3 weeks until the Fall

"I'm going for a walk," Zipping up the black jacket I've stolen from Yukiko, I look around the lounge at all the Persona users gathered there.

"When will you be back? We were going to go to Tartarus tonight," Mitsuru closes the fashion magazine she was reading and looks up at me.

"At about ten. Don't worry, I still intend for us to head out," We've still got a hundred floors to climb, after all.

"Good. I'd hate for us to reach the end of January and not have finished our journey up the tower," Crossing her legs and flexing her wrist a bit, Mitsuru eventually returns to reading. Sighing, I move towards the door.

"Hey, wait up, Ryoji," I hear Yosuke call out from the dining table. "I'll come too." Pulling on a jacket he has slung over the back of his chair, Yosuke dashes over to me.

"I kind of wanted a breath of fresh air anyway," Without warning, Kanji appears behind him.

"Hey, me too. Let's all go out together," So much for heading out on my own… Oh well, I guess it'll be good hanging out with these two. They might even be able to help me with what I have planned… From the kitchen, I hear Chidori call out something—though I can't quite hear what.

"Wait!" Oh, there we go. Chidori appears at the reception after a few moments. "Can I come with you three?" She stares blankly at me.

"Sure," I say, after a moment of thought. Smiling slightly, she begins to pull off the apron she's wearing, revealing a perfectly normal button-up shirt beneath it. I didn't know she owned clothes that weren't goth-lolita. It's actually kind of surprising.

"Fuuka, I'm leaving the cooking to you," She calls back over her shoulder, as she navigates around the reception desk to join Kanji, Yosuke and I.

"Okay!" Fuuka shouts back, and it suddenly dawns on me why so many people want to walk with me: I'd be trying to get away from Fuuka's cooking if I were them, too. Well, I guess I'd better get going before half the dorm starts following us…

"I was just planning on going to the shrine," I lie to the people coming with me. I'll tell them the truth once I'm out of Mitsuru's earshot.

"That sounds like a nice walk," Chidori mumbles.

"Let's get going," Yosuke cheers, before striding hurriedly towards the door. I share a glance with Chidori, as we both consider Yosuke's consistently hasty behavior. Doubtless, he's acting on the stories of Fuuka's food. Junpei likes to over-exaggerate about the time she fed him and I a cake she'd tried to make. 'Baked with love', she told us—I guess she'd mistaken 'love' for 'cyanide', or something equally deadly. We were sick for a week. Kanji, Chidori and I follow Yosuke out, waving a short goodbye to the others as we do.

"The shrine is this way, right?" Yosuke points in its general direction and starts briskly walking down the street. The further he is from Fuuka and her cooking, the better, I guess. Pity for him that we're not going to the shrine. Our target is somewhere a little bit closer, and in a slightly different direction.

"Yosuke, slow down," I tell him. "We're not going to the shrine." He freezes.

"What?"

"We're not going to the shrine,"

"Why didn't you tell us that before, Ryoji?" Chidori asks me, raising an eyebrow curiously.

"Because… I couldn't let Mitsuru or any of the others find out what I'm planning," Naoto and Mitsuru would probably lecture me. Akihiko might get annoyed, ditto Ken. The others… Well, they wouldn't mind too much, I think.

"C'mon, tell us what you're really going to do," Kanji groans, sounding a tad worried. He really shouldn't be—it's nothing dangerous after all, I just want to—

"Go and visit Souji," Yosuke's expression falls into a frown. Kanji shakes his head, and sighs a little. Chidori does nothing.

"Dude, that's really not a good idea," Yosuke folds his arms as he speaks. "I mean, firstly, you're like, the one who got Minato killed. I know you didn't have a choice, and stuff, but still. And then there's the fact that, even if he doesn't hate you for that, you look sort of—" He pauses for a minute, looking me over. If he was going to say that I look sort of like Minato, he's wrong—I look nothing like Minato now. I look like a skinny girl with weird eyes and messy hair. I mean, it's like someone stuck Kanji's hair, Yukiko's clothes and the kid from The Ring in a blender and flipped the 'on' switch. This is not the body of a Minato-copy now. It's the conglomerate form of a goddess and her human son.

"—sort of like Minato," Yosuke finishes his sentence eventually, even though it's clear that, after a bit of thought, he's realized his point doesn't stand.

"It doesn't matter. I want to see him, and tell him what we're doing. So that… if he looks up at the sky on the promised day, he knows what he's watching," I can't give him Minato back, but I can give him the knowledge of how I'm going to avenge him.

"… Well, I'm coming with you, stupid idea or not," Kanji tells me, and Chidori nods in agreement. Looking from one to the other, I eventually smile, and begin to walk in the direction of Souji's house. Kanji and Chidori follow me, and, after a moment of hesitation, so does Yosuke.

The four of us are silent for what seems like eons.

"Hey, Ryoji," Kanji finally says, as we round yet another corner. Quickening his pace to catch up to me, he looks me in the eyes as he arrives at my side. "Don't you feel awkward, goin' around lookin' like that?" Kanji's always so self-conscious… I don't relate to that easily. Even when I believed I was human, I didn't care what others thought of me—I guess I got it from Minato. If you had told me to wear a dress, I would've. Invited me swimming in Iwatodai's harbor? Well, why not!

"Looking like what? Dressed like a girl, or practically being a girl?" If there's one awkward thing about all this, it's that I still sound exactly the same as I usually do. Merging with my mother changes everything about me, save for my voice…

"Both, I guess," He rubs the back of his neck, glancing away.

"I wake up in the morning, and tell myself 'at least you can still pretend to be human, enjoy it while you can'," Not that that'll last long, though. Yesterday, when I woke up in the morning, I found the beginnings of wings on my hips and lower back. My first reaction was to run to Yukiko's room, and ask for her to lend me a skirt so I could hide the growths on my hips. The ones on my lower back had to be bound down with bandages Mitsuru helped me to find. My time as a human… is running out. That's why I have to do this now. I have to see Souji now.

"That's sort of… grim," Kanji replies sheepishly.

"If you were in my situation, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better to believe in," Turning into Nyx involves being slowly robbed of everything that makes me Ryoji. If there's someone alive who can imagine that as being a good thing, then I'd like to meet them and find out how they could possibly be so optimistic… or stupid.

"Yeah, I guess so," Kanji looks away from me, up at the sky.

"… You know, I probably won't have feet soon," I remark. It's true—Nyx doesn't have feet, so neither will I, when all is said and done.

"That sounds kind of… weird,"

"It's the least of my problems," After all, which is more alarming—almost having the body of a girl, and a girl with wings, at that, or not having feet?

"Hey, guys, you missed the turn-off," And for once, Yosuke does something useful. Pointing to a street Kanji and I had walked past, he and Chidori disappear down it once they've captured our attention.

"Damn, guess we should've been paying more attention, right Kanji?" I force a smile, and double back, before heading down the street Yosuke had indicated. Kanji follows quietly behind me.

Souji's house is located down one of the more up-market streets of Iwatodai, with small trees lining the sidewalk. Each and every building is new, and painted grey, or white, or black. Modern houses all look the same to me, I've gotta say. Give me the dorm' over this any day. Some of the houses have lights on, some don't. All have garages, which isn't all that common in the other areas of the city—the trains and buses around here are so good, you don't really have to rely on cars that often. Besides, it's not like there's much space to stick parking in.

Coming to a stop where Yosuke and Chihiro are waiting, I gaze up at a large, two-storied house. A small garden sits out the front. In the darkness, I struggle to make out which plants are in it, but with a bit of effort, I spy a rhododendron bush, and a poplar tree in the center of the lawn. A small path leads to the front door, made of concrete with tiny stones sunken in. It's all very picturesque. Opening the wrought-iron gate, and leaving it open behind me for the others to follow me through, I step across the path, and towards the solid, plain front door.

Looking myself over, I make sure I'm dressed okay for this. Being in a neighborhood like this is making me weirdly self-conscious. I lick my hand, and try to smooth back some hair that's threatening to stand up straight. Adjusting the skirt I've borrowed from Yukiko, I check to make sure my wings aren't pressing against it. Is the second set of wings on my back staying bound down? I think they are. I fiddle with the zip on my jacket, before turning around, nodding to Yosuke and the other two, and moving to knock on the door.

Tap-tap-tap.

My fist sounds hollow against the wood. On the other side, I hear a gasp of excitement, and then loud, hurried footsteps. The thumping of feet on wooden floorboards grows louder and louder, climaxing in… silence. The door swings open, nearly hitting into my face, and I stare down at the diminutive woman in front of me.

"Souji?" She asks, before looking disappointed as she realizes it's not him. Leaning back, looking utterly broken by the revelation that Souji isn't amongst my little group of friends, she glances towards me. "No… He's still not here." Examining the people I've brought with me and noticing Yosuke, her expression brightens slightly.

"Yosuke, it's nice to see you around. I thought you had gone back to Inaba," Her attention shifts to Kanji. "And… Kanji, right? What're you doing back in Iwatodai?"

"We both got transferred to Gekkoukan for the remainder of the year," Yosuke explains. "So, uh, where's Souji, Mrs. Seta?" Looking downtrodden at the mention of Souji, Mrs. Seta opens her door wider and motions for us to come in.

"I suppose I should explain to you four what's happened," We're lead through a clean white corridor, past two professionally-shot family photos, and a table with a small vase on it, then into a modern, Western living room. Mrs. Seta motions to a leather sofa that, even from a distance, smells new. "Hang on a second, I'll go and make you all some tea."

Chidori sits down silently on an antique chair nearby, and turns to look expectantly at us with her tired eyes. Yosuke and Kanji follow suit, each occupying part of the sofa, and, after a moment of hesitation, I join them. The leather squeaks beneath me as I shuffle into a comfortable position, trying to ignore the fact that I've managed to sit on one of my miniature wings. Trying to concentrate on something else, I look around the room. There's a huge flat-screen TV on a stand by the opposite wall. It's ridiculously large—more like a movie screen than a TV. But then again, I guess that's the effect whoever bought it would've been aiming for.

There's a Playstation 3 plugged into it, and a DVD player, with games and movies stacked up on either side. Titles like Bioshock and Metal Gear Solid 4 are shoved into the games collection, giving me a feeling that the PS3 isn't Souji's—Souji strikes me as someone who'd prefer more strategic games. But who knows? Junpei once told me, after a stint on an arcade game, that you can always tell a guy by what movies he watches, what games he plays, and what kind of woman he's with. Minato watched French arthouse films, played MMORPGs, and dated everyone. I wonder what that means.

After what seems like eons examining the content of the movie collection, I watch Mrs. Seta reappear through the door, carrying a tray loaded with tea. She fakes a smile as she places it on the glass coffee table in front of us, before taking a seat on a chair matching Chidori's.

"Help yourselves, everyone," She folds her hands, and waits, as Kanji and Chidori grab a cup each, tip small amounts of sugar in, and begin to drink. Yosuke doesn't move to drink, and neither do I. I feel sort of guilty, watching the spare two cups spill out steam and a delectable smell, but frankly, I want to find out why Souji isn't here. I'm not too worried about him, but I still think it's important to know what's going on. Realizing Yosuke and I aren't thirsty, Mrs. Seta quickly picks up one of the two spare cups, and sips it swiftly, without adding sugar or milk. Swallowing it back, she places the cup, now marred by a light-pink lipstick stain, back onto the table. "… I'm sorry. It's just so hard to figure out a place to begin." Her voice is soft and gentle, but fragile.

"Life's been strange since the accident… It was a day after you left our house, Yosuke," She smiles at him, but weakly. "Our car ended up overturned on the bridge to Port Island. I don't know how it happened—the police theorize it was a bomb blast." Bomb blast? Not quite. Maybe if you replaced the word 'bomb' with 'Arcana Shadow' and 'blast' with 'destroyed, killed and maimed everything in sight'…

"Takamori ended up in a coma. He still is in a coma. Blood loss, and head injuries… Souji moved out for a little while after that, about a week or so. I guess he needed to deal with things on his own," That explains why Souji was able to stay in the dorms with the rest of us while we were gearing up to fight the cult… "When he came back, he was… I don't know. Acting strangely. And then, one evening, about a fortnight back, he walked out the door with a bag on his shoulder, saying he was going back to Inaba to visit Ryotaro. I haven't heard anything from him since. He hasn't called, and Ryotaro's never around to answer the phone—little Nanako is sweet, but she hasn't been much help in contacting Souji." Picking the teacup back up, Mrs. Seta stares into it for a while, before resuming her story.

"He hasn't said when he'll be back, or what he's been doing, or anything. It's scaring me," She takes another sip, and places the cup down again. "But I guess that if he's with my brother, he'll be fine. Ryotaro is a good man."

"Yeah. He lasted a year there, he can last a couple of weeks," Yosuke grins. "Don't worry about him, Mrs. Seta. He probably just needs time to think… or something." She nods at Yosuke's words.

"I suppose you four haven't heard from him either?" Mrs. Seta asks.

"Nope. I tried texting him a few times, but I haven't had a response," Yosuke doesn't sound too disheartened by Souji's silence, though. "But hey, that's just how he is, right?"

"… I guess so. Yeah. Souji's never really been a talkative boy," Getting up from her chair, Mrs. Seta smiles—an honest smile, this time. "Thank you for all coming over. It's always nice to see you, Yosuke. And Kanji, glad to know you're in Inaba for a while." Her attention turns to Chidori and I after a few moments.

"Nice to meet you two girls, too," It takes a bit of effort to not say 'hey, I'm a guy', or something along those lines. "What're your names? I don't think you ever mentioned them."

"I'm Chidori Yoshino," Chidori bows slightly to Mrs. Seta. "Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Seta."

"Please, call me Kaori," The older woman laughs. "Between my husband and my son, it's rare to hear my name these days." Chidori nods.

"Kaori, then." A smile lights her face. Chidori can be surprisingly sweet when confronted by new people. It's kind of strange, really, especially considering that, when I first met him, Junpei told me that Chidori was difficult to get along with, and impatient and rude to strangers. I guess, thanks to her amnesia, she learnt to be civil somewhere along the line.

"And what about you?" Damn, Kaori's looking at me now, expecting me to say something. I have to try and disguise my voice somehow, so I don't look out of place. Clearing my throat a little, I force a grin, and try to raise the pitch of my voice.

"I'm…" Damn it, Ryoji is a guy's name… What can I use? "… I'm Nyx Mochizuki." I think I did an okay impression of a girl.

"Nyx? That's a strange name," Kaori mouths it, trying to figure out if she can pin it to any particular culture, but, if the look on her face is any indication, she's coming up blank. "Where's it from?"

"It's Greek," Great, now I have to come up with an excuse for sharing a name with a god. "My, uh, parents… They studied a lot of Greek mythology, and they thought it would make a cute name."

"Well, they were certainly right on that deduction," Silence. Sensing everything's become somewhat awkward, Kaori begins to lead us back through the house, towards the entranceway. Back past the family portraits, and the vase, and the table—to the front door. The four of us step outside.

"It was good to see you, Mrs. Se—I mean, Kaori," Yosuke quickly corrects himself.

"You're welcome over any time, Yosuke. Same goes for the other three of you," Kanji looks pleased by that offer.

"I'm sure you'll see us a lot once Souji comes back," He tells her.

"Whenever that is," Kaori laughs grimly. "Well, goodbye."

"Yeah, see ya!"

"Bye, Mrs. Seta."

"Once again, it was a pleasure to meet you." Walking up the pathway, Yosuke, Kanji and Chidori don't give a single backwards glance. But for some reason, I linger, watching Kaori. She watches me.

"Hey, hurry up!" Yosuke calls back at me.

"I'll catch up in a minute," I reply.

"Suit yourself. Don't get lost on the way home," He closes the gate behind him, leaving me alone in the garden with Kaori.

"You remind me of someone," She says.

"Minato Arisato, right?" Kaori nods. "He and I are cousins."

"He was a sweet boy," She looks at me with pity in her eyes. "I'm sorry about what happened. Souji told me he died in an accident. I think that's why he left Iwatodai."

"Probably," I start to walk towards the gate.

"You know, Souji mentioned someone called Ryoji Mochizuki to me before he left… Are they a relation of yours? He seemed kind of angry at them,"

"… Yeah. Ryoji's my brother,"

"Do you have any idea what happened?"

"Ryoji was… he was there with Minato and Souji when the accident happened. I guess Souji sort of blames him for not helping Minato," Placing my hand on the gate, I flick open the latch on it. "I came over today to tell Souji that Ryoji is sorry about what happened."

"Don't worry. You'll get to tell him some other time, I'm sure," Kaori gives a short wave. "Bye, Nyx."

"Goodbye, Kaori," Leaving her property, I walk slowly down the street, trying to put everything I've learnt together in my head. Did Souji go to Inaba just to get away from us? Or is he planning something? My slow walk evolves as I move—into a steady stride, a jog, a run, a sprint. By the time I hit the corner out of the street, I'm running as fast as my legs can carry me. Did Souji betray us? Did Yukari betray us? Or are they setting out to actually do something? Why go to Inaba?

Before I know it, I'm pulling around onto the street the dorm' is on. I wonder what the time is. I was at Souji's house for longer than I intended to be, so it's probably later than ten pm. I hope the others aren't getting worried about me. I slow my pace as I approach the dorm'. Taking a deep breath, I push open the doors, and walk in.

"Welcome back," Mitsuru says calmly, not looking up from her magazine. "You were later than you said you would be."

"Sorry—I just got kind of caught up by something," Wandering over to the sofa, I slump down into it, and flick the TV on. It'll entertain me until the Dark Hour, hopefully. The late-night news flashes across the screen. There's something about the return of the Nyx Cult, and the disaster on the bridge from a month or so back. They're blaming it on terrorists, like Kaori said. I guess, since everyone would've forgotten seeing the Shadow, that that's the best bet they'd have. It seems like today's a slow news day—most of the rest of the stuff is unimportant, like celebrity scandals, and the release of a new CD. But, as the show drags on, something eventually pops up and catches my eye.

"—the prison breakout occurred in the early hours of the morning, sometime between twelve and one am," The shot flashes from the news room, onto shaky video footage of an unshaven prison guard.

"It was like, he was here one moment, and gone the next. We still haven't found any obvious escape routes," The scene moves to the empty prison cell.

"The escapee was arrested for a series of murders in Yasoinaba during 2011," As soon as the TV says 'Yasoinaba', Yosuke and the other Investigation team are in the lounge, watching.

"Isn't that where you guys…?"

"Shut up, we're trying to listen!" Chie tells me. A photo appears on-screen.

"Tohru Adachi, a former policeman, was arrested by his co-workers after information establishing his link to the crimes surfaced," I've heard that name before… "Any leads regarding his whereabouts are appreciated. And now, for the weather…"

"Shit," Kanji summarizes all their feelings perfectly.

"He must've gotten out during the Dark Hour," Yukiko mumbles, staring down at the carpet. "But… he would've needed outside help to get out of his cell without signs of a forced exit."

"Yeah, but who would want to help Adachi?" Chie ponders. "I mean, I always got the feeling that Dojima was his only friend, and after he was arrested, I kind of doubt they stayed on the best terms."

"What I want to know is why Adachi broke out," Naoto says. "He seemed to be… almost glad that he had been arrested, when we got that letter from him. Why get out of jail now?"

"You know how Adachi is," Yosuke folds his arms, and groans. "He was probably just acting happy. He just took the chance he had to use the Dark Hour and get free, is all."

"I'm kind of worried for Dojima and Nanako," Rise clasps her hands together, and stares down into her lap. "If Adachi's after revenge, he'll be going for them first."

I have theories about this—theories I don't want to tell the others. All I know is that a criminal with the power of Persona is in Inaba, and Souji's there too. Could it be…? I feel, more strongly than ever, that Souji didn't run away last month. No, far from it.

I think he ran to get reinforcements.