Authors' note: Shenjay here! Just writing to welcome you all, both old readers and new readers, to the sequel of The Fools' Tournament. I count once again with the collaboration of Evilshroom, my co-writer. Basically, we wrote half and half of this chapter (well he wrote more than I did). I'd like to remember everyone that I'm not an English native speaker, so please forgive my mistakes if there are any.
Hope you guys will like this as much as The First TFT. ...TFTFT?
Thanks to sillyfudgemonkeys for the TVTropes article! And, welp. Enjoy.
"When your name is called, step forward and receive your diplomas."
It was Graduation Day for the class of 2011 in Gekkoukan High, precisely one year after the conclusion of the last year's ordeals. Every face in the auditorium was smiling, beaming with pride at their accomplishments.
Every one, that is, but one.
Stepping up to the podium to tremendous cheers, Minato Arisato's face was expressionless. He was by far the most well-known of his classmates- brilliant, bold, a track star and the top of his class. The little bit of extra popularity from dating the most well-known of the females in his class, Yukari Takeba, certainly didn't hurt. And yet, despite the adulation laid on him, he received his diploma without a smile, nodding slightly at the principal as he walked off the stage. He stood with Aigis amidst a slowly growing crowd of graduates, listening to their chatter.
"So glad we're done!"
"Right? So, what are you doing after this?"
"Well, there's a party at…"
What would he be doing after this? What lay ahead of him? Would he stay with his friends? …Would they even want to? As "Iori, Junpei" was called out and received his own certificate of graduation, he came down, gave Minato an uneasy smile and a thumbs-up, and went to talk animatedly to Akihiko and Ken, who had come down to watch their friends graduate. They all stood at some distance from Minato. Not that he didn't know why.
"Yo, Yuka-tan! Do you wanna come with everyone to karaoke tonight? We're gonna celebrate tests being over!"
Minato paused around a corner. He hadn't heard about this.
"Oh yeah, sure!"
"Cool! Hey, uh… man, I seem like an asshole for this, but… don't tell Minato about it."
"Huh? Junpei, we should all…"
"Look, Yuka-tan, I know he's your boyfriend and all, but… I mean, hasn't he seemed like a different person since that battle? It's like, he went to the mall the day before, and someone else came back in his skin. It's friggin' weird, and I don't know how to deal with him any more. No one else does, either."
"…I kinda know what you mean. I mean, he's still sorta the same, but it's like he's just… somewhere else, all the time."
"I just don't know how to deal with him any more. The way he acts is way different than before! It's really damn awkward."
"I know. He's been getting worse, too. At first he was just sort of weird, but obviously trying to deal with… whatever it is that was eating at him. I mean, when I first asked him out, he was a little hesitant, but we were doing really well. But lately… you know he called me a different name yesterday?"
"What, like when you were talkin', or…?"
"…Damn. Do you think he's…?"
"…I don't know. I doubt it. Dunno when he'd get the time. He spends most of his time around Aigis. And I've never met anyone named 'Hamuko'."
"Hamuko? Never heard of her, either. And man, he does spend a lot of time around Aigis. What's the deal with that? What the hell are they always talkin' about? I mean, she hung around him all the time before the battle, but they never seemed all that close. Now they're like, best friends… never thought I'd be jealous of a friggin' robot."
"He won't tell me what they talk about. He won't tell me what is always bothering him. He's just… so distant. I only ever seem him smile around Aigis any more."
"They both got accepted to Tokyo U, right?"
"Yeah. I know this is horrible, but… I'm kinda relieved."
"That he's leavin'?"
"That I don't have to break up with him. I don't know how hard he would take it, but… he seems really fragile, lately. I'm glad it can just sorta end naturally."
"Fragile… man, who'd have ever thought that'd be something we'd ever call Minato?"
Minato snapped out of his reverie, looking at Aigis, who had been addressing him in concern. He managed a smile for her.
"I'm fine, Aigis," he said. "I was only… thinking about the future."
"You seemed to be thinking more about the past," she said, her voice holding a slight tone of reproach. He remained silent, absently watching the stage as "Takeba, Yukari" walked across, down the steps, and past him with the same sort of uneasy smile Junpei had given him. That all of their group of friends, save Aigis, had been giving him for the past year. She stood with the larger group, and spared him no further glance, laughing freely with them all.
"…The past was a lot happier," he said finally.
"She would have wanted you to put in the effort to make the future better, then."
"I have been."
"You were. You have since seemed to give up. Minato…" she drew off hesitantly, but forged ahead. "Minato, this is the start of a new time in our lives. You should put the past behind you and focus on that."
"You want me to forget about her?" His voice rose slightly, causing the eyes of his friends to swerve worriedly his direction.
"I would have you keep her in your heart as a fond memory, not a chain to a time that not only has passed, but never truly was. You are losing your friends, Minato."
Without a word, Minato turned and started walking out. "Yamagishi, Fuuka," the last of the class to receive her diploma, stopped him with a gentle hand as he passed by her on the way to the door.
"Minato-kun?" she asked in concern. "Are you not feeling well? You should really stay for the end of the ceremony."
"Come on!" she urged, tugging at his sleeve toward the rest of SEES. "We're all going to celebrate after this! You can't leave now."
He looked at the group, which had stopped their discussion to watch him, then at Fuuka's genuine smile. He firmly pried her hand off his arm.
"I'll see you at the dorm," he mumbled. He left with all eyes on his back.
"Congratulations, class of 2011! May your futures all be bright!"
As he started on the familiar path toward the train station, Minato heard the cacophonous, triumphant cheers of the graduating class behind him. His neutral expression never changed.
"Right, class, so today we'll be continuing our discussion on Jungian psychology. Now, yesterday I lectured on the concept of the "persona," what Jung theorized was the self we present to the world. A mask of sorts, if you will. Now then, a mask is made to hide something. Jung had a name for this concept, as well- the part of ourselves we keep hidden deep down, even away from ourselves. Does anyone know the name of this?"
"Ah… yes, Arisato, that is correct. I would prefer if you raised your hand to volunteer an answer, but perhaps you've not done it enough to get the hang of it?" the professor said with a teasing smile, eliciting a small chuckle from the part of the class who sat behind the blunet. The boy himself gave no sign, only lowering his head so his bangs hid his shut eyes, drifting off to sleep as he did for most of his classes.
Minato had been in university for several months now, and it was September. As had become his ritual, as soon as the sound of the class collectively rising and shuffling toward the door woke him, he groggily stood up, shambled all the way toward his dorm room, and collapsed onto his bed, staring blankly at his ceiling. His textbooks sat on his desk, a fine layer of dust atop the stack. His eyes fluttered and shut, his whirling mind coming slowly to a peaceful stop.
A light knock at the door roused him from his sleep. He looked confusedly at the door, which had not had anyone waiting on the other side of it since he had moved in. Disentangling himself from the sheets he had somehow managed to snarl around himself in his sleep, Minato went to open the door. His confused expression faded into the neutral one he wore everywhere upon seeing who was on the other side.
"Aigis. How did you get into the boys' dormitory?"
"Such rudimentary security systems are nothing before my stealth prowess," she boasted, smiling brightly at Minato. When he did not return the smile, it faded. "Minato. Don't you have a class right now?"
"Hm…? Oh. Yeah. World History."
"Why are you not in attendance?"
He shrugged, his eyes half-lidded.
"Do you need a moment to wake up before talking?" Aigis asked, her voice becoming ever-so-slightly sharp.
"No," he mumbled, sitting back onto the bed. "No, I'm fine. Sorry. How did you know I was here, if you knew I have a class now?"
"I was out of my own class," she replied. "I was waiting outside of your dormitory to greet you when you left to go to class. And yet, you did not emerge."
"How did you know I wasn't going from a different location?" he challenged, his lips tightening.
"You are never anywhere than your dorm or a classroom. And the latter, far less often lately."
Aigis frowned down at him.
"You have been skipping classes."
He stayed quiet, his stare directed at the floor.
"Your grades have been slipping precipitously. You are in danger of losing your scholarships."
"…How did you know that?"
"I requested that Fuuka-san access your school account and tell me your current class standings."
"Aigis, you don't have to trouble yourself worrying after me any more," he said, his expression placid but his voice beginning to show the edge of irritation.
"No," she agreed. "I do not. I do not have to. However, I do, because you and I are all the other has. Our friends are kilometers away, and have their own lives besides. Neither you nor I have any family. We have to support each other, because no one else will. But for me to support you, you have to put in some effort of your own! What happened to the boy who held up the weight of the world for years?"
"He doesn't have a damn thing left to fight for."
He stared at his feet silently.
"Why have you given up already?" she pleaded. "I know better than anyone else the grief you feel. But you are not even attempting to attain your own life or your own happiness. You do not talk to anyone in your classes in the present. You do not work toward a future by studying and attending classes. Why can you not please just try?!"
Her voice choked up and her fists clenched at her sides. She stared at him expectantly, waiting for him to raise his head and look her in the eyes.
"I just don't care any more."
"Please, Minato. Seeing you let your life fall into ruin after you spent so long attaining it hurts me. I know you do not feel the same for me as I do for you, but you told me once that you do love me in a way. Can you not try, for me?"
"She would. She doted on you so much."
His throat suddenly too tight to speak, Minato only looked up into her eyes. He nodded once, bringing a bright smile to her face. She flung her arms around him tightly, holding him close.
"Thank you, Minato," she said. "Do not worry. It will be better in the future."
"No it won't."
As Aigis left his room, after tossing him one last bright smile, he turned his head to his desk and the books upon them. His history book sat atop the stack. With a heavy sigh, he sat at the chair, wearily flipping the tome open. He stared at it. And stared. And stared.
"Come on. Read. Study. Wake up tomorrow and actually go to your morning class. Aigis is right. You can turn this around."
"Why bother? What does it matter? When she's goneshe'sgoneshe's gone never existed at all?"
"Stop it…" he mumbled to himself. "Stop thinking about it… for once, goddamnit, please."
At two minutes to midnight, nearly lulled to sleep by the sound of a light rain outside, he cast his mind back to something Aigis had said that day. His book was still on the first page.
"No family… that's something old for me… but also something new. Can you miss something you never actually had…?"
"Grandpa Jouhei… and Naoto. I wonder what she's actually like…"
He turned his head slowly to the source of the sound, the television in the center of the dorm's back wall. It had snapped on of its own volition. The screen was fuzzy, but he could make out a silhouette of a figure walking around on it. Even as obscured as it was, he recognized that figure. He recognized that hat.
He scrambled out of the chair and up to the television, getting close enough to it to risk eye strain. It was unmistakable.
"Naoto! What kind of program…"
As abruptly as it had come on, the screen shut off, leaving Minato staring at his own reflection, wondering absently how one who slept as much as he did could have such sunken eyes.
"…What was that?"
But wondering more presently just what he had just seen. Rushing back to his desk and flipping open his laptop, he began searching for some explanation, searching through messageboards, blogs, and anything else that seemed to hold relevant information to his television switching on by itself. By far, the bulk of the information appeared to be regarding a…
"Midnight Channel…" he muttered, scrolling down the page. "TV turned off at midnight… rainy night… see your true love? That's just disgusting…"
He looked closer into each claimant of the rumor, most particularly where they tended to live.
"Inaba… Inaba… Inaba… every one of them… what is with this little town? Rise Kujikawa moved there… Amagi Inn… hm?"
He leaned in closer to his screen.
"'Grisly murders rock small town.' Hung up on phone poles, power lines… serial murders. A small town's police force won't be able to handle that… they would have to get some sort of outside help," he reasoned aloud. "Investigators from a larger city with bigger crime, or… or a detective. A high-profile detective, for such a strange case."
For the first time in months, Minato smiled broadly.
"Naoto. She's there, I know it. I wonder… I wonder if it could be true… if maybe my mind was recalling something from my past instead of just a falsification. She could be… she could be!"
Frantically, he grabbed at his cell phone, searching for a name in his contacts.
"…Minato?" Aigis asked from the other end of the line. "Are you not asleep?"
"No, no, I just saw something! Naoto! On the TV! While it was off!" he explained in a blur. "She's in Inaba! I bet, at least."
"…Where are you going with this, Minato?"
"To Inaba! I mean, that's where I want to go. To talk to her."
"Minato… she is not your sister in this world."
"You don't know that!" he shouted fiercely into the phone, glaring at the wall where someone had banged, telling him to 'shut the hell up.' Cooling his anger somewhat, he turned back to the phone. "You don't know that. I don't know that. And I have to find out, Aigis. I have to."
"You will be leaving your classes behind." It wasn't a question.
"You will be doing so for a slim hope that this person who was your sister in a false world remains so in reality."
"If she is, will you be happy?"
"…I'll be euphoric. It's what I want most."
"Except to have Hamuko back."
"Then I will join you."
"Aigis, no!" he objected. "You have a good future here. I can take care of myself."
"No, you cannot," the voice on the other end replied with some amusement. "You needed me to take care of you for eons. That has not changed. I will continue protecting you there."
"…Thank you, Aigis."
"You are welcome, Minato. Now go to bed, please."
Minato wasn't exactly sure of how it had happened. When had he become such an impulsive boy? How comes he'd never realized before what he really wanted? How easy it was to attain! He just gave up without even trying, assuming they wouldn't be related, but…
"Hey, Minato! Was that a fox?"
"Did you see it?"
"Sure thing, Aigis."
"Are you even listening to me?"
"…Look, Minato! A ninja shark!"
"Oh yeah, cool."
Seeing Aigis's disappointed stare, he could only manage an awkward smile as he realized how spaced out he was.
But his smile soon became a genuine one. Soon, there'd be no more disappointed looks from Aigis. No more awkward tensions. Everything would go back to how it was before as soon he found Naoto…
…Or so he hoped.
A voice soon announced that the train was arriving to Inaba, and that was the cue to start rustling bags.
His smile showed a great deal of determination, but his sight was fixed in the infinite.
The blonde robot nodded at him.
Minato had seen some pictures of Inaba when he first searched the place. In fact, if he closed his eyes, he could perfectly recall how distracted he was when Hamuko left to go there and he was left to win a tournament.
…Huh. The universe does very weird things, indeed.
He stood still in the middle of what seemed the main street. To his left, a gas station. To his right, the bus stop where he and Aigis rode down the bus. In front of him, a few, little, tiny, insignificant stores.
And yet there he was. In the middle of the rain, with not a car to be seen. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath as a warm breeze blew past, bringing him memories of a flying hat.
"I have absolutely no idea of where we should go."
Aigis shook her head as she pulled him to the sidewalk. "Perhaps asking the locals where Naoto-san usually hangs out would be a sound idea."
"It's as good way to start." He announced as he began walking ahead, trying to locate anyone who might give him a hand. "…I guess she wouldn't hang out with bad people, right?"
"None worse than you, Minato."
"That was uncalled for, you."
"It was. You said 'Aigis'."
"Bad puns? Oh, come on. Who do you think you are? Ha—?"
He clicked his tongue slowly, not allowing himself to finish that name.
"…Let's go, we're going to have a busy day."
With a last look over his shoulder, feeling observed for a moment, they kept marching onwards.
As he walked around the street the whole morning, Minato arrived to a conclusion: everyone was trying to avoid him. Did he reek of smoke and 'city scent' so much? Was he perhaps that intimidating?
He found his answer in a puddle once the rain stopped.
His hair had grown wildly since the last time he cared, getting wavier and wavier until it looked like he had always had a curly hair. A stubble- more like random patches of tiny hairs- decorated his face reminding him that he'd ditched mirrors a long time prior. And let's not even mention the dark circles under his eyes; holes of doom, may he say.
He wore a simple white shirt, the first he picked up, and some random trousers. Long gone was the stylish boy who wore a wooly raincoat everywhere. He looked like a complete hikikomori. And that's just what he had become.
But it was probably the 'big city scent' what was keeping people away from him. Yes. So Aigis decided to conduct the investigations all by herself while Minato waited in a nearby shrine, lest he'd keep instilling fear in the townsfolk.
"Be careful ,okay? Don't get lost or—"
"I'll be okay, Minato."
Aigis ran away, giggling, while he sat down under the tori and closed his eyes thoughtfully.
How would Naoto be? What had she been doing in those two years?
What if she remembered him? What if they became friends again? What if Johei was still a jerkass?
Among 'what if's, exhaustion from the excitement and boredom, Minato began nodding off little by little, eventually falling into a necessary nap.
"Hrngh… I don't want to go to college today…"
"I want to… stay in bed with…"
He began opening his eyes as he realized someone was poking his face with a stick.
"Aigis!" He startled, hitting the back of his head with the torii. He could only wish that hadn't left a mark.
"Mission successful." She gave him a thumbs-up as she helped him up. "If my inquiries are correct, Naoto should be currently at school. I hope she didn't develop her incipient ninja skills enough to fool us, though."
"Y-yeah…" He yawned. "Well, we could… wait, what hour is it?" He looked at his smart phone. "OH, FUCK!"
He got up and grabbed Aigis's hand as he ran following the indications to the school in his mobile phone.
Yasogami high school was really little, so much that when lessons were over, it looked like rush hour in the monorail. No matter what, though, amidst the buzz, Minato knew what he was looking for.
A blue hat. If she wore a blue hat, he wouldn't need to think twice. There couldn't be anything more symbolic that wearing that stupid cap even to school.
And guess what? She didn't disappoint.
Minato could feel the most wonderful warmth rising to his chest- a feeling so long lost- as yet another suddenly attacked him: he was beginning to choke a little, realizing he hadn't spoken to anyone other than Aigis.
The panic was soon gone, though. His eyes met Naoto's briefly, and, forgetting the crowd and whatever fear he might have felt, he walked with determination towards his sister of another world.
He just stared at her silently for a few seconds, trying to recall the days in which he did this without even thinking. Then again, back then, he had a good reason for being so perfect at speaking.
"May I… help you?"
Oh, Naoto was looking at him with a weird face. Damn, he'd been trying to think for too long. Well, he'd make up with the next words, no problem.
"Uh… yeah, hi." He smiled, or at least honestly tried to. "My name is Minato Arisato."
She made an 'oh' face. Maybe.
"Er… say, you're Naoto, right?"
"Shirogane-san, if you please." She gave him a weird look from under the brim of her cap.
"O-oh, yeah, sorry." He nodded to himself. "So you… um… investigate people and stuff with your grandfather, yeah?"
"That I do."
She gave a slow, confused nod. Minato felt the flame in his chest burning more intensely: he hadn't made up any of that, then!
"Then your parents are still dead, no?"
The excitement in his voice probably didn't help the horrible glare Naoto directed at him. He backed off, just a little bit.
"Go straight to the point." She sizzled menacingly.
"Ah… y-yeah." He cleared his throat. "Say… wouldn't you happen to be looking for a big brother?"
He could clearly hear the sound of Aigis's hand crashing against her face right behind him, he turned around a moment to look at her, and when he looked at Naoto again, her face was a mask of barely conceited anger.
"Arisato-san." She began. "If you do not move away now and leave me alone, I'm afraid I might have to recur to my weapon and turn you in to the police department."
Minato's happiness suddenly wilted, leaving barely a little spark. "Then… you really don't…?"
"HEY, YOU!" A loud mouthed student with red headphones suddenly yelled.
A whole group of students, among which there was an albino, a bleached punk with a scar on his forehead much like Aki, and several other misfits ran towards him.
"Is this creep bothering you?" A girl with a green jacket and short brown hair asked her, standing at the same time in front of a black haired girl.
"I'm not a—"
"I can handle this situation by myself." Naoto concluded, shooting everyone and arrogant look. She reminded him much of himself not so long ago. "Arisato-san was about to leave, were you not?"
Minato was about to reply, when he noticed the glare the scary punk was giving him. He normally wouldn't have back down at such a pathetic attempt to scare him, but Aigis lightly tugged his sleeve.
…He couldn't just think of himself.
"…This isn't over. We'll see each other again."
He crossed glares with the albino guy for a moment, feeling its intensity, and a very discreet question.
With that, he took Aigis's hand and walked away, hearing murmurs about him, and questions about who was 'the blonde cutie'.
…If they so much as laid a finger on her, he'd make sure they'd regret it.
As the night began falling over Inaba, and Minato found he hadn't had another chance to meet with Naoto, Aigis proposed looking for some sort of hotel where to stay.
The "Amagi Inn" seemed nice enough, though Minato had to confess he felt extremely awkward the moment he asked for a suite, only to save some money. It's not that he was lacking precisely, but the less they had to pay, the better.
…Maybe it also had to do with feeling lonely when Aigis wasn't there.
"So many channels, and there's nothing good on TV." Aigis lamented, switching channels every few seconds. "Inns are really nothing like the ones in videogames."
"I'm actually thankful we don't have to pay in gold coins." Minato joked, snatching the remote from her hands to turn the TV off. He then took a seat on the ground in front of the TV by her side. "…Do you think she'll appear in the Midnight Channel tonight as well?"
As if to answer his question, a static noise began blaring out of the disconnected TV, and the screen began shining with a yellowish color. The image stabilized, only to show some sort of operation room, like the ones seen in spy films.
A figure in a stupidly long lab coat walked in front of the camera, stopping right in the middle to wave at the viewers.
"Shh! She's talking!"
"Good evening, everyone. I'm the Detective Prince, Naoto Shirogane."
' Detective Prince'… Wasn't that the nickname he gave her in the Shirogane State?
"Welcome to 'Experiment of the Century: the Genome Project'." She smiled, acting as if she was the host. "I will be experimentor and experimentee both, in a forbidden yet wonderful bodily alteration process!"
"What the fuck is she even going on about?" Minato muttered, only to be hushed again by Aigis.
"You shall witness my departure into a new realm… The moment of a new birth! From the chosen day forth, I shall walk a completely different path in life…! And I will share this glorious occasion, this memorable day, with all of you!"
Minato just stared at the TV with eyes wide as saucers.
"Do stay tuned!"
With that the TV turned itself off again.
The bluenet and the blonde robot stayed in silence, staring at the screen.
Minato silently got up, hands balled into a fist, and a determined look decorating his face as he said:
"I'm going to get to the bottom of this case, Aigis." He gritted his teeth. "Definitely."
Awkwardnato might as well be called Vincent, I'd say 8D Look forward to more!