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's eyes widened as the scene unfolded before her. She lay on the floor, bleeding from many wounds. They reminded her of the pictures of the mangled bodies she had seen in Inaba six years ago.
Her doppelganger laughed. "Just a helpless damsel-in-distress! Pathetic! Growing up? That didn't change a single thing!"
"SHUT UP!" the child screamed, "I HATE YOU!"
"Back to tantrums, are we?" the old Shadow taunted, "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!"
"You thought you would change society? The Detective Prince comes out of hiding after a year and reveals the truth about his identity! Did you expect to become the 'Detective Queen'? Is that it?"
"I had to try!" Naoto protested.
"Even now, your friends still call you 'Naoto'. Even the public still does! It has a better ring than 'Naomi Shirogane', doesn't it, 'Naoto-kun'? And now you want to run away!"
"I'm not running away!" Naoto grunted, "I…just want to be taken seriously! It's all I've ever wanted!"
"Suuuuuuuuuuure…" the Shadow jeered, "You've been preparing to flee for quite some time now! You 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, "And I don't have time for your lies! Last time, there was some truth to your words! This, though, is all…"
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 for UC Davis' graduate program in Forensic Science last week, she had kept having these strange dreams. Now, they had gotten worse.
She had only a few days left before her graduation from Tokyo University. After that, she had several months to kill before her classes would start around September.
Too much time for people to forget what they learn…Naoto had thought. She still wondered what she might do during the time being. The detective in her wanted to find just one more case to solve. The young adult in her was tempted to see the sights of California.
After all, one of my favorite mystery novels takes place there.
Her old friend Rise Kujikawa wanted her to come travel to Chicago, where she was filming her first American motion picture. How she 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.
Perhaps she might visit her old friends in Inaba. 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 Chie was now a member of the Inaba police force. There was also her young friend Nanako, who was now in Jr. High. It might be nice.
Yosuke Hanamura was the assistant manager of Port Island's Junes, she had last heard. Souji Seta was also in graduate school, though he was studying abroad in Germany. Kanji Tatsumi was studying fashion, and from his emails, it seemed that he had finally started to gain respect for his talents.
Teddie…well…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. She felt sorry for any woman who might have had that job…
Ah, but still…what to do?
She glanced at her alarm clock. 2:04 a.m.
Go back to sleep…that's what I should do…
"Congratulations, Naoto-kun!" Chie exclaimed as she and Yukiko pounced on their friend.
"Bear-pile!" Teddie exclaimed as he hugged the three of them.
"Guy's always gotta cop a feel, huh?" Kanji muttered.
Yosuke nodded silently.
Despite Naoto's protests, Yosuke had arranged to reserve a spot in the Junes food court, as a celebration of Naoto's graduation and acceptance to grad school. All of her old friends from high school had shown up, save for Souji and Rise. Even her old colleague Ryotaro Dojima and his daughter Nanako had shown up.
"WATCH where you put your hands!" Naoto growled as she kicked Teddie in the shins.
"But this is one of the few times I get to see Nao-chan not hiding her real self!" Teddie winced, "Or should I say, 'real selves'?"
Yosuke inserted himself between Teddie and Naoto. "Don't you guys want cake? Come on- cake, Teddie!"
Naoto forced herself to calm down. If wearing a bra was going to yield this kind of reaction from people, then she was right in wearing bandages to work for so many years.
"Sensei and Rise-chan are missing out today!" Teddie exclaimed as he went over to the platter of food and began helping himself.
"Ah, that reminds me!" Yosuke took a laptop out of his bag and opened it up.
"Have you ever been to America before?" Nanako asked.
"Once when I was a toddler, but obviously I don't remember," Naoto replied, "So as far as I'm concerned, it's a brand-new experience,"
"Wow, that's exciting!" Nanako gushed.
Naoto smiled. Even at thirteen, Nanako still looked up to her "big bro's" friends.
"It'll be a new experience," Naoto acknowledged, "I hope my English is up to par,"
"I'm sure it is, 'Sank-yoo-berry-much!'," Teddie piped up, "I can even visit you! How far away is UC Davis from…Great Falls, Montana?"
"You found an opening that leads to Montana?" Chie asked.
"Yep! At a store called Wal-Mart!" Teddie beamed.
"Ah! I'm connected!" Yosuke announced, "Over here, Naoto-kun!"
Naoto made her way over to the laptop.
"HI, NAOTO!" Rise exclaimed loudly from one video-chat window.
In the other chat window, Souji smiled and waved.
"Senpai? Rise?" Naoto looked surprised.
Yosuke grinned. "Pretty cool, huh? New anti-glare laptop! Perks of being in management!"
"Hey, big bro!" Nanako called out.
"Hey, kiddo- how's it going?" Souji greeted his cousin.
"It's like old times here!" Nanako said cheerily, "Too bad the two of you are in different countries,"
"Aw, I'd have been here in a heartbeat if I could, and I'm sure your big bro would've too," said Rise, "They haven't invented teleportation yet, though, so I guess a video chat will have to do!"
Naoto smiled. "This is quite a surprise,"
"Since we couldn't be there in person, we at least wanted to say 'hey', and wish you luck!" said Rise.
"Sorry I haven't been online lately," Souji apologized, "This one class I'm taking has been brutal. I've had to give it all I have studying just to keep up. I'll probably end up passing and that's all I can be happy with,"
"I've got a week off coming up soon!" Rise announced, "My invitation still stands! One of these days, I WILL give you a makeover!"
"Not again…" muttered Naoto.
"She's nothing if not persistent," Chie remarked.
"Whoops! Break-time's over! Gotta run! Bye, everyone! Congratulations, Naoto!"
Her chat window closed.
"I wouldn't visit her alone if I were you," Souji warned Naoto, "She'll give you that makeover in your sleep,"
"Naoto-kun is a very heavy sleeper," Yukiko agreed.
"I've gotta run too," said Souji, "But hopefully I can catch you online soon. Bye, everyone,"
"Bye!" everyone called out.
Naoto hoped he would be online soon. She was about to burst as far as what had happened the past few nights went.
"I'll be right back," Yukiko announced, "Need to use the ladies' room,"
Naoto impulsively stood up. "I'll go with you!" she said.
The party quieted down and stared curiously.
"What? Women always go to the bathroom together, don't they?" Naoto said defensively.
"Let's go, Naoto-kun," said Yukiko.
"Senpai…" Naoto said hesitantly, "Do you ever…still dream about the Midnight Channel?"
"Well, sometimes," said Yukiko as she washed her hands, "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…" Yukiko scowled, "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. You should ask Chie, or our 'fearless leader', whenever he shows up online,"
Naoto frowned. "Maybe,"
"You're having dreams?" Yukiko asked as the two headed back to the celebration.
"Lately, yes," Naoto admitted.
"Maybe it's just from all that's happened lately. Maybe you're anxious?" Yukiko suggested, "I mean, 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.
"Oh no…" Yosuke said as they approached the party, "What set her off this time?"
"…And they even sang about cantaloupes!" Yukiko went on.
"Did they, now?" Naoto deadpanned.
"And little monkeys with lunchboxes…!"
Kanji and Chie exchanged confused glances.
"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 pick his brain about her dreams.
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. 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, "What's wrong?"
"I found…someone…in the TV world!" Teddie whined.
"What?" Naoto sprang to her feet, "Teddie- are you there now? No, 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, "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, "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 the matter wasn't worth pursuing.
"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,"