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“Kid, you know seeing the game can’t be your whole life, right?” Hanekoma sighs with years of exasperation as he nudges a chair closer to Josh and looks at him pointedly. Josh, for his part, allows his head to lazily follow a fifenfrog hopping past Jupiter before deigning to face the barista. “Imagine that you’d spent your whole life seeing a different world to everyone. You know it’s real, you can feel it in every fiber of your being. But everyone around you tells you it’s all in your head. That you’re crazy, that they don’t want to sit with Kiryu because he sees frogs on our shoulders and a shark in the playground.”

He’s staring at the ground now because it hurts to admit it but more often than sometimes the Game is all he has. He coughs sharply to distract his wandering mind before he continues. “If someone turned to you, after years of ostracizing, years of therapists, of shame and self-doubt and fear. If they told you, it was all real, it was beautiful and terrifying, and so much more than you’d ever imagined. You think there’s any possible way it couldn’t be your everything after that?”

Hanekoma opens his mouth to speak but thinks better of it, instead moving back round the bar to pour out another mug of coffee. He ignores the boys feet smashing into the sideboard and he way his nails are threatening to gouge chunks out of his own cheeks. Sanae wonders sometimes if he’s not running the risk of irreparably damaging the teen by hoisting all of this on him, goodness knows the kid was carrying enough damage before they’d met, but Shibuya was hurting, stagnating and the kid had the most terrifyingly vivid imagination seen in the past century or so. He consoled himself with the thought that he was only speeding up the inevitable. “Did I ever tell you how the reapers move up the ranks?”

Joshua’s home life was, well, strained was a nice way to phrase it. His parents still hadn’t adjusted to their son being different and when they bothered to show up it was mainly to parade him round or ship him off to a new therapist. So he spent most of his time in silence or playing piano, letting cadenzas and crescendos scream the words that he couldn’t voice to anyone but Sanae. Josh’s mind wandered to Hanekoma’s most recent teachings as his fingers forced out particularly vitriolic chords. If, or rather when, he played the game – Hanekoma had made it quite clear that he would be picked to play no matter what, given his imagination – if he chose to and had the necessary points, he could forgo resurrection and join the reapers. He recalled the barista’s bright laugh as he informed him it would be horrifically boring at first, but it was the first step to facing the Composer. His own laugh matched the cadence in his head as he finally got it.

Hanekoma was right, just seeing the game couldn’t be his whole life. With an imagination like his, Josh was wasted in the real ground and even he could see the city staling more with each passing day, artists and musicians quietly taking longer and longer trips out to neighbouring prefectures. No, the city needed some fresh blood and, call him conceited, Josh could think of no better than himself.

Pushing himself off from the piano stool, he bounded about the sitting room, grin plastered to his face as he let his feet move him deftly about the room, dancing to a beat swirling in his head. He wondered briefly if Hanekoma had planned this, how he drip fed him just enough to keep him captivated, waxing lyrical about the beauty and wonder of the game. Josh recalled how he’d seen a pair, no older than thirteen, fall to a mosh grizzly on day two that week. He mused that Sanae wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy sort, probably shouldn’t let him hold any position of power over him.

Sanae woke with a start as klaxons rang through the back of WildKat signaling an Emergency Game, brow narrowed in confusion before realization came crashing down and he threw his head backwards to guffaw. He flipped his phone out to read the unread text.
‘I’m jacking Shibuya. – Kiryu’