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Into The Fog - Story Arc Two: Beginnings of a Mystery

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Into The Fog
Story Arc Two: Beginnings of a Mystery – Part One
Chapter Four: Arrival in Inaba

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I have now arrived

I have left my past life behind

Time to start anew

///

Date: Spring 2003
Location: Kyoto – Narukami Apartment

It was a sunny day during the late spring afternoon. Rei was happily returning home after getting a good grade on her recent test. It was the first test she had taken at her new school after her parents moved to Kyoto. She was feeling rather proud of herself for starting things off in her new school on the right foot.

When the young Rei entered the apartment, she was surprised to see that her father was there. Normally, he would be out much later, but there were rare occasions when even he would come home early. He was trying to read the newspaper in peace when his daughter entered the apartment. Her father was taking a short break from his work that could be seen on the table. He briefly looked up to see it was her before looking back at the paper.

As soon as Rei saw that her father was on the couch her face brightened up at this rare opportunity. Not to mention, Rei believed she had good news that her father would be interested in listening to. Rei put her backpack down and pulled out a piece of paper.

“Daddy! Daddy! Look! Look!” A young Rei excitedly ran over to her father and held out a test paper that had a score of a hundred written on it.

Her father barely peaked over the newspaper he was reading as he glanced at her grad. He then turned his attention back to the paper as he told his daughter in a rather bored tone, “That’s great Rei.”

Even the young Rei could see how anti-climactic that response was as she said, “Come on Daddy look at this! I got all these answers right!” She then pointed at one question, “Even this really tricky one!”

“You can put it over there.” He pointed towards the table. “We can talk about it later.”

“Talk about it later?” The young Rei was used to her parents ignoring her, but she was baffled by how dismissive he was over something important like this. She impatiently asked, “Why can’t we talk about it now?”

Her father raised his voice and told her, “I don’t have time to deal with you right now! Just put it away! I have other things I need to do!”

The young Rei was taken aback by this reaction. “But …”

Her father did not give her a chance to say another word as he told her, “That’s enough Rei. We can discuss this later.”

A moment of silence passed before Rei looked down in disappointment and said, “Okay.”

While her father was busy with his work, Rei walked back to her backpack and put it back on. Instead of going to her room like she normally would, she decided to go outside again. Her father did not appear to notice the door opening and closing.

The graded test was still clenched in Rei’s left hand. The girl held up her hand and sadly looked down on the piece of paper in front of her. “I guess even this isn’t good enough for my father. I have a feeling my mother wouldn’t care either.”

Rei held the paper over the balcony. She was contemplating whether she should just throw it away and let the wind take it. As she was about to release her grip, Rei pulled the paper back and placed it in her backpack.

The young girl shook her head as she told herself, “No. This is my grade. I earned it. There has to be someone who’ll care about this, but where should I go.” Rei looked around and saw there was a playground not far from where she was living. “I guess I should go to the park.”

As Rei began to walk away from her parent’s apartment, Rei glanced over her shoulder and thought, “I wonder if he’ll even notice that I’m gone. Probably not.”

///

Location: Unknown
Date: Present Day

After defeating a mysterious enemy in what appeared to be some kind of alternate dimension, Rei found herself in front of a strange door. By opening it, she was blinded by the light and found herself in what appeared to be a limousine. When she regained her sight, she saw two strange beings sitting across from her. There was a long nosed man and a beautiful woman holding a book next to him.

The man with a large strange nose greeted her with a welcoming tone, “Welcome to the Velvet Room.” Despite his strange appearance, this man or creature appeared to be well mannered. He introduced himself, “My name is Igor. I am delighted to make your acquaintance,” he then motioned to the woman next to him, “The woman next to me is Margaret. She is my assistant.”

After being introduced the woman replied, “It is a pleasure to meet you.”

Despite how strange Rei was feeling in this rather bizarre place, she replied, “It’s nice to meet you as well. My name is Narukami Rei.”

Igor grinned as he replied, “I can assure you the pleasure is all mine.”

The next thing Rei asked was, “You said this place was called the Velvet Room right?” Igor nodded. Rei was still feeling a little groggy as she brought her hand to her forehead and asked, “This is the place that weird person who tried to kill me was talking about?”

The long nosed man named, Igor, happily replied, “Yes indeed. It was an impressive fight that you put up as well.”

“I’m glad I entertained you.” Rei sarcastically remarked.

“Actually, I’m more pleased that you were victorious.” Igor could not stop grinning as he told Rei, “It means that you’re almost ready to begin your journey.”

“My journey?” Rei could not help but feel she was thrown for a loop as she tried to make sense of everything that had been happening. She was scratching her head as she replied, “I thought I was only going to Inaba to live with my relatives.”

Igor replied, “That is where it shall all begin.”

“Um … okay.” Rei was still not sure how to exactly process this strange conversation. She could not help but look around this ‘Velvet Room.’

Rei’s eyes looking around the area did not escape Igor’s notice as he politely asked, “Is there something bothering you my dear guest?”

“Um … Sorry. Not really, but you said this place was called the ‘Velvet Room’ right?” Rei found herself to be unexpectedly nervous around these two strange beings in front of her. Rei did not like asking the same question twice either, but a part of her felt out of it, and she needed some additional confirmation.

Even though Rei had asked this question before, Igor was polite to answer her again, “That is correct.”

That answer seemed to confuse Rei more as she remarked, “This looks more like a limousine than a room.”

Igor calmly answered, “It is best not to take the name too literally. The Velvet Room can take on different shapes depending on the guest.” Rei did not say a word, but she raised an eyebrow and looked at Igor with interest which Igor took as a sign to continue. “Over a year ago, the Velvet Room took the form of an elevator for our previous guests.”

Rei replied skeptically, “Is that so?”

Igor answered, “Indeed.”

Rei decided not to bother with that topic anymore and decided to ask the next obvious question, “So where is this ‘Velvet Room’ exactly? Last time I checked I was in some strange dark place with a door.”

Igor replied, “This place exists between dream and reality that only those who are bound by a contract are able to enter at will.”

Rei narrowed her eyes in confusion. “Between ‘dream’ and ‘reality’?”

Igor answered, “That’s right.”

“I remember going to sleep before all this weirdness started.” Rei was suddenly almost overcome with the urge to yawn, but she tried her best to fight it off as she asked, “Does that mean this is a dream?” Rei could not keep the yawn in anymore as she covered her mouth and tried to apologize.

Igor did not appear offended by Rei’s yawn as he answered her question, “In a way. You accessed this place through your dreams, but I can assure you that this is real. Eventually, you will be able to access this world while you are still awake within your world by your own will.”

“What?” Rei could not help but be taken aback by what Igor just told her.

Igor merely replied, “All our guests, filled out a ‘contract,’ and they were able to enter this room by their own will and access amazing abilities beyond their wildest imaginations.”

“A contract?” That was the second time Rei heard Igor say that word. The more Rei heard from Igor, the more difficulty she was having at comprehending what he was talking about. “How does a ‘contract’ allow me to gain abilities or enter some strange place that apparently doesn’t even exist in the real world?”

Before Igor could say a word, Margaret spoke up, “I would watch what I say. You may be a guest in this room, but it does not mean you have the right to disrespect Master Igor.”

Igor looked over to his assistant and calmly told her, “It is quite alright Margaret. It is only natural she would be skeptical of what I have to say. For us, such things are easy to comprehend, but this is a new territory for her altogether. We must be patient with her. It will not be long before she understands. Is that understood?”

“…” Margaret reluctantly answered, “Yes sir.”

Igor then turned back to Rei and attempted to answer her previous question, “Unfortunately, it would be difficult to describe how the contract works. It will have to be something you will have to see for yourself.” Before Rei could ask another question, Igor stated, “The contract is not ready. The time has not come for you to make your decision to sign it, but I am sure that time will be approaching soon. When that time comes, I’m sure you will have no problem signing it.”

Rei decided to ask an alternative question about this so-called contract. “What will this contract have written on it?”

Igor replied, “You’ll see for yourself soon enough.”

Rei stated, “I bet you’re telling me I’ll find out what’s in the contract when I know this isn’t just a weird dream.”

“More or less.” Igor shrugged.

“Well that’s great to know.” There was a bit of sarcasm in Rei’s voice that caused Margaret to feel some irritation, but she looked over to Igor who shook his head, which caused her to stand down.

Igor politely told her, “I’m sure when you find out the terms of the contract, you’ll see it is quite reasonable.”

Rei crossed her arms as she asked, “How do you figure?”

“My previous guests had no issue signing their contracts, and they all embraced the power they had within to fulfill their destinies.” Igor’s voice continued to sound polite as he told Rei, “I can see you are well on your way to embracing your own power as well.”

“Destiny huh?” Rei almost felt like vomiting at the thought of ‘destiny’ as she replied with an agitated voice, “That’s a load of crap.”

Margaret felt compelled to say something despite Igor’s silent protests. “I would watch what you say in front of Master Igor.”

“If destiny is real, it hasn’t been treating me too well so far.” Rei scoffed at the notion, “I’d rather not think of things like that.”

Margaret began to say something else before Igor held out his hand. As soon as Margaret saw that signal, she closed her mouth and did not say another word.

Igor did not appear insulted by Rei’s remarks. In fact, he continued to sound perfectly calm as he began to explain, “Your words are perfectly understandable. However, you should know that destiny is not truly set in stone. It can be determined by the choices we make.” He tried to sound reassuring to Rei as he told her, “The previous guests fulfilled their destinies through their choices rather than letting fate deciding for them. If they had done nothing, their destinies would have been unfilled and countless others would have been lost.”

“…” Rei was at a loss for words, but her mind was filled with things she wanted to say. She could not help but think, “‘Countless others would have been lost’? Does this mean if I don’t try to fulfill this destiny, I’ll be responsible for people who might die?”

“I see that you are feeling conflicted.” It was almost as if Igor could read Rei’s mind as he told her, “It is best not to worry about something you do not fully grasp now. I’m sure you will understand for yourself soon enough, and you will make the choice that comes naturally to you.”

“...” It was difficult for Rei to argue against Igor’s words. She had no idea of what was to come, and if what he said was true, she would understand soon enough.

Igor then followed up, “I’m sure the choices you will make will be wise. I can see you are capable of great things with the power you possess.”

That was another mention of the word ‘power.’ The more Rei heard that word, the more she wanted to know what that is supposed to mean. “That thing that attacked me mentioned something about me being ‘worthy of my power.’ Now you’ve mentioned about me having some kind of power beyond my imagination. What is this power?”

“Unfortunately, that is something else you’ll need to witness for yourself rather than be explained.” That was a response Rei was not surprised by. “For now, all you need to know is your power sleeps within you, but it’ll awaken soon. Then you’ll understand what you need to do.”

“…” Rei could not help but feel disappointed. She expected Igor to give her this response, but it was still disappointing that she could not get a straight answer from him. It was hard for her to believe what he was saying even if he sounded sincere. Suddenly, Rei was becoming overwhelmed by the need to yawn again.

Igor easily picked up on Rei’s body language as he told her, “If you are feeling skeptical, you’ll see soon enough for yourself that I speak the truth.”

After yawning, Rei felt surprisingly better as she asked, “How soon?”

Igor shrugged as he told her, “It’s difficult to say. All I can tell you is the time is approaching. That is all.”

“There you go with that line again.” Rei could not help but sigh. “Being told ‘soon enough’ doesn’t make me feel much better.” Rei was feeling something rather unpleasant in the pit of her stomach because she could tell something did not bold well for her in the future.

“My apologies, but unfortunately I cannot share information I do not have.” Igor sounded sincere in what he said to her.

“Okay.” Rei calmly replied, “I guess I can understand that, but it doesn’t change how I feel.”

Igor merely shook his head as he replied, “I suppose it wouldn’t. For the time being, let’s see what the cards say about your fate.”

“My fate?” Rei was confused as this seemed contradictory to what Igor said before, “I don’t like the sound of that. I thought you said your guests influenced their destiny by their own choices not by fate.”

“They did.” Igor informed her in a polite manner, “However, there are always things that are beyond your control. That is how life is for all of us unfortunately.”

Rei could not help but look down towards the floor as she replied in a down trotted voice, “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”

Igor replied, “It’s understandable for you to feel nervous, but it can help if you receive some guidance. Sometimes knowing what can’t be changed can allow you to make the proper choices for things that can be changed.”

“…” Rei reluctantly replied, “You might have a point.”

Igor summoned a deck of cards in his hand and asked, “Shall I proceed?”

After a moment of consideration, Rei answered, “… Okay.”

Igor placed several cards face down. Before he flipped them he told the girl, “Each reading I have done has used the same cards, but the result is different. It a reflection of how life follows the same principles.” Rei remained silent as he began to flip the cards up one by one.

The first card was a card that looked like a tower struck by lightning with the upper half breaking apart. Igor seemed rather interested in what that card had to say. “Hmm … That is the ‘Tower’ in the upright position which represents your immediate future. According to this, a terrible catastrophe is imminent.” He said all this in a perfectly calm voice which was the exact opposite of how you would expect anyone else to react.

Rei’s eyes widened at hearing Igor’s words. She was not sure whether she was more surprised by what he said or the fact he sounded nonchalant when he said them. However, she did not bring herself to say a word. She could tell he was not finished yet.

Without missing a beat, Igor flipped up the next card which was the moon. “The future beyond that is represented by the ‘Moon’ in the upright position. This card represents ‘hesitation’ and ‘mystery.’ That is quite interesting.”

Rei could not help but think, “I wonder if that hesitation has anything to do with how I was hesitant to even say yes to this whole fortune telling thing. Not to mention, I definitely have kept things hidden from a lot of people.”

Igor scratched the tip of his chin before telling his new guest. “According to the cards, you will encounter a misfortune at your destination, and a great mystery will be imposed on you as a result.”

“What kind of ‘misfortune’ could happen to me in Inaba? It’s supposed to be a suburban place. I’m pretty sure crime is supposed to be a lot lower there than in the city.” There was a bit of desperation and disappointment in Rei’s voice. She was hoping that Inaba would be a peaceful place for her.

“Unfortunately, the circumstances of this ‘misfortune’ are beyond my knowledge at this point. The only thing I know is that in the coming days you will most likely enter into a contract, and you will return here by your own free will.” Without changing the sound of his voice, Igor told Rei, “The coming year will be a turning point in your destiny. If the mystery that lays before you is unsolved before the time is up, your future might be forever lost.”

Hearing Igor tell her that her ‘future could be lost,’ caused Rei’s eyes to significantly widen at the implications of what that could mean. While Rei had told herself not to believe in destiny, something about those cards struck a chord with her. It was telling her that what Igor was saying was not a lie, and she would see for herself soon enough that it was true. The part about something immediately happening probably scared her the most since it was going to be something that she could not change even if she wanted to.

“Huff … Huff.” Without realizing it, Rei’s breathing started to become heavy as she nervously asked, “My future could be lost?”

Igor calmly replied, “Yes.”

After hearing a confirmation to what she heard, Rei’s breathing continued to deepen. This did not appear to go unnoticed by Igor or Margaret, but neither made a comment on it. Instead they waited until Rei asked her next question, “Are you saying that I’ll die?”

“Not necessarily, but it’s a possibility.” Igor explained, “My power cannot fully predict the future, but it can give me the idea of the possibilities. It is my duty to help you reach the more ‘favorable’ ones. It is my duty to provide my guests the assistance necessary to ensure the tasks before them are fulfilled.”

“If that’s the case, then how about these guests that came before me.” Rei asked, “You told me there were others that came before me right?”

Igor replied, “That is correct.”

Rei then asked, “Did any of them fail to fulfill these ‘destinies’ of theirs?” The nervousness in her voice was becoming more apparent.

“They were all quite successful in their endeavors.” Igor grinned as he told her, “I can assure you of that.” Despite how creepy the long nosed man was, he did not appear to be lying to her.

“Then what … Then what …?” Rei found herself too nervous to ask the following question. Even if this was a dream, something inside her was still frightened by what the answer might be.

The next thing she heard was Igor tell her, “Feel free to ask me anything you want, but you should ask quickly. We might not have much time left.”

“Not much time left? What does he mean?” Rei shook her head, “Ah forget it. I need to ask him this.” Rei nervously asked, “What happened to them after they were successful? Did they actually have a ‘future’ after they succeeded?”

“…” Margaret could not help but glance over to Igor who remained perfectly composed.

Igor replied, “That is an excellent question my guest that does have quite a few interesting answers.”

“A few interesting answers? I don’t think I like the sound of that.” Rei thought.

Before Igor could give an answer, the room briefly shook which caused Rei to look around the area in a confusion as Igor maintained his composure and responded, “I’m sorry, but it appears that the time of this visit has come to an end.”

“What?” Rei was shocked by how sudden this seemed. “But I …”

Before Rei could finish Igor spoke up, “I do apologize at how sudden this must seem. However, it is time for you to return to your world. I will try to fully answer your questions in the future.”

Rei began feeling rather strange. It felt like she was being pulled out of this world even though she could see nothing grabbing her. It was like some kind of invisible force had a hold of her. Rei knew she only had a few seconds left before she was gone so she quickly shouted out, “Wait! Can’t you just say it now?!?” No sooner had she asked that, Rei started to feel her vision begin to fade. It was becoming harder to see again.

“Unfortunately, we do not have time for that right now.” Igor told his guest, “For now, farewell until we meet again. I’m sure it will be soon.”

Before Rei could say another word, she felt everything fade out. Igor and Margaret witnessed Rei disappear from the Velvet Room right before their eyes. However, they knew it would not be long before they were reunited with their guest again.

After Rei had disappeared from the Velvet Room, Margaret turned to her master and asked, “Master Igor. Do you really believe she has what it takes to succeed in solving this ‘mystery’?” Based on the sound of her voice, Margaret did not have any clue what this mystery was either as she told her master, “She does not appear as qualified as the other guests we’ve had.”

“You only say that now because you know they succeeded in accomplishing their respective destinies.” Igor informed Margaret, “If you had seen her predecessors prior to the time they finalized their contracts, your opinion of them would most likely not be too different from what you are expressing about our current guest.”

“I suppose, but still …” Margaret was hesitant to say more.

Instead of waiting for Margaret to try to regain her bearings, Igor told her, “It is best not to judge too quickly.” Igor advised his assistant, “You should wait and see how things play out. Our guest was given the ability of the ‘Wild Card’ for a reason. It is not an ability anyone is given. I’m sure things will become clearer to all of us when the time is right. It always has before. I’m certain it will again. For the time being, I hope you will fulfill your duties as my assistant despite how you currently feel about our guest.”

Margaret nodded, “Of course sir. I will fulfill my task.”

That was enough to please Igor as he replied, “Good. That is all I ask of you.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Train on the way to Inaba

As Rei’s consciousness returned to the world, she could faintly hear the wheels of the train run along the tracks and the steady rocking of the car she was in. It caused her head to shake a little which resulted in her snapping out of her sleep spell. She opened her eyes slowly only to be greeted with the rays of sunlight from a sun that was on its way down. No sooner had she opened her eyes, she raised her right hand to shield them from the glare.

Rei squinted as she thought, “I should’ve done a better job picking my seat.” After she sat up and rubbed her eyes, her vision became clear again.

After Rei’s vision was back to normal, the next thing that came to mind was, “What was I just dreaming about? It felt important.” As soon as Rei woke up, she had no recollection of what had happened to her while she slept. She only had fragmented memories of what happened.

Rei rubbed her temple with her right hand as she thought, “What was I dreaming about? I can sort of remember fighting someone, but that’s it.” Rei then sighed, “It must’ve been about one of those times I pulled those vigilante stunts or something. Although was I using a sword in my dream? If I was, maybe I was dreaming of someone I beat up trying to get even with me or something.” Rei continued to ponder over the dream that she could only recall extremely vague details about, but it was not becoming any clearer. “I don’t think I’ve ever been haunted by a vigilante type dream before though. Could this have been something else or …”

Before Rei could finish that thought, she suddenly felt a splitting headache. It felt as if someone had taken a knife and decided to cut her brain like it was a piece of steak. Rei grabbed her head with both of her hands in a futile attempt to ease the pain.

Even though there were only a few people on the train, she did her best to not draw attention to herself. She kept her voice down as she groaned, “Grrh! Damn! My head!”

It only took a few moments for the splitting headache to disappear as fast as it came. Rei continued to rub her head with her right hand as she thought, “What the hell was that? I haven’t had any problems with headaches before and now I’m suddenly getting strange headaches?”

Rei suddenly heard a voice from the train speaker telling the remaining passengers they were about to arrive at Yasoinaba Station soon. All Rei could do is sigh as she said to herself, “I guess I can just worry about this later. It’s almost time to arrive at Inaba.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Dojima Household

It was a quiet day at the Dojima household. Dojima Ryotaro and his daughter Nanako were watching the news. It was providing information regarding the Yamano scandal when Ryotaro checked his watch and turned off the TV.

When he turned off the TV, Nanako looked at her father, and he told her, “We should get going Nanako. Your cousin’s train will be arriving soon, and I want us to be there ahead of her, so she won’t be stuck waiting.”

Nanako nervously replied, “Okay.”

That nervousness did not go unnoticed by Ryotaro who asked, “Is there something wrong Nanako?”

“…” Nanako did not seem sure of what to say.

“You can talk to me Nanako. I’m your father after all.” When Ryotaro spoke these words, it seemed like Ryotaro needed to remind his daughter of this fact.

“…” After a moment of silence and softly biting her lip, Nanako reluctantly asked, “Do you think she’ll be nice?”

Ryotaro raised his eyebrow. “Are you that nervous about meeting your cousin?”

Nanako answered. “A little.” While a part of her might have felt excited about having someone new in their house, the part of her that was nervous and scared of the change was starting to dominate her actions.

“I see.” Ryotaro admitted, “I had a feeling that the idea of a stranger moving in might seem scary to you even if she’s a relative.”

“…” Once again Nanako was silent.

“Anyway, it has been a long time since I’ve seen her, but I’m sure she’s a good kid.” Ryotaro tried to grin as he attempted to sound reassuring, “From what I heard she was the top of her class last year. She might be someone who could tutor you if you have trouble with your work.” It seemed like Ryotaro was attempting to sell the idea to her.

Nanako could only say, “Maybe.”

“Well you can always think of it this way.” While Ryotaro was not the best at sounding enthusiastic after the passing of wife, he was doing the best he could to summon what enthusiasm he had. “For the next year, we’ll have another person as part of the household and someone else you can talk to. I’m sure she’ll be glad to talk to you.”

“…” Nanako did not entirely seem to believe that.

After seeing his daughter’s lack of reaction, all Ryotaro could do was sigh and tell her, “Well there really isn’t any point in worrying about it now. Let’s try to give her a chance before we jump to any conclusions. We could be pleasantly surprised if we give things a try.” He asked in a hopeful voice, “How does that sound?”

Nanako was still feeing reluctant. “Okay. I’ll try.”

Ryotaro felt relieved to hear that. “That’s what I wanted to hear. Anyway, let’s get going. Your cousin’s train should be arriving in less than a half hour. Do you need to go to the bathroom before we go?”

Nanako replied, “I don’t think so.”

“Okay. Let’s get moving.” The two of them immediately walked out and locked the door.

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Bus Heading towards Central Shopping District

While Rei’s uncle and cousin drove past the Central Shopping district on their way to pick her up at the train station, they passed by one Konishi Saki, who was returning home form a day at Junes. She was taking the local public bus, and her destination was the northern part of the Central Shopping District, where her family owned a liquor store.

It had been a long day for her at Junes today. It annoyed her even more that this was the last day of spring break, which she had to use working there. Luckily for Saki, her friends Hatsumi and Kimiko were there to keep her company on her way home.

Saki sat at the back of the bus, closed her eyes, and sighed.

Hatsumi asked, “Did you have another tough day at Junes?”

“Yeah.” Saki’s voice was devoid of any enthusiasm or life as she told her friend, “Not only was it crazy there like always, but Hanamura kept bugging me again.”

Kimiko asked, “You mean the manager’s son right?”

“That’s right.” Saki’s voice sounded quite agitated as she rubbed the side of her head with her left hand, “He keeps hitting on me, and it really gets on my nerves.”

“I always did think he was a little creepy.” Hatsumi’s voice sounded disgusted as she made her opinion of Hanamura clear, “Ever since he and his family moved here last year, things have really gone downhill in Inaba.”

“…” Kimiko remained silent on this subject.

“I know right. My family’s liquor store was probably hit the hardest.” Saki groaned as closed her eyes and told her friends, “Ironically, that’s why I’m even working for Junes in the first place.” She groaned again, “This totally sucks.”

Hatsumi decided to bring up, “You know. Speaking of transfer students, I heard we’re supposed to get a new transfer student that’ll be in the same year as Hanamura.”

Saki eyes shot open as she replied, “I think I heard something like that too. Do you know what the transfer student’s gender is?”

“Hmm.” Hatsumi tried to think about what she heard, but she could not remember if anyone made the clarification. “I think it’s supposed to be a girl, but I’m not too sure.”

Saki could not help but sigh, “Well whatever this student’s gender is, here’s hoping this student won’t be a disappointment like Hanamura was six months ago.”

Hatsumi agreed, “You can say that again.”

“Or better yet. Maybe this new transfer student can distract Hanamura, and he won’t even think about me.” Saki sounded excited as she said, “That would be great.”

Kimiko who had remained silent for the past few moments decided she had enough of being quiet as she spoke up. “You know. You really like to say a lot of bad things about Hanamura, but it sounds like you’re really just using him as a scapegoat sometimes.”

Both Hatsumi and Saki looked at their friend and responded, “What?”

“Is it really Hanumra’s fault that you’re having these problems?” Before either of her friends could speak up, Kimiko told them, “It’s not like it’s his fault that someone decided to build a Junes. Last I checked, he’s younger than us.”

“…” Neither Saki nor Hatsumi could think of a response to that.

“Not to mention, didn’t Hanamura get you the job in the first place because you asked him?” Kimiko pointed out, “It sounds to me like he did you a favor.”

“I did, but that doesn’t give him an excuse to keep hitting on me.” Saki’s voice was mixed with annoyance and disgust.

“No, but have you actually told me that you don’t like him?” Kimiko asked as she narrowed her eyes at Saki.

“Why should I have to tell him?” Saki defensively asked, “You want me to risk my job?”

“A job you hate?” Kimiko remarked.

“…” Saki could not think of an appropriate response.

“Hey Kimiko.” Hatsumi tried to calmly come between Kimiko and Saki as she told her friend, “Try to understand Saki’s position here. It’s kind of awkward if you really think about it. Her parents can’t afford to pay her to work at their store, and Junes is pretty much the best employment available right now. Cut her some slack.”

“I’m not saying she isn’t in an awkward position, but it doesn’t make what she’s doing right either.” Kimiko turned to Saki and told her, “If you don’t tell him, he’s going to keep thinking he has a chance with you, especially since you don’t exactly do a good job rejecting him. I’ve seen how he acts with you. He actually acts pretty nice with you. He may not exactly be a ‘gentleman,’ but he isn’t as bad as you make him out to be sometimes.”

Saki gripped her hands and coldly told her friend, “You’re not around him all the time.”

“Maybe not, but do you really dislike Hanamura because he bugs you or is it because you blame his family and Junes for your problems, and he’s just an easier target for your issues?” Kimiko asked her friend another piercing question.

“Well I …” Once again Saki was not sure what to say as she tried to come up with something.

Before Saki could come up with an excuse Kimiko cut her off. “No. I want you to give me a straight answer. I don’t think you’re being very fair to him. If he really bothers you that much, you have to actually try telling him that. It sounds like you’re just stringing him along, and that doesn’t sound right. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Saki glared at her friend and gritted her teeth. “I thought you were supposed to be my friend.”

“I am your friend, but I’m not going to let you try to play out this pity game of yours, especially when it’s partly your fault in the first place.” Kimiko angrily told Saki.

That last part was enough to raise Hatsumi’s eyebrows. She could see that both of her friends were exchanging glares at each other, and she was not sure what she could do. As far as she could tell, there was nothing she could do or say without making things worse. She felt that she needed to let this situation play out for better or worse.

///

Luckily for the three friends, the bus stop for the Central Shopping district came up soon. This brought an end to the awkward and tense situation between Kimiko and Saki as Saki left the bus and went her separate way from her friends. As Saki walked through the Central Shopping district, she passed by the Tofu shop her brother occasionally visited. A different customer was making her way into the shop at the moment.

Sakoto was busy tending the shop as she heard a new customer come in. She recognized this customer instantly since she has been a loyal customer for years ever since the girl was a small child. It warmed Sakoto’s heart to see this old customer come in.

“Oh hello Michiko-chan.” Sakoto warmly welcomed her customer as she said, “It’s been a while. How have you been?”

Michiko scratched the back of her head as she groaned, “I’m stressed out as usual.”

“The new school year starts for you tomorrow right?” Sakoto remarked, “I’d imagine that would be stressful.”

“That’s right. I already had to deal with a whole lot of students over the Spring Break who got injured during their training. I’m sure that number will at least double after this year begins.” Michiko put her arm on the counter as she complained, “I can guarantee you that even though the first day is short, I’m going to get at least one student in this office.”

Sakoto chuckled as she reminded her longtime customer, “That’s what happens when you choose being a school nurse as your profession.”

“Yeah I know, but sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice in my career path.” Michiko was rubbing her forehead in frustration as she told Sakoto.

“I understand things can be frustrating sometimes.” Sakoto confessed, “There’re times when I wondered if I made the right choice to continue my family’s Tofu Shop. However, I came to really enjoy being here. I can’t picture running any other business than this one.”

Michiko remarked, “I’m glad that happened for you, but I’m not sure if I’ll be that lucky. Being a nurse and running a business is like comparing apples and oranges after all.”

Sakoto asked, “That’s true, but why do you think you won’t be so lucky?”

“When I first choose nursing, I had a goal in mind, and now that goal is gone. I still have my job of course, and I’ve helped a number of people, but I feel like I’ve lost my core reason for being a nurse.” Michiko held her hand and stared at it as if she expected to see something else there. “It’s just gone.”

It did not take Sakoto long to know what Michiko was talking about. “I see. I can certainly understand that. Is there anything I can do to …?”

Michiko did not let Sakoto finish her sentence as she interrupted her, “I’m sorry Sakoto-san, but can we please stop talking about that. I would rather not talk about this anymore.”

After a moment of silence, Sakoto replied, “Okay. That’s fine.”

Michiko stated, “Although, one thing I will say is that the school is assigning me a few nurse aids this year.”

“A nurse aid?” Sakoto seemed mildly interested.

“These people are more or less my assistants.” Michiko told Sakoto. “He or she have to do everything I say, but I would obviously do the big things on my own.” There seemed to be a sense of relief in Michiko’s voice since this would help lighten her work load.

Sakoto asked, “Do you know who these people are?”

“I only know the main one. I have it written down somewhere.” Michiko pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and read it. “His name is Konishi Naoki.”

Sakoto’s face lit up after hearing that name, “Oh! Naoki-san is going to be your assistant? You’re in luck.”

Michiko was surprised by Sakoto’s reaction. “Yeah. You know him?”

“Of course.” Sakoto happily told her longtime customer, “Naoki-san is a good boy. He’s been a good customer to me for the past few years.”

Michiko did not share Sakoto’s enthusiasm as she replied, “Yeah. Whether that’s the case or not isn’t really relevant. I’m aware of his family situation, and it’s not pretty.”

The enthusiasm that Sakoto had been displaying dropped from her face as she asked, “Are you talking about the fact his father and sister are at odds with each other?”

Michiko dryly remarked, “What else could I be talking about?”

There was a narrowing crease in Sakoto’s forehead as she asked, “Why should it be problem if his sister works at Junes?”

Michiko became defensive as she replied, “It’s not that. I wish that really was the only problem. It’s the fact his father’s practically publicized the issue throughout the Central Shopping District. I wouldn’t be surprised if almost everyone in town know about this.”

Sakoto sighed, “I wouldn’t be surprised either. However, I don’t see why that should cause you to dislike Naoki-san. He’s a good kid.”

“I have nothing against him.” Michiko sounded exasperated, “It’s a matter of association. Having him in the office might cause me problems too.”

Sakoto asked, “What do you mean?”

“People will gossip around the office and that could cause a lot of unnecessary distractions when I’m trying to do my job.” Michiko put a hand on her forehead as she commented, “It’s going to be a hassle.”

“Is that what you’re worried about?” While Sakoto was doing her best to remain polite, she did make it clear she was not pleased by Michiko’s attitude. “Has it ever occurred to you that you could help Naoki-san too?”

“I doubt I could even do that if I wanted to.” Michiko dismissively replied, “I’m not really capable of doing something like that. After all, I don’t exactly have any power over what his father says or what other people say about his family.”

“There are other things that you can do besides that.” Sakoto could not help but be disappointed in Michiko as she thought, “You’ve changed too much since I first met you Michiko-chan. You used to be more hopeful and willing to help others. Now you’re only a shadow of what you used to be.”

Michiko realized that this was getting rather unpleasant again. It was starting to give her a headache before she said, “Anyway, I’d rather talk about something else again if you don’t mind. I really shouldn’t have brought this up.”

With reluctance, Sakoto replied, “I’m fine with that Michiko-chan.” Sakoto decided to take the initiative to starting the next topic of conversation. “Have you heard from Sayoko-chan recently? It’s been a while since she’s come to my shop.”

Michiko answered, “She’s still working night shifts at the hospital.”

“No wonder I haven’t seen her around lately.” Sakoto replied, “She must be exhausted.”

“Ha! I wouldn’t call everything she does during that shift work.” With a sly tone, Michiko told Sakoto, “I think she flirts more with some of the janitor and patients than doing actual work.”

Sakoto was taken aback by that. “Really?”

“That’s what I heard.” Michiko stated, “Based on some of the things I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure it’s true.”

“That’s a real shame.” Sakoto thought, “Yet another girl with promise fading away. I feel kind of helpless.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Oshiro Masa and Kikuchi Taiki’s Apartment

Oshiro Masa and Kikuchi Taiki were students who would be entering their third year in Yasogami High School. They had grown up together in the same orphanage, and grew up as close as brothers. Even though they did not share any blood, they did have some similar physical characteristics, such as their black eyes and hair. However, Taiki was about a head taller than Masa. He could probably rank as one if not the tallest student in the school which would be more than intimidating for some students.

Taiki lied on his bed staring at the ceiling as he asked, “Since Yumi’s gone, do you think we’ll have as much luck getting people to join our club?”

Masa sighed, “I don’t know. She may have been a first year last year, but she was a valuable asset in attracting people in her grade. She was pretty dedicated to the club. Losing her will probably be a major blow.”

“I feel kind of bad for her.” Taiki rubbed his forehead as he commented, “It must be tough losing her father like that.”

“Yeah. I’m sure seeing her father in the hospital all those times would probably have done a number on her.” Masa stated, “However, I personally feel more mixed about her.”

Taiki looked over to his friend as he asked, “Why’s that?”

“I get that she and her father had problems, and a lot of things were probably going through her head as her father was dying. However, she complained a lot by saying things like, ‘Why me?’” Masa imitated Yumi’s voice in an annoyed tone, “For a while, she seemed to be thinking more about herself than her father.”

“If what I heard was true, her father did abandon her and only really tried to reconnect when he was dying.” Taiki felt more sympathetic for Yumi than his friend did. “I’m sure that caused a lot of problems for her.”

“I’m not saying that wasn’t the case. However, instead of complaining about it, she could have tried talking to us. She wanted us to pity her rather than asking us to help her.” The more Masa kept talking about it the more annoyed he felt as he gritted his teeth and said, “Even when I tried to help her, she didn’t try to listen to anything I had to say.”

“She did end up listening to you eventually.” Taiki reminded his friend.

“Yeah. It took me forever to get it through her head to stop complaining because she actually has a father to say goodbye to and make peace with.” Masa gritted his teeth as he told his friend, “That’s a luxury neither of us ever had.”

“…” Taiki had no words to respond to that.

It did not take Masa long to realize he probably should have chosen his words better as he said, “… I’m sorry Taiki. This just pisses me off when I think about it sometimes. Whenever someone keeps complaining about their father. It makes me wish I had a luxury like that. Hearing people talk like that almost makes me want to puke.”

“I’d like that chance too you know. Being able to say goodbye to your father.” Taiki cast his eyes downwards as he corrected himself, “Being able to talk to your father at all would be a blessing, but wishing for something won’t make it happen. You of all people know that.”

“…” Masa hesitantly replied, “I do. I really do.”

Taiki stated, “Anyway, I think she did the right thing about her father in the end right?”

“I guess so.” Masa admitted, “She did seem to make peace with him before it was too late. That’s probably what’s more important.”

Taiki tried to seem hopeful as he said, “I hope wherever she moved to will help make her happier and move on with her life.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine.” Masa then stated, “Anyway, if you don’t mind, we need to get back to what we were talking about. We need to focus on getting more group members to maintain our club. It’s not really going to matter if we can’t keep it going.”

“Right.” Taiki pulled out a sheet listing the members they still had before the end of the previous year. “Anyway, I’m sure we can maintain the current members in our group without any problems.”

“Maybe, but we’ll need more members to ensure that our group will continue after we’re gone. We’ll especially need more female members to pull that off.” Masa commented, “We can’t have too many guys playing female roles.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Yasoinaba Station

Rei’s long journey to Inaba finally came to an end. She immediately got off the train station to see that compared to the big city of Kyoto, there was not much there. Inaba appeared to be a quiet suburb with a fair number of buildings surrounding the area, but it was not congested. Rei could see the surrounding area much easier than in Kyoto. She could see there were several mountain ranges nearby, along with rivers, and she thought she saw a mini-area that allowed for gardening and farming.

The dream that Rei had been trying to remember a few minutes ago was no longer a thought in her head as she took in her surroundings. When Rei saw this, she could not help but smile as she said out loud. “Not bad. Not bad at all.”

Rei began walking without really paying attention to what she doing until she accidentally bumped into a girl with short dark hair who appeared to be the same age as her. The sudden impact caused Rei to accidentally drop some of her luggage.

Before trying to pick up her stuff, she immediately told the girl, “I’m so sorry for that.”

The girl looked up to Rei and told her, “Its fine. Don’t worry about it.” The girl then looked toward the ground and saw it was littered by some of Rei’s belongings. She remarked, “I see that I caused you to drop a few things. I’ll help you.”

Rei began to say, “It’s okay I’ll …” Before she finished, she saw that Marie had bent down to begin helping her. Rei quickly changed her tone, “Well thank you very much.”

“It’s not a problem for me.” Marie nonchalantly replied.

Marie noticed Rei’s backpack was partly open and there appeared to be a few things inside it. Curiosity got the better at Marie as she reached out for it to get a better look. If she opened it up, she would see not only the gifts Rei bought for her family but her vigilante attire.

Before Marie could open the bag, Rei grabbed the bag before Marie could grab the zipper. “As much as I appreciate your help, could you not do that?” To Rei relief, the girl did not have a chance to unzip the bag entirely, so she did not see what was inside it. Rei immediately zipped the bag to make sure she would not get another chance to see what was inside it.

The girl looked down to the ground and sheepishly replied, “Sorry. I was curious.”

Rei remarked, “Well try not to let curiosity get the better of you. Some people don’t like that.”

Apparently the girl ignored the last thing Rei said as the girl pointed at Rei’s page and asked, “What’s in the bag?”

“What?” Rei asked in flabbergasted tone, “I’m not telling you that. I just said not to let curiosity get the better of you.”

“…” The girl remained silent.

Rei sighed as she told the girl, “Anyway, I really do appreciate you helping me. My name’s Narukami Rei. Do you mind telling me yours?”

The girl answered, “My name is Marie.”

“Hmm. Just Marie?” After getting a better look at the girl next to her, Rei could not help but wonder, “Is she supposed to be foreigner or something? She does seem kind of familiar for some reason, but I can’t really put my finger on it.”

While Rei was lost in her thoughts, Marie asked her, “Something wrong?”

“Huh?” That was enough to bring Rei back to reality.

“You’re staring at me weirdly.” Marie’s eyes were narrowed at Rei as she asked, “Is there something on my face?”

“Oh no. Sorry about that Marie.” Rei replied sheepishly. “I was just thinking about something else. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you Marie.”

Marie’s expression appeared to soften up. “It’s nice to meet you as well.”

Rei then noticed the time on her watch and said, “Anyway, I need to get going. My Uncle and cousin are here to pick me up.”

Marie shrugged her shoulders, “It’s all right. I’m sure we’ll run into each other again. Inaba is a pretty small place after all.”

“Um. Sure I guess.” Rei got up to her feet and made sure all of her belongings were in her possession before looking back at the girl who helped her, “See you around.”

When Rei was no longer within hearing range of Marie’s words, Marie said, “I’m sure we’ll see each other soon enough.”

“Something seemed a little off about her, but she seemed okay.” Rei then thought, “I bet she probably thought something was off with me too. Plus she did help me with my stuff. I guess I can think of worse people to meet when you first arrive in a new town.”

After existing, Rei held out a picture and looked at the people in front of her, “I guess that’s them.” They appeared to notice her as well, and she saw them calling out to her.

///

The Dojimas arrived at the train station with only about a minute to spare before Rei’s train arrived. Ryotaro was relieved that at the very least he would not have to start things off on the wrong foot with his niece by being late to pick her up. If his niece was anything like her mother, she would give him hell.

Within a few minutes of their arrival, they saw a girl with long silver hair tied in a ponytail exit out of the train station. It was not hard for Ryotaro to identity the girl as his niece. It took only a few moments for his eyes to meet the girl’s. The girl appeared to know who he was as well since she was heading straight for them.

As Rei was walking over to them, Ryotaro looked down to his daughter. “It looks like that’s her.”

“Wow! She really does have silver hair!” Nanako said in amazement.

Even though Ryotaro was aware of Rei’s silver hair, it was still a surprise to actually see she really did have silver hair. “I can see that. However, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to ask her any questions about it. It would be rude to do that.”

Nanako looked up to her father in confusion, “Why not?” She appeared to be disappointed that she could not ask her cousin any questions about her hair.

It was times like this that served as a reminder to Ryotaro that despite his daughter’s high level of maturity, she was still a child. He informed his daughter, “It is rude to ask someone you don’t know something personal about their appearance. It can still be rude even if you do know the person. Just try to be on your best behavior.”

“I already told you I’d do that daddy.” Nanako indignantly responded.

Ryotaro nodded, “Good.”

After the silver haired girl was in front of them, she stopped and said, “Hello. You’re the Dojimas right?” Before Nanako or Ryotaro could respond, Rei held out the picture, “I recognized you from this picture my mother gave me.”

Ryotaro could not help but chuckle a little as he told his niece, “I see you have a good eye.”

It seemed like Rei started things off on a decent note. Rei could not help but smile as she greeted them, “My name is Narukami Rei. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Rei respectfully bows.

Ryotaro and Nanako were pleasantly surprised by Rei’s formal greeting. It certainly caught Ryotaro off guard, but he seemed pleased by it nevertheless. Nanako did not seem to be sure what to make out of it as she continued to hide behind her father.

After Rei was standing straight, Ryotaro replied, “The pleasure is ours. It’s a pleasure to meet you again Rei.” Ryotaro returned Rei’s bow with one of his own, and his daughter followed his example.

When Ryotaro was standing straight, Rei awkwardly replied, “I don’t want to seem rude, but have we actually met before?” Rei sheepishly scratched her head as she sheepishly replied, “If we did, I’m sorry, but I don’t remember.”

Ryotaro answered, “There’s no need to worry about that. You wouldn’t remember me. The last time I saw you, you were still in diapers It’s amazing how much you’ve grown up.” Ryotaro could not help but awkwardly chuckle at what he said.

“…” There was nothing Rei could say to that remark. All Rei and Nanako could do was look at the man without saying a word.

Ryotaro noticed the awkward looks he was getting as he thought, “Okay. Probably not the best way to start things off.” He tried to stir the conversation differently as he said, “Anyway, as you probably know, my name is Dojima Ryotaro, and this is my daughter Nanako.”

Nanako continued to hide behind her father. She was clearly nervous of the newcomer standing before her. Ryotaro softly put his hand on his daughter’s head as he told her, “Come on Nanako be nice. Say hello to your cousin.”

After some urging by her father, Nanako peered pass her father and nervously said, “Hello.”

Seeing his daughter act so nervous caused Ryotaro to chuckle again as he told Rei, “Don’t mind my daughter. She gets nervous around strangers.” Nanako smacked Ryotaro from behind in response to his remark much to Rei and Ryotaro’s amusement at her childish reaction.

“I don’t mind. Can’t say I blame her. I’d probably be nervous myself if I was her.” Rei walked closer and got down on her knees so she could be on Nanako’s level as she told her, “Hello Nanako. It’s a pleasure to meet you. As I said before, my name is Rei.”

Rei’s cheerful voice was enough to put Nanako at ease along the fact Rei was on her knees, so they could be on eye level with each other. Nanako walked out from behind Ryotaro to give a more appropriate greeting as she bowed again, “Hello Narukami-san.”

Rei chuckled as she told Nanako, “You don’t have to be too formal with me Nanako. You can call me Rei since we’re family, and I hope we can get along.”

“Okay Rei-san.” Nanako seemed a little happier.

Before Rei forgot, she decided this would be the best time for her to show this to the family that would be taking her in. “Anyway, I brought you a gift.”

The word ‘gift’ was enough to perk up Nanako’s ears as she asked, “A gift?”

Rei quickly pulled something out of one of her backpack zippers. It was a boxed covered in wrapping paper. “You can open it now if you want.”

Before Nanako could start tearing into the wrapping paper, Ryotaro chimed in, “Maybe it would be better to do that when we’re in the car.”

Nanako immediately voiced her disappointment, “Aww!”

Rei immediately agreed, “That sounds like a smart idea to me.”

///

After they were in the car, Nanako eagerly unwrapped her present. She was pleasantly surprised by the gift that was inside. “A cosplay outfit for Loveline?”

“It looks like I might have struck gold on that.” Rei told her young cousin, “I heard that the franchise has become quite poplar recently, especially for girls your age.”

Nanako replied in an ecstatic voice, “Thank you so much!”

“You’re welcome.” Rei then turned her attention to Ryotaro who was in the driver’s seat. He did not start driving the car yet which gave Rei the opportunity she needed. “Don’t worry Uncle Dojima. I haven’t forgotten you.”

“You bought a gift for me too?” Ryotaro clearly did not expect to be receiving a gift as well.

“Of course I did.” Rei replied, “You’re letting me stay at your house. It’s only natural that I should give you a present.”

Rei handed Ryotaro a wrapped box which Ryotaro carefully unwrapped. While Ryotaro was not nearly as enthusiastic about opening his present as Nanako, he still seemed to be happy to be getting on. When he was finished unwrapping, Ryotaro opened up the box to see there was a brand new neck tie.

No sooner had Ryotaro laid eyes on his gift, Rei told her uncle, “I’m sorry if it’s a bit of a letdown after Nanako’s gift, but I figured you could use a new tie since you’re a detective and everything.” Rei was a little nervous as she scratched the back of her head. “I wasn’t sure what else I could get you.”

Ryotaro hurriedly told his niece, “No. No. Don’t be sorry.” Ryotaro tried to sound as reassuring as he could as he told Rei, “I’m grateful you bought this for me. Thank you.”

“No. Thank you for letting me stay.” Rei smiled as she told her new guardian, “I look forward to getting to know you both. Maybe the next time I get you gifts, I can get you both something better.”

Ryotaro replied, “You don’t have to worry about that, but thank you for your gifts.” Ryotaro was pleasantly surprised by how well this first meeting with Rei was going. There were quite a few things going on through Ryotaro’s head which was only natural given his profession as a detective. Ryotaro continued looking at his tie as he thought, “She seems sincere. This is going a lot better than I hoped it would. She seems much different than her mouther which is definitely a good thing, but I don’t know. Could this just be a show?”

Rei asked in a concerned voice, “Is there something wrong Uncle Dojima?”

Hearing Rei’s voice brought Ryotaro out of his thoughts as he replied in a surprised tone, “Oh. It’s nothing serious. I was just thinking about something.”

“It seems like we both like to think a lot.” Rei asked, “Is it a case you’re working on?”

Ryotaro replied, “Something like that. Anyway, we should get going.” He then put his keys in the ignition to start the car.

///

Date: April 11th, 2011 – Afternoon
Location: Inaba – Amagi Inn

As Rei and the Dojima’s made their way through Inaba, there were troubles already brewing within the quiet suburb. It had been a long day for the workers of the Amagi Inn. Some of the workers were getting ready to take a break when one of them walked into the kitchen area. The employee Haruto appeared to be desperately looking for something or someone as he approached his fellow workers, Jirou, and Rokuro.

As Jirou and Rokuro were about to eat a snack, Haruto interrupted them, “Sorry guys, but has anyone seen Yamano-san? She hasn’t been in her room for a while.”

“She’s still our guest?” Jirou appeared more surprised that Yamano was still listed as their guest. He was rather disinterested in the woman herself, as he said, “I was hoping she finally checked out. I haven’t heard any of her crap lately, so I thought she finally moved on.”

Haruto sighed, “Unfortunately, no. She’s still checked into that room of hers, but she hasn’t been back in a while.” The worker had a concerned expression on his face as he said, “I wonder if something happened to her.”

Jirou shrugged, “Why should we care? That woman’s been a real pain in the ass. She even caused Amagi-san to become sick. She can get bent for all I care.”

This time it was Rokuro’s turn to contribute to the conversation as he pointed out, “Regardless of how terrible a guest she was, she’s still a patron of the Amagi Inn, and we need to make sure everything is fine.” Before Jirou could say anything Rokuro turned to Haruto and asked, “Do you think it might be a good idea to call someone?”

“That’d be a good idea. The last thing we need is for something to happen to her and we have it be reported that we didn’t notice something’s wrong or worse we noticed something was wrong but kept quiet. That could really harm this Inn’s reputation.” Haruto shivered at the thought.

“We wouldn’t want there to be more problems for the Amagis than there already are. I’ll inform Amagi-san and her daughter about this matter.” Rokuro ordered the other two, “You two may tell the rest of the staff about this and make sure Yamano-san isn’t in the building somewhere. We also wouldn’t want to be responsible for a false alarm either.”

Jirou reluctantly replied, “Very well. Haruto and I will start rounding up some of the free staff to search the building. If she’s here, we’ll find her.”

After conducting another search, it did not take long for the hotel staff to reach the conclusion that Yamano was nowhere to be found. No one had claimed to have seen Yamano actually leave and check out of the Inn. As far as anyone could tell, she did not appear to be in any of the nearby stores or restaurants either. They were at a loss of where she could be. Ultimately, they decided to bring this matter up with the police.

///

Date: April 11th, 2011 – Afternoon
Location: Inaba – Central Shopping District

As Ryotaro drove the car, Rei and Nanako sat next to each other in the backseat. While Nanako could not take her eyes off of Rei’s hair, Rei kept gazing out of the car window. Rei kept an eye out for certain things they passed by, such as public baths. She made sure to make a mental note regarding them.

Before her father could ask any questions, Nanako asked, “I was wondering. Why is your hair silver Narukami-san?” As soon as Nanako asked that question, Rei stopped looking out the window and immediately looked in her cousin’s direction.

Ryotaro scolded, “Nanako!”

“Sorry!” Nanako said in a panicked voice. Nanako immediately realized her mistake, but even she knew she could not take it back. It was out in the open.

“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by this. Oh well.” Rei sighed before reassuring her cousin and uncle. “It’s okay. I’d like to give you an answer to that, but I really don’t know. I was born like this.”

“You were born with silver hair?” Since Nanako heard Rei say it was ‘okay,’ she took it as a sign that she could ask her any question she wanted about Rei’s hair.

Rei nodded, “That’s right.”

Nanako commented, “I didn’t think anyone could be born with silver hair.”

“I guess I’m proof people can be.” Rei chuckled, “I guess I’m one of the gifted few.”

Even though Ryotaro was paying attention to the road in front of him, he could tell that this topic was not Rei’s favorite as he asked, “Anyway, how was the train ride Rei?”

“More like train rides.” Rei groaned, “I had to keep transferring from one to another. It was pretty exhausting. I couldn’t wait until I made the final transfer, so I could finally get some sleep. I’m not looking forward to doing that again next year.”

“I could imagine.” Ryotaro related to his niece, “I was never a big fan of taking long train rides either. I could never get used to them.”

Rei asked, “Did you use to take the train a lot when you were my age?”

“Sometimes.” Ryotaro replied, “I would use them to get to Okina City. Luckily those rides didn’t take too long.”

That was a place Rei never heard of before. “Where’s Okina City?”

“It’s a city that’s not too far from here. The train ride doesn’t take too long. A lot of kids in Inaba like going there to go shopping and hang out.” Ryotaro suggested, “While you’re here, you should try checking it out.”

Rei seemed mildly interested as she replied, “Well if you think it’s so great, I guess I could check it out.”

Nanako was feeling a little left out of the conversation as she was trying to keep up with it, but she was also rather excited about the present that Rei had given her. She wanted to try it on when she could. Ryotaro was having a difficult time coming up with something else to say to his teenage niece. It did not take him long to run out of ideas.

Ryotaro glanced over to his daughter before refocusing on the road in front of him, “I wonder if it’ll be that difficult to come up with something to say when Nanako gets to be this age.”

Luckily for Ryotaro, they were close to a gas station, so the next words out of his mouth were, “Do you mind if we stop for a minute?”

“I don’t mind.” Rei felt a need to get her body moving, “I could use another chance to stretch my legs anyway.”

///

After they arrived at the gas station, Nanako decided to go use the bathroom while Ryotaro walked away, so he could smoke a cigarette. Rei could not help but shake her head at her Uncle’s habit as she stood outside of the car while the gas attendant filled the tank. Rei continued to stretch her arms until the gas attendant called out to her.

She heard the gas attendant ask, “Have you worked any part-time jobs before?”

When Rei looked at the gas attendant, she noticed that she had a rather unique appearance. The first thing that popped into Rei’s head was, “Does she have silver hair like me?”

The gas station attendant indeed had long silvery, gray hair similar to Rei along with light brownish, red eyes, and pale skin. Rei was taken aback by the fact someone else apparently had silver hair besides her. The next thing Rei thought was, “Is that hair natural like mine or is it dyed?” There was a sense of hope within Rei that it was the former.

As Rei was lost in thought, the gas station attendant ask, “Hey did you hear me?”

“Umm sorry.” Rei sheepishly replied, “I actually just quit working at this bakery before I left Kyoto. I had to quit since I’ll be living here for about a year.”

“Oh really?” The female gas station attendant seemed mildly interested as she asked, “Did you like working there?”

“You bet I did.” Rei happily told the stranger, “The owner was a nice lady who told me she’d be happy to rehire me when I come back to Kyoto.”

The nameless gas station attendant smiled as she said, “You must be a hard worker. We could use someone like you if you’re interested.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I’m not really looking for any part-time work right now.” Rei backed up a little as she said, “I really do appreciate the offer, but I’d like to get used to Inaba and my new school before I get a new job.”

“It’s not a problem. I understand.” The gas station attendant continued to sound friendly as she said, “I was new here once, and I wanted to get the feel of the place too. It didn’t take too long for me, so I don’t think it’ll take you long either.”

Rei asked, “How long have you been here in Inaba?”

“Long enough to know if someone who comes to the gas station is a newcomer or not.” The girl explained, “Over the past few weeks, two different guys stopped by here, and I could tell they were new here just by looking at them.”

Rei skeptically asked, “Seriously?”

The girl confirmed, “Seriously.”

Rei could tell this Gas Attendant was not kidding. “Is Inaba that small that you could tell that?”

“Not quite.” The Gas Station Attendant explained, “I could tell by a feeling or a vibe I got from looking at them. Sometimes you can tell someone is an outsider by the aura they give.”

Rei asked, “Is that so?”

The Gas Station Attendant shrugged, “Yeah pretty much.”

“Hmm.” The Gas Station Attendant’s words made Rei curious, “So I’m giving off a similar aura right now?”

“More or less. Anyway, I hope you’ll give my offer some more thought after you get used to living here. You’ll see for yourself that you’ll be spending your time at school clubs, hanging out with friends, or working part-time jobs.” The girl sounded hopeful as she told Rei, “Be sure to keep that in mind.”

Rei replied, “I will.”

“Anyway, I’d like to formally welcome you to Inaba, and I hope you’ll enjoy your stay.” The girl held out her hand, “Inaba is a nice place after all.”

Rei smiled as she replied, “Thanks. I hope I will too.” As Rei shook the Gas station attendant’s hand, another car pulled into the gas station.

“Well I got to get back to work, or my boss will have my head. See you around.” The Gas Station Attendant went straight to the new car.

As Rei watched the attendant helping out another customer she thought, “She seemed a little strange, but she didn’t seem bad. Maybe I should consider that offer.”

Rei leaned up against the car as she saw Nanako emerge from the bathroom. As Rei began to move away from the car, she suddenly began to feel uneasy. It was difficult for her to describe. It felt like some kind of queasy feeling began to fill her stomach, and she had to lean agains the car to stop herself from falling to the ground. It also suddenly became a struggle for Rei to stay awake as she felt her eyelids become heavy.

As Nanako was walking to the car, she noticed Rei’s strange behavior and asked in a concerned voice, “Hey. Are you okay? You don’t look so good.”

Before answering Nanako’s question, Rei tried to shake off the feeling she was experiencing and keep herself awake. It seemed to be enough to keep herself from falling asleep, but it felt more like a quick fix. Rei thought, “I guess I might’ve jumped the gun when I said the train ride didn’t make me feel sick.”

Rei she tried to cover up how tired she was as she told her little cousin, “Yeah. I think I’m fine. I was just on those trains for too long.”

“Oh.” Nanako still seemed concerned despite Rei’s reassurances.

Ryotaro finally returned from his cigarette break to see his niece looking under the weather. “Hey! Are you okay?”

“I think I’m okay, I’m just …” Rei said the first thing that came to her mind, “I’m just feeling light headed.”

“That’s hardly surprising.” Ryotaro’s eyes were downcast for a moment, “You were on a pretty long trip.”

“Yeah.” She took a deep breath to try and make herself feel better, but the smell of gasoline was a less than pleasant sensation. It almost made her want to yack. “I think I just need some fresh air.”

Ryotaro suggested, “Would you like to take a few moments to walk and stretch your legs? The fresh air could do you some good.”

“I could definitely use some fresh air.” Rei thought, “I should try to get some distance from this gas station to. It stinks.”

“Don’t wander too far.” Ryotaro remarked, “I wouldn’t want to lose you on your first day.”

As Rei walked away, she replied, “Yeah. I wouldn’t want that.” Rei suddenly stopped and turned around to ask, “By the way, were are we?”

Ryotaro informed his niece, “We’re in the Central Shopping District, so it would be good for you to familiar yourself with it a little.”

As Rei began walking away, she thought, “Yeah. Becoming familiar with this place will be good for more than one reason.”

When Rei was no longer within earshot, Nanako said to her father, “She really does have silver hair. It’s so weird.”

Dojima looked down at his daughter and scolded her. “I told you before not to talk to her about her hair color.”

“I’m sorry daddy.” Nanako looked downward as she apologized, “I forgot.”

“Uggh.” Ryotaro groaned as he rubbed the top of his head and thought, “I guess it’s only natural she’d forget. She is still a kid after all.” He then said, “At least your cousin didn’t seem to mind being asked about it, so I guess it worked out, but try to remember the warnings I give you in the future.”

“I’ll try not to forget daddy.” There was a hint of shame in Nanako’s voice. “Still. Rei’s hair is beautiful but weird. She seems like a nice person, but it’s still strange.”

Ryotaro sternly told his daughter, “I understand that you’d feel that, but I’d suggest you keep your feelings about her hair to yourself. We wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

Nanako replied, “I will. I will.”

Even though Ryotaro had instructed his daughter to not concentrate on Rei’s hair color, a part of Ryotaro could not resist thinking about it himself. “I knew her hair would be ‘unusual.’ I saw what her hair looked like when she was a baby, but I never would have thought it would be like this. It’s completely silver. I wonder if it was because of how she was born.” After taking another moment to think about it, Ryotaro thought, “It’s probably best not to dwell on it.”

///

Rei decided to take her Uncle’s advice to check out the area without going too far. For a few minutes Rei walked around within close proximity to the gas station. While Rei noticed there were a few interesting buildings, such as the book store that was promoting its upcoming sale and the tofu shop, she also noticed more than a few rundown buildings that were closed. Rei overheard someone mention that the recently opened Junes was causing nothing but trouble. Rei did not try to wait around for people to bring up more details.

As Rei walked in the area, she heard one of the people ask someone, “Does that girl have silver hair?”

Rei put her hand through her hair as she thought, “I guess they’ll always be people who’re surprised by this. However, that gas attendant had hair like mine. Are they surprised more than one person has hair like this?” Rei sighed, “There’s probably no point in thinking about that.”

While she was walking, a girl with short dark hair caught Rei’s eye. Rei’s eyes widened, “Is that the girl I bumped into. How’d she get here so quickly? Does she know how to drive? Did she take the bus or something?” Rei felt tempted to talk to her again, but the girl appeared to be pondering something, and she did not look like she wanted to talk to anyone. “Maybe I should leave her alone for now. She seems to be busy with something.”

Before Rei walked back to the gas station, she decided that she wanted to check out the Tofu shop. Rei thought, “I don’t think Uncle Dojima would mind it if I get something quick to eat.”

As Rei walked through the open entrance, she was greeted by a kindly old lady. “Welcome to Marukyu Tofu.”

“Hello.” Rei quickly made her order, “I’d like one small order of tofu.”

“Certainly.” Despite her age, the kindly old woman was rather quick in getting Rei’s order. After Rei exchanged some yen for her order, the old woman respectfully bowed to her customer, “Thank you for your patronage.”

“I’m sure the pleasure will be all mine.” Rei smiled as she began to eat her order. “Mmm. This is good.”

“Thank you. I’m happy you’re enjoying it.” Despite how many years she had been doing this job, it always made the woman happy to hear they were enjoying her handiwork.

Rei happily reaffirmed her enjoyment of the snack, “I’m really enjoying it. If I didn’t have to get going, I’d order more.”

“I don’t want to seem rude, but are you new here?” Since the old woman had been living in Inaba almost her entire life, she had met or seen a majority of the residents who live in the town. The only times she has ever seen new faces has been when they are tourists or new residents.

Rei did not mind the question as she happily replied, “Yep. I just got off the train less than an hour ago. I’ll be staying with my Uncle.”

The kindly old woman replied, “I see. In that case, I hope that means I will see you again. Returning customers are always greatly appreciated.”

“Oh. You bet I’ll be back.” Rei offered her hand to the kindly old shop owner, “My name is Narukami Rei. It’s nice to meet you.”

The old woman found it refreshing to see this new girl to have such good manners. She was more than happy to shake the young girl’s hand as she replied, “My name is Marukyu Sakoto. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance Narukami-san. Welcome to Inaba.”

“Thanks.” Rei happily told the woman, “I’m sure the pleasure will be all mine.” Between Rei’s interactions with Sakoto and Izumi, Rei’s former employer in Kyoto, it further demonstrated that she had a strong affinity for kindly old women.

Sakoto asked, “What do you think of Inaba so far?”

“It’s hard to say. I’ve only been here for less than an hour, but it seems nice.” Rei enthusiastically told Sakoto, “I look forward to getting to know this place.”

As much as Sakoto liked youthful people who were enthusiastic about things, Rei appeared to be a little too enthusiastic. It was almost as if she did not mind the idea that she left her old home to come here. “Is she being enthusiastic to cover up the fact she misses her old home or was her old home something that leaves a lot to be desired?”

Rei then noticed the time on her watch. “Crap. I’ve been making them wait too long.” Before Sakoto could say anything, Rei told the older woman, “Sorry, but I think I need to get going. My Uncle and Cousin are waiting for me. Sorry about this Marukyu-san.”

As Rei began making her way to the exit, Sakoto replied, “No worries Narukami-san. I hope you’ll enjoy your time in Inaba, and pay me another visit.”

Rei glanced over her shoulder as she reassured the older woman, “You can count on that. I love tofu.”

Sakoto replied, “That’s wonderful to hear. I look forward to your future patronage.”

“Anyway, gotta run. See ya later.” Rei began making her way back to the gas station. She realized that she was feeling better, so she was almost running as she made her way back.

While Rei ran down the street, she thought, “She seemed like a nice lady. She kind of reminded me of Izumi-san. Speaking of which, I should try to give her a call later.”

After Rei was gone, Sakoto could not help but continue smiling as she thought, “She seems pretty well-mannered, but something seems a little off about her too.”

Even though their first meeting was only a couple minutes, Sakoto could see there was more to what the girl was saying. Sakoto’s years of experience was good at gaining insight into matters. However, Sakoto knew she was not in a position to ask for more information. It would be for the best to leave things alone for the time being.

///

Rei hurried back to the gas station as quickly as she could. When she was a few feet away from her relatives, she sheepishly apologized, “Sorry for keeping you waiting.”

Ryotaro reassured his niece, “It’s fine. Are you feeling better?”

“Yeah much better, but I still don’t really feel a hundred percent, but I’m definitely much better now.” Rei answered.

“I see.” Ryotaro asked, “Do you want me to get you something?”

“No.” Rei shook her head and hands as she told her uncle, “I think I’ll be fine.”

Ryotaro then asked, “Would you like me to have the car windows rolled down?”

Rei graciously replied, “I think that’ll help. Thanks.”

As Ryotaro drove back to the Dojima household, Rei leaned towards the partly open window as she checked out the new town she would be living in along with experiencing the feeling of the fresh spring air hitting into her face. Between being able to stretch her legs and feeling the air hit into her face, she was feeling better. While the cool air did give her a chill, she was fine with it. She experienced so many humid days in Kyoto, so feeling the cool spring air gave Rei a feeling of relief.

///

After riding in the car for a few minutes, the car pulled up, and Rei was able to get a good look at the Dojima residence. It was a modest two story home that had a backyard. There was nothing special about it, but there did not appear to be anything to complain about either. In fact, it gave off a sense of ‘normalcy’ or at least what Rei thought could be considered normal.

When Rei saw the modest home, she could not help but smile, “Not bad. Not bad at all. Hopefully, the inside will be okay too.”

As Rei was about to enter the front door, she heard something above. She looked up in the sky to see the clouds beginning to form. It was a stark contrast from the sunny skies she had seen earlier that day. “It looks like it’s going to rain. At least it was sunny when I got here. If it’s gotta rain, it might as well be now.”

Rei entered the home to see that the first floor had everything that she would expect any home to have. There was a narrow stairway that led up to the second floor. The first floor was reasonably small with half of the first floor being composed of a kitchen and the other half being a den.

Even though the kitchen was relatively small, it had enough room to fit everything the Dojimas needed. The room had a table, but the Dojimas apparently did not eat dinner in the kitchen but rather in the den area. Instead that table was used by Nanako whenever she had homework or Ryotaro would use it when he brought home work or he was reading the newspaper.

The den took up at the other half of the first floor. There was a sliding door that led to the backyard, but Rei did not feel like checking out the backyard yet. The den had a carpeted floor. There was a TV and an old but comfy looking couch. Between the two, there was a dinner table. As per the traditional Japanese style, you would need to sit on the floor to eat. This house may have been modest, but felt ‘normal’ or ‘homey.’

As Rei checked out the first floor, she thought, “I’ve only been here for thirty seconds, but I think I already like this place more than my parents’ apartment. It may not be as fancy or as pretty as that apartment, but something feels better about this place. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, and I’m jumping the gun, but this place feels nice.”

Ryotaro looked toward his niece and told her, “We’re not going to eat dinner right away, but it will be ready soon. Would you like to check out your room in the meantime? I moved all your belongings up there.”

Rei nonchalantly replied, “Sure why not. Which room is it?”

Ryotaro answered, “Your room is upstairs, down the hall. The door should be open, so you should see where it is.”

“Okay.” Rei told her Uncle as she went up the stairs, “Call me when we start eating.”

///

Her uncle was not kidding when he said her room was filled with boxes. “I must’ve sent more boxes here than I thought.” Her room was so cluttered with boxes, she was not sure if she could navigate her way around them or even be capable of putting them all away.

Rei took a deep breath, and she felt more like how she did earlier in the day. “I think I’m feeling a little better. I guess it really was just a passing feeling or something.”

As Rei looked through some of the boxes, she thought, “It looks like everything got here. Thank goodness. It would’ve been a real pain in the ass if something went wrong. I guess I might as well start unpacking.” Rei made sure to lock the door to her room before she began unloading things.

While Rei was only able to take care of two of the boxes before it was time for dinner, she could already tell there was a difference. As the room slowly became clearer, Rei sat on the floor as she thought, “I can probably do some pushups and sit-ups here after everything is cleared up. There isn’t a lot of room, but it should be enough for me to do that.” Rei scratched her chin as she pondered, “However, I should probably consider doing that somewhere roomier. I wonder if I can use their backyard.” Rei considered it for a moment before deciding to lay on her back to gaze upon the ceiling, “I should probably wait to get to know them more before I do something like that.”

Rei then glanced towards her backpack and crawled over to it before pulling out her mask. It was a symbol of the vigilante life she had back in Kyoto. A part of her wanted to leave it behind to try and live a normal life, but she knew a part of her would never want to let this go. The thrill of being a vigilante and fighting thugs was too much fun. She took one of her hands off of the mask and curled it into a fist which caused her knuckles to crack.

“I probably shouldn’t think about breaking any laws for a while either, especially since my Uncle is a detective.” Rei made sure to think about this rather than say it out loud in case either her cousin or uncle were right by the door. “If I’m going to even consider the idea of continuing my vigilante activities, I’m going to need to know the area better. Working for Izumi-san gave me a good excuse to check out a lot of different places in Kyoto. Speaking of which.”

Rei pulled out her phone, so she could call Izumi and tell her about her safe arrival in Inaba. Izumi was one of the only people that Rei felt any obligation to call anymore even if she was no longer Izumi’s employee.

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Tofu Shop

At that moment, Rei was not the only one who was speaking to a kindly old lady at that time. Since there was no one in the store besides her, Sakoto decided to give her granddaughter a call. Normally, she would wait until after business hours, but she made an exception since tomorrow would be the first day of school. Not to mention, it would be her granddaughter’s first day in high school. She did not want to take any chances.

As soon as Rise answer the phone, she happily said, “Hey Grandma. How are you?”

It always warmed Sakoto’s heart to hear Rise call her grandma. “I’m fine Rise-chan. I’m just taking a short break from minding the store. I was just calling to find out how you’ve been doing. The new school year beings tomorrow right?”

“That’s right.” Rise confirmed, “Tomorrow I’ll be starting my first year of high school.”

Sakoto sighed as she told her granddaughter, “Times like these make me wonder where the time goes. I still remember how you’d run around my store when you were four years old wondering how I make tofu.”

Even though there was no one else there, Rise could not help but feel a blush come across her face as she bashfully said, “Grandma.”

Sakoto easily caught onto her granddaughter’s embarrassment. “Fine. Fine. Were you able to enjoy your last Spring Break before high school?”

“Umm.” Rise was a little hesitant to answer that question, “Sometimes. I enjoyed what I could, but there were a few things that were out of my control.”

“Your agency is overworking you again isn’t it?” Sakoto could not hide the concern in her voice as she asked this.

“Well I would be lying if I told you they didn’t keep me busy a lot.” Rise did not want to make a big deal out of it, but she told her grandmother, “I had to pose for a few photoshoots, and I was in a commercial recently.”

Sakoto asked, “You mean the commercial for Calorie Magic?”

Rise replied, “That’s right!”

“How long does it take you to film a thirty second commercial?” Sakoto asked in a curious tone.

Rise replied, “Well. It depends.”

Sakoto asked, “Depends on what?”

“How many angles they want to shoot from?” Rise began to list out the different scenarios, “Sometimes I’ll have to do the same thing several times in a row, so they can shoot it just right. Afterwards they’ll edit the footage together in post-production, and it could be composed of shots from multiple takes. The filming itself can easily take over an hour or even more.”

“Hmm.” What her granddaughter told her made a lot of sense as she commented, “I never would have thought that.”

“Me neither.” Rise chuckled to make light of it. “Until now anyway.”

“Have they at least given you enough time to relax?” Sakoto instinctive grandmotherly concern was acting up as she told Rise, “There’s only so much you can do.”

“I do get days off. However, there have also been times when it’s one thing right after another.” There was a slight sense of weariness in Rise’s voice as she spoke, which she tried to hide. As much as she tried, it could not be hidden from her grandmother.

Sakoto could sense the weariness in Rise’s voice, as she replied, “Are you sure that agency of yours isn’t running you ragged?”

Rise attempted to wave off her grandmother’s concerns by assuring her. “Don’t worry about it Grandma. I can handle it. I’ve been doing fine for a while now. I’ll be fine I promise.”

“I’m sure you will, but I’m always going to be worried about you. No matter what.” Sakoto reminded Rise, “You’re my granddaughter after all. It’s only natural that I worry about you. Your happiness is my priority.”

“…” Rise was not sure what to say in response.

Sakoto replied, “It’s okay you don’t have to say anything. However, I want you to remember that if you ever need someone to talk to. I’ll be there.”

Rise smiled at her grandmother’s words. “I’ll remember.”

Sakoto firmly told her granddaughter, “Be sure that you do. I’ll talk to you later Rise-chan. I need to get back to tending the shop.”

Rise cheerfully replied, “Talk to you soon.”

After hanging up the phone, Sakoto went back to tending to her shop. As she kept an eye out for customers, her head was thinking of a multitude of things at once, “My granddaughter is filled with great potential like Michiko and Sayoko were. In such a short amount of time, she’s not only exceeded expectations at the audition she participated in, but she’s done commercials, concerts, and photo-shoots. She’s gained thousands upon thousands if not millions of fans nation-wide.”

As much as Sakoto was proud of her granddaughter, she understood that not everything is as it appears on the surface, “However, the sound in her voice reminded me of how Michiko’s voice sounded earlier. I hope this isn’t a sign of something.”

Sakoto put her hand through her hair as she continued to think, “I’d hate it if Rise-chan wasted her potential if becoming an idol burned her out. I wonder if there’s something I can do. My son is a good person, and I know he’s been a good father to her. However, I think he and his wife might be too blind to notice anything wrong with Rise because of ‘Risette’s’ popularity. It might be up to me to do something to help her. I definitely need to make sure I’m on top of this for Rise’s sake.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011
Location: Inaba – Dojima Household

As Rei was attempting to get settled in her room, Nanako and Ryotaro were getting ready for dinner. As Nanako set the table, she said, “Narukami-san’s not as scary as I thought. She’s really nice.”

“Yes she is.” Ryotaro thought, “She definitely seems to be a lot nicer than I thought she’d be.”

Nanaoko pulled out the costume that Rei had bought her. Nanako happily said, “I really like this gift she got me.”

“You should try it on sometime and show her how much you like it.” Ryotaro suggested.

“I was thinking I’d do that.” Nanako enthusiastically stated, “I want to do that right now.”

“You probably shouldn’t do it right now though.” Ryotaro replied, “We’re going to have dinner soon, so just put that in your room for now and try it on later.”

Nanako was disappointed, but she reluctantly agreed, “Okay.”

Dojima thought, “If she gets into cosplay now, I wonder what she’ll dress up as when she gets older.” Before Nanako went upstairs, he told Nanako, “While you’re up there, could you get Rei for me? We’re going to eat soon.”

Nanako replied, “Okay.”

///

As soon as Rei was down the stairs, Ryotaro immediately asked, “You feeling any better?”

“Yeah. I think so.” Rei put her right hand through her hair as she said, “It feels like it’s passed.” Rei’s was breathing much easier than before.

“Stomachs can be a funny thing sometimes.” Ryotaro tried to relate his past experiences to Rei as he told her, “When I’ve gone on trips on my own, I’ve sometimes felt weird or sick and other times I’ll be completely fine.”

Rei chuckled as she commented, “It kind of sounds like odds of feeling sick are like getting the right call on a coin toss.”

Ryotaro shrugged, “Kind of. Anyway, do you think you’re feeling up to eating dinner?”

Rei brightened up as she enthusiastically told her new guardian, “You bet I am. I’m starved.”

“Okay then.” Ryotaro cautiously told his guest, “I should warn you though. It’s nothing special.”

This time it was Rei’s turn to shrug, “I’m okay with that. I’m not a picky eater, and I greatly appreciate the hospitality.”

That seemed to be enough to please Ryotaro as he thought, “At least she seems to be better manner than her mother is. It’s almost hard to believe they’re related.”

///

Nanako, Rei, and Ryotaro were sitting on the floor around the table in the den. It was a modest area, but it had more than enough room. The couch was right behind Ryotaro. All three of them were positioned in a way that would allow them to watch the TV if they decided to look in that direction.

When all three of them were on the floor ready to eat, Rei clapped her hands together and recited the polite phrase, “Itadakimasu.” It was a traditional phrase said by someone to thank others for the food they are given. Hearing Rei say that caused Ryotaro to grin a little as he also gave Rei a warm welcome to their home before they began to eat.

After they had eaten for a few minutes, Nanako decided to speak up and ask, “So Rei-san you lived in Kyoto before you came here right?”

After taking another bite of her food and swallowing, Rei answered, “That’s right. I also lived in Tokyo too.”

Nanako asked in amazement, “You lived in two different cities?”

“Yep. I lived in Tokyo when I was about your age.” Rei explained, “Then I moved to Kyoto and lived there until I left to come here today.”

Filled with natural child-like curiosity, Nanako asked, “What’s it like living in the city?”

Instead of answering Nanako’s question, Rei asked her young cousin, “Have you ever been to the city before Nanako?”

“Hmm.” Nanako thought about Rei’s question. She seemed uncertain of what answer to give before stating, “I think I’ve been to Okina city a few times with my mom, but I don’t remember much. I’ve always lived here.”

“I see.” Rei scratched the back of her head as she considered the answer she should give her little cousin before telling her, “Well I can tell you that Tokyo and Kyoto are the opposite of what Inaba is.”

“What do you mean?” Nanako was brimming with curiosity as she asked that question.

“Well.” Rei put her hand to her chin as she told her cousin, “There are roads filled with cars and every sidewalk has people walking along it trying to get somewhere.”

Nanako did not seem impressed by that answer as she replied, “I’ve seen plenty of cars on streets and a lot of people walking on sidewalks before.”

Rei grinned, “I’m sure you have, but that’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen.”

“Really?” Rei seemed to have caught Nanako’s attention.

“Yep. I want you to picture this.” Rei put her right hand in front of her and put out two fingers as she said, “Imagine what you’ve seen and there being twice or three times that number.”

It was not hard for Nanako to imagine that. “Wow! That’s a lot of people.”

Rei then told her cousin, “Now imagine that happening almost every minute of every day.”

“Is the city really like that?” Nanako’s voice appeared to be filled with childlike amusement as she asked that question.

Rei was amused by her cousin’s reaction, “Most of the time.”

“That’s crazy.” Nanako replied in disbelief, “It must be pretty noisy.”

“You’d be right about that.” Rei told her cousin, “There’s always something happening in the city. It never gets boring there.”

Since she was someone who grew up on the countryside, a part of Nanako was having a hard time comprehending some of the things that Rei was telling her. “If it’s so busy, how do people sleep?”

Rei replied in a teasing voice, “They don’t.”

“What?” Nanako was clearly shocked by her cousin’s answer.

Rei chuckled at Nanako’s shocked response much to her cousin’s confusion. Rei then told her cousin, “I’m just kidding. People have their own ways of getting to sleep. Some people just get used to the noise and adjust.”

“Hmm.” Nanako pouted, “I don’t know if I’d want to get used to that.”

“You never know.” Rei shrugged, “You might end up enjoying being in the city more than you’d think.”

“Maybe.” Nanako replied, and then the family went back to eating their meals. As Nanako was eating, Nanako thought, “Rei seems like a nice person. Maybe this won’t be too bad.”

Ryotaro was apparently having similar thoughts as his daughter. He appeared to have been amused by the little conversation Nanako and Rei had a few moments before. “It has only been the first day, but so far so good. Let’s hope this isn’t an act just to get a good first impression. However, this seems legitimate, but considering her mother and father you never know.” Ryotaro felt his detective institution has been taking over and he was using it unnecessarily in this situation as he scolded himself, “I should stop thinking like that and give her a fair chance. I know what her mother was like, but that does not mean they are anything alike. After all, my sister rarely ever acted that nice to me even when she pretended.”

As Rei continued to eat her meal, she happily thought, “This is pretty nice. It’s nice to be eating a meal with other people again. This is much more welcoming than that empty home anyway.”

While this moment was a tranquil, it was not meant to last. When the trio was finishing their dinner, Ryotaro received a call. Apparently, it was a call from his office, and it was a matter that required his immediate attention, and he could not tell them no.

When Ryotaro hung up his phone, he mused, “It was a good thing I decided to skip out on the booze.”

Even though Rei did not know the context of this situation, she could not help but think, “Yeah. It probably was.”

Ryotaro looked down at Rei and Nanako who were still sitting by the table as he apologized, “I’m sorry to leave you alone on your first day getting here Rei, but …”

Rei interrupted her Uncle, “You don’t have to apologize about anything Uncle Dojima. I knew you were a detective long before I came here, so I figured you’d probably get a call like this sometimes. I’d imagine being a detective would be a pretty busy job.”

“Thank you for understanding. Anyway, I have to get going.” Ryotaro then noticed that it started to rain which caused him to ask, “Nanako did you take the laundry back inside?”

Nanako replied, “I brought it back in already.”

“Good.” Ryotaro told the two girls, “I probably won’t be back until later tonight, so be sure to get to sleep soon.” The two girls promised him they would, and he was off to take care of the new case. From what Ryotaro knew, it was a case that would be like any other that he had taken care of before.

///

When Ryotaro was gone, Nanako grabbed the remote control and asked Rei, “Do you mind if I put on the TV?”

Rei replied, “No. I don’t mind.”

Nanako put the TV on to a strange quiz show she was apparently a fan of. Rei did not pay too much mind to it and continued eating her meal. Eventually, a Junes commercial was played on the channel, and she saw Nanako jump into action to sing the catchy tune, “Every day’s great at your Junes.”

Seeing Nanako spring to life when hearing that commercial caused Rei to raise an eyebrow, “She’s pretty enthusiastic about that Junes commercial. She doesn’t have a bad voice either. If Nanako works on her voice, she could end up having a good singing career when she gets older.” When she saw how Nanako seemed to still be dancing to the tune of the commercial that was no longer playing Rei thought, “On second thought, maybe it would be better to take things one step at a time.”

When Rei was done eating, she asked Nanako, “Do you mind if I check out what it says on the Weather Report? My TV hasn’t been set up yet in my room.”

Nanako replied, “Go ahead, but don’t take too long. I don’t want to miss too much of the quiz.”

“Don’t worry it won’t.” As Rei promised, it did not take Rei long to see that the weather did not appear promising. Rei commented, “It doesn’t look good for the next few days.”

Nanako replied, “Pretty lousy way to start your time in Inaba huh?”

“Meh.” Rei did not seem to mind the rain too much. “I guess, but it could be worse. If what this thing’s saying is right, at least it’ll clear up soon enough. Maybe this weather will give me a chance to adjust to Inaba more.” As soon as Rei said that, she thought, “Did I say ‘soon enough’? Where have I heard that before?”

Nanako commented, “Maybe. The weather has been kind of crazy around here for a while.”

Rei shook her head as she asked, “Has it?”

“Yeah.” Nanako answered, “The weather’s constantly changing between sunny, rainy, and foggy days for a while.”

Rei replied, “I see.”

Nanako asked, “Do you mind if I change the channel back to what I was watching before?”

“Oh yeah. That’ll be fine. Go right on ahead.” Rei sheepishly said.

No sooner had they changed the channel, they were watching the same Risette commercial that advertise the drink product Rei had seen earlier. Nanako happily said, “It’s Risette!”

Rei looked over to her cousin in surprise, “You’re a Risette fan?”

Nanako said, “You bet I am. She’s so pretty.”

Rei could not help but be amused, “The little kid’s got good taste.” She then looked back at the TV to continue watching the end of the commercial. As soon as the commercial ended, she thought, “Wow! This is the second time I’ve seen this commercial, and I already love it. Risette looks so great in that swimsuit. She’s so cute and pretty.” Rei was really going into fangirl mode with this one.

When Rei thought about how Risette looked in her swimsuit she could not help but think, “I can’t help but feel a little envious of Risette for having a body like hers. I don’t care about what she says about diets or going to the gym, she’s definitely in shape, and she can pull off that bikini so nicely. I could never pull that off with my body.” Rei put her hand on her stomach and thought, “Between how my stomach looks and the scars, I couldn’t even think about trying something like that. I’d be better off wearing one pieces, but I might still look pretty bad in that. I probably …”

Rei cut off her out thoughts as she then considered, “Wait a minute. Why should I even care about wearing swimsuits? I never really learned how to swim. I’d probably sink like a rock if I tried to swim now. I guess I could still hang out by the water, but that probably wouldn’t be fun. It’d be relaxing, but it’d be boring, especially if I have no one to go with.”

After Rei was finally done with her fangirling, she shook her head in an attempt to get herself back on track. She knew that she had something else she needed to do. She looked over to her cousin and told her, “Hey Nanako. If you need me, I’ll be in the room. I’ve got more stuff to unpack before I go to sleep.”

Nanako replied, “Okay.”

///

Date: April 11th, 2011 – Evening
Location: Inaba – Dojima Household – Rei’s Room

“I might as well try and put more of this stuff away before I got to go to sleep. I got a big day tomorrow, but it’ll be easier to sleep without all these boxes crowding up the place.” Rei immediately got to work, and she was able to put a few of her things on the shelves and the closet. When it started to get too late, there were a still a few boxes left, but the room had more space and she could handle the rest tomorrow.

Rei rubbed her hands together as she said, “That’s more like it.” She involuntarily yawned, “It looks like I’m getting tired again.” Rei looked at the clock and said, “It’s already getting that late. I should get to bed. If I don’t get some sleep I’ll be in trouble.”

Before she went to sleep, Rei said, “I should probably make sure Nanako goes to sleep too. I doubt her father would want her to stay up too late either.”

After making sure Nanako went to bed, Rei returned to her room to peer through the curtains and gaze upon the small town in front of her. It was a far cry from the view she had from her parent’s apartment, but the scenery still looked nice to her. Even though it was still pouring outside, Rei believed this was a sight that she could get used to.

Rei thought, “Inaba might be small compared to the city, but I can tell from the car ride that there’s quite a bit to check out. This place might be more exciting than I expected. Besides exploring a new town and getting to know it would be a nice, normal thing to do. Maybe I can take a break from being a vigilante.”

“Tomorrow will be my first full day in Inaba.” Rei stretched out her arms as she said out loud, “Hopefully, things will have a good start. I wonder if I’ll have any luck making friends in this school.” No sooner had she said that, Rei thought back to her track record when it came to making friends. The very thought of it caused Rei to sigh as she said, “There’s no use worrying about my first day right now. I should get some sleep.”

It did not take Rei long to drift to sleep. However, she would not be experiencing the pleasant dreams she was hoping for.

///

Date: April 11th, 2011 – Night
Location: Unknown

No sooner had she went to sleep on her bed, Rei felt herself laying on top of a different surface. Instead of feeling a mattress and a covers, she felt something that was like solid ground underneath her. The surface felt hard and uncomfortable. There was no way to sleep on this. Her body also felt cold and damp. She could feel moisture surrounding her body. Between the hard surface and the moisture Rei began to wake up.

As Rei slowly opened her eyes, she could see that she was no longer in the room that the Dojima family lent her. She was in some kind of strange place surrounded by fog. It was thick enough that she could barely see more than a few meters in front of her. She could also feel that the surface beneath her felt like some kind of tiled floor.

Rei picked herself off the ground and was on her knees. It felt like her head began spinning as she tried looking through the fog for any sign of a way out.

The first thing out of Rei’s mouth was, “What’s going on?” Even though Rei could not remember being here, it felt familiar.

Out of nowhere a strange voice responded to Rei. “Well it’s about time you woke up Sleeping Beauty.” The voice sounded like it was coming from all directions.

She called out, “Hello! Who is …”

Before Rei could say another word, her head felt like it was struck by lightning. Rei remained on her knees, but she almost fell down to the ground on her stomach as she put both hands on her head in an attempt to ease the pain she was going through. “Uggh!” Rei cried out in pain as she tried to keep her head together.

As she continued to cling to her head, she suddenly felt memories swirly back in her head. She could suddenly remember the fight she had with that mysterious figure, the strange ‘Velvet Room’ that looked like the inside of a limousine, and the strange long nose man named Igor. He kept talking about how she had a strange power, and she needed to fulfill a destiny or her future could be lost. It was a lot of strange stuff that Rei could not fully comprehend at the moment.

“Huff … Huff …” The sensation of having these memories returned to her so suddenly made Rei felt a shortness of breath.

After breathing heavily for a few moments, Rei heard the mysterious voice call out to Rei again, “I guess that means you’ve got your memories again.”

Rei’s eyes widened at the realization of whose voice that was. Rei immediately picked herself off of the ground and demanded, “Who the hell are you? Show yourself?”

Responding to Rei’s demand, a mysterious figure appeared from the fog standing only a few meters in front of Rei. Rei could not see what the figure’s face looked like from how obscured it was by the fog. However, she could tell that this was the same person who attacked her earlier.

“You?” Rei immediately jumped into ready position to prepare herself for a fight.

The mysterious figured mocked Rei as it told her, “It’s good to see you remember me. It would be such a hassle if I really needed to remind you. It’s nice to see you again so soon.” The voice was clearly feminine. There was no mistaking it. While it sounded familiar to Rei, there was a distortion in the voice that made it difficult for Rei to pinpoint where she heard it before.

Rei dryly replied, “I can’t say the same.”

The Mysterious Figure did not appear to be phased by Rei’s words, as she shrugged, “I didn’t think you would. We didn’t exactly end things on good terms.”

“That would be putting it mildly.” Rei replied in a deadpan tone, “You did try to kill me after all. I don’t give a crap if that was supposed to be some weird messed up dream or what.” Rei demanded, “Who the hell are you anyway?”

Even though Rei could not see this girl’s face, she could tell the girl was amused based on her tone as she asked, “You don’t need to know that yet.”

“What?” Rei replied in disbelief.

The Mysterious Figure simply shrugged as she replied, “It’s not relevant right now and even if I tried explaining it, you’d only be confused. You should take my word for it.”

Rei spat at the idea. “Why should I take the word of someone who tried to kill me?”

“Hmm.” The mysterious figure did not appear to have an answer for that as she relented, “Fair question.” She then enthusiastically told Rei, “I love the fact you’re not hopelessly naïve. That should make things more interesting.”

Rei narrowed her eyes as she asked, “What’ll be interesting? Are you talking about that mystery the guy with the freaky nose was talking about?”

The mysterious figure chuckled as she told Rei, “You’ll see soon enough. Also if you don’t want to take my word for it, think of it this way. You’ll hear all you need to know soon enough. However, I’m sure you’ll be more satisfied learning through your own experiences rather than me spoon feeding you all the information.”

“Fair enough, but what’re you doing here?” Rei made sure not to let her guard down as she put herself in ready position again, “Have you come for a rematch?”

“Maybe later. I’m not interested in fighting against you again so soon.” It almost sounded like the figure was commending Rei as the figure told the girl, “You’ve proven yourself worthy of your power, and I plan on watching how it develops.”

“Let me guess.” Rei sarcastically commented, “I’ll learn the specific about these powers ‘soon enough.’”

“I’m glad to see you’re with the program, and it’s good to see that pretty head of yours is not just for book smarts.” Even though Rei could not see the figure’s face, Rei could tell the figure was probably smirking at her as she said, “Although, I should probably know that better than anyone.”

Rei curled her fingers into a fist as she said, “You know. Almost every time you praise me, it sounds more like an insult to me.”

“Really? I didn’t notice.” The Mysterious Figure replied in a facetious manner.

Rei did her best not to let this creature get the better of her as she tried to remain calm. “You’ve more or less admitted that you’re my enemy even if you aren’t interested in fighting right now. Why should I give a crap about anything you say?”

“Saying that I’m only your enemy would be ‘inaccurate.’” The figure put some emphasis on the ‘inaccurate’ part. “I’m a little bit more than that.”

“Seriously.” Rei looked at the girl in front of her in disbelief, “You’re going to tell me something like that?”

“Okay fine. I’ll make myself clear. You’ll see for yourself that I can be your greatest ally as well as your greatest foe.”

“That’s supposed to be a clear answer?” Rei was not sure if she was more annoyed by the answer or the fact she was still talking to this creature. “That doesn’t sound like anything better than what Igor told me.”

All the Mysterious Figure said in reply was, “It will be soon enough. I assure you.”

“How soon?” Rei did not even try to hide her impatience.

“Not even I can answer that question, but I know it’ll be soon, and I’m sure you can feel it’s going to be soon too.” Rei could feel the Mysterious Figure’s eyes piercing through her body as she said, “You may not consciously realize it, but you can feel it in the pit of your stomach that something big is about to happen.”

“…” Rei did not have a reply to that. All she could do was think about what this creature said to her. “Do I feel like that?”

“Anyway, enough about this. Let’s talk about you.” The Mysterious figured seemed happy to ask Rei, “I bet you’re relived about your new living arrangements aren’t you?”

“…” Rei remained silent.

Despite Rei’s silence, the mysterious figure did not seem to need an answer from the girl to know what the truth was as she said, “Who am I kidding. Of course you are. You don’t even need to answer that question. The Dojimas seem to be decent people. There seem to be a few problems, but pretty much anything is an improvement over that crappy place you used to live in. Even you thought it was more welcoming to eat with those two than eating by yourself.”

Rei was rather bewildered by how this creature knew what she was thinking. “Wait. How did you …?”

Before Rei could finish her question, the creature interrupted her. “You were thinking that right?”

“Yeah I did.” Rei replied in an annoyed tone, “Not like it’s any of your business, but I never really called that place my home. My parents never did make me feel welcomed there.”

The creature did not appear to be surprised by Rei’s words as she replied, “Of course not, but you do realize this new place isn’t your home either. In a year, you’ll be booted out of there and will have to go back to living with those parents of yours.”

Rei stated, “I already know that, and I don’t want to talk about this anymore with you of all people.”

The figured appeared amused as she said, “Very well. That’s fine.”

Rei took a step back. “So where do we go from here? I don’t exactly want to spend the rest of my life talking to you.”

“It’s not a matter of where ‘we’ go but where ‘you’ go.” The mysterious figured put extra emphasis on the ‘you’ as she answered Rei’s question. “Travel into the fog, and some of the answers you seek will slowly unveil themselves.”

Rei narrowed her eyes as she asked, “You think I’ll just go running into the fog because you told me to?”

“No.” The mysterious figure walked backwards as she began to disappear within the fog, “You’ll go because you’ll feel compelled to and you don’t have a choice.”

Rei ran towards the departing figure as she called out, “Wait! Get back here!” The figure disappeared before Rei could grab her. “Where the hell did she go?”

“We’ll meet again soon enough.” The Mysterious Figure’s voice called out to Rei from multiple angles making it impossible for Rei to pinpoint where it was coming from. “For now, you need to make it out of here, and I’m sure you know what you need to do.”

When the Mysterious Figure’s voice could no longer be heard, Rei could feel that she had vanished. Rei was now all alone, and only the fog that surrounded her was there to keep her company. All Rei could do was stand in that spot and stare into the fog that was in front of her.

After taking a few moments to consider the Mysterious Figure’s words, Rei sighed as she said to herself, “As much as I hate to say it, I’m not getting anywhere unless I move forward.” She curled her fingers into fists as she cursed, “Damn it. I wish I could so do something else, but I don’t have a choice. Grrh! Damn it.”

Rei took a look to see the tiled floor that she was resting on earlier appeared to be a path she could take. “Maybe if I follow this path, I might be able to get out of her. I guess it’s worth a shot.” Rei took a deep breath as she began her journey into the fog to see what awaited her.

///

Omake:

Rise: Wow did you see the trailer for Persona 5?

Rei: You bet I did.

Rise: Don’t you find it weird that the protagonist and his friends in that game are going to be mask wearing criminals kind of like you?

Rei: I think I’d call that ‘Hilarious in Hindsight.’ I bet the author didn’t see that coming.

Rise: Yeah. I don’t think so either. I just hope our readers won’t think that the author somehow got the idea of making you a criminal vigilante from the Persona 5 trailer even though the author established you as one months before that trailer was released.

Rei: I hope so too, but there are some fans who might not always realize that. Hopefully, they will this time though.

Rise: Do you think that’ll affect any of the plans the author might have on you in regards to your vigilante work?

Rei: It’s hard to say, but I don’t think so. After all, I’m a straight up vigilante who really enjoys beating the crap out of her opponents. I don’t know if the same thing will really apply to those Persona 5 characters. As far as I can tell, it won’t.

Rise: I guess that’s a good point. Still. I find it pretty funny how this happened.

Rei: You’re not the only. Believe me.