"Welcome to the Velvet Room... or rather, welcome back."
Souji Seta's vision cleared. He glanced around what should have been the familiar limousine interior, but found that it was an elevator instead. It was lavishly decorated with tapestries, intricate metalwork, and expensive furniture that was colored the familiar blue of the previous incarnation of the room. He also noted that the room was descending downward at a normal pace, similarly to how the limousine had been driving forward along the foggy road. He looked to Igor, the master of the room, sitting in a large, blue armchair, and to Margaret, standing up and looking just as confused as Souji felt.
"Master," said Margaret in a tone that reflected her expression, "why has this one returned to the Velvet Room? I had believed our assistance to be no longer necessary... Has this happened before?"
"Not at all, my dear." Igor seemed beside himself with amusement. Some things never change, thought Souji to himself. "But we can simply conclude from his return that this young man has more to his destiny. And as such, we must be present to provide him with assistance should he require it."
"But.. I haven't entered into a pact," said Souji, looking concerned. "Could it have been-"
"An accident?" Igor chuckled, his wild eyes focused intently on the young man. "Nothing happens here by accident. Remember what was said before: everything that occurs within this room is tied to your fate. Therefore, you must have a specific reason to return here, even in your dreams."
"If I may be so bold, Master," interjected Margaret, "but perhaps you could examine his fate through the cards?"
"Ah, yes. A good idea, I think." Igor smiled as he waved his hand over the small table in front of his chair, a tarot deck materializing into being in front of them. With another wave, Igor caused the eight top cards to fall into an octagon pattern around the deck.
"Now... the card that represents the immediate future..." Igor waved his hand, flipping a random card. "...is the Empress in the upright position. You will experience great joy and happiness soon, hmm?" Souji said nothing, though he felt his cheeks flush slightly.
"And the card that would chronologically follow that would be..." Igor flipped another card, "The Fool in the upright position. You'll be taking a journey apart from the one you're already on. The purpose for which..." Another card flipped. "...Oh my. Death in the reverse position."
"What does that mean, Master?" asked Margaret.
"Normally, Death in the upright position means that a catastrophe is imminent. So I'm confident that a reversal in this case would mean that our young friend will take his journey in order to avert a catastrophe. Interesting." Igor chuckled to himself as he flipped another card. "And it seems in order to do this, you will need to assist your friends in reassessing their lives, as denoted by the Hierophant in the upright position."
"I don't really understand... but I guess that's common here." Souji tried to smile, then remembered that he was asleep.
"Quite right. You will eventually, just as you understood what was required of you five years ago." Igor chuckled again, waving his hand over the table and causing the cards to vanish. "I wonder if you'll be up to the task this time. Either way, we'll be here if you require our services. You may not need us immediately, but I assure you. You eventually shall."
"Good luck, my old friend," said Margaret with a smile. "I have complete confidence in you."
"Until we meet again, then. Farewell." Igor grinned as Souji's vision faded and the sound of a train whistle echoed in his ears.
Blinking the sleep from his eyes, Souji Seta awoke. He looked around the train car, empty except for a few travellers. Everyone else seemed to have disembarked at the last city before Yasoinaba Station.
Smiling to himself, Souji peered out the window and gazed upon the countryside rolling past his window. Autumn had touched the leaves already, and the farms and woods were covered in beautiful combinations of reds and oranges and golds. Very little had changed in five long years, and he allowed himself to remember the one year he finally allowed himself to get close to others, the one year that he broke his promise to himself and actually started bonding with others. Faces began appearing in front of him, as well as very vivid memories of his wild and crazy year in Inaba. Solving the murder, catching the real culprit, finding the true cause of the whole mess... it had all seemed like something out of a dream. Even the most beautiful moments seemed like an illusion, the valuable time he had spent with...
Souji felt a vibration in his jacket pocket, and he pulled out his cellphone to reveal a single text message on the screen. "All going according to plan. No one suspects a thing. Meet me in front of the station."
His smile widening slightly, Souji cleared the message and replaced his phone in his pocket. Gazing back out at the countryside, his thoughts turned to Igor's prediction. He had hoped for a nice, quiet visit to Inaba this time, something that didn't occur five years ago. But now this didn't seem to be the case. He was puzzled by what Igor meant by a journey, as well as what part his dear friends would play in the ordeal.
Whatever it is, I guess I'll do what I can, like last time, said Souji to himself. It couldn't possibly be worse than what happened five years ago.
"Ah, there you are. I'm glad to see you've been taking care of yourself!"
Ryotaro Dojima smiled as he and Souji embraced. The detective looked just like he did before, wearing a disshevelled button-up shirt and pants, his dark hair messy and unkempt, but his eyes gleamed with joy at the sight of his nephew. "I guess you're not much of a kid anymore, huh? And looking into colleges... I guess the workforce wasn't enough for you."
"I'll actually be looking into colleges while I'm staying here," said Souji, holding up a small collection of colorful pamphlets. "Mom seriously wants me to go to a top-class university."
"I don't blame her. With those scores you got here, I'd be surprised if you weren't accepted anywhere." Dojima tried hard not to shake his head. He hasn't changed a bit. Same clothes, same haircut, same way of carrying himself... That glimmer in his eye wasn't there before, though. "C'mon, my car's this way."
"Still the same old rust-bucket?" Souji smiled.
Dojima laughed heartily. "Are you kidding? You know damn well it was totalled five years ago!" He spent a moment locating the correct key as he spoke. "This was used, but I wanted the same make and model as the last one. It's a good car, and you know how much I'm set in my ways."
The two got into the car, and Dojima started driving away from the train station. After a few moments of small talk, Dojima became serious. "Everything's going as planned, as I said. Not even Nanako knows you're here, but I think she's becoming psychic. She's been asking every weekend when you'll be coming back to visit, and even Satonaka's been asking questions."
"How has everyone-" Souji began, but Dojima shook his head with a smile.
"Ohhhh, no. They can explain themselves just fine. I'm not going to give away anything, and not because fair is fair." Dojima winked slyly. "I'm not going to deprive your friends of an excuse to make a big deal over you. And Nanako, either. She'll probably be the worst."
Souji grinned as he looked out along the familiar landscape. They were passing through the Shopping District now, and it seemed much more lively than it had been five years ago. "Businesses are booming, huh?"
"You have no idea. But I'd be telling if I said anymore."
"Now you have me curious."
Dojima grinned broadly. "Good. Now see how it feels to be kept in the dark?"
"Fine, fine. I'll make sure to apologize when we get to the inn."
"You don't have to apologize. I'm only teasing you." Dojima laughed again. "Hell, it's been five whole years since we've been able to talk like this."
Souji looked out the window as they approached the Amagi Inn. He was still smiling, fresh memories surfacing as he beheld the well-preserved building and the fence around the hotsprings. "I know... Where does the time go?"
"Don't ask me. I've been wondering that for years." Dojima pulled into the parking lot and glided into the last open parking space. "Though I think your friends will have a much better answer for you."
Souji looked up at the entrance. He wondered what he would find inside, and Igor's prediction came into his mind once again.
"Go on inside," said Dojima, patting Souji roughly on the shoulder, "and give Nanako a birthday surprise she won't forget."