Finance was still a relatively small building in comparison to some of the larger living spaces in Minato, there still remained the huge possibility that they might be searching this building for hours and still not find Arashi in the end.
With Nami supporting him lest he fall over from the constant pain, Deji couldn’t help but wonder if there were still Asakawa Clan associates waiting to jump them just when they thought they might be safe.
But before Nami could say much of anything, Deji’s worries over being attacked further were completely washed away once the elevator doors opened to reveal a sole occupant.
Standing there, with a new pair of sunglasses and quite a bit of blood staining his usually clean yellow jacket, was Arashi Nagataki. He eyed his sister in particular, lowering his sunglasses once he noticed the tiny blotches of red liquid on her normally spotless white top.
“Nii-san! You’re okay!” Nami exclaimed, letting go of Deji in her excitement as she assaulted her brother with a sudden hug.
Deji himself was left on his own, but he willed himself through the pain and somehow stayed standing.
He could only wonder if he was doing this to impress Nami, or to impress Arashi.
Perhaps in truth it was little bit of both.
“You’re not hurt?” Arashi said, eyeing Nami from top to bottom only to soon realize she was relatively untouched, save for the thin scratch on her shoulder.
“I’m not.” Nami said, before turning to her companion who was so dutifully trying not look hurt. “But he is. This is Deji. He helped me find you here. We fought against some crazy girl, and she stabbed him.”
Deji put his hand out for Arashi to shake. The elder brother didn’t seem to want to indulge in the gesture, yet the former Asakawa Clan remained polite nonetheless.
“Good to finally meet the famous Arashi in person.” he told him, putting his hand down until it went immediately to nurse his wound spot.
It was then that Deji noticed why Arashi didn’t shake his hand, and that he was staring not at Deji, but at something on him.
“What?” Deji replied, cracking a smile despite the quickly growing pain. “Don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
Arashi looked down at the boy’s school uniform. It wasn’t much, but he could see the small dark slash forming just around the red fabric near his stomach.
The strangest sense of deja vu pushed into the back of Arashi’s mind, as he remembered the sharp white guitar shard that had so nearly claimed his life some months earlier.
Deji put a hand to the wall, his breathing becoming more audible as the pain increased tenfold.
He cursed under his breath, having realized his unwillingness to stay behind might now cost him.
The walking had agitated the wound, and burned or not, it was open and bleeding now, and he was weakening fast.
“He needs medical attention. Nami, see to him, now!” Arashi said, his voice littered with urgency as his tone rose.
Nami nodded, and as her brother was already busy channeling a new song effect, she was right at Deji’s side to support him.
Slowly, Deji slipped down the floor, sweat breaking out on his face and forehead as the delayed effects of his stomach wound began to affect him.
He could feel a soft hand on his cheek, and just barely hear Nami’s voice even as his mind began to drift away into unconsciousness.
“Hey, Deji. Stay awake.”
Her voice was calm at first. Calm enough that it seemed to lull Deji further and further into a deep sleep.
He could hear the faint noise of Arashi’s song effects, and hear the shuffling of numerous tiny figures as red-fingered hands grabbed him all around.
“You’re not allowed to die on me! You hear me? You’re not allowed to lose yet!”
Nami’s voice was demanding. He would have laughed if it didn’t hurt so much. It was almost as if she didn’t want to admit she cared.
Deji could now feel himself being hoisted up by beings smaller than him, as the sound of Concept of Love soothed his ears in the air all around him.
The shock of bleeding had finally caught up with his body, and he wondered if the coming darkness descending upon his mind was death finally stepping in to claim him.
This might just be a fitting end, Deji thought.
He’d protected Arashi’s sister, and on top of that, proved himself to her as a Music Master like he’d wished he could do after all those months ago.
Deji’s mind fell towards some black oblivion, as Nami and Arashi’s voices got further and further away, and the office lights above melded into one another like some kaleidoscopic mesh of color.
Maybe he thought Nami was cute too. With that gap in her teeth, axe-shaped blue hair and ecstatic eyes.
No, he’d thought that from the first time they fought underneath EMI Music. It was probably that distraction that originally caused his loss.
The blackness then came, as the last thing Deji saw was Arashi’s stone cold expression and Nami’s incredible gap-toothed concern.
One last sentence slipped into his ears, with calm and precise grace.
“Thank you for taking care of my sister.”
Deji smiled. That was all he needed to hear.
Finally, his mind was enveloped by darkness.
If this was death, then he could only hope it really was the peace that books and people made it sound like.
But more than anything, if he was dead, then Deji Akiyama didn’t want to see Nami or Arashi in the afterlife for a very, very long time.