"My dearest, wake up. We have a visitor." Ryoji's voice rippled from behind the gate she guarded, and she couldn't help but imagine his smile.
Minako pulled her consciousness, or at least what was left of it, away from the memories she had sought refuge in and back into the stone shell that was the remains of her existence. The closed eyes of the statue that housed Minako Arisato opened to reveal garnet orbs which focused intently on the former attendant of the Velvet Room who stood before her.
"Theo, it's been a long time." She greeted fondly, her not-voice echoing through the chamber.
"Not as long as you might think. In mortal time, it has only been approximately three years.. Your friends are gathering within the city that became yours, for the first, and most likely the last, time since your untimely demise. The ones who allied with you learnt to overcome their regrets about you when they came to..." Theodore paused, seemingly to find an appropriate word for what had happened.
"Learn the truth of why Minako had to die." Ryoji contributed, and Theo nodded reluctantly at the great golden door.
"As he said. They learned to come to terms with what happened. The representatives of the other bonds you have formed... They did not have that chance. The regrets they carry... With time, those will weaken you, allow Erebus to damage you, perhaps even destroy you. And so, in an effort to prevent the potential long term consequences, the Universe is giving you the gift of a single day, as you once were, to dispel these regrets, and to say your goodbyes to those who give you strength." Theodore explained, and Minako felt the barbed wire that held her upright rasp away from her.
She slumped to her knees, and warmth spread through her body, shifting grey stone to light pink flesh. Cloth rustled, and she found herself wearing a familiar uniform. She noticed the ridges of repairs, and the patches that covered what even Akihiko's skilled needlework hadn't been able to rejoin. It was the Gekkoukan uniform she'd always fought in, the one that looked fine from a distance, but was a mess of stitched tears, patched scorches, and carefully bleached and redyed bloodstains when you looked closely at it. For the first time in three years, if Theo was to be believed, Minako felt comfortable in her skin again. But a morbid curiosity caused her to ask the single question Theo's words left her with.
"Who will hold the Seal for this day? If Erebus comes before I return, then all is lost."
"I'm happy to, dearest. She," Here Minako had no doubt that Ryoji spoke of Nyx, "Sleeps currently, and I am certain that your... friend," The particular emphasis Ryoji put on the word told Minako that he knew about the one afternoon spent in temptation, and, perhaps more importantly, didn't care, "And I, will be able to keep Erebus at bay. I admit, I do not wish for the regrets of those you protect to harm you. Go. Enjoy your day. I will leave you a... gift to remind you of your deadline." Minako felt a weight settle around her neck, and didn't need to look to know that it was a pale yellow scarf, stark against the black uniform jacket.
"I won't forget. Thank you, both of you." And then the chamber seemed to ripple, and Minako's vision went dark.
She found herself laying on the roof of Gekkoukan High, with her head resting on something solid. She pushed herself into a seated position, and turned to look at what she'd been resting on. A bronze plaque was set into an angled slab of dark stone, and Minako couldn't bring herself to be surprised at the inscription.
In memory of Minako Arisato (1992-2010)
Faintly, behind the dark slab, Minako could see something wrapped in red cloth. With grim certainty, she rose to her feet, and took a step forward, dreading and anticipating what she would find in equal measure. She bent down, and an equally grim and morose little smile crossed her lips. She closed her hand around the object, and unwrapped the red cloth, which she discovered was an achingly familiar crimson armband, marked with bold black text.
There was a name she never thought she'd see again. After they'd reformed to become the Nyx Annihilation Team, they'd taken to reversing the armbands so only red showed. Perhaps, in the time she'd been... gone, something had happened to cause the team to go by S.E.E.S again.
Now her attention was drawn to the object the armband had been wrapped around. It's weight was familiar, and Minako briefly mourned for the state of the world in that the weight of a gun in her hand was familiar, even comforting. The steel of the Evoker was dulled, and Minako remembered with a twinge of sorrow how Mitsuru had taught her to keep it clean and in good condition, and threatening execution if it was ever not in a state to be used. Minako doubted that even Mitsuru could execute a dead girl, but it still made her uneasy to see her Evoker dull with disuse and lack of care.
With a last fond look at the Evoker, Minako slipped both it, and the S.E.E.S armband into a pocket in the inner lining of her school jacket. She'd originally added it as a place to keep her wallet, especially when she started to carry more money than any sane sixteen year old should. As it turned out, it was the perfect size to keep the Evoker secure, although she couldn't help but wonder if that was a side effect of whatever force had restored her to flesh and bone and summoned her clothes to her.
But time continued moving, and with only twenty-four hours, Minako couldn't afford to waste time in memory or thought. She made her way over to the single roof access door, and pulled it open. Several students looked questioningly at her as she strode through the familiar halls, and Minako didn't doubt that her appearance would cause awkward questions and rumors to take root.
She was careful to avoid the second floor classrooms, especially when she heard Miss Torumi lecturing some poor student. The last thing Minako needed was to be properly recognized and questioned at length by people who knew her as more than a photo or a memorial.
She slipped downstairs, into the Laboratory hallway, trying to not remember when she'd used to come down this way for completely different reasons. The simple joy of those days working with Bebe, or playing tennis with Rio, or even Akihiko preaching about protein was long gone, and Minako knew that she would never be able to reclaim those days.
Theo had told her that her friends had gathered in the city, but other than that, she knew nothing about their current situations. She hoped that they were alive and well, but realistically, she had no way to know.
It wasn't until she reached the train station that she even learned what day it was. March 5th. The anniversary of her death. Of course the Universe would send her to this day, of all days.
With a handful of coins she'd found in her pocket, Minako managed to pay for a ticket back to Iwatodai station. Her instincts drove her to return to the building that had become home, and try to find leads from there.