Chapter 1: Important Author Notes
Author’s Notes: They Get Their Own Chapter Because Long
I think that, by now, most anyone who clicks on this knows the origins of this story. The short version is: I spent way too long playing Persona 4 and debating the concepts of NG+ and what that might mean if it really “happened.” Thus began the start of this story, and for a while, I was able to keep up with it...
Then University happened. Depression happened. Life happened... and I started to stumble. Badly. The amount of support I received was absolutely phenomenal. I still don’t think I deserve all the kind and encouraging comments and notes I got over the years, but I cannot begin to express just how grateful for them I am. I doubt I’ll ever be able to.
That being said, I’m as adamant as I was the day I started this project: this story is going to be finished.
Fortunately, that’s not an issue. I’m a writer. Writer’s write. Unfortunately, because of all the pause and stumble, I’m not sure I can continue where I left off originally.
However, that doesn’t mean I can’t start over. This story began many years ago when I was about fifteen, and I like to think I’ve improved since then. I’ve changed laptops several times and lost some files while re-finding others, but old chapters alone aren’t exactly enough to keep things going -- especially with the release of The Golden.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to get the story off to a less snail-like start and be able to throw a lot more of my own creativity into it, while still sticking to key points of the original plot.
There a lot of things I could say here, but most anything that’s important plot-wise was already said in the author’s notes of the original. But the most important points I will make are as follows:
- This story is assuming the bad ending. The very bad ending in which you don’t find Adachi in time, Nanako dies, and you get a phone call from Naoto in a panic about Shadows overtaking the city and you hear her dying over the phone. (Yay, AO3 lets me link it this time.)
- SoujixNaoto is going to be the main pair because… I like them???
- NG+, as implied, means some plot changes, liberties taken by author, and, of course, spoilers.
- The story has the same standard warnings as Persona does: language, vague sexual themes, terrible bear puns… You all know the drill.
So... Let's still if I've still got it and forge ahead!
Death is not a hunter unbeknownst to its prey,
one is always aware that it lies in wait.
Though life is merely a journey to the grave,
it must not be undertaken without hope.
Only then will a traveler’s story live on,
treasured by those who bid him farewell…
A sleek black car travels slowly through a vast expanse of fog and the dull hum of its motor fills the air. Inside, a young man with pale hair and eyes of mercury gazes at the shrouded world beyond the window nearest him and tries to spot something in nothingness. He feels the car moving; feels the faint vibration of the seat and the slow momentum of the wheels pulling him toward a destination unknown.
With a frown, he presses a hand over his eyes and tries to remember something, anything, that might explain how he’s gotten there. HIs mind feels heavy, as if he’s just awoken from a particularly long slumber, but his memories and thoughts are as clear as the fog outside. Faces and sounds dance at the edge of his mind, just out of his recollections grasp, and he throws himself back against his seat with an aggravated sigh.
It’s logical for him to assume he’s been kidnapped -- an unknown location he’s appeared in by force -- but he’s not being tied down. Aside from his lack of memories, he feels well. No pain, no injuries, and no signs suggesting he might have been bound before, nor that of a struggle. Without any clues, he shifts his focus to the interior of the car.
The space before him is long and wide, much more than he’d expect from a normal vehicle. Cushions of deep, royal blue stretch across the wall to his right and curl around to the front. A circular table sits before the seats opposite him, covered in a white cloth that reflects the pale blue of the overhead lights. A minibar sits to his left, littered with bottles and glasses in languages he can’t decipher; untouched or disturbed by the movement of the car.
He clicks his tongue, frustrated, and looks out the window a second time, half-hoping he might have made some sort of progress in his journey. The scenery has yet to change, but the atmosphere around him seems to shift and his attention snaps back to the front of the car, only to jump as he realises he’s no longer alone.
The young man freezes, heart leaping into his throat as he stares at not one, but two strangers; a girl with platinum hair in blue and an elderly man dressed in a finely pressed suit. They’re still, almost like dolls, and show no more signs of life than the fog outside. Neither of them appeared particularly threatening, but whatever advantage he thinks he might have in muscle means little if his potential kidnappers can appear and disappear at will.
Silently, he leans forward, his eyes never leaving the two strangers. Just as he feels his fingers brush against the nearest bottle of the mini-bar, the car hits a bump, and as if the jolt were a spark of life, the strangers begin to move.
The female straightens her head and opens her eyes, revealing a golden gaze that shifts to him almost immediately. Her lips curve, the movement subtle, ghosted with hints of a smirk. Her eyes, however, are soft, swimming in relief as her fingers curl into the fabric of her dark blue dress. Relief, the young man thinks, is an odd emotion for an abductor to feel, but before he can speak, a voice laced with wisdom and age fills the room.
“Welcome,” the voice -- the old man’s -- greets; his bloodshot eyes and near-manic grin make it impossible to look away, “to the Velvet Room.”
It sends a shiver down the young man’s spine, but something about it was almost comforting, familiar even; like seeing a childhood friend for the first time in years. They’ve met before, all of them, he’s certain of it; be it in passing or long before, they’ve met. All three of them.
“It seems we have a guest with a most intriguing destiny,” the old man chuckles and dips his head in greeting. “My name is Igor. I am delighted to see you again, young contractor.”
The young man frowns in response, his gut instincts seem to have paid off, but it doesn’t answer the question of when or where. An image flashes before his mind, blurry and distorted, but the dark colours match the space before him.
“This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter… It is a room only those bound by a contract may enter… It is very possible such a ate will once again meet you in the near future.” Igor smiles, completely unperturbed by the look of shock on the young man’s face. “Now then… Why don’t you introduce yourself?”
Lips pressed together, the young man frowns again. It’s almost reflex to offer his name when asked, but social conduct seldom involves being trapped in a car. Still, the feeling that these two strangers are possibly dangerous fades with each second that passes. He feels his body begin to relax and confidence builds in his chest. “You seem to know who I am already,” he replies and offers a light smile. “It would be a tad redundant to give it again.”
Igor’s grin widens and he nods with a hearty chuckle, and the tenseness remaining in the atmosphere seems to melt away. “My, my… It seems you haven’t lost your wit nor charm in the days that have passed… Or perhaps… it would be more appropriate to say the days that have gone back. ”
“Master?” The woman finally shifts, her voice cool and collected against Igor’s playful tone. “Do you know why he has returned here? I had thought…”
Igor raises a hand and the woman falls silent. His intent gaze settles back on Souji, taking his his appearance slowly from top to bottom. His smile, though faint, never fades and he offers only a carefree shrug as his expression shifts one more into amusement. “Interesting,” he hums. “How very interesting.”
“It would seem our guest is not a day older than he was upon our first meeting. How very peculiar.”
“Ehehehe… Who knows what new wonders this will bring. I’ve never seen something quite like it before. Although, it appears our young guest has lost most everything he gained on his first journey. Or perhaps…” Igor’s grin returns and he motions to the window, “...they have simply been lost in the fog.”
Souji blinks and raises an eyebrow, uncertain if he’s supposed to laugh or find the odd statement to be some form of clue. Something stirs in the back of his mind, something he’s certain he should remember, but it remains out of grasp; dancing at the edge of his mind and unable to fully form into thought. He’s still at a loss as to what is happening, and with nothing else to do, he tries to appear relaxed and waits for Igor to continue.
“Now then… Let’s take another look into your future, shall we?” Igor’s smile grows and he waves his hand over the table. A deck of tall, slim cards appears under his palm. When he brings his hand up to his mouth, several cards float off the top of the stack and land facedown in a near half-circle over the table’s surface. “Do you still believe in fortune telling?”
Still makes the question odd; like he’s been here before, like he’s asked before. “Maybe,” he inclines his head and considers the question. “It wouldn’t have lasted this long if there was no truth or believers behind it.”
“Indeed,” Igor agrees with a small nod. “Every reading is done with the same cards, yet the results are almost always different.”
“Sounds like life.”
The words are out of Souji’s mouth before he can consider them, but Igor appears delighted with his response.
“Indeed it is! How very interesting you should say that.” Igor chuckles and reaches for the first card, flipping it over. “Hm… The Tower, in the upright position. It represents what is to come in the near future. It seems a terrible catastrophe is imminent.”
Contrary to his foreboding words, Igor doesn’t seem to show so much as a fraction of concern. His hand moves to the next card and continues as if catastrophes were a perfectly normal thing for one to expect in their life. “The next is… The Moon, in the upright position. Very interesting indeed.”
Beside him, the woman in blue shifts, her expression tight as she gazes at the cards. “Master…. Surely you have noticed as well.”
“I have,” Igor hums and keeps his gaze on Souji. “But it is not our place to speculate or comment. Not yet. Now… The Moon represents ‘hesitation’ and ‘mystery.’ It appears you will soon encounter misfortune at your destination and a mystery will be imposed upon you once more.”
Souji narrows his eyes. Again and again, Igor kept speaking as if he already knew what was going to happen; as if he’d thrust Souji into a rigged game. Or about to play one he’d already played before.
“In the coming days, you will enter into a contract of sorts. After which, you will return here. I’m sure you’ve figured this out, but the coming year will be a very important one in your destiny. If the mystery remains unsolved… it may be that your future will be lost. Forever this time. My duty is to provide assistance for guests much like yourself to ensure that this does not happen.”
“Oh.” Souji nods and feels it’s all he can do. Helpful isn’t the first word that comes to his mind when he looks at Igor, but it seems a wasted effort to judge. He barely gets a moment to open his mouth and try to ask a question before Igor is speaking again.
“Ah! Forgive me. I’ve neglected to introduce my assistant to you.” He pauses and indicates the young woman. “This is Margaret. She, much like myself, is a resident of his place.”
“Resident?” Souji’s lips part, confusion evident on his face as he looks around. “You live here?”
“We do,” Margaret replies with a nod and gentle smile. She seems much more understanding to how bizarre the situation is and it helps Souji relax again. “It must seem strange, I’m sure, but there is much more to this place than you can see. We might call this place… your room.”
“My room.” Souji repeats, slow and careful. “My room… inside the Velvet Room.”
“That is correct.”
“...right,” Souji sighs and rubs his forehead. It’s pointless to question it. “Bigger on the inside. Sure.”
“We can attend to the details another time,” Igor hums and waves his hand through the air. Souji’s vision begins to blur and it sends a wave of panic through his body, almost causing him to miss what Igor says next. “Until then, farewell…”
“I’m tired of diets and enough with doing to the gym! Good thing there’s something even I can handle!” A giggle follows the perk, feminine voice that jerks Souji from his thoughts. His blurred vision begins to clear slowly as his mind comes back to him and he stares at the floor below him in bewilderment. The bright floor of the train station is a sharp contrast to the dark, carpeted car from before.
“--and now on to some juicy news! The Mayumi Yamano scandal is back! When we first--”
A body bumps into his and Souji jumps as he feels people move past him on both sides toward the waiting train. His gaze drifts as his thoughts wander as he tries to remember when he’d gotten off the train. He barely remembers boarding in the first place.
“Hey, kid, are you alright?” Souji jumps again and looks over his shoulder. A businessman eyes him in concern as Souji nods. “I thought you were going to fall on the tracks for a minute there. If you’re not feeling well, I can go find you a station attendant. They might be able to help.”
“Oh… uh, n-no,” Souji shakes his head and offers a small smile. “Sorry, I just have a lot on my mind. I must have zoned out for a minute.”
“If you’re sure, kid.” The man, Souji notes, doesn’t look at all convinced, but offers him a reluctant nod. “The train should be here soon. Take it easy, okay?”
“Y-yeah. Thank you, have a nice day, sir.” Souji shakes his head as the man walks off and tries to push away the muddled thoughts clouding his mind. Was that all a dream?
The loud squeal of wheels announces the arrival of the train and the soft hiss of breaks followed by a beep signals the doors have opened. Souji grunts as he feels himself pushed forward by the crowd and stumbles his way inside. His hand connects with a pole and he grips it tightly as he tries to regain his footing and spot a seat. All he wants right now is something to distract him from the reminders of the dark room.
The busy and crowded cityscapes slowly spread further and further apart until they are replaced by the bright greenery of the countryside, with buildings spread far and few between. By his third and final train, it’s like he’s left civilization behind completely. It’s such a sharp contrast to the view Souji has grown accustomed to over the years, the simple sight of a group of trees feels almost foreign to him. He hasn’t been to the countryside in years, and all the memories he has of it are just the stories his mother has told him happened when they last visited her brother.
A vibration against Souji’s chest drags him from his thoughts and he reaches into his jacket to produce a sleek, black mobile phone. The notification screen was glowing and boasting the small image of an envelope with the number 1 in the center. He flips the phone open and glances over the message.
FROM: Dojima, R
‘Meet us outside Yasoinaba Station at 4pm’
“Inaba, huh?” Souji murmurs and pockets his phone. “Maybe the countryside will be an easier change…”
Less people to meet, less faces to remember, and fewer bonds to avoid in order to save himself the trouble of breaking them later. He could appreciate the poetic quiet that should be waiting for him.
"Yasoinaba. Next station: Yasoinaba...” a voice announces overhead.
“That’s me,” Souji stands up and reaches for his luggage in the overhead storage rack. Sometimes I wonder… What would happen if I didn’t get off the train. Would anyone notice? Would anyone care? If I just kept riding it forever…
“Yasoinaba,” the electric voice cuts off his thoughts before they can finish. “Please exit the train in--”
It’s far easier getting off the train than getting on, and he’s able to count on one hand the number of people that follow him off the train. Guess the countryside isn’t that popular, he thinks and adjusts his bag. According to his wrist watch, it’s four-o-clock exactly and he’s right on time. I guess, he thinks and makes his way toward the exit of the station, it’s hard to be late when there’s nothing in your way.
The glowing orange of the setting sun hits him in the face as soon as he’s outside and he raises a hand to block his eyes. No cars are on the road in front of him and the crisp, mixed aromas of nature assault his senses in a rush. There’s no underlying smell of metal and gasoline, no endlessly overlapping voices and conversations; just silence and trees.
Shutting his eyes, Souji releases a long exhale and steeles himself for whatever is to come and makes his way down the stairs.
Just one more year, he tells himself silently. One final year of relatives he barely remembers and classrooms full of strangers. One more year of being tossed around like a lost child. One more year and he’ll be free.
One more final, disappointing, uneventful year.
But death is not the end for my guest,
instead it has offered a new beginning...
Here we go... The completely rewritten and revamped first chapter of FFF. The old story is still posted on ff.net; I don't think I'll be taking it down. It's acting as a reminder for the time being, a way for me to see how far I've come as a writer -- and I like to think I've improved.
I'm hoping that, in posting this again, I'll be able to tell if anyone is still interested in this old story of mine -- but I'm still going to push forward. I've got a lot to write and a lot to get done.
Here's to the road ahead!
A few gulps of country air are all Souji gets before a loud voice calls out and drags him from his thoughts.
“Hey! Over here!”
Souji turns just in time to see an older man with dark hair and a gray dress shirt approach him. His rough exterior is betrayed by a kind smile and gentle eyes. Behind him, a young girl with brunette hair tied in pink-ribbon pigtails eyes him warily and clings to the man’s trousers. Her eyes are wide and glimmer with an innocence Souji isn’t accustomed to and he finds himself faltering.
Before he can speak, the man offers Souji a tanned hand and wide grin. “You’re much more handsome in person than in that photo your mother sent me.” He laughs; soft, but warm, and it’s not at all the greeting Souji has grown used to. “Welcome to Inaba.”
“Oh…” Souji nods, still taken aback. He barely remembers this man, he’s seen him more in pictures than face to face, but something about his presence is warm; comforting even. “Thank you.”
“Let’s see now…” The man hums. “I’m Ryotaro Dojima, your mother’s younger brother and… well, that’s all about me, really. I’ll be looking after you while you’re here.”
“It’s nice to see you again,” Souji replies, uncertain what else to say as he bends forward in a short bow. “I’m grateful to be in your care.”
“You remember me?” Dojima laughs again and rubs the back of his neck. “Well damn, colour me surprised. The last time I saw you, I was changing your diaper. Hope you don’t mind me saying it, but I’m glad you’re older this time. You were a cute kid, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a baby cause so much trouble before.”
Heat seeps into Souji’s cheeks and he coughs. His mother had told him a story or two about his overly curious nature and one too many incidents where he’d managed to get out of his crib in the middle of the night and cause a ruckus. “I’m… sorry for causing stress.”
A soft warble catches his attention and he looks down in time to see the girl learning out from behind her father to better look at him. She blinks and immediately draws back when their eyes connect and he offers a small smile in response. Warmth grows in his chest as she peers out a second time, only to stumble forward as Dojima gives her a small push.
“Come on now, Nanako. Don’t be shy. Introduce yourself to your cousin.”
Nanako blinks again and looks up, her hands wringing together as she stares up at Souji. “Um…”
“Hello, Nanako,” Souji lowers himself to one knee and offers her another smile. He’s certain he must have seen pictures of her -- or perhaps her mother -- before; he knows those eyes. He’s certain of it. “I’m Souji.”
“Oh…” Surprise melts across Nanako’s face when she no longer has to look up to meet his gaze. It seems to help her relax as she nods once. “...h-hello.”
“I’ll be living with you and your dad for a while,” he continues and offers her his hand. “Think you can help me learn the rules of the house?”
Nanako stares at the offered hand and takes it only briefly before she darts back behind Dojima, leaning out long enough only to offer Souji a quick nod and nervous smile.
“Hey… There’s no need to hide. He’s not going to bite.” Dojima snorts, the sound followed by a muffled grunt as Nanako’s small fist connects with his back. “A-anyway… Let’s get going. My car is just over here.”
The ride into town is quiet with few words shared, but the gentle calm it offers is nice. The scenery passes the windows by and soon, the trees are thin and a handful of buildings take their place. The older appearance of the structures only adds to the rustic charm and Souji can’t help but smile faintly.
“This is the Central Shopping District,” Dojima explains as he pulls into a gas station. “All sorts of family own shops down the road and good food too. Most kids your age hang out here or the local supermarket after school.”
The ignition dies and Souji takes the brief pause to slip out of the car with Dojima and Nanako. An eager attendant rushes over and greets them all with a wide grin and a wave of their hands. “Hi there! Welcome to Moel!”
Dojima nods in a brief greeting and shifts his attention to Nanako, speaking to her in a quiet voice. Nanako nods and glances around, her eyebrows drawing together in confusion as she tries to locate something. “Um…”
“It’s in the back to your left,” the attendant pipes up and smiles, then immediately returns her attention to Souji and continues speaking, though her words don’t seem to be for him. “Are you taking a trip?”
“No,” Dojima shakes his head and steps toward the road. “We’re just picking up my nephew here. Moved in from the big city to stay with us for a while.”
“The city, hm…?” The attendant has their attention back to Souji and they frown slightly, their head inclined. “Is that so?”
“Fill my car while you’re at it,” Dojima cuts in curtly. “Regular.”
Jumping, the attendant seems to remember themselves and nods with a bright smile. “Of course! Right away, sir!”
They set to work quickly and Dojima shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “Guess now is as good as time as any for a smoke…” His voice is soft, almost absent in through as he moves closer to the road and reaches into his pocket.
Souji turns and presses his lips together; smoking seems a poor habit to pick up when taking care of a child.
“So…” The attendant speaks up again and leans against the gas pump, regarding Souji with a curious look. “You’re a teenager?”
Souji blinks, regarding the attendant with a silent look as he nods.
“Hm,” they nod once and smile. “Does it surprise someone from the big city like you that there’s so little around here?” They don’t seem to be looking for a response and barely regard Souji’s shrug before they continue. “It gets boring pretty fast with nothing to do around here.”
“I like the quiet,” Souji offers and the attendant snorts like he’s just told a particularly amusing joke.
“Quiet, hm…? And here I thought you might be the adventurous leader type; the kind of guy who likes to… poke around.”
“Anyway!” The attendant laughs and their smile returns. “If you ever get bored, we are looking for some part-time help around here. Give it some thought if you get bored -- even a student would be welcome around here.”
Their hand extends toward Souji as their smile grows, wide and carefree. Something about it sends a chill down Souji’s spine, but he’s already reached out before he can stop himself and takes their hand. He immediately regrets it.
What feels like an electric shock races up and down his arm; sharp and painful, leaving the entire limb feeling numb. He opens his mouth to speak, to call them out on whatever they’ve just done, but a wave of nausea hits him and he stumbles backward. He gags and his hand flies to his mouth, fighting the urge to vomit. It feels as if his veins have suddenly been set ablaze and his head starts to throw. Images flash before his mind, too quickly to register and bile rises in his throat. It hurts.
“Hey… are you okay?”
All at once, it stops. The pulsing of his head fades to a dull throb and the electric tingle stops. His body feels weak, but at least he can think again as he fights a sudden onset of lightheadedness and peers down at Nanako.
“Did you get carsick?” she asks in a soft voice. “You don’t look so good.”
“I’m alright,” he assures her. “Just tired. I’ve travelled a lot today.” Nanako doesn’t look like she believes him and he offers what he hopes is a convincing smile. “Let’s get back in the car, I think your dad will be back soon.”
“Oh…” she nods and gives Souji one last look before they climb inside. “Okay.”
The rest of the ride goes by in a blur. Souji barely registers the car turning off against the dull throb of his head. It feels like he might have banged his head one too many times, but he tries to make himself believe it’s just been a long day. He’s not entirely accustomed to being cooped up in moving vehicles all day and he’s probably just exhausted. Probably.
Souji jumps in his seat and looks to the front. “Wh--huh?”
“We’re… here?” Dojima repeats, worry pulling his eyebrows together. “This is our place.”
“Oh,” Souji nods and quickly climbs out of the car. “Sorry, I was just… lost in thought.” He smiles and hopes it’s convincing as he slings his bag over his shoulder and follows them to the door.
The house itself is nice. Not falling apart or poor in structure. The entire area feels quiet and homey, but something about the Dojima Household feels almost distant.
He doesn’t bother to linger on it, he won’t be here that long.
Nanako is the first inside and she immediately begins to set the table after slipping off her shoes. Dojima takes Souji’s bag and waves off his protests with his hand. He’s instructed to take a seat at the table and he hesitates. He’s been sitting all day and he wants to stretch his limbs, but he doesn’t trust his legs to hold him up much longer against the pain in his head.
He glances into the small kitchen before he moves and sees Nanako struggling with an armful of drinks. Her face is scrunched up in concentration and he almost feels bad for breaking it, but he doesn’t want her to get hurt. Just because they’re strangers doesn’t mean he feels the need to be heartless.
“Here,” he takes the drinks into his own arms and offers a tiny smile. “I can handle these. Just worry about the plates.”
“Um,” Nanako doesn’t move, a light dusting of pink on her cheeks as she nods. “...thank you.”
Souji offers a nod in response and makes his way to the living room. He sets the drinks down and lowers himself onto one of the cushions cross-legged and shuts his eyes against another sharp wave of pain against his skull. What… the hell is this?
“Are you two ready to eat?”
Souji jerks for the second time that night and opens his eyes to a table loaded with food. He hadn’t even noticed everything being set up. He blinks and rubs the back of his head, embarrassed. He’s never settled down to comforts so quickly before. Hadn’t he just felt distant a few moments ago…?
“So…” Dojima hums and motions to the food; a silent invitation for everyone to dig in. “Your mom and dad are busy as always… They’re overseas right now, right?”
Souji nods and nibbles at a piece of fish, waiting for Dojima to continue.
“Must be rough having to move around all the time because of your parents. Especially getting stuck in a place like Inaba.” He sighs. “It’s just Nanako and me here, so it’ll be nice to have someone else around. I can’t say there’s much, but as long as you’re here, you’re part of the family, so make yourself at home.”
The reception is oddly warm and genuine, not something he usually gets on the first day, let alone the first few hours, but it makes something warm settle in Souji’s chest. “Thank you for your kindness.”
Dojima laughs and shakes his head. “Ah, geez… Hey, no need to be so formal here. I may be a cop, but I’m still your uncle.”
The meal continues in relative silence. Every few minutes, Dojima or Nanako ask him a question about himself and answer his about the town in return. Just as he finishes the last few bites of his meal, a shrill ring fills the room and Dojima curses under his breath.
“Who the hell is calling at this hour?” he murmurs and stands, walking away from the table.
“Is this normal?” Souji asks when he notices the sad look in Nanako’s eyes.
“...yeah,” Nanako nods and stands, her hands coming together as her fingers lace and she waits for Dojima to finish.
“Dammit…” Dojima snaps the phone shut and returns to the living room. “Sorry about this, looks like work is calling me out.” Nanako nods once in response as her shoulders fall. “I don’t know how late I’ll be, so don’t wait up. Nanako, help him out, okay?”
The sound of rain fills the house when the front door rattles open and Dojima face appears in the entryway again. “Nanako? It’s raining out. What did you do with the laundry?”
“I already brought it in!”
“Ah… good, great. Thanks! I’m off!”
Souji stares at Nanako and surprise melts over his face. As he understood it, his cousin was young -- six or seven at most. He knows well enough what it’s like to have responsibility at a young age, but his parents were seldom home.
“--for this week. Now let’s…” Souji jumps, his attention snapping toward the TV in alarm. He hadn’t even noticed Nanako move. A woman in her mid-twenties in a red suit rattles off a weather report with a cheerful tone and warm smile. “--storm clouds are moving in from the west, so expect rain throughout the day tomorrow in most areas.”
Nanako’s eyes linger on the television briefly before returning to her meal. An awkward silence hung over the room and Souji shifted in his seat continuously, not liking the thick atmosphere that had settled between them.
“It must be tough.”
“Huh?” Nanako looks up, confused. She tilts her head in question and a small frown tugs at her lips.
“It must be tough,” Souji repeats. “Not having your dad around a lot, I mean. Is there a lot of housework to do?”
“Mm…” Nanako hums in thought and nods. “Yeah… I can do laundry and cook eggs and toast… But dad isn’t always gone. He helps me clean the house when he’s home.”
The TV screen flickers beside them and the screen changes from the weather woman to a man in a suit behind a desk. He clears his throat and shuffles the papers on his desk. “And now for the local news. City council man Taro Namatame is under fire for an alleged relationship with a female reporter. His wife, enka ballad sensation Misuzu Hiragi--”
Souji raises an eyebrow and sips at his drink. He’s seen pictures of the woman on the screen before, he’s certain. The case had been all the news would talk about a few days ago and vague details of the scandal bubbled in the back of his mind, but the vanish when the screen changes again and Nanako chirps along with the cheerful jingle that plays along with a commercial boasting a large and neat department store.
Almost immediately, Souji freezes and feels his entire body go rigid. Images flash before his eyes; quick, faint clips of a place he’s never been to before -- a food court with white tables/ He’s sitting at one of them, surrounded by a group of faceless bodies that look to be his own age. They’re all laughing together, in their own little world as one of them speaks and a fresh wave of laughter washes over them.
“Every day’s great at your Junes!” Nanako sings happily from the other side of the table and jerks Souji from his thoughts. His smile is weak as he watches Nanako sway in time with her own humming and repeats the store’s jingle over and over.
“I think… I’m doing to head upstairs, alright?” Souji stands and rubs his forehead. The headache from before has returned with a vengeance and he just wants to be away from everything. “I’ll probably go to sleep soon as well.”
“Oh… okay.” Nanako nods and points to the stairs. “Your door is the first one after the bathroom.”
“Right,” he nods. “Thank you. Goodnight, Nanako.”
When he reaches the top of the stairs, the bathroom briefly gains Souji’s attention, but he pushes the feeling away. A bath can always come tomorrow after classes. He rubs his eyes and slips into his room the moment he finds it and leans against the door to close it. Fatigue weighs heavily upon his bones and nearly drags him to the floor as he realizes how many boxes he’ll need to unpack later.
A futon waits for him on the far side of the room and he’s more than grateful it has already been set up. He barely finds the energy to change into his pajamas and hang his uniform at the back of the door before he flicks off the light and falls into bed.
“Mm… so this is where I’ll be living for the next year…” Souji yawns and nestles into his pillow with a content sigh. Maybe, he thinks, it won’t be so bad this time.
Souji groans and tries to move his limbs. His entire body feels numb and leaves him in a daze as he takes in his surroundings, confused. Everywhere he turns, a thick, white fog obscures his vision and prevents him from seeing anything more than a few inches in front of his face.
“What on earth…?” Souji frowns and reaches out, as if to grab the white that surrounded him. The air feels thick, as if he were touching cotton that couldn’t hold a physical form. He shivers and wraps his arms around his torso, but he doesn’t feel cold. A dull clap echoes around him as he taps his foot against the brick road beneath him and tries to figure out what to do.
“I guess…” he trails off and clicks his tongue, “I guess I’m stuck going forward.”
Souji hums and starts down the road. His shoes click with each step, rhythmic and sharp like the tick of a clock. It feels as if something -- someone? -- were pulling him forward and he quickens his pace to a jog.
He stops abruptly, and begins to look around, eyes wide. He wasn’t alone.
“Didn’t you learn your lesson the first time? Your efforts are so futile…”
“Again?” Souji frowns and takes off. His breath comes in short pants, but fatigue doesn’t seem to be able to reach him.
“Hmhmhm…” A low chuckle fills the air and Souji feels a shiver run down his spine. “Do you still seek the truth…?”
Growling, Souji breaks into a sprint. The voice gets clearer with every step he takes and the laugher grows louder. He runs; pushes himself to go faster and faster until he skids to a sudden halt and barely avoids a collision with a bizarre wall coloured in a twisted spiral of crimson and black.
The road stops at the wall, no right, no left, and he frowns. This can’t be right.
“Maybe…” He hums and presses his palm against the cool coloured surface. It vibrates under his hand and he startles back. The wall melts into itself and slips away and reveals a new, small path.
It doesn’t make sense, but Souji doesn’t allow himself to have time for doubts. He needs to keep moving. Whatever waits for him at the end of the path, it won’t be there forever, and he knows he has to find it before time runs out.
“I see…” The voice speaks again and it spurs Souji forward. “So, you’re pursuing me yet again…”
He runs and runs and runs. Just as he begins to think the path may never truly end, something dark stands out against the fog and he slides to a stop, staring at it.
“You…” he begins and the shadow chuckles once more.
“It seems you can still see, despite the fog.” The shadow moves, shifting a limb and Souji is sure it’s humanoid in shape. Or something close to it. “You really are quite interesting… Such unique potential.”
None of it makes sense and Souji’s fists ball at his sides in frustration. It feels like being suck in the weird dream-car all over again -- but at least the two he’d met there had tried to explain. Even if their words had made no sense.
“Unfortunately,” the voice speaks up again and pulls Souji from his thoughts, “you won’t catch me so easily. If you still seek the ‘truth,’ perhaps you will find me this time…”
Souji opens his mouth, ready to protest, to explain he’s not looking for anyone or anything. He just wants to make it through another year of school and return to his parent’s house. The same routine as always. Simple and boring, but easy to follow. He’d be free to make his own choices soon enough.
“Everyone sees what they want to see… and the fog deepens.”
Slowly, the fog begins to thicken and Souji tries to move forward. He barely makes it a few steps before his limbs seem to lock in place and he can’t move. It’s getting harder and harder to see, but he strains against the fog’s hold. He won’t be played for a fool, not from some faceless stranger.
“Stubborn, hm?” A laugh, approving. “I like that. I wonder… Will we meet again? I can’t help but look forward to it.” The voice begins to fade, as if moving further and further away and the shadowed figure grows smaller.
“Wait!” Souji tries to move and his vision swims, dizziness slamming into him with the force of a train. “Don’t… don’t run away… from me…”
He stumbles and drops to one knee, clutching his head. His skull throbs painfully and he feels his body begin to tip sideways as consciousness slips away.
Everything feels so familiar …
And then he hears it.
A scream; a loud, penetrating scream of anguish and fear that echoes in his ears and knocks the air from his lungs. It feels as if the shrill cry of horror chills his very soul.
“No…!” Souji jerks upward with a yell, drenched in cold sweat with wide and unfocused eyes. His feels himself shaking uncontrollably and stares down at his quivering hands. Droplets of water fall to his palms and startle him out of his confused gaze. He can’t remember the last time he’s cried, but he can’t stop himself from weeping as sadness washes over him and seeps into his core.
“Why…?” he chokes out and hugs himself, screwing his eyes shut in an attempt to slow his tears.
It hurts, it hurts so much, but he doesn’t know why. It feels like, for a brief few moments, he lost everything most precious to him with no chance of getting it back. Or perhaps… someone else? A group of someones?
He shakes his head and fumbles with the duffle bag he’d abandoned a few feet away. His hands are trembling so badly he barely manages to retain a grip on the water bottle buried inside. He nearly manages to spill the entire bottle down his front as he takes several deep gulps in an attempt to ease his nerves.
The pain begins to fade and he pushes himself into a kneeling position, trying to control the shivers still racing up and down his spine.
“What’s happening to me…?”
I'm working through what I have posted of the original story, eliminating certain scenes I don't feel need to still be there and shortening former scenes. I'm working hard to try and get across the idea of Souji's unconscious feelings of "why is this so familiar?" and "this feels natural, but it shouldn't be."
I'm also changing a handful of ideas and trying to move along the plot faster so I'm not just rehashing the same storyline from the actual game itself. The next chapter gave me a lot more wiggle room to change things around and play with ideas since I had more characters to work with, and chapter four (I guess chapter five if you count the author's notes) I get to really start to play with ideas and toss things around.
All around, I still feel like my writing has improved drastically since the last time I wrote this story and I hope it continues to do so and run even smoother than before.
And a special extra thank you to everyone who followed me here from ff.net and tumblr. Your support means the world to me.
Chapter 4: Author's Note
When I first began writing this story again, I was very excited. I had missed writing for the Persona 4 fandom so much, so when I finally had the time and good head space to write again, I leapt on it.
Unfortunately, with the return of this fanfic, it seems the return of the bad things came too.
For the ten years I have been writing for P4, and this fic in particular seems to have triggered a lot of disagreement and general hate. It has been sent to me on RP blogs, my personal blog, forums, and other ways. People have demanded I continue this fic, asked when I would with no regard as to if I wanted to or not, among other things. Accusations of being transphobic for not writing Naoto as trans have fallen into my mailbox, as well as a baffling amount of hostile messages regarding my choice of ship over KanjiNaoto or RiseNaoto.
I still get a lot of this (not surprisingly, anonymously) in my tumblr inbox to this day. For a long time, I simply deleted and ignored it, but that didn't stop it. When it continued for more than a few years, it did indeed start to drag me down. I started writing this story because it was something that brought me, and fantastically, others, joy. Yet now... now I feel dread when it comes time to work or post for this story.
I will by no means stop writing, and it is very likely I will write for Persona 4 as a fandom again, but I do bid this project in particular a fond farewell with a heavy heart.
I apologise to everyone who has stuck with me this far, and even to the new people who joined me later on. I hope that my other writing continues to bring joy and satisfaction, and I thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your support.
(Slightly edited for clarity.)