The First Beginning
For all of its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future
~ Sunday, April 5th, 2009 ??:?? ~
To be fair, it really wasn’t Naoto’s fault for getting lost. Ikutsuki was supposed to have met him near Iwatodai station, but since something had come up, he’d had to make his own way to the dormitory. Of course, due to a delightful stroke of Naoto’s terrible luck, his phone had stopped working and he’d forgotten to pick up a map, and the streets were completely empty.
Naoto cursed his lack of preparation as he dragged his travel suitcase along the sidewalk, checking the moving-in guide for Iwatodai Dormitory he’d been given by Grampa again. The miniature map on the guide was entirely unhelpful, so he’d simply headed towards the area he thought the dorm was in, hoping that he would be able to ask someone for directions along the way. For some reason, not a single person had answered the doors he’d worked up the courage to ring and he hadn’t found anyone walking on the streets either.
The night had begun to look strange, the colours of the sky twisting in front of his eyes. He wasn’t unfamiliar with hallucinations from sleep deprivation, especially with all the late nights he’d been working through now that he was attempting to complete his second year of high school at thirteen years old. Naoto yawned softly, staring absently at a rather out of place looking four-story, surrounded by tall office blocks in a way that seemed almost familiar….
Naoto snapped into awareness, holding up the picture of the dormitory for comparison, sighing in muted relief when the photograph matched the scenery in front of him. Walking with renewed determination, Naoto strode purposefully up the stairs, lifting his suitcase over the final step and placing it down beside him as he stood in front of the doors.
He considered the ornate doors, taking a moment to think as he lifted his hand to knock. This is my new place of residence for, at the very least, the next year. It would be beneficial to make a good first impression. With that in mind, Naoto took a deep breath and rapped sharply on the expensive oak once, twice –
The doors swung open before Naoto’s third knock. A man (long hair, beige suit, glasses. Ikutsuki.) smiled welcomingly at him from the doorway. Naoto extended a hand, a perfect mirror of the way Grampa acted when introducing himself.
“Good evening, Ikutsuki-san. I am Naoto Shirogane. I trust you’re well?” Naoto said, then inwardly winced. Too formal. However, it’s not a terrible thing to be perceived as by a guardian. At the very least, it might encourage him to take me more seriously than if I was casual with my words.
“Well, good evening to you too, Naoto! I am well, thank you. I’m glad to see you made it here safely from the station – there wasn’t any trouble on the way, was there?” Ikutsuki smiled cheerfully at him, seemingly unaffected by Naoto’s stilted speech as he ushered him inside. Naoto heaved his suitcase over the raised part of the doorframe, shaking his head.
“There were no issues.” He said, choosing to pretend he hadn’t got lost. First impressions were important, after all. Naoto straightened up as the latch on the door clicked closed, taking in the room for the first time. It was a homey, dimly lit lobby-type area, with what looked like a reception built into one wall. Perhaps the building used to be a hotel, and was repurposed into a dormitory…?
Ikutsuki cleared his throat, and Naoto flinched, reeling his thoughts back in. I need to stop getting distracted so easily. Grampa isn’t here to watch over me and catch my mistakes anymore. He followed Ikutsuki’s meaningful look, finally noticing the three people seated on the brown leather couches. On one of the longer sofas, a girl with red hair sat beside a boy with short, silver hair and a white band-aid above his left eye. Perpendicular to them, a girl with brown hair and a pink sweater sat tensely on an armchair, her hand brushing over a holster on her leg that held – dear God, why does she have a gun?!?
“These are your dormmates, Naoto.” Ikutsuki said, going to stand beside the redhead, who got to her feet as the Chairman approached. Naoto followed him, eyeing the brunette warily but pushing the thought of her away to concentrate on the upcoming interaction.
Naturally, Naoto knew who the daughter of the owner of the Kirijo group was, but he didn’t say anything, letting her introduce herself. Kirijo had a proud air about her, looking down at Naoto and giving him a cursory once-over. She offered him a tight smile and a hand to shake.
“It’s lovely to meet you, Shirogane. My name is Mitsuru Kirijo, and I’m a third year at Gekkoukan High School.” Kirijo said politely, and Naoto nodded.
“A pleasure, Kirijo-senpai.” He replied, before shifting his gaze to the silver haired boy– Akihiko Sanada, the captain of the boxing team in Gekkoukan. Naoto had been informed that he’d be in Akihiko’s dorm – which is more than he could say about Kirijo and the younger looking brunette.
“Akihiko Sanada, third year. How ya doin’?” Sanada gripped Naoto’s hand with his own gloved one, shaking it firmly. His kind grin was far less intimidating than the intensity Kirijo had given off.
“I am in good health, thank you, Sanada-senpai.” Naoto said, holding Sanada’s gaze for a moment, then finally moved onto the girl with the gun. As she stood, Naoto noticed that, while the holster was still on, the firearm was gone. I could have sworn she had a gun… besides, if she didn’t have a one, why does she have a holster on her thigh? Naoto tried not to let his confusion show, shaking the girl’s hand quickly. He caught a glint from behind her when she moved. The gun was jammed into the gap between the seat and the arm of the armchair.
“Hello. I’m Yukari Takeba, second year at high school. Nice to meet ya!” Takeba smiled, but it wasn’t quite as relaxed as Naoto had expected from her– her shoulders were tense, set in a slightly defensive stance, like she was ready to run away at any moment. Her brown eyes kept flicking away from Naoto and casting worried glances over Naoto’s shoulder – Likely at the door, Naoto recognised. So, the gun is for protection from something, and the point of entry that concerns Takeba the most is the door.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Takeba-senpai.” Naoto murmured, stepping back so he had all four of them in his line of sight. The inhabitants of the dorm all wore matching armbands labelled with the letters “SEES”. Are they all part of a club? Is the armband just for people who stay in this dorm? Ikutsuki clapped his hands to get their attention.
“Alright, everyone. Since Naoto was home-schooled when he was traveling with his grandfather, he’s quite far ahead in the Japanese curriculum, so he’s going to join the second year of Gekkoukan with you, Yukari. Akihiko, Naoto is in the first room on the right, so you can show him where he’s staying.
Naoto, we have a curfew of being back by midnight, but since your age corresponds to that of a middle schooler, that curfew is a little earlier – you need to be back at the dorm by ten thirty, and in your room before eleven thirty. Do you have any other questions?” Ikutsuki looked inquiringly at Naoto.
Naoto hesitated, considering asking about the gun that Takeba had openly displayed, but decided against it. It would be better to have some more information before asking about the pistol, because he refused to think that no-one else in the dorm, including the Chairman, had seen it. She was wearing it on her leg, in plain view! Instead, he opted for a simpler question.
“I had been led to believe that I was going to be in a male dormitory – I wasn’t aware that Gekkoukan had co-ed dorms.” Naoto said, staring straight at Ikutsuki, who laughed sheepishly.
“Ah, you’re quite right about that. Unfortunately, all the other dorms are full, and since there were so few people left over, it was easier to put them all in one dorm.” Ikutsuki explained. Accepting it as a reasonable solution, Naoto picked up his suitcase again.
“I have no other inquiries.” Naoto said. It was getting late, and after a plane and a bullet train ride, he just wanted to collect his thoughts somewhere private.
“Alright, Naoto. Don’t stay up too late – remember, the early bird catches the bookworm!” Ikutsuki called as he left the building. Naoto saw a flash of the sky outside – it looked as dark as ever. His earlier vision of the tinted sky must have been an exhaustion induced hallucination. Perhaps he shouldn’t have stayed awake to study on the plane…
Sanada waved his hand in Naoto’s face, and Naoto jerked away violently. “You alright? I said your name, but you weren’t responding.” Sanada’s voice sounded faintly amused, and Naoto flushed in embarrassment.
“I am – I am fine, thank you! It has been a long day, and I think – I - ” Naoto stopped in the middle of his sentence to yawn again, trying to cling to whatever dignity he had left as he forced out the rest of his words. “I would like to get some rest, if we’re done here.”
“Sure. I’ll take your bag up.” Sanada effortlessly lifted Naoto’s suitcase away from him, ignoring Naoto’s weak protests in favour of walking towards a flight of stairs at the back of the lobby. He turned to look at Naoto, his foot on the first step. “You comin’?”
“Ah, y-yes.” Naoto stumbled over his words, his tongue suddenly too heavy to speak properly. Despite his fatigue, he remembered to turn and offer the two girls a respectful nod and wish them a good night before hurrying after Sanada.
They went up one level and took a right turn, where Naoto was led down a corridor with five doors. Sanada stopped at the first door on the right, carefully putting down the royal blue bag as he turned the knob. The room inside was a moderately sized, average looking dormitory – although, at closer inspection, everything in the room seemed to be unusually high quality, from the bed sheets, to the desk set against the wall.
“This is you. I’m in the room on the other side of the hall, closest to the window. Feel free to ask if something’s up.” Sanada said, passing Naoto his bag and leaving him to his own devices. Naoto closed the door, listening as the footsteps faded away. He waited a moment longer, just to be sure, then threw himself down on the mattress, groaning.
The best course of action right now would be to try and figure out why Takeba had a gun, because Naoto was absolutely certain that she didn’t have a licence like the one Grampa had sorted out for him when he’d first been targeted by a criminal as leverage over Grampa. If she had, why would she hide the gun, instead of keeping it out while Naoto was around, and just explaining?
Ikutsuki, as Naoto’s temporary legal guardian while Grampa was busy, had been informed that Naoto carried a pistol and should have alerted his dormmates, so why would Takeba feel the need to conceal her gun from him if she had a licence, especially when she had been wearing it in front of Kirijo, Sanada and Ikutsuki? There were so many questions, but he was just too tired to fit any of them with answers.
Naoto sighed, forcing himself up. Unpacking properly would be bothersome at this hour, but he went ahead and got changed, swapping out his ordinary clothes for something more appropriate for sleeping in. He took off his binder too – it was unhealthy to wear it for a prolonged period of time, after all. After taking out his journal and noting down the events that had just taken place, Naoto slipped under the covers, letting the worry drain away from his body as he fell asleep.
~ ??????, ????? ???, ???? ??:?? ~
“Welcome, dear guest, to the Velvet Room.” A hunched old man with a strangely elongated nose grinned at Naoto as he blinked awake. He was sitting on a plush chair, in a place that resembled Mother’s study, back in the old house in the Shirogane Estate in Inaba. The colours, however, were different, with varying shades of deep blue shading all the furniture and the walls of the room itself. In front of Naoto, the old man sat in his Father’s chair, separated from him by a desk made of what seemed to be cerulean blue wood.
Beside the man, stood someone that Naoto could only assume was a woman. She was shorter than the shelf beside her, but taller than the lampshade on the desk, which put her at around… 5”4? She looked to be around seventeen, maybe eighteen at a push. Her hair was a light blonde and styled with a braid that started just above each ear, then looped around a low bun at the top of her neck. Around the base of the bun was a circle of gold, with evenly spaced spikes - Naoto couldn’t count how many there were from the angle he was sitting at, but he estimated about twenty, maybe a few more. An azure bellhop cap sat neatly on her head, with words that Naoto couldn’t understand picked out in shining thread.
The woman wore a sleeveless blue waistcoat with three golden buttons over a long-sleeved black shirt with a blue tie. The buttons had carvings that Naoto realised were the same as the bun decoration – a circle with twenty-two spikes. She had a sleek black belt to hold up a pair of black trousers, but the rest of her outfit was hidden by the desk.
“My name is Igor,” the old man continued, drawing Naoto’s attention back to him. “and I am delighted to make your acquaintance. It has currently been many years since we’ve had a guest, after all. Now, won’t you do me the honour of telling me your name?” His bulging eyes glinted as he clicked his fingers, and a page of paper, along with a navy quill materialised on the table in front of him. That settles it, Naoto thought to himself. This is simply a remarkably vivid dream.
There was no harm in indulging the more creative part of his mind, so Naoto picked up the quill, writing his name in elegant script. As he wrote, words in bold black font faded into existence on the page, and he watched in fascination as the words spiralled across the white surface, spelling out…
The paper was pulled away from him before he could read anything. Igor picked up the sheet and gave the paper a delighted once-over, before flicking his hand. The paper dissolved into a shower of blue, and Naoto couldn’t help but give Igor a sullen look for depriving him. The woman by Igor’s side snorted, composing herself with an embarrassed cough when Igor gave her an unimpressed look.
“Ah, yes. My dear guest, allow me to introduce Alexis, a servant of Philemon like myself. She will be your guide and attendee during your time in the Velvet Room.” Igor gestured to the woman, who offered Naoto a smile. Her eyes were like nothing he’d ever seen. The left iris was a bright, shifting liquid gold around a black pupil, and the right iris was an onyx black, with a spiked ring of gold around the pupil.
“Hello, Naoto.” Alexis said lightly, a teasing lilt to her tone. Naoto didn’t say anything, too entranced by Alexis’ eyes to even think about responding. There was something almost hypnotising about the slowly rotating circle of gold in her right eye.
“The Velvet Room is a place that exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those bound by a contract may enter.” Igor continued, as though he’d never stopped. “It is where we will help you hone the powers bestowed upon you by Philemon, in order to prepare you for the inevitable ordeals that await you. We only ask that you take full responsibility for your actions, Naoto Shirogane.” He finished, giving Naoto an expectant look.
“My actions are my own. I take responsibility for them.” Naoto said quietly. The words had a certain weight to them – he didn’t know what it was, but saying them aloud felt like pronouncing a death sentence.
“Wonderful.” Igor said, beaming at him. “We will see you again soon, dear guest.” Naoto frowned, trying to speak, but finding that he couldn’t open his mouth. Alexis gave him one last smile and whispered something as his vision clouded and there was a sensation of falling and Naoto couldn’t see –
“Be careful, Rewriter. The Wheel has already started to turn.”