My feet pound down hard on the pavement as I try to distance myself from the Nyx Cult HQ. Is it the cult I'm afraid of, though, or Minato? Nyx, why did I have to come back here? Why did I have to ruin his life again? I thought, after the Fall was averted, this would all be over, I thought that I'd go back to my life and he'd be in the Seal, and we'd never have to worry about hurting each other again: we'd just be two human souls, isolated in space without anyone to hurt, anyone to break. I thought it was over for me; and I was happy that it was over. Why am I back? Why am I back?
Turning back for the shortest of moments, I see the huge warehouse the cult inhabits growing steadily smaller as I run away from it, as fast as my legs will take me and as far as my lungs'll let me. I'm human now. I'm a living, breathing, human. I have hair and teeth and nails and my own voice—everything I missed after I became Nyx's Avatar. I'm Ryoji Mochizuki again. Ryoji. Ryoji. My name—it's applicable once more. I've got that scarf, the braces… It's like nothing ever changed for me. My hair's a little longer, I guess. But that's all. It's like… for everything Minato's given up, I've gained something back.
I'm grateful. I'm grateful, and oh-so guilty. I know that Minato blames me for this, and I blame me too. But there's a flicker of glee somewhere in me at the fact that I get to be free again. I've got this chance to live the life I never had… But am I going to take it? Freedom, or saving the world. As much as I hate to have to consider that choice, I do. I know there's no question which I'll end up picking, but simply having the option, considering the option, feels like more than I deserve.
Funny. I'm given four years on my own in space to think everything over, decide who I am and what I'll do if and when I get back to Earth, but I don't use any of it on self-discovery. It takes a world, eyes, feet, and desperation to get me to consider anything. I guess maybe, before I start thinking, I should think about what's happened, where I'm going, and why I'm going.
I'm Ryoji Mochizuki. I'm on the run from the headquarters of a cult out to turn me into a monster and force me to end the world. I'm the former god of Death. I've got to find a Persona user, and fast. But… the question is, who? And where? Minato told me 'find Souji Seta', well—gee, Minato, no directions? No instructions? Seta's a pretty common surname—there's no way in hell I'm traipsing through the phone directory to find him. Really, all I can do is run and hope for a sign. Maybe I should try after some of S.E.E.S? Naw, they wouldn't be in Iwatodai any more.
… I've gotta find Souji. I don't know who he is (except for the fact he's a Persona user, because really, what else would Minato be hanging out with?), but I have to find him. Only… where to look? The warehouse area that the cult calls home overlooks the Iwatodai port. Cutting through the center is the bridge between Tatsumi Port Island and the rest of Iwatodai City. Getting across the harbor is probably what I should concentrate on for now—Tatsumi Port Island doesn't have much in the way of residential zones, and what little apartments there are are primarily owned by the Kirijo Group.
The lights of the bridge burn bright in the darkness, but eclipsing their glow is something far more sinister. I finally catch the smell of burning gas and tires in my nose. The sky around the far side is thick with smoke and flames. Something is going on. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the one behind that 'something' is Minato. Or… maybe me? Do the Shadows still count as me when it's Minato they're part of now? Sometimes, the issue of what's his and what's mine gets a little confusing.
Deciding the flames are as good a place as any to start looking, I make my way towards one of the borders of the warehouse area. High, barbed fences—but if I'm even half as agile as I used to be, they won't matter. My fingers find places in the gaps of the mesh, and before I know it, I'm climbing, climbing… My thighs meet painfully with the wire as I throw myself over, ripping a huge gash in both my pants and my skin, but my escape is otherwise successful. Landing on my feet, I hear a crack from one of my ankles, but ignore the noise and forge painfully on, moving even faster through the streets as adrenaline takes over and my priorities rearrange so that investigate the fire is top of my list.
Several streets and a few pints of blood later, I'm heading along the pedestrian walkway on one side of the road. I'm significantly slower now, as the wounds on my legs are starting to get to me (who knew I could bleed?), but I'm still working at a reasonably quick pace. As I approach, the smell and the heat become overpowering, along with the new sign of a disaster—noise. Wailing sirens, cars pulling in and out, a fire truck spraying water all over the flaming wreck of cars. An ambulance pulls away as I make it to the back of the many spectators, all staring on at the carnage. Some are crying. Some are simply curious. But one stands out: a tall teenage boy, with silver hair and a bandage on his forehead, not looking like he's feeling anything at all.
It's the look of a Wild Card. No doubt about it. Every now and then, a tinge of emotion appears on his face—the slightest twitch of a downturned mouth, the movement towards shocked eyebrows. His eyes don't tell a thing, regardless of what happens—but the other muscles in his face do. Not many people look like that; completely blank. Maybe, this guy's worth the chance. I take a deep breath, and walk over to him, trying to stay some semblance of calm.
"Excuse me, I—" His eyes spring into life, and shoot me a terrifying glare.
"Leave me alone," A few moments pass. I'm just about to do as he says, intimidated by his anger, when I notice something tucked into one of his pockets: headphones. Stainless steel headphones, with a brand name and a serial number carved into the back. These headphones have been out of print for a good few years. These headphones are Minato's.
"Minato Arisato," I say, knowing full well it's the best way to make him realize I'm someone who knows about his Persona powers. Souji—or at least, I expect it's Souji—gawks at me for the smallest of seconds, then grabs me by my scarf and wrenches me towards him.
"Where did you take him?" I struggle feebly against Souji's grip, but I can't break free.
"I'm not part of the cult," He looks unbelieving. Great… I'm going to have to prove who I am to him, aren't I? But I can't pull any magic tricks now… Crap, what'll I do? Suddenly, I realize that there's one thing I can do to prove that I'm not out to get him and Minato. Running my hands through my hair, I try and shake out the gel it's been styled back with, and then sweep it down over one of my eyes. Sticking my hands in my pockets, I look at Souji with the most bored look I can muster.
"… Who are you?" He asks me, as it sinks in that, if it weren't for my hair and eye color and the mole under my eye, I'd be the perfect copy of Minato.
"My name is Ryoji Mochizuki," Does he know about me? I hope he does. I always feel sick to my stomach when I have to try and explain what I did in 2009.
"… Minato's Shadow," He whispers. I guess he's right, in a way.
"Something like that," His grip on my scarf loosens, and I'm allowed to break free. Ow, that hurt…
"He said you were locked away behind the Seal,"
"And he was right… Until now," Souji can't be too familiar with Minato if he thinks that he tells the whole truth to people. Our conversation dies down for a while, and the world is overcome by the shouts and screams of the people nearby, the roar of the fire—Death. It's almost fitting that, to meet with Souji, I've had to be near some horror caused by a part of me. Don't say it wasn't—now I'm here, I can smell Shadows on the air. It's hard to describe their scent—you know what it is, or you don't. It's like nothing else in the human world… The closest thing you can compare it to is a mix of cheap air freshener and sea water. Fragrant, but hollow… And tinted with a harsher smell…
"… Why are you back? And where is Minato?" This guy asks a lot of questions. I don't blame him.
"Minato has been captured by the cult of Nyx. And I'm back… because I have to end the world," Souji freezes, and then looks at me with murder in his eyes. I know what he's thinking: 'if I kill you, then the crisis'll be averted'. Pity he's wrong. "Killing me won't help a thing. It'll… probably make matters worse." What I told Minato earlier wasn't entirely wrong; killing him'll turn me back into the Appriser. But… killing me will have the opposite effect. I'll return to him, and he'll have to suffer my fate. I'd never wish that on him.
"How can things be worse than they already are?" Souji's face sports a grim smirk now. "My parents are in hospital, dad might be dead… Minato's gone. I've got no Persona now and I'm defenseless. All I've got is an empty home and a couple of friends." Touching his hand to his forehead, he laughs bitterly.
"Not to mention, I got cut a bit before," The situation is worse for him than I thought it'd be. What kind of horror has Minato… have I brought to him?
"Souji," I mumble, and he looks at me with a hint of shock in his eyes, but it fades away.
"Minato told you my name, didn't he?" Casting his gaze towards a group of paramedics, piling unconscious—maybe dead—people into one of the ambulances. No wonder they ignored Souji's forehead. No matter what was wrong with it, he was still conscious… still in a better state than these sorry people. "I guess… you really are his Shadow." Suddenly more confident, Souji whips a cellphone out of one of his pockets, and starts punching the buttons on it down at lightning speeds.
"… You haven't explained to me what's going on. Neither has Minato, really. But I know that, whatever you're both planning, we'll need back up; and lots of it," Raising the phone to his ear, he gives a genuine smile. "Junpei, can you come meet me at the Port Island Station?'