part one: pleiades
Atsushi wakes up, as is his usual, every day.
No, that doesn’t seem right.
Atsushi wakes up and rubs at the corners of his eyes using the pads of his fingers. It’s strange. There’s an inherent stillness in the air, almost like he’s sleeping inside a coffin, instead of the comfortable box of Kyouka-chan’s unused closet. It’s very strange.
He usually wakes up to four things: his phone’s alarm (right before he sleepily presses a number of buttons on it to quiet it down); his stomach’s alarm (which usually happens when it’s the last two days before getting his paycheck); his dream’s alarm (normally accompanied by beads of sweat pooling at his nape and at his temples, alongside a healthy dose of screaming); Kyouka-chan’s alarm (subsequently followed by Kyouka-chan knocking on the flimsy door before sliding it open to allow light to cascade into his space).
…None of those four things happen.
In fact, Atsushi feels well-rested.
Too well-rested, that is, that his back aches with disuse and his thighs are nearly numb from being locked in the same position for an immeasurable amount of time.
Atsushi wakes up and yawns, from the too-long sleep, and folds away his blanket in careful, practiced motions.
Before he comes out, he hooks his fingers against the cool metal door-clasp, calls out a, “Kyouka-chan, I’m coming out,” and receives nothing but the stone-cold stillness that roused him from his slumber.
Kyouka-chan isn’t there.
Atsushi bangs his head against the wooden beam above him, before he manages to worm out of the closet space. He half-collapses to his hands and knees, poised like an injured feline with its tail raised in alarm. He doesn’t have a tail, but his eyes are wide as he swishes his head this way and that, trying to calm his senses and getting nothing but panic in his efforts. His ears don’t hear anything aside from the rush of his blood, his nose doesn’t smell anything but the putrid stench of fear emanating from his body. He blinks rapidly, as though it can help refresh his eyesight.
The sight in front of him doesn’t change.
Kyouka-chan is still not there.
Her futon is left in the middle of the room. She never leaves it there, not when she’s awake. She’s made a point of allowing Atsushi space, so she always tries to clean up after herself the moment she wakes up. A small lamp is lit up a few steps away from her futon, the light that she keeps lit as they sleep. The room is small enough that most shadows are chased away by the faint light. Her phone and its bunny strap is there, on top of the unfolded blanket. As though she’s woken up in alarm, and her instinct was to clutch at her phone, flip it open and dial a number.
Atsushi’s breath comes out in spurts, breathless gasps interspersed with dread sinking to his stomach like he’s swallowed a stone whole.
He focuses his everything on his ears. He doesn’t hear anything from beyond the room.
“I’m a member of the Armed Detective Agency,” he chants under his breath, repeats it for however many times it takes for his legs to stop being jellified. And continues repeating it, a dizzying loop that gives him a shred of strength. This isn’t new. He shouldn’t panic. Something similar to this has happened before. Before, with the mist that enshrouded Yokohama. Before, Kyouka-chan was there with him, a symbol of grace and strength who took him by the hand.
Atsushi shakes his head. He needs to find clues about Kyouka-chan’s whereabouts. He needs to contact the Agency. He needs to find Dazai-san, because surely, Dazai-san would know what to do. He needs to stay focused instead of collapsing into himself. Atsushi pinches his thighs over his pajamas.
He repeats, with the desperation of someone at the end of their rope, “I’m a member of the Armed Detective Agency.”
He crawls towards Kyouka-chan’s futon. It’s cold. It shouldn’t be this cold. If only Atsushi didn’t enjoy sleeping too much, he might have woken up earlier and he could have prevented Kyouka-chan from disappearing—no, no, no, that’s the wrong way of thinking. He shouldn’t blame himself. No, he should blame himself, but more importantly, he should find Kyouka-chan so he could atone for his misstep.
“Sorry, Kyouka-chan,” he murmurs, before he takes the flip phone.
He’s already half-dreading having to fumble with it for the passcode, but there’s no need for it, apparently?
Atsushi sees the last thing Kyouka-chan did on the phone, which is to call the Emergency Number for the Armed Detective Agency.
It’s still calling.
Currently, the call time is at 03h:47m:24s.
Kyouka-chan’s been missing for nearly four hours and Atsushi didn’t even realize it—!
He nearly drops the phone before he manages to place it against his ear.
“Hello?” Atsushi can’t hear anything from the other end of the line. No static, no ringing, no operator voice. No breathing either. “Hello? This is Atsushi, Kyouka-chan is—!”
Atsushi looks back at the phone display. It’s still stuck at the ‘CALLING – EMERGENCY’. And at 03h:47m:24s.
He tries to press other buttons on the phone. The buttons aren’t responding. He tries to use the littlest bit of force, but it’s like the buttons are painted over by a film that nullifies anything that Atsushi does. He puts Kyouka-chan’s phone back down on her futon. It’s still cold.
He slinks back to his closet space and stretches for his own phone. Flips it open. Tries mashing the buttons. It doesn’t respond either. Tries pushing at the power button to force-restart it. Nothing.
Tries to calm down his breathing as his vision swims.
No, he’s not going to cry. He’s not going to lose it. He’s not going to be this pathetic – he’s going to, he’s going to find out what’s going on.
With shaking hands, he tries to dislodge the case at the back of his phone, to forcibly remove the battery. It’s a no-go either.
It’s like both of their phones are stuck in some sort of stillness that cannot be disturbed.
Atsushi scrambles towards the desk flush against one of the walls.
There’s a notebook there. Atsushi’s been using it to keep track of his assignments and the things he’s learned in his everyday life. A coupon sticks out from it. 50% off chazuke, weekdays only, 1 PM to 4 PM. For the newly-opened stall beside the supermarket. Atsushi’s been wanting to treat Kyouka-chan there, because a growing girl needs to eat something aside from crepes and tofu. He shakes his head again. He’s going to find her, everything’s going to be alright. They’re going there tomorrow, even if tomorrow is a Saturday. They’re going to have many more meals together.
He flips through the notebook and finds a blank page. Tries to tear it from the notebook. The notebook is cheap, bought during a sale. Fifty-six yen, if he remembers correctly. Cheap glue and cloth binding.
Despite that, it takes a herculean amount of effort to tear one flimsy page. Herculean amount of effort that has Atsushi sweating and gasping, but he still isn’t able to tear a page.
His heartbeat swells inside his ribs.
“What is going on,” he says, voice tiny in the wake of the roar of his lack of calm. He fumbles for his phone again. Still nothing.
He goes towards the window and tries to slide it open. No go. He doesn’t dare try anything more forceful. He doesn’t have money to pay for possible repairs and he doesn’t want to trouble anyone.
“I’m going to the Agency,” he says aloud to the silent, small room. Hearing his own shaky voice brings a tiny bit of comfort. He’s still there. He’s still there and he can do something. He must do something. He scrambles towards the closet section reserved for his clothes. He changes to his usual clothes, but finds himself stuck with being unable to slide the plastic buttons of his pajama top free. It’s easy to slide down the pants, the elastic barely catching against his skin, but the top is hopeless. He tries to undo the buttons of his usual top too and finds himself unable to do so as well.
Seems like even his clothes are affected by the strange stillness.
He spends a few seconds debating whether he should just don on his clothes on top of his sleeping outfit.
…but that would entail squeezing through his top…
He decides to just fold a set of clothes and keep on wearing his pajamas. He’s gratified that he’s able to open his book bag, at least, the metal clasp allowing itself to be undone. He inspects its contents – another notebook, his purse with its truly pitiful amount of coins and bills, a foldable umbrella and a packet of biscuits. He pushes them about to make room for his packed clothes, then places Kyouka-chan’s phone, along with his, on top of the pile. He lets out a relieved sigh when he’s able to fasten the clasp back. He shoulders the bag’s strap and slowly slinks out of the room, the sliding door barely making a sound as he steps out. He shuffles into his shoes that are left by the door.
The dorm’s hallway is dimly lit. He tries to press the light switches once he reaches the end of the hallway. No go there either. Seems like even switches will not cooperate with him.
There is no sound in the hallway.
There is no sound even when he steps out to the sidewalk.
Yokohama is quiet, eerily so.
No cicadas, no birds, no insects.
Just like when there’s that incident with the Collector’s Mist, it’s like Yokohama has become truly deserted.
Unlike that incident though, everything feels too orderly. No upturned cars, no traffic accidents, no spilled gasoline.
Atsushi spots a car stuck waiting in an intersection. The stoplight is at a red. Atsushi peers into the driver’s seat. The window isn’t tinted. There’s no driver. On the passenger’s seat, there’s a paper bag of KFC take-out. On the back-seat, there’s an unfinished chicken bucket, a half-eaten drumstick still soaked in gravy on top. Atsushi squints. On the car’s floor, there’s a phone still stuck in some music app. He can’t quiet read the song’s name, but he could see that it’s playing still. No earphones are connected, but Atsushi can’t hear anything.
He moves on.
There is no breeze.
Yokohama is a port city. There’s always some hint of sea breeze in the area. But there’s none of that now.
Atsushi looks up. Stays looking up, until his neck protests from the cramp. The clouds aren’t drifting to any direction. It’s like even the winds have been frozen. Luckily, the moon is only half-hidden by the clouds, so there’s additional moonlight guiding his way, on top of the streetlights.
The trek to the Agency office feels like forever.
Atsushi convinces himself that it’s only because he’s being cautious and not wanting to miss any clues. It’s not like he’s afraid of any g-g-ghosts or m-monsters. Like in those B-movies that Kyouka-chan likes to watch with Kenji-kun. It’s too quiet, that it feels like it’s just missing a scare chord.
He tightens his grip on his bag’s strap. No, he’s not going to chicken out. He’s going to reach the Agency, even if he only has his panicky thoughts and panicky heartbeat for company—
Atsushi jumps in place.
The scare chord!
And then he looks up.
Before, the skies were still, thick clouds covering half of the moon. There’s only darkness and grays, small scattering of stars, faint silver moonlight.
There’s a brilliant flash of red.
It’s like the sky has exploded.
It reminds Atsushi of the documentary he’s watched with Kyouka-chan. Something about Northern Lights. Brilliant, natural, light shows in the far north. Purples, blues and greens, like curtains dancing and fluttering in the skies.
“But we’re not far up north,” Atsushi mumbles to himself as he watches the sky be covered by a huge red glow. “And this actually looks like…”
It’s like an eruption of red.
No, not like fireworks.
It’s like gigantic wings that have unfurled, large enough to cover the skies.
It’s bright enough that even the tallest skyscraper in the area, the Port Mafia’s Headquarters, is engulfed and overpowered by the light.
And then, just as suddenly as it appears, it’s gone.
The sky is back with its stars, moon and clouds.
Atsushi scrubs at the corner of his eyes using the pads of his fingers. It feels like an illusion. With nobody around to confirm what he’s seen, it’s possible that it’s really just him hallucinating things.
Should he go there and investigate…?
But it’s more important to go to the Agency…
Atsushi’s just two blocks away from the Agency office, after all.
The air is still.
Three coughs in succession.
He knows that sound.
Slowly, Atsushi turns towards the source of the coughs.
“…Is this perhaps fate?” Another cough. “It seems that I am destined to meet you during these kinds of events… jinko.”
Clad in his usual ensemble as though he doesn’t exist outside of those clothes, Akutagawa Ryuunosuke comes from the direction of theHey Armed Detective Agency’s office. He looks torn, as always, between one-thousand and one-thousand-and-one uncharitable thoughts towards him. There’s a furrow on his barely-visible eyebrows, his expression grimmer than when he’s promised to give Atsushi six months to get stronger before he comes for his neck.
“Why are you here?!”
“I went to find Dazai-san,” Akutagawa tells him with a sort of misplaced pride. Like it’s totally normal for members of the Port Mafia to come find a valuable member of an enemy organization in the middle of the night. And then, as though Atsushi is the sort of person who needs things to be spelled out slowly for him to comprehend it, Akutagawa says very slowly, “He wasn’t there.”
“What did you do to the Agency?! Are you the ones behind—Hey! I’m talking to you!”
Akutagawa starts walking away from while he’s busy questioning the other, prompting Atsushi to run after the other man’s back.
“I’m talking to you!”
“Have I ever gave you the impression that I wished to waste time conversing with you?”
Despite his misgivings, Atsushi trails after Akutagawa, the two of them rapidly making their way to the Agency’s office.
Yokohama is still mostly quiet, but Atsushi feels like he’s less likely to go crazy like this.
“Have you even managed to gather some whit of information before you came running across the city in your deplorable outfit?”
Atsushi rolls his eyes.
Scratch that, there’s still a good chance that he’ll end up going crazy with his newfound companion here.
end of part one;