Author's Note: A new Prologue has been added! Enjoy!
April 6, 2013 — Late Night
The man stared out the window, fixated on the churning clouds in the sky above.
He'd sent another one to that world . . .
And this was its way of giving thanks. Letting him know that his offering had been received.
Or so he liked to think.
He turned away for a moment, surveying his meager apartment. His little table was strewn with dirty takeout containers and countless pairs of sullied chopsticks. His tiny television set droned on, a female newscaster discussing the recent spate of suicides plaguing Morigami City.
Suddenly furious, he grabbed the remote and hurled it at the TV.
Luckily, his aim was poor. Instead of shattering the TV screen, the remote sailed into the bookshelf behind it. Several volumes fell to the floor, thud-thud-thud.
Slowly, as if his body was laden with iron weights, as if every movement pained him, the man retrieved the remote. How difficult it was, these days, just to live. To watch the succession of weeks, turning into months, and then years. This world had taken everything away from him. Yet he lacked the courage to leave it all behind, and end himself.
For a moment, he stared at the newscaster. He licked his lips. She was talking about the suicides as if they were a bad thing.
She didn't understand!
In disgust, he switched off the TV.
He was doing this for all the right reasons. He was doing it to spare these people from the agony he himself experienced, every waking moment of his life. He was saving them. He was the only one who could.
He walked to one of the shelves, with the scattering of framed photographs. Reminders of what he had lost. What this world had taken from him. Sometimes he wanted to break them all, but he could never bring himself to do it. That was his curse, he supposed. He was doomed to suffer, while he brought peace to others.
So be it.
The man returned to the window. He surveyed the city before him, this metropolis with its bright lights, and glimmering skyscrapers blotting out portions of the sky. There, in the distance, lay the gray stone walls of Morigami Yoshinori's crowning achievement — Morigami Academy, where the best and brightest came to learn.
Yoshinori, the man thought. Just because you're dead doesn't mean I can't hurt you. I'm going after your legacy. I'll dismantle it, piece by piece.
His plan was still secure. Those ones that had survived . . .
A giggle bubbled out of him. Soon, his shrieking laughter filled the apartment.
It was too perfect. Those ones were unaware of his handiwork. So long as there were no more complications, he would finally bring an end to his pain. And this world.
His eyes went skyward, where the thick, heavy clouds roiled like a living thing.
It wouldn't rain. He didn't know how he knew it . . .
April 7, 2013 — Afternoon
. . . But he did. He was positive it wasn't going to rain.
The countryside flowed past Shou like a river — a swathe of verdant green, trees and grass in endless procession. He peered up at the sky; gray clouds blotted out the sun.
Not a great omen for his first day in Morigami City.
He took a deep breath, and began to fiddle with the playlists on his phone. It seemed like every one contained some sad track that would make his heart flutter uncomfortably, or his eyes sting. He'd always been a stoic sort of guy, and he could do nothing but keep his feelings to himself. Grit his teeth and bear it.
Finally, Shou settled on a mix called "Rockin" and sank back into his seat. "Spell Magic" by Acid Black Cherry came on. He bobbed his head along to the wailing guitars, the aggressive rhythm. It reminded him a little of battle music from a game. He felt a pang of nostalgia as he thought about all the hours he'd spent hanging with his friends, a controller in hand. His chest felt tight as he thought about what he'd left behind. Mentally, he bid goodbye to the suburban life he'd enjoyed.
On February 21st, 2012, he'd passed the entrance exam for the prestigious Morigami Academy. But his dad hadn't been able to afford it. After pleading with admissions, the school agreed to let him defer for one year. Provided he kept his first year grades up in public high school.
And he had. He'd ended up with the #1 GPA in his class.
Meanwhile, he'd worked a job the whole year, while his dad had worked two. Most days, they'd subsisted on ramen and cheap tea. When the old kotatsu broke down in the winter, they'd simply shivered and sat knee-to-knee to share body heat.
Now, Shou's tuition was paid.
He was going to Morigami.
He leaned his head against the window; his reflection in the glass was ghostly, blending into the landscape. The most visible thing was his fall of shaggy auburn hair. Looking out at the rolling hills, the scattered trees and pastures, he felt a twinge of sadness. Soon the idyllic view outside the window would be replaced by tall buildings and bustling streets.
"Mari-chan, stop that. I told you not to throw him on the train," said a voice.
Shou glanced across the aisle. A little girl and her mother sat in the next seat. The girl kept tossing a pink bunny plush in the air. "Usagi-chan wants to move," she complained.
"Mari-chan, I warned you," the mother said, "usagi-chan has to be still."
Defiantly, the girl continued to throw the bunny.
Kids, Shou thought. He chuckled to himself.
"Enough, Mariko," the mother said. She reached for the bunny.
The girl yanked the toy away, but lost her grip. It went flying, and landed in Shou's lap.
He gave what he hoped was a reassuring smile, and held out the plush. The girl reached for it, but her mother stood and leaned across the aisle, snatching it away.
"Sorry about that," the mother said to Shou, holding the toy away from her daughter's grasp. He could only hear a little with his earbuds in, but it was enough.
"It's no problem," he replied.
The little girl scrunched up her face and stuck her tongue out at Shou.
The mother launched into a fresh round of scolding. Shou turned the volume on his music up a couple notches.
Kids were so innocent, he thought. Sometimes he wished he'd appreciated his own childhood more. Back then, all he'd wanted was to grow up. Now, he realized kids had it great. They didn't have to worry about top grades, cram school, entrance exams. Getting into the best university, to get a job at the best company.
A life spent hiding away in rooms, sitting at desks and tables under glaring lights.
Kids still had their dreams. They didn't know how things really were.
And yet . . .
Shou couldn't help thinking that there had to be something more for him. Something important. Something . . .
As his mind wandered, he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke in darkness.
It took Shou a moment to realize the train was passing through a tunnel. He could feel the vibrations as it sped along the track.
There were no lights in the tunnel.
Shou pressed his face against the window, trying to discern something, anything in the inky blackness. But there was nothing.
What was going on?
He stood, surveying the train car. The little girl and her mother were nowhere to be seen. The rest of the car was empty as well.
Where had everyone gone?
He stepped out into the aisle. He walked along the rows of tan-cushioned seats, checking for people. No one there. No one anywhere.
Was he still asleep? Was this a dream?
As he made his way to the end of the train car, something caught his attention. There was a glow coming from the door to the next car. A cold, eerie light. Only, the door wasn't a regular train door. It was blue, and covered in strange gold symbols.
What the hell?
Uncertainly, Shou approached it. He felt drawn like a fish on a line, like he was being pulled by a magnetic force.
His pulse beat painfully in his ears. He reached for the handle. The door opened with barely any effort at all.
He found himself in a room of blue.
"Welcome to the Velvet Room."
Blue velvet carpeting covered the floor; cushioned blue couches lined the sides of the train car; heavy velvet drapes hid the windows from sight. Shou could still feel the train moving, yet he had the oddest feeling that he was frozen in place.
At the far end of the train car lay a table, covered in blue velvet cloth. Behind it sat a man — the one who must have spoken.
He was the strangest man Shou had ever seen.
White hair fringed his bald pate. His nose was long and hooked, a buzzard's beak. His eyes, wide and bulbous, glittered in the darkness with manic intellect.
The fine hairs on the back of Shou's arms neck stood on end. The words replayed in his mind. Welcome to the Velvet Room. Sweat trickled down his back. His hands clenched of their own accord. The air around him buzzed; the space felt like it was alive.
Shou walked toward the table.
The bald man gestured to a blue-upholstered chair in front of him.
Shou blinked. Where did that chair come from? Shou was certain it hadn't been there a second ago.
"My name is Igor," said the bald man. His voice was shrill, like the squawk of a bird. "I am delighted to make your acquaintance." He smiled, resting his chin on the back of one hand. "This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter . . . It is a room that only those who are bound by a 'contract' may enter . . . It may be that such a fate awaits you in the near future." He paused. "Now then . . . Why don't you introduce yourself?"
Introduce . . . himself?
The words left his lips of their own accord: "Tanimoto . . . Shou."
"Tanimoto Shou," Igor repeated. "I see." He tapped the table, and suddenly a deck of cards lay beneath his fingertips. "Now, let's take a look into your future, shall we? Do you believe in fortune telling? The future is not set in stone. The cards only show the possibilities, potential challenges. It is up to you to overcome the obstacles in your way."
What the heck's this guy talking about? Shou wondered.
Igor laid down a card.
A skull stared at Shou, set before a gate. The card was marked "XIII — Death." A chill ran through him.
"This is your immediate future," Igo said. "But not to worry. The card does not mean a physical death . . . Most times." He gave a cadaverous grin. "It represents a powerful and unexpected change. A period of overwhelming adversity. Will you conquer what stands before you and be reborn? Or will you drown?" He chuckled, and it was like the sound of wind blowing across dead leaves.
Shou paled. He was overtaken by the image of himself alone at sea, storm clouds overhead flashing with lightning.
The water entering his lungs.
Igor drew another card.
Shou saw a man strung upside-down by his ankles. "XII — The Hanged Man." He felt another jolt of fear. He didn't believe in Tarot cards. Yet inside him was a deep and powerful feeling that urged him to heed these warnings.
"The card of paradox," said Igor. "In the future, you will have to make a great sacrifice. But only through that sacrifice can salvation be found."
Shou's fingernails dug into his palms. His knuckles turned white. He swayed in his seat.
He didn't know how, or why, but somehow he knew that everything he'd been told in this room was true. This was a realm outside of space and time. Yet he also felt like it somehow existed inside of him. A place of nowhere and everywhere. A paradox in itself.
His head began to hurt.
"In the coming days," Igor said, "you will enter a contract of some sort, after which you will return here. The coming year is a turning point in your destiny . . . If the mystery goes unsolved, your future may be forever lost." He smiled again; the sight chilled Shou's blood. "But not to worry. My duty is to provide assistance to guests such as yourself, to avert the . . . worst possible outcome."
Someone cleared her throat.
There was a woman on the couch next to Igor!
Her hair was pale and blonde, gathered in a loose bun. Her gaze was stern, her golden eyes glinting from behind wire-framed glasses. She wore a thick blue jacket with black accents, and a matching blue skirt.
Had she been there the entire time? Shou had the sneaking suspicion that she had been. Yet until she had made herself known, he'd been unable to see her.
No, not see her. Notice her. He was sure of it.
"Ah!" Igor exclaimed. "Forgive me. I have neglected to introduce my assistant to you." He indicated the woman. "This is Isabelle. She is a resident of this place, like myself."
"Pleased to meet you," Isabelle said. From her tone of voice, it didn't sound like she meant it. "I'll be helping you along your journey."
Unsure of how to respond, Shou bowed.
"Such formality," Isabelle mused. "I could grow used to it."
Just then, the train began to shake. Shou grabbed on to the arms of the chair, bracing himself.
"It seems our meeting is coming to a close," Igor said. "The waking world calls." He leaned in toward Shou. "We will meet again.
"Until then, farewell . . ."
Shou awoke with a jolt.
"Last stop, Morigami Central Station," said an automated voice over the train loudspeaker.
"Kaa-san, can we have curry for dinner?" It was the little girl from earlier.
"We'll see, Mari-chan," her mother replied. They proceeded off down the aisle.
Shou rubbed his eyes and yawned. What a bizarre dream. He remembered a . . . Velvet Room? And a weird ojii-san with a huge nose who read Tarot cards. Something about a contract? And . . . drowning?
He stood and gathered his luggage — two rolling suitcases, one large, one small. His entire existence packed away into bags.
He exited the train, stepping onto a long causeway packed with people. Standing there amid the throng, among friends and families traveling together, Shou felt profoundly alone. His stomach felt hollowed out, empty. He'd left behind everyone and everything he'd known for a shot at a future he wasn't sure he wanted.
His . . . future?
Something pulled at the edge of his memory, but he couldn't seem to remember. He felt like he was forgetting something very important. He shook his head. It would come to him later.
Shou rode the escalator up and into the station proper. He trudged through the crowds, passing large, glowing advertisements for the latest beauty products and fad drinks and hot new clothing items. He was really in the city now. He wound his way down wide, bright corridors with high ceilings, following signs to the station's north exit. Someone was supposed to pick him up there and bring him back to his dorm.
After a few more minutes he reached a line of doors leading out to the street. Just inside, a row of people held signs with different names. He scanned for his name.
Someone bumped Shou roughly from behind. Caught unaware, Shou fell, slamming his knee against the hard floor. Pain shot through his leg.
"So sorry," someone said. A hand appeared in front of Shou's face.
Shou looked up.
A large, broad-shouldered foreigner stood before Shou, carrying a briefcase. Straight blond hair fell to the man's shoulders. "I should have been watching where I was going," he said in flawless Japanese.
Shou grabbed the man's hand.
A blazing fire shot up Shou's arm. He gasped, his eyes going wide. The sensation spread into his chest and settled there, making him feel like he was burning up. His heartbeat sounded loud as thunder. Dizziness swept over him, and for a second he thought he was going to pass out. Bright spots flashed in front of his eyes.
"Can you hear me? You don't look well," the blond man said.
As suddenly as it had begun, the sickness passed. Shou blinked, his vision clearing. Despite sleeping on the train, he realized that he was exhausted. That must have been it. Simple fatigue. It also explained the strange dream. Wincing at his bruised knee, he stood and gave the man a reassuring smile.
"Are you certain you're all right?" the man asked.
"Good," the man said. "I'm glad I haven't done any lasting harm." He laughed. "Take care."
Shou was about to thank him when he was distracted by a woman holding a sign that read "Tanimoto." His ride.
By the time he turned back, the blond man was nowhere to be seen.
Shou surveyed the hall. The man was too hard to miss. He had to be somewhere.
But the man had completely disappeared.
Author's Note 2: Well, there's the first chapter!
This is an OC-based Persona fic which takes place in the same universe as P3 and P4. The goal is to make it a complete Persona tale, spanning a calender year, and having a full set of Social Links. In addition,two Persona game characters (aside from Igor) will make appearances later on (as S. Links).
If you have any questions or comments, or if you just liked the story, please leave a review, or favorite/follow. It's the food we writers feed on. Om nom nom. ^_~
Thanks, and enjoy Persona Gaiden: New Class!