Chapter 35: Fallen
June 24th, Velvet Room
Shirou liked to think that he was starting to become a man of the world. Yes, there were still things he was ignorant about, such as the nature of magecraft and the identity of the culprit murdering people in Inaba, but he was quick to adapt and accept things as they are. He kind of had to grow into that mindset after seeing a handful of Shadows reveal what they really thought of the world around them, and how they went contrasted against the people they represented.
But he would still get blindsided from time to time, such as finding a new face in the Velvet Room when he entered, around his age no less.
She was sitting opposite of Margaret on the upholstery, with her legs crossed and writing something on a piece of parchment in her hands. She wore thigh-high strap boots over black and white striped leggings, and a short red checkered skirt that failed to meet where her leggings ended. Shirou found himself staring a bit too long at part of her pale legs' skin before realizing how… revealing her position was, and quickly gazed away. Further up, she wore a black belt with a golden buckle slightly loose around her waist and a white button-down sleeveless blouse. A black tie and red choker with a key lock were present around her neck, the former more prominent than the latter. Black and red striped sleeves covered her arms and a big blue bag was slung around her shoulder. Last but not least, topping her short black locks was a matching blue cap with a golden "V" badge sewed onto it.
Her grey eyes glanced up to him briefly, and then back down to the parchment in her hands. A few seconds later, she stopped and did a double-take, before suddenly stuffing the paper and pencil she was using in her bag. "Geez, ever heard of knocking?!"
Shirou blinked. As far as he knew, Igor and Margaret were the only residents in the Velvet Room, and that the room wasn't open to others so easily. Somehow sensing that she didn't want to talk to him, he turned to Igor. "Does she have a contract, too?"
Igor's smile broadened, as if impressed. "A good assessment, but not quite."
"This is Marie," Margaret told him. "She'll be joining us in the Velvet Room as an apprentice to our Master and help you on your journey. Her soul is very young and-"
Marie let out a low growl with a fierce scowl being promptly directed at the Being of Power. While not at all threatening, Margaret seemed to get the intent and dropped the matter quickly. "Well, she's brusque to say the least. I hope you can overlook that and get along with her."
Shirou glanced between the veteran guests and the new one. They hadn't given him a reason to think this was some sort of trap, or trojan horse plot meant to throw him into a bad situation. Marie might look like she wanted to be anywhere but here right now, but if she could help, then he'd accept the olive branch.
"Nice to meet you, Marie. My name is Shirou Emiya," he said. The black-haired woman crossed her arms and looked away, not feeling particularly friendly. "So, what do you do here?"
Marie shrugged. "I make Skill Cards," she told him simply. But when he kept looking at her, expecting more, she relented. "Personas can learn and use only a finite set of abilities, from magic spells to support moves. The Nose and Margaret told you before that fusing Personas allowed you to inherit skills, right?
Shirou fought the urge to chuckle at what was likely Igor's demeaning nickname. The old gentleman, at the very least, didn't seem to notice or care. "Y-yes."
"I'm the alternative. It takes me a while to actually draw them out, but as long as you have an idea of what skill you want, and it's not going to stupid yourself to death again, then I can make it for you to equip to your Persona. One-time use."
"I like her!" Pixie declared. Shirou wasn't sure if he shared the same sentiment yet.
"Well, it certainly sounds helpful," he smiled. "Think you can make me one right now? A healing spell that affects everyone. Media, I think it was called."
Marie immediately reached for her bag to pull out a notepad and start drawing. "Yeah, whatever Four."
Shirou tried, and failed, to look passive, but something about the term she used baffled him. "'Four'?"
"It's in your name, isn't it? Fourth son. And I think you're the fourth 'unique' guest in this room, or something. So that's who you are now."
Shirou's brow twitched a bit. "Actually, my name reads as 'samurai warrior'."
Marie shook her head. "Not as catchy. You're Four now, deal with it."
Shirou sighed. Marie's thing seemed to be making nicknames for people that she thought suited them best to what she knew or saw of them. She was also rather stubborn on what she decided to do, which might make future conversations an uphill battle.
But he could worry about that later. Marie was focused on her Skill Card task, and he had his own task to complete. "Anyway… I'm ready to fuse now."
"Excellent," Igor's perpetual grin broadened. "Show us the fruits of your labor."
Exhaling a breath, Shirou imagined two Persona cards in his hands. "Lilim, and Valkyrie," he said to himself. "This should work… yes? Yes, I think so."
The fusion of Personas was complicated, as the compounding of Arcana resulted in an entirely new one. There was probably a deep mathematic breakdown for the process, from the Arcana to the strength of the cards. But that was neither here nor there.
He tried to imagine how Igor made them rocket into the air, but that was a bit too much flair for his skill level. All that was necessary of the ritual was to fuse them, and temporarily killing them so their spirits could be reborn into a new consciousness. It pained him to think that, but they were not truly alive to begin with. They were literally facets that could be changed or thrown away by other people.
That didn't mean he cared so little for them as to not keep using them even after a prior fusion.
For now, Shirou held both cards on his palms. With a steadying breath as the flow of prana grew, he clapped both cards together and power surged from the gaps of his hands. Tenderly, he removed his hands and saw not two cards, but one.
He pulled his hands away, and no flash happened like the previous time. Instead a card slipped out and fluttered to the floor like… well, a card. Everyone stopped and stared at the floor, before Shirou leaned down to pick it up and look it over.
The image on the Tarot was of a woman, serene and eyes closed, holding in her hands a string guitar instrument named after her. She wore a green leotard with gold and white around the upper body, and a veil loosely flowed around her arms.
"'Sarasvati the Priestess'," Shirou read, confusion slowly setting in. "I don't get it. I should have gotten Ippon-Datara."
"Sometimes, the forces that move the arcana can lead to… mistakes," Igor explained. "Ashamed as I am to admit it, sometimes I too fail to create the desired Persona through fusion, and you are a fledgling to this craft. It's almost expected the first time would be a mistake."
"So fusion is not a certainty?"
"It is highly probable, at least. Just with… a two percent factor of mutating into something else entirely."
"HA!" Marie let out a single laugh, a wide smile on her lips as she went back to drawing. "Maybe I should call you 'Fail' instead of Four." Shirou's ears burned with humiliation.
"I'm sorry," the First Tridevi Persona spoke, her spirit appearing as a faint outline above her card. "I did not mean to come into being this way, as a hindrance to you."
Shirou had been upset, sure, but accident happened. Magi that screwed up tend to end up a lot worse for wear, and yet all Shirou got was a different card. He had been meaning to get a Priestess card for Amagi anyway, so if anything, it was still a win.
"It's fine," he smiled. "I'll be counting on you in the future."
Sarasvati's serene face graced him with a small smile before the spirit faded away, and the card slipped into Margaret's compendium for safe keeping. He could only hold onto so many Personas in his mind at a time, so he focused on the most relevant issue of completing Margaret's request.
Sure enough, reusing Lilim and Valkyrie for a second fusion was much more successful as a new figure appeared, with a flashier fanfare.
Standing on only one leg was a tall man with one eye. Bronze was adorned around him, such as the greaves, the metal helmet, and other pieces on his arms and back. In his left hand, a pair of forceps. In his right, a hammer. His green skin was covered mostly by a black, leather welding apron with a crooked "4" stylized on it. Another "4" mark was also marked on his helmet, over the spot where a hole for the right eye would be.
He saw Marie spare a quick glance at the new Persona and smirking to herself. No doubt she felt very validated of his nickname now.
"An Ippon-datara with Sukukaja," Margaret nodded. "Well done."
"This hardly feels like progress, though," Shirou frowned as the silent blacksmith reverted to a card. Igor literally pulled it off with magic, and he had to settle with acting like a stage magician just to get a pass.
"It is to be expected, but the process was to see how you manage in a new study beyond Gradation Air. Now, we can begin our next lesson."
"Right," he nodded, and the two of them stood up.
Marie stopped her drawing and looked at Margaret with surprise. "Wait, you're leaving?"
"Then let me come too! I'm getting cabin fever from being stuck in here for weeks!"
Shirou blinked, turning to Margaret for inquiry. "What is she talking about?"
"As we've explained before, Marie is staying with us as an apprentice, but her state of being makes it hard for her be outside for very long. Like it or not, she is tied to your fate and is the main reason why I brought her here."
"Yeah, I love lodging and sleeping in a cramped car seat," Marie quipped, turning to Shirou. "Seriously, it sucks in here. It's small, dark, and stuffy, they only have wine to drink, and both of them creep me out with how silently they sit here all the time."
"What do you mean 'creepy'?"
"Well, for one thing, I never see the two leave."
That alarmed Shirou, as he looked to the ever-stoic residents of the Velvet Room. Igor sat in his hunched posture the whole time, and Margaret was currently looked over the Compendium on his newest Persona. He figured they were abnormal people, beyond even magi, but how abnormal were they? He was just thankful that they had his best interests at heart for whatever reason.
Still, he recalled the one-time Igor was absent when he visited the Velvet Room, and could only imagine Marie's discomfort sitting with these enigmas 24/7. All this pondering raised some questions, but he knew better than to suddenly ask-
"Question!" Pixie spoke, suddenly popping out of Shirou's subconscious. "Mister Igor? Margaret? Do you guys poop?"
Everyone stopped and stared at the fey Persona. Margaret's normally stoic face showed a rare instance of surprise. Marie's own slowly turned red, slowly veering from shock to rage. Igor didn't react, which was scary by itself. Shirou sunk back in his seat and swore, for a moment, that the room was silent and he couldn't hear the opera motif at all.
"W-w-why did you even ask that?!" Marie stammered with a red face.
"What? You said yourself they never left! I wanted to know!"
"ShutupIhateyoustupiddumbfairy," the apprentice growled, streaming a bunch of words together in a single breath. She turned from Pixie to Shirou, and seemed to glower at him even more. "And you, shutuptooforIhateyoumorestupidjerkfacewithsupressedpervertedthoughts!"
"Hey, I didn't even say-!"
Igor suddenly laughed, breaking the tirade. It was the same gleeful laugh Shirou had grown to know the man by, and he spoke as politely as ever. "Oh yes. I poop."
A long, awkward silence filled the room. Margaret was still decidedly silent, refusing to look anywhere but the door. Marie stared wide-eyed at the long-nosed man for his casual answer. Shirou was left with even more questions that he knew he had no desire to ever ask.
"Huh. I see." Pixie said. "Curiosity satisfied then. Bye!" She waved before dispersing back into Shirou's troubled soul.
Marie turned to him with an expression of tiredness and resignation. "Please let me out."
Inaba Hill, Late Afternoon
The following lesson on magecraft involved learning to actually use the new magic circuits, and feeling out the mana around him. Shirou had already knew how to do this in the TV world, but to do it out in the normal world was beyond him until now. The feeling was scarce, but the rich smells of mana were still intoxicating. In fact, they almost overwhelmed him to the point of knocking him out by senses alone.
Was this how the highly-trained magi felt every day?
With the lesson complete, Margaret saw herself out and left. After resting for a few minutes on the ground, Shirou was about to leave when he noticed that their audience hadn't moved from the gazebo since they got there.
"Why are you still here?" Shirou asked.
"I'm making the most of this trip," Marie said, fiddling with a used steak skewer in her hand like a toothpick. "And you're still here. I'm fine to be outside as long as I'm around you."
"Was it really that bad in there?"
"The Velvet Room is like a gilded prison for me, and until you came around, I thought I was going to be stuck there forever."
He kind of figured that she cared more about the outdoors than seeing his magecraft in action. He didn't mind, and simply allowed her to come along because she asked. Margaret and Igor agreed, saying she was allowed to leave as long as they were together. It was also why he agreed to buy her a steak skewer before heading here.
"But why were you there in the first place?"
Marie's eyes narrowed before she tossed the skewer into the waste bucket in front of her. It missed and hit the metal rim. "Well, it was either their place or trying to find somewhere else on my own, and that's kinda hard to do when you 'don't exist'."
Something about that statement seemed ominous, but her body language and tone made it clear that she didn't want to talk any further on the subject.
She rose up from the bench and walked over to the grassy field. "There's so much green here. Like, all I remember seeing recently was black, white, and purple. But there's a lot of green here. No, not green… some brown too."
She looked wistful as her gaze looked up to the orange dusk sky, muttering softly: "Leaves of green fly away / Farewell to you, clouds of the sky / I fly as well, lost as the day. / Farewell to you, star up so high."
Shirou smiled. "That was a nice poem. Did you just make it up?"
Marie stiffened, as if forgetting he was there and listening. She looked at him like a deer in headlights. "N-No! I-I-I wasn't making up a poem at all! It was just… words of association I was thinking up! Yeah, that's it!"
When he didn't look convinced, her face flushed and she looked away with crossed arms. "ShutupIhateyouyoustupidjerk!"
"Tsun alert! Tsun alert!" Lilim sang.
"Hey, I want in that next time!" Pixie demanded.
Ignoring the peanut gallery that was his own subconscious, Shirou's gaze lingered on the town below the hill. He barely got to see this view the first time he came here with Margaret, but…
"It really is big, huh?" Marie asked, joining next to him.
"Yeah," he nodded. "I lived in Fuyuki City most of my life, which was plenty big itself with urban and suburban architecture. But this little town of Inaba? It feels… vibrant."
"...yeah, it does."
Shirou looked to his side. Marie had a wistful look again, but it was almost a mask of sadness.
"I don't remember anything about myself. Where I'm from, who I am… my clothes were gifts from Margaret, and my name was something I picked on a whim. I was too confused to really notice the first time I was wandering around, and got mixed up with some cops. Akechi and Niijima, were they?"
She mulled the thought over before shaking her head, resuming her train of thought. "Anyway, walking around the streets, eating meat, riding the bus here; it was all nostalgic and stuff. Like I can almost remember something. Maybe I used to live here, or at least somewhere just as pretty. But I don't know for sure…"
"You have no memory at all?"
"No, and it really bugs me," Marie lamented. "I just know there's an answer somewhere in this town, and I just need to find it."
Shirou thought over what she said. Well, he knew what he wanted to do, but how to phrase it required a bit of thinking. "We'll look together then."
"Personally, I'd feel awkward for you helping me with Skill Cards unless I did something to pay you back in return. So whenever you feel a need to see more of Inaba, let me know and I'll show you around."
"Please do," Marie nodded. "I expect you to keep your word, Four. No backsies."
She was obviously expecting him to help her now, but she looked happy that he offered to begin with.
Unsurprising to him at this point, another tarot card materialized in his mind's eye. The image was of a humanesque figure with a curved face like a beak, holding a staff and bisected from the shoulder. This figure stood in an orange sphere, surrounded by more color backdrops of dark purple, green, blue, and violet. It looked like the orange circle was like a gem, further emphasized by the smaller red circle below it and the black arm-like wreaths surrounding it.
Thou art thou, and thou art I.
Thou hast established a new bond.
It shall bring thee closer to the truth.
Thou shalt be blessed by Personae of the Aeon Arcana.
Aeon? Shouldn't the arcana be Judgement, based on the Roman numeral XX? Would he have to double up on Thoth equivalents now, or was Marie that abnormal?
"I'm hungry, and demand more meat," she suddenly declared. "You have money, so you will buy me some. Or no card for you."
Despite himself, Shirou smiled. They were going to get along just fine.
June 25th, Shopping District, After School
The world was out to shit all over him, it seemed. News stations making guesses about his next course of action, students of Yasogami talking shit behind his back, and that thing with Naoto… geez, couldn't he have asked before making decisions like that?
Still, Kanji Tatsumi shouldered on. He was a man that was afraid of nothing. It would take more than all this to really get to him.
For once, Naoto wasn't around to pick him up. The kid was usually punctual, but he wasn't waiting at the gate today when he came out. Come to think of it, he had mentioned that he had to do some sort of errand first and would meet him back at his house or something?
Figures; the kid was probably ticked about the sleepover the other day still. That's fine; he preferred being alone anyway.
"Stop right there!"
At the intersection of the lower end of the shopping district, he saw a familiar yet unwelcome face calling him out. He wore a different school uniform than Yasogami, more like a tuxedo than a gakuen. He had a rigid, hostile pose of bending his arms and legs, like the ones on Shonen shows about guys that win with sheer guts. Yet he was still getting soaked by the rain. Either he was trying to look cool, or he forgot to bring an umbrella.
Kanji tsked. "You again…"
"That's right," the beady-eyed boy spat. "I'm Mitsuo Kubo, the one who will bring you to justice!"
The bleach-haired teen shook his head. He wasn't in the mood to deal with him again, much less give Kubo's sister trouble having to save his ass. "Look, chickenshit, I don't care who you are or what you do for your free time. Just leave me out of your damn LARPing or else I'll give a good, painful reminder of who I really am."
His threat did the trick as Mitsuo flinched and stepped away. Good. As much the guy pissed him off, he was just a nameless nerd. Knew less about fighting than a biker, and had none of the confidence to muster behind.
It would be a pointless fight, in other words.
He was just a few feet away when the guy suddenly yelled back at him, "Everybody knows you did it!"
Kanji stopped, and looked back to the guy. "'scuse me?"
"You heard me!" Mitsuo yelled. "You killed the announcer! And that Konishi girl, too! You're a big, tough guy who does whatever he wants and the cops hate you for it! You really killed them, but no one has proof! That's why that worthless shrimp of a detective is following you! To find proof!"
Now he had Kanji's full attention. With a glare, he walked back to him.
The action only seemed to embolden Mitsuo, from the growing smirk on his face. "And you know that, don't you? You might have fooled everyone else, but not me! Or the police!" he deliberately closer to him as they were now at arm's length. "And it's a shame that you make your mommy worry about you, too! You're nothing but a piece of shit!"
His eye twitched, and his hand tightened to a white fist. It would be so damn easy to punch his lights out and make him regret it, especially for talking shit about his mother and Naoto-!
Just thinking about the kid made him weird. He still hated the guy, but… Naoto never actually did anything to deserve it, and never made him feel small just for being different. He gave him a hard time that was like being scolded by another parent, but in some ways, he was more of a man than Kanji ever thought he could be.
So instead of acting on what he would do, he took a deep breath and asked himself; what would Naoto do?
"Go ahead then," Kanji said. "Hit me."
Mitsuo blinked. He didn't expect that reaction. "Wh-what?"
"You want to kill me? Or have me arrested? Don't you want to beat me up for those people you accused me of offing?"
Yep; call his bluff was the right move.
"Huh. Well that's a shame."
Kanji's foot suddenly stomped hard over Mitsuo's shoe. Mitsuo's eyes bulged and he screamed like a girl before falling down on his ass. Right into a puddle, no less, judging by the splash. How fitting for a little wannabe bitch.
"Say what you want about me all you want, chickenshit. But you bring Naoto or my ma into this, then there's gonna be hell to pay." He then whispered close to the boy's ear. "And not even your sister will help save your worthless ass."
Satisfied in his throbbing pain, the delinquent teen turned and continued his walk back home. Mitsuo looked back at him in shock. "Th-That's it?"
"You're not worth beating up. There's no fun in pushing around a weakling, and I'm already in enough trouble as it is." He then spared a glance to the aggressor. "Then there's probably the fact that you're trying to play martyr by getting me to fight you. Get beat up, call the cops, spin some sob story to them and blame everything on me, right?"
He said nothing, which was telling in and of itself. Kanji gave a cold chuckle. "Yeah, like I'm really that stupid."
"S-So you're running away?!" Mitsuo cried, voice cracking. "Then you admit to killing those girls?! You're the serial murderer!"
If it were anyone else, Kanji might be compelled to care and make him shut up with force. But hardly anyone went out during a rainy day in Inaba, so Kanji let him whine and howl all he wanted. He knew desperation when he saw it. "Yeah, keep telling yourself that, chickenshit. Go ahead and tell someone else. You know, who cares."
Mitsuo tried one last attempt to egg him on. "Coward!"
But Kanji kept walking, raising his hand behind him with his middle finger extended.
Mitsuo Kubo hated people.
Everyone was so fake that it hurt. They made fun of him, criticized him, and then labelled him the one at fault whenever he tried to do something.
Why talk about the murderer when no one was actually trying to find him? The police couldn't find him after months of looking. Or were they just sitting on their thumbs being useless? They're the ones with the problem in this town - nay, this country!
Kanji Tatsumi had to be the one responsible! It made sense that he'd go after girls because he had some aversion to them. And he wasn't at all kind to Yuki-chan, so he tried to get rid of her out of revenge. It had to be!
Most of the time Mitsuo came back home right after cram school, but he had tried to do something cool for once in his meaningless life, and confront the wannabe hardass. But it didn't turn out like he had planned at all. That punk was supposed to be intimidated by him. He was supposed to confess for his obvious crimes and then everyone would praise Mitsuo Kubo as the hero.
But just like everyone else, he didn't take him seriously. Why? Why couldn't anyone take him seriously?!
Well if they don't want a hero that deals with the trash of society? Fine! Then maybe he'd make them wake up by striking fear into them. He had been too soft on them, but not anymore! No one was ever going to laugh at him again!
The front door opened. "Mitsy, I'm home!"
Mitsuo's mood made a complete 180. He rose up from his brooding corner in the room and turned to the door. "Nee-san!"
His older sister was the one person he could trust. It was weird seeing her so soon after her transfer from Misaki Town, but it was a welcome surprise bumping into her… where did they meet again? The bus stop? The floodplain? Well, that didn't matter anymore. She was here now.
The smiling brunette quickly donned an apron and started pulling plates from the cabinet. "You hungry, Mitsy? I'm having a craving for beefsteak, and found some nice imported meat when out shopping. Mind helping me?"
Ignoring the so-called affectionate nickname she always called him by, Mitsuo smiled and nodded. "Anything for you, sis."
Moments like these were such a blessing to Mitsuo. It was hard to stay mad as long as his sister was around. In his mind, the world was at peace because of her. And it was amazing how quickly it happened, in hindsight.
For as long as he could remember, it was just him and his parents. It was just them for now, as their parents suddenly went out on a second honeymoon. Or at least that's what Nee-san told him, but they left their car here…
Oh well. At least Nee-san was here for the both of them, so their deadbeat folks could stay away forever and he wouldn't care. She understood him better than they ever did.
Preparation went by very fast, and the two them were now seated to enjoy their hard-earned meal. Or Nee-san's, anyway; Mitsuo mostly watched and set the plates up.
"Let's eat!" she announced. Utensils were picked, meats were cut, and mouths were chewing. A very good dinner indeed.
"This is really good, sis!" Mitsuo praised. "Where did you say you got this from again?"
"Found a nice section of imported meat at the Junes mall."
"Junes? Why were you there?"
"Oh, my new boyfriend works there," she said with a smile. "His whole family runs the branch there so he showed me around. He was so nice that he almost gave me the family-friendly discount."
"Ugh," Mitsuo groaned. "Junes is just a festering shithole full of idiots."
"Mitsy! You shouldn't say things like that!"
Everyone scolded him for speaking his mind. That was a painful constant in his life. They got mad and scared so he really got worked up too. But Nee-san was different; she was nice and patient and always easy to talk to. He could say anything to her without getting her offended or leaving him.
"Well, it's true!" he argued. "They want only new, shiny things and basically left the shopping district out to dry. These dumb townspeople… they're just as much of a problem as the murderer around here."
"Oh yeah, you were out of town when it happened," Mitsuo said. "There's this murderer guy that killed two people already; a dumb tv announcer and some smashed high schooler. Everyone's been talking about it for a while, but no one knows who did it yet, let alone who he might target next."
She mulled over his words between bites of her beef. A pale hand brushed back some of her brown hair before resting her cheek on it. "If these people were so bad, then why would anyone care that they're gone?"
"You know how people are; they get offended over every little thing." Mitsuo complained. To that, his sister nodded in agreement. "Besides which, only their families care that those two are gone. Everyone just wants to know when it'll happen again. The news is already betting that it'll be Kanji Tatsumi."
"Tatsumi-kun… oh, the delinquent that bumped into you the other day!"
"Yeah, that's him." And he was clearly the one at fault. It was all that bastard's fault. Mitsuo was innocent; he did nothing wrong.
"So, what are you going to do?"
Mitsuo looked up, his sister staring at him inquisitively. "Huh?"
"You seem so upset about this murderer thing. Do you want try and catch them? Find out where they are, or who they are? Stop them before they get to Tatsumi-kun?"
He scowled at the thought. Whether or not Kanji was innocent, he had no plan to help that asshole. Truth be told, he wanted him gone, and didn't care if he got killed.
"Or maybe you want to… finish what the murderer started?"
"Huh?" Mitsuo asked again, once more confused.
His sister was smiling wickedly. "It works out for the better either way, doesn't it? If you catch the one responsible, then people will respect you and get peace of mind after trying to put it off for so long. But if you start killing people, maybe even target the ones that are especially heinous, then that too would rouse them out of their rut. They'd be forced to acknowledge you, your ideals, your carnage…"
"B-But heroes don't go around killing people." It was true that Mitsuo had thoughts of doing such things. But they were just that; thoughts. To actually go through with it would mean becoming a villain. And, as silly as it was, all he ever wanted was to be a cool superhero.
"Normal heroes wouldn't," his sister agreed. "But you could be a special kind of hero, Mitsy. An anti-hero that works against the law, to target people that think they are safe from it."
Special? Him? That was… kind of exciting. He had never been told that he'd amount to anything before, but the possibility of being special made him want to get up and do it. He couldn't make his sister disappointed, not when she was looking at him so expectantly.
But he still had doubts if this was a good idea. "I don't know…"
"Come on. There must be someone you want to get rid of. Someone you know who the world wouldn't miss?"
The list was too long for Mitsuo to count, he realized. He had a lot of people who'd be better off dead. There was that Yasogami teacher King Moron that chased him more than once when he was trying to see Yuki-chan. There were those leeches Satonaka and Emiya that beat him up and threatened him when he was trying to ask Yuki-chan out. There was even that kid in the blue hat following around Tatsumi that looked at him funny; people who did that always talked shit behind his back.
Out of all of them, the one person he really wanted see drop dead first was the one that pissed him off the most. But… "Forget it."
"Come on," his sister frowned. "Tell me."
"You won't like it. You'd think it's a stupid idea."
"I'm on your side, Mitsy. Trust me!"
They stared at one another, and when he thought about it… yeah, she always did have his back. She never got mad or offended like everyone else did, so maybe… "Kanji Tatsumi. I want Kanji Tatsumi dead at my own hands and make this town feel safe from his jerkass ways!"
She tilted her head, slightly bewildered. "Huh. You really dislike Tatsumi-kun?"
"I told you you wouldn't like it!" He whined. Now she was going to scold him, lecture, put him down-
"I never said that," she insisted, to his shock. "I actually agree he'd be a good target. He seems fairly popular with the rumors going around. If we play our cards right, we might make it look like a case of self-defense in case someone asks…"
Mitsuo stared at her in awe. This wasn't some string-along joke, was it? They were actually contemplating murder like some game? All on her insistence? It was startling enough, but the most he took out of this conversation was relief.
"I better get started, the weather is perfect for it," she said to herself, already heading out to grab the umbrella by the door. "Keep your phone on, and we'll go over the next few steps later, Mitsy."
"You'd really help me?" he asked, almost moved to tears.
"Of course!" She closed her eyes and grinned at him, revealing her awfully sharp canines. "Just leave everything to Sacchin!"
Dojima Household, Almost Midnight
"Yep! Her full name is Satsuki Kubo. but she prefers to be called by a pet name she got a long time ago. I'm telling ya man, I'm on cloud nine whenever I'm with her! She laughs at my jokes, is really friendly, and even made two coworkers break down in tears with just a few words!"
"That's… that last part is hardly a quality to praise someone for."
"Yeah, but these two were a constant pain in my ass, complaining about work they never could do and ranting to me whenever they so much as broke a nail. As an assistant manager of Junes, I can't really call them out or else I'd look bad. But Sacchin… man, she had never met them before but she had them absolutely pegged. It was amazing. Scary, sure, but still…"
"Ah, well that's different."
Shirou was quite happy for Yosuke. After waiting nervously for the next shoe to drop (namely Kanji's kidnapping or the interception of the kidnapper), some good news in his friend's social life was always welcome. Although his intention at Okina didn't work out as planned, he finally found someone to call his own.
Small talk before midnight… Shirou never imagined he would be doing things like this, even in the midst of important work of keeping the peace of the town. And it was almost morbid that he and Yosuke were so calm at the moment.
The fact of the matter was, Kanji had suddenly disappeared. Yukiko only found out just a few hours ago when making an errand call to the textile shop. Now the team was on high alert watching the Midnight Channel as the seconds ticked away.
Shirou tried to be optimistic. Naoto was also gone, so maybe they went into hiding without telling anyone. But if that was true, then they'd have to rescue the young cop as well, and he doubted their capacity to handle two dungeons in succession. If only they had gotten the jump on finding a dungeon early like with Rise, but he knew the saying that 'lightning doesn't strike the same area twice' to be quite appropriate.
"But man, do we really have to help this guy?" Yosuke asked. "He probably doesn't need us to begin with."
"We could always check with Teddie tomorrow just in case," Shirou said, fiddling with the control box. "Right now I'm setting it up to record the image, so we might have something to play back later."
"Good plan. Though I wish we had thought about it when Amagi-san was kidnapped, or had the chance to do so with Rise-chan."
Shirou's eyelids fell half-way in a deadpan expression. "Glad to know Sacchin has such a faithful boyfriend."
"Dude, give me some slack! I only met her a few days ago!"
"That doesn't exactly help your case."
"Well, aren't you an expert on relationships now." Shirou shrugged, and was willing to let the matter drop when Yosuke quickly spoke up again. "So what about you?"
"Honestly this question has been eating me up lately, but I figured I might as well ask while we're waiting and on the line. Satonaka, Amagi-san, Rise-chan. For your sake, I won't mince words: which one's your type?"
Shirou was silent, trying to process what he had just heard. When he finally did, his face matched his hair, his phone almost slipped out of his trembling hand, and the only sound he could make was a sharp inhale equivalent to a mouse's squeak. "...!"
"Come on, I promise I won't tell anyone! It's just I'm curious how you're handling your love life, as well as how you plan to actually resolve your situation. You got, like, the whole girl side of the team pining for you now! For your sake, you better decide who you want to date before it gets out of control."
"For once, Yosuke has a point," Pixie told him.
"Why do anything?" said Lilim. "Keep putting it off, let the romance bubble, and the situation will resolve itself. Chances are either the best of them wins or they all do. That's what every other lead in harem shows do."
"You mean like those spineless, brainless, chauvinistic stains in society that twist and lead on poor maiden's hearts in some sick form of entertainment?!" Angel spat, sounding rather judgmental at the moment. It almost worried Shirou how intensely she spoke her thoughts. "I've seen too many a love triangle strangling the ethics of heroes because they can't make a committed decision."
"Obviously it must be the gallant Chie," reasoned Eligor.
"His mannerisms compliment Yukiko more!" Sarasvati declared.
"Cu Taiga has already made her claim on him!" Cu Sith barked.
"Personally I'm kinda hoping for Rise," Pixie said to herself.
"Marie," was the single grunt of reply from Ippon-Datara.
"Ugh," Shirou finally recovered from the shock of Yosuke's question, but was now reeling from the voices in his head arguing for dominance.
Unaware of his mental war, Yosuke had waited patiently before asking again. "So come on, man. Who would you pick?"
"I-I don't know-"
"All of them?" He said, before realizing what Lilim just tricked him into saying.
A brief stunned silence ensued as all parties in the conversation registered this. Yosuke was first. "What?"
"WHAT?!" His arguing Personas soon after.
"YES!" the devil cheered.
"That doesn't count!" Angel bristled. "They have too many unique traits to be desirable on their own! Just because he can't decide on one of them, doesn't mean he should DO that!"
Thank God quite literally for his sensible retainers. "What I mean is I don't have a preference in girls. Satonaka, Amagi, Rise, they all have their own charms so I can't really decide yet."
"Huh. Well, I guess that makes sense."
Shirou let out a relieved sigh, as did his collective unconscious. Lilim was fuming while Angel was beaming and pleased with herself. The question on intimacy was put on hold for now…
And just in time, too, as soon the clock struck 12, and the TV screen flared to life.
The image was crisp and clear, much like with Yukiko's channel prior. But instead of a grandiose castle or a striptease bar, the background was that of a modest wooden building. The music playing was almost like a slow, smooth jazz for more intimate events.
"Good evening, darling viewers!" A voice spoke from the TV, sounding familiar but having a very distinct "camp" feeling to it. "On tonight's episode of 'Bad, Bad Bathhouse', we transcend the gender barrier by searching the superb sites for sublime, scandalous sensations! That is, of course, for boys only."
The camera then panned out from the close-up view of the building to show a muscular teen with bleached hair and wearing nothing but a loincloth around his waist. He was also posing rather seductively with a flush and a smile, with each deliberate movement emphasized with a light effect of flowers "popping" out.
Shirou could only stare mutely as the voice and face clicked in. "No way…" What they were seeing on screen was-
"That's right! I, Kanji Tatsumi, will lead the charge and venture into this exclusive haven! All you need are three things;" A close-up was directed to his pecs as his shoulders hugged them close enough to tense. "A smoking hot body…" Then to his licking lips. "Boiling hot blood…" Another cut to his hips as they shook the loincloth in place. "And a shaking, grooving fanny!"
"I think I'm gonna be sick…" Yosuke whispered fearfully on his end of the phone.
"Well that's enough horsing around! I'm all hot and bothered now, so I'm off! Wish me luuuuuuuck~!"
The last thing to show on the Midnight Channel was Kanji's Shadow prancing into the bathhouse.
For a long while, Shirou could only stare and wonder at what he had just seen. Hearing Yosuke on his phone broke him out of his trance. The video seemed to have affected his friend more, as he was struggling to find the right words to say. "So, uh… dude. Yeah, like… dude! What I mean is… DUDE!"
"Meet up tomorrow at Junes? Dude?"
"Huh? Y-Yeah, sure, du- I mean, yeah, see you tomorrow." Yosuke quickly hung up.
Pocketing his own phone, Shirou looked again at the TV. He tried playing the recording tape again, maybe pay attention to the words and setting for clues. But all that came up with an error screen of black and white fuzzy static. "Figures…"
Well there was one mystery solved and a comfort to take away from this; no one could see these Midnight Channel specials again.
Still, it was odd; he hadn't seen anything so animated or revealing on the Midnight Channel before. In the past, it was the Shadows waiting there on the screen, as if beckoned by the viewers. But when someone was thrown in, their entire life got thrown out of whack with over the top sexcapades into the unknown. It was one thing to see it happen with Amagi's channel, but then in Rise's dungeon and now Kanji's channel...
Shirou sighed and shook his head. This just proved it. "Yep. Definitely libido issues."
"Says the magic stud."
"I heard that, Lilim."
A/N: yeah, I know it took me forever to update, and I apologize. A freelancer writer such as myself tends to find new stuff to work on or allow the flexible pay to decide when to work and when not to. Found some good work recently, and played some games like Persona 5, .hack GU and Tokyo Xanadu Ex+. I still plan to write this when I can but don't hold your breath for it, just saying.
And yes. That was Sacchin from Tsukihime. Got plans for her, and in case it wasn't obvious, she used her vampiric domination gaze to slip in. The exposition of the how and why will be detailed later.