Chapter 1: "I dreamed I was a butterfly…"
"Don't leave me!" the child wailed, "I don't wanna be alone!"
Slowly, everyone faded away, leaving Sukuna-Hikona behind. Peering at her, it slowly transformed, first into Yamato Takeru, her initial Persona, and then into a familiar figure.
Naoto Shirogane watched helplessly as she lay on the floor, bleeding from many wounds. She couldn't help but think back to six years ago, when she sat in the Inaba police department being shown photographs of the two murder victims, during the case that had changed her life.
This right now...she thought...this was how they died...I'm sure of it! Am I to suffer the same fate as those two women? What did I do wrong?! What did I overlook...!?
Her doppelganger laughed as it circled around her, still wearing the over-sized lab coat. "Just a helpless damsel-in-distress! Pathetic! Growing up?" It threw its arms up in the air, causing the sleeves to fly up briefly before flopping back down. "That didn't change a single thing!"
"SHUT UP!" the child screamed, "I HATE YOU!"
"Back to tantrums, are we?" the old Shadow taunted in a condescending tone, "Are you going to kick me in the shins, now? Maybe blow a raspberry at me? Will that make it all better?"
Naoto slowly dragged herself forward.
The Shadow turned and smiled derisively at the fallen detective. "Oh, still going to play the hero? Does that make it easier? Does that make your big mistake any less than it was?"
"I had to be honest with myself!" Naoto wheezed, "I had to be honest with the world! It's the truth that drives shadows like you away, which is why you're so desperate to kill me!"
"Honest with the world?" the shadow scoffed, "Don't make me laugh. You thought the big revelation would level the playing field...for you, for Touko, and for any other girls that wanted to enter the same line of work. You were going to 'make a difference', one case at a time...isn't that what you told Senpai?"
The shadow knelt down in front of Naoto and glared icily at her. "I don't know what's worse..." it said, shaking its head, "...a kid posturing by trying too hard to be a 'grown-up', or trying to make your mark by virtue signalling as some kind of social paradigm shifter. You thought you would change society? The Detective Prince comes out and reveals the truth about his identity! Did you expect to become the 'Detective Queen'? Is that it?"
"I had to try!" Naoto protested, "Stop making me out to be some kind of activist! You always twist things around!"
"Yes, just blame me…" the Shadow jeered, "You've been preparing to flee for quite some time now! You've honed your English, and now you're going to that place where the streets are paved with gold, and women and men are completely equal, right?"
"There's nothing wrong with getting my Master's abroad!" Naoto argued as she cast a Diarama spell, and tried to sit up. "And I don't have time for your lies! Last time, there was some truth to your words! This, though, is all getting to be…"
She abruptly began to cough, tasting blood coming from her mouth. When she looked up, a faceless, gray, winged figure hovering in the air before her. Raising a lobster-like claw, it quickly charged at her.
Twenty-one-year-old Naoto Shirogane sat up gasping for air, her eyes wide in terror. She looked around for a few seconds, realizing with relief that she was back in her own bedroom at the Shirogane estate.
Breathing a huge sigh, she collapsed back onto her pillow.
It was the third time in as many nights that she'd had this nightmare. Ever since she had been accepted at an Ivy League school a week ago, she had kept having these strange dreams, always with the gray winged creature. Could he have been one of Senpai's many Personae? She knew her old friend and former upperclassman Yu Narukami had the ability to summon multiple beings. She also knew from her acquaintanceship with Mitsuru Kirijo, that Narukami-Senpai wasn't the only Persona-user with such an ability.
The Persona phenomenon had started in the late 90's in Mikage-Cho, a city not far from Inaba. As in many of the other known cases, the users were given their ability when they were in high school. Naoto had always wondered what the connection had been regarding the Persona-users' age of onset. One user she had spoken with a few years ago had only offered an old Judeo-Christian quote:
"Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."
She had only a few days left before her graduation from university, where she had surprised everyone by majoring in Computer Science, with a minor in psychology. All of her friends had assumed she would jump into a Criminal Justice major, but Naoto had immediately dismissed that idea.
"The world is quickly growing more and more dependent on technology," Naoto had once explained to a perplexed Chie, "Detective work delves a lot more into forensics, and digital forensics, I find quite fascinating. It's also something I can't learn on the job like many other aspects of Criminal Justice, which is just something I already learned through hands-on methods. As for my minor, it helps to try and get inside the mind of a criminal. The university even offers a course in criminal psychology."
Narukami-Senpai, who had also been present, had simply smiled in understanding. "Naoto-kun does things her own way," he'd said, "Don't be too surprised, Chie. When was the last time she ever did things the way one expects? Or any of us on the old 'team', for that matter?"
"Touche..." Chie admitted.
"That's just what makes Inaba so much fun," their old leader said.
Naoto smiled at the memory.
Due to the differences between Japanese and American school schedules, Naoto found herself with a few months to kill before she started her classes abroad. She had been accepted into a graduate program at MIT, and decided to leave for Boston shortly after graduation, so as to get acclimatized to life in a new country beforehand. Her old friend Rise Kujikawa wanted her to come travel to Chicago, where she was filming her first American motion picture. How Rise was managing that was beyond Naoto. Rise spoke what the Americans referred to as "Engrish". Not as bad as Teddie's English, but enough that she could never master the letter "L". Naoto, on the other hand, had studied English intensively, mostly for the purpose of being able to read American mysteries. Not only that, but reading "Sherlock Holmes" in its' original text had been thoroughly enjoyable.
Thinking of Rise made her think about the rest of her friends, whom she had plans to visit in the next few days. Only Chie Satonaka and Yukiko Amagi were there now, but it might still be worth the visit. Yukiko had finished college with a degree in business, and her family's inn was flourishing. Chie was now a member of the Inaba police force. There was also Senpai's little cousin Nanako, who was now in Jr. High school.
Her other friends had all scattered upon graduating from high school. Yosuke Hanamura was the assistant manager of Port Island's Junes, she had last heard. Kanji Tatsumi was studying fashion, and from his emails, it seemed that he had finally started to gain respect for his talents. Yu Narukami was also studying for his Masters Degree abroad, however he was off in Germany. Naoto had last seen him the previous summer, only a few months after his first year had started.
And then there was Teddie…
Nobody knew exactly what he was up to most of the time…he would occasionally pop up in Inaba and catch up with whoever was around. For a while, Naoto had wondered what would become of the ex-Shadow from spending so much time in this world. Surprisingly, Teddie had begun to age like a normal human being. In the last picture she had received from him, he was now sporting a goatee(or as he called it, a "bear-tee"), which of course, he had to boast about, claiming that he'd "finally become a man!".
Naoto cringed, trying not to think of the obvious double-entendre.
Still, given the dreams she'd been having, she hoped that all was well within the Shadow World, and with her strange friend who continued to dwell within it. Glancing at the clock, which read 3:15, she decided to lie down again and try to fall back asleep. Hopefully the rest of her night would be peaceful...
"Y'know..." Chie said with a huge smile, "I don't think it's so bad that the guys couldn't be here with us today. We actually get a girls' day out. We can talk without worrying about the guys eavesdropping, or making some crude comment."
"But is it really 'girls' day out' without Rise-chan?" Yukiko wondered aloud.
"Rise would have spent the whole day whining that it wasn't a 'full reunion without Senpai!'," Chie pointed out, imitating Rise whining.
The three girls were walking by the S- River after having eaten dinner at -. Naoto had met up with Chie and Yukiko earlier in the afternoon. Though she had meant to talk to the others girls about her nightmares, she quickly found herself getting sucked into the jokes, and even the gossip that came with the old "Investigation Team". Whatever worries she'd brought with her had soon been forgotten.
However, seeing the sun setting over the horizon had made Naoto remember the silly "Phantom Thief" incident that she had dragged Narukami-Senpai into. That quickly led her mind back to the nightmares. Now was a good time as any to bring it up.
"I was wondering…" Naoto said hesitantly, "Do either of you ever…still dream about the Midnight Channel?"
"Well, sometimes," said Yukiko as she sat down on a nearby bench, "A lot less often than I used to."
"You were in the Midnight Channel a lot longer than I was," said Naoto, "Do you remember any Shadows that had wings, were gray, and had no face? With claws like lobsters?"
"Hmm…" Chie scowled as she and Naoto sat down next to Yukiko. "Lobster claws, wings, gray, no face…I saw a lot of strange creatures, but nothing like the one you described. Maybe I wasn't paying attention to detail, though. Does that sound familiar to you, Yukiko?"
Yukiko shook her head. "Are you having dreams, Naoto-kun?"
"Lately, yes," Naoto admitted.
"Maybe it's just from all that's happened lately. I mean, with you graduating and all. Maybe you're anxious?" Yukiko suggested, "You know, when I started managing the inn, I had some pretty crazy dreams myself. One time…there were these koalas…" she giggled, "…and they were all wearing little scarves on their heads…*snerk*"
Naoto smiled and shook her head. In the six years that she had known Yukiko, her giggle-fits still always got the best of her. One could never guess how long they would last.
"Yes, you're probably right. It must be all the excitement," Naoto said hastily.
"And the giggles strike again..." Chie muttered, putting her head in her hands.
"…And they even sang about cantaloupes!" Yukiko went on.
"Did they, now?" Chie deadpanned.
"And little monkeys with lunchboxes…!"
A woman walked by with her small son holding her hand. Seeing Yukiko's laughing fit, she nervously gripped the child's hand tighter and walked faster.
"Were they singing about the monkeys, or were there actual monkeys?" Naoto couldn't help herself.
"Naoto-kun, don't you encourage her!" Chie snapped.
Yukiko doubled over, gasping for air.
Banchou94 is currently away.
Naoto sighed and turned away from her computer monitor.
It was to be expected. The time difference between the two of them would indicate that her old senpai wouldn't be at his computer. She still really wanted to talk to him so she could pick his brain about her dreams. She at least knew that the conversation wouldn't dissolve into silliness like it had earlier today. While it had broken the tension she had been feeling, she now worried that as bedtime drew near, she would suffer yet another nightmare tonight. As it was, it was well past her normal bedtime, yet she was still awake, afraid to go to bed.
What to do, then? She didn't think she would be able to concentrate on reading. Maybe she could order a movie on demand. Yes, that would do.
Naoto stood up, and went over to the small recreational room next door to her bedroom. Turning the lights on, she found the remote control and sat down on the couch.
It wasn't as if her bedroom didn't have enough space for a TV, but she found she liked her room to be for reading, thinking, and working. She rarely watched TV anyway, except for when she was anxious, or trying to procrastinate, both of which were the case now.
Lately, she had been watching a lot of shows and movies in English. Turning to one of the American networks, she saw the opening credits for what looked like an interesting science-fiction movie from the 1960's. Then she noticed the three small silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. It was that show with the man and the robots who kept making jokes during the movie.
Ah well. A bad sci-fi movie was better than nothing at all, and the jokes could help with her understanding of American humor.
She awoke with a pain in her backside some time later. Grimacing, she realized she had fallen asleep on the remote control.
At least she'd had no nightmares this time. Just a vague memory of a blue butterfly slowly flapping its wings.
Was I the butterfly?
She looked at the TV, but the screen showed nothing but static. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end as she realized it was midnight.
She then jumped as she heard her cell phone ringing loudly in the next room.
Calm down! It's not even raining! I fell asleep on the remote, so the TV channels probably aren't aligned, that's all! Still…who on earth would be calling me at this hour?
She hurried back to her room and picked up the phone. "Yes?"
"Nao-chan!" Teddie was on the other line, sounding frightened.
"Stop calling me that," Naoto said mechanically. After six years, that response had long since become a conditioned reflex. "What's wrong, Teddie? Has the Shadow World become infested again?"
"Not quite, but I found…someone…in the old TV world!" Teddie whined.
"What?" Naoto sprang to her feet, "Teddie- are you there now? No, that's not possible...you couldn't contact me like that from there…"
"Actually, I'm right outside your front door," Teddie admitted.
Naoto cringed. Leave it to Teddie to stand outside someone's front door and chat them up on the phone instead of just ringing the doorbell.
"I'll be right there," she said before hanging up.
She hurried down the stairs, and ran silently to the front door, careful so as not to wake her grandfather, or any of the servants.
"You could have just rung the doorbell," Naoto said as she opened the door.
"Last time I came over, all those scary alarms went off!" Teddie protested as he stepped inside.
"That's because you decided to come down the chimney," Naoto reminded him, "Ringing the doorbell won't set off any alarms,"
"Wha-?" Teddie looked confused, "Where did she go? Hey, scary-lady?"
Naoto heard a set of footsteps hurrying to the door. A young woman with short blonde hair came inside.
"Hello," the woman bowed politely, "How do you do? My name is Elizabeth."
"Are you the person Teddie spoke of?" Naoto asked.
"We met inside what you refer to as 'The Midnight Channel', yes." said Elizabeth.
"Were you pulled in? Did Teddie save you?" Naoto asked.
"No, I didn't!" Teddie shrieked, "She kidnapped me!"
Naoto looked taken aback. "I…beg your pardon?"
"She told me that I had to come with her, and she would not let up until I did!" Teddie exclaimed, "And as far as I'm concerned, that is KIDNAPPING!"
"Keep your voice down!" hissed Naoto, "Do you want to wake up everyone in the house?"
"I apologize for all of this," said Elizabeth, "But he wouldn't cooperate with me unless I agreed to speak to one of his friends. He wanted to see his sensei, but when he told me where this person was, I told him it would waste too much time. So he thought you were the next best choice."
"So I'm your second choice?" Naoto raised an eyebrow at Teddie, "Thanks for the vote of confidence..."
"You should be flattered!" Teddie protested, "First is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the hairy chest! Or…at least that's what I heard some kids saying in Montana."
Naoto stared blankly, then decided that whatever Teddie had said wasn't worth inquiring further.
"I'm Naoto Shirogane," Naoto introduced herself, "Why don't we adjourn to the basement? It's clean, and nobody sleeps down there, so if Teddie has another outburst, at least it won't disturb anyone."
Elizabeth nodded. "As you wish."