The three teenagers looked at the girl who was standing in front of them. She didn't say anything, or even make a move; she just was there, in silence, maybe waiting for something. Neku blinked surprised: she was so similar to Shiki... Her boots were black, like her skirt, she had a pair of grey tights, a white T-shirt with sleeves that reached her elbows, a kind of black and white jacket, a bell-shaped pendant, like the one Rhyme had, but it was a silver-colored one, and a cap like Pi-face used to wear. She also was wearing a ring on one of her fingers and a dark grey wristband. Her eyes were very dark, almost black, she was blonde and... Neku was shocked. Her clothes were different, but she was like his friend when they were playing The Reapers' Game.
"Shiki?", he barely asked the teen.
"Shiki? Who is that Shiki?", she answered without changing her serious voice.
"Ah, I think I'm mistaken... You're like her.", Neku apologized. Later, he sighed with sadness.
"Oh... I'm sorry, I don't know who that girl is, or where she is...", she added when Neku showed his disappointment.
"Are you a Player too?", Joshua smiled while he was talking.
"Yes, I'm afraid. But at least you're three, and I'm just one", she confessed, and looked at Neku. "Was she a close person to you?"
"...", he didn't want to answer at first, but later he responded her question. "She was... She IS a friend of mine".
"Hey, hey, heeey! Wait a momen'! Who the fuck 'r yo?", Beat asked abruptly.
"Ah, it's true, I didn't introduced myself! How rude!", she exclaimed quickly while making a sound putting her palms together. "Ok... My name is Sanako Takanashi, the 8th of January is the date of my birthday, and I'm 16."
"Sanako Takanashi...", Neku repeated. "How did you get here?"
"Mmm... Good point", Joshua said. Sanako looked at him, and some seconds later she returned to Neku. If looks could kill, Neku knew that the girl would have eliminated Joshua in that moment.
"I was hanging out with friends at night, and we were going to go to the 104. Unfortunately, we had the same end as you...", she look down, to her feet, and lowered the tone of her voice. "We were a team of five people, and now... I'm the last one."
"They got erased, yo?", Beat wasn't happy either. That reminded him of the day that Rhyme sacrificed herself and got erased for saving him.
"Oh, dear. Well, that means they weren't strong enough. You can feel proud of yourself, as you're the one who survived", Joshua commented, and grinned. His grin disappeared a few moments later, when a purple slash threw him away.
"HOW DO YOU FUCKING DARE TO SAY THAT, MOTHERFUCKER?!", she yelled.
She was going to attack him again, but Neku grabbed her arms. "Calm down, Sanako! Stop!", he shouted.
Sanako stopped just an instant, and then calmed down slowly. Beat, a bit frightened because of the mood swing, approached to Joshua, who wasn't injured very badly. Neku knew he was lucky, because the attack didn't was very accurate, just as Sanako wanted. Meanwhile, she knelt and started to cry with her face covered by her hands. Neku didn't know how to console her, so he just knelt in front of her and put a hand on her shoulder. She continued crying for four or five seconds, until she eventually looked at him.
"I don't know what to say in these cases...
", he thought looking away and scratching the back of his head. "But I'll try it anyway.
Sanako was murmuring something, but it was like a whisper, and Neku couldn't reach to hear it. "Sanako... Hey, Sanako, don't cry. Joshua is sometimes rude, but he didn't want..."
"OF COURSE HE KNEW WHAT HE WAS FUCKING SAYING!!", she yelled and took out her hands from her face, angry again. "He laughed at the death of my friends. HE FUCKING LAUGHED AT IT!"
"Ugh... That didn't work...
", he said for himself. "Of course it wouldn't work... How stupid.
", he recognized immediately. "Sanako... listen to me, Sanako...", he whispered, although it didn't seem that she wanted to talk. He put the other hand on her second shoulder and continued. "Sanako... please, listen to me. Shhh... Calm down, and stop crying... Please, listen...", he didn't give up, and finally got her attention on him. This time, the girl looked to be more receptive. "Maybe your friends are no longer with you, but can come with us, if you want so". The teen smiled when Sanako stopped crying and looked at him surprised and, at the same time, happy for hearing that.
"Really? But... I hurt one of your partners...", she said, and her voice had a guilt and remorse tone. Her sad face showed those feelings to him as well.
"To be honest, I wanted to do that when I had to put up with him during a whole week. I would react the same way if I were you; nevertheless, don't do it again, at least without a good reason", he stood up and gave her a hand to help her.
"Thank you, eh... Sorry, I don't know what your name is", she said, and took his hand.
"Ah, never mind...", when she stood up, he continued. "Neku Sakuraba"
"Neku Sakuraba... Oh, I like it", she chuckled, and pointed at Beat with her head. "And what about that boy over there? What's his name?"
"His name is... well, call him Beat", he corrected himself at the middle of the sentence, to avoid future problems between him and the neophyte.
"Beat... Umm, that's easy. Ok, Neku Sakuraba, Beat and Joshua, right?", she thought aloud.
"Yeah, you got it!"
"Alright! Thanks for letting me join your group! This will make the Game both easier and harder!"
"Wait, you let her come with us, man?", Beat asked so loud that he seemed to be shouting.
"This is going to be really interesting...", Joshua murmured while he put away a lock of his short hair.
"Yes, she will come with us. It's decided", Neku answered his blond friend with decisiveness, so much that Beat didn't say anything against it, and Joshua, surprisingly, didn't complain either.
"Just a question... How did you do it to avoid being erased? It's supposed that you are your partners were linked, isn't it?", Joshua questioned her.
"Well, this Game has some rules I should tell you, since it seems you didn't receive the message...", she took a deep breath, let it flow out slowly, and started to explain them the rules. "I'll start from the beginning: where are we?"
She turned and took two steps forward. "We're in a dangerous Game, where the goal is... getting out of it alive. We're in a place that thinks by itself. We're the toys, it plays with us as it wants, and it will kill us if we're boring...", she rose her arms, and shrugged her shoulders. "Guys..."
She turned, looked at them, and, grinning, with a lower voice ended the sentence:
The others stared at her, not knowing what to think. "The... Neo World?", Neku was the first one to start talking again.
"Yes, the Neo World...", her eyes turned to their dark color gradually, and then she proceeded, talking again as usual. "I received a message explaining that, and a picture: it was a plane which was placed between the "Higher Plane" and something called "Underground", which I don't know what it is. The thing is that the Neo World Plane has been swallowing the planes below itself, and now they have become only one. I mean, now there are just two planes..."
"Hey, what the fuck 'r tha planes? I don' get yo, eeeeh..."
"Sanako. Her name is Sanako, Beat", Neku told him.
"Continue, please", Joshua asked her, arms folded and listening to her carefully. That was important information for him, and he wasn't going to let Beat interrupt her anymore. Sanako smiled at him when he said "please", and kept explaining.
"I'll draw a sketch, so you can see it easily...", having said that, she took out a pad and make the drawing in a couple of minutes.
"Do you see it? Now, the Higher Plane and the Neo World Plane are the two remaining ones. The Neo World has swallowed this part, Shibuya, after the one where I live. That's why I was here before all of you and I know a lot about this insane Game."
"I see...", commented Joshua, making a thinking gesture, covering his mouth with one of his hands. "How are we going to get out of this plane?"
"We have to complete the missions the people that call themselves 'Reapers' send us during the next seven days."
"Mission that we haven't received yet", Neku completed. Suddenly, three mobiles phones beeped. They had a message, but Joshua told the other two to have a look at it later, when Sanako finished explaining.
"What happens if we are defeated, or if we can't complete the mission?", Neku questioned the new partner.
"Ah, I was just going to tell you that. Ok, we'll fight against the Noise, and we'll be linked: we won't share our energy, but if one of us is erased, the rest will be as well. BUT... there is a kind of "continue" system: you can give something to the Game in exchange for keep playing. The ones who haven't got anything to give will be erased. However, the killed Player won't have that chance, and will lose the Game with no options to be revived... Unless you've got a Lazarus Pin."
"Lazarus Pin? I've never heard about that one...", Joshua told her with a serious and interested attitude.
"There are some incredible ones, like strong shields, counterattacks and reviving Pins. The Lazarus Pin is one of the most difficult ones to obtain. There is one chance in a million to find one of them."
"Mmmm...", Joshua was thinking on something, but he didn't share it to the others teens.
"Well, and about the second case... If we fail while completing a mission, the Game will decide who will be erased first: it'll evaluate us, and it'll select the most boring one. Then, the rest, after paying for the "second chance" if they can, have a half of an hour to complete it, or else the Game will proceed as I just said again, until they can do it, or all of them are kicked out of the Game. It goes that way."
"Wow, seems to be a great challenge", Neku said, with his hands inside of his pockets, after sighing.
"Yes, it is... It's even worse if you're a place that looks to be taken from Tron, or a kind of old computer video game, where there's nothing that could aid us..."
"Tron?", Beat asked. He didn't understand much of all that Sanako said, but he preferred not to say anything.
"Yeah, the movie...", the three teens looked at her. "Don't you know which movie it is?"
They shook their head. "Ugh, let's see... Do you know something about 'The Lord of the Rings?', she asked them, and they repeated the gesture. "Star Wars? No? Well, let's try with other kind of things... Do you know about 'Final Fantasy'? Nothing? Any manga or comic that you heard about?", they shook their head again. "Online comics? No? Oh my god, what the fucking hell do you like to do during free time, apart from hanging out with friends?"
"...", they didn't say anything, because they knew they could make a huge mistake if they pronounced a single word.
"Well, anyway...", she sighed and continued talking. "There is just one more thing I want to tell you...", she took out her mobile phone and proceed to turn it on. "There is an application we all should have installed in our mobile phones... It's a communicating system by messages. Phone callings spend money, but with this method we'll be able to talk to each other totally free. Its name is Whatnaw... I'll send you it, so you can use it too."
They all took out their mobile phones. Neku was surprised that the same cell phone he had during The Reapers' game was in his pocket again. When Sanako sent them the communicating tool, they turned it on.
"Now, you have to pick up a color for your message balloons. I've chosen the yellow one." Sanako said.
"I'll take tha red one, yo!"
"I'll use the orange one...", Neku murmured without much excitement, just the opposite as Beat.
"Mmmm... I want this kind of grayish violet color", thought aloud the remaining teen.
"Ok, now we need a nickname."
"A nickname? Why? We can use our real na..."
"No, Neku, and I'll tell you why: the Game can spy the information we write in our messages and send it to those guys, the Reapers. Sadly, this is the only way we can talk to other partners when we're separated..."
"I see...", he said almost automatically, like a robot. "And... Which names will we use?"
"Oh, I've got some nice nicknames for everyone...", Sanako blinked at them and grinned. "Beat, your nickname will be viiSeifer. Ok?"
"Yea, not bad, yo!"
"Joshua... You'll be viiAerith. And don't complain. Got it?"
"Yeah, Lady", he asked with a joking tone. Sanako didn't like it, but she just ignored him.
"Neku, you'll be raisingDragon. Do you like it?"
"Yeah, it's... a good nickname."
"Great! I'll be sifwHellsing", she sounded happy, excited. "Now, we'll exchange our telephone numbers, and we'll add the others to out contact list.", and having said that, they did it. Once they all finished, she continued talking. "Now I'll send Neku a message, just to test if you did it well. It's a piece of cake, you'll see it. Are you ready, Neku?"
"Of course I am!"
"And now, let's see your mission...", Sanako said when she closed the application.