"—tonight's fog forecast predicts high levels of fog. Anyone who's out on the roads tonight should watch for other drivers, and mind the visibility conditions."
"Ahhh, what is this?" Adachi ran his hands through his hair. "What kind of town do we live in where we have to have a separate forecast just for the fog every day? It's ridiculous! Don't you think so, Dojima-san?"
The older man kept his eyes focused on the road, which was Adachi's signal that he needed to shut up for now. Really, he should have been used to this kind of stuff by now. The town had always gotten foggy on rainy days, but around the time that Dojima's daughter had died, the fog had set in and then never lifted again. The panic around the initial fog setting in had eventually faded, but it was still quite disconcerting.
However, odd things tended to happen on days when the fog was heavy. Sometimes it was dead bodies, sometimes it was the water mains breaking… nothing hanging from telephone poles, though. Not anymore. With Namatame dead and the kid gone, there just wasn't any reason for them to be.
Adachi glanced toward the dashboard clock. It was one of those clocks that displayed both the time and date, in case you ever woke up drunk in a car after a really hard party and couldn't remember what month it was. Though Adachi couldn't think of any reason you'd be waking up drunk in a police cruiser, not unless you'd been arrested or something.
"December third…" Adachi said to himself. He turned toward Dojima. "Come to think of it, didn't your daughter die around this time last year?"
"Shut up, Adachi."
Whoops. That had been a bit tactless. He leaned back in his seat and watched the lights stream past through the fog. This was such a drag. A year ago this kind of shit would have shocked him, but these days, it was the only interesting thing in the whole town.
The car rolled to a stop at a roadblock. The flashing red and blue lights were the only things visible through the fog, but Adachi already knew that they were at the floodplains, since it was the only place in Inaba where the road was wide enough to warrant an actual roadblock. Dojima stepped out of the car and carefully walked down the hill to the riverside, Adachi following after. There were a few policemen gathered around something by the river, and as the two detectives drew close, an overpowering stench wafted their way, forcing Adachi to lift a hand to his nose to block it out. Upon seeing Dojima's badge, the policemen pulled away from the body, allowing Adachi to get a good look at it.
The victim appeared to be a middle aged female, in her forties or fifties. There were large strips of flesh missing from the chest, face, and arms of the body, exposing the victim's skull, ribs, and humerus. The rest of the victim's face appeared to have been chewed on, and there were deep punctures from what had probably been fangs on her face and neck. The victim's clothes had been mostly stripped away, but there was enough left of the kimono the victim had worn to cover them.
"Toughen up, Adachi. We've got a job to do."
"Y-Yes sir. Sorry, sir." He pulled his hand away from his nose. "Looks like it's another one of those mauling deaths… Hey, Dojima-san, what do you think is behind these? Maybe it's that fox that lives at the shrine?"
But Dojima shook his head. "Foxes don't get this brutal, even when they're rabid. If it's anything, it's a bear… 'course, that's assuming it's an animal at all."
"You don't think it's an animal?"
"I don't know what to think. This is the second serial killing case we've had in the past two years. I'd rather keep the prefectural police out of this, but at this rate it's only a matter of time before the higher-ups start calling them in. What's our story here?"
"Local resident was doing his nightly run, says he came across the body while passing by the river and called the police right afterwards," said a policeman who had been guarding the body.
"He was running with the fog this thick?" Dojima frowned. "Adachi, make a note to question our witness later."
After a few hours of examining the body and crime scene, the body was zipped up and sent off to the police morgue for later examination. Dojima and Adachi climbed back into the police cruiser and drove off. It was only after they'd been on the road for a few minutes that Adachi spoke up.
"Hey… that was Kanji Tatsumi's mother back there, wasn't it?"
"Adachi, shut up and let me keep my eyes on the road."
"Yes sir. Sorry, sir."
There was a particular table at the Junes food court that was almost always occupied in the afternoons. Once, some young teenage vigilantes had used it as their "secret base". These days, they used it as a study spot.
It was a little inevitable, considering the time of year. It was December, which meant that exams would be coming up in the next few months. Finals, to be specific. For three of their group, it was just normal end-of-the-year finals, but for the other three, it was college entrance exams. Aside from the studying teenagers, the food court was empty. The combination of fog and the chill in the air meant that very few customers were venturing out to the outdoor food stands.
"Okay, so if I add cosine squared and sine squared, I get one. And cosine squared divided by sine squared turns into tangent squared for some reason… which, plus one, equals secant squared?" Chie ran her fingers through her hair. "Arrg! That should be right, so why isn't this simplifying down?"
"Well, to start with, you're getting your identities wrong," Naoto tapped the equation on Chie's notes. "Cosine squared, when divided by sine squared, becomes cotangent squared, not tangent squared, and that, plus one, equals cosecant squared. The rest of the equation should come together quite nicely now that you've worked that out."
Chie erased a good portion of the paper and worked the equation out once more. "Oh wow, thanks Naoto-chan. You're a lifesaver."
"It was nothing, senpai."
"Not to interrupt anything, but," Yosuke placed a plate of grilled steak in front of Chie in a spot not occupied by notes. "Lunch is ready, guys."
"You rule, senpai!"
"Hey, I'm not paying for all of this." Yosuke took a seat on the bench. "You guys are chipping in too." He placed steak in front everyone else before taking a seat.
"Whatever! You paid for everything already, didn't you?" Chie said through a mouthful of steak.
"Don't talk with your mouth full! It's not ladylike." This earned Yosuke a kick in the shin from Chie.
"Since when did you ever care about anything like that?"
"Since… w-well, forever!"
"It just isn't lunch without those two bickering," Yukiko commented. Yosuke was pretty sure she was just exaggerating. He and Chie didn't argue quite that much. Just once a week at least.
"Oh… whatever. But wow, this steak is soooooo good. It's too bad Junes is going to be closing down soon. I'm really going to miss this stuff."
Yosuke jerked his head up. "Wh-Where did you hear that from?"
"Everyone's talking about it," Rise piped up through a mouthful of steak. Man, does anyone in this group have any manners, Yosuke thought to himself.
"Aggh, I was hoping I'd get to tell you first. Dammit, this sucks."
"So it's true?" Chie asked.
There wasn't much point in hiding it if everyone knew. Yosuke sighed. "Yeah… with all the people moving out of Inaba lately, profits have been really low. So corporate's thinking of closing our store down. Dad says that even if they do, we're going to stay around here until I graduate, since there's no point in changing schools three months before graduation."
"Awww. Senior year just won't be the same without you. I'm going to miss you, senpai." Rise reached over and patted his shoulder.
"Almost as much as you miss Souji?" Yosuke said, before immediately closing his mouth. Everyone had a sudden deer-in-headlights look on their face. Right, things-that-were-taboo-now, #1: any mention of their former leader. They'd all known he was going to move at the end of the year, but something about it had just made them not want to think about him. Maybe it was how much they ended up associating him with the murders of a year ago, or the fact that they hadn't heard back from him once since he left.
The awkward silence was broken by the sound of a phone ringing. Gazes were cast around the group until the sound's origin was found: Kanji, who had been silent for much of their study session, was digging into his pocket for his cellphone. As Kanji began to talk with whoever was on the other end of the phone, Yosuke thought about just how odd it was that Kanji had been so quiet. The guy usually had something to say, but today something had just seemed to be on his mind. He should have asked him if everything was all right.
An expression crossed Kanji's face. A frighteningly familiar expression - the look of someone whose life had just fallen apart around them. It took Yosuke a moment to place where he'd seen that before. Souji had worn that expression when Nanako died.
Kanji slowly closed the phone, placed it back into his pocket, and stared down at the table, shellshocked.
"K…Kanji-kun? Is everything alright?"
Kanji shook his head slowly. "…My ma's dead."
The fog was thick…
Truths swirled through the mist. This world had killed Nanako. Namatame was a murderer. Sensei was a murderer. Adachi was a murderer.
And Teddie was a murderer too.
Somewhere, deep in his memory, there was a feeling, a twinge of something, telling him that this world was beautiful. But the logical part of his mind that had come to him once before with a cracked face and a message he could not accept said otherwise. In fact, this world was empty. It represented the reality of the people who lived in the other world, and reality was cruel.
When he'd returned, he'd found himself falling into old habits, though he could not remember what those habits were. He didn't remember much these days. What use was feigning an ego when you were no different from the monsters within human minds? So he forgot. He did the same as the others did as they rampaged and roared and screamed for acceptance and blood.
No one else entered this world now that the murderer had been caught. But one time, two of them did come in. He should have known their names. He'd watched from afar as they dropped in, both landing rather roughly on the ground.
"Owww... I hate how it drops you in like that." The male, brown haired and wearing headphones, rubbed the seat of his pants.
"You're out of practice, that's all," the pigtailed girl said, though she too had landed on her bottom. "I remember you used to be able to land on your feet every time you fell in. Like a ballerina." She giggled.
"Yeah, well. That was back when we were coming in every other day." The boy accepted the girl's outstretched hand and got to his feet. He adjusted his glasses and looked around the area, his eyes sweeping over where Teddie was hiding once. The bear moved back a bit into the fog, but it turned out he didn't need to, as the boy had not noticed him. The boy lifted his hands up toward his mouth. "Hey! Teddie! Come on out!"
This repeated for some minutes, with the boy often adding in different incentives (like "Topsicles" and "friends") for the bear to leave his hiding place. The bear did not move.
"Dammit, where the hell did that bear run off to?"
"He did say that he was going back to his world in his letter… maybe he doesn't want to talk to us anymore." She turned toward one of the paths leading away from the platform. "We should go. The shadows are getting agitated."
They left through a tower of televisions that the girl summoned. The bear moved out from his hiding place in the fog and back onto the platform. He placed one blue furred paw up against the television pile. For a brief second, he thought about following those humans through, but the logical part of his mind stopped him from doing so. That world was not for beings like him. He drew away from the televisions and sat down in the middle of the platform.
His memories grew dim once more. He could remember vague emotions of bloodlust and cries for acceptance. Something seeped away from this world, and he could feel it in his bones. Sometimes he would get up and move to somewhere else. He'd find himself in places of the world that couldn't possibly be part of this world. There was fog, and the fog felt like that of his world, but the ground and buildings felt like that of another world. His mind would haze over until he left that area, he would have no memory of what he did there until he went home.
He no longer hid from the Shadows when they were agitated, because they were always agitated now. They fought and tore at each other, and when they weren't fighting themselves, they came after him. When they weren't coming after him, he slept, and allowed his memories to fade with his dreams.
After an unknown amount of time, several new people entered his world. The brown haired boy and the pigtailed girl from before. Two new ones: a shorthaired girl and a hat wearing girl. There was a delay before they would land, and he used that time to drop below the platform they would land upon. Once he heard the thump from above, he slowly brought his head up over the edge so he could watch them. Unless they happened to turn his way, they would not know he was here.
"Hey! Teddie!" the brown haired boy called out.
"He didn't come last time you tried calling him, right?" the shorthaired girl asked. She turned toward the pigtailed girl. "Rise-chan, can you scan for him?"
"I can try…" The pigtailed girl held her hand out. A blue card briefly appeared before shattering, causing a maiden with a satellite dish for a face to manifest behind her. The maiden lowered a ring over the pigtailed girl's eyes and began to swivel its head around. The girl grimaced.
"I can't sense him… I don't think he's here."
The figure wearing the hat took a couple steps forward. "It's possible that he is cloaking himself from us. I recall you mentioning that he had similar abilities to Rise-san's Persona. He may be using those abilities now to prevent Rise-san from detecting him."
"What? Why would he do that?" the brown haired girl asked.
"It may be that he still has not forgiven us for Nanako-chan's death."
Silence fell between the four. Eventually, the boy spoke up.
"We can't go back yet, not before we get a chance to have a word with him," he said. "Kanji's mom is dead, and I bet if anything that the shadows had something to do with it."
"I believe that we've already established how the condition of the bodies from the recent deaths is different from the deaths a year ago. Shadows don't kill in ways that leave physical marks."
"Then why are they only dying on days when the fog is thickest? And all of the bodies are mauled so badly that even a wild bear couldn't be responsible."
"Look," the boy started quietly. "Last year, after Saki-senpai and that announcer died, I vowed that I wouldn't let anyone else die because of this place. I can't just sit by idly when there's a possibility that this world has something to do with Kanji's mom's death. That's not what he would have done, either."
For a brief moment, Teddie felt something leap in his chest. He didn't know who the "he" they were referring to was, though he was sure he knew once. The urge to run from his hiding place and over to those four humans was almost overpowering, and it took everything he had to not leave this place. He bit back a cry and slunk further back into his hiding place.
"Did you make that vow before or after you helped him kill Namatame?" the shorthaired girl asked coldly. The boy took an angry step toward the girl, before changing his mind and saying, "Fine! Whatever. Let's go back."
The four of them climbed through a television on the pile, and they were gone just as quickly as they'd come. The bear climbed onto the platform and stared at the lonely pile of televisions. He rammed into them and they fell, flying off of the platform and shattering against the ground below. And then he sat down dejectedly and stared up into the fog.
"Sen…sei…" The bear gave a start at the sound of its own voice. It had been a very long time since he had heard his voice. Now that he had started, he couldn't stop. He covered his eyes with his paws, and began to cry. "I'm sorry, sensei… I'm sorry…"
Dojima grunted from his desk. Generally, Adachi had learned, that meant that he had something on his mind, and that if anyone bothered him, they'd get punched. In most cases, the "anyone" was Adachi. The two radios in the room droned on, one playing some idol's cover of a song from Adachi's childhood while the other only buzzed occasionally to give information about any crimes in the area. Because this was Inaba, where literally nothing happened most nights, the police scanner tended to be quiet through the night.
A glance at the clock revealed that it was fifteen 'til eleven, but as much as Adachi would have liked to leave early, Dojima was sure to keep him after to work on the murder investigations. The pitter-pattering of rain outside, the ticking of the clock, and Dojima's pen scratching at a paper made Adachi feel uneasy. He turned toward Dojima.
"Do you need me to get you some coffee, sir?"
"…Right. I guess it is a bit late for coffee. Sorry." Feeling rather stupid, Adachi returned to doodling stick figures on his work. After a few minutes, Dojima put his pencil down.
"They're all on foggy days."
"Look at these weather reports." Adachi walked over to Dojima's desk. There were reports on the weather, records they'd made of the recent murders, and records from the murders a year ago. He could recognize that folder without checking the label, because he had filed it himself, never expecting anyone to get it out again.
"Okay, so there were a lot of rainy days and a lot of really foggy days afterward. But we already knew that the fog is always at its thickest after it rains," Adachi said.
Dojima pointed to a piece of paper. He'd written a series of dates and names on it. "Those are the days all of the recent victims have died. Now compare them with those weather reports."
Adachi did. All of the dates Dojima had written down matched up with days when the fog was listed as "heavy" on the weather reports. "Wait… you don't think that this has something to do with the murders a year ago, do you? I mean, all of the victims are dying in a completely different way from how they were last year. And besides, Namatame's dead. I don't think he's killing anyone from beyond the grave."
Dojima's face grew red, and Adachi prepared to bring an arm up to block a punch, when suddenly, the tension dropped and Dojima relented. "Maybe you're right… could be I'm just looking for another case to obsess over, just like when Chisato died."
"Hey now…" Adachi said. He turned his head toward the clock. "It's late. We should close up shop for the night and head home. How does that sound?"
Dojima stood up from his chair and immediately stumbled. He grabbed onto Adachi's shoulder for support.
"Have you been working through the night again? Come on, Dojima-san, you've gotta take care of yourself," Adachi put a hand on Dojima's chest and supported him as they walked to the door. "What would you do without me to take you home every night? At this point, I might as well just marry you and—"
"Finish that statement and you're fired, Adachi."
"Y-Yes sir. Sorry sir." Did Dojima even have the authority for that? Best not to find out.
They left Dojima's files where they were, since no one would dare to touch them out of fear of that particular desk's owner, and drove off from the station in Adachi's car. Dojima began to doze off in the passenger seat. Smiling, Adachi turned on the radio. A song was finishing up and one of the radio hosts was beginning to speak about something mundane, when Adachi saw something in the middle of the road.
He slammed on the brakes, jolting Dojima awake in the process. Dojima looked around the car sleepily before focusing his attention on Adachi. "Adachi! What the hell are you doing?"
"S-Sorry sir, but…" He pointed through the windshield to the moving, fog-shrouded shape in the road. Dojima narrowed his eyes before undoing his seat belt and climbing out of the car. Adachi did the same, and upon seeing that Dojima had his gun drawn, pulled out his own.
Slowly, Dojima began to take steps toward the shape in the fog. "Inaba Police. Put your hands up and come slowly toward me." The shape moved slightly and gave a low growl. As it stood up on all fours, the two men took steps back.
"That's not a person… Adachi, get back in the car and call animal control," Dojima barked. Adachi took steps back toward the car, keeping his gun trained on the shape all the while. The shape continued to take steps toward Dojima. It was just as Adachi reached into the car for his phone that it pounced. Three gunshots went off as Dojima fell, sinking its body. It was visible now; a large, lion-like creature with a ball and chain attached to its leg.
Adachi's body felt like lead. He raised his gun and shot the creature in the shoulder, causing a black fluid to spew from its body. The creature didn't even flinch and continued to maul Dojima, who was now trying to pull himself out from under it.
Thou art I…
White-hot pain shot through Adachi's head. He grasped it with both hands and took a step back, whimpering under the pain. Something was moving inside of him. It had woken up, and now that it was awake, it wanted to be free.
Thou art I, and I am thou… The time has come… Open thine eyes, and call forth what is within…
"Adachi—help-" The lion lunged at Dojima's neck, silencing him.
The pain in Adachi's skull spiked and he threw his head back with a yell. There was a sound like glass shattering, and the pain disappeared, replaced by the feeling of power surging through his body. Something rose up from him, something red and malicious. It skewered the lion on its spear and forced it off of Dojima's body. The being rose into the air and sparked with electricity before dropping a blindingly bright bolt onto the lion. When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left but a small puddle of black ooze on the ground.
Sweat dribbled down Adachi's face, and the soreness in his throat told him he'd been laughing during that entire experience. He looked toward the being that had forced its way out of him. It wore a red, bloodstained cloak and carried a knifelike spear. Adachi was very sure that somewhere, he'd seen it before.
"Magatsu… Izanagi…" he breathed. The being disappeared into blue smoke, leaving Adachi alone with his whole body feeling like it was going to collapse on him.
He rushed over to Dojima's side and knelt by him. Blood oozed from large wounds on Dojima's chest and neck. It was a miracle he was still alive. Adachi held his hands over Dojima dumbly, not entirely sure what to do.
"D-Dojima-san! Don't talk—I'll call for help—Stay right there!"
He ran to the car and dialed emergency services. Agonizing seconds passed as the operator took their time to pick up (Of course they're taking their sweet time; no one ever needs an ambulance at midnight in this dump of a town, Adachi thought to himself), and Adachi forced himself to not look over at Dojima and the blood soaking into his clothes and the ground.
"Operator, how may I help you?"
"W-We need an ambulance! We've got an officer down, near Main Street! And for the love of god, hurry!"
He dropped the phone and ran back over to Dojima. Thoughts raced through his head as he tried to figure out what he could do. He hadn't paid near enough attention during his first aid training, and now Dojima was bleeding to death because he couldn't remember what to do in this case. He looked up, and froze.
There was something else standing in the fog. This one was harder to make out than the last one, but Adachi could make out a round shape. It almost reminded him of a bear.
"What? You here to attack us too?" Adachi yelled. "I'll kill you too, just like how I killed your little friend!" The bear remained silent, before turning around and walking into the fog. The squeaking steps faded, until eventually, they were gone.
"Adachi… what the hell did you do back there…?" Dojima asked, his voice rasping. Adachi unpleasantly noted the trickle of blood dripping down his face from his mouth.
"Just stay quiet, okay? The ambulance will be here soon." Indeed, Adachi could hear the sound of sirens growing closer, and soon a vehicle had pulled up next to them. Adachi backed away from Dojima and watched as the EMTs lifted him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. Later, Adachi would vaguely remember answering questions for the EMTs about how Dojima had sustained his injuries, questions he hadn't answered entirely truthfully.
Before he knew it, they'd sped off toward the hospital, leaving Adachi alone on the street, where he stayed for approximately five seconds before climbing into his car and speeding off after the ambulance.