Makoto sat at the interrogation room table, breathing heavily and shivering. The water bucket used to wake her earlier had thoroughly soaked into her uniform leaving the air biting and frigid to her. Every time she shifted, the wet clothes would rub painfully against the numerous unseen bruises.
The door opened and she forced herself to look up. Her left eye was swollen, and combined with the drugs still in her system, it was genuinely hard to tell who was approaching. Not until she heard her interrogator speak, anyway.
“So, it really is you,” Sae said. Her voice sounded completely void of emotion.
Makoto blinked to focus her eyes and stared up at her sister.
“You look terrible,” Sae said, sitting down across from her. She noticed the used needle left on the floor nearby and scowled, before turning her attention back to Makoto. “...Why? Did you think you’d be free from consequence due to your relation to me?”
“Sis…” Makoto said weakly. Consequence? Why am I even facing consequences right now?
“Don’t call me that!” Sae snapped. “You were read the charges you’re facing, right? Do you think after all that you can still call me your sister and act like things are okay?”
Makoto looked down at the table, feeling her eyes tear up slightly. Hearing that hurt more than the officers’ abuse.
Sae gave a pained look, before opening her folder, taking out some files and papers. She briefly looked over them, and when she spoke again, she refused to actually look at Makoto. “The earliest incident we could find on the Phantom Thieves is from April. Your former gym instructor. Do you remember?”
“Kamoshida, yes,” Makoto answered, her voice tired and quiet. Phantom Thieves? Is that why I’m here?
“I heard the reports on your arrest,” Sae continued. “You were apprehended in the midst of an odd phenomena, right? Is that related to how you steal hearts? How did you even come to the idea of doing that in the first place?”
“...what do you want me to say?” Makoto asked.
“I want you to tell me the entire story of your criminal behavior,” Sae said. "Tell me all about the Phantom Thieves."
Makoto’s mouth twitched slightly. Part of her wanted to refuse to talk, to not say anything. Another part of her wanted desperately to fill her sister in. Were the drugs or beatings responsible for one of those feelings? Which one did it cause? Which feeling should she listen to?
“I haven’t got all day,” Sae said. “Would you rather tell the story to me, or let the police come in again? I can't do anything to shield you anymore, and the sooner you explain, the sooner you’ll be able to rest safely in solitary confinement.”
Makoto shuddered as she suppressed a sob, and began speaking. “It… began the day… or rather night… after Shujin received a transfer student.”
4/11 - Monday
It had been a long Monday. Mondays usually felt longer than most days, except Thursday, for some reason, but today had been the day a new second-year had transferred in from some town in the countryside. And said second-year happened to have been recently convicted for assault and was attending the school on probation.
Someone higher up appears to have leaked the record, as much as Makoto may try to deny that fact, as the school was filled with murmurs about this Amamiya from the moment he set foot inside Shujin.
Makoto felt drained from attempting to study and work in the library while tuning the rumors out. She did talk to people about keeping it quiet, but the whispers were rather insistent. She was utterly exhausted when she got home, so as soon as she finished the dishes dinner left behind, she began getting ready for bed.
“Going to sleep already?” Sae asked as Makoto left the bathroom in her nightgown.
“I’m feeling rather tired today,” Makoto said.
“I see,” Sae said. “You haven’t been staying up too late, have you? I want you to study, but if you’re up all night-”
“Don’t worry, Sis,” Makoto smiled. “I’ve been making sure I go to sleep on time. Today was just a long day. You heard about that transfer student we received, right?”
“I did,” Sae frowned. “Listen, with that probation of his, he won’t be trying anything. I don’t want you to pay him any mind. Just-”
“Focus on furthering myself. Don’t worry, Sis. I was going to be doing just that.”
“Alright,” Sae said, finally smiling back. “Goodnight, then.”
“Goodnight,” Makoto replied, heading into her bedroom while Sae returned to reading a newspaper.
She climbed under the covers, nesting the blankets around her, closing her eyes in an attempt to will herself to sleep. Part of her was wondering about the student those rumors concerned; if her, an unrelated party, was exhausted hearing them, what would he be going through?
No, Makoto thought. It doesn’t concern you. Just do as Sis says and focus on furthering yourself for now. Fretting about a criminal isn’t going to help her provide for you.
She frowned, turning over to her other side. Just thinking that made her feel a knot in her stomach. She hoped it wouldn’t keep her awake.
It didn’t. At the very least, she must have fallen asleep at some point, because the sound of dripping water and some chains bumping against a wall woke her up.
She slowly sat up, eyes widening as she found her arms were chained together. She felt her heartbeat start to increase as she slowly took in the room she was in. There were iron bars for a door, an ordinary wooden plank of a bed, chains everywhere… if she had to guess, she’d say she was in some sort of old fashioned prison or dungeon. Of course, neither of those explained why the walls were lined with some sort of calming blue fabric.
“You’re awake,” a young girl’s voice said.
Makoto turned to see two girls, each with one yellow eye, and an eyepatch on the opposite side of, she guessed, her twin staring at her. They were dressed in uniforms of a similar blue color to the walls.
“Get over here, already!” the other ordered.
“Who are you?” Makoto asked, slowly standing up and starting to walk towards them when she felt resistance with one of her legs. She looked down and gasped at seeing a ball and chain shackled to her ankle. She looked up again to see the girls had stepped aside, unobstructing her view of an old man with a long nose.
The man gave an unnervingly deep chuckle as he leered at her from his desk. “Welcome to my Velvet Room.”
“...Is this a kidnapping?” Makoto asked, approaching the door of her cell slowly out of a mix of caution and the chain slowing her. “How did you get into my apartment? Who are you?”
“Shut up and let him explain!” the girl with the eyepatch on her right eye snapped, slamming the gate with a prod of some sort.
“I am Igor, the master of this place,” the long-nosed man said. “And the one who snapped at you is one of your wardens.”
“Caroline,” she introduced herself. “You had better remember it!”
“And I am your other warden, Justine,” the other girl said, much more calmly than her apparent sister.
“That answers the who,” Makoto said. “But you’re still forgetting my other two questions.”
“We didn’t break into your apartment,” Justine said. “Your mind came here on its own accord.”
“What do you mean?”
“This place exists between the gaps of reality,” Igor said. “A world you experience as a dream, if you will. In time, you’ll come to familiarize yourself with it as you begin awakening to your power.”
“My power?” Makoto repeated, before shaking her head. “No, I don’t care about whatever nonsense you’re saying! Let me out of here!”
“Show proper respect, inmate!” Caroline snapped, slamming the bars again.
“We aren’t the ones who imprisoned you to begin with,” Justine said.
“Then who did?”
“You already know the answer to that,” Igor said. “The Velvet Room reflects the heart of its visitor.”
“...you’re saying this is what’s in my heart?” Makoto asked. “But, why is that? I’m… I’m not a prisoner or anything.”
“Apparently you are, in some way,” Justine said.
“I hope we’ll be able to guide you to rehabilitate yourself,” Igor chuckled. “After all, this place is rather dreary, and ruin fast approaches.”
“Ruin?” Makoto repeated.
“Take your time to grasp this,” Igor said. “The night is almost over, so our time together will soon end.”
“Grasp what?” Makoto asked. “Nothing you’re saying makes any sense!”
“I look forward to your return,” Igor said, ignoring Makoto’s remarks. “I’m interested in seeing what impact you’ll have on this game.”
“What game?” Makoto asked in vain. In the distance, she thought she could hear something.
“Until next time, Inmate,” Justine said.
“Make sure you learn some manners before you come back!” Caroline snapped, slamming the bars again, this time with the prod electrified.
Makoto flinched at the addition of electricity and, upon closing her eyes, felt the area around her melt away, replaced with the softness of her bed, and the alarm she set on her phone going off.
4/12 - Tuesday
Her eyes slowly opened, blinking as she took in the sights of her own bedroom again. “A dream…?”
“Makoto!” Sae’s voice snapped as she pounded on her bedroom door. “Turn that alarm off and get up!”
“S-sorry!” Makoto stuttered in surprise, quickly grabbing her phone from her nightstand and shutting the alarm down. She paused as she noticed the addition of a strange app that she didn’t remember downloading. It looked like a red and black eye. “Sis, did your phone update?”
She heard her sister give an annoyed huff instead of answering, before she moved away from the door, presumably to eat breakfast or go to work.
Makoto frowned, deleting the strange app, before slowly gathering her school uniform and a towel. Judging by the time on her phone, she’d have to get dressed right out of the shower and eat breakfast on route to school. She hoped this wouldn’t make her sick.
As the water rained down on her, she closed her eyes, thinking back to the ‘Velvet Room’ she dreamt about. Is this because my last thought before sleep was of the criminal transfer student? But… they didn’t mention him at all. And none of the other things they said made sense, either…
She shook her head, turning the shower off. Of course it wouldn’t make sense. It was a dream. She could almost hear her sister in her head telling her off for fretting over it instead of focusing on her school work.
Which was apparently the only place she would actually hear her sister for the rest of today, as Sae had already left by the time Makoto got out of the bathroom.
4/12 - Tuesday
Makoto laid a hand on her stomach as she made the walk from the station towards Shujin Academy. She wasn’t able to grab breakfast in time. Now she was just hoping its growls weren’t audible.
“Hey, Ren!” she heard a peppy voice call.
She noticed the frizzy-haired student that was walking in front of her stopped and glanced back. Running past her to catch up to him was the familiar blonde twintails of second-year Ann Takamaki.
“Ann-san,” he said quietly.
“Hey, I couldn’t find you after school and wanted to chat before class,” Takamaki said, them stopping for a moment near a couple of vending machines.
Makoto felt a pang of hunger at seeing them, but decided against intruding, and kept walking. She was regretting that decision, too, as she saw the gym teacher, Suguru Kamoshida, greeting students at the gate.
“Good morning,” he said, the usual almost-fake smile on his face.
“Good morning,” Makoto replied politely as she walked by. She didn’t like putting stock in sheer rumors and hearsay, but something about him just made her uncomfortable.
“Niijima-san,” Kamoshida said in surprise, stopping her. “Your hair seems wet. Were you in a rush this morning?”
“I was, yes,” Makoto said.
“You know, I could give you a ride if you ever need it,” he said.
“That’s okay,” Makoto said. “My phone just updated and reset my alarm, that’s all.” Well, it’s more I didn’t hear the alarm, but he doesn’t need to know that.
“Well, if you change your mind, let me know,” Kamoshida said. “I’m always willing to help out Shujin’s star students.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Makoto said, continuing her way inside, hearing him greeting Takamaki in a similar false-sweet voice behind her. (“Looking good today, Ann-chan!”) Something about him made her very uncomfortable.
4/12 - Tuesday
After grabbing a quick snack at the courtyard’s vending machines, Makoto made her way to her usual table in Shujin’s library, stacking all the relevant books she could. She had spoken with staff and students alike about the whisperings there yesterday afternoon, and was pleased to see the words had stuck and they agreed to keep quiet today. Hopefully that meant that she could get some work done even if she hadn’t been able to eat anything today.
Unfortunately, the quiet only lasted about ten minutes.
“Is that the transfer student?”
“What’s a delinquent like that doing in the library?”
“Wait, is that guy really going to sit down to study?”
Makoto glanced up, seeing the student from this morning in one of the study booths, his pencil working over some of the papers. However, every time one of the other students opened their mouth, she noticed his pencil would jerk slightly.
Makoto looked down. It wasn’t her business. Her studies were. She frowned, her stomach churning as she thought that. Somehow she knew that pain wasn’t related to hunger. The first Olympic games held by the International Olympic Committee was held-
“I heard he keeps a knife on him.”
-in 1896 in-
“Don’t stare at him! If you look him in the eye, he’ll probably kill you!”
-the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, bringing together 14 nations-
“Do you think it’s true that he’s a drug dealer? I heard some second-years saying that at lunch.”
Makoto shut her books angrily, shoveling them into her bag. The whispering students stopped their gossip, glancing at her in surprise as she stood up and approached the transfer student. “Excuse me?”
The transfer student looked up, his eyes obscured by the light catching on his glasses. His mouth, however, betrayed his confusion at someone actually talking to him, hanging slightly agape before he managed to speak. “...what?”
“Might you be the transfer student I’ve heard about? Amamiya-kun, I believe?”
He let out an annoyed sigh, turning back towards his books. “Yeah.”
“Is she crazy? She’s going to get stabbed!” Makoto heard whispered behind her.
She chose to ignore it. “My name is Makoto Niijima. I’m the Student Council President here. Could you pack your things and come with me?”
“Student Council President?” Amamiya repeated, turning around again. He stared up at her eyes for a moment. At least, she thinks that’s where his gaze was fixed. “...fine.” He obliged, packing his things and following Makoto out of the room.
“I heard Niijima-senpai’s sister is a prosecutor.”
“Think she’s going to try and get that criminal expelled?”
“I hope so.”
Makoto could almost hear the scowl forming on Amamiya’s face. It gave her brief pause when they were in the hallway as she looked back at him. He rather quickly put on a neutral expression when he saw her look at him.
She took a breath before opening the door next to the library, ushering him inside, and closing the door behind them.
“What is this place?” Amamiya asked.
“This is the Student Council Room,” Makoto answered. “Please, sit down.”
Amamiya gave her an odd look, before sitting at the cluster of desks in the middle of the room. Makoto walked over and sat down at the other side of the table, one chair down instead of directly across from him.
He looked at her as she picked her bag up, unpacking the many books she had stuffed inside of it. She looked back at him once she was done, clearly waiting for something.
“...what am I here for?”
“Listen,” Makoto said. They sat in silence for a moment.
“Listen to what?”
“Exactly,” Makoto said. “You can’t hear any whispers in here, can you? It was bothering me when I tried studying, so I imagine it would be much more difficult for the subject of the rumors, right?”
“...you brought me in here to study?” Amamiya asked.
“Are you not serious about your education?” Makoto asked. “If you aren’t, you are free to leave.”
Amamiya looked down, before taking his textbooks out of his bag. “Um, thank you… Niijima?”
“That’s right. Makoto Niijima.”
“Thank you, Niijima-senpai. I was having trouble focusing.”
“No problem,” Makoto said.
The atmosphere was still awkward and tense for a while, but eventually they both ended up enveloped in their school work. Makoto wasn’t sure how much time passed, when she suddenly heard Amamiya speak again.
“Yes?” Makoto looked up.
“I was wondering…” Amamiya said awkwardly, before looking away. “Never mind.”
“No, go ahead and ask,” Makoto said. She set her pencil down and closed her notebook.
“Why did you bring me in here?” Amamiya asked.
“To study,” Makoto said.
“You know what I mean,” Amamiya said, looking at her. “I haven’t been treated nicely by anyone since my arrest.”
“Is that so?” Makoto asked. “You and Takamaki-san seemed to be getting along this morning.”
Amamiya narrowed his eyes at her. “...are you following me or something?”
Makoto blinked in confusion, before her eyes widened. “Oh! N-no, I’m not! Sorry, I… just realized it could be construed that way. No, you both ran past me this morning to chat by the vending machines.” Her face heated up as her stomach growled. That snack wasn’t as filling as she’d hoped.
Amamiya suddenly broke into a smirk, clearly trying to suppress his laughter.
Makoto coughed awkwardly. “A-anyway… my question?”
“Right,” Amamiya said. “Ann was talking to me about the rumors. She gets them a lot. Ryuji, too, come to think of it.”
“Are you referring to Sakamoto?” Makoto asked.
“I see you heard of him,” Amamiya said.
“Not favorably,” Makoto admitted. She gave a sympathetic frown. “I do see what you mean, though. Aside from those who are also victims of this school’s rumor mill, you’ve been met mostly with scorn, I take it?”
“Yeah, even from the guy that took me in,” Amamiya said, rubbing the back of his head.
“...I probably would have done the same,” Makoto said softly. “I was planning on ignoring you. I would just keep reminding myself you’re none of my business.”
“...but…?” Amamiya said when Makoto didn’t continue.
“But it made me feel sick whenever I thought that,” Makoto said. “You’re one of my peers now, and what kind of Student Council President would I be if I didn’t do what I could to help you?”
“I have no idea,” Amamiya said, gazing up at the ceiling. “The school in my hometown didn’t have a Student Council. ...or any club, thinking of it.” He looked back at her. “But you’re saying you felt sick thinking of it? Sure it wasn’t just hunger?”
Makoto’s stomach growled again and she gave a giggle in spite of herself. “Maybe it was. But at least it led me to doing something right. So I think I can excuse this day of poor eating habits.”
Amamiya nodded, packing his bag. He paused, looking over at Makoto as she opened her notebook to write again. “...Hey, senpai? Ryuji introduced me to a beef bowl shop in Shibuya yesterday and, except for when he dumped all that ginger in mine, it was pretty good.”
Makoto stopped. She felt her heart rate increase in a slight panic. “A-Amamiya-kun? You’re not asking me…”
“I just want to make it up to you,” Amamiya said. “I couldn’t study at all yesterday between the rumors here and my guardian at Leblanc, so this meant a lot. My town was small, and you always would return a favor someone did.”
“O-oh, that’s what you meant,” Makoto said, letting out a relieved sigh. “I appreciate the offer, but I was just doing what I needed to. Besides, I don’t want to be full before getting home. I make dinner for my sister and I, and-”
Makoto’s phone chimed, prompting her to stop mid sentence as she opened her message app.
Sae: Staying at work tonight. Won’t be home. Make sure you wake up on time tomorrow.
Makoto sighed, closing the app. “Never mind about my sister…” She paused in confusion, noticing the red and black eye again. Didn’t I delete this eye app this morning? She tapped it, getting ready to move it, when Amamiya spoke again.
“Is something wrong?”
“I’d rather not discuss my home life with people I just met,” Makoto said, looking back towards him.
Amamiya nodded, picking his bag up. “So, change your mind on food?”
“I don’t know,” Makoto said. “I could eat, but… if the two of us are seen in Shibuya together?”
“Right,” Amamiya said. “Rumors would probably drag down your reputation, huh? Being seen spending time with a delinquent.”
“I don’t mean it like that!” Makoto said.
“Sorry, no, I wasn’t trying to be mean about that,” Amamiya said. “I get not wanting rumors to get out. I’m shocked my criminal record was known before I even got to school. So anything about the Student President would probably spread lightning fast.”
“Your record…” Makoto mused.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Amamiya said. “Anyway, I’ll return the favor some other day, Niijima-senpai.”
“I wasn’t asking you to go into details,” Makoto said. “But I did wish to ask you… did you tell another student before coming to Shujin about your arrest?”
“Why would I?” Amamiya asked.
“I suppose that was a silly question,” Makoto said. She put her hand to her chin, musing aloud. “So that would mean… a teacher leaked it, after all? But, that can’t be… they’d be ruining a student’s life…”
“Do you think it was Kamoshida, too?” Amamiya asked quietly.
“Kamoshida?” Makoto repeated, not noticing the app that was still open on her phone pulsating. “Th-that’s a rather sudden accusation of yours.”
“It’s who Ryuji thinks did it,” said Amamiya. “And from how he treats me at the gate, I sort of see why he’d suspect him.”
“Kamoshida,” Makoto said, closing her eyes. “He does give off an uncomfortable aura, doesn’t he?” She opened her eyes again. “Still, he’s a teacher, and we shouldn’t speak about him like this.”
Amamiya's face twitched. “You know, even I heard the rumors about him. Couldn’t spend any time near Ann without hearing them.”
“Are you referring to the rumor that she and him are involved?” Makoto asked. “I thought you weren’t one to put stock in rumors.”
“Yeah, but I was there when he said hi to her this morning,” Amamiya said. “Commenting on her looks today, asking her to meet him after school… That’s not normal behavior for a teacher, and it was making her visibly uncomfortable.”
“...there’s also the volleyball team, as well,” Makoto mumbled.
“Volleyball team?” Amamiya repeated.
“Yes. Kamoshida is the coach of Shujin Academy’s famous volleyball team. It was him that brought them to the national level. All of them show signs of injury, but when I ask, they merely say it’s from his intensive training.”
“That sounds more like torture, to me,” Amamiya said. “ALL of them are hurt?”
“The evidence is just circumstantial,” Makoto said. “Besides, he's an adult, so we’re not in a position to question him.”
“I’m starting to see why Ryuji says he thinks he’s king of a castle, if even you’re making excuses for him. Aren’t you supposed to protect students?”
“I’m not making excuses!” Makoto snapped. Amamiya blinked in surprise, and Makoto immediately looked regretful. “I… didn’t mean to snap. Look, l-let’s just set this aside, okay? My hunger is getting to me, and you should probably be getting home to your guardian.”
“I guess,” Amamiya said. He opened the door to the hall and seemed to freeze in place, staring out at it. “Niijima-senpai?”
Makoto slipped her phone into her pocket, and adjusted her bag and skirt as she walked over to where Amamiya was staring out the door. “Remember, if you ever need a place to study, I’m happy to let you use-”
“Niijima-senpai!” Amamiya interrupted.
“Don’t shout!” Makoto said. “What is it?”
Amamiya pointed out at the hall and Makoto’s eyes widened. Rather than the usual halls of Shujin’s third floor, the two were looking out at an ornate, carpeted hallway that looked like it was ripped straight out of high fantasy.
The two cautiously stepped out, and the door to the Student Council Room shut behind them. Or, rather, a large door of white wood snapped shut behind them, and refused to open again.