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Now You're It

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"You're…" began Neku, his horrified face hidden by his red fox mask. "You're…the fifth demon!"

The gray-maned boy giggled mischievously, his own visage covered by a false fox face of silver and white. Neku had been looking for this boy, his friend who had just vanished one day. He had found him, stripped of his humanity.

Together the two of them stood before a tall, dark building in a tall, dark city. Neku knew he was the last one, the last child left standing in the game of Kakurenbo, this fiendish version of hide-and-seek. All the other players were unconscious and bound into the ebony tower behind the other boy, the other demon. Shiki, Eri, Shooter, Yammer, Rhyme, Beat: all captured and subdued by the other four demons. Beat was in an isolated spot, not far above the gray-haired devil that was once his friend. Had the skateboard-wielding teen been the last one caught?

Neku couldn't run. The other four demons were blocking the exits. The twin demons, one like a horse and the other like a fox, yet despite their form differences they acted as one. The black-and-white lion with the wheel bound to its back. The giant ram demon, who was nearly level with the barely-lit structures around it. The tiger demon with its many arms and wings, lounging in the air. All of them were here, their true faces shielded by skull-like masks.

Beat was just coming to, trying to comprehend what was going on before him.

"Neku? Wha…"

Then the gray-maned boy's own false face distorted, twisting into that of a demonic mink skull instead of a fox. He raised his hands, which were now elongating into claws, into the air as if to greet the darkness around them.

"Who will play hide-and-seek with me?" he sand in a playful tune, his voice both childish and monstrous.

Beat's cell lit up, along with the others above him, and he screamed. The city's dimming lights suddenly brightened, and everything swarmed with bright color. At the top of the tower came forth a battery of fashion-icon images, the light of the screen highlighting the number 104 painted just above it.

The…The demons use the kids to power up the city! Neku realized.

The fifth demon appeared dangerously close without warning, causing Neku to flinch back. The twisted mink-skull mask was just inches from his own.

"Congratulations!" the gray-haired devil announced in a cheery tone. "You've won!"

"…Won what?" he questioned, the shrieks of the other children rending at his ears. "I don't want this! Stop it! Stop it now!"

The fifth demon only chuckled at Neku's panic.

"This city runs on Soul. We have so much fun with the lights on, but all too soon it begins to get dark again. So we invite kids like you to a little game of hide-and-seek, and then we harvest the losers. But you've won."

The gray-maned boy began to take off his mask. The orange-haired boy stepped back, not wanting to see the boy's true face. What he feared seeing the most was not a monster's face but his friend's old face, perfectly normal. That who, or what, he knew before was never human in the first place.

The fifth demon held the mask forward before him and walked toward Neku, who remained frozen.

"Now you're it," said the fiend, red light shining through the pupils of the mask.

IIIIII

He stood with his face against the tower, the well-lit 104 tower.

"One…Two…" the orange-haired boy counted, drawing out the sound of each number.

The ones who had gathered around him quickly ran away with giggles and laughter. Many of them wore hooded jackets, either red or gray. Among them was a gray-haired boy.

"Three…Four…" the boy went on. "Five…Six…"

Many strange animals also ran about, bearing strange markings and glowing eyes. Some of them chased those fleeing to hide, but would not attack them. Other beings, such as a man with black hair and sunglasses, simply sat and watched from above as things below unfolded.

"Seven…Eight…Nine…Ten!"

The orange-haired boy spun around, revealing red-shining eyes in the mask of a wolf-skull.

"Ready or not, here I come!"