First off, thank you for reaading, I hope you enjoy the story.
Secondly, I'm sure this conccept or a very similar one has already or will in the future be done, and potentially better, as it's not exactly very original. Nonetheless, I hope I've brought an interesting perspective to the tale at least and can throw in my own twists.
On that note, I realize that some of the scenes this chapter are essentially direct copies from the game(s). Depending on how far the story goes the intention is to have it deviate enough such that everything I write is essentially new while some off screen activity will remain the same.
In the 'rewrittten' scenes in this chapter/story I leave out quite a bit of dialougue. This is intentional as too not bore you with the same story you've experienced before.
On that note, please enjoy as the Yoshizawa sisters due their best to disrupt everything!
PS. This is the final warning, spoilers for P5R exclusive content start immediately.
The True Duet:
Prologue – I said stop!
Monday March 7th, 20XX After school
"Sumire! Sumire stop!"
The shouted words made no difference. With single-minded determination, the red-haired girl continued to run forward. Weaving through people, head bent to the sidewalk, unseeing. Not rushing to a destination but running away.
Away from her failure.
Away from her sister.
If anything, the words sped her up. She didn't understand. Kasumi never understood. The pain of striving day in and day out to achieve a dream and to come up short. The encroaching reality that she'd never reach the national stage. That her role as the younger sister was to sit on the sidelines and watch as her sister brought home medals. She'd forever be second best.
"The light's red!"
Once again, Kasumi could only look on in horror as her younger sister continued to rush toward the street where traffic was beginning to flow. With the rush of people, and the water, the vehicles would not be able to stop.
The words would never reach her younger sister. Her beautiful imouto. The girl who somehow never realized how special she was.
'Are you going to give up on her?'
The words were an echo in the back of Kasumi's head. Taunting and pushing her forward. Anger swelling in her breast, Kasumi had had enough of this.
"I SAID STOP!"
Amidst the pouring rain, the words clearly cut through. The surprised citizens stopped and stared at the girl who had shouted. However, Kasuumi's eyes were locked onto one target. One target that had finally stopped running, a car skidded through the intersection mere feet beyond her, a spray of water coating her clothes.
Slowly, with small steps, Sumire turned around. With the light red and nothing to do, all of their fellow citizens stared at them and the empty space between.
"Why?" Sumire's voice was dull and lifeless, her head still locked on the ground. Her expression betrayed no sign that she even registered the blast of cold water or the car that passed right in front of her. "Why do you care about me? I'm nothing compared to you."
"That's not true!" Kasumi shouted right back. Leaping forward, she held Sumire's free hand to her chest. "How do you not see how amazing you are?"
"W-what are you saying all of a sudden?" Kasumi stutters, her gaze flitting around at all the onlookers.
"Exactly what it sounds like!" Kasumi kept shouting, the beginnings of frustrated tears pooling at the corners of her eyes. "You would have walked into traffic if not for me! I need you Sumire! Please… don't be like this…"
"Need… me…?" Sumire mumbles in repetition. For the first time, he eyes tracked up to Kasumi's face. The sight of her invincible, fearless sister near her breaking point shook Sumire to her core. "No… You don't need me…"
"I do!" Kasumi continued to yell, not letting the conversation die. "Where do you think I find the motivation to keep training every day!? To keep going when I want to do nothing else but collapse and cry under Hiraguchi's strict training? It's you Sumire! So please… just stop."
"You… You rely on me?"
"Yes! I… I tried to tell you. Every performance was for you… My rival."
"Rival?" Sumire echoed yet again, some life returning to her eyes. "You see me as your rival? You always win though? You're so bold when you perform… I can never match you…"
"Are you kidding!?" Kasumi replies with a dry chuckle. "It takes everything I have and then some to match the grace you display. Stop trying to be me when you're so much better."
"Better? No… I mean, umm, not yet!"
"That's the spirit!" Kasumi agreed, her usual smile and energy beginning to return. "Oh, the light's green! Let's hurry home so that we can eat!"
Pulling Sumire along by the hand, Kasumi led her sister along the road back to their house.
Allowing herself to get dragged, Sumire wondered if this truly was for the best. She sensed that something had changed between them during this conversation. Their relationship would never again return to the way it once was.
Chapter 1 – Beginning a New Life
Wednesday March 9th, 20XX After school
Ren Amamiya could do little more than look straight ahead as the word circled around his head. The sentence had been declared earlier this week, still causing visions from that fateful day to rise back up to prominence. Strangely though, the memories were foggy in his mind. The only part he could remember clearly was the end. The police arriving and the woman's words.
How her eyes shone with guilt and she spoke those words. That teenager assaulted him! That single sentence had doomed him. Ren couldn't even remember the trial and sentencing portion. There had been no jury, only a judge that read the sentence and the witness statement.
From there, judgement. Parole for a year and an assault on his permanent record.
Internally, his feelings were a mess. Ren couldn't even begin to comprehend how his life had changed.
"So, umm, good news…"
His mother's voice was hesitant. A small trace of doubt crept into it now. As if she didn't quite believe his innocence. Continuing to sit stoically, Ren hid the pain and listened as she delivered the good news.
"A school is willing to take you. It's in Tokyo, I even found a guardian. I don't know him, but he agreed to take you in for some reason…"
That's right. Ren was entering his second year of high school. A fresh start. Away from the cautious uncertainty of his parents. Away from the whispering classmates and ex-friends who would no longer talk to him.
"That… Sounds nice."
"I confirmed it already."
"Oh…" The one soft word ended the conversation as his mother left the room. Leaning his head back, Ren closed his eyes and dosed as he waited for the last month here to slowly creep by.
After that… Tokyo.
Friday March 25th, 20XX Afternoon
"Again…" Sumire huffed, her breaths coming short as she lay on all fours against the hard mat. Her routine had been a disaster. So many mistakes.
All of it culminated into the final leap of the performance. The recent growth spurt, her new perspective, the pressure, all combined to a spectacular crash.
Supressing the tears, Sumire could feel her entire body shake from the exhaustion of the long practice, the exertion of the routine, and more than anything, the humiliation. No one said anything, but she could feel it. The judgement. Both Kasumi and Hiraguchi had been watching. Watching her disgrace.
Slowly, one light strand of red hair fell and fluttered before her eyes. It's mesmerizing texture the most distinctive part of her.
To Sumire though, it only represented another failure. She couldn't even do a bun right. How could she have expected herself to be able to perform on the level of Kasumi?
The footsteps sounded out. Tensing up, Sumire waited for the harsh words of coach Hiraguchi. To berate her for a performance that Sumire had surpassed when she was ten. It had been laughably bad.
"Can you give us some space Kasumi?"
"Umm, yes coach."
Surprised, Sumire blinked away the beginnings of tears, and looked up as Kasumi's departing footsteps were the only audible sounds.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"…I see," Hiraguchi replied with a large sigh. "So, you learned the truth but are currently unable to handle it. I was worried this would happen."
Sumire shrunk further in within herself. The words were far too accurate. Every action she took, she now second guessed, searching for that grace which Kasumi had praised.
"I want you to take some time off practicing."
"What!?" Sumire screeched, jolting upright to stare horrified at her coach. "N-no… you can't do that… I'll fall too far behind."
"You think this is helping?" Hiraguchi smiled wryly, gesturing at the mat that Sumire had just embarrassed herself on. "You need to find yourself. Discover what it means not to be Kasumi's younger sister, but to be Sumire Yoshizawa.
"Keep working out, keep yourself in shape, but no routine work. At the beginning of May I'll start working with you again. I hope you'll have found your answer by then."
Confused and heartbroken, Sumire's gaze once again fell to the floor. So many emotions and words swirled in her mind, but only one came from her mouth. "…Yes coach."
"You're free to go, tell Kasumi the same thing."
With considerable effort, Sumire picked herself off the floor. Walking in a daze, Sumire found her way to the exit where Kasumi had left only a short while earlier. Stepping out of the practice area, Sumire instinctively headed for the showers. A post practice routine so ingrained that not even the shock of Hiraguchi's words could break it.
"Sumire! What happened?"
Stumbling to a halt, Sumire blinked as she realized she had forgotten about Kasumi who was waiting anxiously outside the practice room.
"…We're free to go…"
"Don't give me that!" Kasumi pled, grabbing Sumire's hand and preventing her from continuing toward the shower room.
"… I… I won't be joining you in practice after today."
"W-what!?" Kasumi shouted back. Releasing Sumire's hand in the confusion, the red-haired girl continued her slow trek to the showers.
Letting her go, an irate Kasumi turned back toward the practice room with a glare.
How dare coach!
Yelling at her internally, Kasumi, straight backed, marched back into the room where coach was still finishing cleaning up and putting the different props away.
"I thought you'd have something to say," Hiraguchi welcomed Kasumi with a chuckle. Continuing to work at her task, she didn't turn around to greet her.
"Why? You can't be nice to her on her birthday?" After all the anger and indignation for her sister's sake, it was the only thought that Kasumi felt was important enough to speak aloud.
Coach Hiraguchi had watched over the girls for years now. Pushing them further and farther than anyone else. She was a large proponent of the heights they had reached. She had sculpted them into nearly professional athletes.
Chortling silently, Hiraguchi answered, "It's your birthday too, isn't it? Must be, considering how you're twins. Anyway, you saw the routine," she finished cryptically.
"It was bad…" Kasumi admitted softly. She usually felt a myriad of emotions when watching Sumire perform. Happiness at seeing how amazing her younger sister is, jealousy at her unmatchable grace, determination that she'd make sure to outdo her, anger at how Sumire never seemed to understand Kasumi's emotions.
This time, none of them had come. Instead only a deep sorrow as she watched her sister's expression, twisted in agony, stumble gangly around like a child. It had nearly broken Kasumi to watch it.
"You want her to do that day after day? She'd never recover from the emotional blow, and I don't think you would either."
"…" Biting her lip, Kasumi felt powerless. She had always been there to help Sumire when she needed it. But how could she now?
"This is going to sound strange…" Coach Hiraguchi began cautiously. Dusting off her hands, she finally stopped working and walked over to Kasumi. Staring seriously at her, Hiraguchi spoke firmly. "Sumire is likely to ask for some strange things in the coming days. Requests that will change how the two of you have lived your lives until now. I hope that you accept them."
With a strange fear gripping her heart, Kasumi found herself unable to nod her acceptance. She knew she should, for Sumire. But she didn't want to. Kasumi had loved her life until recently. Everything had been perfect. Up until Sumire had ran away from her on that rainy street.
"Does that scare the fearless Kasumi?" Hiraguchi asked teasingly, raising one eye in challenge.
"…Yes." She answered honestly her voice hoarse. "Why is this happening coach? Why is everything changing? It was all perfect before…"
"You should know I can't answer that question," Hiraguchi answered, a slight disapproving tone to her voice. "And who was it perfect for? You and Sumire? Or just you?"
"I helped her all the time!" Kasumi raged back. The usually suppressed emotions, only exhibited in her performances bursting forth. "I spent countless hours aiding her so that we could do this together… So that she didn't give up."
"Did you really do it for her?" Hiraguchi queried sharply. "Truly, was that time spent for her sake, or did you do it so that you could hold her up as your rival in your mind? Simply a tool to help you propel yourself to higher heights?"
"N-no…" Kasumi stuttered, her world breaking before her. "I… I want to eat ice cream with her again."
Smiling softly, Hiraguchi laid a comforting hand on Kasumi's distressed shoulder. "I told Sumire that she would have to find herself. The same is true for you as well. You may share the same dream, the same passion, but you are still two separate people. You'll need to learn what it means to be Kasumi the girl, not just Kasumi the gymnastics prodigy. Got it?"
"I… I'm scared." Kasumi admitted weakly, expecting a harsh retort in reply.
"You'd be crazy if you weren't," Hiraguchi simply laughed in answer. "You're starting High school in a couple of weeks though. I'm sure you'll find something or someone there who'll help!"
Waving farewell, Hiraguchi excused herself from the practice area.
Taking a couple more seconds to compose herself, Kasumi plastered her traditional fearless smile on her face and walked with her typical bold strut out of the practice room.
Determination coursing through her, Kasumi turned the problem in front of her into simply another hurdle. She had cleared dozens on her way to perfection. This was simply one more in a long line.
Sunday April 10th, 20XX Morning
Ren struggled not to yawn as he listened to the Principal drone on and on. The only interesting part of him was his neck. Did it even really exist, or was a massive head fused onto his body? Ren wasn't sure.
"One step out of bounds and you're gone, you understand, right?"
"Answer him!" Sojiro growled at Ren.
"Yes sir." The quiet answer appeared to appease the two men. Standing silently, if not awkwardly beside the principal was a woman Ren could only imagine would be his new homeroom teacher. The Principal hadn't shut up long enough for her to explain her presence yet. She looked as uncomfortable as Ren felt in this room. He could only hope that it was because of the Principal and not because she saw him as a hardened criminal.
"This is your homeroom teacher…" The principal continued moments later, confirming Ren's suspicions.
"My name is Sadayo Kawakami," She spoke politely, a tinge of fatigue underlying every word. "Here is your timetable and student ID for the upcoming semester. Come to the Faculty Office tomorrow morning and I'll guide you to the classroom. I'll let you know now, if you do something, I won't be able to protect you."
As she laid the paper on the desk for Ren to take, he instinctively reached out for it then paused at the strange sight. Two sheets of some pink advertisement were beneath the ID.
Quick as lightning, Ms. Kawakami snatched them back. Blinking, Ren convinced himself that he must have imagined the images of maids on them. Taking the timetable, Ren made sure to bow his head politely in thanks to his teacher.
It wouldn't do to make trouble right now. Ren forced himself to remember that his life was now one mistake away from completely falling apart. At least he currently had some resemblance of normalcy.
A new school. A fresh start. A place where people won't look at Ren and whisper under their breaths about things they don't know.
Head in a slightly better space, Ren and his guardian Sojiro bid the Principal and Ms. Kawakami goodbye. Even if the conversation itself had been a disaster of the two men treating him horribly, Ren had been mollified as his teacher's milder reaction. It had still been a warning in a way, but at least it sounded honest.
"I've wasted enough time today as is, let's go."
"Yes…" Replying softly to his guardian, Ren's eyes still flitted around back towards the school entrance. He had thought he'd seen someone. Wondering if it was simply another thing he'd imagined, Ren followed Sojiro to the cramped car.
Sunday April 10th, 20XX Morning
Sumire retracted her head from where she was watching the two men walk away from the school entrance. "He looked so much more mature than me…"
"What was that?" Kasumi asked as they took their tour around their new school. The high school where they'd be starting tomorrow morning.
To Sumire, Kasumi's voice still had the same, positive energy that it always had, the energy that had guided the two of them through their entire lives; however, it now had a forced tone to it. A hesitancy that hurt Sumire every time she heard it.
I did this.
Sumire had ruined their previous relationship. The previous ease between them. Yet, as she turned to face her sister, she didn't regret it. Sumire had found herself backed more and more into a corner, forced into her sister's shadow for too long. Hiraguchi was right, she did need to find out who she was as Sumire, not Kasumi's sister.
"Oh, I just saw a student leaving the school."
"Really?" Kasumi asked surprised, "coming to school the day before, they must be really studious!"
"He did look pretty mature," Sumire admits.
"Oh, I see how it is," Kasumi teases her eyes shimmering with a knowing twinkle. "Love at first glance, huh?"
"N-no! That's not it!" Sumire squeals awkwardly, her face heating up. Waving her hands in front of her, she tried to hold off her sister's advance.
"What are you two up to?" Shinichi Yoshizawa asked, stepping out of the washroom. "Sorry to slow you up."
"Nothing!" Sumire shouts before Kasumi can say anything to their dad.
"Really?" Shinichi asked, concerned for his daughter. "Your face is quite red, are you sure you don't have a fever?"
"It's girl stuff dad," Kasumi involved him with a disapproving shake of her head.
"Ahh, I suppose you are reaching that age." Shinichi agreed with a sanctimonious nod of his head. "Although I doubt any boy could keep up with the two of you…"
"True!" Kasumi agreed, ignoring her still blushing sister. "Maybe I should pick one up to carry my bags. Wait, do I have to feed a boyfriend, or do they do that themselves?"
"Kasumi!" Sumire whined, begging her sister to stop.
"Haha!" Their father laughed, clearly not minding the topic. "If you pick up a good one, they can feed both of you!"
"Hmm, but I already have Sumire to cook for me! Guess I don't need one then? What about you Sumire?"
"N-no! I wasn't! I mean I don't!"
"Stop teasing your sister Kasumi," Shinichi sighs, used to the sisters' antics. "Let's finish up the tour so that we can go home. You know, it's a great privilege to be selected as honor's students."
Sharing a glance at each other, the thought of the boy from earlier was driven from Sumire's mind. The ability to postpone exams, take longer on homework, days off to practice. They were going to meet with the principal soon to outline exactly what they were receiving in exchange for elevating the school's reputation.
The rest of the tour passed by in a blur for Sumire. The layout, the classrooms, the cafeteria, they were all extremely standard. As first years they'd be on the third floor. Each year moving down until they graduated three long years from now. Then onto international events. At least, that was the plan. The International Federation of Gymnastics had an age restriction of 16. An age they'd both reach in just under a year now. Far before their graduation deadline.
"Here's the principal office!" Their dad informs them happily, gesturing to the largest office they'd seen in the school.
Shaking off the idle thoughts, Sumire followed the two of them into the room. As she looked at the larger than life man though, those thoughts kept ringing in her head, distracting her. Sumire felt like she could hear a giant clock ticking away in her head, each second not spent training, another one lost. She was running out of time.
While the average age for rhythmic gymnasts wasn't quite as low as the other events, 26 was considered old. That gave her only a couple of years to get into international form if she truly wanted to compete at the highest level.
Sumire could no longer afford to take time off 'finding herself'. She needed to perfect her moves, her routine. Developing more moves. That's why…
Steadying herself, Sumire prepared herself for the backlash that would result when she made her query. She expected the nauseating nerves from earlier to assault her once again. Instead, she felt a strange excitement. The beginning of a new adventure. One that she'd need to tackle on her own.
If it works.
"Ah, Brown hair, and a lovely smile, this must be the Kasumi Yoshizawa that I've heard so much about!" The principal boomed as way of greeting.
Sumire tried to remember the name she'd been told earlier. Kobayakiwi? No… Kobayakoma? Closer…
"It's great to meet you principal Kobayakawa," Kasumi replied flawlessly, a picture-perfect bow.
Of course she remembered his name.
Sumire could only watch on as the principal preened under the excellent greeting.
"Yes, yes, I can tell already that you'll make an excellent Shujin student." Turning his gaze, Sumire flinched under his cold eyes. Sumire couldn't help but feel like he was analyzing exactly how much worth she contained. How she could be exploited to maximum benefit to aid his position. "Which would make you Sumire."
"Umm… Yes sir," Bowing her head, Sumire could tell that the principal was less than impressed with her. Glancing through her red bangs she could barely see the Principal's expression.
"Well… I'm sure that there is a place in Shujin for you as well."
"Hey now," Shinichi broke in, clearly upset at the treatment his youngest daughter was receiving, "Sumire is also a great gymnast. She got this offer on her own merit."
"Dad…" Sumire protested quietly.
"Of course she did!" Kobayakawa enunciates clearly, arms spread wide. "I meant no disrespect. Just pointing out the rather startling difference in results in recent meets."
Sumire could only wince as the words rung true. Neither Kasumi nor her father spoke up either. Sumire wasn't sure what she expected. The principal was correct after all.
"Anyway," Kobayakawa continued, "as you requested Mr. Yoshizawa, I have assigned them to the same class, 1-B, taught by one of our top instructors here at Shujin academy."
"I'm glad to hear that," Shinichi nods happily, "I'm sure it will really help them to settle into the routine here if they're in…"
"Umm," Raising a hand awkwardly, Sumire flinched under the three combined stares. "Can I have… a different homeroom please?"
"Sumire…?" Kasumi questioned awkwardly, hurt and confusion in her gaze. Unable to meet it for long, Sumire turned back to the principal.
"Oh?" Shinichi scratched his head. "You wanted different homerooms? Experience high school on your own? I guess I should have asked before putting in the request."
"I-I see." Kobayakawa stuttered awkwardly. "It's a little late to change around homerooms, but I do happen to have one opening. However, the teacher there… has a bit of a strict reputation."
"T-that's fine." Sumire confirmed sealing her fate. Closing her eyes, she waited to hear the outcome from her decision.
"Hmm, well, highly irregular but…" A few keystrokes later, the printer in the corner of the room whirred as a new sheet emerged. Removing Sumire's old one, Kobayakawa replaced it with the fresh printout. "Here, you'll be in 1-D starting tomorrow. Mr. Ushimaru doesn't appreciate tardiness."
"Y-yes!" Sumire squeaked in reply.
I did it!
The one thought echoed around Sumire's head as exultation filled her. She'd done it. She had separated herself from Kasumi for the first time in her life. From that first time she'd been dragged to her sister's gymnastics class until now, they had done every single thing together. Shopping together, homework, training, class, even the few friends they'd found.
New confidence moving her feet, Sumire headed home for the day with her family.
Sunday April 10th, 20XX Evening
Kasumi stared dead ahead as she ate her supper. The food was ash in her mouth as she chewed monotonously. Her family talked and laughed joyously around her, even Sumire joining in occasionally, a rarity these days; Kasumi could only continue to shovel down food.
Her eyes saw nothing, Kasumi left them unfocused to avoid staring at Sumire across from her. Her beloved sister, who'd abandoned her. Kasumi had been mentally preparing herself for weeks now. Waiting for these requests that Hiraguchi had said would come.
That hadn't been a request though, it was a betrayal. A slap in the face. Had the thought of sharing a homeroom truly been so repulsive? That she'd gladly take a teacher that they'd been warned against?
She looks so happy.
With her eyes finally focusing on her sister, Kasumi had to admit that the faint smile touching her sister's lips had been a rarity so far this year. Ever since that growth spurt in December and January, Sumire rarely smiled.
Bowing her head, Kasumi found herself conflicted. Everything Hiraguchi had said was now coming true with a vengeance. Not only was she going to practice alone recently which was weird, her performances weren't improving. What had once appeared to be minor stumbling blocks had become major hurdles.
It's all Sumire's fault!
That one thought underpinned all of Kasumi's internal discourses. Seconds later though, the guilt came. Kasumi had been using Sumire as a stepping stone. A way to continue improving herself. Kasumi had been worried about Sumire's performance for selfish reasons. She hadn't truly cared about her sister, perhaps that's why everything had collapsed.
"Why did you do it?" Kasumi finally asked, unable to keep the question inside any longer. Lifting her gaze, she stared directly into her sister's surprised crimson irises. The beautiful colour made her stand out anywhere, why she hid them behind glasses, Kasumi didn't know.
"I… I just thought it would be, umm, fun, to have different classes for a change. Experience high school on our own."
Blinking, Kasumi was shocked at how level her sister's voice had been by the end. She had anticipated fear and guilt for ditching her.
"You know, I was surprised at first as well," their father cut in, tapping his pair of chopsticks against his chin. "Thinking about it though, Sumire's right. You're both entering high school after all. It will be good for you to experience life as an individual for once, after all, you won't always be together!"
Won't always be together.
The words were a blow to Kasumi. It was something she'd never considered before. Even as the years continued to tick by, Kasumi had never appreciated the increasing stakes of the competition. She won. It was what she did. The other competitors never mattered. If she beat Sumire, she won, that's all there was too it.
"Yes," Sumire agreed, head bobbing quickly. "I'm sorry about ditching you, but… but this is something I need to do!"
"Huh?" Kasumi could only stare in shock at Sumire's resolute face. The tone and mannerisms of her last sentence had been completely different. She'd possessed a confidence Kasumi had never seen from her sister before.
"That's why… I also want to go to school on a different train. I'm sorry for not bringing it up earlier."
"A different train?" Shinichi asked cautiously. "I can't say I'm a fan of that. I'd be much more confident if the two of you went together."
"Y-yeah," Kasumi adds on, "is my presence really that grating on you?"
"T-that's not it!" Sumire continued, trying to get her emotions across. "I-I just really need to find myself. You're so confident Kasumi. I just want to be a little more like you is all."
Gritting her teeth, Kasumi didn't know what to do. Every single thing in life had come easy to her. The decision to shoot for the top of gymnastic world, the decision to have her sister accompany her on it, to eat ice cream together. Now though, she had no idea.
You're so confident Kasumi.
Your boldness is what sets you apart Kasumi.
You'll easily go pro Kasumi.
"You're wrong… You're all wrong…"
"I'm not confident, I'm not brave. I only look that way… because I have you Sumire." Feelings bared; Kasumi's head sunk to her chest in defeat. She'd never understood until now. How essential Sumire was to her continued development. Being there to push her higher and higher.
"G-girls?" Their father stuttered, unsure of what exactly was transpiring between the two of them.
"T-that's not true!" Sumire cried out, leaping up, she grabbed one of Kasumi's startled hands. The inverse of a scene that played out mere weeks prior. "I think you too just need to find yourself without me there!"
"Hiraguchi said the same thing…" Kasumi admitted reluctantly. "I just… I never thought that I'd have to."
"I'm so sorry!" Sumire pled. "But if I don't do this now… I'll never be strong enough to stand by your side when the day comes. So please, listen to my desires, Kasumi!"
"How am I supposed to deny my cute imouto anything when she asks so politely?" Strangely enough, Kasumi felt the flames of competition burning inside her once again. "I'll put this bluntly, you better not disappoint me when the summer meet comes! I'll be taking home first and you'll be beside me in the second position!"
"Y-yes!" Sumire squeaked back, overpowered by the force in Kasumi's words. "Wait, no, I mean you'll be in the second position!"
"I'm looking forward to seeing it," Kasumi winked back, sticking out her tongue playfully. Oaths renewed; the girls tore back into their extra-large servings of supper.
"Well… This certainly is a new development, isn't it?" Shinichi mumbled to himself, hiding his smile.
Monday April 11th, 20XX Afternoon
Ren could only shake his head in wonder as he found the faculty office. The kid he'd met, Ryuji, didn't seem like a half-bad guy. That teacher, Kamoshida, on the other hand… He screamed bad news.
What was that world?
The school building had turned into a castle. Soldiers had imprisoned them and threatened to kill them. The whole situation felt like a bad dream, and yet, time continued to tick by. It was now afternoon and Ren had just shown up to school.
"There you are," she sighed in response, the disappointment palpable in her eyes. "I can't believe you were half a day late on your first day. I thought you understood yesterday when we told you that you were only one incident away from expulsion?"
"It won't happen again," Ren fervently promised.
"Be sure it doesn't. I'll tell the class that you missed the morning due to illness." Standing up, Kawakami led Ren to the classroom, where fifth period would be starting any second now. "Also, don't say anything strange to the class, alright?"
"Yes…" Ren could feel that something was wrong. The students he'd passed on the way in had been gossiping about him. That wasn't supposed to happen. Principal Kobayakawa had assured him no one here knew about his record. Fearing the worst, Ren walked into the classroom.
"That's him, isn't it?"
"The transfer student, don't look him in the eye or he'll attack you!"
"I heard he beat someone up so bad they died!"
Ren wanted to scream at them. To claim his innocence, say he didn't do any of it. He didn't know how it had happened, but word had spread. There would be no fresh start here. No freedom. He didn't have a place to belong, and never would.
"My name is Ren Amamiya." Leaving it there, he turned to take his seat. It was obvious which one it would be, the only open one.
Stopping briefly, Ren stared silently at the gorgeous girl. It was the one from the station. The girl that rode with Kamoshida. Ripping his eyes off her, he claimed the empty seat behind her. Given her looks, Ren was surprised none of the guys had claimed the seat to try and make a move on her.
"Hey, did you see that?"
"Does Takamaki-san know him?"
"Wait, does that mean she's cheating on him with Kamoshida?"
So, she doesn't belong here either.
Filing the information away, Ren sat back in his chair and waited for class to begin. For some reason, he felt a bond of comradely with the girl. Something told him, they had more in common than they initially appeared to.
Monday April 11th, 20XX Evening
Sumire clutched her hair as she sat at the desk in her room. The notes in front of her were all blurring together. "It's only the first day," she moaned, laying her head against the desk.
Tilting her head, she read the display on her clock. 10:20 pm. She needed to go to bed. Taking off her ornamental glasses, she laid them to side so that she could rub her weary eyes.
She'd forgotten how long these days were due to the break between ninth and tenth grade. Getting up early, catching the train, doing schoolwork, coming home, training, homework, repeat.
Usually Sumire would have finished hours ago with Kasumi's help. Kasumi was constantly at the top academically. Another thing that her sister had surpassed her in.
"Gargh it's impossible!"
Tearing at her hair with her hands, Sumire had reached her wit's end. This homework was supposed to be easy. It was the first day back. A warm-up to help them remember what had been covered in middle school.
All the thinking about school brought back the memories of earlier today. Mr. Ushimaru had been exactly as bad as the principal had told her he would be. Sumire had just been distracted a little with the clouds passing by outside. That was no reason to throw a piece of chalk at her!
Rubbing her forehead, Sumire imagined she could feel a dent from where it had struck her.
Kasumi could have dodged it.
Shoulders slumping forward, Sumire could see it in her mind. An effortless tilt of the head as the chalk soared past. Her classmates would look on approvingly as she one-upped the demonic instructor. Instead, Sumire had let out an embarrassing squeak and had been laughed at.
"I can't do it after all… I need her…"
Laughing quietly at her own incompetence, Sumire couldn't get the self-deprecating smile off her face. Things that needed to be done rushed through her head. She'd call Hiraguchi in the morning to announce her decision to quit. Kasumi would be upset, but she'd get over it. The Kasumi in Sumire's head would never fail. First though, is to beg Kasumi to help her finish the homework.
With a plan in mind, Sumire should have been happy, but each step towards the door of her room felt like a lifetime. Each step another uncertainty about whether she was making the right decision.
Barely a day ago, Sumire had pledged herself as Kasumi's rival and had decided to best her at the next meet. A couple pieces of homework and she was done. She'd been foolish to assume she could do anything without Kasumi.
Finally reaching the door, Sumire laid a tentative hand on the doorknob. An admission, that once taken, there was no returning from.
Stopping herself from turning the handle, Sumire leaned her ear against the frame to listen.
"Are you sure about this?"
"We can't stop them now. Also…"
"I think they'll both benefit from this. Kasumi helped Sumire too much. This is a chance for her to grow just as much as Sumire."
"… You're right. I just wish it wasn't so hard to watch them both struggle. That's the longest I've ever seen Kasumi take to complete homework."
"Yes, it seems she learned a lot faster having someone to instruct as she did it!"
Reeling back from the door, Sumire couldn't contain her shock. "Kasumi… struggled?" Turning back to her desk, the papers there looked entirely different. Sumire had been tackling them expecting it to be so much harder without Kasumi there. Like the tests always are. Without Kasumi's help Sumire was useless.
But had I really not understood it without her?
Were there not times when I wanted to shout as Kasumi that she didn't have to go over every detail?
That I wasn't an idiot?
"I… I will beat you Kasumi."
Confidence returning in small spurts, Sumire took up her position at her desk and dove back in once more. As the time ticked on faster and faster, so did her writing. Even as the bedtime she forced herself to maintain in order to stay in peak physical condition passed, Sumire's hand didn't slow.
For once, Sumire felt like she understood the material. Not because Kasumi walked her through the problems, but because she thought about them and solved them. A fundamental understanding built on conquering the barriers set in front of her. Finishing the homework, Sumire restarted it, redoing her botched attempts from earlier.
Tsking irritably, Sumire ended up erasing almost everything she had done before and writing it out again. It looked so easy now. These questions were the foundations for the later ones that she'd already solved.
Still dissatisfied, Sumire dug out her notes that she'd taken in class. Comparing it with her homework and the assignments, everything clicked into place for Sumire. The strategies taught to solve the problems; the fundamental skills being taught. Her notes were a hopeless compilation of facts and unimportant utterances. Picking up her pencil once again, Kasumi blazed through her day's learning's, adding in the things she now realized were important.
"I'm done…" sighing heavily, Sumire allowed herself to lean back in the chair. Tilting her head, she looked at the alarm clock. "Midnight!" Gasping heavily, Sumire threw herself from her chair. Throwing off her clothes she rushed into pajamas in order to get as much sleep as possible.
"I'll only get… 7 hours if I fall asleep immediately!"
Strangely though, as Sumire paused in her frantic struggle, she realized she wasn't all that worried. Just because she set herself a strict bedtime of 11 pm and waking up at 7, a perfect 8 hours of rest, had that ever happened? How often had she twisted and turned, dreading the next day of failure?
Finishing her bedtime routine, Sumire smiled as she put her glasses on the stand beside her bed. Something told her she'd sleep well tonight.
Tuesday April 12th, 20XX Early morning
True to her gut feeling, Sumire actually felt pumped up about the day. She kept glancing at where her completed homework sat in her bag like a prize gem.
She had done it. By herself, with no one helping. The feeling of accomplishment pulsed through her, giving her an invincible high as she dug into her carefully prepared breakfast.
Egg after egg disappeared down her gullet as she continued to sacrifice the unfertilized embryos to the black hole that resides in her gut.
"Kasumi!" Sumire replied happily taking a break from the endless buffet. "How was the homework?"
"Rough," she admited collapsing to the table.
Eyes widening in surprise, Sumire realized that her parents' words were true. Kasumi had indeed struggled and looked unprepared to face the day. Usually Kasumi greeted each day beaming and ready to face it. Now…
She looks like me.
The thought rocked Sumire as she did her best not to gape at her downtrodden sister.
"What about you? You were locked in your room all night."
"It was really hard." Sumire agreed. "But I finished it! I feel like I really understood the material by the end."
Waiting for Kasumi's words of praise, Sumire's face fell, as her sister simply turned to her own food. Eyes widening with understanding of what she'd just implied, Sumire rushed to fix her mistake.
"I'm not saying that you were bad at explaining things. I'm just uh…"
"If your done eating why don't you take the early train today. I'll be along later."
Finishing her meal a few seconds later, Sumire washed up and grabbed her bag.
"I'm… uh, sorry…"
"Bye…" Leaving the house, Sumire walked quickly to the station despite having plenty of time to get there. Soon enough, however, her pace was forced to slow. The morning rush began to conglomerate, preventing almost all motion.
Waiting patiently in line, Sumire pushed forward with the others. Due to her early arrival, Sumire quickly found herself at the front of the line, waiting for the bus to Aoyoma-itchome station. Boarding it, Sumire found herself pressed into a seat as the train car was packed full of people, filled to bursting.
Keeping her legs back, Sumire made herself as unobtrusive as possible as multiple people passed by above her, seeking handholds and a place to stand. Releasing her pent-up breath once the train finally got moving again, Sumire forced herself to relax a little. Yesterday, she'd taken the late train to school and then got out early due to school ending after fifth period because of the Sunday subway accident.
This was the first time Sumire had been forced to endure these massive crowds on her own. Usually Kasumi had been there, placing herself between Sumire and the pressing masses.
The stops came and went, people shuffling off and new ones coming back on. Sumire was glad she didn't need to transfer. As she got closer the school, she saw more and more Shujin uniforms as she looked around the slightly emptier train.
"Next one is mine…"
Giving herself an audible reminder, Sumire looked up for the first time this trip. Eyes widening, an old lady was standing right in front of her.
"I'm so sorry, please take my seat ma'am!"
Shooting out of the seat, Sumire moved out of the way for the lady to take it.
"Oh…" Hand reaching out uselessly, Sumire watched helplessly as a businessman swooped in and took it.
"Excuse me, that seat wasn't for you."
Blinking in surprise, Sumire found the man that had spoken up to defend her. Doing so, Sumire felt her heart beat a little quicker. It was him! That boy from Sunday.
Turning back to the businessman, Sumire saw that his intervention hadn't done anything. Sumire could practically see the comical Z's floating up above his head. The man must have been exhausted.
"I'm so sorry ma'am!"
"Don't worry about it, dearie. The gesture was nice."
Letting the conversation die there, Sumire felt that same feeling from earlier begin to return. Staring up through her bangs, she continued to examine at the Shujin student as he turned away from the scene of his failure.
"I'm going to thank him…"
Mind made up, Sumire was excited at the prospect of her first solo adventure.
Tuesday April 12th, 20XX Early Morning.
Ren pursed his lips in disappointment and turned away from the snoring businessman. The girl's gesture had been ruined, but there was a chance he needed it more than the old lady.
Even as he turned away, Ren felt hints of frustration. Even in this simple task he'd failed. How on earth was he supposed to save the world from Ruin? Or whatever that long-nosed man had prattled on about.
Ren didn't understand anything. That prison in his dreams, those twin girls. Ren still had no idea how tired he must have been for his mind to create them. Yet, no matter how much he wanted to declare the three entities a figment of his imagination, he simply couldn't.
The truth of their words had rung true. That castle had been real. The crimes that Kamoshida has been committing are real.
"Aoyoma-itchome, that's Aoyoma-itchome."
Pushing up his glasses, Ren decided to focus on that later and complete the walk to school. At least the homework had been easy yesterday. That was inspite of his body feeling fuzzy and heavy all day after using that power in the castle.
Catching view of another group of people crossing perpendicularly to his path, Ren slowed to allow them through. As he did, he felt someone run into his back.
"You…" Turning around, Ren looked on in surprise at the red-haired girl form the train. She was sprawled on the ground, the contents of her bag spilled around her to the annoyance of the other people trying to get past.
Without thinking, Ren knelt down and began collecting the documents for her. Carefully stacking them, he recognized the content as first-year material. More accurately, it was intro stuff, things you learn back in middle school.
"Here you go…" Trailing off, Ren tried to hand the documents back to the girl.
"I-I wasn't stalking you, I was just umm, trying to catch you to…"
"What?" Cutting her off, Ren examined her a bit more. While her face was quite ordinary, it was still unblemished and quite cute. The glasses and immaculate ruby irises only furthered her beauty.
"Oh right!" Taking the papers from Ren, she quickly stuffed them into her bag. Jumping to her feet, the girl executed a deep bow. "I'm so sorry!"
"Really… It's nothing," Ren murmured back embarrassed. It was impossible to ignore the smirks and side-long glances from the people funneling out from the station.
"Oh, are you a second year at Shujin?" The girl asked, noticing the 2 on his blazer. "That makes you my senpai."
Scratching his head, Ren wasn't sure what to make of the admiration in her voice. It was clear that this girl didn't associate him with the rumours circulating the school. For some reason, when he thought of her innocent smile turning into a gaze of fear, Ren got sad.
"Oh no!" The girl continued suddenly, embarrassment consuming her. "I forgot to thank you for earlier!"
"Helping me in the train when I tried to give my seat to that lady."
"I didn't end up helping though…"
"You tried! That's more than most… Oh shoot! I need to get to school so I can talk to the teachers before class starts. Excuse me!"
"B-bye…" Overwhelmed by the girl, Ren could do little but watch as her red hair swirled around her again as she bowed politely before darting off toward the school.
In a slightly better mood, Ren felt prepared to face the day. After all, how bad could it be with people like her around?
Wednesday April 13th, 20XX Afternoon
Kasumi watched wide-eyed as the volleyball rally continued around her. While no other sport excited her quite like gymnastics, it was always fun to watch athletes show off the efforts of their training.
The form, the jumping, the rotation required to hit the ball as hard as they are, Kasumi was able to accurately assess how much work would be required to play the sport at a high level.
"I work harder though…" These players would never understand the efforts Kasumi had put into shaping her body and achieving her flexibility. The counted calories, the balancing of nutrients.
"Oh, enjoying the show I see."
"Hmm, oh Mr. Kamoshida! You were wonderful out there!"
"Hehe, I guess I was, wasn't I? High praise from an athlete such as yourself."
"Oh no! I have a long way to go yet to reach the heights you once attained!"
"Once attained, eh?"
"Mr. Kamoshida?" Kasumi asked hesitantly, sensing some change in the teacher's mood.
"…It's nothing. Look over there though, will you?"
"Umm, yes?" Following Kamoshida's gesture, Kasumi found a pair of boys lounging around against the wall of the gym. They looked quite normal, besides the one boy's dyed blonde hair.
"Those are the delinquents of the school, be sure not to associate with them."
"Oh, yes!" Kasumi agreed instantly, feeling any other answer would get her unwanted attention.
"I'll see you around." Excusing himself, Kamoshida left to get some water before the next match resumed.
"W-wait!" Kasumi pled, one question rising strongly within her.
"Yes?" Kamoshida replied, annoyed at having been stopped.
"I-I just wanted to know, if you had to do it all over again, would you make the same choices that led you to the Olympics, to competing and succeeding on the highest level?"
Staring into the teacher's eyes, Kasumi understood that the question and her posture were inappropriate. Kamoshida could easily send her to the principal and on very good cause.
"Would I? What a stupid question," Kamoshida laughed drily, shaking his head at Kasumi. "Winning is everything. Not only am I famous, I'm the king of this castle. Just ask Sakamoto over there what happens if you mess with the king."
"Uh, school." Kamoshida corrected himself. A prominent confusion in his eyes, like he didn't understand why he had the word either. "You'll understand when you reach the top. I mean if." Leaving the sly insult on the end, Kamoshida continued walking and left Kasumi behind.
"I don't… I don't understand what he meant…"
Leaning back against the wall herself, Kasumi's eyes traced back over to where those two boys were before. To her disappointment, they'd both disappeared. One of them must have been the Sakamoto that Kamoshida had mentioned.
"He talked like the sport meant nothing… That the teammates he won with are nothing to him… Why?"
The words terrified Kasumi. Did she need to be obsessed with winning in order to achieve her goals? To the point of betraying and abandoning everyone around her?
"No… Not Sumire. I'll beat her fair and square, like I always do. It's Kamoshida that's wrong."
Taking a closer look around the gymnasium, Kasumi began noticing the abnormalities that she'd dismissed before. The players on the teams, specifically the men's team, had an excessive amount of injuries. That boy Kamoshida had hit, why didn't he take him to the nurse? Lifting the boy should have been easy for Kamoshida. Instead he'd gone right back to playing.
"Why was the boy standing that far back…"
Shaking from the fear that had suddenly manifested itself, Kasumi asked herself one more question.
"What is the point of the volleyball rally?"
It was only the third day of school. They didn't need a break yet such that it was a way of relieving stress. And promoting the volleyball team? Why did it matter?
Literally every student knew about Suguru Kamoshida and his success with the volleyball teams at Shujin academy. If you didn't, you were informed quickly. This whole day just felt… wrong.
Good mood ruined by the conversation and idle talk, Kasumi hauled herself up, and out of the gymnasium. Feet carrying her somewhere, Kasumi barely saw the school as she walked around.
Eventually, Kasumi found herself wishing she had someone to talk to. It was only recently that she'd been alone for considerable portions of time. Before, Sumire was at her side, following where Kasumi directed. Without her there, Kasumi felt listless as she walked around.
It had also proven difficult to find friends in her class. The guys were intimidated of her and so were the girls. There though, Kasumi felt a lot of jealousy from them. That was to be expected after all. The teacher had made the mistake of announcing in front of everyone that she didn't expect Kasumi's homework on time.
A privilege from her honor student status. Nonetheless, Kasumi made sure to submit every document on time with her peers. Hopefully over time, they'd start treating her normally.
Until I take time off to go to training camps and tournaments.
Sighing, Kasumi kicked at the ground as she walked. The hallways and people blended around her. Each one looked the exact same to her. Everything seemed to have taken on a monotone colour to her now that Sumire was no longer with her.
"Maybe I really should find that Sakamoto…" Kasumi muttered to herself. Underneath the loneliness, she still felt that burning desire to figure out what was going on. Kamoshida's words had been deeply unsettling. Kasumi knew she wouldn't be able to rest until she found out what was going on.
"The volleyball rally has now concluded. Everyone is free to leave."
"Oh," Kasumi blinked, as the announcement told her that she'd wasted too much time. "Guess I should get my stuff and head to practice. Although… where am I?"
Turning around, Kasumi quickly identified her location as the bridge on the second floor that crossed over the courtyard. Hearing the flood of students fill the hallways to either side, Kasumi's feet stopped moving. Leaning on the railing, she gazed peacefully at the abundant greenery that filled the courtyard. The well-cared for garden beds indicated that the school had a dedicated gardening club. Typically, Kasumi would have classified this as wasted time, now though, she found herself secretly enjoying the moment of peace, away from expectations and necessities. There was still quite some time before Hiraguchi would be expecting Kasumi for practice. Nonetheless, as the voices died out one by one, Kasumi knew it was time for her to leave. The volleyball teams would be returning to the gym for practice. Picking a direction at random, Kasumi doubted that the distance to the entrance from here was much different either way.
Reaching the top of the stairs, Kasumi blinked in surprise as she saw two figures ascending the stairs. They stopped as well when they saw her. Kasumi had no doubt that it was the pair Kamoshida had pointed out. The boy on the right was the one with the dyed hair. His gym clothes were askew in what seemed to be a purposeful manner. A way of standing out without actually breaking etiquette. The one on the left, though, Kasumi would have pegged to more likely be an honor's student than a delinquent. While his curly black hair was slightly unkempt, his gym uniform was perfectly to code and the black eyes behind his glasses were clear and earnest.
"Umm, Sakamoto-Senpai?" Kasumi greeted, the earnest black-haired one, hoping that it would be him and not have to talk to the blond one.
Her hopes were dashed moments later as the blond one narrowed his eyes and approached. Walking closer and closer, Kasumi was eventually forced to take a step back from the staircase.
"You were the one talking to that bastard Kamoshida. What are you, his new star pupil? Come to deliver a message I assume?"
"Umm, excuse me Senpai, I don't understand."
"Cut the bullshit," Sakamoto growled in reply. "He clearly pointed us out to you. Probably said crap like don't get involved with those delinquents. Now you're here calling me out by name."
"W-well, yes." Kasumi replied, admitting the truth as his vulgar language and glare overpowered her willpower.
"Gah, I've had enough of his bullshit!" Sakamoto continued to rage. The raw anger and hurt in his eyes driving Kasumi another step back. "Let's get out of here Ren. I don't want to listen to Kamoshida's newest lapdog's self-righteous spiel."
"We should at least hear her out Ryuji," the black-haired one calmed. "Why don't we talk quickly over there."
"Ugh, I don't get how you're so calm man… You're probably right. Uh, sorry for saying that stuff. I'm just a little wound up right now."
"Apology accepted Senpai." With nothing else to say, Kasumi left it there. Turning to the calm black-haired one, Kasumi nodded her head in appreciation. She would never have been able to hear Sakamoto's tale without him.
Turning around, Kasumi led them back into the deserted overpass. No longer could the sounds and chatter of students be heard echoing up and down the adjacent hallways.
"You were kind of right Sakamoto senpai, I came to talk to you because of something Mr. Kamoshida said."
Pausing in fear, Kasumi watched as the boy's eyes narrowed in anger. However, this time he said nothing, allowing Kasumi to continue.
"He told me to ask you… what happens when you mess with the king?"
Instantly the aura surrounding both boys changed. As one they took half-steps toward her. Buckling under the pressure, Kasumi was most concerned with the black-eyed boy. Earlier he had seemed so calm, just those words though and a menacing aura seemed to emanate from him. One a true delinquent would emit.
"You've been to the castle?" Sakamoto asked, his voice low.
"C-castle?" Kasumi stuttered growing very quickly more and more terrified. "Kamoshida did say he was a king of a castle, but umm, he meant to say school."
"Where did he say this?" The black-haired one jumped in.
Instantly his voice soothed away the fear that had been building in Kasumi. Turning to face him, that malice from earlier had vanished like a spring mist.
"Where? In the gymnasium, just after he pointed you out to me." Kasumi admitted. "His words were so confusing… Then I realized how weird this volleyball rally is and how beat up the players are… I wanted to talk to you."
Thoughts revealed, the boys spent a long minute looking at each other. Kasumi knew that something passed between them in that instant, what though, she couldn't tell.
"That's a pretty personal story you ask for," the black-haired one informed her quietly, breaking eye contact with his partner.
"I-I just want to know what's going on." Kasumi confirmed her will. Glancing between them, she hoped that her plea would reach.
"Whatever," the blond sighed, rubbing his head. "It's basically only the first-years that don't know yet anyway. May as well tell you now so that the rumour-filled one doesn't gain too much traction."
"I was part of the track team last year; we were pretty damn good too. Until Kamoshida got involved. The practices were impossible. Made us do countless sprints, and when we couldn't, would add on more." Grimacing, Sakamoto cut off briefly. "Kamoshida learnt that my parents were separated. Kept talking shit about how my dad knew better than trying to stick around to raise a guy like me."
Ignoring Kasumi interjection, Sakamoto continued, lost in memories past, oblivious to Kasumi's horror.
"One day, I had enough. The guys were all dying after a hard practice. Kamoshida moved on to my Mom. Talking shit about her. So, I punched him. Exactly what he wanted. The Little Shit took it out on me by shattering my knee. Still can't run like I used to. After that, track team got disbanded."
"That's horrible Senpai…" Kasumi could hardly contain the tears as she gaped at the boy. His general demeanor of slacking off, that aura of palpable anger, it all made sense now. "How did Kamoshida get away with that!?"
"School called it self-defence," the boy answered with a growl. "Well, anyway, that's what happens if you mess with him. He'll take you out since he basically rules the place. Everyone turns a blind eye to the shit he does."
"This volleyball rally…" Kasumi muttered with oncoming sureness, "is just an excuse for him to relive his glory days… isn't it?"
Both of the boys flashed triumphant smiles at Kasumi's question. She was probably the first one to come to the same conclusion as them.
"Oh no, I have to go. Excuse me!" Bowing quickly and politely, Kasumi darted away from them. Only as she left the school did Kasumi remember, "I never even told them my name, did I?"
Despite the morose topics of discussion, Kasumi found herself smiling. Maybe it was because the boys were so different from anyone she'd talked to before, but Kasumi felt an unusual sensation, she wanted to talk to them again. It was the first time she'd felt like this about anyone who wasn't Sumire.
"Their names were Ryuji and… Ren, I believe." Muttering to herself, Kasumi smiled as she moved around the black-haired boy's name in her mouth. There was something different about him. Kasumi wasn't sure what exactly it was, but she was determined to find out eventually.
Friday April 15th, 20XX After school
Ren shook his head as he looked up at the gigantic castle. It really was the perfect metaphor for Kamoshida's personality. "Third time here, huh?" he queried to Ryuji.
"You know, you really do change when we come here," Ryuji commented, posing thoughtfully. Well, thoughtfully for him.
"Hush!" Morgana commanded, trying to take charge once again. "The security is going to be high. We'll need to do our best to not be seen."
"W-what the hell is this place!?"
"Takamaki?" Even speaking her name, Ren didn't really believe it. How had she followed them into the metaverse?
"Wait, Sakamoto!? And Amamiya-kun!? What's going on here?"
"How'd did you get here!" Ryuii shouted, panicked.
"I-I don't know! I just knew you were going to do something to Kamoshida and so I followed you!"
Ren nodded sympathetically. Takamaki was probably blaming herself for Shiho's suicide attempt after turning down Kamoshida. No wonder she followed them.
"That app probably brings in anyone in the nearby vicinity." Morgana moaned, finally breaking out of his love-struck gaze. "Afterall, we all went in from one phone."
"Guess we'll need to be careful about where we use it in the future," Ryuji laughed quietly, off-kilter from having Takamaki here.
"You should have been careful the first time!" Morgana berated him further.
"Uhh, we got to get rid of her, right?" Ryuji asked, displeased with the whole situation.
"It appears so," Ren agreed with tight lips.
"Goodbye Lady Ann…" Morgana whispered mournfully.
"Wait, what are you two doing to, ah! Watch where you're touching!"
Sighing, Joker touched his head as the screams faded away into nothingness. With Takamaki sent back to the real world it was time to begin. How to explain this to her after though?
Pushing the idle thoughts away, Ren straightened, his long black cloak swirling around him. The power granted to him in this world was intoxicating. Flashing his teammates a devilish smile, he waved them forward into the castle.
"Wait!" Morgana called. "We need to come up with code names!"
"We can't call each other by our real names. First off, that's lame, secondly, we don't know what affect shouting our real names in here would have on their cognition."
"Makes sense," Ren agreed, analyzing the reasoning quickly.
"Quick as usual," Morgana praised him. "That's why, you'll be Joker!"
"Why's that?" Ryuji butted in.
"Isn't it obvious?" Morgana chuckled. "It's because he's the ace up our sleeves. The Joker is both a wildcard and the strongest."
"Wow!" Ryuji cried, pumped up about the name. "What's mine then?"
"It's got to be Thug," Joker commented, face straight as usual.
"Yeah!" Morgana added, "that's exactly it!"
"Hell no! I want to named after the mask."
"Skull then?" Joker offered. "What about Morgana?"
"Yeah! I'm Skull!"
"Call me Mona if you must," Morgana decided for himself.
"Joker, Mona and Skull," Ryuji continued, clearly loving the names. Let's go!"
"Remember," Mona halted him. "This is our first job as Phantom thieves. Let's be sure to take it slow."
"Yeah, yeah, slow, let's go find this treasure Joker!" Ryuji added on, completely negating Mona's warning.
"Keep up," Joker smirked at the two before dashing into the entranceway of the palace. His feet blurred beneath him as he crossed the drawbridge in a second and across the stone courtyard. Making a beeline for the ventilation shaft, Joker smiled wildly as he pulled himself up with one hand and through the shaft.
Coming out the other side, Joker took a second to revel in the enhanced physical capabilities granted to him in this world. Making sure the others had kept up, Joker exited the room.
The rich decorations and carpet suited the interior perfectly. The whole building was coated in excessive ornamentation designed specifically to display wealth.
Turning to the right, Joker reeled back instantly, sending a silencing gaze at the other two. Gesturing with his head, they followed silently to the empty doorframe to the right.
Pressing against it, Joker listened as Kamoshida instructed his troops. Unsurprisingly, it was about them. With a final order to hunt them down, Kamoshida departed and the soldiers began to break up into orderly patrols.
Gesturing, Joker ordered them to fall back to the first room.
"Damn it!" Skull cursed, silently for him, "there's so many of them!"
"Of course," Mona sighed, the usual condescending attitude returning. "Let's go a different direction for now."
"Follow me," Taking off before any of them could deny him, Joker headed to the left and through the door there. "Shit!" Right on the other side another guard was already standing there, blocking the way. Before it could turn around, Joker quickly slashed at it with his knife, exposing its true form.
The armour and appearance of the soldier melted into shadows that pooled on the ground before dissipating. Left in its place was a what looked like a small girl hovering in the air on gossamer wings.
"This looks like a good place to try something," Mona informed him, before the fight could begin in earnest. "Knock the shadow down, but don't do an All-out-attack,"
"Fine." Getting tired of continually being the pupil, Joker pulled out his gun and shot. With a cry, the shadow collapsed to the floor.
"Now then!" Mona continued as they surrounded the helpless being. "Shadows come from the sea of human consciousness, that means they can talk. Instead of just killing them, you can demand money and items from them!"
"W-whoa!" Ryuji muttered, dazed as always.
"Makes sense," Joker confirmed, "Give us money," he demanded to the shadow.
"Uh, you know I totally would," it replied in a feminine voice befitting its appearance. "However, I just like spent it all yesterday…"
"No way!" Mona lamented; master plan foiled. "Guess we just have to kill it then."
"Go to hell," Joker confirmed, unable to feel mercy for these fragments of beings.
"W-wait!" The shadow pled. "Surely there's another way!"
"…Like what?" Joker queried, taking the bait. The proposal was interesting. More than that though, the words of the long-nosed man awoke within him. Developing the power of persona… Was it possible?
"I didn't always belong to Kamoshida! I can work for you instead!"
"We have a deal."
"Ah!" The girl cried, flying back up to her original position. "I remember! My name is Pixie. I shall become your mask."
With that the shadow dissolved into shimmering trails of energy of blue and black. Instinctively, Joker reached out, taking the energy and morphing in into a mask. Pressing it into his existing one, Joker smiled as the additional power coursed through him. Possibilities opening that hadn't been there before.
"W-what the hell was that!" Mona stuttered, unable to conceive the scene that had just occurred. "You just recruited a shadow to become a second persona for you!?"
"Wild!" Skull agreed, clearly surprised as well, but not shocked to the same level. "Think I can do that to?"
"No way!" Mona shut him down. "I've never heard of someone having more than one persona before. This just confirms that Joker is very special! Man am I lucky I recruited you two!"
Cutting off Mona's speech, a door further in burst open, revealing another guard. "Intruders! Perish by the might of Kamoshida!"
Repeating the same action as the last shadow, the superfluous outside melted away revealing two shadows. The goat-like monsters were far larger than the pixie from earlier. Tsking, Joker could remember the feelings of those horns last time when Mona and he had been unable to stop them before Ryuji awakened to his power.
However… this time, Joker felt that new possibility swirling within him. A persona that could utilize the same electric potential that Skull had used to dispatch these horned beasts with ease.
"Pixie, Zio!" Calling out the name of the persona, Joker ripped his mask off, Bringing back out the shadow from moments before. Now though, he realized with an exhilarated smile, this was no shadow, it was his persona. Another face of him. Another personality he could wield freely.
Materializing in front of him, the persona obeyed his will and cast the lightning skill that he'd seen earlier, manifested by Skull's Captain Kidd. The small bolts of lightning circled around the goat-like persona finding and striking a weakness that was not noticeable by the naked eye.
"Gah!" Crying out, the demonic goat collapsed under its front knees.
"T-that's the shadow from earlier!" Mona gasped, still struggling to accept joker's new power.
"Zio!" Joker cried out again, targeting the other one. With a repeat from earlier, the second shadow collapsed to his knees. "Let's end this." Waving his companions forward, the three of them set into the two downed shadows.
With a final smirk and a pull of his glove, Joker left the shadows behind him to die, the essence that composes them pouring out.
"Man, I love doing that!" Skull crowed at the end of it all. "Let's find some more, yeah?"
"So vulgar," Mona predictably smirked, the glint in his eyes giving away the same rush of excitement that Skull was feeling.
Guiding them forward, Joker paused at a suspicious looking room. The way was blocked with metal bars, the path forward more extravagant than most and lined with statues of soldiers. The door at the end was the largest he'd seen so far. With no way in, however, Joker kept moving forward. The room may be important, but it clearly didn't contain the treasure they were looking for.
"Damn, three of them?" Skull cursed as they cautiously peered into the next room.
Mona stayed silent this time as Joker analyzed the situation. While the room looked like little more than storage, old barrels and dining tables filling the wooden room, it was clear that the exit on the other side must lead to more important areas.
"We'll take them down one-by-one by ambush." Eyes steely hard with determination, Joker flashed his companions one more uninhibited smile before stealthily slinking into the room.
Joker walked like a ghost, his noiseless steps bringing him quickly closer to one of the unobservant guards. Once again, he felt like he was born for this. Every action came naturally. In here it was hard to remember what life had been like before everything happened. Suddenly, the assault charge and getting shipped off to Tokyo felt like fate. A necessary event required to truly start his life.
"Reveal your true form!" Commanding the shadow, Joker easily scaled the soldier and grabbed at its mask, visible just below the helmet and pulled. With a slurp, the mask gave way, pulling with it the illusion the shadow had constructed for itself.
Sighing at the two measly lantern bearers that came forth, Joker shook his head at them. "Finish them with Garu, Mona."
"Y-yes!" Unused to taking orders, Mona quickly called forth his Persona Zorro. Two quick blasts later, there was nothing remaining of the shadows.
Slinking back down, Joker took a quick look around the room. The other two appeared to have noticed nothing. Truly becoming a vengeful ghost, Joker flitted around the room, revealing and dispatching the last two opponents.
"What's that!" Skull asked in awe, pointing at a shimmering box.
"A treasure chest you idiot," Mona sighed. "Let's get it Joker, there may be something valuable inside.
Nodding, he ripped open the lid and took the loot. "A new dagger, eh? Don't mind if I do." Replacing the first crappy one that Joker still wasn't sure where it had come from, he felt more than ready for any obstacle that may get in his way.
Waving them forward, Joker led them out of the room to a corner. A door straight in front and the hallway continuing to the right. Stopping, the wavy door in front got his attention. It brought back memories of a similar place he'd encountered the last time they'd entered.
"A safe room," Mona confirmed. "Let's stop in there for a moment and rest up."
Going along with it, Joker supressed the urge to roll his eyes at the command. Mona couldn't vote for him as leader and then constantly try to seize control back. That uncomfortable conversation would come later.
The act of entering the room felt like a weight was lifted off Joker's shoulders. The inside was quite cramped as it shimmered between a palace break room and something resembling a janitor's closet. No wonder the distortion was less here, it was unlikely Kamoshida cleaned anything besides his own trophies.
Being in here, Joker was able to fully appreciate the difference in tension in areas where the distortion was strong and the safe rooms. They truly felt safe, even though logically only a small wooden door separated them from the shadows.
"Did you guys hear that?" Mona asked suddenly.
Straining his ears, Joker picked up what sounded like a scuffle happening back the way they had come. Raised voices as shadows argued with someone possessing a distinctly feminine voice.
"I'm going to go check it out."
"Be safe," Nodding farewell to Mona, Joker leaned back to wait for him to return,
"Pretty wild so far, huh?" Skull asked, sprawled out in a chair. "These powers are wicked!"
"Even so," Joker warned him, "It will be hard getting through here with just the three of us. I'd like at least one more member."
"Oh?" Skull asked interested. "You thinking about that first-year from earlier?"
"Huh?" Pausing in confusion, it took Joker awhile to pull up the conversation he'd had on Wednesday with that girl. With the amount of sharing he'd done; Joker wasn't surprised Skull had remembered her quickly. "No, although it's a possibility if we run out of options."
"I mean," Skull chuckled, a perverted look in his eyes, "Daaamn. Am I right?"
Joker could only shake his head in reply to his friend's antics. However, he wasn't wrong.
"We're in trouble." Opening the door, Mona started the conversation seriously. "Lady Ann has returned."
"Huh? What the hell do you mean by that Morgana!?" Skull trumpeted, the noise echoing around the small room.
"Code names," Joker berated him instantly, shaking his head.
"Oh, yeah my bad. But what about Ann?"
"She must have gotten access to the app and used it to follow us after we returned her to the real world!"
"Let's go then," Joker asserted. "Lead the way Mona."
Dropping back into second, Joker's mind span while Mona ran back through the room with the long, old tables. Passing through quickly, Joker felt he knew exactly where they were heading. That blocked off passage from earlier.
True to expectations, Mona stopped at that corner and looked towards the door. Thankfully, the metal bars from earlier were out of the way.
Joker ran to the door and kicked it open, the time for subtlety had long since passed. The scene on the other side was even worse. Cognitive beings writhed on the floor. Topless female figures that all appeared to be in the midst of an ecstatic sensation. Joker didn't have to stretch his mind far to figure out what Kamoshida was implying here. The women's team were simply his sex slaves.
Past the faceless cognitions, Takamaki was suspended, bound by cuffs to a golden X. Three soldiers surrounded her, two with swords to her throat and a stronger one, wearing golden armour, watching cautiously. Off to the side were Kamoshida in his ridiculous outfit as well as the cognitive Ann.
"Stop this Kamoshida!"
"Well, well, the theives have arrived."
"You bastard!" Skull roared as he took in the room. "Let her go!"
"Don't take another step!" Kamoshida warned, "If you do, the soldiers will execute her!"
Glaring at Kamoshida, Joker realized that they were at a disadvantage here. With Ann's life in the balance, there was nothing they could do.
"Hmm, so what should I do," Kamoshida wondered. "Maybe I'll start with cutting off her clothes?"
"Oh, you're so naughty," Cognitive Ann added on, clearly enjoying it.
"You three can just stand over there and watch," Kamoshida laughed huskily, "Once I'm done with her, we'll get to your executions."
"Is this… because of what I did to Shiho?" The real Ann murmured. "Maybe then… I deserve this…"
"That's right!" Kamoshida crowed.
"No, it's not!" Joker yelled, anger flaring at her words. "He did this to Shiho, not you! Are you going to just take this!?"
"Huh?" Blinking Ann's eyes refocused on Joker. "Of course…" Anger flaring in Ann's eyes, she glared at kamoshida. "You're the one to blame! You ruined her life and almost convinced me it was my fault. I'm done playing your games, you piece of shit!"
"My… it's taken far too long…"
"Her as well?" Mona gasped shocked.
The shockwaves of power emanating from around Ann's body made it impossible to mistake for anything else. She was awakening to her persona. Like Ryuji had, and Ren before him.
Joker smirked as he watched. With the power bestowed, Ann easily snapped the chains binding her. Grabbing a sword from the shadow guard, she cut down the cognitive version of herself, dispersing it back into shadows. Tossing away the sword, Joker finally got to appreciate her new outfit. The tight red latex coated her from head to toe, displaying every single mature curve that Ann boasted.
"You took everything from Shiho! Now, I'm going to do the same to you!"
"Get them guards!" Kamoshida cried, falling to the ground and scrambling away.
"Come to me, Carman!" Calling out the name of her persona, the awakening finished as the energy coalesced into a persona.
In Joker's eyes, the persona was the ultimate foil for Kamoshida. A woman that leads men to their doom, her foot on a man's back clearly displaying Carmen's conflicting view about the superior sex.
"Let's go!" Joker commanded, "she'll need our help."
"How dare you defy the glorious King Kamoshida!" The strongest guard that hadn't been blown away by Ann's awakening stepped forth, golden armour melting as it assumed the guise of a true shadow.
Blinking in surprise, Joker wasn't ready for a demon sitting on a toilet. Regaining his wits in an instant, Joker used his superior agility to whip out his gun. Pouring all eight shots into the beast it bellowed in pain but looked relatively unharmed.
"Looks like I'm up!" Mona jeered, "Go, Zorro!" The wind skill from before also seemed to barely faze the beast. It was clearly made of sturdier material than the other shadows running around this place.
"Guess you need me after all! Captain kid!" With a roar, the bolts of lightning rained down on the toilet-dwelling creature causing superficial damage.
"Can't count on men for anything…" Ann sighed, her personality in line her persona. Cracking a whip, she pointed at the demon. "Burn it to ashes, Carmen!"
"What!?" Crying out in fear, the shadow barely had time to process the ball of fire being shot at it before it crumpled to the ground, writhing in pain.
"Let's finish this!"
"You got it!" Joker agreed happily, falling in line for the all-out-attack. With four people contributing, the damage output was immense, falling back, Joker was sure the damage dealt would finish the shadow.
"I'm not done yet." Picking itself back up, the shadow's eyes flared with rage as it summoned its own power. From it, a wave of wind flowed, it wasn't stronger than what Mona used, but it consumed all four of them. Covering himself with his arms, Joker grunted as he felt stamina leave his body.
"Sorry guys!" Ryuji called out in pain as he slumped to the floor. Just as the shadows were weaker to specific ailments, it seemed the same held true for their personas. Storing the information away, Joker focused on the fight.
"How about round two!" The beast cried, doing it again.
"Shit!" Cursing, all Joker could do for now was endure the shadow's attacks. Ryuji could be healed up later with the persona's abilities.
"Let's finish it off quick!" Joker commanded. Unthinking, he rushed in, swinging with his knife.
Caught off guard by the vicious assault, the shadow was helpless as slash after slash pummeled its body. Rolling out of it, Joker fired one more shot to seal the deal.
"Ahh!" Releasing a scream of pain, it collapsed on the ground.
"Let me finish this, please…"
Glancing back at a panting Ann, Joker could tell she was a stiff breeze from fainting. Despite that though... he trusted her. Waving away Skull and Mona, they watched warily while Ann slowly advanced towards the helpless shadow.
"Get out of my sight!"
"Noo! I serve… the glorious… King… Kamo…" Trailing off, the guard captain dissolved into shadows.
"You… You're next… Kamo… Shida…"
"Slow down Takamaki," Joker warned offering her a stabilizing arm.
"He's right, Lady Ann. We should retreat for now."
"True," Skull agreed, groaning as he stretched his hurting body. "Besides, Kamoshida scampered."
"We'll explain everything," Joker assured her.
Promise in hand, Ann nodded meekly, her phantom suit disappearing as the energy to manifest it vanished.
"Let's leave then," Joker commanded. Despite not making any progress towards the treasure today, he could barely contain his glee. After all, they now had a fourth member, a powerful one at that. Even so, his mind went back to that first-year Skull had mentioned before. Would it be possible to recruit her as well?
Dismissing it as an idle fancy, Joker focused on the present and escaping the castle before more goons showed up.
Sunday April 17th, 20XX Morning
Kasumi chewed the end of her pencil thoughtfully as she examined her sister. Sumire was busy in the kitchen cooking. Everyone else was out shopping. With Sumire staying behind to cook lunch for when they return, Kasumi had stayed behind on the pretense of doing her homework.
While she hadn't had any intentions of doing it right now, Kasumi found herself using it as a distraction from what she wanted to do. Talk to Sumire.
The scary part was, Kasumi had started to get used to only talking to Sumire at dinner, when the rest of the family around. She was still lonely every now and then, but no longer did the same crippling sadness threaten to overtake her.
Even the struggle of doing the homework on that first day now seemed childish. Looking down at the various papers, the answers rose to her mind easily. How she'd usually spend hours teaching it to Sumire, completely memorizing it in the progress.
Grabbing hold of that boldness that coach praised her for so often, Kasumi broke the silence. "Hey, Sumire, what do you think of Mr. Kamoshida?"
"Kamoshida?" Sumire asked back, her work pausing. "He's the one we're meeting with tomorrow morning, correct?"
"And the vice principal," Kasumi confirmed.
"Well, I uh, I guess it's easy to see why the volleyball program is rated so highly at Shujin with him around…"
"And?" Kasumi prompted.
Blushing, Sumire turned her face so that her long flowing hair would cover it.
"Come on," Kasumi prodded lightly, "you can speak your mind to me."
Biting her lip, Sumire seemed to waffle a bit more. "You promise not to say anything, right?"
"Of course!" Kasumi replied, a mixture of indignation and surprise in her voice.
"I don't like him. Not one bit."
"Oh," Kasumi blinked pleasantly surprised. Leaning back in her chair, she asked the predicable follow-up, "why?"
"The whole rally, it was supposed to be celebrating the teams, right? Supporting them in their meet that's coming up. But, when they were playing volleyball, it was all Kamoshida all the time. The players on both the men's and women's teams just looked depressed. I guess… I just understood how they felt."
"You were comparing him to me," Kasumi summarized softly. "The players spent hours practicing and enduring pain, only to end up second."
"S-sorry," Sumire stuttered. Raising her head, Kasumi was shocked by the determination in them. "I… I love you!"
"W-what!?" Kasumi stuttered in shock. "I… I mean I love you too, obviously…"
"S-sorry, I just didn't want you to think I hate you. I was jealous of you, and I don't think that's changed just yet, but I'm working on it!"
"You really are something else," Kasumi chuckled, staring at her oblivious little sister. One that never understood how strong she was.
"So, umm, what do you think about Mr. Kamoshida?"
"…I'm with you." Kasumi agreed in a low voice. "I heard a story after the rally. If it's true, he really is a monster…"
"Oh, don't worry about it," Kasumi answered, smiling reassuringly at her younger sister. "Just… do your best to avoid him, alright?"
"Yes…" Turning back to the cooking, conversation died for awhile as an awkward silence invaded the space between them. With no warning, Sumire swung back around to Kasumi. "Do you think Kamoshida was somehow involved in that suicide attempt?"
Gasping at Sumire, Kasumi once again remembered that she wasn't as naïve as Kasumi sometimes thought. "Yes… I think he was."
"Will you tell me why?"
Fiddling with the pencil again, Kasumi looked at her homework to buy herself time. As time stretched and no solution presented itself, Kasumi relented. "Fine. But don't do anything rash, alright?"
"T-that's horrible," Sumire stuttered weakly after Kasumi had finished laying out her conversation with Kamoshida, her deductions, and maybe most importantly, her conversation with Sakamoto.
"Just keep your head down," Kasumi repeated. "Kamoshida basically is a king at school."
Meeting Kasumi's gaze, Sumire pouted defiantly. As their wills clashed over and over, no winner seemed to be in sight even as minutes passed by. Only the dinging of a timer eventually ended the contest as Sumire squeaked and rushed to deal with the food.
"Besides," Kasumi continued, "people need to solve their own problems. They need to face them head on."
"That's easy for you to say…"
"What was that?"
"Nothing…" Sumire relented.
Confused, Kasumi could only shake her head in reply at her sister's back. Going back to her homework, Kasumi tried to bury the confusion she felt in her own convictions. She knew that people should stand up for themselves and solve their own problems. It was a natural conclusion.
Isn't that exactly what that blond kid had tried to do? He'd stood up to Kamoshida so that he'd stop abusing the track team. Where had that gotten him?
Thoughts muddied; Kasumi dug back into her homework as a distraction. Anything to remove the doubts that were starting to clog her mind.
Once again, thank you for reading to the end.
I'm not sure how much time I'll be allocating to writing this story. As such, updates may be extremely frequent to very rare. Either way, I hope that you have gotten some enjoyment from the chapter.