Chapter 1: My Fated Encounters
MARCH 24, SUNDAY
TWO IN HARMONY SURPASSES ONE IN PERFECTION. That was the guiding principle of the Kirijo Group, which I had investigated one year prior. These poignant words for some reason came to my mind as I reached for my cell phone, carelessly left on the other side of the table. I’d have the same knee-jerk reaction whenever it rang, and this time was no different.
I’d been busy all day looking over a list of possible commissions from the police, having earned much good will since undertaking a certain job—no longer did they treat me like a tool to be used and then discarded, though many would still act condescending thanks to my age; more importantly, though, setting conditions such as that my school life must not be affected, something beyond consideration for me before, actually made the police better consider the cases they would ask for my help with. Yosuke-san called this playing hard to get and likened the police force to a bashful girl, earning him a few disparaging comments and a swift kick to the gut from Chie-san, who afterwards admitted that he had a point.
These fond memories were the reason why, upon listening to the voice mail from my friend and classmate Rise Kujikawa, I immediately cancelled all my plans for that day.
“Naoto-kun!” she had cried in a desperate voice. “I need your help… please, it has to be you.”
Of course, that was not the full extent of the message—immediately after, she specified her location, albeit somewhat vaguely—but it was all I needed to know. I headed to YAGOKORO CITY.
My name is Naoto Shirogane, the 5th generation in the Shirogane lineage of detectives. To put it simply, becoming a detective had been my aspiration ever since I was little, and remains my proudest achievement to this very day. I was taught by my grandfather, at first simply assisting him in his cases and later solving some myself. Dedicating my time wholeheartedly to the job, I soon came to be regarded as a genius child and coined the Detective Prince, but in truth, my purpose was lost to me somewhere along the way. I became embittered at the treatment the police would give me despite my contributions, and considered my age, as well as one other thing, obstacles to my dream. That changed when I moved to the countryside town of INABA to help solve a case involving a particularly uncanny string of murders. I made friends with a group dedicated to solving the murders when the police proved ineffective, and the fog of deceit was lifted from my heart.
That sounds rather strange, doesn’t it? Regardless, I would ever be grateful to my friends, my very first friends, for saving me from the pain of loneliness and helping me face my true self.
Those thoughts all occurred to me as I arrived at the place specified by Rise-san, a leisure resort on the outskirts of the city. I’d heard of it before; apparently, once inside you could get a taste of summer during winter and vice-versa. Rise-san being in such a place was par for the course considering she was an idol, but what could the emergency be? Everyone leaving the building seemed content enough, and nothing pointed to a disturbance inside…
I had been watching the place for a few minutes already, my hand reflexively reaching for my flank every now and then, as touching the hard spot where my revolver was concealed made me feel at ease, but there seemed to be no immediate danger. I steadied my breath, running over the possibilities in my head, and decided that the best course of action would be to move inside.
Upon taking my forward, however, I was accosted by several men and women, all of whom told me Risette was waiting and led me to a room further in. Once there, Rise-san, whose only attire was a rather immodest bikini, immediately ran up to me and started unbuttoning my coat.
My heart was racing, and so was my mind. I was very briefly glad to see her safe, but had already come to a conclusion concerning her so-called emergency. I clenched my fists, not really listening to what she was saying. The background chat was much more interesting, seeing as the men and women who escorted me were commenting on how they were all fooled by my appearance at first and some were clearly handling cameras.
I pushed Rise-san away in a flash of anger. She tossed my coat aside and put her hands on her hips while pouting. “Hey, watch it!” she said, as though lecturing an insolent child.
I composed myself and adjusted my tie, which she had tried to remove. “Rise-san,” I said carefully, not quite managing to keep my voice steady. “Did you call me here to fill in as a model?”
“You got it!” she said cheerfully. “Kanamin couldn’t come, so will you help me?”
Kanami Mashita was the idol that rose in Risette’s absence. Rise-san was wearing a bikini and there was an entire artificial beach right behind her. I had been called to fill in for a famous idol in a photo shoot… sadly, the absurdity of the situation did nothing to calm me down.
“Did you expect me to sigh and go along with this?”
“Naoto-kun, come inside first!” Rise-san said loudly and dragged me into the changing room by the wrist. There, on the table, was a black leather bikini even more immodest than the one she was wearing. Though it was quite beautiful, my face flushed red the moment I realized that was what she meant for me to wear. “When I saw that model, I thought it would look perfect on you.”
Rise-san was still holding on to my arm, which was beginning to tremble.
“Rise-san, how much free time do you think I have?” I asked, my voice wavering even more than earlier. “That message, your tone… I thought you were in danger, but it was nothing but a ploy.”
Rise-san looked guilty already, so I refrained from saying that I had come all the way from Inaba just to help her. Then again, maybe I should have.
“Naoto-kun,” she started, then paused, but only for a brief moment. “Kanamin really couldn’t come, and I thought you’d look cute in these. Why are you so upset? You’re called the Detective Prince and usually pretend you’re a boy, but you’re definitely a girl, so you should look the part, because girls look like girls, and girls act like girls. There’s nothing weird about that.”
I briefly turned my gaze away. I had let my hair grow in the past few months—in fact, it was past my chest line already—precisely because of the reasons she listed. But…
“This is not about my gender!” I yelled in frustration, and pulled my arm away from her.
Rise-san seemed startled. “Naoto-kun?”
“Do you think Yukiko-san would have been comfortable in this situation? Would you have done this to her, would you have faked an emergency to get her to come?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. Rather, I was already halfway outside the room by the time I finished shouting my questions. I shoved a confused cameraman to the side as I stomped my way out of the building and to the nearest train station. I hadn’t felt that angry in quite a while.
To be honest, it was not the first time that arguing with my friends felt like arguing with my own Shadow. This kind of situation happened often, and usually they would sway me into whatever scheme they thought would make me more comfortable with being a woman.
During my recovery from being thrown into the TV world, I thought long and hard about how to proceed, and the answer I came up with was that, while there were certainly aspects that needed improving, I was satisfied with the person I was. That was when I decided to simply keep doing what I had been doing, and showed up to school the next day in the same male uniform. I was more comfortable with that, even though the rumors were already circulating. I had since advanced to a point where, every now and then, I could go without binding around my chest, but even though it was painful, I still…
Just then, a comment from one of the commuters around me caught my attention. “Whoa, is that boy carrying a gun?” he asked, loud and clear, and several others followed.
I had been walking around without my coat, with my shoulder holster and gun in plain sight. While I had a license to carry a gun, and most of the time mine simply used pressurized pellets, it was still awkward to be seen with it when I looked so young. I rushed back to the resort.
About ten minutes had passed. On the way back to the building, I realized that the photo shoot would have to be cancelled thanks to me, and felt incredibly guilty. Perhaps I had been too harsh with Rise-san, when she was simply trying to turn a bad situation around and help me at the same time. I sighed. That was very much like her, but part of me couldn’t help but be upset. Rise-san had considered neither my feelings nor my work when she put her plan in motion, and the last thing she had said to me implied that she disapproved of the way I currently lived. Despite the plethora of uncomfortable situations my friends had put me through, that was a first.
I dejectedly opened the door to the studio and felt the gush of hot air coming over me once again. I decided to quickly go to the changing room, grab my coat and leave, ignoring the stares of the camera crew. Rise-san was nowhere to be seen, so I could only assume she had gone home.
There was someone inside the changing room, however… a very familiar figure.
“Oh, perfect timing,” said the woman holding my coat, a confident grin on her face.
I recognized her almost immediately: Touko Aoi, a detective just like me. That was what I would have liked to think, at any rate… to me, she would always be leagues above.
Touko-san looked as beautiful as ever. She was a tall and slender woman in her early thirties, almost wearing her brown hair up in a ponytail. Despite her age, she used little to no makeup and was not one for jewelry except for an amethyst pendant which had been with her since our first encounter, most likely a precious keepsake, and… oh, I apologize. I am not prone to admiring a person in such detail, but Touko-san was special: she was someone I strived to be.
Touko-san was always on equal footing with anyone she chose to, whether they were hardened criminals, hardboiled colleagues or disgruntled higher-ups.
“This is yours, right?” she said, holding out my coat to me. I took it from her hands and put it on before she could comment on my gun in plain sight.
“Touko-san,” I finally managed to say. “The last time we met… it was on a crime scene three years ago. This chance meeting of ours seems highly unlikely, to put it mildly.”
Touko-san chuckled in response. “This place is in our jurisdiction, you know. I could have simply heard you were around and dropped by.”
Despite her remarkable poker face, that would have fooled no one. I knew she disliked bustling places, especially ones as unnecessary as that resort, and during an idol photo shoot, no less. I was, at least, glad that my incredibly rude greeting did not turn her away.
“Touko-san, I was here for about five minutes. I’ve been in town for thirty minutes at the most. You would need a good reason to come to a place like this as fast as you did.”
“I see nothing escapes you,” she said, laughing. “Naoto, you haven’t changed.”
I couldn’t help but laugh as well. “You haven’t changed either.”
Touko-san brazenly walked out of the changing room, and I had no choice but to follow. It seems the camera crew thought she was an actress, so all eyes were on us. I felt a pang of guilt in my chest when someone mentioned Rise-san would be returning shortly. I was ditching her once again… still, whatever Touko-san had to say to me sounded important.
“As you’ve probably deduced by now, this is about a case,” she said on the way out. “I have an official request for the detective Naoto Shirogane from the Yagokoro Police.”
Touko-san smiled and started laying out the details of the case before I could even begin to protest. I sighed, but listened closely. There had been a number of disappearances in the area; more specifically, two students from Yagokoro High had disappeared in succession.
I frowned. That was suspicious, but it did not seem like the kind of case the police would request my cooperation for, and I told her as much. Touko-san then explained that, even though it had been a week since the disappearances, the police lacked any strong leads and, perhaps more importantly, were overworked pursuing another important case.
“Touko-san, wait just a minute,” I managed to say. “You are acting as though I’ve already accepted. Please consider that I might not.”
I couldn’t deny that I was interested in the case and in helping out Touko-san, but that was my last year of high school. I had planned to take a break as a detective and prioritize spending time with my friends. Though, when thinking about that, my argument with Rise-san came to mind.
“Naoto, you know how I am, right? Do you honestly think I would allow you to refuse?”
The reply had been immediate.
I intended to respond with a bitter smile, but felt my brows furrowing instead. For the second time that day, my feelings were not being taken into consideration.
Touko-san paid no mind to my expression and smiled triumphantly. “There’s something else, too,” she said, turning only her head to me. “Naoto Shirogane is a detective, isn’t she?”
Upon hearing those words, my emotions overcame me and my heart thudded furiously.
Yes. Naoto Shirogane was a detective. I’d reach out to the truth and bring peace to the hearts and spirits of the victims. That was my calling, and so I found myself nodding to Touko-san.
“I will wait for you in the police station, one week from now.”
I was no match for her, andcould only watch as she then crossed the street, leaving me in the dust. This, too, had happened in the past, but there was a new feeling now, a cold desperation coming from the depths of my heart. I had accepted the case and followed my calling, but felt no satisfaction from it, no smile forming on my lips. I felt as though in a cage.
MARCH 31, SUNDAY
I spent a rather bittersweet week in Inaba before heading back to Yagokoro. Rise-san did not call or message me, and was away on business as well. Though the latter was not unusual, we would always exchange messages during the night, and I worried that I had damaged our friendship beyond repair. I could not bring myself to call her, however. I thought about it, and even dialed the number once, but in the end, the days went by without contact between us.
The police had been handling all the necessary preparations, and I was fairly accustomed to travel, so my departure on March 31 was quick and quiet. I would be enrolling in Yagokoro High as a transfer student and living in the dorms, the latter a decision that was made for me, bringing about some resentment, as a hotel room would have served me just fine. I hoped to solve the case and return to Inaba as soon as possible.
Inaba citizens referred to Yagokoro as a big city, but in truth, it had no more than 400,000 inhabitants—the big city vibe came from its many commuters, and there was a distinct gap between the modern buildings close to the station and the residential areas. I had visited it many times, but always on some business or another, and so I’d never paid any attention to the feel of the city on more than a technical level. I decided I would do just that on the way to the police station.
There were a great many cars crowding the roads. Accordingly, the traffic had come to a complete halt. Career women and salarymen carrying suitcases busily walked to and from the station, and teenagers enjoyed their last day before school. The side roads, in stark contrast, were almost deserted, painting an unfavorable picture regarding the recent disappearances. I made a mental note out of every suspicious location I came across, and soon after arrived at the station.
The police station was a quaint Taisho era building completely at odds with the surrounding skyscrapers, though the streets forming the intersection where it was located were lined with cherry trees, adding to the dissonance and making for a surprisingly charming combination.
I went inside. Regarding the atmosphere, it was the usual hustle and bustle, with a great number of phone calls in the background and many people running around. Touko-san was an assistant inspector, a member of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, so she would not be around street level. I’d heard she was being considered for promotion, too, though her current position was already somewhat prestigious considering the circumstances. I approached a nearby policewoman and inquired about her location.
The policewoman regarded me with an expression best described as skeptical, but managed to keep her voice even as she asked, “Who might you be?”
“Ah. I am the detective Naoto Shirogane.” I’d gotten used to walking around Inaba, where everyone would always recognize me. It was only logical that a larger precinct such as the Yagokoro Police Department would have more important matters to concern themselves with.
“Detective Prince?” came the non-reply from the policewoman, bringing the whole station to a complete halt. …I would strive to maintain a more pessimistic outlook in the future.
Soon, all the eyes previously focused on important work were set on me. Unflattering comments reached my ears from all sides, while the young policewoman, previously composed and suspicious, pulled my hand into a frantic handshake and whispered:
“Naoto-san, the truth is, everyone in my family is a fan of yours. Oh, myself included,” she added in a conspiratorial tone. I could only stare blankly at her.
The fact that she was whispering confirmed that most of the Yagokoro Police did not see me in a positive light. I’d imagined things had progressed on that front. I suppose working with groups such as the National Police Agency and the Shadow Operatives did not do much for my reputation among the regular police force, I thought to myself and took a deep, resigned breath.
Just when she was starting to prod me with questions, a man loudly cleared his throat right behind the policewoman. Judging by her startled reaction, he was her superior.
“Hey, you…” the man said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “I might be wrong, but weren’t you supposed to be on duty right now?”
I quietly stepped back.
“Please excuse me,” said the policewoman, respectfully bowing her head one last time before going away. I had a feeling I would be seeing her often in the coming days.
The man introduced himself as the assistant chief and cut right to the chase. “Aoi mentioned you’d be coming. Right now, she should be at the fifth basement floor.”
I was surprised that such an old-fashioned building would go so far underground, but did not comment on it. I’d had a good first impression of the assistant chief—he had started rambling about a man called Tetsuma Tsuge, supervisor of the Special Forensics Division, and was telling me about how he had come to the station from the outside, yet immediately started placing absurd demands, such as requesting permission to set up a laboratory in the basement and wanting all the doors leading up to it to be on keycard access. Though the assistant chief was technically leaking info, this indicated a certain degree of trust which I greatly welcomed.
The assistant chief led me to a fairly new mechanical sliding door, opened it with a keycard so as to demonstrate the apparently insanity of the man he’d described, and told me to hit the elevator to get to level B5, advising me not to stay there too long.
“One last thing, Shirogane,” he said suddenly, for some reason checking his surroundings very carefully. I wondered what else he could have to tell me. “The truth is, my wife and daughter are fans of yours, so do you think you could give me your autograph later?”
I smiled. I could only smile at the assistant chief, bashfully scratching the back of his head after handing me a blank card. I promised him I would sign it once my business there was done.
To be honest, I had never handed out autographs before. I was too worried about looking cool and aloof, and would not concern myself with such childish frivolities. I did not want to be seen as a celebrity or even as a genius, but rather as a fellow detective. But the assistant chief had helped me out of an uncomfortable situation and, to an extent, treated me as one of their own; surely there was no harm in indulging in his request, was there? I would at least entertain the thought.
I pressed the call button for the elevator and waited a few minutes before realizing the display above the door was suspiciously stuck on B5. The most likely explanation was that they were loading cargo into the elevator; it was unnecessary large, taking up the entire wall at the end of the corridor. Considering the size of the station, I could not envision such a large elevator packed full of people, but despite reaching the logical conclusion, my apprehension only grew stronger.
I ended up taking the stairs, two steps at a time. There was something about that situation that did not sit right with me. What was the Special Forensics Division? Tetsuma Tsuge seemed to be an overly cautious man—as the assistant chief had said, every door on the way down was locked on keycard access, meaning you could only get to level B5 unauthorized via elevator or by taking the stairs from the ground floor. This degree of security was usually reserved for arms lockers, making me wonder just what they were hiding, as well as its relationship to the case I had accepted.
For several minutes, the relaxing sound of my own footsteps was the only BGM. I'd thought it weird that, even at my pace, it was taking me a long time to reach level B5—either there was more than one floor per flight of stairs, or the floors themselves were unusually tall; honestly, my impression of the police station was starting to become rather warped.
Then, it happened. The previously well-lit staircase fell into darkness as a tremor shook the whole building. I instinctively reached for my gun. I had only the faint red emergency lights to guide me now, but my destination remained the same.
Voices echoed from below. I could not make sense of what they were saying, but the urgency in their tone was evident. I could, however, distinguish one word: Genesis. The voices were shouting it constantly, and it seemed to be the cause of the commotion. Soon afterwards, a mass of people in lab coats passed by me, evidently fleeing from the scene. I stopped one of them.
“What is going on?” I asked, holding his arm tightly.
The man looked at me as though I was a dangerous object and wasted no time in answering: “Genesis is going berserk! You should get out of here, too.”
Satisfied by his answer, I released my grip, and the man climbed up the stairs at full speed.
I was finally getting a clear picture of the situation. The man had confirmed two of my suspicions. First, that Genesis was indeed the cause of the commotion and was something that could act—after all, it would be unable to go berserk otherwise. It was most likely a machine or creature capable of independent thought. Second, that the people in lab coats were scientists not directly affiliated with the police force. I had a fairly weak grip. I might have resented it, but it was the truth. The fact that my weak grip was able not only to stop but to intimidate the man meant that he was not used to physical confrontations, matching his scrawny physique. Thus, it was highly unlikely that he was a police officer. Considering this Genesis currently going on a rampage, it was also unlikely that he was a forensic scientist. I could be jumping to conclusions, but it seemed more and more likely that the Special Forensics Division was a cover for something else entirely.
Touko-san, why did you call me here?
I would find the answer soon. I had arrived to the bottom of the stairway and was facing a dreary stainless steel door not unlike the ones seen in morgue cabinet freezers. I could hear loud roars coming from the inside, but opened it without pause. On the other end of the corridor were double steel doors much larger and thicker than the one I had just opened, one half bent with blows from the inside and the other lying on the ground; the other side of those doors were much in the same state, and it became clear to me that Genesis was not going berserk, but rather, was trying to break out. I took a few steps forward, and could at last see it: a large, black figure looking down on a woman. “Touko-san!” I yelled in surprise, but she did not hear me.
I could hear what she was saying very clearly, however.
“You dare raise your hand against me, you impertinent brat?” I’d heard that tone of voice before. That was, without a doubt, Touko-san, and it followed that the large figure was Genesis, so I tried to take a closer look. It was shaped like a human, albeit a fairly stout one; it completely dwarfed Touko-san in both height and width. There were wheels behind its legs—a robot, perhaps?
I took a single step forward in an attempt to find a better vantage point. That was the moment when it turned its head towards me. I felt it immediately, the intent to kill coming from its eyes, bright red like laser pointers. Genesis had a human head, a male one at that, and its torso was also rather human, dressed in a large black vest; however, its red arms and legs were extremely bulky and obviously mechanical. That name, and those features, brought to mind…
Genesis charged at me at incredible speed, bouncing from wall to ceiling as a red and black blur. I immediately switched gears and rolled to the side, narrowly avoiding being hit, and pointed my gun at him. There was no time for hesitation. This machine was out to kill me, and I had to defend myself, even though I was friends with two like him. I fired.
Surprisingly, he jumped to the ceiling and avoided the bullet entirely, but I was quick enough to adjust my aim and shoot one more time. This one was right on target, but Genesis seemed unaffected. I resisted the urge to empty the magazine into him, instead opting to shout a warning to Touko-san. That moment of hesitation was all it took.
Genesis charged at me from the ceiling and pinned me to the ground. I could feel the weight of his body crushing the marble floor, and his cold fingers were one step away from snapping my neck. I would normally be able to get out of such a hold, but not against an enemy like that. Genesis was holding my arm down, my gun was out of reach… there was nothing I could do. I was, for the first time in quite a while, fearing for my life. The last time had been… it had been inside the TV world, before I obtained my Persona. Persona, my other self, a manifestation of my psyche and a repressed side of me, tamed.
I was able to summon a Persona.
For a long time, I thought it was impossible to summon a Persona outside the TV world, but meeting Mitsuru Kirijo, leader of the Shadow Operatives, changed everything. The incident one year prior proved that there were many Persona-users out in the world, and though some used special technology to summon their other selves, it was possible to do so without it.
I had to think. Kirijo-san and the others used something called an Evoker, a tool that looked like a gun. I had received one from her as a gift, but did not carry it around, deeming it unnecessary to my everyday life, though that wasn’t exactly the truth... see, you had to point the Evoker to your head and shoot to summon a Persona, actions which went against every instinct in my body.
I was having trouble breathing. Genesis was trying to strangle me, though he was being slow about it considering his strength. That thought made me even more desperate.
Why did the Evoker look like a gun? Why were such actions required to summon your Persona outside the TV world? The key was mental stress. Kirijo-san had said you could summon your Persona by concentrating, but your awakening—your very first summoning—would most likely be caused by mental and perhaps even physical stress and a strong resolution.
I closed my eyes and envisioned a card, the blue card I could so easily manifest inside the TV world. That card was my Persona, and my resolution was this: to survive.
I opened my eyes. The corridor, previously illuminated only by the few emergency lights the android hadn’t destroyed in his rampage, was now covered in a bright blue fog. Genesis was still pinning me down, so I was unable to turn my head up and see it, but I could feel it, a presence that filled me with confidence and power. Sukuna-Hikona, my other self.
Genesis briefly looked up. Though his expression was robotic, he seemed to know what Personas were. I needed to weaken him somehow. If my guess was right, he would be a fearsome opponent even to a Persona-user.
To my surprise, a wave of energy suddenly engulfed him. I could feel it emanating from my Persona. Sukuna-Hikona had responded to my thoughts. Was it a new power?
Genesis weakened his grip on my neck, allowing me to breathe normally once again. I tried to push his arm away, but even though his mechanical body was clattering, he was still too heavy for me to do anything. The only solution was to… huh?
I could suddenly move my head again; the weight of his arm had left me. I tried to look at my Persona, but my vision was blurry. I could faintly recognize his distinctive sword, and a trail of energy, but nothing more. I tried once more to push the arm away, and again to my surprise, it fell to the side and hit the ground with a loud thud. I immediately rolled from under him and recovered my gun, and only then took a good look at the situation.
Genesis screamed with pain as my eyes widened in shock.
Sukuna-Hikona had… my Persona had severed his arm.
There was something wrong with my Persona. Now that the threat had passed, it was obvious. I felt danger emanating from him, and my eyes wouldn’t focus on his figure even though I was no longer dizzy. “What is this feeling?” I murmured, clutching my chest.
“I am thou, and thou art I.”
I heard the voice from the depths of my mind.
Then, a different voice, a childish voice… my own voice. “But, would you look at that, you’re even less sure of what you are than before.”
There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere. The corridor itself became indistinct to my eyes, but I could finally see my Persona, or rather, his previous self, a being which I had thought I would never lay my eyes upon again: my Shadow, half-human and half-machine, neither man nor woman, hovering above the blurry and motionless Genesis, which seconds later faded from view alongside the entire room. “What in the world is this?”
The answer came to me instinctively. I was in the realm between consciousness and unconsciousness, the sea of my soul.
I felt the urge to pinch my arm, but resigned myself to merely blinking. During that single instant, my Shadow reverted into the same form it had used to confront me almost two years earlier. Short hair, bright yellow eyes and an oversized scientist attire. I remembered it well.
“You’ve changed,” my Shadow said with an amused smile.
“If so, then that means you have changed as well,” I replied.
“I suppose so,” my Shadow said in a contemplative tone.
I closed my eyes for a moment. To be acknowledged by one’s Shadow was a strange experience, but I felt that was only the beginning. When I opened my eyes again, it had changed its form to my current self… apart from the longer hair and a slight increase in height, not much was different, though I had stopped wearing my blue cap and cardigan coat in favor of an overcoat or plain business suits, changes which my friends had deemed strange. Of course, the Shadow lacked my silver eyes and wore a vicious expression I’d never want to mimic.
There was only one question I wanted answered: “What happened?”
“Ah, right to the point,” my Shadow said. I noticed it had dropped the childish mannerisms entirely and was speaking in a tone much closer to my own. “You called for me. That part should have been quite evident, but it has been a while, hasn’t it?”
“Almost a year, I believe.” I was making small talk with my own Shadow… in truth, it might have been because I was dreading what would inevitably come next.
“Yes, and a year is a long time; none of us can remain in stasis forever. Those were your words to your precious senpai, correct?”
I nodded, somewhat hesitantly. Those had been my words, indeed, but seconds earlier I had been musing about how little I had actually changed. I could already spot the thread my other self was going to pick on, and it made me extremely anxious.
“I am you. Therefore, we both go through the same changes. Sukuna-Hikona became unsuited to serve as your mask; your current resolution fails to sustain him.”
“To survive?” I asked, remembering my thoughts as I summoned him, but the Shadow shook its head. From that, I could infer that he meant a deeper resolution.
What was my current resolution? I could remember embracing my love for mysteries and desire to help people, deeming them more important than seeming aloof, but that, too, had been…
“To become a woman,” the Shadow interrupted my thoughts, and I took a step back.
That was my resolution?
“You might not have realized it, but I have, because I am you,” the Shadow said, calmly stroking its hair. “This was an accident, was it not?”
“No,” I answered firmly. “I let it grow out because I wanted to.”
“I see. Then, it was a decision you made of your own accord?”
I hesitated. “I… my friends encouraged me.”
“Your friends have encouraged you a great deal towards your goal,” the Shadow said with perverse glee. I feared it would come to this.
“Yes, they are supportive, as friends should be.” An honest sentiment, but not an honest answer by any means; the Shadow grimaced.
“Shadows and Personas are two sides of the same coin, just as you and I are one and the same. Do you intend to deceive yourself once again?”
I knew what it was talking about. Rise-san, and Yosuke-san before that. Teddie, Yukiko-san and even Chie-san… they had all done it at some point.
“You are desperately afraid of losing your precious friends,” the Shadow continued, now wearing a bitter expression. “Those who accepted you when you needed it the most, those who helped you overcome your hardships, and you theirs.
But you’ve come to realize that the person they accepted… was not you.
You vowed to be true to yourself, because no one would accept you otherwise! You tried more and more to become a woman, just as you had once tried to become a man and an adult. You gave in to their unreasonable ploys in hopes that it would make you accept what you had been denying for so long, and in doing so, you achieved precisely the opposite: you came to deny me.”
One year earlier, I had been told that the human heart was frail, and its weaknesses were never truly vanquished. Given the opportunity, it could betray you and return to darkness. I had never given much thought to those remarks, yet they were coming true before my very eyes.
“Quite ironic,” said my other self, walking towards me. I could not deny that, much like in the past, there was truth to its words. “Tell me now, are you a man or a woman?”
“Things are not that simple! I can… my preferences are not mutually exclusive with my gender,” I argued, but in truth, my heart was not in it. I thought about how hard it had been, a mere week earlier, to push Rise-san away, even though her plan was absurd. Could she have been simply reacting to the image I was putting forward? I turned my gaze to the ground. I could not bring myself to look my Shadow in the eye when such thoughts clouded my mind.
My other self changed its form once again. I noticed its bare legs and immediately raised my head. This time, its hair was tied up in a ponytail, and it was wearing a daring black leather bikini. Though it took me some time to remember it, it was definitely the model Rise-san had picked out for me, the one I refused to wear. My heart was racing.
“Is this the new you, the true you?” my Shadow asked, fondling its exposed breasts.
I knew what would happen should I refuse to acknowledge it. I knew it, but still had to stop myself from saying the wrong words. I clutched my head; the pain was immense.
“You are me, so please…!” I pleaded, just barely keeping myself awake.
“Yes, I am you,” my other self conceded, chuckling darkly, ”but who are you?”
I blacked out.
On the way out of the realm between dream and reality, mind and matter, my other self continued to speak: “I shall give you one clue. Can you solve the puzzle, Detective Prince?”
I was drenched in cold sweat and breathing heavily. Genesis had stopped screaming and was slowly getting up, his sights still set on me. No more than ten seconds had passed.
Sukuna-Hikona was nowhere to be seen, but I knew it had not been a hallucination. My mind was calm, and one name was clear in my thoughts.
Once again, a bright blue fog filled the corridor. I let the accompanying gust of wind wash over the despair I had been feeling moments earlier, and looked at my new Persona.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi… he was a dignified presence akin to a conductor, an elegant mess of spiral patterns and black lines over blue, white and red. Compared to my other Personas, he was both beastly and feminine, with wide hips and large shoulders, and a yellow pronged head that brought to mind a praying mantis. Amatsu-Mikaboshi, my one clue. I would use it well.
I directed my gaze to Genesis; at that very moment, a sharp noise filled the corridor, and my entire body started to tremble with each heartbeat.
I’d read about that strange feeling before… our Personas were resonating.
Genesis, who must have been more human than he seemed to have a Persona, stared at me in apparently disbelief. Our eyes met, his not as robotic as they had seemed before, and he unexpectedly ceased to function, going completely limp like a toy with dead batteries.
The battle was over. I fell to my knees, exhausted.
“Quick, restrain him!” a gruff male voice shouted, and several people immediately rushed into the room like ants. I did not bother to look at any of them. My senses were on overdrive; the sound of their footsteps was too loud, and even the darkness of my mind too bright.
“What was all that?” I heard one of them whisper.
“Genesis really is a failure, losing against a brat like that.”
“Hey, you two, get back to work,” said a voice that must have belonged to Touko-san, sounding upset. “Tsuge-san, reboot that oversized child as soon as possible, will you?”
“Got it,” answered the gruff voice, apparently Tetsuma Tsuge. “Though, the boy really did a number on him... s’gonna take a while to fix his arm. How are we supposed to explain that?”
Touko-san scoffed. “Naoto was unexpectedly fierce, but it was still his own damn fault.”
I raised my head to look at Touko-san. “You two, stop talking as though this was nothing more than an unfortunate accident,” I said, too tired to measure my words.
Touko-san looked at me with a strange expression, but it was Tetsuma Tsuge that spoke first: “It was you that barged in here, boy—don’t go blaming us for this!”
I glared at Tetsuma Tsuge, a stout man not unlike those populating detective fiction, with unexpected anger burning inside me.
“Touko vouched for your future, at any rate, so there was nothing to worry about.”
“Touko-san?” I muttered helplessly. Vouched for my future? What could that mean?
“Naoto, when you are near me, what do you feel?” Touko-san asked.
That was an unexpectedly bold question, and one I was not prepared to answer. Touko Aoi was the woman Naoto Shirogane strived to be. She had been a role model for me ever since our first meeting many years earlier, proof that I could succeed as a detective, though I had never been able to measure up to her. I looked at Touko-san, the boastful and proud Touko-san, and…
Realized that my heartbeat was accelerating. There was a faint noise reaching my ears, the same noise that had filled the corridor minutes earlier, though lacking in intensity.
Then: “Answer, Kushinada-Hime.”
…Touko Aoi was a Persona-user.
“I doubt there is any need for me to tell you what a Persona is, considering your flashy actions today,” she said. Kushinada-Hime was a maiden clad in a green ballroom gown, with an elaborate hairstyle that brought to mind a sorceress. Rather unnervingly, she had a porcelain face only barely hinged to her head, leaving a large empty space and an eerie light where her eyes would have been. I realized her eyes were most likely the pair of goggles she had been gracefully holding in front of Touko-san. The image was strikingly similar to that of Rise-san and her Persona.
“I see. Through your power, you were able to vouch for my future. I assume your Persona is unsuited for battle, but has some sort of special ability?”
“As always, you are quick to grasp the situation.” Touko-san seemed satisfied, and dispelled her Persona. “Kushinada-Hime has the power to see ten minutes into the future.”
From her appearance, I deduced that the goggles Kushinada-Hime carried were how Touko-san was allowed to see ten minutes into the future, and immediately wondered just what was the extent of that power. What did she see through those goggles?
“When that brat went berserk, I immediately used my power, and saw that the three of us would be drinking coffee in the break room. That was eight minutes ago.”
What a roundabout way of inviting me for coffee… still, I did need something to keep me up for the ensuing explanation. “I am eager to hear the details of this situation.”
Touko-san and I headed for the break room while Tetsuma Tsuge bossed around a few of the scientists from earlier, complaining loudly that so much would need to be fixed before anyone came down. The interior of the room on the other side of the corridor was clearly a laboratory, and a rather stereotypical one, I might add, with countless digital gauges and strange devices spread around. I felt uncomfortable; it looked too much like my dungeon in the TV world.
Touko-san poured me a cup of coffee, but told me we needed to wait for Tetsuma Tsuge before she could explain anything to me. One minute later, he entered the room.
“Does this fulfill your prediction?” he asked after pouring his own cup and taking a sip.
“Yes,” Touko-san said, seeming somewhat relieved. The evidence about her predictions being just that, and not entirely reliable, was piling up. “Naoto, does the name Kirijo ring any bells?”
“Stop dancing around the subject. That we both are Persona-users is too much to be a coincidence. You’ve looked into my past, so please, just get to the point.”
Touko-san narrowed her eyes. I may have said too much, but truly, I was not in the mood for mind games after going through such a harrowing experience.
“Hey, we should leave this for tomorrow,” Tetsuma Tsuge interjected. “Genesis should probably be present for this conversation, and you two need to rest. Especially you, boy. I dunno how much you know, but awakening to a Persona is s’posed to take you out for at least a week afterwards.”
I wanted to argue, but it was true. I was exhausted… I’d briefly wondered what they had seen of my confrontation with my other self and found it too tiring to give further thought, which was completely against my nature and training as a detective.
My curiosity had been piqued as well. Genesis was obviously a Kirijo weapon… had the relationship between the police and the Shadow Operatives advanced so much in a single year that a regular police station could be equipped with a laboratory and old secrets? Kirijo-san had assured me that, though they had an active lab for maintenance purposes, the Kirijo Group no longer manufactured mechanical maidens. From this, as well as the fact that his design was rather clumsy and very obviously robotic, not to mention male, I could deduce that Genesis was an outdated model, perhaps a generation predating Labrys, though she was supposed to be the earliest surviving model. Regardless, the pieces were slowly falling into place.
Tetsuma Tsuge, who had demonstrated next to no surprise regarding my Persona and seemed to be in charge, was probably a former Kirijo researcher.
Smiling in quiet satisfaction, I conceded: “All right. Touko-san, Tsuge-san, I will come back here tomorrow morning, before classes start. I expect to hear the full story then.”
I gulped down my coffee and left without saying another word.
I had much to ponder, but not enough energy to do so while moving. Therefore, my walk to the dorm was both uneventful and mechanical.
The police, not knowing the truth about my gender, had assigned me to a male dorm, a decision which, in hindsight, I was surprisingly comfortable with. The dorm was a tall building with large windows on the ground floor, located a train ride away from Yagokoro High. Upon entering, I was greeted by a responsible-looking elementary schooler who introduced himself as Tohru Momochi and offered to lead me to my assigned room on the third floor. I accepted, and we made small talk as we passed by several carefree teenagers on the lounge and stairs.
“This dorm houses all ages,” he said, no doubt noticing my puzzled expression. “Though everyone calls it Yagokoro High, the school even has a kindergarten.”
Yagokoro High was the only private school in the region, and very prestigious. That dorm was reserved to its students, then. “As expected, the elite private school fails to disappoint.”
“Us elementary schoolers get the first floor, while middle schoolers get the second floor and you guys get the third. We sleep in bunk beds and shower together, but you lucked out—your room is single and even has a bathtub!”
…Perhaps the police had more hindsight than I’d given them credit for.
I looked at Momochi-kun, who was staring at me with a mix of resentment and admiration plain in his face, and sighed. “If you want to, you can use it. I will not be here very often.”
While that was certainly true, I wanted him to refuse, since it was but a lighthearted courtesy. Unfortunately, I had yet to master the art of keeping my expectations at minimum.
“Really?” he asked, his eyes sparkling. Well, he seemed responsible enough, so I thought it would be ok. I nodded, and hoped no trouble would come of it.
Momochi-kun escorted me all the way to my room, which was at the end of the hallway, a very easy location to remember even though any would have been fine. I then realized that I had yet to ask him how he knew about me, and immediately did so.
“Kurogami-senpai told me you’d be coming. Our teachers haven’t arrived yet, so she’s stuck as our dorm mother for the time being. I think she’s working now, though.”
I exchanged goodbyes with Momochi-kun and entered my room, seizing my notepad from my coat. Kurogami… the name ringed familiar, yet I could not place it. I wrote it down for later reference, blaming exhaustion, and proceeded to lock the door.
Too much had happened in a single day… first and foremost, I had summoned my Persona in the real world through sheer willpower. Of course, we had all tried it at some point, but even Souji-senpai hadn’t been successful. Kirijo-san told me that that was due to the fact that summoning your Persona inside the TV world was no more difficult than shifting your focus from the background to the foreground. On the outside, it was significantly harder unless you had a special power. I’d thought the comparison inaccurate at first. Kirijo-san was significantly more resilient than a regular human being. To her, who had spent years acting during a hidden hour in which only people with the potential to use a Persona could function, it followed that summoning a Persona in the realm reflecting the human heart would be easier, but to us it was still draining. That had been my reasoning, but now that I had actually summoned my Persona in the real world, I could see her point clearly. I would have to apologize to her later.
What else was there to go over? I slowly undid the bandages binding my chest while pondering. Touko Aoi was a Persona-user. I could scarcely believe it, but the power to see ten minutes into the future would explain her incredible confidence when dealing with criminals and difficult situations, as I had witnessed many times in the past. That she had looked into my past and specifically called me, a fellow Persona-user, did not bode well for the future.
Then, there was my suspicious awakening to consider. Sukuna-Hikona had acted strangely before revealing itself as my Shadow; it responded to my indirect thoughts and displayed a skill unfamiliar to me, namely the one that weakened Genesis. Upon summoning a Persona, you were instinctively made aware of its capabilities and potential… in hindsight, it was similar to the reaction I had felt from both Touko-san and Genesis, the feeling that could only be described as a resonance. Touko-san had a non-combative Persona, and the same feeling had emanated from Genesis, therefore that was likely the case with him as well. Reading resonances could prove useful when dealing with Persona-users in the future, so I wrote it down after changing into my pajamas.
In any case, it was strange that my Persona would use a skill unknown to me. Perhaps the reason behind that discrepancy was that I had summoned my Shadow from the start. If so, then why did it protect me, why did it respond to my thoughts at all? During our confrontation, it was not particularly hostile either—its cruel words were plain truth, not exaggerations like they had been in the past. If my heart had been going berserk, then would I have been able to awaken to an entirely new Persona? Amatsu-Mikaboshi was pointedly different from Sukuna-Hikona. There had to be some significance to its mythological origins and abilities.
That was the clue given to me by my other self.
The problem could not be that I was denying my Shadow. If that had been the case, it would not have assumed a new form. I outright said the words, but nothing happened… was it because, on some level, I did not believe them? Maybe it was more complicated than the usual. Facing yourself and accepting the truth was hard, but not knowing the truth at all was unfathomable.
I picked up my phone. Souji-senpai or Kanji-kun could help me solve this problem, the former being completely reliable and the latter having experience with problems that would not simply vanish upon accepting your other self. Though, all of us were like that to an extent.
“You are desperately afraid of losing your precious friends.” Those were the words spoken by my other self, and they ran through my head before I could dial any numbers.
No, I decided. I had to solve the puzzle myself. I’d never noticed it, but perhaps I had been acting in an overbearing manner towards my friends. I recalled how quickly I would pick up the phone in hopes that it was one of them, now seeing it in an entirely different light. How come my Shadow had said all those things, when none of them had occurred to me?
Musing on that, I slowly drifted into sleep.
Chapter 2: A Monochrome River
APRIL 01, MONDAY
THE NEXT DAY WOULD BE A BIG ONE. With that in mind, I’d set my alarm for 5am, yet it felt as though I had barely closed my eyes when it rang; my body was heavy, and my eyelids threatened to close again and again, even though I had slept for nearly sixteen hours.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi was resting within my mind. I could scarcely believe it… the previous day seemed like a dream already, but I could feel him, ready to be called by the power of my resolve.
I’d have summoned him right there, but there was no point to tiring myself further. I lightly slapped my cheeks and tried not to fall asleep while getting ready for school. As expected, my room had a rather large bathroom, a classic one at that, with a bathtub, a shower head and stools.
“Ah, this brings back memories,” I said, thinking about my grandfather and the estate we lived in. I had not visited it in quite a while, though my grandfather was unconcerned—the whole reason he wanted me to enroll high school in Inaba was so I could make friends, and that goal had been accomplished in full. With a nostalgic smile, I proceeded with my morning routine.
Of course, a male Yagokoro High uniform had been provided for me as well, though it was rather different from what I had worn in the past—a light blue suit with matching tie rather than a gakuran, signifying its status as a private school. I thought it suited me.
I had clearly been the first one to wake up in the entire dorm; my door creaked loudly against the silence of the hallway, and my footsteps were the only sound afterwards, which suited me just fine, as I was not in the mood for idle chat.
That had been the plan, anyway. As soon as I opened the front door, I was greeted by a girl with short platinum hair with pointy sideburns, wearing a white vest and a rather large skirt, puffy and colored black. I could see the petticoat underneath. She directed her striking, round black eyes to me, adjusted her pink bowtie and black hairband both and smiled before finally walking over to where I was standing. “Shirogane-senpai, you’re up early,” she said in a perky voice, and I could have sworn the oversized hairband moved in response.
“You know me?” I asked, still dazed by her theatrics.
“Yes, the police told me all about you,” she answered, her words accompanied by a mock military salute. “Ai Kurogami, temporary dorm mother, at your service.”
Kurogami… the name once again called out to me from the furthest depths of my mind, but unfortunately, I was drawing a blank. I could guess from her features that she was about my age or maybe a bit younger, but everything else was a mystery. If she was the dorm mother, though, then it followed that she was a Yagokoro High student. “Are you going to school now?”
“This early?” she said, giggling. “I have to help open the store first.”
Ah, so she worked part time in a store. That would explain the outlandish attire, but I decided to stop trying to figure her out by picking apart her lines.
“Where do you work?” I asked, trying to lower my eyebrows and put on a polite smile.
“Junes,” she answered cheerfully, humming the jaunty tune I knew all too well. “Do you want a ride? The police station is on the way, and my scooter has room for two.”
Ai Kurogami pointed to a scooter right behind her, a pink vintage Vespa to be precise. I was… to call it surprised would be an understatement. I was envious. I’d wanted to buy one during the motorcycle craze in Inaba, but ended up with a moped due to my age and the fact that I had taken the murder case free of charge, leaving me with little money to spare. Fortunately, she did not wait for me to accept her proposal; she put on a pink open face helmet with goggles and leather straps attached, handed me a dark blue one, and soon afterwards we were riding away.
“Hold tight!” she said, but in truth, she did not drive particularly fast, and we could talk over the rather relaxing engine sounds produced by the Vespa. Ai Kurogami had moved to Yagokoro City halfway through the previous year, and enrolled the private high school at about the same time. I asked how she came to be dorm mother, temporary or otherwise, and she told me it had been a last minute decision: “I joined the Home Economics Club last year to work on my sewing and cooking,” she explained in a merry tone, “but of course it was not going to be that easy. I had a good time for a while, but then they fired the dorm mother for some reason and couldn’t find a replacement. The boys were practically wrecking the dorm, so yeah, they were pretty desperate.”
“Did the school offer extra credit for anyone who took the job, by any chance?” I asked.
Ai Kurogami giggled in response. “Yep, and no one was fooled, but they were so pushy! Every teacher came to us in the Home Economics Club with a different sob story, and eventually they even sent students to do it, so I decided to take the job, but only after setting some conditions. Turns out the boys behave when there’s someone around to scold them, so it hasn’t been all bad.
Oh, hang on a second, looks like we’re here!”
Ai Kurogami stopped her scooter and pointed to the police station just ahead.
I found myself smiling. Our conversation had been surprisingly pleasant considering my first impressions of her, and thanks to the ride, I had arrived significantly early, meaning Touko-san would not be able to avoid my questions and blame it on time as she always did. I waved goodbye to that strange, cheerful girl called Ai Kurogami and walked to the police station, feeling a certain warmth in my heart, and the realization that while I would be staying away from my friends for a time, I would also have the opportunity to make new ones. …Kurogami-san would be but the first.
I was already halfway into the station when I realized I was still wearing the borrowed helmet, and quickly ran outside, but Kurogami-san was already gone. I decided to give it back to her at school, but before I could even remove it from my head, the same young policewoman from the previous day approached me, holding a keycard.
“Detective Prince!” she said enthusiastically, then covered her mouth. The reprimand from the assistant chief must have stuck with her, and she tried again: “Naoto Shirogane, sir.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“This keycard was especially prepared for you,” she said in a very stilted tone, as though reading from a script. “With it, you will be able to access all basement floors. On behalf of the police force, I ask that you head for the Special Forensics Division immediately.”
The policewoman practically shoved the keycard into my hands and ran back into the station. That was a bit much, even if she was a fan, but I could not help but feel slightly guilty. This woman was going through so much effort to properly interact with me, yet I had barely registered her features in my mind. The young policewoman with shoulder-length red hair… hardly enough for a police report. Did my friend, Rise-san, live out her life like this, seeing her fans as faceless masses out of necessity? If so, no wonder few could recognize the real her.
I used my newfound keycard and went into the elevator not without some trepidation. I could feel it, a resonance growing in intensity as the elevator headed to basement level 5, no doubt caused by Touko-san herself. Genesis seemed to be unconscious, but even so, I prepared myself for battle. Amatsu-Mikaboshi was a support-oriented Persona. Fighting alongside him would be different from what I’d experienced in the past, but the skills learned during my forays into the TV world were still within me. I was confident that I could at least defend myself.
The elevator door opened, finally at level B5.
Not much was different from the previous day. The destruction wrought by Genesis was still there, save for the steel door, which had been replaced. I quickly scanned the room for the man who had tried to kill me and found him lying on a strange mechanical chair, restrained but sleeping with a peaceful expression. Touko-san and Tetsuma Tsuge were at his side, both sipping on coffee.
Tetsuma Tsuge raised an eyebrow as he looked at me. “Up and around this early in the morning, even though all that crap happened yesterday? Heh, you scare me, boy.”
I shook my head. “No, it is not like that. I slept for several hours. Furthermore, I suspect the reason for my exhaustion was not the awakening, but rather summoning my Persona in the real world unassisted.” Though, being confronted by my other self a second time might have had something to do with it. I bit my lip at the thought.
Touko-san briefly looked at me. “Do you want coffee?” she asked, almost yawning. Upon closer inspection, both her and Tetsuma Tsuge had bags under their eyes.
“Yes, please. Did you two spend the entire night working?”
“Fixing your mess, more like,” said Tetsuma Tsuge, scoffing.
“My mess? I seem to remember being attacked by an unrestrained machine.”
“Oh, be quiet,” Touko-san ordered. “How do you like your coffee, Naoto?”
“Black with a dash of lemon,” I answered immediately, “but just black will do.”
“We have a refined youngster here,” Touko-san said, then set her stainless steel cup down and went to the break room to prepare my coffee. I noticed that her cup had no steam coming from it and smiled to myself; we all had our quirks.
I turned my gaze to Tetsuma Tsuge, who was quietly analyzing Genesis; the android had a new arm now, though it was not any different from the one Sukuna-Hikona had severed.
Genesis was a strange one. Due to the circumstances then, I had failed to take a good look at him before, and came to realize a few things by doing so now, starting with the fact that it was not simply that he was an outdated model, but rather, his body seemed to serve purpose other than locomotion and battle. I could not see any concealed weapons, and strangely enough, his arms seemed to have built-in headlights shaped like eyes. There were also a number of plaques attached to his body. I could see one on his shoulder… there were words engraved upon it, but I could only make out the model number written in larger letters: R-00.
Touko-san came out of the break room and handed me a cup, starting the explanation immediately: “SPECIALIZED ANTI-SHADOW SUPPRESSION WEAPON R-00 GENESIS. I take it you’ve heard similar words in the past?” she asked, her tone somewhat mocking. I could tell she was still bitter about my attitude in the previous day.
“Of course,” I answered, quietly sipping my coffee—no lemon, unsurprisingly—while trying to sort out the many questions I had. First, why was he a male model, and why had he been absent from the documents Kirijo-san handed to the police when setting up the Shadow Operatives? Did he not have a generation number? Perhaps most importantly, what was he doing there and why had he attacked me? As was typical, however, Touko-san gestured for me to stay quiet.
“Genesis was made by the Kirijo Group years ago, but he was considered a failure. Do you have any idea why? I know you do, so let me just say it: his Persona is useless in combat.”
That matched what I had felt from the resonance, but her smug delivery was grating.
“Fortunately for him, the man in charge at the time died before giving the decommission order, though that didn’t make him any less useless.”
“Well, she says useless, but s’more that he wasn’t what Kirijo wanted back then, which was a robot with a combat-oriented Persona,” Tetsuma Tsuge intervened with unexpected concern clear in his voice, but Touko-san simply shrugged, maintaining the contemptuous sneer she had been wearing ever since starting the explanation. I had not expected to see such a childish side to her.
“Kirijo allocated him and a team of scientists here,” she continued. “To do something about the rapidly spreading violence in the city, they say.”
“Does that mean the police force knows about him?” I asked, having a hard time imagining him as your friendly neighborhood robot.
“Yeah, as do a few civilians,” answered Tetsuma Tsuge, “though of course we pulled some strings to keep the media out of it. Currently, his level of exposure is limited to blurry videos online.”
“Does that answer all your questions, Naoto? Tsuge-san, reboot him.”
Tetsuma Tsuge pressed a few numbers in a nearby keypad, prompting mechanical whirring sounds from several devices in the laboratory. There was one last question, however.
“The experiment you were performing yesterday…”
Tetsuma Tsuge frowned and turned away from me. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “ask me about it later, will you, boy?”
Genesis was more than a failed robot for him, that much was clear. I decided to respect his wishes, and not much later, one of the other scientists announced that the procedure was finished.
“Oi, oi, oi, what the hell happened to my arm?” Those were the first words spoken by the rebooted android. I barely had any time to turn my eyes to him before he broke free from his restraints and grabbed Tetsuma Tsuge by the collar. My hand instinctively went for my gun, but no one else seemed to be bothered; in fact, they looked distinctly relieved.
“Put me down,” Tetsuma Tsuge said, narrowing his eyes.
Genesis hesitated, but only for a moment. “Fuck that!” he yelled, not letting go but rather raising the burly scientist even higher. “Tell me what happened.”
Tetsuma Tsuge raised his voice: “I warned you from the start that it was probably not gonna work, so quit your whining!”
“Did you forget you called yourself the best, huh? Gramps, you said you’d make it work!”
“What, are you talking about the experiment now, or just your arm?” Tetsuma Tsuge spat right back at him, prompting more cruel words, yet even though the confrontation was decidedly violent, there was shame and regret beneath their words. I could… feel it. Yes, that was the source of my surprise. I could feel their emotions boiling, not the mechanical rage from the previous day, but raw human anger. Genesis was nearly human.
“If you wanna know what happened to your arm, ask that boy!” Tetsuma Tsuge suddenly yelled, and the nearly human robot looked in my direction. I could see his eyes now, not bright and red like they had been in the previous day, but a shade between pink and purple.
“The hell would he know?” he asked, raising an eyebrow; the effect was strange, almost comical, due to the contrast between his strong jaw line and his otherwise soft features.
“All high and mighty bullying an old man now, but just yesterday you had your ass handed to you by him. I bet you feel peachy!” Tetsuma Tsuge smirked, then abruptly fell to the ground with a loud thud. Genesis had released his grip, and was now taking careful steps towards me while mumbling incoherently. Did he not believe that I had bested him? I had no way of knowing, but the danger was there. I should have been scared—perhaps I was—but the only thing on my mind were the quiet presences permeating the room. Personas, waiting to be called. I had an idea, a hypothesis that needed testing. I closed my eyes and envisioned a card, though this time not to be shattered.
This power of ours, the power to call forth a Persona… so much about it was a mystery. To some, it was granted by gods; to others, it came at great costs. I’d learned as much as possible about it, but only those who resided in a VELVET ROOM, a place someone like me would never be able to enter, truly knew the answer. That door was closed to me, but others were open.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi filled the previously empty card, his presence more clear to me than ever before. From his loud footsteps, I could tell that Genesis was closing in on me. Did he plan to lift me by the collar and demand answers? If so, what answers would I be able to give him? No, he had no plan at all. That was no rampage, only his shortsighted mind at work.
I opened my eyes, and a sharp noise filled the room.
Genesis towered over me, as an adult would a child. My body trembled with each heartbeat and so did his, even though he had no heart. The danger was gone. Genesis was frozen in place; our Personas were calling out to each other once again. The noise, it was a resonance, and it reached not our ears, but our hearts and minds, a message to be shared between Persona-users, if only you could read the words. I turned my gaze to Touko-san, who had been massaging her temples.
Kushinada-Hime was a Persona with no combat abilities whatsoever, not even physical resistance. I could tell, because her aura was fragile, in stark contrast to the strong will burning within the woman to whom she served as a mask. Therefore, her predictions had to be her only power, and were not to be underestimated. …That was my read on Kushinada-Hime, damsel saved from sacrifice in ages past. The information came both from her and from the depths of my mind, a contradiction that piqued my interest greatly. I turned to Genesis next.
“Who the hell is this shorty?” he asked, looking straight into my eyes.
The moon. That was the only thing the resonance could show me before Touko-san walked over to us and proceeded to spell out the most shocking revelation of the day:
“Naoto here is going to be your partner from now on.”
“…This is news to me,” I said, my composure briefly shattered.
Amatsu-Mikaboshi vanished from my mind, and the noise subsided. As an outside party commissioned to a case by the police, the fact that I could be assigned a partner was no secret.
Genesis being this partner, however, was quite the surprise.
For once, the shortsighted robot seemed to be on the same page as me: “Yeah, the hell are you talking about, Touko?” he asked. “I ain’t gonna partner up with this wimp!”
“Oh? I seem to remember you being quite agreeable last week,” Touko-san said in a lively tone completely at odds with her annoyed expression.
“I ain’t no babysitter,” he argued, “and besides, this was s’posed to be a temporary thing anyway, right? I wanna go back to Kirijo and start doing what I was meant for!”
“I see. Do you mean to say that all the time and effort we put into getting this division going and building this laboratory, not to mention repairing the damage from your tantrum, was a waste?”
Genesis scratched his head and looked away. Despite his large build and height, he was as though a child being reprimanded. “The hell do you mean by tantrum?” he asked weakly.
“The experiment was a failure,” Touko-san stated flatly. “That much was expected, but you managed to wreck the whole place and even attacked me and the old man.”
Tetsuma Tsuge stepped forward. “Kirijo has no use for you like this, son,” he said, sounding rather tired. “This is exactly the kinda crap she doesn’t wanna deal with.”
I could not help but nod in agreement. Kirijo-san was very understanding and would seldom comment on any fumbles made by those working under her, but what she valued most was reliability. Genesis would slow her down. Dealing with him was already giving me a migraine, so I could only imagine how much worse it would be for her, who would undoubtedly choose to carry the burden of his very existence as yet another inexcusable sin committed by her family.
Regarding the surprise partnership, that seemed to have done the trick. Genesis mumbled something that sounded like a yes as Touko-san walked away nodding in satisfaction. I expected her to try and convince me next, but all she said was this: “Then it is settled.”
I had no idea how to retort. I opened my mouth to do so, but failed to produce any words or even coherent thoughts. I’d been paying close attention to their argument, knowing that it would lead into me accepting that situation, but now she had denied me even that. I wanted to turn on my heel and walk away right then and there, but what would that accomplish, beyond earning me a few condescending responses? I would be treated as a child throwing a tantrum, as Genesis had, and perhaps with good reason. I needed to calm down. I needed to stop coming up with excuses to abandon the case. I needed to give him a chance.
I hesitate to say it, but my head was a mess. I’d been affected by the confrontation on the previous day more than I had realized. Everything about that situation made me angry, prone to acting on instinct rather than logic, eager to lash out at others. I had to stop and think.
My grandfather had once told me that, as a detective, I would have to swallow my pride and concede to unreasonable requests many times throughout my career. I remembered his somber expression as he laid out that particular advice very clearly… he’d likely endured many years of hardship and mockery before becoming the distinguished detective that had raised me. I tried to think about that as I turned to Genesis, who had his eyes cast downwards. What was so bad about a partnership with him, that I had been dreading it from the moment it was presented? What would set my mind at ease? The answer to both questions was the experiment.
From their reactions, it was obvious the rampage on the previous day was not commonplace. Genesis was impulsive and shortsighted, yes, but not a murderer. I remembered how slow he seemed in his attempt to strangle me; how human his expression was when my awakening caused a resonance, in stark contrast to his eyes filled with intent to kill moments earlier. I had clearly noticed it. Yet, the fear that he would go berserk again was still there.
There was a second matter: me. I’d never been good at dealing with people. My assigned partners were always people who looked at me with such contempt that it was easy to push them away and solve the cases by myself. I’d eventually developed a reputation for being hard to work with, and that suited them perfectly; after all, they wanted to dismiss me from the start. I had so much to hide, so much to feel uncertain about, and on some level, that remains true to this day.
For me, a partner was someone you could trust your life with. Genesis would not qualify until the reasons for his rampage were out in the open. That was the bare minimum requirement.
“If we are to be partners,” I said, “then there are a few things we need to clear up, Genesis.”
“The name is Sousei Kurogami, not Genesis,” he said bluntly. Tetsuma Tsuge immediately argued that everyone there knew him by his codename, but to be honest, my mind was elsewhere.
I’d heard the name Kurogami one too many times in the span of two days. I had it hastily scribbled somewhere in my notepad, and yes, the connection to Ai Kurogami was obvious enough, but there was something else. I’d seen that name before, yet no matter how much my mind struggled to bring the memory to light, each time reaching a bit further, it was never quite enough, and that made me all the more intrigued.
“In that case, my name is Naoto Shirogane,” I said in turn, “not wimp, nor shorty, nor any other derogatory nickname you might come up with.”
“The hell do you think you are, making demands to someone as great as me?” he asked, his annoyance as clear as the day outside. I stared at him blankly. I’d turned his own words on him, but they were hardly demands… honestly, his personality would be more at place in a comedy routine.
“Do you have a problem with it?” I asked, almost moving my hand to tip my hat before remembering it was not there anymore; that habit would go to the grave with me. Genesis went on to argue that there was nothing wrong with calling a person by what they really were, but quickly backpedaled when I proposed to call him one of several unflattering nicknames to conform with his faulty logic, leading the scientists around us to declare that a friendship had just been born. I’d almost forgotten their existence by that point, to be completely honest.
Well, moving on. I offered him my hand, almost expecting him to crush it, and we shared a firm handshake. Sousei Kurogami had strange, glossy black hands made out of a material that resembled rubber but was much more firm. His touch was a different kind of warm, akin to the surface of a kotatsu or the asphalt on a sunny day, whereas Aigis-san and Labrys were both cold.
“Sousei-san,” I said, looking him in the eye while trying out the name, “could you tell me about the experiment performed yesterday?”
Tetsuma Tsuge, unsurprisingly, furrowed his brows. “I did tell you to ask me later,” he said after letting out a resigned sigh. Sousei Kurogami went through many complicated expressions before settling on surly; nevertheless, he was the one to start the explanation.
“Personas are divided into two main groups unrelated to their arcana,” he said in an unusually mechanical tone, as though reading from a textbook.
“Yes, combat and support,” I interrupted.
Sousei Kurogami exchanged looks with Tetsuma Tsuge.
“Oh, you in the loop already?” he asked, already back to his regular voice.
“I know the basics,” I answered. I’d been unimpressed by the rather unimaginative categories, shortened to TYPE A and TYPE B respectively, until learning that, unlike arcana, which reflected your psyche and were molded by your every experience, what defined the group you would fall into was your nature. This meant that even the rare wild cards were unable to tap into the abilities of the group they did not belong to, for their power was a blank, and their unchanging nature was the very thing that attracted others to them. Furthermore, those who belonged in the support group often had very specific abilities tied directly to their deepest wishes at the moment of the awakening. …Amatsu-Mikaboshi was a support Persona. I’d had no time to ponder on this momentous change, but I planned to find some as soon as possible.
“Genesis here is a TYPE B, as you know,” Tetsuma Tsuge said. “We were trying to alter his brain wavelengths so as to induce the artificial awakening of a combat Persona.”
“I see… you had been tampering with his mind,” I said, raising my hand to my chin even as a shiver ran down my spine; my unspoken assumption had been proven incorrect. Genesis had not been knocked out by the resonance. Rather, he must have mistaken my awakening for his own, that being the reason he had been so eager to go back to the Kirijo labs and do what he was meant for before being told the whole thing was a failure. I’d unknowingly raised his hopes during the fight for my life. I would never regret my actions, but I could at least feel sympathy for his plight.
I also had a few concerns regarding the experiment.
“That was rather imprudent… a Persona induced artificially would most likely be closer to a Shadow and prone to hurting the user,” I argued. I’d studied artificial awakenings while working with Kirijo-san; their results were often disturbing, to say the least. Sousei Kurogami was also a robot, and thus would be unable to take suppressants. What would happen then?
“Who cares? Anything beats going on like this,” he countered fiercely, looking straight at me, daring me to criticize. I did not. I could not blame him for wanting to change, no matter the risks... if anything, he had a will stronger than mine. I smiled bitterly at the thought and watched as he crossed his arms and turned away in silence. Touko-san, who had been snoring over a table for the past few minutes, nonchalantly chimed in then.
“I’d been planning to partner you two up the whole time,” she said, yawning through most of the sentence. “Naoto, your family and the police go way back; even so, there’s this deep-seated reluctance to call for your help, all because their precious honor is at stake. The only reason they allowed me to submit the request is the fact that there are too many cases for them to handle right now… basically, they wanted you here to trim the fat.”
“Naoto Shirogane is an accomplished detective from the prestigious Shirogane family, a prodigy within the field who has assisted in solving several difficult cases,” she continued in a composed voice. “That much is common knowledge, yet whenever they call for that assistance, they tell you to stay out of the way, right? This bullshit is just ridiculous, and extends to any outsider help, including the guys in this Special Forensics Division. I also knew that you and Kirijo were acquainted, making you the perfect candidate to deal with Sousei. I thought I’d leave the investigation up to you two and show the big shots what these outsiders are capable of.”
The logic was sound. Sousei Kurogami was an unknown variable, not just to me but to the police and the Special Forensics Division built around him as well; not just anyone would be able to deal with an autonomous robot, especially when he had such a difficult personality. I suspected that his Persona was the prime reason for his presence there, in which case, someone not in the know would have to be exposed to the truth about them. Yes, the match seemed ideal.
“Very well,” I said. I’d thought about voicing my remaining worries, but, having deliberated for a few seconds, it occurred to me that I would only be delaying the inevitable, for the very simple reason that I had accepted the case. While not at all satisfied with her dismissive attitude, I could not deny that Touko-san had given enough thought to her plan so that it would benefit not only the police and the Special Forensics Division, but the Shirogane name as well, meaning it would be selfish to turn back now. Perhaps she had anticipated this reaction, befitting both her personality and power… something about the idea was nauseating.
As I turned to leave, Touko-san handed me a file containing all the minutia regarding the case. I promised I would commit its contents to memory, and quickly walked into the corridor leading to the elevator. I loosened my tie while nervously pressing the call button.
Do you think my exit was sudden? Yes, it probably was. I probably should have said something to Sousei Kurogami, given that he was my new partner, but I’d been on my guard for a while. I would not be comfortable in his presence any time soon, and yearned for some fresh air and a chance to think without wanting to reach for my gun whenever someone moved. Well, to be honest, social interaction did not come easy to me either, so that might have played a part.
Yagokoro High was my next destination. Finding the school would be a simple matter; the horde of students commuting from the suburbs would surely lead me to it. I’d also left the dorm early, so getting there before the first bell was guaranteed. That being said, I felt unusually anxious and somewhat sad. I would always either take a leave from school or not enroll at all in order to pursue cases, meaning that Yagokoro High would be the first time I went to a new school from the start. I had hoped to do so in Inaba alongside my friends, but… well, you know what happened.
The walk from the police station to the school took twenty minutes at the most. I arrived in front of the main gate, a towering brick structure supporting elaborate white iron fences, and watched in awe as it continually swallowed students, drove after drove.
Once inside the school grounds, I could see the students splitting into three groups, each heading for a different building, with the high school group obviously being the biggest one. I’d known that the school would be large, but the sprawling complex inside was something else… there were more buildings than I cared to count, their old-fashioned designs not at all betraying the fact that much money had gone into their every aspect; they were all new and properly cared for. Quite frankly, it resembled a university campus rather than any regular school. I quickly joined the high school group to avoid getting lost. Yagokoro High was an expensive school that prepared students for college entrance exams, claiming cram schools unnecessary; many students commuted from far away simply to have a fighting chance, and as a result, the atmosphere was tense. Were things any different around the younger students? I made a mental note to ask Momochi-kun about it later.
Then, something made me turn my back to the group. I’d heard a sharp sound undoubtedly produced by a motorcycle engine. I doubted many students would attract so much attention to themselves on the first day, and indeed, every student I had seen so far had come on foot, so the logical conclusion was that Kurogami-san was riding her Vespa inside school grounds.
“Shirogane-senpai!” she called as she saw me stray from the horde. I quickly caught up to her motorcycle, trying my best to smile. Kurogami-san was wearing the summer school uniform—a vest rather than a jacket, though the skirt and socks were the same length—exposing her pale arms and ruling out a theory somewhere on the back of my mind stating that she was a robot.
“Kurogami-san,” I said, happy to see her again so soon. Kurogami-san took to walking and we made small talk as we approached the bike rack. I tried to ignore all the stares her bright pink vintage motorcycle brought upon us.
“Did you meet my brother?” she asked, calmly undoing her helmet straps in the meantime.
“We met under unfavorable circumstances,” I answered vaguely. I’d been wondering how to breach that subject, but did not want to insult her by badmouthing her… brother, apparently.
Kurogami-san giggled. “I know he can be a real jerk sometimes, but please be patient with him,” she said. “Gramps was basically his main influence growing up and, um, yeah.”
“Ah,” I exclaimed, apparently conveying my sentiments perfectly. An understanding seemed to form between us as her smile widened, but despite the fact that my desire to know more about her family situation was great, that would be our last conversation about the subject for a little while, as the following question had occurred to me: did she know the whole truth?
Sousei Kurogami had lived amongst humans, that much was certain, but even his sister might have been told only what was strictly necessary. I could keep my curiosity in check until finding out for sure, and besides, there was plenty to learn about her.
Right, the helmet. I had been walking around carrying the thing without knowing why my bag seemed heavier than usual. I hurriedly untied the helmet from my bag. Kurogami-san must have noticed my fumbling, because she kept staring at me with an inquisitive look in her eyes.
“I forgot to return this to you,” I explained.
Kurogami-san raised her eyebrows in surprise before putting on a big smile. “Do you want to keep it?” she asked. “I have lots, and that one looks pretty good on you!”
“I would be happy to, but without my moped here…” I gestured awkwardly.
“Hey, you might find a use for it where you least expect it!” she said with a wink. I had no idea what she meant, but if she wanted me to have the helmet that much, then why not?
Kurogami-san had consulted the class rosters early so as to be able to inform any late or absent dorm members; thus, after parking her motorcycle, she led me to my homeroom, 3-2, noting that hers was 2-3; apparently, students weren’t randomly assigned a homeroom every year, instead following the secondary class number, a rather unorthodox practice.
“I thought there would be a school assembly first?” I asked on our way there.
“First you get to listen to your homeroom teacher bore you with regulations,” she answered while rolling her eyes. “This school seems all prim and proper, but don’t let that fool you. I heard they wanted to close everything but high school, but since that’d mean losing money—oh, the humanity!—they decided not to. Everyone is up their necks with work, so that worked well.”
“I see,” I said as a thought occurred to me. “Kurogami-san, are you by any chance resigned to be dorm mother for the entire school year?”
Kurogami-san smiled at me mischievously. “Enjoy your first day,” she said, already scooting away, “and don’t worry, I always make sure to charge extra!”
I waved her goodbye also with a smile on my face. Kurogami-san, bright and cheerful, but also rather cunning. “I like her,” I thought, then took a deep breath and opened the door to my homeroom. I doubt I need to describe that… it was a regular, nondescript classroom filled with restless high school students. Perhaps the size would be something worth mentioning to an Inaba citizen, but to me, it was nothing special. The teacher soon came in, a stout man with graying hair wearing the same uniform as us, albeit with a red tie; he briefly explained some basic rules before leading us to the auditorium for the assembly.
I could tell that absolutely no one paid any attention whatsoever. I had a hard time keeping up, myself—the headmaster went on and on about his expectations for the school year to an audience of hundreds, not at all addressing the meaningful subjects he should be, such as rules of conduct and the recent disappearance of two of their students—but the reason I could tell with such conviction was that, when he unexpectedly mentioned that a humanoid robot would be allowed within school grounds to collect data from the classes, no one batted an eye.
An hour later, we were allowed to go back to our classrooms; there, the teacher hurriedly yanked me aside, insisting that I had to introduce myself before the whole class. I had avoided the faculty office and gone straight to the classroom for a reason. I’d been looking forward to no longer being the transfer student. I suppose it was my attempt to rebel against the people who had forced me into this situation, despite having only myself to blame. As my thoughts settled, I quietly muttered my apologies and followed him into the classroom, writing my name on the chalkboard as he explained about me. “This here is our new student,” he said, gesturing for me to proceed.
“Ah, my name is Naoto Shirogane, and starting today, I will be relying on you for a while.”
An uncomfortable silence suddenly set in. I had bowed my head slightly, so I did not see the cause for it, but it ended before I could, or needed to.
“Detective Prince!” yelled one girl, her voice filled to the brim with enthusiasm. This was followed by several cheers, mostly from the female students, so loud and fierce that they drowned out any complaints from the homeroom teacher. I stood there rather perplexed as they continued to call out for their prince until even the teacher threw his hands up in frustration and decided to wait for them to finish rather than keep protesting. Inaba was a small town and gossip was simply everyday life, so the fact that students paused to give me any thought was unwelcome, but not unexpected; to find myself on the radar there, however, was legitimately surprising.
Then again, though I’d never enjoyed unnecessary attention, I had always used it to my advantage regardless. This time would be no different.
Enduring my embarrassment, I raised my bowed head and headed for my seat, the third seat in the first row, next to a window. I had thought it suspicious that such a good spot would not be taken, and considering the explosive reaction to my introduction… no need to be a Detective Prince to figure that one out. With almost sixty students yet to be selected for various tasks, homeroom would likely take a while longer. I reached for my bag and briskly took out the file Touko-san had handed me earlier. There were to pages in total and, to my disappointment, no undisclosed details, aside from the fact that the police were no longer treating the case as a disappearance: Miyuki Midorikawa and Shirou Konno were listed as victims.
Miyuki Midorikawa, 16 years old. An attractive girl with bleached blonde hair, described as having a poor reputation at school… interestingly, she had been in class 1-3 in the previous year, the same as Kurogami-san. I would have to ask her about it later. Shirou Konno, meanwhile, was one year older than her and a student council member; his bright, honest smile and oval glasses rather added to the image. Apparently, he had disappeared around the same time Miyuki Midorikawa was reported missing, but the two had no connections whatsoever other than school.
I was appalled by how little information there was—home addresses, phone numbers, any brain dead monkey could find those out, and they mattered very little. I would have to use my time at school wisely in order to disclose more. I closed the file well before the teacher was done, and that was when a faint but distinct feeling caught my attention, a sound simultaneously deep within my mind and reaching from outside, no doubt a resonance. I had been sensing them with surprising frequency ever since awakening to Amatsu-Mikaboshi, or was that simply something that happened when you had a Persona in the real world? I managed to tune to Amatsu-Mikaboshi in order to pinpoint the source, though seeing as a strong resonance would be felt by my classmates, it took some concentration not to increase the effect. I had thought that someone in my class might be a Persona-user, but the sound was coming from somewhere outside school grounds. I looked out the window and saw an office building far away… was that the place? I’d need binoculars to see anything else, and it would be fairly conspicuous to take them out during homeroom.
I have to work with what the resonance alone can reveal, then.
I closed my eyes, tuning out the teacher as well as the side talk and retrieving from memory long forgotten lessons on how to properly meditate. The trick was not to empty your mind, but rather picture something distinct like a tree or the moon. I chose the latter.
Describing resonances is rather troublesome. There are several feelings associated with them, palpitations first and foremost—though in truth, your heartbeat does not accelerate—and then the sound, a sharp sound that can be interpreted as a cry, albeit not one belonging to any human being. Finally, there is the fact that you can read resonances; the information comes to your mind as faint pictures, the same pictures you figuratively see when trying to imagine an object or remember a face. Perhaps because this knowledge is, in truth, being sent to your own Persona, it feels as though you had it within your mind the entire time. While you do not see their forms, a resonance will tell you the strengths of the Personas causing it. I suspect that this is similar to how our Rise-san gathered information for us in the TV world, but that is neither here nor there.
I figured you’d want to know about resonances in greater detail because, when I pictured that moon in my mind, I was hit by strong palpitations and the noise became sharper and louder for a brief moment. For the resonance to grow in intensity just from a mental picture… considering that the moon had been the last thing I’d picked up on back at the lab, it had to be Sousei Kurogami watching over the school from far away. I was musing on this and on how useful resonances were proving to be when a gentle nudge on my shoulder brought me back to reality.
I opened my eyes and turned back my head. There was an overweight student sitting behind me, a girl with beautiful auburn hair, squirming with barely contained excitement. I scarcely had the time to register anything else before another student angrily stomped her foot and exclaimed in an annoyed voice:
“Takizawa, why did you have to wake him up? I had the perfect angle!”
I stared at the camera she was holding for a few seconds, then glared at her, but before any words could leave my mouth, the one called Takizawa got up from her seat and stood between us and passionately argued about proper manners and common sense, quite literally shooing the other girl away; she then turned to me, smiling from ear to ear.
“That really surprised me!” she said, giggling. “I never expected the Detective Prince to be someone who sleeps in class. I guess even you have to take it easy sometimes, huh?”
“I was not sleeping,” I said, feeling my face grow warmer, “but that is beside the point. Did that girl try to take my picture? I fail to see the point… was she trying to pull a prank?”
Takizawa-san gave me a rather dumbfounded look in response.
“Shirogane-kun, how can you not know? Right now, there’s a Detective Prince craze on the internet!” she said, immediately taking out her cell phone from her bag, which she proceeded to hold out to me. I saw the display and became increasingly embarrassed… no, embarrassment does not cut it; it went so far as to be frightening. As to why, there were countless pictures of myself in many different places and situations scrolling down as she lightly swiped the screen, pictures which were certainly taken without my knowledge or consent. While it was not a crime to photograph others in public places, the fact that this Detective Prince craze had only reached my ears now was discomforting. That my name had spread somewhere without my participation... perhaps it was my own fault, for disregarding the media completely unless it happened to suit my purposes. Rise-san suddenly came to mind. Did she go through this on a daily basis? As an idol, she must have had it worse than me, and would certainly have advice regarding the matter. I wanted to hear her voice once again and ask her about it, but bitterness surged from within me whenever the thought of dialing her number came to my mind. I would not yield on this. I wanted her to apologize first.
Takizawa-san graciously allowed me some time to recompose, and I used the opportunity to assess my surroundings. The class was booming with conversation; apparently, the teacher had stepped out on urgent business. That this had gone unnoticed by me was worrying… reading resonances took more concentration than I’d expected, but to my relief, even though most students were talking about me, few paid any mind to this faux pas. Rather, they were speculating, and had correctly deduced that my reason for being there was to investigate the disappearances. Yasogami High students would rather focus on what was on the news and make their assumptions based on that. I was glad to see things were different in Yagokoro.
Wearing a wry smile and resting my chin on my hand, I looked the girl who had saved me from further embarrassment straight in the eyes. “Takizawa-san, correct?” I asked.
Takizawa-san blushed every possible shade of red and started fidgeting with her phone before shaking her head in an agitated manner. “Yes,” she answered in a small voice.
“Thank you for your assistance earlier. I would rather not have my pictures taken at all, but at the very least your friend did not catch me lost in thought on the first day of school.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “Shirogane-kun, were you thinking about the disappearances? Do you need help?”
For investigations, I strongly believed that you had to do your own legwork. One could read a case file brimming with witness statements and impressions from people at the scene, and it would still pale in comparison to a single visit to said scene. Thus, I made an effort to do so always and confirm whatever details were handed out to me with my own two eyes; that hearing a hundred times did not compare to seeing just once was the utmost truth, and besides, it was always fun to uncover a mystery. I had come to Yagokoro High with that in mind, prepared to leave no stone unturned, except this time, it seemed that the stones had been turned before my arrival.
Takizawa-san, holding her head high and smiling primly, introduced herself as a proud member of the Newspaper Club, which had collected information about the missing students for an article, and were apparently close to a breakthrough, except classes hadn’t started yet at the time and having to move back to the dorms delayed their efforts. Takizawa-san told me the other club members would have more to say and offered to take me to their club room as soon as class ended; seeing that as their cue, several other students swarmed my desk, some asking for autographs, others offering to talk about the missing students.
From the beginning, the people around me were cooperative… this, I had never experienced before. Despite my mixed feelings on the subject, it seemed that the Detective Prince craze was a blessing in disguise, and as the school day ended, I’d gathered enough information to have a clear picture on the case. Takizawa-san then led me to the Newspaper Club room on the ground floor. There, I was greeted by an overly excited boy wearing thick glasses, though it was hard to see him behind the piles of books scattered around the room and over their work desk on the corner of the rather large room, which according to the name tag outside the door was actually the Document Room. “Even large schools have to cut corners sometimes,” I said under my breath.
“Get mochi from Junes and info from the Newspaper Club!” the boy yelled at the top of his lungs, and most of the club members followed, including Takizawa-san. …Their motto, perhaps?
I’d never been one to participate in extracurricular activities, but this particular club seemed fun. Takizawa-san, whose voice I now recognized as the first one to have screamed during my introduction, offered me tea while the other members scrambled to find me a seat, which surprisingly turned out to exist; the overexcited boy procured a notepad and a pen from his pockets in the meantime and cleared his throat before addressing me.
“Then, please allow me to surmise the situation!” he declared loudly and proceeded to do just that, needlessly stating my reason for being there as well as the help the club could provide.
“Takizawa-san mentioned you’ve been investigating the disappearances on your own and were nearing a breakthrough,” I said, interrupting his spiel, though he did not seem bothered in the least, instead raising his pen to his mouth in a thoughtful manner.
“Yes, that is correct,” the boy said in a contemplative tone very much unlike his earlier screaming. I noticed then that his thick, smudged lenses obscured his eyes, which coupled with his small size and scrawny physique made him the very picture of someone overly obsessed with his studies. One could almost mistake him for a middle schooler, yet the other students all seemed to follow him… was he the club president? I decided not to ask; he’d only start another spiel.
As the boy enthusiastically read the results of their investigation from his notepad, each club member chipping in with unwritten but potentially relevant details from time to time, I could not help but notice how different they were from my friends. Even though they were doing it for an article rather than to save the victims, the Newspaper Club took every detail they could find into account, compared notes, updated their thoughts once confronted with new information… nothing was confusing; everything was a step towards the truth. I smiled as my respect for them grew.
According to their data, Miyuki Midorikawa had a great deal of rumors circulating about her night life and taste in men, and acted as one would describe a delinquent, even bullying other students on occasion, but this had not always been such. Those who knew her from middle school described her as an average girl with average grades and a difficult family situation, which had seemingly prompted this great change in attitude. On the other hand, Shirou Konno had impeccable conduct and excellent grades; he’d always help other students and even planned to run for student council president on the following year—in other words, he and Miyuki Midorikawa were complete opposites and had never so much as walked the same hallway together.
Obtaining information in such a way was rather anticlimactic, but it did allow me to dig deeper into their words. “Wait a moment, please,” I interjected. “This only holds true regarding the Miyuki Midorikawa you all know; what about the average girl with average grades you described?”
Takizawa-san bit her lip. “Do you think… they could’ve been friends then?”
“No,” I admitted, “but they could have been acquainted, which would be a more solid lead than what we currently—” I looked away. I’d said too much… we were not a team, and their investigation had no higher purpose. I suppose interacting with them did remind me a bit about my friends, but that was neither the time nor the place to reminisce.
The club members started talking between themselves, happily exchanging ideas regarding the possibility presented to them, and rather plausible ideas, at that. Takizawa-san was not among them, having furrowed her brows and scooted to a corner; her eyes told me she was deep in thought. …I decided to leave. I’d much to process, just like them, and a faint ringing in my mind indicated that Sousei Kurogami was somewhere near.
“Thank you,” I said, raising my hand to ask for silence, “you have helped me a great deal.”
I turned on my heel right away, but one last bit of conversation caught my attention:
“Hey, you think this could have something to do with the Midnight Page?”
“I dunno man, I haven’t checked it since… well, you know.”
That name… my hand stopped short of the door handle. I felt my expression sour as I turned to the two students in question. “What is this about?” I asked, startling them.
“Right,” one of them said, fidgeting. “This doesn’t have anything to do with your case, but around six months ago, a second year girl died.”
“Oh, that thing with the train?”someone else said, causing the room to fall silent; most students were shuddering or averting their eyes from me, particularly the ones who brought it up in the first place, but they told me the story regardless.
Kaoru Hioka, then a second year student, had fallen from a platform at the station and then hit by a train, a limited express train, at that. The club members described to me the excessively gruesome scene in detail; most of them had been there, on the way to school. There was no suicide note, so the police had declared it an accident, but everyone knew that for almost a month before her death, the girl had been worried about internet slander directed at her—she had been elected a defendant on something called the MIDNIGHT PAGE. I asked for more details, but somewhat surprisingly, they refused to elaborate… in fact, they seemed apprehensive to even mention it.
What was this Midnight Page? The name alone elicited a proper investigation, even though it was unrelated to the case. Pressing the students for more information when they’d already been so helpful, however, would be impolite, so I once again turned to leave, but Takizawa-san, who had up to that point been mumbling to herself, suddenly grabbed my arm.
“Shirogane-kun,” she said, looking at me fiercely even though her voice wavered, “in exchange for the information today, I want you to answer a quiz!”
That seemed to snap the club members back into their usual selves, who turned to me saying they wanted to know everything about the famous Detective Prince.
“Perhaps after the case is closed,” I answered evasively, and finally left the clubroom.
The truth is, Takizawa-san had covertly handed me a slip of paper when she grabbed my arm. The contents: a hastily scribbled website address. Once again, I was grateful to her.
Right outside, my senses picked up on the resonance again. This time, it was coming from up above. I could not pinpoint exact sources, only general directions—unlike Rise-san, who could map out entire areas and the enemies within—but the only inconspicuous high place my new partner could be in was the roof. I quickly made my way there, expecting ours to be a rather difficult conversation. I even took a deep breath before opening the door, but to my surprise, he was not there to wait for me; instead, he was observing the school grounds from a vantage point. I closed the door loudly so he would hear me and get down.
Sousei Kurogami made a confused expression before leaping from the high fence he had been standing on. I wondered how it even supported his weight… he was a combat robot, so he must have been heavy, right? I’d never asked Aigis-san or Labrys about their weights, and came to regret it as their brother landed a few feet in front of me, producing a small crater.
“We meet again,” I said, trying my best to ignore the destruction. I even noticed he was wearing a rather elegant white scarf tucked into his vest.
“Touko said you’d find me here,” he said, crossing his arms and looking away, apparently for the sole purpose of striking a cool pose.
“Did she? I remember no such arrangement.”
“She buzzed me around ten minutes ago, so yeah.”
Kushinada-Hime. I had a feeling that her power would become a source of frustration for me. Touko-san had to be somewhere near, then… one would think that the ability to see ten minutes into your own future would be somewhat underwhelming, but it had a number of loopholes she undoubtedly exploited; in this case, she’d probably seen that, ten minutes in the future, she would be looking at us meeting in the roof. Touko-san had been using her Persona to advance in her career… the thought made me somewhat disappointed, even though that would be the case for me soon enough. I chuckled wistfully before continuing the conversation.
“Touko-san has quite the exquisite power,” I said, “but she is not the only one, is she?”
Sousei looked at me out of the corner of his eyes. “What do you mean?” he asked, his tone wary, defensive; his agitation was transparent, even to me.
“I mean your Persona. This is only conjecture, but is it not the reason you were sent here?”
“Huh?” he exclaimed, raising one eyebrow.
“Kirijo-san would not have arranged for this without accounting for your potential… you even have permission to be within school grounds.”
Sousei Kurogami cast his gaze to the ground. The setting sun stretched our shadows across the concrete floor, meaning we were alone. I knew what he would do next.
“Come out,” he said, uncrossing his arms. “Tsukuyomi!”
Following his call, a bright blue fog enveloped the roof, only to be blown away by a strong gust coming from within. Any lingering feelings caused by the resonance vanished, absorbed into his Persona, a large mechanical being whose body was composed of stacked circles painted with red and black stripes, spinning in alternating directions at a high speed; the resulting optical illusion was eerily similar to the vortexes within the TV world. Tsukuyomi had his forearms pointed upwards, and his head resembled an electronic marquee with two antennas on the sides, save for what I assumed were his mouth and chin, which brought to mind sentai masks; he hovered silently above his master, a sight simultaneously impressive and unnerving, and one my new partner had a right to brag about—but strangely, he did not. I’d spent several minutes gazing at his Persona in quiet admiration before regaining my composure, and he did not say a single word in the meantime.
“Tsukuyomi has the power to hear the voices left behind by the dead,” he stated flatly as the silence grew more and more uncomfortable, but his eyes were still set on the ground. I was astonished that a Persona with such an ability could exist; seeing ten minutes into the future was already amazing enough, but it was within the realm of the plausible. I did not believe in fortune telling, but everyone could make simple predictions. Therefore, it was only logical that predictions could be enhanced through a Persona providing the user with more information so as to give them solid ground. If that was the case, then what human ability was Tsukuyomi enhancing?
“What are you getting all worked up for?” he protested, noticing my enthusiasm. “What use is seeing what some dead guys said long ago? This power ain’t worth shit!”
"I assume that, in conversations in which one of the parties is alive, you can only detect one half, correct?” I had replied immediately so as to give him no time to brood further; their argument at the police station was yet fresh in my mind. I needed not a reminder, nor to remind him.
“Right,” he answered, staring at me with a strange expression, eyes wide but eyebrows furrowed, “it ain’t got a wide range or anything either, only about five meters around me.”
“Do you detect any conversations here?” I asked.
Sousei shook his head, then pointed to his Persona while grimacing. “Gramps named this ability Past Reading because the things the big guy detects aren’t pictures or voices but just words. I can see them inside my head and someone else can read ‘em, there on his head... tch, useless.”
Useless, he said. I wondered how many people had told him that. I wondered how many truly believed it. I looked at the rose-colored sky and thought, did he believe it?
“Give me strength, Amatsu-Mikaboshi!”
The wind was not strong enough to drive away the fog this time. Amatsu-Mikaboshi stood behind me, his body yet taking shape but already dwarfing mine. I turned and took a step back to look at him—compared to Sukuna-Hikona, he was enormous—and smiled, only then noticing two small gaps nearly covered by the spherical bases of his two main prongs. I’d thought him featureless, but those could be his eyes, or perhaps nostrils, since said prongs resembled eyes on their own. There was something else as well… the red stripes on the right side of his torso were the same shade as Tsukuyomi. Now deep in thought, I raised my hand to my chin. Amatsu-Mikaboshi was predominantly blue; only that one area was red. There had to be some significance to that.
“Ah!” my new partner exclaimed suddenly, bringing my attention to him.
Sousei was staring wide-eyed at my Amatsu-Mikaboshi. I’d summoned him without warning, intending to showcase his ability right away, but got sidetracked by my own thoughts.
“I get it now,” he continued enthusiastically. “I understand how you managed to stop me yesterday. Naoto, your weird mantis butler is messing up my Tsukuyomi!”
“What do you mean?” I asked, playing coy.
“I dunno how to explain it, but his range is all over the place now.”
I raised my arm, smiling in quiet satisfaction. Amatsu-Mikaboshi, who had responded with a sound akin to a wind howl, gracefully imitated my motion.
“Amatsu-Mikaboshi has but one skill: Ability Tune.”
I pointed my hand at him. Amatsu-Mikaboshi did the same, and a great weight was pressed upon master and Persona both. Tsukuyomi now had words scrolling rapidly in the electronic marquee mounted on his head while the circles that composed his body spun faster and faster, even generating sparks, until his master decided it was enough; with a wave of his arm, the Persona dissipated. I lowered my arm, making my own Persona disappear; keeping him out was rather draining, and doing so unnecessarily would only make me exhausted.
Sousei was trembling. “What the hell just happened?” he asked.
“I’d rather you tell me,” I said.
“I’ve never felt this much power from Tsukuyomi before… it covered this entire roof!”
I nodded, assuming he meant his range. “Did you sense any changes regarding how far back in time you can detect conversations?”
“Oh, right,” he said, narrowing his eyes; something seemed to click within him. “I dunno how you figured it out, but yeah, I can usually only pick up conversations from up to six months in the past. This time, though, maybe a year, maybe even three years. Guess that depends on how powerful your weird mantis butler really is, huh?”
I was more surprised that he’d connected the dots than I should have been. I had learned everything about my Persona upon first summoning him—this was standard procedure during awakenings, regularly described as remembering something you thought was never there—though there was not much to learn in the first place. Ability Tune was his one and only skill, and as the name implies, allowed me to tune other Personas. “I do need to know a few things in order to properly use this ability, hence the questionnaire earlier,” I said, wrapping up the explanation.
Sousei once again crossed his arms, this time looking straight at me. “Naoto, your power is the same as mine, right?” he asked. “That makes you a TYPE B.”
“Yes, though this was not always the case.”
“I guess having my powers amped was interesting enough,” he conceded, “but aren’t you angry, being stuck with such a boring ability?”
I wanted to give him an honest answer, but… truth be told, my feelings were rather mixed.
I’d always thought that power—raw strength—was simple to achieve. Persona-users had access to power beyond human capabilities, but the abominations they faced were often more than a match; unique support abilities were to be cherished, not resented. Of course, that was from my perspective as someone who had always favored brains over brawn; to have my power actually taken from me was proving to be a sobering experience, no matter how impressive this new ability was. I was driven to solve the riddle posed by my other self partly because, until then, there was no way for me to fight alongside my friends. This simple truth made me resentful. There was certainly merit in playing an indispensable support role, but the notion of being unable to stand up for myself in a fight… I detested it. I wanted to look my friends in the eye, not stare at their backs.
Evidently, none of this left my mouth, and the question went on unanswered. I thought that perhaps it would be best to focus on the case for the time being, and after a deep sigh, broke the awkward silence with a request.
“Sousei-san, please summon your Tsukuyomi again. Yagokoro High should not have a large number of recently deceased; therefore, whatever information you find could aid us in the case.”
Sousei nodded firmly, adding: “This is the place for a deep and meaningful, huh?”
“Yes, not too many people come here without a reason… which reminds me, for what purpose were you observing my classroom all day?”
“Guard duty,” he answered in a small voice, after a short pause during which he seemed overly preoccupied with his scarf. I raised an eyebrow at this strange reaction, but decided not to push it when I noticed he was blushing. I’d never quite figured out how that worked for a robot, but pointing to it would only have made him more flustered, and his answer would ultimately be irrelevant—what did it matter whether he was there to guard me or simply had been bored during the afternoon? I’d bet on the latter, but knowing would not change my life either way.
I closed my eyes, and moments later, Amatsu-Mikaboshi reappeared behind me. I motioned for Sousei to do the same, and he did, albeit nervously.
Then, we started. Sousei raised his right hand, moving his index finger as though interacting with a touch panel; in response, the previously blank electronic marquee started displaying words, bright red over black like so many other LED displays. I took my notepad out with my free hand, the one not pointing steadily to the man before me, though both actions were ultimately a precaution—my ability would soon become second nature, and my memory rarely failed me on matters pertaining to investigations. That said, the marquee was barely large enough to contain a single sentence, and the conversation was depicted in the simplest way possible, words without any emotion or context; piecing it together would require some concentration on my part.
During the next few minutes, my eyes moved restlessly back and forth.
W H A T I A M N O T I N T E R E S T E D I A L R E A D Y S A I D S O N O I W A S N O T P L A Y I N G H A R D T O G E T S T O P I T
“This is seven months back,” my partner stated flatly.
S O T H I S I S W H Y M E B E I N G A S L U T W H Y I S T H I S S T U P I D R U M O R O N T H E M I D N I G H T P A G E O F A L L P L A C E S T H E S T U F F T H I S U Z U M E G U Y H A S B E E N W R I T I N G I S A L L B U L L S H I T H E H A S G O T T O H A V E S O M E T H I N G A G A I N S T M E E V E R Y O N E W I L L U N D E R S T A N D T H A T R I G H T
I caught myself nervously biting my lip at the mention of the Midnight Page.
H O W C O U L D T H E Y W H Y I S E V E R Y O N E F A L L I N G F O R T H E R U M O R S W H Y A R E T H E Y B E L I E V I N G S T U P I D C R A P O N T H E I N T E R N E T O V E R M Y O W N W O R D S T H I S U Z U M E G U Y K N O W S A L O T A B O U T W H A T I D O A T S C H O O L T H O U G H H E H A S T O B E A S T U D E N T H E R E I J U S T H A V E T O F I N D O U T W H O N O I H A V E N O T T A L K E D T O M Y B R O T H E R A B O U T I T I D O N O T W A N T T O W O R R Y H I M F O R N O R E A S O N
“Naoto, next is the last one.”
“Understood,” I said, holding my notepad tightly.
I C A N N O T T R U S T A N Y O N E A N Y M O R E T H E Y A L L S A Y T H I N G S L I K E T H E Y A R E W O R R I E D B U T I K N O W W H A T T H E Y A R E R E A L L Y T H I N K I N G I W O U L D R A T H E R T H E M I N S U L T M E T O M Y F A C E G I V E M E A B R E A K A N Y O N E A R O U N D M E C O U L D B E U Z U M E E V E N Y O U T A K I O H S O R R Y I A M J U S T B E I N G W E I R D F O R G E T A B O U T I T O K
When there were no more words to be displayed, I let out my held breath, then started transcribing the conversation verbatim on my notepad while taking out my detective badge, which had a flashlight built into it, from my pocket. I needed it; the sun had already set and the only lights around us came from the waning moon or the surrounding city.
Sousei, in the meantime, crossed his arms. We both sent our other selves away and a few seconds later, he asked: “Did you figure something out?”
“Yes,” I answered after pocketing my pen, notepad and badge. “I have determined who this conversation belonged to: Kaoru Hioka, a female student who passed away last year.”
“Huh?” he exclaimed, stroking his chin while making a confused expression.
I quickly recounted the incident as per the explanation from the club members, but rather than listening, he averted his eyes from me, looking sideways as though he was trying to remember something. “Do you have something to say?” I asked, and though he did not answer, his jaw tightened, so it was fair to assume he’d heard me. “Sousei-san, we must share information, no matter how trivial, in order to solve this case. If we do not work together, then—”
“I get it, I get it,” he interrupted, waving his hand dismissively, “thought I’d heard the name somewhere before, is all. I ain’t hiding anything from you.”
“Very well,” I said, deciding there had been far too many awkward silences in one day alone; besides, I knew that Aigis-san only had partial databases uploaded to her mind, which otherwise was perfectly human, so him not remembering a name was plausible enough. Putting that aside, even considering the low number of recent deaths at Yagokoro High, that the first conversation picked up belonged to Kaoru Hioka was a great surprise. I’d certainly been hoping for it, moreso thanks to this Midnight Page that had apparently driven her to despair.
“What does this Kaoru Hioka have to do with the case, anyway?” he asked, bringing my thoughts to a halt, though as the point was to avoid awkward silences, that was a good thing.
“As far as we know, nothing,” I admitted, “but we cannot ignore it.”
“Oi, what? This ain’t got nothing to do with us,” he protested, “sure we can ignore it! Our job is to solve the case, not go around snooping for every high school drama we can find.”
Of course, he was right, but… something kept gnawing at the back of my mind, the same way the Kurogami name did. Perhaps it was this Midnight Page, or perhaps my instincts were simply acting up; either way, to set it aside as my partner wanted to was not an option.
“There is no way to go about this other than, as you put it, go around snooping for every high school drama we can find,” I said in a calculated tone. “I would rather meticulously go through every past conversation you detect than later find out we missed a critical piece of evidence due to something or other having nothing to do with our assigned case. Do you not agree?”
Sousei Kurogami snorted in response. I ignored him and moved to the exit, planning to leave him pondering on my somewhat misguided words, except the door was locked, most likely by the janitor—quite some time had passed, after all. I then realized that I had not seen hair nor hide of Kurogami-san all day. I’d gotten swept up by the attention and forgotten to check her classroom during lunch break, and then too distracted by the investigation to even say goodbye… now, it was too late to even leave properly. I sighed, searching for lock picks deep within my pockets, when my partner spoke up once more.
“I ain’t got a sixth sense to tell me whether the conversation is relevant to my interests or not. I have to read them, just like you,” he said. I turned my ear to him but said nothing, and neither did he, the unspoken implication being that it would not hurt to read them to the end.
The corners of my mouth twitched appreciatively.
“I promise not to waste our time,” I conceded, deciding not to sing praises just yet, even though he was completely in the right; judging by the faint resonance that followed, however, he’d taken my words to heart. I vowed to take his as well, whatever they may be.
“What now?” he asked, walking over to me.
“We should conduct more past readings on the school grounds,” I said dourly, “but I have overlooked one crucial detail: the school is closed at this hour. I have forgotten to request keys from the staff as well. I do carry a few sets of lock picks with me, but there are the alarms to consider.”
I expected him to complain and deride my lack of foresight, but instead found him staring at me with a quizzical look on his face. “I saw the flashlight thing earlier, and now lock picks,” he said. “Do you always carry all sorts of crap on the off chance you might need them?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“What else do you have in there?”
“Things that might prove useful during an investigation,” I said, some immediately coming to mind, “a camera, a transceiver, batteries, binoculars and paper clips, to name a few.”
Sousei Kurogami scratched his head and sighed.
“I can’t make sense of you at all,” he mumbled. “I mean, one moment you’re all formal and stubborn as a mule, then the next you turn into freaking Doraemon!”
I wanted to turn those words right back at him, but found my mouth curving into a smile instead. “I’d rather you compare me to Conan Edogawa,” I said instead, and his mouth, too, curved into a smile, not boastful or proud but slight and genuine, a first for him in my presence.
I should probably not complain to him about how this school jacket does not have nearly enough pockets, though… he’d ask about my bag and honestly, he is not ready to know.
“Naoto, bet you that padlock over there doesn’t trip any alarms,” he said, pointing to the fence. Upon closer inspection, there was a thin door between two segments of the fence, which led to the tiled mansard roof covering the rest of the school building and to the clock tower. I went over and unlocked it, figuring his plan was to go to said clock tower and make our way down from there; imagine my surprise, then, to see him bending backwards, his mechanical arms rotating and the wheel attached to his back moving into a vertical position. As his legs merged, the wheels attached to them became one and hit the ground, while a number of assorted parts—pipes, handles, mirrors—jutted out of his torso and from under the plates labeled R-00 until finally, before my very eyes, was a modern racing motorcycle, red and black in color.
Sousei Kurogami had turned into a motorcycle. I had some trouble processing this, and stared dumbfounded for what must certainly have been an eternity. I thought back to our first meeting, back when he was berserk… the headlights shaped like eyes, three pairs in total… the wheels behind his legs and back... even his bulky and somewhat clumsy build… to notice all these things and pay them no mind whatsoever, I was either jaded from the countless bizarre situations that unfolded around me and my friends or losing my touch as a detective.
Though perhaps the biggest surprise here is that Kirijo indulged in autobots at some point in their nefarious history…
I continued to stare until he spoke up. “Are you impressed?” he asked, his smug, booming voice apparently coming from the instrument panel.
“Yes,” I said in a whisper that was almost a wistful sigh; the proper word to describe my reaction would be amazement. I had deduced that his head was hidden under the front fairing, but considering the decidedly electronic quality his voice now carried, he could be directly connected to a speech synthesizer rather than moving his mouth to speak, in which case, how could he even recognize himself as human? Once the surprise settled, a thousand more questions flooded my mind—how did he see once in motorcycle form, what alloys were used to allow for both mobility and rigidity to his limbs, did his thought process change in any way between forms, did he have any other sensory feedback—but only one action would truly sate my curiosity.
“I want to disassemble you, piece by piece” I said with barely contained excitement. What in the world were the mechanics behind that transformation? I had to know. I’d always loved gadgets and intricate devices, so naturally my fascination was at peak.
“I knew you’d come around and…” he started, then unexpectedly trailed away, and seeing as there was no way for me to read his expression—they resembled eyes, but his headlights did not actually move—the only thing to do was await further response. Rather than continuing, though, he nervously went on a tirade about how he never let guys ride him but was fine with me doing so.
Ride him? I thought he was simply making a spectacle. Does he mean us to ride across the roof?
Though that did not sound the least bit safe, after his implicit declaration of trust, I could not be the one to back down, now could I? Tied to my bag and sitting by the door was the dark blue helmet given to me by Kurogami-san; apparently, some people did not need a support Persona to predict certain outcomes. I remembered her mischievous wink and chuckled.
Sousei Kurogami, um, honked impatiently. Being no stranger to motorcycles, I quickly hopped onto him, gripping the handles firmly. I do realize that that sounds wrong in many ways but in my mind, he remained a person, not a vehicle.
I did want to take him apart someday, though.
“I knew you were tiny, for a guy anyway,” he said suddenly, “but wow, your body is real light too… how are you s’posed to survive police work like this?”
Ah, that did confirm he had sensory feedback, but his words, being the truth, touched a sore spot, leaving me slightly upset. “I am more durable than you think,” I answered curtly, trying not to let my embarrassment show.
“I s’pose so, if you managed to take me down. Can you drive?” he asked.
I nodded in response, curious to know whether or not he would see it, and he did.
“If anything happens to me the panel goes dark, but everything else works the same,” he explained, “but right now, driving is on me, so get ready to rumble!”
I had thought that he’d need a few seconds to warm up the engine, but he—that is, the motorcycle—bolted through the door in the fence almost immediately. I was infinitely glad for that helmet as we sped our way across the roof, crushing the tiles with our weight until finally arriving at the edge. I positioned my legs over tiny slanted spots on both sides of the motorcycle so that they wouldn’t be sent flying when we made the inevitable jump, and the very next second, we were soaring over what must have been the back entrance to the school and directly above a highway.
I expected something to be crushed—either us or the asphalt—but, shockingly, most of the impact seemed to be absorbed by the suspension, binding the motorcycle to the ground for a few moments, after which Sousei Kurogami spun around on his rear wheel and used the remaining momentum to dart forward, soon joining the flow of regular vehicles. Dazed and nauseated, I tried to keep my insides inside by listening to the engine sounds, only to realize there weren’t any, or at least nothing that would come out of a real motorcycle. Rather, the only sound coming from him was a slight hum similar to a CPU fan, though stronger somehow. I’d heard it before… his sisters emitted the same sound when overexerting themselves. It was eerie to ride a vehicle so silent.
“I forgot to ask,” he said, “where to?”
I thought we were simply escaping the school, but apparently he was driving me now. I decided not to question it and requested to be taken to the police station. I had research to do, and the dorm would offer nothing but distractions and a poor internet connection.
During the drive to the station, a thought occurred to me.
“Sousei-san, can you summon your Persona in this state?” I asked.
“Never tried,” he admitted, “sure would be a sight to see, though!”
I tried to imagine a motorcycle summoning a Persona and found that the possibility was not as surprising as it should have been. “There was once a fox that charged outrageous amounts of money to restore spiritual power,” I told him. “I would say that at this point, everything is possible.”
Sousei Kurogami laughed, a booming, wholehearted laugh that was pleasing to the ears and meant to be shared with all, and with it came the realization: I had grossly misjudged him.
We made five minutes worth of small talk before he unceremoniously dropped me at the station, claiming to have errands to run for his sister, no doubt Kurogami-san; and so the lone unmanned race bike made its way through the traffic, turning heads wherever it passed.
Would anyone blame me for smiling? I tried to at least subdue mine while walking into the station, when suddenly Touko-san bumped into me; she had no time for words, though, and only acknowledged me with a curt nod before rushing outside. I turned to the almost familiar presence besides me, the young policewoman who seemed to work more hours than she ought to, and she explained that they had found a new lead in the case Touko-san was pursuing. I bit my lip, my smile turning into a frown. I’d been so preoccupied with my own circumstances—most of which, in hindsight, did not seem that damning—that the case Touko-san was working on was less than a distant speck in the back of my mind, one I had failed to even consider as a factor in her behavior towards me. I wanted to ask the policewoman all the details, and surely she would have complied, except we could both hear the assistant chief chewing out someone nearby.
I was not ready to hand out the autograph and too eager to start my research, and so narrowly avoided an encounter by heading to the elevator as fast as my legs could take me while the policewoman stood her ground, her face carved in stone, showing no evidence whatsoever of having talked to me. I’d have to ask her name later.
B5. I pressed the button somewhat drowsily, leaning my head against the wall as the elevator descended, all too aware of the vertigo. I let my thoughts drift away for a moment, far from Kaoru Hioka and the disappeared students and back to my friends in Inaba. What were they doing and how were they dealing with my absence?
Unfortunately, the elevator doors did not open, leaving me to ponder on such disheartening questions. The ride was long and punctuated with stops, during which no one would come in and the doors would remain closed. I would look at the marquee and find that only the smaller dots between floors were lit, but what did it mean? Each hypothesis seemed more outlandish than the last, but as they did divert my mind, I indulged them over and over until the elevator reached the Special Forensics Division.
I shut my thoughts as the elevator door opened. Tetsuma Tsuge almost immediately spotted me and came over, greeting me with an enthusiastic pat on the back. I appreciated his attempt to make me feel welcome, but any fool could see that he was very busy, seemingly with important matters considering the amount of sweat on his brow, and not wanting to bother him any further, I simply asked for an available computer with internet access. Tetsuma Tsuge pointed to one amongst many, and after bowing politely, I rushed to it.
Even though my priority should have been investigating the missing students, I found myself typing the address for the Midnight Page the moment my fingers hit the keyboard; noting the foreign domain name, my apprehension immediately skyrocketed. I took a deep breath and not without some trepidation pressed the enter key. An eerie full moon glowing in the night sky greeted me. Deep inside my mind, Amatsu-Mikaboshi reacted to the image… but why? Though the moon had a greenish tint to it, nothing seemed out of place, yet my heart would not quiet either.
That aside, the page itself had only a modicum of information—a list of pictures and names, but no context whatsoever—however a quick search revealed that the true Midnight Page unlocked only at said time, every night, and stayed open for exactly one hour. There were at least a number of fan pages worth looking into in the meantime. “I might need some coffee for this…”
First, the basics… the Midnight Page is a message board that only unlocks at, as the name implies, exactly midnight. Focusing on the anonymous judgment of sinners, it is a website based almost entirely on user input. There are five administrators—called judges—known as the TOGAKUSHI FIVE.
I stopped writing for a moment. Togakushi, as in the shrine? Mmm. The judges were also the only ones on the message board with user handles, all themed after deities, deities which shared a common myth, at that.
Once every four weeks, there is a trial, the names and faces displayed in the meantime belonging to prospective sinners and steadily decreasing in number as the users come closer to a consensus on the next defendant. If guilty, the defendant is exposed on the so-called Hall of Fame, a special page displayed every Sunday for all to see.
As my eyes darted between computer screen and notepad, one sentence caught my attention: “Those who enter the Hall of Fame have a high mortality rate.”
I clenched my teeth. This page in particular was a website that dealt with rumors and was said to be extremely reliable, but… but perhaps verifying my information would be for the best in the long run; hence, with the Midnight Page open in a separate tab, I looked up a list of past defendants and cross-checked the guilty names with a reliable mortuary.
The results were unsettling, to say the least.
Every single person displayed on the Hall of Fame had committed suicide.
Though seemingly a simple message board, the Midnight Page actually dealt with all sorts, from politicians to comedians to ordinary high schoolers. I recognized many names from the outset, and remembered their deaths reported; they were powerful figures who had had their personal lives exposed and, unable to bear the shame, took their own lives. The fact that it took me actual research to connect the dots was shameful, but it could not be helped. I paid little attention to cases such as these. Continuing my research, I found that others at first simply disappeared from the public eye, but were eventually found dead, their social and professional lives destroyed. The rumor page took note, however, that the majority of student deaths were confined to Yagokoro City.
If this is the case, then certainly the local police are already aware… no, given the magnitude of the losses, this could be a nation-wide matter already. Confident that this was the case, I decided to check the police database for more information, but to my surprise, even the cyber terrorism division seemed to be having trouble; truly nothing was known about the Togakushi Five even though their location had been narrowed down to Yagokoro… in other words, the police force had only information comparable to that of a mere rumor website.
Unable to accept this reality, I switched tabs to said website, determined to prove that the police was better than that, but my determination quickly wavered when a chat room box appeared over the page, the very first message being this:
“The chat room is now open.
Rumor has it that, of the five judges, one is a skilled hacker and another, quite influential.”
What was that website, truly? The logo, a black tiger writhing in pain, as well as the red and gold motifs, seemed familiar in some way. I was very tempted to enter the chat room and ask some questions, but… the truth is, the Midnight Page had nothing to do with my current case, and more importantly, this person knew that the Togakushi Five were eluding the police and why—in other words, he had access to undisclosed information, information not on the database but definitely known amongst those who were working on the case. Therefore, it was safe to assume he either had some connection to the police force or had the capacity to obtain information in more illicit ways. I could not risk it, not on a police computer, not on a monitored network.
Very begrudgingly, I started closing the tabs one by one, until only a single page was open: the list of past defendants, both guilty and innocent, used in my earlier fact checking. The list was on a fan page, a very thorough one, that had the pictures and descriptions displayed on the site at the time of judgment. Though the guilty would forever be in their Hall of Fame, the innocent were erased completely, which did imply a modicum of decency among the judges. I could find many leads and contacts there, but only one name really interested me.
“Kaoru Hioka,” I murmured, eyes set on her picture, “judged innocent.”
I stared at the page for several minutes. Kaoru Hioka was judged innocent, but died before she could see the results… by that point, the damage had already been dealt.
Even though zero research had been done on the missing students, I decided that that was enough for the day. I erased my browse history and turned off the computer, bowing politely to an exhausted Tetsuma Tsuge on my way to the elevator.
Outside, it was night time already. I quickly noticed that night brought a peaceful atmosphere to the city, a lonely kind of peace, marked by a dreadful silence broken only by the odd car. I made my way to the station and boarded the empty train.
To think that not two years ago, I could go for days or maybe weeks without speaking to a single person, engrossed in my detective work. I almost wish to go back to those days.
I thought back to what Takizawa-san had said about the Detective Prince craze… was that the kind of life that Rise led? The thought made me want to hear her voice, but of course, I could not simply call her and state such; her reaction would be extremely annoying. I was also unsure whether we were on speaking terms or not. Now feeling quite lonely myself, I let out a quiet sigh.
Inaba was always on my mind, one way or the other.
The walk from the station to the dorm was a short one, but before I could deem it uneventful, Sousei Kurogami drove past me in his bike form, so fast that it sent a few buttons flying off my jacket. Just ahead was Kurogami-san, surrounded by a large amount of packages.
Of course, she immediately noticed me. “Shirogane-senpai, good timing!” she yelled as she waved to me. “I brought dinner for everyone.”
I walked over to her. “Junes takeout?” I asked, amusedly inspecting the packages. “Did your brother help you with these?”
I see… so that was the errand he had to run.
Kurogami-san puffed her cheeks. “Except he is a big jerk who totally ditched me the moment I asked him to help me carry them inside.”
“That explains why he was driving so fast just now,” I said, then picked up a few packages to take inside. Kurogami-san was going to ask me to anyway, and helping would give me the opportunity to ask her a few questions. As soon as she stepped inside, all the students in the lounge headed for the tables, having been eagerly expecting dinner, but Kurogami-san picked one by the ear—even though he was taller and most likely older too—and ordered him to call everyone else upstairs. I smiled awkwardly at the poor boy while setting the packages down.
There were a few curious looks towards me this time, most likely because Kurogami-san was close by. Momochi-kun was not around, though… probably upstairs; the boy seemed like the responsible but unsociable type, much like me, in a way. I paid no heed to it and decided to proceed with my questions, but, as always, Kurogami-san was faster.
“I brokered a deal between Junes and the school,” she explained while tossing me a few packages. “Can you believe that they wanted me to cook for these kids every night?”
“We’re gonna get fat eating takeout every day, you know!” someone protested in the background, but Kurogami-san threw one of the packages right in his face and that was that.
“I’d like to,” she admitted, “but with work and school, there’s basically no time for me to do it all alone, and they refused to send help, the stingy bastards.”
“You could recruit a few students to assist you,” I offered.
Kurogami-san snorted. “They’d have to get off their lazy butts first!”
“You’re the lazy butt!” someone else said, though it was hard to make out their words since their mouth was stuffed with food already.
“At least my lazy butt looks damn fine!” she retorted, drawing a chuckle out of me and a few others. This was a lively group alright.
I kept helping Kurogami-san while she ranted nonstop about the school and how her boss at work was a cheapskate too and how it took ages for her to broker that deal and how she wished her brother was a tad more helpful… honestly, it was hard to keep track of what she was saying, but the students seemed amused by the banter and were all happily digging in. I eventually decided that her company was more than welcome. I could not help but chuckle and eventually laugh outright as her stories got more and more outrageous, and just like that we were down to the last three packages.
I stared at the last package, knowing that one was for me and the other for our esteemed dorm mother. “Did we miss someone?” I asked, looking around for anyone not eating.
“Oh, we did, actually! Remember the boy who walked you around yesterday?”
“I did notice he was not in the lounge earlier.”
“Right, he asked me a favor earlier, ‘s probably why he never came down.”
Kurogami-san had raised her eyebrows… was she surprised that I had noticed his absence?
“I could deliver it to him on the way to my room, though you’d have to tell me his room, as he only told me the floor,” I said, but she dismissed the offer with a wave.
“This is my responsibility as dorm mother,” she said, her serious tone somewhat undermined by her subsequent winking and nudging at me, “not to mention, you’re probably pretty tired from dealing with my brother all day, eh?”
That was definitely true.
“Rest easy, senpai, and leave it to me!”
With my takeout in hand, I excused myself from the lounge and made my way to my assigned room. I was feeling somewhat lighthearted, maybe even happy. Kurogami-san was a fun person to be around. I’d had fun helping her out, almost as though… almost as though we were friends. We were friends. I’d already decided that, right? I could afford to forget Inaba for a while.
…Though actually doing it was another matter entirely.
I opened the door to my room and set the package on the study table, but something was amiss—was that water running? I immediately turned to the bathroom, but had the presence of mind to call out to whoever was inside before opening the door.
“Ah!” a voice exclaimed, and then there was a big commotion inside, specifically a loud bang or two. I could tell that the voice belonged to Momochi-kun… honestly, I hadn’t expected him to take me up on my offer so soon.
“Momochi-kun, are you all right?” I asked, though in truth, my concern was minimal.
“Yes!” he yelled amidst several grunts. Perhaps he was having trouble getting up? “I… you startled me, but everything is fine.”
“If you may answer one question, how did you get inside?” I asked, leaning against the door.
“I told Kurogami-senpai that you let me use your bathroom and she lent me a key,” he answered, sounding a tad guilty. With him around, I’d have a hard time relaxing, but so be it. I decided to just go ahead and eat my takeout.
“Be sure to give the key back to her later. I’d like you to ask every time you want to use the room, all right?” I requested, deeming it common courtesy to know when someone would be in my room. I’d have to talk to Kurogami-san about it later, too. I was fine with him using the room whenever it was empty, but absolutely not otherwise.
I left the boy to his business and moved to open the takeout package with unexpected eagerness. I’d spent one too many afternoons in Junes, supposedly working hard to solve the case but really just fooling around and talking about murders. Really, their food had become nostalgic to me, that should tell you something. I could witness their resolve again and again and it still would not convince me that they were not merely playing detective, though that did change when Namatame and Nanako-chan entered the picture. To become great friends while harboring such thoughts almost seems like an illusion… my other self had a point.
I stared out the window, at the nearly full moon bright in the sky. Despite my admittedly grim thoughts, I was not unhappy. I felt challenged, for my thoughts did not agree with my feelings for once—of course my friendships were real. I knew it from the fun times we had shared and the concern they’d shown me. One single issue could never erase all that, and while perhaps it was true that they had not accepted the real me, they still could! I laughed softly, amused that a few phone calls would fix most of my problems. That would be cheating, though.
I was focusing my thoughts on Amatsu-Mikaboshi, yearning to feel his power, when my unexpected guest walked out of the bathroom. I turned the chair to look at him.
“That felt great!” he said, stretching out his arms. “I really missed having a bathtub all to myself and… um, what are you staring at?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said, even though he was wearing only a small towel tied tight around his waist. Did the boys there have no decency? “Did you bring clothes or a bathrobe with you?”
“No,” he said, scratching his head. “I never had to do these things back at home.”
“Ah, you forgot?” I tried to mask a concerned expression, but a smirk came through. “I wish you good luck in getting to the first floor wearing only that towel.”
“I am used to it,” he said, though the fact that he was blushing furiously betrayed his strangely regal tone, “since there are only boys in this dorm anyway.”
“Kurogami-san is still downstairs,” I remarked, and that made him cough a little… it was rather cute, so perhaps having him around would not be so bad after all.
“I am used to it!” he repeated while trying to stretch his towel. Then he must have realized how silly he was being, because he bowed to me. “Thank you for letting me use your bathroom.”
“There is dinner waiting in your room, by the way.”
As he opened the door, the boy turned to me and said: “I hope you rest well tonight, senpai.”
I raised my eyebrows, but he said nothing else and left, closing the door behind him. I then took a mirror from my jacket—one of my detective tools, actually—and looked at my reflection.
I wore no makeup, so the dark circles under my eyes were plain for all to see, and my face was quite pale as well… no wonder he’d said that. I was not ready to turn in just yet, though. I forced myself to finish my meal and spent the rest of the evening registering my investigation, not that there was much to register; indeed, most of the writing went to my notepad and was completely unrelated to the case. Touko-san would probably want a report, too, but by the time I was done, my laptop seemed so far away, and my bed, so near.
“I can just give her one in person tomorrow…” I mumbled, procrastinating for perhaps the first time in my life, and that was the end of my day.