Omiko Asakawa stared straight ahead, rampant aggravation written all over her face.
The mere sight of this small living room, beige sliding doors, and purple futon nearby only served to piss her off even further.
Right before her eyes, was nothing less than the terrible price of failure.
She dropped her travel bag on the floor, not caring in the slightest as she paced around the room.
Omiko only stopped after three minutes of silence, before taking a moment to walk outside and try to admire the view of the ocean nearby.
But despite the blue beauty that stared back at her from beyond the complex’s balcony, Omiko still couldn’t shake off that stinging feeling of inadequacy.
She turned tail, heading back into her apartment and locking the door behind her.
Wearing low cut shorts, black knee-high socks, and a crimson top, Omiko plopped down cross-legged on the floor. Before long, she’d put her arms down on the table and buried her head in them in silence and disappointment.
Her laptop remained untouched less than a half-meter away, her mind drained at the mere prospect of her current situation.
For her failure in securing Nami and killing Deji, she’d been sent up to Osaka to presumably stay from now all the way until the end of spring.
Omiko wasn’t stupid though. Uncle all but said it would be probably longer than that.
She might be glad he was looking out for her if she wasn’t so angry about it all.
Omiko was sure he’d done just about everything to stop God Symphony from tracking her down and reprimanding her for her failure, but being stuck up in this boredom by the sea felt like a punishment nonetheless.
With nothing left to do, Omiko finally focused her attention to the laptop nearby, pulling it by her side. She was typing quickly within the next few seconds, heading to the one place that might make her just a little happier on a bad day like this.
A black webpage with a rotted tree-motif greeted her, as Omiko logged in to the Cypress fan-site that she’d been a member of since she was a pre-teen.
Here, everything and anything about the North American-based Ensemble Cypress and its leader Nicodemus Craven was constantly discussed by fans from all around the world. People posted photos of Craven sightings, showed off their own personal Cypress tattoos, and quite a few claimed to have been past members of Cypress, either vilifying or glorifying the Ensemble and its leader in turn.
One section in particular was dedicated to a great amount of fan-art and fan-fiction dedicated to Craven himself, much of which was far from safe for work.
Omiko smiled to herself as she scrolled through this section. She’d contributed quite a bit of writing to this place in particular. But that reminiscing smile faded away when she remembered her failure.
With it, any chance of meeting Craven in person in America was gone. She would have to go back to doing odd jobs for her uncle, and that was only when he decided to call her back to Minato once the God Symphony situation was settled.
If that ever happened at all, Omiko worried in the back of her mind.
Her fingers stopped typing, eventually curling into shaking fists before she slammed both hands violently onto her laptop.
Keys cracked upon impact, but Omiko didn’t care. Uncle could just buy her another. She was too angry to be concerned over a stupid machine.
It was all because of Dance Dance Princess, and that ponytail-wearing runaway, that she was stuck here. It was all completely their fault, with a particular part of her hatred focused on Deji himself.
If there was one solace in her mind, it was that Omiko still remembered getting him in the stomach just before his ghost hooker had taken over her bodily functions and so graciously left her with a bloody nose.
If he still lived, she would no doubt find him again, and then next time they fought, Omiko would make sure her next stab put him down forever.
Either way, if he was still alive, Omiko Asakawa imagined that Deji would be feeling that stab wound for a very long time.
It wasn’t every day someone took a volcanic knife to the ribs.
And that thought alone was enough to make this Osaka exile just a tiny bit more bearable.
It was quite the wonder that Arashi had been able to get Nami to listen to him for once.
He pondered over the notion as he poured out glass of juice from the tall pitcher he’d brought in himself.
In truth, they’d been getting along noticiably better in the last few months.
Nami actually listened to his advice when it came to appointed training, and she was improving dramatically because of that.
Arashi stood by Deji Akiyama’s side as he breathed softly nearby. He was situated in the guest room of their apartment, where Deji slept on a Western-styled bed.
Minutes before, one of his fellow Music Masters from Zero Beat had performed song effect magic and managed to miraculously heal the wound that had been plaguing Deji for the last hour.
The price of such an action would be steep, however, and Arashi knew that in exchange, Zero Beat would call upon him for a particular favor at some point in the near future.
For now though, Deji would live, and Nami would leave him alone to rest per Arashi’s instructions until he was up and able again.
The covers stirred nearby, as Deji to seemed to read Arashi’s mind in turn.
The boy’s eyes opened, and the first thing he saw was Arashi standing nearby, a glass of juice in hand like some sort of peace offering.
“Good to see you awake.” Arashi said. “Are you still feeling any pain?”
Deji moved his hands around his body as he sat up in the bed. He noticed he was shirtless, but more pressing than that, he noticed that all hints of the sharp pain in his stomach had disappeared. He touched the bare flesh just between his chest and his waistline.
The skin felt different; colder, maybe even a little raw, but it was otherwise smooth and no longer a dangerous gap leaking his precious bodily fluids.
Deji looked up at Arashi with surprise. “The wound’s gone. You called someone, didn’t you?”
Arashi nodded, handing the glass over to Deji. The boy drank it greedily, his body clearly craving the mix of vitamins and sugar.
“I owe Zero Beat a favor now, but yes, I did. Healing song effects are not easy to come by. It’s good they were able to get here when they did.”
Deji wiped the juice from his upper lip.
He’d faced death, and seemingly come out on top.
Only now did he realize just how thirsty he was.
His face lit up with satisfaction as Arashi sensed his thirst and graciously poured him another glass from the pitcher.
Deji took just a sip from it this time, questions still on his mind.
“How’s Nami handling?” he asked first.
“She’ll be fine.” Arashi reassured. “I had to practically lock the door to keep her out of here and let you rest. She seems to have taken a liking to you.”
Deji smiled, somewhat awkwardly. “Yeah, about that. It’s not what you think. Purely professional, I assure you.”
Arashi crossed his arms, as if insulted by that response. “Spare me the polite act, please. In all honesty, it doesn’t matter what it is. And it doesn’t matter what I think of it either.”
“If Nami’s happy, it’s better for everyone. More than anything, make sure you understand that.” Arashi explained, and Deji just nodded in agreement.
Much like Nami, arguing with Arashi wasn’t probably a smart move.
Deji looked down at his juice, eyes focused for a moment on the swirling orange-yellow color of the liquid within the glass.
The next likely question popped right into his mind.
“What about Asakawa, and God Symphony? What guarantee do you have they won’t try this again someday?”
Arashi pulled out his phone to check the time, answering easily despite his attention being in two places.
“I wouldn’t worry yourself over that. Asakawa and I came to a mutual agreement of sorts. I already informed Zero Beat of the situation, and it appears they’ll be reevaluating your position at the Symphon.” Arashi said, and Deji’s expression slowly grew estatic at the sound of his words.
“Really?” he asked, somewhat softly as if not wanting to believe it.
Arashi nodded, as his phone notification sound went off upon receipt of yet another text.
“Really.” Arashi repeated. “Now if you’re feeling up to it, my sister has been asking about you incessantly.”
He stuck his phone screen forward, showing Nami’s most recent message about whether or not Deji was awake.
Deji immediately understood, pulling the covers off of him as he stepped out of bed and stretched his somewhat rusted limbs.
He craned his neck to one side, quickly realizing his current unclothed state and how Nami might react to it.
“You don’t happen to have a spare shirt, do you?” he asked, somewhat sheepishly.
Arashi just said nothing as he made his way to the nearby closet, rummaging for just a moment before finding a neon yellow-green article that he then threw Deji’s way.
Once caught, Deji poked his head through it, straightening the bottom out as best he could. It was a bit loose for his taste, but it would do for now.
For the briefest moment, Arashi got a good look at the oni and lightning design of Deji’s still unfinished irezumi. He should have realized the boy had some connection to the Clan sooner. He said nothing though, preferring to allow Deji to speak instead.
“Thank you, Nagataki-san.” Deji said, trying to be as formal as possible. “Thank you for everything.”
Arashi answered calmly, and with a degree of grace unlike him.
“Please, just Arashi is fine. I should be thanking you more than anything. Making sure you lived through tonight was the least I could do.”
Arashi’s phone went off again in his pocket. He made a somewhat exasperated smile, a rare sight for him.
“You may want to get going; I only have so much patience for my sister’s texts. I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more of one another in the near future.”
Deji nodded, opening the door of the guest room and heading in the direction of the entertainment room down the the hall.
It only took him a few meters of walking before he could already hear the pumping sound of loud trance music just a few doors away.
He wasn’t surprised in the slightest.
Nami was quite the multi-tasker, it seemed. For now, perhaps he could keep her attention.
It was like a drop of water compared to the veritable ocean of things Arashi had done for him, but it was the least Deji could do.
Despite playing a song on Heavy difficulty, and one with such a particularly high BPM count, Nami was still able to acknowledge Deji’s presence as he entered the entertainment room behind her.
“Oh hey, you’re finally up.” she exclaimed, turning to look at him for just a brief moment as she still followed the game’s steps to perfection.
The current song played loudly throughout large speakers installed in this room at Nami’s request, blaring with intensity in both its vocals and beat.
“Nice shirt. Did Nii-san give that to you?” Nami giggled to herself, still easily focused on perfecting this song.
Deji looked down, and it was now he noticed the image of a cartoon cow on his chest that consequently made him look just a little bit silly.
“Oh, this? Of course. Unless you want me just strolling around shirtless.”
Nami bit her bottom lip at the thought. Her answer was not surprisingly sarcastic.
“How awful that might have been. But you’re awake, so at least now it’s actually a brighter day.”
With those words, she completed the next twelve steps, and the song came to a close.
Nami hadn’t broken so much of a sweat, as far as Deji could see. He approached from the other side, leaning on the free dance pad’s bars as he admired this room.
The sound system was definitely something else. Each wailing vocal, every strum of the bass, and all of the various electronic slashes of noise boomed with perfect clarity.
Then there were the dance pads themselves. Huge, bright with neon lights, and impeccably clean despite what Deji assumed was hours and hours of use.
But more impressive than either of those things, was Nami herself.
She stood there with seemingly perfect poise, fingers tapping on the touchscreen of the huge game setup as she debated what song to play next. Her axe-shaped blue-black hair came down freely, as she blinked through long lashes while looking at the screen in front of her.
After everything that happened, and everything they’d been through together, the normally polite Deji found himself suddenly staring.
He was interrupted only a few seconds later by Nami’s voice.
“Deji-kun? You okay over there?”
Deji blinked twice, almost hitting his forehead from his weak moment.
That gap-toothed smile might become the bane of his existence. And now she was calling him by a more informal title on top of that.
“I’m alright. Still waking up, I think. I can never get over how easy you make this game look.” he remarked, in an effort to recover.
Nami smiled wide in response. Her chance had finally come.
At any other time, this might be her perfect opportunity to rub in his face how good she was at all of these games, and how losers like him could only hope to even so much as remain under her shadow.
She’d laugh haughtily in her victory, and Deji would know his place forever.
But undermining him for his lack of skill was not at all what Nami did next.
Instead, she relaxed her ecstatic expression, stopping her scrolling of songs as she addressed him quite nicely.
“It’s just something you get used to over time. I could show you how it’s done, if you’d like.”
Deji’s eyes perked up. Was he hearing right, or was Nami offering to help him with something as opposed to squashing any dream of victory?
She continued. “I’ll pick an easy song. Everybody’s gotta start somewhere.”
Michael Kay’s familiar words echoed in her mind moments after they left Nami’s lips.
It appeared than even when he was half a world away, his influence on her would never truly go away.
“Alright.” Deji agreed, stretching his legs for a second before stepping up on the other dance mat.
Nami grinned, turning back to choose a song. As Deji waited, she inputted her fingers in an quick M-formation, and the machine made a loud noise of congratulations as she unlocked all of the game’s secret songs in one fell swoop.
“Wow. That’s quite a lot of choices.” Deji observed, as Nami swiped through them with peerless speed.
“Yeah. but I’ve beaten all of them by now. I’ve replayed these songs like a million times, so I had Nii-san modify this so I could add some custom ones.” she explained, before finally stopping on the song of choice.
120 beats per minute. A good choice for someone just starting, in comparison to some of the more crushing songs, Nami thought.
“You ready?” Nami said, finger positioned over the start button on-screen.
Deji put spread his feet out, nodding with approval.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” he replied.
Nami pressed play, and soon an ’80’s beat pulsed loudly in the air, leading into the first verse with a Japanese singer who clearly was not a native speaker of the English language he was singing in.
The song itself was also a somewhat ironic choice, considering today actually happened to be a Friday night.
On-screen, Deji noted the incoming arrows, stepping down as quickly and as accurately as he could.
He missed a few at first, and Nami jumped in to assist him with her words as the song played along.
“Don’t keep going back to neutral position. When you take a step, you stay there until you need to move to the next place. You’ll stick to the beat better that way.” Nami coached, as Deji made his best effort to keep up with even this mere Basic difficuly song.
“This isn’t really dancing at all.” Deji pointed out, as Nami agreed, hands on her hips as he watched him.
“Yeah, not really. The moment you stop looking at it as dancing, and more like calculated stomping, that’s when you’ll start getting better.”
Deji acknowledged her advice, positioning his remaining steps as best he could.
Some time later, and the song was over. Deji was granted a just barely passing score.
He seemed particularly perturbed at the D grade, but Nami was quick to swoop in and be of some reassurance.
“Everyone sucks on their first try. Don’t beat yourself up too much for it.”
He turned around, breathing deeply as he felt the slightest cramp in his leg. “Even you?” he asked, hoping for honesty.
Nami nodded and just smiled back at him as she answered. “Hard to believe, right?”
“A little.” Deji commented, laughing as he stood up straight. “I see your point though. I think I could play a little more of this. But it might be more even more fun with another person.”
Nami grinned. “Now you’ve got the right idea.”
She stepped back onto the other dance pad, but before she went to choose a song, Nami found herself right up in Deji’s face as she remembered something.
“But before that…” she began, before leaning up on her tiptoes and pecking an unprepared Deji right on cheek, just underneath his scar.
He stood somewhat stunned, as Nami seemed to treat it as if it had long since been coming.
“That’s for a passing grade. Guess you’re not such a loser after all. Thanks for trying to be a hero.”
Deji was a bit speechless, to say the least.
Was that a compliment from Nami? He almost couldn’t be sure.
Even still, alone in this room with Nami, he almost entertained the thought of swooping her up in his arms and pressing his lips against hers in a bout of romantic passion.
But then he remembered Arashi just a few rooms away.
Beyond it being impolite, there was a part of Deji that wondered just how protective of his sister he really was.
It was probably better to never find out. When they had true privacy, maybe then he could think about being gutsy.
For now, Deji just smiled with happiness, as Nami chose the same song again, this time at a slightly higher Beginner difficulty.
“This time, just follow my lead. I’ll try to take it easy for you.” she laughed, her finger poised over the start button once again.
“You ready?” she asked.
Deji thought over those words.
He was ready for anything at this point.
He survived his own death, it seemed, despite all the odds.
God Symphony was no threat for the time being, and it seemed that things might be looking up for him back in Minato.
Of course, he could never know what Nami was truly thinking.
For all he knew, she was more of an enigma than even her brother.
Deji shook away the notion but a moment later. Now was not the time for wandering thoughts.
For now, he would enjoy that little bit of affection she’d given him, play her game, and take this all as a much needed rest.
Deji played along to the song in silence, and next to him, Nami was once again multitasking.
She slowed her steps to allow Deji to mirror her as best he could, and her ears relaxed to the music as various thoughts went through her mind.
Where once she had only one boy besides her brother in her mind, there was now another.
And this was a whole different kind of competition than anything Michael could provide.
As Nami glanced for a moment at Deji, she noted his earnest eyes, his pleasant features, and his willingness to make her happy even in this simple moment.
It reminded her of Arashi, in more than one way.
Clearly he was no longer a loser, but a winner-in-training.
One day, with a little prodding and coaching from her, he might even be a true victor.
Or maybe he already was, and Nami just didn’t want to admit it to herself.
Either way, one thing was for sure.
Until she saw Michael Kay again, maybe it was okay to take a break and get away.
And if it was with Deji, it wasn’t such a boring notion.
A place where only happiness lived, and heartache faded away. It sounded quite nice, actually.
And that was assuming Nami had any heartache to complain about.
Because with Deji around, Nami had the nicest feeling that heartache wasn’t going to be anywhere near her worries for the foreseeable future.
LET’S GET AWAY: