Welcome! Here's what you should probably know about this story going into it:
* It's all but complete (I just need to wrap up the conclusion), so I'll be putting up chapters every few days as I get them typed up (they're handwritten). I'll probably post them a little more rapidly here at the beginning, both to get some momentum going and because the earlier chapters seem to be shorter on average than the later ones. This also means that it has no real bearing on the speed at which updates for my other stories will come into being, so don't worry about that!
* It covers the entirety of the game, starting from the moment that Hikage reaches Leblanc and going through to the very end. That does not mean that it's just a canon rehash with a handful of changes - it's pretty solidly AU.
* It's first-person, so all of the usual caveats about taking the narration's interpretations of things as fact apply.
* I welcome all comments! Feel free to throw any kind of critique or speculation you want out there. The story is fully written, but that doesn't mean critique doesn't matter - I'm more than happy to make changes as I go through typing it up if someone points out that I pulled a stupid and I prove unable to demonstrate that it wasn't one!
April 9th, 20XX
The sign above the door read "Leblanc". How did you pronounce that? "Le blahnk"? Maybe "Le blan", if it was French? …It was probably French. Wasn't there an author with that name? I had read something during a foreign lit class last year…
…But I was just stalling. I raised my trembling arm and opened the door, hurrying inside before I could lose what little nerve I was pretending to have.
The interior of the café was cozy — a few tables with booths, then a bar with a handful of chairs. An old couple was sitting at one of the tables, eyes trained on the TV, and an older man with a black goatee was reading a newspaper at one of the bar's chairs.
I silently hung back as the couple bemoaned the news and the man thought aloud about his crossword — I didn't want to make a nuisance of myself. The man with the goatee noticed me when he looked up.
"…Oh, right. That's today, huh." He tossed his paper onto the counter and stood up.
"We'll be going now." The old man from the couple cut in, tossing a handful of bills onto the table.
"Thanks for coming."
I moved aside so that the couple could pass me.
"…Four hours just to get through a single cup of coffee." The man sighed. "It's a bit of money, at least." He shook his head. "You're Hikage, huh?"
"Y-Yes." I bowed. "I will be in your care."
"Uh-huh." He raised an eyebrow. "I'm Sojiro Sakura, but you should know that." He studied me. "Gotta admit, you're not exactly what I was expecting."
"I-I'm sorry." I shrank in on myself.
"Huh." Sakura-san's brow furrowed. "Well, follow me."
He led me up a set of stairs at the back of the café. They turned out to be the path to an attic — one absolutely cluttered with objects of all kinds. The box I had sent from my previous residence was in the middle of the room.
"This is your room." Sakura-san gestured around. "The bed's over there." He pointed to a mattress on top of some cinder blocks in the corner. "Don't worry, I'll at least give you a set of sheets. The cleaning's on you, though."
"Thank you very much." I bowed again. The room was much bigger than the one I was used to — needing to clean it up was a small price to pay for the additional space. But… it might even be too much space, really… All I had in my box was some clothing and a handful of books, the entirety of my worldly possessions.
"…You're welcome." Sakura-san sounded puzzled, but moved on. "I'll be locking up the café after business hours every day. You'll be on your own after that — don't do anything stupid, or you're out."
"I-I understand." I bowed. "I really appreciate you taking me in like this, Sakura-san. I promise not to cause you any trouble!"
I meant every word. Sakura-san wasn't really connected to me in any way, but he was giving me a place to live and taking on the responsibility for anything that I did. He didn't know me, just my record — the kind of trust he was showing, letting me stay in his café unmonitored, spoke volumes. I wouldn't betray him.
"…Good." Sakura-san had a very strange look in his eyes. "I thought I had the gist of your situation, but uh… you injuring some guy?" He frowned. "…I'm having a hard time seeing that. Do you even weigh enough to budge an adult?"
I ducked my head, shoulders slumping.
"Well, I guess it doesn't really matter." He shook his head. "No matter what the truth is, you've got a criminal record, and now you're out here. Just behave yourself for the year, and your probation will be lifted. Cause any problems, and you'll find yourself in juvie. Got that?"
I nodded. That was the last thing I wanted. Even if the stories I'd heard were exaggerated — and they almost certainly were — I didn't think juvie was the kind of place I'd survive in one piece.
"…Good." Sakura-san sighed. "We'll be going to your new school, Shujin Academy, tomorrow to introduce ourselves to the staff. Be grateful that they're taking you in — most schools wouldn't be willing to add a criminal to their ranks."
"I understand." I nodded. Sakura-san was right — Shujin had been the only school willing to accept me after my old school expelled me. Honor student to disgrace in the span of a single night…
"I suggest you start cleaning, if you want to sleep tonight." Sakura-san moved back to the stairs. "I'll bring the sheets this evening."
It took me the entire afternoon, but I got the room into a usable state. There was still a desk that needed some work, and there were some gardening supplies up against one side of the wall, but… I was too tired to do anything else today. My arms were sore from all of the lifting I'd done.
I heard the sound of footsteps, and Sakura-san returned. He was carrying the promised sheets. "…Huh. That noise really was you cleaning." He looked around the room. "Not bad. Well, here you go." He deposited the sheets into my arms. "I'm leaving now. You should go to bed soon."
He gave me a lazy, back-handed wave as he left.
I put the sheets on the bed and shuffled over to my box of clothing. The first nightgown I managed to locate was my second-favorite, white with a nice pattern of pink sakura blossoms. At least something had gone more-or-less my way tonight. I thought about continuing to dig for my favorite, a pale green, but I could barely keep my eyes open.
I fell asleep as soon as I had changed and collapsed into bed.
…And then I found myself chained up in a prison cell. I approached the door hesitantly. I was dreaming, right…?
Two pale-skinned girls with white hair were staring at me from outside, each with one eye covered by an eyepatch. Their visible eyes were golden. And beyond them…
"Trickster… Welcome to my Velvet Room."
The old man looked mostly human, but his deep voice resonated uncomfortably in my bones. His pointed nose was like a beak, stretching far beyond his face. His eyes bulged out of their sockets. His ears were as pointed and elongated as his nose. His mouth was stretched into a grin that covered the entire width of his face…
And yet what disturbed me most were his fingers. Their length far exceeded humanity, and when he moved them they twisted in ways that ordinary joints would never allow.
"So you've come to, Inmate." The mean-looking girl's voice was mocking.
"And yet you're still fast asleep," her twin continued. "In reality, that is. For you, this is nothing but a dream."
"Stand up straight in the presence of our master!"
I did my best to straighten up. Even if this was a dream, there was no need to be rude.
"Welcome," the old man — their master, I supposed — purred. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance. This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It is a room that only those who are bound by a Contract may enter. I am Igor, the master of this place. Remember it well."
"I have summoned you to discuss important matters." Igor-san waited expectantly.
"I-Important matters, Igor-san?"
His grin seemed to grow even wider, now occupying the space on either side of his head. "The state of this room reflects the state of your own heart… I had never imagined that it would appear as a prison, but I suppose you truly are a prisoner of fate. And in the near future… Ruin awaits you." He waited again.
"Ruin?" Igor-san's game of waiting was peculiar, but perhaps it was simply how they did things wherever he was from. For all that he didn't have an accent, he certainly didn't look Japanese.
"The end… to everything." Igor-san tilted his head. "There is, however, a means to oppose this. If you are successfully rehabilitated… Do you have the resolve to challenge the distortion of the world?"
My head spun, and my legs felt weak. "I… Me, Igor-san?"
One of Igor-san's immense eyebrows rose further up his face. "You didn't decline, hm? Very well, that is enough. Allow me to observe the path of your rehabilitation."
That wasn't quite how I'd meant it, but I didn't think that Igor-san would accept a refusal now.
The girls outside of the cell spun to face me.
"These are your wardens. To your right is Caroline; to your left, Justine. I shall explain their roles on another occasion. Now then… the night is waning. We shall surely meet again, eventually."
A bell rang somewhere in the distance, and my consciousness faded away.