(Background Music: Dynasty Warriors 7 OST - A Talk)
The minor events of the bridge continues. This is a detailing of Naoto's and the group's short moment of thinking together. You want a longer preview? That's also known as a "spoiler". Let's get started then.
(Background Music: Persona 4 Ost Your Affection Extended)
The sky had started to turn darker and the mountains stopped to shine. But the days wasn't over. The sky now displayed a sunset-like orange colour. Naoto exchanged pleasantries with Kanji's new friends, Cocona, the strangely-clad adventurer and Dingo Egeret, a futuristic-looking pilot. -Can I have a few words with Tatsumi? asked Naoto the group. -Sure. said Dingo and Cocona almost in unison and they then gave each other a weird look. -S-so... what's the matter? asked Kanji who look a little red in his face. -I have started to notice a pattern around this region. said Naoto analyticity. -Like? asked Kanji. -Everyone I and probably you have met is very... how should I put it... Boldly dressed. answered Naoto. -I can kinda see that. -I assume we're not in any known country on Earth. My question is: Where are we exactly? -I dunno... sighed Kanji. -May I interject? asked Dingo. -About our geographic location? Of course. said Naoto. -I have theory, so just hear me out.
(Background Music: Zone Of The Enders OST2 - Jehuty~Vivid Transparency)
-As you guys may know, I'm a LEV Pilot. (LEV meaning Laborious Extra-Orbital Vehicle) I have both piloted for military purposes and for non-combat uses, with my latest job being a LEV-miner pilot. That breezy life went to hell when I discovered a special Orbital-frame (A more advanced LEV) called Jehuty. Which in turn threw me into the heart of a great conflict. I managed to get of the conflict narrowly thanks to some new comrades and after facing alot of adversary. I was about to return the Jehuty to it's rightful owner when I suddenly got a call from a friend. Something about having found a wormhole in the black vastness of space, nearby. Some researchers claims this rifts could be used to cross space or even dimensions. My curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to take Jehuty for one last spin. And I did. After several hours of needless searching, I found this rift. It looked like a white hole. The rift just pushed me away when I tried to approach it, so I figured that was it. I were about to turn back when the Jehuty suddenly stopped responding. I got dragged towards the rift and I panicked. No actions would work. It didn't take to long for the light to drown me. I opened my eyes when the blinding flash disappeared. I then saw this continent from above, but not for long. I crashed faster then I realised and everything turned to black after a really hard impact. -That kinda makes sense. said Cocona. I found you almost dead in the pilot seat.
(Background Music: Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn OST - 037--Tension)
Naoto looked a little stunned. The story was complete nonsense, but after everything she had seen, this wasn't completely implausible. -I remember something about rifts to when I came here. said Cocona. One opened up over a city square where I come after being out of town. This really odd old man would have appeared. He looked nothing like anyone else around, and called himself Snitchez. The weirdest thing was how he keep rambling about how some bad guy named Diablo would come and do... something. It's kinda hard to listen more then 5 minutes to him. Anyway, he spoke of this hole as a "Bridge between worlds". That sounded like a lot of fun, I thought, so I went in. Now I'm here. -So let's see if I got this straight. said Kanji. You're basically saying we're in some crossroads in the middle of space? ARE YOU GUYS OUT OF YOUR MIND?! asked Kanji loudly in disbelief. SPACE? SERIOUSLY? WHAT THE HELL?! Everyone looked a little uncomfortable with Kanji's sudden statement. -Wait. It all makes so much sense. said Kanji. I remember sitting on my couch late in the night.
(Background Music: Agh! Won goph in mah mouph! Blech! Ptooey! - Fire Emblem Awakening)
-I understand! This is a really weird-ass dream I'm having here! said Ace-Detective Kanji.
*Commence massive facepalm-moment for the rest of the group*
That's THE explanation makes sense! said Kanji proudly. -Really, Tatsumi? said Naoto. I thought we had this clarified the last time. YOU'RE NOT DREAMING. said Naoto clearly. Sorry. She then apologized. I'm just worried you would use that delusion to put yourself and the others at risk.
(Background Music: SMT: Persona 3 OST - Living With Determination ~Iwatodai Dorm Arrange~)
-Time is getting thin. said Naoto. I need to get back to the SVCP HQ. -What? said Kanji. -Look for a city named Anomia. said Naoto. I hope we can meet again there under better circumstances. Egeret, Bartel. Good luck. said Naoto when she looked at Dingo and Cocona. And Tatsumi, take care. said Naoto sincerely to Kanji. Naoto when left towards the horizon. -Bye! said Cocona. -I hope we meet him again. said Dingo who were unknowing of the fact that Naoto is a woman. Kanji just looked. -See ya. said Kanji quietly.
(Party Switch: From Kanji to Naoto.) (Background Music: record of agarest war soundtrack-16 Password) (Thanks to the wonders of fast-traveling, Naoto arrived at the HQ quite quickly.)
Naoto stepped into the dining hall. -Loooook who's here! said a voice Naoto recognized at once. Hazama stood there with a bandaged arm. -How is this possible? asked Naoto. I thought I saw clearly die- she was interrupted. -So you haven't read "Being a villain 101: Messing with peoples' lives for fun and profit"? If you had read it, you should know that being a obviously bad guy comes with such benefits such as defying deaths that would have easily killed a hero, etc. That's THE ONLY reason why that little shit is still alive... said Hazama while staring like daggers at Baal. -Giiiiiiii? said Baal. -OH, SHUT UP! said Hazama. Naoto looked around the room. She was surprised to see Damashii up and running again. More or less. -You took your time. said Damashii. He also had bandage, even if it was harder to see due to his always impressive longcoat. -Gamabaride. said Naoto. I wondered if you would ever recover. she added concerned. -For all I cared, I could have died right there. said Damashii quite coldly. I haven't done anything else but failing since coming to this place. I usually wouldn't mind that too much, but this last time was... GARGH! said Damashii. Neptuna... That name fuels my rage! Lu Bu seemed calm compared to Damashii who had become decidedly bitter after his failed assignment. -You're still alive, Cap Boy? asked Lu Bu Naoto. -It was a close one, but I made it. -You might actually make it here! said Lu Bu. Rest, Young One. I hope to be the next one going. I'm tiered of these grey corridors and dusty rooms. I want to FIGHT! -Good Day. said Naoto. Naoto saw Sima Shi on the other side of the room. -Well meet, Shirogane. said Sima Shi. Your return surprises me. Better yet, you returned in a more competent state then Hazama. Your potential is great. I look forward to your continued cooperation. -Stop with the compliments, I'm just doing what I can. -You have earned some rest. said Sima Shi.
Naoto sat down at her desk in her room. Where she were was a mystery. And the plans of the SVCP was still unknown. But one thing was for sure. Knowing that she wasn't alone in all of this mystery filled her with hope. She now had real reason to fight for, even a simple one to see the friendly faces again. Figuring out the SVCP will not be the easiest task, but she isn't alone.
Onward, Hardboiled-Detective Naoto Shirogane!
Do stay toned!
Also, Missed Explanation: Dingo said in Chapter 17 he had to look at the wreckage of the Jehuty one last time. The "Friend" he brought with him was the Jehuty's Artificial Intelligence ADA, who probably will get an appearance soon enough.
(Background Music: SMT: Persona 4 OST - The Poem for Everyone's Souls)
(Possible Spoilers for Existensia: The Dimensional Bridge)
One of the many mysteries that the Dimensional Bridge contains is The Arcana.
Claus was informed of their existence in his first meeting with Igor. But that didn't explain what the Arcana is. Trough those who live change as they flow through the stream of life, everyone posses a set of values that they never truly let go of. The travellers in the tale all have a different strengths and goals. Here is the list of the Arcana, their meaning and who they are currently assigned to.
(This is just the definitions in Existensia and nothing more)
O. The Fool The Fool is a wanderer with no memories of it's past. The Fool changes depending on what path they choose to wander. They have no past to constrain them and a free will to change their goals and in a few cases, fate itself. They are truly built from their experiences. Current Owner: Claus
I. The Magician The Magician is a level-headed Individual with mystic powers. Magicians are kind friends and mentors to their allies and A force to be reckoned with for their enemies. They also may have preformed a great sacrifice for their power. Current Owner: Mami Tomoe
II. The High Priestess The Priestess is the chosen one by a god to stop great calamities. Through their talents differ, The Priestess is kind at heart and has a strong sense of duty. Through chosen, they are not without weakness, such that can only be overcome with the help of dear ones. Current Owner: Suzomina Miya
III. The Empress The Empress is an enigmatic watcher of tremendous knowlage. Almost always the one to guide The Fool to it's proper path when It is lost. They help out from the subconscious, assigned to he Velvet room, only to appear in time of great need. Current Owner: Phi
IV. The Emperor The Emperor is a proud and mighty individual who proudly carries it's identity with all favours and flaws. Through not always a leader, The Emperor never succumbs to hopelessness, even in the harshest of times and extends this determination to it's friends. A unrelenting force, The Emperor will never back down when it sees a wrong in front of them. Current Owner: Kanji Tatsumi
V. The Hierophant The Heirophant is a intellectual and capable being who believes they are meant for great things. They symbolises the concept of authority, relations with the (Previously) super-natrual, obedience to rules and the divine. The Heirophant also displays wishes for an harmonious Utopia where the enlightened writes the rules. Current Owner: Sima Shi
VI. The Lovers The Lovers is a warm and open individual who represent transition from different stages in life. They symbolise what every individuals' deepest desires. One who won't leave till death. Current Owner: ???
VII. The Chariot The Chariot is a unbreaking individual who is willing to withstand anything to fulfil their creed. They are often in a high position of command, ready to fight through anything and everything to see their ambitions to succeed. The Chariot is also the most loyal of comrades that can be found. Current Owner: Zelgius and Zhao Yun
VIII. The Justice The Justice is one sent to fulfil their mission with absolute success. They have the strongest line of morals and will never betray them. The Justice will mindlessly follow their code, but will cease if it conflicts with their morals. The Justice is also a sacred sign of loyalty to those It favours. Current Owner: Hakumen
IX. The Hermit is one who watches the events of the worlds from a distance. They Hermit has realised the truth of dimensions and has cut all bonds to their previous life. The gather and safeguards knowlage of the great beyond. Current Owner: ???
X. The Fortune The Fortune is an exposer of the unknown and a revelation that everything even out. They are clever individuals who take their chances with full acknowledgement of the risks. The Fortune is also the one to take opportunities to change the tide. Current Owner: Naoto Shirogane
XI. The Strength The Strength are the individuals who believe might is the true solutions. Any and all conflicts will be quickly be resolved by the blade rather then the mind. They only follows those they find worthy of their service. The Strength have complete control over their might, but has to wrestle with arrogance. Current Owner: Lu Bu
XII. The Hanged Man The Hanged Man is one who has given their life to help others. They will never doubt about putting themselves in harm to stop injury occurring to others. Even in death, they will dedicate their last strength to help it's closest. The Hanged Man is the token of the selfless, but also of the truly reckless. Current Owner: Darkrai
XIII. The Death The Death is one that symbolises the ending. But also the one that sows the seeds for a new beginning. Completely shrouded in mystery. Current Owner: ???
XIV. The Temperance The Temperance is the one that puts piece of different wholes together to form a new whole. It represents harmony and melding between opposites. The Temperance has in exchange a difficulty with being a own cohesive whole. Current Owner: ???
XV. The Devil The Devil is one who gives in to their most cruel desires. They have no regards for others well-being or safety and will betray if the circumstances seems enjoyable enough. Although many negatives, The Devil displays great self-confidence and loyalty to oneself. Current Owner: Hazama
XVI. The Tower The Tower are one with supreme confidence in their abilities. Trough The Towers abilities my surpass many, so do their arrogance. Their high belief in their superiority often leads to their downfall. Current Owner: Damashii Gambaride
XVII. The Star The Star is the one who never gives up hope and sees the best outcome. They won't let any incident cripple their hope for a better tomorrow. The Star will share their optimism with their comrades. Current Owner: Baal (???) and Darius
XVIII. The Moon The Moon is the one who see the truth without words. They are deeply connected to their subconscious, like their fears and dreams. The Moon are afraid of carrying their burdens alone and often finds someone else to carry the weight. Current Owner: Charlotte
XIX. The Sun The Sun is the One who finds satisfaction in their way of life. They will never change their mind about decisions and stand by their word to the bitter end. Trough The Sun is naive, it is also one of the hardest to derail from their track. Current Owner: ???
XX. The Judgement The Judgement is one meant to avert the gravest of catastrophes with their life on the line. They are the ones that are satisfied with their lives and ready to rest after a final conflict. Current Owner: ???
OO. The Joker The Joker is the same as the fool, except they don't allow others to change them. They do trough like to manipulate others for their own gain. Current Owner: Dimentio
XI Altered. The Hunger The Hunger shares the absolute might that the Strength posses, if not more. They have no control over their actions. They Consume and get Consumed in the pursuit of something beyond understanding. Current Owner: The Consumer
XX Altered. The Aeon The Aeon is one that ties the bonds between us and gives the lost means of going on. A bright force that is a steadfast companion from the beginning to end. Although their appearance are deceiving, they are perhaps the single most force in their whole conflict. Current Owner: Neptune
We ain't got time for this! yelled Kanji. Senpai's gettin' further away the longer we stand here talkin'!
Naoto seemed to ignore Kanji's hurriedness, speaking only to herself. ...Tragedy shouldn't diminish how much we care about someone. And yet... I pushed him away.
...pushed him away...
Chie yelled again, grabbing Yosuke by the arm. Th-there it is again!! You heard it this time, didn't you?!
I know that voice from somewhere, murmured Yukiko, her eyes seeming to shine with recognition. It's... on the tip of my tongue, but...
Oh, man... What did we get into this time? asked Yosuke to no one in particular. Why can't these things ever be simple?
But... no matter what happens, he always goes to any length to be with me, said Naoto softly as she closed her eyes, a gentle smile crossing her lips. ..Because he loves me.
...he loves me...
I smell something familiar, said Teddie, looking around. I wonder what it is. It's not a Shadow... but... it sort of is.
It's not a threat, explained Naoto, causing everyone to look confusedly in her direction as she spoke again. It's so... ironic, isn't it? I didn't expect that our situations, or our circumstances, would become so similar.
The sleuth turned toward the street, her silver-blue eyes opening and gazing upon a dark-haired woman floating in mid-air, a white cloak billowing about her, her sorrow-filled face glowing with a soft, ethereal light.
Did you, Izanami?
The others gasped in shock and horror, reaching immediately for their weapons.
What the hell?! shouted Kanji, his hands grasping the heavy metal plate.
Dammit, why does she have to be here now, of all times?! cursed Yosuke, clutching his daggers.
Peace, sons and daughters of man, said the goddess clearly, the calm her voice making their resolutions falter. I am not here for violence. Instead... I come at the summons of one who knows and understands my suffering, my eternal pain.
But how can we trust you? asked Yukiko, still wary of their old enemy. This could still be a trap.
I.. don't think it is, said Rise, lowering her chakrams and staring curiously at the goddess. I don't sense any hostility from her. But... you came because someone called you? The idol shook her head, but gasped as an idea came to her. Wait! You could stop all this! Use your goddess powers and stuff to end this so Souji-kun won't--
I... can't. Izanami winced, looking away from everyone in shame before she could see the hurt cross their faces. I... I asked Souji to undertake this mission because I cannot stop it myself. This power is too ancient and too terrible for me to affect it successfully... But I did what I could to protect him up to this point.
It was you!! Yosuke pointed at the goddess, his eyes wide with revelation. You made the Midnight Channel appear that night! When Souji was in the TV world and he and Teddie were in trouble! You warned us about it so we could go in and save him!
I did, admitted Izanami, appealing to the group with a desperate look. I couldn't simply let him die in there! I... I'm connected to him, like I was connected so powerfully with my husband so long ago! I feel compelled to protect him, to make certain he doesn't come to harm... She floated to the ground, her bare feet landing gently on the street. I... never expected this to happen five years ago. His Hope, his drive to succeed, to protect all that is dear to him, it is so much like my memory of my husband, the man I loved with all my heart and soul.
You're referring to the old myths, aren't you? asked Yukiko, continuing as Izanami nodded in reply. But... when Izanagi fled the Underworld after seeing what you had become, you cursed him bitterly. How can you say you still love him after something like that?
I... The goddess slowly dropped to her knees, her shame weighing down upon her. I was so ashamed of myself. Instead of being honest with my husband and telling him what I had become, I allowed my pride to get the better of me. I wished to handle the situation on my own terms, without speaking to him and treating him like the partner we had pledged each other we would be during the dawn of time. If I had been truthful about my condition sooner, perhaps our separation would have been prevented. But instead...
...you pushed him away, finished Naoto, her brows creased in pain.
I hated him! spat Izanami bitterly. But not for the reasons he believed. I despised him for living, for still being alive when I had died in childbirth! I despised myself for my condition, for my loneliness that only seemed to stretch on forever after we broke our bonds! She closed her eyes, tears beginning to gather. I chose to accept what I considered to be my fate rather than battle for my life and my love, even though the man who came after me, who faced death to bring me back, wouldn't give up on me until he realized it was too late. No... Rather, I forced him to give me up because I gave into foolish pride. I did not become like that because of dying... She looked up into the dark, starless heavens, her cheeks wet with her tears. ...I was already like that. I turned my thoughts and feelings inward, and I allowed my pride to rot me away from the inside out.
Izanami sat on the empty street and stared up into the heavens for long moments, weeping silently to herself. Naoto couldn't take her eyes away, and she knew exactly why.
...You've changed, Naoto observed, a small smile creasing her lips.
All because of Souji, whispered the goddess, closing her eyes yet again. He... he helped me remember everything that should truly matter. The warmth of the sun upon my skin, the cool spray of the rolling river, the softness of the spring wind, the soothing scent of sakura blossoms. He... gave me the chance to remember what it was like to live, and to love. Such happiness, the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of this world, is the true essence of life.
Izanami turned to Naoto, her eyes meeting the detective's... and smiled with deep understanding of something that had eluded her for so long. For the first time in countless millennia... I almost feel whole... like my own fog has lifted.
Naoto thought she caught a glimpse of something else in the goddess's irises, something far more familiar to her. ...But you still feel incomplete, don't you?
I... I do, admitted Izanami, looking surprised at Naoto's observation. I can tell that something else has changed, but I cannot pin-point...
I think I have an idea of what it might be, hinted the detective, moving toward the kneeling goddess, stopping only when she stood a foot away from her.
The two women stared at each other for moments beyond count, Naoto's irises of purest silver-blue locked securely on the goddess's. But the vermilion hue that had tinted Izanami's eyes for so very long was no longer present, instead replaced by a pure, rich honey-gold.
It's amazing... isn't it? asked the goddess, her smile widening with ill-concealed joy.
Unexpected, admitted the sleuth, her own smile mirroring Izanami's exactly. But not unwelcome.
Between them, only a few words were now necessary: words of acceptance.
Whaaa... Chie managed a stutter, the scene before her having driven her previously into stunned silence. What's going on?? Why are you two-- GAH!! She shrieked again, joined by Yukiko and Rise, as Naoto and Izanami began to glow with a bright blue light, tongues of flame rising into the air around them. Both pairs of eyes shimmered with the same blue light, the link between them establishing itself once and for all.
Thou art I, announced Naoto firmly, her voice echoing in her throat.
I am thou, replied Izanami, who suddenly rose back into the air, their eye contact remaining unbroken.
I can't take much more of this, muttered Yosuke, reflexively clinging to Chie's arm and causing her to blush profusely.
The goddess was consumed by a bright flash of brilliant blue light. In the place of the white-cloaked woman, a regal female hovered above the ground, dressed in a white overcoat similar to Izanagi's, except strapped down entirely over her lower body, appearing more like a dress. Belts accented the jacket's sleeves, waist, and lower portion, and bandages wrapped around the open chest and exposed hands, rising up around her neck. A silver mask hid her entire face, the slits wide enough to reveal her glowing golden eyes, and long, silver hair flowed down her back and trailed against her coat. She carried no weapon, but her bandaged hands crackled with powerful energy.
Naoto smiled at Izanami with deepest enthusiasm, and her new Persona vanished in a blue haze. The detective let out a deep sigh, and turned back to her friends, all of whom were staring at her, stunned speechless.
...What are you all gawking at? Naoto laughed nervously, blushing as she looked down at her shoes.
I just wanna know what the hell happened just now, said Kanji, unable to grasp the event entirely.
It was something wonderful, said Yukiko, sliding her hand into Kanji's and squeezing it affectionately, causing him to blush too. Trust me.
Are... you okay, Naoto-kun? asked Rise, genuinely concerned as she moved toward her friend.
I've... never felt better! exclaimed Naoto, unable to suppress her glee. I feel like I can take on anything! She hugged Rise, the idol yelping at the unexpected show of affection, but she took it quickly in stride, throwing her arms around her best friend and squeezing her tightly before breaking the embrace.
First things first, though, said Yosuke, and everyone nodded in agreement. We need to catch up with Souji and give him another piece of our minds for ditching us twice since he's been back.
Does this mean Naoto's going to be our Sensei until we find him? asked Teddie innocently.
Huh?! Naoto blushed uncontrollably. I... What?! I'm no leader! I can't...
You could at least try, suggested Chie, smiling at her with gentle support. You're an ace detective! I'm sure you'll do fine!
Well... since we're running out of time and options, I suppose we have to make a few sacrifices. Naoto sighed, quickly forming a plan in her mind. Rise-san, please summon Himiko and search for Souji's current location. Teddie, try to sniff out how strong the Shadows' scent is and gauge their relative strength.
The two nodded firmly and set to work as Naoto withdrew her cellphone from her coat pocket.
Got him, Naoto-kun! exclaimed Rise excitedly. He's in the shopping district, near the Moel station. ...Wow, he made really good time, didn't he? I don't even know my way around that well!
There's still a really strong Shadow presence in town, reported Teddie as Naoto began dialing a number into her cellphone. Mostly scattered, but I think they're on the move.
Naoto nodded as she placed her phone to her ear, looking relieved as the line connected. Yakushiji-san, it's me. I-- She sighed deeply, covering her eyes with her free hand. Yes, I'm fine. You didn't need to worry about me. Listen, I don't have time to discuss-- She growled audibly, pacing up and down the sidewalk. I know! But please listen for a moment! I need you to-- Naoto stomped her foot, losing her patience entirely. Would you just SHUT UP and listen for a second?!
Everyone jumped at Naoto's outburst, who blushed with guilt as she composed herself.
I... apologize. But I need the car. She listened patiently as Yakushiji tried to confirm her request. Yes, the good car. The four-door. Yes, everyone's here with me. I told you you had no reason to worry. She paced along the sidewalk again, listening intently to the secretary. Yes, they'll keep an eye on me. I promise. Please hurry, though. Souji's in trouble and we need to act as quickly as possible. ...Thank you, Yakushiji-san.
Naoto closed the cellphone with a deep sigh, rubbing her temple beneath her hat. I swear, he's become much jumpier recently... but I'm probably to blame for that.
He'll get over it, said Yosuke, grinning. I'm just glad you got out of that funk.
It's still there, said Naoto with brutal honesty, but I don't have time for self-pity right now. We need to get to Souji and make sure we all get out of this in one piece.
Hell yeah, agreed Kanji, punching his open hand enthusiastically. You got a plan or what, kid?
Of course, Naoto grinned, motioning for everyone to gather closer. I requested the good car for a reason. It will be the best mode of transportation to use once we get to Souji... though we may need people to sit on others' laps. It will still be a tight squeeze for eight grown people.
Teddie can sit on my lap! giggled Rise, who was still scanning with Himiko.
Does that mean I finally get to score? asked Teddie naively.
You did that on purpose! cried Yukiko, earning another loud giggle from the idol in spite of the death-glare she received.
Focus, guys! said Yosuke as he looked down the street. ...Geez, how long will it take for Yakushiji-san to get here with the good car? The brunette sounded skeptical of any car being preferable to a motorcycle. He still regretted leaving Teddie's special cycle back in the TV world, but he would never have admitted it openly.
Not too long, Naoto reassured him, just a few more min--
Oh, crap!! gasped Rise, her eyes widening in horror. Souji-kun's in trouble!
What's wrong? asked Naoto, her face becoming stern.
All the Shadows in town started moving all at once! whimpered the idol, shifting nervously from foot to foot. They're all moving toward Souji-kun's position!
The detective cursed, stomping her foot on the concrete as everyone else looked at each other in horror.
The Shadows are trying to end it quickly, thought Naoto to herself, looking out toward the shopping district, worry shining in her silver-blue eyes.
Please, if anyone's out there, keep him safe until we can get to him. Just give us a little more time!
Persona 4 FYL (Five Years Later) Chapter Thirteen: Unexpected
"It's so dark in there..." whispered Rise, unable to tear her gaze from the wide, vertical Rift.
Souji faintly registered the fact that none of his friends could look away from the massive crack in the TV World, and he was forced to exert considerable effort in diverting his own eyes from it.
"Should we... even be here?" asked Chie to no one in particular.
"What are you talking about?" said Yosuke, looking confused.
"Well, I meant that it makes me feel weird. Just standing right next to it... I don't know how to describe it. It's almost familiar somehow."
"I know what you mean," agreed Yukiko. "It's like I'm tired. Almost drained."
Everyone turned to look at Souji as though he had only just arrived.
"You kiddin', man?" said Kanji a bit weakly. "We don't even know where this thing'll take us, ya know?"
"Would you rather stay here?" Souji replied calmly, and silence answered his question for him.
"But shouldn't we come up with a plan or something?" said Chie, looking worried.
"If you think you can, then be my guest." Souji folded his arms over his chest, looking thoughtful. "There isn't much else we can do at this point. For all we know, this could be the only way out of the TV World."
"But... there could be another way out."
"Huh?" Souji blinked, surprised to hear Naoto speak so meekly. "What are you talking about?"
"I-I mean..." Naoto looked away as all eyes fell upon her. "W-we could search for another television and leave that way, couldn't we?"
"But that's too risky! You know that!" said Yosuke firmly. "We have no idea where we'd come out! For all we know, we could end up in America, or Siberia! Take your pick!"
"I don't know where any of the other TVs come out! Remember?" said the bear in a regretful tone.
"Now that I think about it," muttered Kanji, more to himself than anyone else, "we can't go nowhere now, even if he could."
Souji turned around, shocked to find that the earth around them was crumbling away into the chasm they had crossed only moments ago. If they didn't go through the Rift, they would be forced to plummet into the chasm against their will.
"...The Rift is our only option," declared the silverette with finality.
"Then I'll just stay here," replied Naoto with equal stubbornness.
"No," said Souji firmly.
"I'll be fine." Naoto looked away from Souji, unwilling to face him. "I--"
"You're staying with us."
The detective let out a strangled yelp as Souji raised his voice, composing herself by taking a sudden interest in her shoes.
"I've had enough of your dodging," said Souji, walking up to Naoto's side. "Tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing is wrong," muttered Naoto without hesitation.
Naoto winced at his observation. "It doesn't matter."
"You're scared of something. What exactly are you afraid of?"
"I'm not--" Naoto stuttered, shivering to herself. "I-- Ah--"
"You are. I can see it in your eyes."
"You don't know anything, Souji Seta," said Naoto darkly, still not looking at him. "None of you could possibly know."
"Then why don't you tell us?"
The silverette's continued stoicism proved abrasive to the young sleuth, and her temper began to rise. "I said it doesn't matter!"
"You matter to me. I've told you a thousand times..."
Naoto winced again, turning around so that she could stare into the bottomless chasm. "It's nothing. Seriously, I--"
"If it's nothing, then lets go inside," said Souji adamantly.
"I..." The detective shivered, her eyes shutting tightly.
Naoto-kun, Rise said softly, her eyes full of concern for her friend, there's nothing to worry about! We're right here with you! It's not like you're alone or anything, you know?
I know, I know! cried Naoto, her temper flaring. It's just that... I don't know! She stomped on the dusty ground, covering her face with her hands. It's all so confusing!!
It's just like the old man said, whispered Yosuke to Souji, his eyes full of concern.
What do we do? said Chie, her whispered voice almost squeaking with worry. Naoto-kun can't fight like this! And we don't have any idea what might be through the Rift!
There are too many unknowns, agreed Yukiko. But we don't have any other choices left.
Does anyone really know what the future holds, though? said Souji, loud enough for Naoto to hear him.
You're talking about fear of the unknown, right Senpai? said Kanji.
So it's like a test of courage? suggested Teddie. Like the 'Mystery Food X' thing Yosuke kept talking about?
Hey! That was five years ago! yelled Chie, blushing furiously. Give it a rest, would you?!
There's no more time, growled Souji, silencing everyone instantly. He extended his hand to Naoto, his eyes focused on her silver-blue irises. Take my hand, Naoto.
No, I'm staying, insisted Naoto. It's f--
It's NOT fine! yelled Souji, losing his temper completely. Naoto gasped again, looking the silverette right in the eye. Look at yourself, Naoto! You braved being kidnapped, faced your true self, and stood up against two gods five years ago! What's so different now?!
I... I'm... Naoto's eyes welled up with tears. I'm scared, okay?! I'm scared to death!! Are you happy now?! Are you happy I admitted that I'm not perfect?!
No. Souji placed both hands on Naoto's shoulders, and the detective shivered at his closeness to her. I'm not happy. Now that you've admitted to your fear, you have to conquer it. Everyone else has, and-- The silverette blinked, the realization hitting him hard. ...This is your test.
Huh? Naoto shook her head, disbelieving. My... test?
Yes. Your test to overcome your fear.
Naoto shivered in Souji's grip, her hat sliding down over her face as tears trailed down her dust-blotched cheeks. S-stay... stay with me... please...
Souji smiled. For as long as you need me. She still hasn't given me a straight answer... but I have a feeling I already know. I just need one piece of information... something that pulls everything together.
A loud crack sounded nearby, and a large chunk of clay separated next to where Naoto had stomped the ground, tumbling into the ravine of swirling black mist. The sleuth practically leaped into Souji's arms, clinging to him in terror as she watched the boulder fall into the darkness. For a brief instant, she wondered why she had been so frightened of the Rift to begin with.
I... think it's time to go, Souji-kun! squeaked Naoto, and Souji's smile widened a little, earning him the look from the shivering detective.
I feel sort of stupid asking this, sighed Chie, but how should we go into this thing?
Souji turned to Yosuke, looking thoughtful. You have any suggestions, Ideas Man?
Yosuke pondered the situation for a brief moment, then snapped his fingers in inspiration. Let's hold hands.
Chie looked as though she'd like nothing better than to smack the brunette. This isn't the time for flirting, Yosuke!!
Oh! gasped Yukiko, catching on. If we hold hands, it means we'll all stick together if something happens! Good idea, Yosuke-kun!
Rise suddenly removed her sweater, cutting strips from the fabric with one of her chakrams. If we tie our wrists together, it should give us some extra help, too!
Naoto watched everyone in silence, her eyes moving to Kanji as he assisted Rise with cutting the fabric, Yukiko removing her own sweater to add to the pool of fabric. She noticed Chie looking disappointed, and deduced that her jacket would have been ideal for such a precaution. Teddie moved swiftly to give Chie a quick hug, and the girl smiled and returned it with equal affection, glad that someone noticed her. For the first time in years, Naoto felt the pain of her loneliness... and leaned closer to Souji, who kissed her cheek, causing her to flush hotly.
We're all here, Naoto, said Souji reassuringly. We won't let anything happen to you.
I know, Souji-kun. It's just that I... Naoto hesitated again, unable to continue with what she wanted to say... what she needed to say.
You don't have to do everything alone. Okay?
Naoto only nodded silently as she felt Souji's hands tie her wrist to his, her other wrist taken in Rise's gentle hands. Souji's other hand was quickly fastened to Teddie's wrist, and soon everyone was together in a straight line, Kanji and Yosuke on the ends, the only ones without two hands to hold.
Okay, everyone, said Yosuke firmly. Jump into it on three!
Uh... Teddie said, looking confused. One-two-three? Or one-two-three-go?
Yosuke smacked his forehead with his free hand. On. Three. Stupid bear...
Okay, okay! said Teddie impatiently. Geez, you don't have to maul me about it!
Yosuke mauling a bear? Yukiko considered, doing her best to hold in a stray giggle.
One! called Souji, forcing everyone back into seriousness.
Two! yelled Chie, poised to jump into the Rift.
Three! finished Yosuke, and the group leaped into the shadowy blackness of the Rift. They felt their hands, firmly clasped together, begin to be pulled roughly apart, but their pre-planning proved effective, the darkness swallowing them whole.
Souji winced as he rose to his feet, the ground beneath him quite stable. Unfastening the ties upon his wrists, the silverette looked around their new location. There was no evidence of how they had arrived within the room they currently occupied, but he could tell that the house was quite old. The wooden walls were lined with paintings and assorted antiques, and shelves of books filled the rest of the gaps. A desk sat in the corner, dusty and untouched.
Where are we? asked Kanji in curiosity as he stood, his eyes wide. It looks like a museum or somethin'.
A study, deduced Souji out loud as everyone else stood up, checking themselves for injuries.
It's so dark, Chie remarked, scratching her head. Even outside, too.
I found a light switch, called Yosuke near the door to the room. Huh? Damn, the power's out... or this isn't a place that gets electricity.
This place is so creepy... said Yukiko nervously. Maybe we should find a way out of here.
...It's this way.
Souji turned to Naoto, worry creeping into his heart. Her voice sounded dead, almost numb. What's wrong?
Wow, Nao-chan! Teddie said, smiling brightly. It's like you know this pl--
Shut up! Just SHUT UP! Naoto screamed abruptly, causing the bear to step back in shock and alarm. Don't call me that! Don't you EVER call me that again!! Do you hear me?!
Teddie whimpered, his blue eyes shining with tears. ...Huh? Wha... what did I say?
Naoto-kun! How could you?! berated Rise, giving Teddie a firm hug of comfort.
Naoto's face was stony as she opened the door, walking slowly into the hallway. ...This way.
Hey! Rise cried, offended. Don't ignore me like that!
It's okay, Rise-chan, said Teddie softly, looking at Naoto as she moved behind the wall. She... changed when she saw this place. It's connected to her somehow.
Yeah, let it go, agreed Souji, moving to follow Naoto out. She didn't mean anything by it, but keep an eye on her all the same.
This really bothers me, said Yukiko, truly worried. How does Naoto-kun know the way?
I have a hunch, murmured Souji as he exited the room. His suspicions were becoming more solid by the minute.
Everyone hurried down the hallway and out the large front door, and the group blinked in confusion as they noticed that the outside was just as dark as the inside. No moon, no street lamps, no vehicle lights, no interior house lights glowed anywhere. Souji became increasingly uneasy as he realized that they had arrived in a small town... a very familiar small town.
There was only one last thing Souji needed to confirm their present location. He moved wordlessly to the mailbox near the gateway in the fence.
Naoto, I need your pen-light.
H-huh? Naoto blinked dully, but complied, fumbling for the tool with numb fingertips.
Souji grasped it and pushed the top, turning the lamp on and shining the bright light against the side of the mailbox, reading the Japanese characters etched upon it.
...Shirogane Estate, Souji read aloud, frowning as he turned off the pen-light and slipped it into his pocket. I knew it.
Dude, no way! yelled Yosuke, running over to confirm the information. This has gotta be a joke, right?!
Yeah! agreed Chie, shaking her head in denial. Why would the Rift lead to Naoto-kun's house?! She gasped as an idea struck her. Oh! Maybe we're still in the TV World?
I dunno, said Kanji doubtfully. This place feels different.
What do you mean, Kanji-kun? asked Yukiko, genuinely interested.
It's too familiar to me, explained Kanji. Like... too real, you know what I'm sayin'?
But I can still summon Himiko! cried Rise, looking as confused as everyone else. Our Personas still work, so this has to be the TV World, right?
Souji leaped in surprise as he heard a familiar beep go off in his pants pocket. Reaching inside, he withdrew his cellphone, feeling his stomach churn as his eyes fells on counts of thirty-eight missed calls and twenty-two new voicemails. Discreetly returning the device to his pocket, Souji turned to Teddie, who was sniffing the air, the bear's usual response to the need of finding one's way when lost.
This isn't your home, is it, Teddie? said Souji, already knowing the answer.
Not at all, Sensei, replied Teddie, looking grim. But it doesn't smell like your world, either. Something's not ri--
Hey! Where the hell have you all been?!
Everyone whirled around toward the fence, and Chie shrieked in panic as she recognized the voice, and face, of Detective Ryotaro Dojima, the stern man standing at the front gate and throwing it open in his anger.
What's the big idea, Satonaka?! yelled Dojima, glaring at her fiercely. No word at all from any of you for two whole days! Do you know how worried your parents have been?! How worried Nanako and I have been?!
What?! Two days?! Yukiko cried in shock. But we weren't even away that long! It had to have been five or six hours at the most!
I'm so sorry, Dojima-san! said Chie, bowing low. Something came up, and we had to--
It doesn't matter now, growled Dojima, looking down the road. We have more important things to worry about at the moment, and we need every able person we can get.
Souji followed his uncle's gaze, and his eyes widened in panic as he noticed a familiar tear in the sky that crackled with purple energy that split apart a very familiar-looking hill.
Dammit! Kanji cursed loudly, his fist hitting the stone fence. I thought we left that freakin' Rift behind us!
That's where Yasogami High School should be! interjected Yosuke, staring at the new Rift with a stupefied expression. What the hell's going on here?!
That's what I'd like to know! hollered Dojima, forcing the others into an uncomfortable silence. You all know something, and one of you had better start talking, or so help me, I'll--
Oh, NO!! Sensei, they're coming! A lot of them! There's too many for us to--
Calm down, Teddie! yelled Souji, running up to the bear and holding onto his shoulders. What's-- .No! You're kidding!
Shadows, Sensei! Shadows!!
They were on top of them before they knew what happened. Winged raven-like Shadows carrying flaming lanterns flew over the roof of the Shirogane Estate and dive-bombed the group, forcing them to fall prone onto the ground. Dojima leaped to the side, shock and horror on his face at the appearance of the strange creatures.
Dammit! cursed Yosuke, looking up at the flock of Shadows in frustration. There's a lot more than twenty! We can't beat them all, and if we used our Personas, we'd be the perfect targets!
D-daddy?! Big bro?!
Souji felt time stop as he recognized the voice that rang in his ears. Looking out across the street over the fence, he saw Nanako staring at him in pained horror.
But the Shadows heard her too.
The flock switched their focus to the defenseless twelve-year-old girl, moving in a large mass toward her.
No! Nanako, run! yelled Souji, forgetting everything else. Fear consumed him, and he knew he'd never summon Izanagi in time to save her. Get out of here! Run away now!!
Nanako didn't move. Her face remained slightly surprised by the huge oncoming group of Shadows flying right at her.
Souji heard the muffled yells of the others, even his uncle screaming Nanako's name.
It was too late.
Then Nanako smiled, her hair falling down over her eyes.
Souji felt his heart skip a beat. It can't be---!!
The girl's grin widened into an almost demented leer, her hand extended to grasp a glowing blue card that had materialized out of thin air. The piece of paper burst into bright blue flames, illuminating the cityscape around them, and a shining woman emerged from nothingness behind Nanako. She was dressed in a flowing kimono of pinks and crimsons, and carried a regal quality about her. A long golden staff rested in her hands, and her solid blue eyes flashed with the energy of the Justice Arcana.
Lifting the staff, an explosive energy radiated from it, and the deep, womanly voice of the Persona carried so that all present could hear it.
I am thou... and thou art I. I am Tatsuhime, the ancestral Guardian Spirit of Inaba.
Just like the Shrine, thought Souji to himself as the thick gathering of Shadows disintegrated by a tremendous blast of Almighty energy, a shimmering cloud of blue sparks the only trace left of them. The royal Persona gave a respectful bow to all present, and vanished as quickly as she had appeared.
...Nanako? Dojima said, his eyes wide in complete shock. What... what did you do..?
Nanako rushed over to her father, dropping next to him and wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight hug. Daddy, I'm sorry! I... I followed you because I was worried, and... when I saw those things going after you, I... She sniffled, trying to hold back tears. I wanted to protect you, Daddy! I didn't know what to do, but... then it called to me. My Persona called to me, so I... I answered.
Persona? Dojima blinked, confused, but visibly relieved. It... Hell, what am I saying? He held Nanako tightly, returning her embrace. Thank you, Nanako. You really saved my life just now. I.. don't know what I'd have done if you hadn't been here.
Nanako giggled, looking quite pleased with herself.
I definitely didn't see that coming, grinned Yosuke as he rose to his feet, proceeding to help Chie to hers.
I don't think any of us did, Yosuke-kun, said Rise seriously. But now what do we do? If we stay here, more Shadows will come after us.
And where'd they all come from, anyway? asked Kanji, rubbing his shoulder. He had hit the stone fence awkwardly when he had dived. I don't think they all just popped up outta thin air.
Dojima-san, said Chie, moving next to her superior and helping him up along with Nanako, maybe you and Nanako-chan should go back home. We can take care of things here, and Nanako-chan can protect you from the Shadows if they come after you.
Daddy, didn't everyone evacuate to Junes? said Nanako. I want to go guard the entrance and protect them!
That's... a very good idea, Nanako, said Dojima, gazing proudly down at his daughter. We can go gather up any stragglers while we're at it.
Leave it to me, Chie-chan! said Nanako reassuringly. You all be careful, too. Especially you, Big Bro. Naoto-kun would never forgive you if-- She blinked, looking around in worry. Hey, where is Naoto-kun?
...I'm here, said the sleuth, leaning against one of the trees, her eyes averted. I'm... fine. Just fine.
Souji kept his gaze on Naoto as he turned, and he saw her blank face turn pained and stricken. Turning back to Nanako as though he had noticed nothing, he moved forward and gave her a strong hug. I'll be fine. I promise.
Nanako grinned, and Dojima patted Souji firmly on the back.
Hey... in case something happens to us, I want you to know I've always been proud of you. He turned to the rest of the group, his eyes lingering on Naoto for a few second. All of you. Heh, even you, Satonaka.
I'll take that as a complement! grinned Chie, and Dojima smiled back.
Oh, one last thing... Dojima reached into his pocket and handed Souji a folded newspaper page. My detective's intuition went wild before I left the house, and I... took this with me. Something tells me you need to see this... The detective's gaze moved back to Naoto, and pity flooded his eyes. And from the looks of things, it seems I was right.
Thanks, uncle. See you two soon.
Souji watched his uncle and cousin move quickly down the hill toward Junes for a few moments, and then looked down at the folded article, his curiosity growing by the second. Uncle's instincts are usually spot-on. I wonder what he...
The silverette retrieved the penlight from his pocket and turned it on, shining the light upon the newspaper scrap. Almost instantly, he felt a numbness spread through his entire body as he read short portions of the article, the sentences barely registering in his brain.
'...a kind and virtuous man, skilled in his craft...'
Okay, I think we need to regroup here. I--... Partner? Souji heard Yosuke speaking, yet didn't. What's up, Souji?
'...admired by all, a true genius of the profession. Money did not matter as long as he was able to help those in need with his prowess...'
Hey, Senpai! Souji thought he felt Kanji move closer to him. Whatcha lookin' at? Is it somethin' impor--
'...killed during his last case. The Inaba community will miss him dearly, and our deepest condolences are extended to his next of kin, his granddaughter Naoto.'
Oh, God! Souji thought he heard Rise shout. No! NO!!
You mean... he's... Yukiko may have choked on her words, unable to speak.
This... this isn't right! Souji could have heard pain in Chie's voice, but just barely. It's.. not true, is it?!
Souji couldn't feel the tears falling down his cheeks, his eyes misting enough that all he could see with any clarity was the title of the article and the colored picture of a kind, gentle old man wearing spectacles. Even his eyes were clear through the haze, looking back at the silverette with a very familiar shade of silver-blue.
Why...? Why didn't you...
'Misanori Shirogane: Born March 16th, 1934. Died October 6th, 2014'
'All That Shall Remain is Love.'
Everything clicked into place.
Naoto... Souji turned, staring at the detective with silver eyes filled with tears he could not feel. Why didn't you tell me...?
Naoto Shirogane stared at Souji and her friends, all of whom were looking at her in shock and horror, as though she were a cornered animal. Her back pressed against the tree she had been leaning on mere moments ago, and her mouth moved silently, trying desperately to provide an explanation that could not, and would not, come.
Persona 4 FYL (Five Years Later) Chapter Ten: Kanji
The group trudged on toward the dark, gaping Rift through the desolate landscape, the chill wind seeming to howl through the barren, dusty plain. The black clouds above rumbled ominously as though attempting desperately to unleash a downpour upon the thirsty, broken ground.
Souji held tightly onto Naoto, covering her shivering body with his jacket as she leaned closer to him for warmth. Turning slightly, he looked around at the rest of the group to see how they were dealing with the sudden drop in temperature. Yosuke and Chie huddled together with Yukiko in the middle, all three protecting each other with their body heat. Rise snuggled close to Teddie, who seemed all too happy for the closeness. But Kanji seemed stubbornly oblivious to the efforts of everyone else to huddle together, the only one among them who stood alone against the icy gusts that plagued their progress.
"Come on over here, Kanji-kun..." said Rise, beckoning him over. "You shouldn't be out there alone like that..."
"I-I'm f-fine..." said Kanji, his teeth chattering slightly. "Ya don't-t haveta worr-ry about m-me... I'm a m-man. I c-can take it..."
"No you can't..." Rise pouted. "Look at you. You're turning blue!"
"I-I am not-t!" Kanji's voice rose slightly. "I said don't worry about it, Rise-chan!"
"Kanji-kun, if you'd just let me-"
"I said I'm FINE, dammit!!" Kanji roared, causing every head to turn. Naoto jumped slightly out of Souji's arms, having been engrossed in her own thoughts. Chie, Yosuke, and Yukiko glared reproachfully at Kanji, and Teddie seemed at a loss at what else to do other than pat Rise gently on her back. But Kanji hadn't noticed, he was too busy focusing on Rise, who seemed almost ready to burst into tears.
"...I... I was just..." Rise stuttered horribly, trying not to break down into sobs again. Teddie looked up at her with an expression of pity.
Kanji's face became stony as he looked down at the dusty, barren earth. That's just what makes me so pissed... whiny, weepy little girls who can't control themselves... Why can't they be tougher?
Souji's intuition surged into overdrive. "Get ready," he said to Yosuke, who nodded firmly and began whispering to the girls.
"...Get ready?" repeated Naoto in a whisper. "You mean..."
Souji nodded. "I'll probably be somewhere else around here again in a few seconds."
Naoto nodded slowly, forcing a smile. "Will you tell me what's going on then?"
"I will," said Souji, "if you do the same for me."
Naoto hesitated, but before she could answer, she was swallowed by the bleak grayness. Souji winced at the anxiety on her face, but he forced himself to look away; there were more pressing matters to deal with.
Kanji, deeply embroiled in his thoughts, didn't notice the fading brown color at first, the grays replacing the shattered landscape as a red light flashed for that brief second. However, Kanji jumped at the clap of thunder that boomed within their ears, glancing around in a panic as everything movable had become frozen and still. Rise had stopped exactly where she stood, her eyes filled with tears as Teddie's paw floated in mid-pat.
"Wha-what the hell is this?!" Kanji tried to sound intimidating, yet his voice broke. He turned to Souji and the others that could still move, and blinked in amazement. "Is... is THIS what was happenin' when you guys-"
"....I can see...."
"W-Wha..? S-s-see..??" Kanji felt a penetrating chill that had nothing to do with the cold. The others looked behind him just in time to see the cloaked apparition materialize into being.
"...I can see your fear..."
"Shouldn't we help him?" asked Yukiko, her voice filled with worry.
"...I think he kinda NEEDS this, though," said Yosuke sagely. "We all needed ours, right? A wake-up call."
"It doesn't make it any easier to WATCH, though..." remarked Chie with a slight shiver as the featureless black face transformed into a more rugged appearance, dark hair-like growths sprouting slowly from the smooth skull. A long scar sank into the specter's right temple as it's nose elongated, a black ornament forming where Kanji's actual piercing was located. Its mouth parted in a maniacal grin, displaying once again the sharp, pointed teeth common to the doppelganger.
Kanji, unlike the others, couldn't scream. His fear had become so paramount in his mind that he couldn't articulate a single sound within his throat.
"What'cha afraid of, big man?!" grinned the dark Kanji with derision, the deep voice echoing with the shrill whisper of the apparition. "I ain't gonna go effeminate on ya, if that's what you're thinkin'!"
"...What the hell..." Kanji croaked the words as his voice returned. His entire body shook uncontrollably, hands clenched into tight fists around his plate.
"What the hell's right, pal!" The doppelganger began to descend, the cloak wrapping around its form and morphing into a black replica of Kanji's own clothes. "Turned into a whimpering, cowering sack of shit, huh? Yeah, you're a REAL man now! Damned if you do, damned if you don't! Emotion makes you look weak and stupid, and being tough just pushes you into a corner! You're pathetic no matter what ya do!"
"S..Shut up.." Kanji's voice continued to falter. He wanted desperately to rush the bastard, to punch that face in, and yet... he couldn't move a muscle.
"Oooooh, I'm sooo scaaared!" mocked the other Kanji, laughing almost hysterically. "Tried to put on that tough-guy face with Mina too, huh? Tried to make sure you didn't seem weak or vulnerable? That you could stand up to anything? You remember what happened there, right?! RIGHT?!"
"No! Don't-!" All Kanji seemed to be able to do was cringe. It sickened him.
Souji began approaching the scene quietly, looking at his friends and raising a finger to his lips. They nodded apprehensively, though Souji caught their universal look of concern.
"You pushed her away! Left her out in the cold! By bein' a MAN!" The black Kanji continued to laugh, showing off its sharp, pointed teeth. "Like I said! Damned if you do, damned if you don't! You can't do NOTHIN' right! Just face it!" It leaned in, its red eyes penetrating into Kanji's soul. "You ain't changed at all, have ya?!"
"...I HAVE, dammit!" screamed Kanji in rage, punching the ground with his fist. "I DID!!"
Souji stood behind his friend now, but ignored the false Kanji. He placed his hand on the real Kanji's shoulder as he raised his sword, pointing it toward the wraith as he looked down at his friend, smiling gently. "I'm here, Kanji. You don't have to deal with this alone."
"Senpai..." Kanji turned to stare at Souji, his eyes teeming respect and admiration. "I... I don't deserve..."
"HAH! What a total loser!" sneered the dark Kanji, its eyes glowing with malice. "Can't defend yourself on your own, so you gotta let THIS pansy babysit ya! Not that he could beat ME, the stupid jackass!"
"...Oh, that's IT!" snarled Kanji, turning back to glare at the gaunt apparition. "No one, NO ONE disrespects Senpai and gets away with it on MY watch!"
"Ya think you can take me, tough guy?!" laughed the doppelganger as it hefted a cold-iron plate carved with intricate red runes. "I'd LOVE to see you try!"
"You asked for it, shithead!" Kanji's grip tightened around his own plate, and he stood up and charged forward with a roar as he raised the heavy metal above his head. The mimic swung its own thick slab at an opposite angle just as Kanji brought his own down upon it, and the two weapons emitted a loud gong that vibrated throughout the battlefield.
"Let's go!" yelled Chie, but a hand caught her by the shoulder, making her turn around. "H-huh? Souji-kun?"
"Wait until he asks for help." Souji's gaze was solid and stern as he looked toward the two Kanji's battling it out.
"What? But..." Yukiko appeared torn. "He needs us."
"He wouldn't forgive us if we interfered now," agreed Yosuke, although he appeared worried. "He'll let us know when he does need our help... though we do know how stubborn he can be."
"We have to trust him to know his limits," said Souji firmly. "He knows we're here if he needs us."
Another gong rang out as the two plates collided once again. Kanji's plate was jarred into the ground, forcing him to duck as the ghoulish specter swung its own weapon at his head.
"I think I'm gonna need some backup, guys!" hollered Kanji as he pulled his weapon from the dusty earth. "This thing's more of a pain in the ass than I-- GAH!!" Kanji stumbled backward as the doppelganger kicked some loose dirt into his face. "T-the hell?!"
"Now!" Souji and Yosuke yelled together as they charged forward. Chie and Yukiko summoned their Personas together and sent a tempest of fire and ice at the dark Kanji, forcing it to lose ground as Yosuke slashed at it furiously with his knives. Souji stood in front of Kanji in a defensive stance.
"You alright?" asked Souji calmly, looking concerned as Kanji blinked the dust from his eyes.
"Yeah, I got it." Kanji rose to his feet and hefted his plate up again. "Thanks, Senpai."
"URGH!" Yosuke dodged a particularly violent strike from the specter, but its plate slammed into the ground with a tremendous force that sent him flying. He hit the ground hard and rolled several feet, wincing as he regained his senses.
"Yosuke!" Chie started forward, but Yukiko summoned Amaterasu and quickly healed their fallen companion.
"Thanks, Yukiko-san," said Yosuke, looking frustrated as he stood up again.
"C'mon, you wimps! You guys hit as hard as that bleach-haired baby over there!" hollered the doppelganger, rushing forward and aiming a blow at Souji, who raised his sword to block the strike. The blade was jarred from his hand, and he ducked a return blow from the dark Kanji as he attempted to retrieve his Blade.
"You know," smirked Yosuke, "I think what he REALLY meant was, "Man, I REALLY wish you would beat my ass, Kanji!"!"
"Wish granted!" snarled Kanji as he charged forward yet again and swung the plate with as much force as he could muster. The attack took his clone off guard, too focused on Souji to react. Kanji's plate slammed hard into his opponent's skull, forcing the doppelganger into a long, barreling spiral that sent it into the dusty ground with a loud crash. The fallen specter attempted to claw it's way back up, but all it could do was quake in shock as the mortal blow overtook it.
"F.fff....feeeeearrr..." The dark Kanji whispered in the grating hiss, all traces of Kanji's voice lost. It stopped moving abruptly as its body crumbled and evaporated like the other clones, disappearing as rapidly as it had emerged and leaving the gray, lifeless battlefield in silence once more.
"Damn... I think I would have been better off not knowing." Kanji dropped the heavy plate to the barren ground, a small cloud of dust emerging from beneath.
"You okay?" asked Souji as he finally retrieved his sword.
"Yeah... I dunno what would have happened if you guys weren't around. You saved my ass again... Thanks, Senpai." The two clasped their hands and pulled each other into an embrace, patting each other on the back.
"You don't have to give me one of those," said Yosuke warily as he brushed the dirt from his pants. "Really, don't worry about-"
"Oh, don't be such a baby, Yosuke!" Chie rolled her eyes as she approached and embraced Yosuke from behind. "And would you be more careful? Geez, you had me worried there for a second..."
"Are you okay, Kanji-kun?" Yukiko placed a soft hand on Kanji's shoulder, looking concernedly up at him.
"I... I don't really know." Kanji looked worriedly at Souji. "Do we have time to sort things out, maybe? I know we gotta keep going, but..."
"While things are like this, there should be time enough." Souji gave his good friend a confident smile.
"Just start from the beginning, Kanji-kun." Yukiko smiled, as well, and Kanji seemed to take comfort in the support that was shown.
"Alright... Well, after you left, Senpai, I started teaching those classes and met Mina, like I said before. My dolls got nationwide recognition thanks to Ma's advertising, and I actually... started doing a whole lot better in school, and even graduated! Ma was real proud of me... I couldn't remember her being so happy. I felt like I was doing something right for a change..."
Kanji appeared puzzled. "I just... dunno what happened..."
"Perhaps I might be of assistance?"
"Hotei-kun!" Yukiko smiled brightly as the elderly gentleman approached. "Welcome back!"
Hotei chuckled as he returned the smile, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Thank you very much, Amagi-san. You're far too kind."
"Wait..." Kanji stared at Hotei with a dazed look. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Hotei pondered the question for a moment. "Now that you mention it, I have indeed traveled to Inaba on numerous occasions. However, that is of no consequence at the moment."
"He's right," said Yosuke, unable to keep from smiling as he felt Chie's arms around him. "This is about you, Kanji."
"O-okay..." Kanji was nonplussed by all of the eyes focused on him, but he attempted to recall past events within his mind. "Well, about a year after graduation, everyone just... stopped talking to each other. I thought it was just a phase or something, myself, so I decided to just tough it out like I always did, you know? Just... ride out the storm... But Mina didn't like that. I didn't want her to worry about me, so I just took the punches as they came. She said she needed someone who would be able to talk to her about their problems, to share the burden... So she left."
"Oh, Kanji-kun..." Yukiko shook her head, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm so sorry..."
"I... toughed that out, too, though." Kanji shook his head, running a nervous hand through his bleached hair. "I thought it was what everyone expected of me, you know?"
"Tatsumi-san," said Hotei in inspiration, "that is an interesting trinket you wear around your neck.. Might I see it for a moment?"
"Huh?" Kanji glanced down at the chain, and took it off hesitantly. "Sure.. I guess you can, though I dunno how it fits in with everything. It's just a... hollow bullet, that's all."
Hotei turned the trinket in his hands, his eyes sparkling from behind his glasses as he spoke. "This is very interesting... Perhaps your attempts at endurance have made you like this bullet: empty, hollow, a mere ornament. A tough, steely skin, yet lacking in substance."
Chie blinked. "Wow, so Kanji's toughness was his wall?"
Everyone turned to Chie in astonishment except Hotei, who grinned more broadly. "I'm impressed, Sato-san. You're beginning to see one of the many connections."
"So, wait." Yosuke's face contorted painfully as he struggled to get his thoughts in order. "Each of us put up a wall? And that wall was... forced on us two years ago? But what happened back then that made us do such a thing?"
"I don't know..." said Yukiko thoughtfully, "but some of us had more pain to face than others..." She put an arm around Kanji's shoulders and smiled sympathetically.
Kanji appeared thoughtful. "I... thought toughing stuff out was what it meant to be a real man." He looked up at Hotei, curiosity flooding his face. "You've been around. What does it mean to be a man?"
Hotei smiled wider, his hand rising to stroke his beard as he spoke. "That remains a topic of serious debate, my boy. However, in my experience, I've found that being a true 'man' simply involves having the courage to do what must be done for the sake of love, compassion, and protection of others. Communication, honesty, and integrity are essential to this principle, which are far more potent than silence. In other words, it's the pursuit of being a true human, and not merely based on gender alone."
"So.. did I change back to the way I was? Did I really fail?" Kanji winced in pain at the thought.
"You didn't fail, Kanji-kun." Yukiko turned Kanji's face toward hers and gave him a stern, yet compassionate, look. "You proved only moments ago that you are a true man... You protected us and communicated effectively when you needed help. You've become a much better man than you were before... I truly believe that."
"Yukiko-senpai..." Kanji blushed slightly at the praise. "So.. I know what I have to do now... I just need to stand tall and keep going."
"Indeed, Tatsumi-kun." Hotei grinned wider as he removed his glasses, cleaning them with a white handkerchief. "It is important that you commit to what you truly wish to be, and hold your head high without regret."
"Right. I guess I just need to turn my head around, huh? Being tough is one thing, but using it to block out pain and avoid actually dealing with it is something else. And I promise I won't fall back into that trap, either! Not when I have friends like you guys keeping me in line!"
Kanji stumbled back as a glowing blue card materialized in front of him. He reached out and grasped it in his strong hand, shattering it easily, trails of flame rising into the air to form the massive shape of a Persona.
"Rokuten Maoh!" Kanji beamed, unable to conceal his excitement.
"The chains have been severed," said the Persona in a deep whisper. "Your heart has once more been opened to the truth."
"Huh? Wait a sec." Kanji appeared taken aback at the Persona's words, turning around to face the group as it faded in a cloud of blue flame. "I thought we already found the truth."
"Perceptions have been forcibly altered," said Hotei, his smile fading into a more serious expression, "and so the truth is once again obscured from your sight."
"But... you said we placed the chains around our Personas ourselves." Chie shook her head in disbelief.
"Maybe someone or something gave us the chains to begin with?" suggested Yukiko. "We hid the truth from our own eyes, even though we knew it was there."
"Indeed." Hotei grinned again, thoroughly impressed. "The truth is always there. It is unchangeable, immutable, though human beings differ regarding how the truth is seen and reached. And while it was obscured in fog five years ago, truth is now threatened to be engulfed by infinite darkness."
"Darkness?" Yosuke rubbed the back of his head in annoyance. "Geez, what did we get into this time?"
"We can't worry about that now, Yosuke-senpai." Kanji looked down at the pendant in his hand, his eyes dulling slightly as he reminisced. "I guess I should let this go, huh?"
"If you believe that what it means holds you back, then perhaps you should." Hotei's eyes twinkled, and Souji seemed to catch a hint of silver in the blue irises.
"It's kinda funny," said Kanji to himself as he turned the bullet around in his fingers. "I got this when pop died, thinking it might help me look tougher. Ever since then, I've always worn it... But I think it's time to face my problems head on now."
And without a word, Kanji tossed the pendant behind him, the chain jingling in the silent air.
The grayness disappeared, replaced by the pale brown of the dusty earth and the dark, shadowed clouds above. Kanji turned to a startled Rise, who had peered around when time began again.
"I'm, uh... sorry for yelling at you, Rise." said Kanji awkwardly, a slight hint of pink flooding his cheeks. "You didn't deserve that..."
Rise blinked a few times in astonishment, but suddenly waved her hands and gave her most winning smile. "Aw, hey! Don't worry about it, Kanji-kun! We're all a little stressed right now, so I won't hold it against you! Just don't expect any autographs for a while, kay?"
Souji gazed at Rise nervously. He knew that high-pitched tone of voice, as well as the dull look in her eyes. She's faking it... she's still hurting, but she doesn't want us to worry..
"We should stop and rest," said Souji as he looked everyone over. "We need to keep our strength up if we plan to make it to the Rift without any worse problems."
"But where could we go?" asked Chie worriedly. "And this wind is murderous! If we rest out in the open, we'll freeze to death!"
"We could go to my hideout." Teddie waved his blue-furred paw, his large eyes sparkling with pleasure at finally being able to do something constructive. "Yep! I have a cave not too far from here! It could shelter us from the wind, and we could even build a fire to keep us warm!"
"We'll have to gather firewood on the way," said Naoto. "I have a lighter, but I doubt it will be enough to ignite the tinder. Perhaps Yukiko-san's Persona would be more suited to that particular task."
"Alright! Lets get to it, then!" Yosuke picked up some nearby sticks and gave Teddie a nod. "Lead the way, Ted."
Teddie took point this time, his squeaky footsteps clashing horribly with the morbid landscape around them. Everyone took time to gather dried pieces of wood, but Kanji carried the largest amount on his large plate.
"Kanji-kun!" Yukiko ran up to him as she carried her own branches. "I, uh.. just wanted to tell you something..."
"What is it, Yukiko-senpai?" Kanji blinked, not really prepared for her approach.
"Well..." Yukiko blushed slightly. "First of all, you don't need to call me 'senpai' anymore, Kanji-kun. Just Yukiko is fine. And... second..." Her blush deepened as she looked away. "You... were really brave back there... I was honest when I said I believe you've become a better man."
"I, uh..." Kanji looked the other way, his own cheeks regaining a pinkish hue. "...Thanks, Yukiko-sen-- Uh... Yukiko."
"You're... very welcome, Kanji-kun..." Yukiko laughed nervously, and the two of them didn't talk throughout the rest of their walk, although they seemed very happy with each other's company.
Chie and Yosuke smiled as they watched Yukiko and Kanji from the back of the line. They clasped each other's hand tightly as they carried their firewood under their other arms.
Naoto stood apart from Souji and carried her own wood in silence, grateful that she hadn't agreed to anything and prevented the resurfacing of the issue. I don't know how much longer I can keep this up... They'll find out soon enough. However... I can't talk about it to anyone... Not even Souji-kun...
Souji noticed Naoto's separation... and his fear increased dramatically. She's getting worse... How deeply is she connected to this whole thing, Hotei...? And how can we even save her? ...What do we have to do...?
The only choice loomed right in front of them, a black, ugly scar on the once-beautiful landscape of the TV world.
The Rift held all the answers. For good or for ill.
In the end, the two girls decided to just stop at Junes to get something to eat.
As they entered the food-court area, Rise immediately exclaimed, "Hey, Naoto-kun, can you buy me a hamburger and fries, please?"
"...Why do I have to buy it?" Naoto asked.
"Well, because you have a real job that actually makes a worthwhile amount of money..." Rise replied.
Naoto sighed. "Yeah, I know...but, a hamburger and fries? Seriously? I thought models were supposed to watch their figures..."
"I HIGHLY DOUBT that a single hamburger and a couple of fries will make me obese, Naoto-kun..."
"I know that, obviously. I just like teasing you...but sure, I'll pay for everything..." Naoto tapped her hat over her eyes, and smirked slightly.
"Oh, Naoto-kun...you're such a gentleman...we should go out more often!!" Rise giggled, slapping her friend playfully on the shoulder.
This time, instead of smirking, Naoto felt a blush form on her cheeks. 'Geez...this ISN'T a date or anything, you know...'
"I'll get us a table," Rise remarked before she walked off, leaving Naoto to stare at her ass as it slightly jiggled with each step.
Slapping her palm against her face, Naoto flushed and thought, 'WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?!!'
Trying to get the image of Rise's fine ass out of her mind, Naoto headed over to the counter, and quickly ordered the food. As she was handed a tray with the meal atop of it, she could tell that several women nearby were gazing hungrily at her. Unaware of Naoto's true gender, they all saw the young bluenette as an incredibly sexy young man with a cap and a well-mannered disposition.
'Ugh...why must I have such a large female fanbase?' Naoto wondered.
Looking around, Naoto quickly found Rise and sat across from her as she placed the tray down.
"Thank you so much, Naoto-kun!!" Rise exclaimed, before unwrapping the tinfoil covering her burger, "But...you didn't get anything..."
"I'm not hungry," Naoto replied. Truthfully, she was starving, but for some reason she had a weird nervous feeling that made it near-impossible for her to bring herself to actually eat something.
As she sat there, Naoto could feel the stares of lustful admirers intensifying; looking around, she counted about 10 young women, all of them Naoto's age, not taking their eyes away even for a moment.
'God...there has to be some way to get rid of them...' Naoto thought.
Suddenly, as Rise was shoving a rather large handful of fries into her greedy mouth, Naoto had an idea. Making sure all the girls were watching, Naoto leaned over...and bit down on the opposite end of one of the fries, while it was still hanging halfway between Rise's teeth.
"N-Naoto-kun...?" Rise stammered in shock, her entire face turning bright red.
To really seal the deal, Naoto put on a playful smirk, and seductively ran her fingers down Rise's neck and along her chest. Soon, their lips touched, and Naoto ran her tongue along the roof of Rise's mouth.
A minute later, Naoto could feel the uncomfortable weight lifting from her shoulders. Seeing that Naoto was 'already taken for' turned them away, and now the bluenette felt at peace. No one was staring at her any longer.
'Finally...the damn fangirls have given up...'
Leaning back in her chair, Naoto let out a sigh of relief. Rise, however, was still frozen on the spot with her face as red as ever.
"Sorry about that, Rise-chan," Naoto explained, "I had to discourage some fangirls of mine who were nearby by making them think I had a girlfriend...I'm sorry..."
Gently touching her own lips, Rise stammered nervously, "W-W-Well, you sure...k-k-knew how to a-act convincing..."
Naoto realized that Rise was on the verge of tears. "Uh...Rise-chan, are you okay? I mean, I know we just kissed, and all, but..."
Without warning, Rise suddenly stood up and ran off, sobbing loudly.
"RISE-CHAN, COME BACK!!!" Naoto cried, but the redhead didn't stop.
Naoto watched in growing despair as Rise went around the corner, and vanished from sight.
Slumping far into her seat, the prince detective was left feeling like a complete idiot.
'Ugh...why the hell did I do that? And...why the hell did she taste so good?! Was it the fries?!! Not only that...BUT I THINK I HAD WANTED TO KISS HER!!!'
With no other choice left, Naoto got up from her seat and went after Rise...
"...Naoto-chan, I think you should stop," Rise Kujikawa mumbled quietly, wincing as she watched her blunette friend stuff yet another forkful of cake into her gaping mouth. All of the dirty plates were really beginning to pile up.
Naoto let out a tiny unladylike burp; she didn't even bother to say 'excuse me'. "Why should I...?"
Rise pointed down at Naoto's stomach, which was already starting to peek out from underneath her shirt. "You're getting kinda big..."
"Hmph," Naoto placed the now-cleaned plate aside and snatched up her tenth piece of vanilla cake, "I'll eat as much as I want, Rise-chan..."
Rise sighed. Ever since their last venture into the TV world, Naoto had been afflicted with a new status effect known as 'Extreme Hunger'. How to cure it and just how long it lasts was still being studied up upon by Souji, Yosuke and the others; Rise was left behind to make sure that Naoto was kept full and happy until they found the antidote. So, Rise had ordered three large wedding cakes to be brought over to her house for Naoto to feast on. Of course, Rise hadn't expected Naoto to actually finish them all, and yet, as she watched Naoto's gut swell and swell, she was beginning to think otherwise.
Naoto reached down and patted her belly. "Mmm...this cake is very delicious, Rise-chan. Where did you get it...?"
Rise shrugged and replied, "I dunno...from that little bakery two blocks down from here..."
"Ah, I see! Well, if you ever happen to go there again, please give my compliments to the chef!" Naoto smiled widely; her face looked a bit rounder, and her cheeks were becoming puffy.
"...Okay..." Rise sighed again.
Taking another piece of cake, Naoto gave up on using her fork and simply shoved the whole thing into her mouth. Rise's mouth fell open as she watched Naoto greedily stuff herself like this. It was so incredibly awkward, seeing her usually serious and sophisticated friend act in such an undignified manner. Suddenly, there was a loud snap, and Naoto glanced down. Two of the bottom buttons of her shirt had snapped off, allowing a swollen flab of pudge to pour out onto her lap. Both Naoto and Rise gasped in unison.
"Oh dear...this isn't good..." Naoto remarked, pressing her slightly chubby hand against her slightly chubby face, "These school uniforms are expensive..."
"Hmm," Rise scratched her chin, "Maybe it'll be best if you stop eating for now, don't you think?"
Naoto scoffed. "Hah! Oh, Rise-chan, don't be so ridiculous! I'll just take my shirt off so it won't be damaged any further!" Rise smacked her palm against her face. 'Ugh...'
Naoto unbuttoned what remained of her shirt, and tossed it over her shoulder, leaving her wearing only rather tight bandage wrappings from the waist up. Rise could actually see Naoto's huge breasts begin to pour out over the sides of the wrappings as they grew fatter and fatter from all of her eating. When the first cake was more than halfway done, Naotos pants began to tear, so she removed them as well. Now, the blunette was busy stuffing herself with cake while sitting in her rapidly-shrinking underwear. Her panties could barely be seen, hidden within the flab of both her gut and her widening thunder thighs. Her belly now looked like she had swallowed a soccer ball; large, round and swollen. Once all the fat began to spread out, however, it would surely take on a more flabby form.
'Hmm...but that'll take at least until tomorrow, won't it?' Rise figured. Then, just as she had thought that, Naoto's body began to fatten all over. What was really freaky about it was that Rise could actually see the fat spreading out within Naoto, causing every inch of her body to grow larger. Naoto was completely unaware as she continued to eat. She lowered a chubby hand and scratched her belly, which jiggled slightly at her touch. Her bloated butt cheeks were pushing into the handles of the chair, and her breast wrappings were already near the breaking point. Naoto belched again, this time much louder. Her cheeks were really puffy now, and a double chin was becoming visible.
'Oh my god...does this 'Extreme Hunger' effect quicken the speed of fat spreading within the body, as well?'
This continued on late into the night, and Rise was eventually forced to knock Naoto out with a frying pan to keep the fattening girl from eating herself to death. Souji and the others had still yet to return with any good news, and while Naoto was lying unconscious, her body still swelling with fat, Rise decided to just try a little bit of the cake. However, little did she realize that because she was using the same fork as Naoto, she would get any status effects that the blunette had possessed...including the 'Extreme Hunger' effect...
Chie Satonaka cursed under her breath as she ran through the flood plain area, glancing at her watch every few seconds. The skies were unnaturally clear that day; not a single cloud could be seen. Several small birds flew by, chirping happily.
'Goddammit, I can't believe I'm going to be late to school AGAIN! I just had to stay up all night watching the martial arts movie marathon, didn't I? Dammit...why didn't Yosuke call me, either? He's so useless sometimes, I swear...all that bastard ever does is listen to those damn headphones all the time...he's going to go deaf one day, I just know it...'
Chie had been late several times already, and she couldn't risk it again, because not only would she have to listen to another of Morooka-sensei's crappy rants about how disobedience and tardiness are somehow tied to teenage sexuality and are warping the minds of the youth of this nation, but she'd also get stuck having to clean the hallways for a week, too.
'Luckily, my parents are out on their second honeymoon right now,' Chie thought, 'So I won't have to worry about getting in trouble with them...'
The reason her parents were on their second honeymoon was due to the fact that their first honeymoon had been cut short due to Chie's birth.
'Maybe King Moron will be out sick today...or I'll be able to sneak in without him noticing...ugh, what am I thinking? He's never been out sick for a single day during the entire school year so far, and he notices EVERYTHING that happens in the classroom! No matter what happens, I'm totally screwed...'
For a moment, looking up at the sky, Chie thought she caught sight of something falling down from above, but she ignored it and continued running.
'If I'm too late, he'll lock me out of the classroom completely!!'
Breathing heavily, Chie had just turned around the hedge...when she suddenly found a girl lying on her back in a puddle of blood.
'...Eh? What the hell happened here?'
She had long, raven-black hair, and a sweet, serene face. Her hands were clasped to her chest.
'...Eh?! Why the hell is she in that posture?'
The thing that really caught Chie's eye, though, was the pair of huge white wings that were jutting out of the girl's back.
'...EHHHHHHHHHHH?!! WHY THE HELL DOES SHE HAVE WINGS?!!'
Unsure of what to do, Chie took a few slow steps towards the body. Getting a closer look at the girl, Chie realized...she was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. There wasn't a single flaw she could point out on her face, and she seemed so peaceful resting in that position. She wore a simple white robe, although it was becoming stained by the blood that seeped out of her body.
'She's really cute...GAH!! WHAT AM I THINKING?!! I SHOULD BE CALLING THE POLICE OR SOMETHING!!!' Chie wondered, mentally slapping herself.
Chie had just begun to take out her cellphone...when the girl's eyes snapped open.
Chie's mouth fell open in shock. 'Holy...crap...'
The girl slowly sat up, and her wings flapped up and down once, sending a spray of fresh blood splattering all over Chie's face and uniform by accident. Her wings were a beautiful snowy white, and even just from staring Chie could tell that the feathers were probably very soft to the touch. A large gash was visible in the girl's back, which was where all the blood had come from.
The strange girl scratched the back of her head, and yawned as if awakening from a long nap. Then, she looked over her shoulder, and locked eyes with a rather speechless Chie. Her eyes shimmered brightly in the sunlight. Chie's mouth was still hanging wide open.
They stared back at one another in total silence for what felt like several hours in a small time space of five minutes.
"...Hello there..." the girl said with a smile, and a slight wave of her hand.
Chie could do nothing but reply, "...Hi..." She felt the heat rise in her cheeks; this girl really WAS cute.
The girl quickly got to her feet, and began to brush herself off without a word. That was when Chie noticed something else; a large, round hole in the middle of the girl's left wing. Chie opened her mouth again to speak up, when the girl finally caught sight of it herself.
She let out a loud gasp, and then shrieked, "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! MY...MY...MY WING!!!! AHHHHH..."
And with that, her eyes rolled upwards and she collapsed backwards into the puddle of blood, but this time she had lost consciousness. She didn't seem like she would be getting up again any time soon, either.
Chie was once again speechless. '...What the hell just happened?'
Unsure of what to do now, Chie took a quick glance at her watch; it was way too late to make it to class now. King Moron would have a hissy fit, and that definitely was not something Chie wanted to see.
'I can't just leave this girl, no matter how weird she is...should I take her to the hospital, or would that seem too suspicious? Ugh...what should I do?'
Sighing, Chie sat down and crossed her arms and legs as she tried to contemplate on how to handle the odd situation that had just taken place...
An AU multi-chapter Chie X Yukiko fic. This is chapter 1!
Summary: While rushing to school one day, Chie Satonaka comes across a girl with wings lying in a puddle of blood. Who is she...and why does she make Chie feel so strange? Eventual Chie X Yukiko Amagi. Shoujo ai. Yuri.
The local Inaba shooting range reeked of cigarette smoke and alcohol. It was located in the downtown section of the town, where many misdemeanors take place every day, ranging from petty theft to simple assault. Several old bespectacled men were sitting on a nearby couch, talking in whispers while drinking from their frosty beer bottles. As they entered the building, Rise clung tightly to Naoto's arm, and whispered, "Ahh...this is kinda scary, Naoto-kun...this place seems dangerous..."
Naoto smiled to herself from seeing Rise's frightened yet cute expression. "Don't worry...as long as we're together, nothing bad will happen. I am licensed to use a gun for proper self-defense, after all..."
"...But have you ever actually shot a person before?"
"Before we fought that crazy bastard Adachi? Nope..." Naoto replied with a shrug.
At the northern end of the room was a door leading to a back wall with a sloped earthen bank, with reinforced baffles additionally situated along the roof and side walls. Walking up to a rather pathetic-looking bag of flesh working at the counter, Naoto placed her pistol down in front of him and ordered, "Fill me up so I can practice. Six bullets."
The man scratched his hefty, hairy gut and mumbled, "...Aren't you a bit too young, kid? Besides, you have to use the gun we provide you..."
Sighing, Naoto took out her wallet, and showed off her police badge. The man took one look at it, and his disposition immediately took a turn for the weird.
"Ahh!! Ahh...ahh!! You're...you're Naoto Shirogane?! I...I haven't seen you in ages!!! You've...you've really grown into a f-f-fine young m-man!" the man chuckled nervously, trying to sweet-talk Naoto. He rubbed his sweaty greasy palms together, and forced a large grin on his fat face, "Uh...you're not...you're not here to a-a-arrest me again, are you?! Heh heh...I'll...I'll give you whatever you want...just p-please don't handcuff me to the pipe again...keh hee...I SWEAR I DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!!!"
Naoto shook her head. "Not this time, Hikaru. I'm just here with Rise-chan for some much-needed shooting practice..."
The facility's owner, apparently named Hikaru, glanced over Naoto's shoulder and stared at Rise for a moment, who winced in disgust.
"Ooh...she's a cute one, sempai. She's got nice curves. Hey, do you want me to, y'know...lock down the place for a bit so you two can get some privacy? Heh heh heh...I won't get in trouble for that, will I??"
"Don't call me 'sempai'," Naoto snarled, and she held her gun dangerously close towards Hikaru's throat, "And if you say any more of that disgusting shit, I WILL arrest you once again here and now...do you understand?"
Hikaru gulped. "Uh...yes, sir."
'Wow...Naoto-kun is so BADASS!!' Rise thought in amazement, '...But then again, I guess it was obvious that she would be...'
Once she obtained her bullets, earmuffs and eye protection, Naoto made her way into the back room. A small sound-proof glass window allowed Rise to gaze into the room, and watched in complete awe as Naoto got into position. Raising her gun to almost the same level as her face, Naoto aimed directly at the single human-shaped cardboard cut-out at the other side of the small room. Then, a somewhat naughty little smirk formed on the bluenette's lips.
She slammed her finger against the trigger six times, without a single pause in between, and every bullet tore right through the exact middle section of the target. The entire thing barely lasted seven seconds. A trail of smoke fluttered out of the gun's barrel.
As Naoto walked back out, the moment she removed her earmuffs, she was bombarded by Rise's excited cries.
"WOW!!! THAT WAS SO AMAZING, NAOTO-KUN!! YOU DIDN'T EVEN FLINCH!! YOU'RE SO AWESOME!!!! I MEAN, I'VE NEVER SEEN ANYONE REALLY SHOOT A GUN BEFORE, SO I CAN'T REALLY TELL HOW GREAT IT WAS, BUT...I THINK YOU'RE GREAT EITHER WAY!!!"
"Uh...yeah...thanks," Naoto replied, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly.
"Hey, Naoto-kun...can I try now?!" Rise asked, still hopping up and down. Naoto suspected that the redhead must have definitely eaten SOME sort of sugary (or possibly, drug-related) substance while she wasn't looking.
Handing Rise the equipment, Naoto said to her, "Sure, why not? After this, we should go someplace else...those old guys in the corner are starting to give me a weird look..."
"YAY!!" Rise happily tossed on the earmuffs and goggles, and then dashed into the room. However, when Naoto looked through the window, she realized something...Rise's posture was horribly off. She was holding the gun sideways, while trying to strike some sort of weird pose. Cursing under her breath, she stormed into the shooting room to chastise the redheaded girl.
"Rise-chan, what the hell are you doing?!" Naoto snapped.
Rise jumped back, and blushed in embarrassment. "I...uh, wanted to act like one of those cool guys from the movies...y'know, like what that John Woo guy had them do..."
"Ugh," Naoto palm-faced, and let out a heavy sigh. Then, she around behind Rise, and pressed their bodies together. Rise's cheeks were burning bright crimson; she could feel Naoto's small breasts rubbing up against her back. Reaching over, Naoto took hold of Rise's arms and began moving them around, almost as if the former idol was a doll, to help put her in the correct posture for firing a gun.
'She's really warm...and I can feel her breath against my neck at this very moment, too...oh god, what the hell am I thinking?!' Rise wondered, unable to say a thing as Naoto continued.
'Hmm...her hair smells really nice...and she has a nice body...wait, what am I thinking?!' Naoto wondered, pressing her lips together while thinking.
Naoto still didn't realize yet that she had completely forgotten Souji Seta's entire existence at this point so far.
Finally, Naoto finished, and Rise was wielding the pistol in the same manner as she had. Patting her on the head in an almost child-like way, Naoto said, "Alright...just try to keep it up like this, and it'll work out great..."
It took about three minutes for Rise to snap out of the fact that she and Naoto had just been so close together, and then she started to fire the gun. She didn't do as well as Naoto (she had completely missed twice due to her wrists getting tired), but in the end, both girls had at least been able to keep themselves somewhat entertained.
Hikaru let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair. "God...why the hell must I deal with crazy freaks like this every single day of my pathetic little life...?"
Naoto flashed a glare at him, and muttered, "Look who's talking..."
As the two young women stepped out of the shooting range, Rise couldn't stop chatting up a storm, while Naoto just nodded and listened.
"Your friend seems really nice!!"
Naoto shook her head. "That obese money-grubber isn't my friend in the slightest. He's just some guy I caught in a drug-trafficking case a while back, and then I found out he was innocent, because he was neither selling the drugs nor did he even know about the drugs, and there was evidence to prove it, so I proved his innocence in court moments before he could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison. He's in my debt, but now he's afraid of me as well, because I beat the shit out of him when I first arrested him..."
After walking for about a block, Rise turned to Naoto and asked her, "...So, where do you want to go next, Naoto-kun?"
Naoto glanced up at the sky; it had gotten dark, and the moon was already out.
"Maybe...we should go back to our homes," Naoto suggested, stuffing her hands in her pockets.
Rise pouted, and crossed her arms in an obvious sign of defiance. "No way!! The night is young, and so are we!! Let's paint the town red and back!!"
Naoto sighed. "You read that out of an old dating magazine you found in your grandmother's bookshelf, didn't you?"
"...So?" Rise asked with a shrug. Then, she put her hands on her hips. "Like I said earlier, though, we'll keep going until you finally have fun! I don't want you to be all mopey anymore! It makes me upset to see you like that, Naoto-kun!!"
'Wow...she cares alot about me...' Naoto thought, fighting back her oncoming blush.
"...W-Well, if you want," Naoto suggested, "We could...uh, go get dinner or something?"
Rise's eyes lit up, and she exclaimed, "Yeah, that sounds great!! I'm starving!!! Let's go find a good place to eat!!!"
As they ran along, Naoto noticed something rather odd: 'This girls' night out thing...it actually seems more like we're on a...on a date...'
Naoto stared at Rise for a moment, and then shook her head. 'Nah...I'm just overthinking things...'
Souji Seta took a long drag off his cigarette before snuffing it out, and tossing it carelessly into a nearby barrel. He was sitting outside on the porch of an old abandoned shrine, hidden from the view of society by a large circle of trees that had grown around the tiny building over the years. The front door had already fallen apart, and the place was filled with spider webs and scrawny little animals looking for shelter. The only real thing Souji found useful about this place was that he could come here and have a nice smoke without anyone getting up in his face. It was nice. The ground underneath Souji's feet was covered almost completely in orange and red leaves, and a cold breeze blew past. Fall was coming pretty fast, he noticed grimly.
Souji let out a loud yawn and stretched his arms for a moment before standing up. He figured he should get back to the Dojima household before Nanako got worried about him. He reached down to grab his book bag, only to find it suddenly missing. A question mark popped up over his head.
Souji knelt down and checked under the shrine's porch, hoping it would be under there. It wasn't. Souji knew for a fact that his book bag was right next to him the entire time he had been here, and it wasn't until he had stood up that it vanished so mysteriously like this. Scratching his head, Souji glanced around a bit more, not even bothering to consider that the bag could have been pulled into the shrine itself. A crow in one of the looming trees let out a loud squawk.
Souji had yet to notice the pair of shimmering sapphire-colored eyes staring back at him from within the darkness of the shrine, either.
"Goddammit," Souji muttered under his breath, his back turned towards the shrine, "Where the hell could it have gone...? I can't go back home without my book bag...it has my homework in it, for Christ's sake!! If I don't bring it in tomorrow, King Moron's gonna throw a fit!"
Suddenly, Souji heard a loud thump from behind him, and he quickly spun around to find his book bag now lying at his feet. However, he was no longer looking at his dusty book bag, but at the beautiful young girl standing in the shrine's doorway. Oddly enough, she was completely nude, but Souji didn't have any complaints about that.
"Uh...hello...that book bag...it's yours, right? Sorry for taking it...I was getting hungry, and I was hoping there would be some food in there..." The girl stammered quietly, her cheeks tainted with a faint shade of red. She looked absolutely frightened to be in his presence. It was kind of cute, actually.
"...Hey...it's...uh, alright...thanks for...giving it back..." Souji replied absentmindedly as he began to look this girl over, taking in her wondrous beauty.
First, he stared at her pale, almost porcelain face, then his eyes moved down towards her plump, bare breasts, where the nipples had grown hard from the cold, and finally...he realized that from the waist down, she had the legs and abdomen of a large black widow spider. She was half-woman, half-arachnid. Something inside Souji's mind snapped as he failed to fully comprehend what he was looking at.
All of the color instantly drained from Souji's face, and he simply collapsed to the floor, losing consciousness as soon as his head hit the ground. Letting out a shriek, the spider girl quickly scampered over to the silver-haired boy, who had begun to foam at the mouth...
The arachnid girl, whose name was Naoto Shirogane, always became so excited every time Souji came to visit her at the old shrine. Even better, he would usually always bring along a small bag of dead flies and other insects for her to snack on, too. Where he got these flies, he never said, but Naoto didn't care much as long as he brought them. He even gave her one of his old shirts to wear to keep herself warm. He actually did seem to enjoy being around her, much to Naoto's relief.
Souji was her very first human friend...and Naoto couldn't have been happier about that. After all, having lived in this rickety old shrine for 15 years, her social skills were, in a sense, non-existent. So, having Souji around would not only finally give her something to do, but help rise her already terribly low self-esteem regarding her existence compared to the rest of humanity. Of course, she knew that she couldn't ever risk going into town, because doing so would pretty much be the same as setting up her own death. All she really needed was Souji, though...and for some little squirrels and raccoons to fall into her web traps every now and then.
Naoto quickly finished off the rest of the pigeon's remains and wiped the blood from her mouth as she crawled down from the ceiling and rushed outside to greet Souji, who was just coming around the bend with a large plastic bag in tow. Sitting down beside her on the porch, Souji dug into the bag and pulled out a dark-blue cap. Naoto cocked her head slightly to the side; she had been hoping for the bugs.
"I, uh...got this for you..." Souji said, placing the cap upon Naoto's head. A faint blush formed on Naoto's cheeks.
"T-Thank you...Souji-kun...that's very...sweet of you..."
"Oh, and I didn't forget about this, either...!" Souji continued, and he handed over the usual bag of dead flies to a rather ecstatic Naoto. Tearing the bag open, the bluenette practically shoved the tiny bugs down her throat with amazing vigor. Souji cringed at the nasty sight, and quickly turned his eyes away. He could still hear the loud crunching of the insects between Naoto's jagged teeth. Souji fought hard to keep the bile from rising in his throat.
Licking the tips of her lithe fingers, Naoto asked, "Souji...this may be a rather awkward question, but...do you...do you care about me?"
Souji nodded. "Yeah, of course I do, Naoto...you're my friend...why do you ask that? I wouldn't come and visit you almost every day if I didn't care about you, now would I? It's a good thing I'm not arachnophobic, either..."
"Well, it's just...you've been so kind to me for so long...and you're the very first person I've ever interacted with, so...I...I...I really like you...alot...I think I might even love you...if...if that's okay..." Naotostated as calmly as she could, her entire face lighting up. A light breeze blew past, and an empty beer can rolled past Souji's feet.
Souji's eyes grew wide. "W...What?"
Naoto placed a gentle hand upon Souji's chest; it was warm to the touch. "Would it be alright...if I kissed you...as a 'thank-you' at least for being so kind to me...?" Although she was coming on rather strong, Naoto was still not very accustomed to acting correctly in society, so it wasn't entirely her fault for showing off such strong feelings all of the sudden like this.
Souji gulped, but nonetheless he leaned in towards her. "...Sure...why not?"
Naoto closed her eyes, and tried to stay calm as she slowly drew closer. Souji did the same, and he soon felt the delicious warmth press of the bluenette's lips against his mouth the moment they kissed. Naoto opened her mouth slightly and allowed Souji's tongue to slip inside. She ran her hands up and down along his back as their kisses deepened. Neither of them ever wanted this wonderful sensation to end. Drool rolled down the side of Naoto's chin as Souji's tongue scrapped along the roof of her jaw. He didn't care if she was only half a woman; he loved her for her, and that was more than enough. It was so amazing, being in love like this, with such a wonderful, wonderful man...
...and then Naoto gasped. Glancing over her shoulder, she was horrified to see a large glob of silk had spurted out of the end of her abdomen. This only happened whenever she farted, and it always tended to be at the most inappropriate of times.
'Oh god...this is so embarrassing...'
"...Is something wrong?" Souji asked when he realized Naoto had stopped. He had a glazed look in his eyes, like he was still expecting more.
Naoto shook her head, and planted another loving kiss upon his lips. "No...no...nothing's wrong...don't worry about it..." she whispered quickly into his ear. Souji just shrugged and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into a tight embrace.
"I...love you, Naoto...I know we've only known each other for about three months, but those three months were wonderful...I don't give a damn if you're half-spider or whatever...I love you with all my heart and soul.." Souji breathed into her shoulder. He meant every word. They would never be able to marry, or even be seen in public for that matter, but Souji still loved her more than he could any other girl.
Tears began to swell up in Naoto's eyes the very moment she heard those wonderful words come from the boy's mouth. She had finally found someone who truly cared about her. "...I love you too...Souji-kun...I love you so, so much..."
They kissed again, and for once, it felt like everything was right with the world...