The most jarring thing about his morning is not the too-bright sunbeams scintillating across his eyelids, or uncharacteristic cold that bites every inch of his exposed skin. Rather, Noriaki Kakyoin shifts deeper into the recesses of his blanket and reaches out for his stand, only to be met with nothing.
The complete and utter absence of Hierophant is enough to kindly slap him out of his pre-wake oblivion.
His tentative voice is barely a squeak in the all-too-silent room. Almost immediately, the fear sets in as he scrambles out of bed, tripping over the sheets to skid before falling flat on the floor.
He sits up on the floor and hyperventilates, trying desperately to summon his stand. He pushes all of his being into that familiar channel, but there’s no path for him to take. He tries again, even physically reaching out with his hands to emphatically illustrate his needs, but it’s blocked by a spectral embolus.
What the hell is going on?
With his head spinning in his palms, he takes a few forceful breaths to reset his brain. This has to be a joke of course, because it’s not the first time that his stand has adopted their own wishes for some time to play a cruel joke on their user. And likewise, there have been instances in the past where Hierophant wanders off on their own to cause general chaos to the unsuspecting populace before Noriaki gets wind of their shenanigans.
But despite their tendency for mayhem, Hierophant always ultimately bends to his will.
Except now, that is.
He reaches out again, only for the susurrus of a breeze deigning to reply.
Well, now what?
A quiet whine escapes his throat inadvertently; he almost wants to cry. He stays rooted to the floor, feeling the chill give way to the heat rising in his cheeks, and his eyes begin to feel hot with the threat of tears. He sits for a good 10 minutes, pinned down with the weight of fear and emptiness, until eventually, the painful numbness of the cold is enough to rouse him from his stupor.
Carefully (--and oh, so carefully, because how much of his stand’s ability has he taken for granted?), he rises to his feet. He shuffles quietly to the window to stare at the brightness outside, hoping to spot the familiar emerald figure before he gives up and slams the window closed. He shouldn’t have forgotten to close it last night, and the chill only serves to amplify the hollowness of his chest.
He rubs the post-somnolent bleariness from his eyes. Why do the edges of his vision ebb with darkness despite the sun being so bright in the sky?
This really isn’t how he wanted to start his day.
Reluctantly, he pulls himself next to his easel featuring his partially finished canvas. He had intended for his weekend to be one of productivity, hoping to complete a good chunk of his midterm assignment, but his brain is a mess of live wires that has destroyed any hope of concentration. He taps his foot impatiently against the paint-stained floor before absentmindedly reaching for his paintbrush. He dips his brush into a wet dollop of red paint, only to have the brush handle snap in half under the tension of his hand.
He curses out loud, forgetting that the only reason his abused paintbrush has lasted this long is because Hierophant has always held the hairline fracture in place with their web-like body beneath his grip. He drops the broken fragments and notices his hands trembling.
Fuck this, he thinks, and he suddenly needs to go.
This is stupid. It was stupid to even think he would be able to go about his day as if the core of his existence hasn’t suddenly up and left him without any warning. He violently wrings his hands to rid them of their shakes before shoving them into his pockets. He can’t stay here; he needs to go.
There isn’t enough spiritual energy to summon Hierophant back even if he wanted to. They’ve become untethered, and there’s nothing Noriaki can do about it.
The trip to the art supply store didn’t serve as the distraction he was hoping for. Instead, every single step through the campus has him quaking, and he’s on high alert having never been so naked and unprotected before. Every flash of green sends a ray of false hope into his heart that is quickly snuffed out when he identifies it as a bright, green sweater on a fellow student, vibrant foliage, a verdant bike -- he doesn’t even know how he manages to transport his shaking body to his destination until the welcoming ring of the door alerts him of his arrival.
Noriaki bites at his lower lip as he makes a beeline to the shelves housing his preferred brand of brushes. It’s been long overdue, so he grabs a replacement for his broken brush. He fumbles with a second brush of the same type before he recalls the (lack of) weight in his wallet, and starts mentally cursing again.
Art stores are a scam, and it's way too pricey for a broke-ass student like himself to be able to justify his purchases. Of course, he didn’t anticipate the breakage of his brush quite so soon, and he’s regretting his lack of forethought which leads to his current situation in the first place, so he reluctantly relinquishes the second brush.
He feels himself crumple inward as dark floaters drift across vision. He glances at all the other art supplies in the store -- all the other supplies that he wants to splurge badly on -- and sighs, feeling hopelessly broke. This day is going to suck, and he knows it.
Noriaki makes his purchase at the cashier, mumbling a polite but listless “thank you” to the clerk before throwing his single item into his otherwise empty backpack. He begins his trek back to his dorm, heels clicking quietly against the concrete with his head deep in rumination.
He feels way too disoriented without Hierophant mapping out his path, scanning his proximity for any signs of danger. Their absence is jarring. Without any awareness of his surroundings, he steps off from the sidewalk to jaywalk across what he presumes to be an empty road.
He was wrong.
A car swerves out of nowhere and the loud horn is the only sound that pulls Noriaki from his reverie before he squeezes his eyes shut, far too late to react to the imminent impact.
The crash is deafening.
Noriaki hears shrapnel whizzing past his ears as the hood of the car folds and wraps itself around his body. He barely registers his own screaming amidst the crunch of metal and machinery.
--It takes him a good second before he realizes he’s unharmed.
“Hey! What the fuck are you doing there?!”
Noriaki stops screaming and looks up, finally seeing a huge dent in the front of the car. There’s a wide berth between his body and the folded metal as if a body far larger than his own had stepped in to take the brunt of the impact.
Noriaki's jaw drops in disbelief.
Did Hierophant do this?
The driver of the vehicle is a stout and angry-looking man who has stepped out of his vehicle, heading toward him. There's so much vitriol in his voice, but Noriaki's head is spinning, miles and miles away, and his ears won't stop ringing.
His mind finally clicks, finally registering all the telltale signs of something clearly wrong, something so unnatural that has taken a hold of his consciousness since the very morning. It's visceral and discomforting, and dread fills his lungs.
It's obviously not Hierophant that saved him, because it’s far beyond their regular capabilities. They excel in long-distance tasks as opposed to brute strength, and this was definitely caused by some entity far more powerful than what he’s familiar with. This sudden realization only serves to instill even more fear into his heart.
Again, a dark presence edges itself into the periphery of his vision, close enough to make its presence known without providing any clarity to its shape. Full body chills creeps along his skin, pulling his pilomotors to stand.
"You fucking idiot! You wrecked my car!"
He barely hears anything. His legs spurn him into action, and he’s breaking into a run before he even realizes it.
His head won't stop ringing as he ignores the call of the angry driver. And of course he does, because he’s noticing more and more of something at the very periphery that has been there since he woke up. There’s a large shadow looming behind him, chasing his every footstep, and without Hierophant to protect him, he’s essentially a sitting duck.
The shadow breaks into a sprint after him, hot at his heels, and Noriaki is too afraid to look back.
What the hell is going on?!
Noriaki fumbles with his cell phone mid-stride -- ack , his hands are shaking far too much -- before he finds the contact in question. He hits dial and after the fourth ring, he’s greeted by a familiar voicemail message:
“Hello? Oh, if you’re hearing this, it means I’m actively trying to avoid you. So don’t leave a message because it’ll get ignored anyway -- BEEP”.
Noriaki’s far too terrified to even roll his eyes at the obnoxious recording and pants into the microphone; “Jean -- Jean -- oh my god - huff - gotta help me, Heirophant is gone -- oh my god, I almost died and there’s a dark shadow - huff- following me -- ‘m so scared right now CALL ME BACK--”
He somehow makes it back into his dorm room despite the terror destroying him inside. The door slams shut behind him, and he quickly twists the lock into closed position before fleeing to the corner of the room, farthest from the door. His panic almost causes him to slam into his easel, and he quickly crouches against the wall below his window.
With one final wheeze, the room grows quiet. The silence in the room is only punctured by the thundering of his heart and his shallow breathing.
He’s still paralyzed with fear. But when it finally becomes clear that there’s no assailant on his heels, no more shadow stalking his steps, he breathes.
Another 10 minutes and there’s no shadow that makes an appearance at the crack of his door.
Finally, he huffs emphatically and rests his head in his palms. He’s definitely, unequivocally losing it, he thinks, as his sweat cools to a frosty chill around his neck.
He could almost cry.
... It’s pathetic, really, because the moment he finds himself unable to summon his stand is the moment he starts seeing shadows in the corners of his eyes, imagining all sorts of ghosts and monsters that are out to destroy him. It’s sickeningly pitiful, how relying on Hierophant since his childhood has become such a crutch that he’s suddenly as helpless as a newborn kitten without them.
How the hell do normal people function without stands?
He shakes his head, never having thought that he would be joining the masses in that aspect. Noriaki would be laughing at his own absurdity, but there’s still an inkling of fear that lingers in the back of his mind. Still, the absence of the aforementioned spectre is enough to at least ease some of the rigidity from his limbs, until he finally notices the unexpected weight of his backpack clutched at his chest.
Which is definitely odd, because he doesn’t recall it ever being this full when he left the art store.
The tremors begin to make an encore as he pries the bag open, surprised to find it completely full of art supplies that he never even touched while in the store earlier. New tubes of watercolours, a complete set of his favourite synthetic brushes, a high quality, heavy duty sketchbook, gesso, and charcoal, expensive colored pencils. He rifles through the other compartments of his bag to find more miscellaneous items: air-dry clay, vellum, kneaded erasers, sculpting tools, and so forth.
He feels his brain short circuiting. He doesn’t remember any of this.
When did I…. What?
And just like that, the shadows at the periphery of his vision returns. The room grows cold in its wake as if he never closed the window to begin with.
He presses his face into the backpack and swallows thickly, the fear returning just as heavy handed as before, adrenaline surging through his body in tune with his hammering heart. His throat is parched with terror when he finally forces himself to look up, only to meet the gaze of a masculine face; skin flushed to a dark purple, even darker hair, flowing and weightless like a midnight river.
He blinks at them.
They blink back impassively.
He finds himself speechless, unable to parse any words to match his complete absence of thoughts. Luckily, the figure before him spares him from that duty by vocalizing first: