Makoto Niijima can tell something is wrong the moment she steps through the Shujin Academy gate. Principal Kobayakawa is out on the front steps, personally greeting students as they come up the stairway into the school. Across from him is Ms. Chouno, smiling and nodding along with him with every greeting. Ladder-climber. She thinks, crossing the threshold of the school gate and instantly feeling both of them looking to her. Fantastic.
“Ah, Niijima-kun! Right on time.” Principal Kobayakawa booms, sounding far more amused than he has any right to be. Ugh. “Walk with me. Chouno-kun, carry on.” He nods to the teacher, who smiles in the most saccharine way she’s ever seen before. Still, though, Makoto has no choice but to follow Kobayakawa into the school, up the stairs and into his private office. “So.” Principal Kobayakawa sits down heavily, rifling through his papers on his desk before he pulls out a printout of some god-awful gossip blog, holding it out to her. “Take a look at this.”
“Mysterious Threat Against Yokoyama Successor?” She looks up from the page, frowning. “I don’t understand.”
“Keep reading.” Kobayakawa leans back in his chair, his mood already turning foul. “We have a problem.” Makoto keeps reading, scanning through the terrible journalism and seizing on the nugget of information she would never have expected to see: a black and red calling card, adorned with a hastily-drawn top hat and some serial killer pasted kanji spelling out a recitation of some fool’s crimes. It’s signed by the Phantom Thieves of Hearts.
“Ah.” She sighs. This again.
“You see? This Phantom Thief business is spreading, just as I told you it would.” When it had first popped up, the threat against Kobayakawa’s prized Olympic volleyball captain was a novelty to him, a joke at best. But now, Suguru Kamoshida has not only confessed to but been conclusively proven to have abused his team and sexually harassed students for years. Ever since then, the principal has done nothing but declare the sky is falling with every new revelation. The storm of media inquiries there have been have had him ranting and cursing, jumping at shadows for the next one. He’s had her running down spurious accusations in what few hours she has to herself for the last week, to her utter disgust. So far, every one of them has been true. “What do you think?”
“I think they’re expanding. They succeeded once, so why not again?” Makoto shrugs. It’s obvious.
Kobayakawa holds up a finger. “ And they’re drawing attention to themselves. A school is one thing, but a charity ball for one of the biggest names in Diet politics in Japan? The second anyone looks on the web for these Phantom Thieves, they’ll find us!” The way he says ‘us’ as if she is part of his little problem makes her stomach twist in fury. “More media attention is the last thing I need! God damn it!” He slams a meaty fist on his desk with impotent fury and pointing a finger at her. “ You need to make this go away .”
“What am I supposed to do?” Makoto drops the paper on his desk and crosses her arms. “You have no idea who they are, and if they’re reaching this far up, are they even at this school?”
“Then find out!” He slams his fist down again, papers jumping slightly off the table from the impact. “Do you think I kept you around for your sparkling wit? Go, figure something out! Or the next student council president will.” Kobayakawa grumbles something under his breath, spinning his chair around to stare out the window behind his desk.
Fuck. Walking out to the hallway, Makoto seethes. This asshole, this utter bastard. He’s never going to stop, is he? Two years of this. Ever since the entrance ceremony.
Her face burns remembering everything as she ducks into the student council room to compose herself. Thankfully, she can always trust that there isn’t anyone else here. It’s a wholly empty room, save for what little comforts she has afforded herself. After all, it’s not as if there would be anyone else using it. There are no other student council members. There is no student council, only a president. Kobayakawa’s muzzled dog. Nobody talks about it. Probably, they don’t care.
Once upon a time, she had been happy to come to school. Now, it’s nothing but grief and pain for her.
Makoto had been thrilled to hear that the only friend she had ended up making in middle school, a young girl named Haru Okumura, had not only decided to go on to high school, but chosen the same school as her. They talked about it for months as the entrance ceremony approached, hoped and prayed they would end up in the same class. Daydreamed of what high school would be like. Spent afternoons together all summer, chatting about it and their lives, the pressures of their lives so much simpler when they had someone to share them with. And after the entrance ceremony, they wandered the school grounds, talking about what they wanted to do now that the dream had come true. Makoto had thought about asking permission to form an Aikido club, even if it would be small. Haru, entranced by the gardens by the gate, had wanted to find the groundskeeper or the horticulture club and pick their brain. They wandered the school. They talked, about inconsequential things and then consequential things. One thing led to another, and...well.
“Are you…is this okay?” Makoto asked Haru, brushing her bangs back nervously. They had slipped into the gym’s changing room, the room utterly silent except for them standing in the middle of the aisle. The distance between them is centimeters and falling, the tip of Makoto’s nose brushing Haru’s.
“Of course it is. I like you, Mako.” Haru kissed her, her lips feather-light and softer than anything Makoto can think of. She cursed her chapped lips, the callouses on her hands that she knows Haru doesn’t truly mind, her own inexperience. Even now, two years later, Makoto wishes Haru had found someone better than her. Someone who knew how to treat her better. Knew how to protect her properly.
“Ooh, so sweet.” A voice that was not either of theirs cooed from behind them. Haru and Makoto split instantly, spinning to find two girls walking into the room, cigarettes dangling from their fingers and third year pins on their lapels.
“A pair of little baby lesbians. It’s like something out of a manga, huh?” One of them laughs, taking a long pull from her cigarette and blowing smoke in their faces.
“Hahaha, totally!” The other laughs, walking closer and circling to one side while the other covers the other side, blocking them in. “Shujin is a very exclusive school, you know, ladies. We want people of a certain class, people who know the rules. And we have rules about dykes.”
“What are you saying?” Makoto snaps, clenching a hand into a fist.
“Oh, she wants to know.” The one closest to Makoto says, turning to her compatriot. “Should I tell her?”
“Hell yeah.” The other takes Haru by the arm, digging her fingers in hard. “Listen to her, you little freaks.”
“We teach dykes there’s consequences to being freaks.” She swings at Makoto’s stomach with a fist, and Haru screams. Makoto doesn’t remember the rest, only the sensation of blood dripping from split knuckles and the taste of more in her mouth. Once they weren’t going to hurt Haru any more, she went to find a teacher.
Sae met them in the nurse’s office, while the school nurse finished bandaging Makoto’s hands and moved on to Haru’s burns. Haru hasn’t spoken a word since she screamed, when the other girl started pressing her cigarette to Haru’s arms. The sense memory of fingers snapping in Makoto’s hand comes to her then, cracking like dry kindling. That girl wouldn’t have been able to hold a cigarette or a lighter for a long time after that.
“What the fuck were you thinking, Makoto?!” Sae looms over her, furious and practically bouncing in her heels. “The first day of school and you start a fight? If you were going to waste my money and time, you could have told me.”
“I didn’t start it.” Makoto says, staring down at her aching hands.
“That’s not what the other girls are saying. Do you know how the justice system in this country works? Do you know who those girls are the daughters of? You don’t stand a chance. Now you’re just another loser at the game of life, too stupid to follow the rules.”
“If the rules mean I have to let people like that say what they want...then fuck the rules.”
“See how far that gets you, Makoto. We’ll talk later, if you don’t ruin your life any further.” Sae turns to Haru, then. “This will be the last time I’ll see you and Makoto together. Understood?”
“Yes.” Haru says without looking up from her lap.
“ What? No!” Makoto stands, interposing herself between Sae and Haru.
“Mako, stop.” Haru says, voice hollow. “She’s right.”
“You’re lucky I’m not transferring you out this second, Makoto.” Sae remains resolute, staring Makoto down until she balks before her older sister’s iron will. And with that, Sae leaves them to their shared misery, one of the last times Makoto spoke to Haru anything more than a pleasantry. The school nurse left not long after without a word. Maybe she knew they needed to say goodbye.
“I’m sorry.” Makoto says, unable to meet Haru’s eyes. “For everything.”
“It’s my fault. I pushed you into something we shouldn’t have done.” Haru can’t, or won’t, look up at her either.
“You weren’t wrong. We didn’t do anything wrong.” Makoto means it with every bit of her heart, even as she feels it begin to break in two when Haru finally meets her eyes and she sees the despair in her expression.
“If we weren’t wrong, we wouldn’t have been punished for it.” Makoto winces at the despondency in Haru’s voice. She should never have to feel like that. Makoto would do anything to make this right. She deserves better. “I’m sorry, Mako. I truly am.” Haru stands, walking out of the room and leaving Makoto wishing for any way to make this right.
Her cursed wish came true the next day, when Principal Kobayakawa called her into his office.
“I have a proposition for you, Niijima-chan.” Kobayakawa laces his fingers together across his massive belly, reclining in his chair. “We have need for a leader for the student council. And you have need of a situation to, ah, disappear, I believe.” He smiles with every single one of his teeth.
“I don’t understand.” Makoto lies, refusing to rise to his bait. If those girls think that dykes like her get beat down, then what would the authority figures they get their cues from think of her? Fuck him. Fuck all of them.
“Don’t play coy, dear. It’s already taken care of. You won’t find those two girls in attendance at our prestigious academy any longer. Losers don’t last long within our walls. And they have been sworn to silence about the events after the entrance ceremony, for their own good as much as yours.”
“As I said, I have need for a new student council president. You will have full authority over the student body in disciplinary matters and the latitude to take unilateral action, within reason , in matters concerning the student body’s overall health and well-being. But you answer to me, and I have matters that will require attending to that will need discretion. Understood?”
Makoto’s head spins. This scummy, obsequious fuck wants to give her exactly what she dreamed of. The chance to change things, to keep Haru safe. And all she has to do is sign her soul away.
It’s not a choice, really.
Makoto shakes her head, opening her phone and starting a series of searches. This Sugimura is the scion of a political family, but is there some connection to Shujin that connects these lonesome points of data together? What do a volleyball teacher and the 30-something year old son of a Diet member have in common with one another?
It doesn’t take long to find out in the worst way possible.
A gossip blog not unlike the one Kobayakawa used for the initial report has been documenting the ascension of Sugimura. The most recent post was one much like she had read, but the one before that…
The post’s header is Sugimura posing proudly with Haru in some lounge, his arm around her and a hand on her shoulder. Haru smiles thinly for the photo, but it’s clear how offput she is by this, all of it. Or, at least, it is to Makoto, because the gossip article lauds how happy the couple is, and their imminent marriage. This is the first time they’ve been sighted in public, evidently. Married? She’s never once spoken of it. Haru’s never worn an engagement ring, either.
Fuck. The timestamp was last week. Haru missed a day of class then, hadn’t she. Something about a family engagement? She was gone yesterday, too. Leaping to her feet, Makoto storms into the teacher’s office, confronting the first teacher she finds, the second year teacher Ms. Kawakami nearly running into Makoto as she enters the room.
“Do you have the attendance records for yesterday?”
“What?” Ms. Kawakami raises her eyebrows. “No, what do you need them for?”
“Something for Principal Kobayakawa. And any absences that have been reported today too, please.”
“Jeez, one second.” Kawakami turns, shuffling back to her desk and calling to one of the other second year teachers for it before returning to Makoto, holding out a clipboard of absence marks. “Mention I helped you to the principal, alright? He’s been a pain lately, it’d really help me out.”
“Right.” Makoto says absently, leafing through the pages. “Thanks.” She nods to Kawakami and walks back out of the teacher’s office. Yesterday, Haru was absent, as were a few other names she recognizes from third year. None of them are remarkable, none of them interact with Haru. Haru doesn’t interact with anyone, really. Except Makoto, and only in pleasantries and small talk now. In second year, though...Sakamoto, the former track star turned near-dropout. And Takamaki, the girl with so many rumors swirling about her regarding Kamoshida and the circumstances regarding Suzui’s suicide attempt. And one other, Kurusu, the new transfer student with twice as many rumors about him as Takamaki. There are marks next to each of their names. And today, Sakamoto and Takamaki are in attendance, but Haru herself called in, and Kurusu too, the both of them blaming illness.
Makoto storms upstairs, pushing through the ancient door onto the roof propped open as it has been for months. Her first act as student council president had been to secure Haru a place all to herself, though Kobaykawa had balked at allowing her a key to the door. Still, though, Makoto had gotten her a garden of her own to tend, and access to the groundskeeper’s resources as well. Anything to keep her safe, in case the school heard something about what had happened. Makoto hasn’t been up here in months, obeying to the letter Sae’s warning. Her own punishment for failing Haru so badly, in her mind.
The roof is cold, damp from recent rainfall. The plants in their planters are thriving, green shoots rising from the earth. She has no idea what Haru’s growing, she realizes. She had assumed she would grow flowers, but...hmm. She ranges around the roof, searching for anything, any sign of something amiss.
And when she finds it, her heart stops cold. A water bottle, battered and old but recently used, stuffed full of cigarette butts. Lifting it, she can clearly see the faintest traces of lipstick on some of the butts, rust-red on some, brown on others.
And one, near the top, the same pink lipstick that Makoto had encouraged Haru to use more often.
Haru, what have you gotten yourself into?
“What do you make of this?” Sae Niijima holds out her phone across the table, a gossip blog on the screen. Mysterious Threat to Son of Diet Politician.
“Hmm.” Goro Akechi takes it and flips through the article, raising an eyebrow and laughing to himself. “I didn’t know people still bought enough magazines to make these sorts of threats.”
“Take it seriously.” Sae plucks her phone from his gloved hand, scoffing. “This is the second report of something like this.”
“Oh, really? From such a reputable source, too.” He shakes his head. “Where was the first threat, then?” Of course, he knows already, but Sae doesn’t know that he knows. It’s far easier to play the fool to confirm her biases about someone his age. This way, he gets to surprise her all the more when he shows her what he can really do. So smart, but so willing to believe that the youth these days aren’t up to snuff. Goro’s always wondered if she treats her sister the same way.
“Shujin Academy. The volleyball coach there. Olympic medalist revealed as a pervert and sadist. Very dramatic.” Sae returns her phone to her pocket, picking up her chopsticks and plucking a sushi roll from the conveyor belt as it passes. “Still, it makes me wonder.”
“Same modus operandi, same name, same distribution method.” Goro does likewise, spearing a nori roll and popping it in his mouth. God, what he wouldn’t do for actual half-decent sushi. It’s hard to get good food at home these days, he’s so busy with his work for the department and his other boss. “Seems like it’s pretty cut and dried. Have they made any demands?”
“No. The strangest thing, actually, is that the first blackmail case ended with him confessing everything. He’s in custody now, and a great deal of his victims have come forward with more accusations, all of which he has corroborated to the letter. Normally, this would be a boondoggle, but he’s sewing himself up tighter with every new accusation. I hardly have to do anything, honestly.”
“Hmm.” Goro shrugs. “Guilt does weigh you down eventually, I suppose. It must be relaxing to have such a simple case.”
“It’s not so simple anymore, if there’s another blackmailing. An isolated case is a breeze, a string of blackmailings is a headache.” She massages her temple, grabbing more sushi with her free hand. “I’ll have to see if he’s willing to give up anything about the blackmailer.” Good luck with that, Goro thinks to himself. Sae stands, leaving a fold of bills for the check. “Keep an ear to the ground, okay? It would look good for you to nail such a strange case.”
“Right.” Goro resists the urge to roll his eyes as Sae picks up her bag and leaves. She’s always trying to do this shit. He doesn’t need her charity case completions. He’s a celebrity, not a real detective. “See you, prosecutor.”
“Detective.” And with that, she’s gone. Once she’s out the door, Goro plucks his phone from it’s spot nestled in ballistic foam in his briefcase, thumbing it open and dialing a number he memorized this morning.
“What?” The voice on the other side picks up, already irritable.
“I believe you have a package that needs disposing of.”
“What?” The SIU director barks, incredulous. “Who leaked?”
“No one. Call it a hunch. The boss will want to speak with the Yokoyama boy.”
“How did—” The director growls, cutting himself off. “Show some respect, boy. The only reason I even picked up this phone is because of who you work for.”
“Do you want him off your hands, or not?” Goro doesn’t bother to scrub the glee out of his voice. He has so much fun with these useless stooges, sometimes. Just another man who thinks he’s someone because he has some power.
Goro Akechi knows better than anyone what real power is. Real power is holding the world’s life in your hands and deigning to let it keep on living. He could crush this corrupt city under his heel with one bullet, but it’s more fun this way, isn’t it? Besides, he has his own plans in motion.
“Just get over here.” the SIU director snaps, hanging up on him. Just another day at work for Goro Akechi, the Second Detective Prince. Not that he buys into his own branding.
“Oh, Sugimura, how good to see you.” Masayoshi Shido smiles as Goro shoves the older man into his office, tripping him over the coffee table and spilling him to the floor. “Please, be nicer to my guest.”
“Of course, Sir.” He hauls Sugimura to his feet, muscling him over into a chair and shoving him down.
“Thank you. How are you, son?” Goro snaps down on the twitch of his fingers when Shido says that, knowing all too well that the remark isn’t directed at him. Every time. Every god damn time . Shido can’t know, of course. He’d be a fool to know and still let him get this close.
“Shido, Shido-san, we have to talk.” Sugimura says, breathing hard. He’s been like this the whole way over here, sitting in the back of the car Akechi drove him over in and rambling on and on and on about his feelings. How he can’t go on, can’t live with himself. Coward. Who the fuck do you think you are? Just another of Shido’s failed little schemes he has to clean up, that’s all.
A weakling. Nothing more, nothing less. The world is filled with depravity and cowardice.
A scratching at the back of Goro’s mind growls.
“I’m sure. How are things with Okumura? Going well?” Shido says with a smile, crossing his leg under the desk.
“It’s about that. Shido-san. Sir. I can’t do this anymore.” Sugimura leans forward, cradling his head in his hands. “It’s too much. The marriage, I’m calling it off.”
“Now, let’s not be hasty, son.” Shido stands, crossing out from behind his desk and standing in front of him and leaning back onto the rich wood. “You’re getting cold feet. These things happen to many of us. You’re in a stressful position, as well. I understand that there’s been a threat to reveal some dirty laundry of yours, is that right?” He smiles when Sugimura nods emphatically, tears spilling down his cheeks.
Goro moves to the side, leaning against the wall and crossing his arms. How many is this, then? Two? Remarkably fast turn around from threat to confession, faster even than Kamoshida. They’re getting better, and quickly.
The other half of the chessboard moves. Will you remain idle so long?
Quiet. I’m trying to listen.
“I understand how terrifying that must be. You’re in a very vulnerable position right now. But I need you to stay strong. This is only temporary. They won’t really make good on their threat. They’re preying on your fear.”
“I know. I know. And they won. I can’t , Shido-san, I would rather die. I’ll do anything but this. Please. Find someone else.” Shido looks up from Sugimura, meeting Goro’s eyes and smirking at him before he moves to Sugimura, taking him by the shoulder. For such a powerful man, Masayoshi Shido is also an inveterate sadist. He’s enjoying this, every second of it.
Do not dissemble, Goro. I can feel you. This excites you, the same as him.
For different reasons, maybe. Like seeing a lion devour a gazelle.
“Think about what you’re saying, son. Are you sure about this? This is an easy task. Once this is over, you have control of a major family conglomerate, all the money in the world to make this disappear or disappear yourself into safety. Now, I have other things you could do, but I want you to sleep on this, okay? Let my associate take you home.” He meets Goro’s eyes again, giving him a slight nod that the boy returns. Sugimura Yokoyama won’t be making it home tonight.
“...Okay. Okay. We’ll talk soon?” Sugimura looks up at the most powerful man in Tokyo with wet eyes.
Shido smiles and nods. “Very soon. You’ll feel better once it’s all over.” He pats Sugimura one last time and stands, crossing back behind his desk. “It’s been good working with you, Sugimura.”
God, this asshole. He’s as bad as the SIU director. Powerful, and thinks he’s got it all figured out. He can’t wait to see the look on his face when he finds out the power behind the throne has had a gun pointed at his head the whole time.
“Come on, Mr. Yokoyama.” Goro heaves him to his feet, taking his arm in an iron grip. “Let’s get you home.” Frog-marching Sugimura out and down to the parking garage, Goro knows he’s going to have a late night tonight. At least he never has to worry about taking care of the body afterwards. Shadows truly are wondrous creatures, Goro thinks.
The low cunning of beasts and fools both deserve admiration, boy. Do not forget that you are not the only one with these gifts, even if they are only beginning their journey.
Shut up, Loki. Don’t forget you’re as replaceable as these stooges are, too.
You can no more kill me than you can kill yourself, Goro. But very well.
Every nook and crevice of this twisted subway teems with beasts, but Haru Okumura will not be deterred. She’s going to make it out of this abyss or die trying. The true Haru would expect nothing less. With nothing but the tattered wedding dress on her back, she makes her way through the labyrinth of Mementos, bereft of support but her own determination and the strange placidity of the Shadows that hemm her in on all sides. They never strike, seem to ignore her utterly. She has watched them war for territory, devour one another and shamble in hideous ways, and not a one of them has come within a foot of her. She is untouchable, somehow exempt from their bestial urges.
At first, it had been harrowing. Now, it’s rote. She hunts for routes, the seas of teeming Shadows on the platforms parting before her. She saw the train run by once, just after she escaped the Palace, but it flew past the station without stopping and has not been seen since. The stations are disconnected from reality, descending into bizarre metaphor and pastiches of things she can only begin to understand. So, she follows the tracks, stepping carefully around the cables and rail ties as she goes, taking no superfluous breaks. She never does seem to get tired, here. It had been easy to believe that she was the real thing in the Palace, but the evidence only mounts. Hunger does not gnaw at her, thirst eludes her. She attempted to sleep in one of the stations but found it a futile exercise. She is not human in the way that her memories, Sugimura’s memories of the true Haru Okumura would imply. So she continues, tirelessly forward.
Why did the true Haru let her go? Her life is a joke, a pale parody of her own made by a monster for his own pleasure. She shudders to think of the things she remembers, the awful indignancies imposed upon her in the real world by the true Sugimura and the grotesque parodies thereof she experienced herself. This freedom, can she truly make anything of it? It matters not. She will escape from this abyss or die in so doing. Nothing more, nothing less.
Hours pass without number in the dark, guided only by the surety of one foot after the other. She will make something of this chance. She will find freedom. Some unnameable yearning in her heart begs for freedom, to see the world as it truly is, not as she had been shown it. To find the thing she longs for.
After so long in the dark, she emerges into the light of a station, and knows something is different. It’s empty, devoid of Shadows. Climbing up to the platform, a juddering, artifacted screen states she has arrived at Shibuya Station. From there, it’s a short ascent to the streets, the true Tokyo unfolding before her under a moody grey sky. It’s devoid of ornament, steel and concrete and glass. Withered trees line the streets she walks through where they exist at all, and the light filtering through the cloud cover feels harsh and darker than it should. She has never seen sunlight herself before now, but this is wrong. This world, the one she was born into, feels wrong, broken and strange.
Still, though, she will find a place for herself in this world. That yearning doesn’t go away as she wanders the streets, aimless but drawn ever in one direction, something she cannot name moving her forward. Not even trash blows in the streets, the howling wind passing between the buildings the only sound save her footsteps. Until, she begins to hear something carried by the wind to her, somewhere in the distance.
Finally, turning a street corner and coming to a corporate plaza, Haru Okumura knows she has found home. A massive building stretches into the sky, scaffolding surrounding a staircase spiraling into the sky, incomplete. Shadows scamper across the building, hammering signs and metal into place. At the bottom of the staircase, a stately building stands, ancient and well-kept, with marble accents and cold grey stone holding it together. Even now, as she watches, Shadows tear at parts of the building, holding them aloft and carrying them up the staircase and hammering them into place. A stairway to another plane of existence, built from the cast-offs of the estate. Walking towards it, she finds a sign at the gate leading up to the state. Another sign hangs below it, nailed into the stone. Seeing them, she knows that she has found the place she was looking for, and heads up the driveway. To home. To her father.
Okumura Residence - Est. 1975.
Estate Sale Ongoing