April 18, 2013 — Evening
"Everything you told me—about the Vanished, the Kirijo Group—it's all true, isn't it?"
They sat in the lounge of G Hall—Shou, Kouta, Emi, and Sayoko—as they had on the night they'd confessed the details of the what was happening with the Shadow world to Sayoko. Only, now the cards were on the table.
Sayoko sat with her hands folded in her lap, meeting each of their gazes in turn. Despite the dark circles under her eyes, and her pale, drawn complexion, she looked at them with conviction.
Emi gave a sheepish laugh. "We couldn't exactly tell you it was all for real, y'know? You would've thought we were . . ." She tapped her forehead.
"Nuts?" Kouta offered.
"Or delusional," Sayoko said. "Probably so, I admit. Please know I don't blame any of you for misleading me. But now that we're all on the same page, I want to do anything and everything I can to help."
Emi turned to Shou. "Isn't there something we should ask?"
Shou nodded, and asked Sayoko what she remembered about being sent into the Shadow Line.
Sayoko sighed and shook her head. "The truth is I've been wracking my brain since the moment we returned. But it's all a great big blur. Or most of it, at least. The day before I became trapped . . . over there . . . It was so very strange."
"Whaddya mean, 'strange?'" Kouta asked.
"I was taking the metro to the Morigami Public Library," Sayoko said. "I knew that the Kirijo Group and the Morigami Company had dealings in the past, and I thought I could do some research and find a way to link the two for the, um . . . movie." She managed a smile. "The library has old newspapers on microfiche, and . . . Oh, never mind. That's not important. What is important is that . . ."
Sayoko went on to describe how, as she'd been riding toward her stop, the lights had begun to flicker in the train car.
"And then . . . it's a blank," she said. "I remember waking up in bed that night, thinking I'd had some sort of nightmare. Only, I can't recall going back to sleep afterward, or even showing up at school the next day. It's all a blur."
"Was there anyone strange on the train car with you?" Emi asked. "Before the lights started to flicker? Anything out of the ordinary?"
"I'm afraid not," Sayoko said.
"There has to be something," Emi insisted.
"Come on, think harder!"
"Emi-chan—" Kouta began.
"You have to remember!" She grabbed Sayoko's shoulders.
Not knowing what else to do, Shou reached out and took Emi's arm. When she looked at him, he shook his head.
Emi let her hands fall away from Sayoko's shoulders. She turned her eyes to the floor, suddenly embarrassed, her cheeks growing pink. "I . . . I'm sorry, Sayoko," she said. "I just . . . Someone killed my brother, and I just want to know who. I have to know. So I can make sure they never do this to anyone ever again."
"I understand," Sayoko said. She offered a weak smile, still exhausted from her ordeal. "But there isn't any new information I can offer. And, if you don't mind my saying so . . ."
"What?" Emi asked.
"Can we be absolutely certain a person is responsible for all this?" Sayoko asked. "Now that I'm privy to the truth of this situation, I can't help but wonder if we're leaping to conclusions."
Shou nodded. He'd wondered the same thing himself.
Emi, however, was adamant. "It's too much of a coincidence," she stated. "People from Morigami are being targeted. What other explanation is there? I can't think of any. It's too much of a coincidence."
"It is pretty weird," Kouta agreed.
"Normally, I'd concur," Sayoko replied. "This is not to say I believe such odd and frequent concurrences could have no connection. However, perhaps this isn't a conscious, directed effort we're dealing with, but something, in fact, quite different."
"Um . . . say what?" asked Kouta.
Now it was Sayoko's turn to blush. "Sorry," she said. "What I mean to say is . . . Er, how do I put this? From my brief experience with it, it seems to me that this Shadow world thrives on emotional turmoil. Is that not correct?"
In unison, the three of them nodded.
"And what place brews more such turmoil than high school? Morigami Academy, in particular, is one of the most pressure-filled environments in all of Japan," she said. "Could it simply be that students and staff of the school are being sucked in due to the stresses of the Academy itself?"
Emi shook her head. "It doesn't wash. Haruo-niisan wasn't under any more pressure than usual."
"We don't know that there has to be a particular catalyst. It could just be a general—"
"There has to be a reason," Emi said.
"Have you considered," Sayoko asked, "that you're looking for someone else to blame in order to avoid coming to terms with what happened?"
"What are you suggesting? That my brother's death is his own fault?" Emi accused.
"No, that's not what I—"
"Forget it!" Emi cut in. "Clearly there's no reasoning with you." She stood, glaring at Sayoko all the while. "I'm going to bed." With that, she stalked off.
Sayoko watched her go, then sighed and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. "That was an awful thing to say, wasn't it?" she asked. "I should go after her and apologize."
Shou shook his head.
"Probably to let her cool off," said Kouta. "She'll forgive you."
"Do you really think so?" Sayoko asked.
"Yeah. I'm sure she's mostly pissed because we don't have any new answers."
"I see . . ." Sayoko looked down at the floor. "Nevertheless, I went too far."
"A little bit," Kouta admitted with a laugh.
She sighed. "Anyway, it's growing late. I should probably return to the dorm."
Shou volunteered to walk her back.
She graced him with a smile, and idly her fingers toyed with the white bow in her hair. "Thank you, Shou-kun," she said. "I appreciate it."
Outside, with the clouds dispersed, the stars stood in the sky like millions of twinkling fireflies. A cool spring breeze blew in, coasting over the walls of the school, making Shou and Sayoko pull their blazers more tightly around them.
"I can't believe all of this is real," Sayoko said. "It defies rational explanation."
Shou told her she'd get used to it in time.
"Did you? Get used to it?"
"I didn't have much of a choice," he replied.
She appraised him for a moment. "Yes, the others seem to look to you as their leader. I can see why."
He looked at her questioningly.
"There's a confidence about you," she said. "And a sense of calm. With everything that's happening, it isn't difficult to see why those two would invest their faith in someone who can maintain strength in the face of such daunting adversity."
Sayoko suddenly blushed as well, and looked away. "I'm sorry. Perhaps that was overly superlative. I didn't mean to embarrass you."
He told her it was okay.
For minutes that felt to Shou like hours, they continued on without another word. The path ahead seemed interminably long, stretching into the evening darkness. He felt pressure to say something, yet at the same time he was afraid that whatever he came out with might sound stupid to the most brilliant girl in school. He didn't want to ruin this glowing image she had of him by saying something foolish.
It was Sayoko, however, who broke the silence. "I want you to know," she said, "that despite the unpleasantness you and the others rescued me from . . . I'm very glad to have met you all. For the first time in my life, I feel as if I'm a part of something greater than myself, greater than my father's expectations of me. What you're doing, saving people, is truly important. I'm honored to have a place among you. If you'll have me, of course."
Shou turned to her. "Of course," he told her. "You're part of the team."
She stared at him. "I . . . Thank you."
Shou inhaled sharply.
Thou art I . . . And I am thou . . .
Thou hast established a new bond . . . It brings thee closer to the truth . . . Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Priestess Arcana . . .
Sayoko gave him a strange look. "What is it?" she asked.
He grinned at her. "Welcome aboard," he said. "Sayoko."
She grinned back.
He walked her the rest of the way to her dorm.
April 19, 2013 — Early Morning
That morning, Shou walked to school with Kouta, who wheeled his bike alongside him. He also carried a gym bag full of the loot they'd found in the Shadow world, which Shou would deliver to Kaede, who would in turn give it to Yoshino to turn into useful equipment. Emi had been nowhere to be seen that morning, and when he asked Kouta where she was, Kouta replied, "She already went on ahead. I heard her saying goodbye to Kumiko-san as I was comin' down the stairs. I think she's still a little ticked off."
Shou sighed. There was nothing to be done, unfortunately. They would just have to continue their efforts to investigate and hope they managed to turn up something.
"So what do you think about Emi's theory, Shou-bro? I mean, we were, like, so confident, y'know? But if Sayo-chan doesn't remember anything, well . . . I just don't know."
Shou replied that it was too early for them to jump to conclusions either way. They would have to see how things played out.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Kouta sighed. "I wonder if there're any clues on the Shadow Line."
Shou raised an eyebrow.
"Well, you know, I was just thinkin', like . . ."
Shou gave his friend a dubious look.
"Okay, fine," Kouta said. He smacked his hand lightly on the handlebars of his bike. "The truth is . . . I wanna train!"
Shou considered this.
"All I'm sayin' is we oughta get stronger. So we can avoid another close call next time we gotta go in there and save somebody. I mean, fightin' that robo . . . head . . . thingy . . . Well, it got pretty hairy."
Shou couldn't help but agree there.
"When we went in," Kouta continued, "the Orphanage was still on the subway map. So I bet Prodigy Palace is still there, too! We can beat up on Shadows whenever we want."
Shou nodded, and told Kouta he'd let him know when he was ready to train.
Together, they went on toward school.
April 19, 2013 — Morning
Abe-sensei was his usual irritable self that morning, this time complaining about television. "Can you believe the sorts of things they put in TV these days? Hmph! The youth of today. Obsessed with sex and violence. Why, I can't watch cartoons with my grandkids anymore without seeing magical student vampire demons killing each other and girls showing off their underwear. It's indecent! Now, when I was young . . ."
Shou leaned over and whispered to Emi, asking how she was doing.
She gave Shou a hard look. "I'm fine," she said. "And thanks for the vote of confidence last night. If you guys don't believe me, I'll investigate by myself."
Shou told her he would do whatever he could to help.
Her expression softened. "Thanks," she said. "I know it seems far-fetched, I do. And maybe Sayoko's right. But I can't shake this feeling."
"Hey!" Abe-sensei yelled. "No talking! The youth of today . . ."
April 19, 2013 — After School
For the rest of the day, Shou considered Emi's words. The more he thought about it, the more he realized there was only one place to go if there was to be any hope of immediate answers.
When class let out, he resolved to work at the school store. While he was there, he could talk to Kaede and see if she or any of her friends knew anything. It would also be an opportunity to turn in all the items they'd found in Prodigy Palace. He went to his locker where he and Kouta had stowed the gym bag, then headed to the school store.
As usual, the store was exceedingly busy right in the hour after school ended; also as usual, Tanaka-san pushed most of the work onto Shou and Kaede while she chatted with faculty members who dropped by, made phone calls, and ate snacks. As soon as Shou dropped off the items in the storeroom, he got right to work, having no opportunity to exchange more than a few smiles and friendly words with Kaede. She'd warmed up to him immensely of late, particularly since she'd confided her family's circumstances. He at least had time to ask her how her mother was doing, and she replied that her mom was in good spirits, that her treatment would continue.
Finally, when most of the student body had either left for the day or gone to their respective clubs, there was the expected lull in customers. Shou took a deep breath, trying to put his thoughts in order to broach the issue of a potential killer to Kaede. He was afraid that she would have no idea what he was talking about; or rather, he was afraid he would have to say as much to Emi. He didn't want to disappoint her so soon after he'd promised her his help. There had to be something there. There had to be!
Only, just as he was about to say something . . .
"Excuse me," said a familiar voice.
Shou turned and froze in surprise.
"Yoshiro," Kaede said. "What are you doing here?"
Morigami Yoshiro lounged against the cashier's counter, looking terribly bored despite the fact that he was the one who'd appeared out of the blue. "I've come to talk to your little friend." He glanced over at Shou.
Shou didn't know what to say. What did Yoshiro want with him?
"We're in the middle of a shift," Kaede said.
"I'm sure Tanaka-san won't mind," Yoshiro replied, in a tone that brooked no argument. "Isn't that right, Tanaka-san?"
"Hm?" The school store manager looked up from her phone, and immediately her eyes widened. Her gaze swiveled from side to side as she desperately looked for something to make it seem like she was working. "Ah, Morigami-san, I was just, um . . . looking over the confirmation . . . for, um . . . the next supply shipment. That's right."
"I'm certain you were," Yoshiro said.
Immediately, Tanaka-san brightened, and nodded.
Inwardly, Shou groaned. He wasn't sure if it was actually Yoshiro, or simply the Morigami name that had Tanaka-san falling all over herself, but either way it was clear the boy would get whatever he wanted.
"What can I do for you, Morigami-san?" Tanaka asked.
"I'd like to borrow Tanimoto for a bit, if you don't mind."
"Did he do something wrong?" Tanaka-san glared in Shou's direction.
"Nothing you need worry yourself over," Yoshiro said. "Come along, now, Tanimoto-kun." He turned away from the counter and walked back into the lobby proper, expecting Shou to follow.
Shou shot a look at Kaede, but she could only shrug helplessly.
"You trying to make me lose my job?" Tanaka-san asked him. "Get outta here. Shoo!"
Shaking his head, Shou headed after Yoshiro.
For a while, the other boy said nothing; he led the way out of the school, to the square where the statue of Morigami Yoshinori loomed. It was then that Yoshiro finally spoke. "My grandfather founded this school to foster our nation's brightest, and best. 'The best'—that is my legacy, my calling. When I inherit the Morigami Company from my father, I'll ensure it once again stands above the Kirijo Group, and any other."
Shou was confused. He had no idea why Yoshiro was telling him this.
"That is why," Yoshiro continued, "I refuse to play second fiddle to you, Tanimoto. I won't allow it."
Now more baffled than before, Shou said, "I don't follow."
"How much more clear can I make it?" Yoshiro asked. "I saw that you rescued Sato. Without any help from me. Don't you know what an insult that is?"
Shou raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture.
Yoshiro, however, ignored him, his expression growing pensive. "Worse, I allowed it to happen. I've been blind, Tanimoto. Sitting idly by, relying on the power already at my disposal instead of working to excel, to rise above everyone. But you've opened my eyes. I suppose I owe you ever so slightly for that." He looked disgusted at the thought. "I see now that if I rest on my laurels, you and yours will go on fighting stronger and stronger Shadows, and surpass me. That would be inexcusable."
"Don't interrupt me," Yoshiro said.
Shou thought about making a choice retort, but he chose to let it pass.
"What I am trying to say is that from this moment forward, you and I are rivals," Yoshiro told him. "The next time you enter the Shadow world, you will bring me with you. Do you understand? I will not miss out on another challenging foe. I will fight and do whatever it takes to be superior to you."
Shou was flabbergasted. There was so much wrapped up in Yoshiro's words. Despite the fact that he'd essentially deigned to order Shou around as if he was some sort of servant, Shou could see behind all the bluster to Yoshiro's powerful fear of inferiority. At the same time, the other boy had also gone so far as to admit that he saw Shou as his rival, an equal, at least for now. He had a feeling it hadn't been easy for Yoshiro to make that confession. Though Shou had many reservations about Yoshiro, he decided to ask, "Can't we be friends instead?"
"F-friends?" For a moment, Yoshiro was dumbstruck, and Shou saw a flicker of hope and appreciation on his face. But it was gone almost as soon as Shou had spotted it, replaced by Yoshiro's usual haughty arrogance. "S-someone of my status could never be friends with one such as you," he stated, sounding strangely unsure. "We are rivals. Nothing more." He hesitated, then added, "And that's final."
Shou somehow managed not to grin.
Yoshiro extended a hand. "Now, to seal our rivalry."
Shou accepted the other boy's handshake.
Snap! The noise echoed through the corridors of Shou's mind.
Thou art I . . . And I am thou . . .
Thou hast established a new bond . . . It brings thee closer to the truth . . . Thou shalt be blessed when creating Personas of the Emperor Arcana . . .
"You don't have to look so happy about it," Yoshiro snapped. "Not when I'm going to defeat you." Even as he said this, the hint of a smile played across his own features.
Afterward, Shou accompanied Yoshiro back to A Hall, wanting to ask him about Emi's theory.
"Someone responsible for sending us into the Shadow world?" Yoshiro asked, incredulous. "Hardly. We were chosen, of course. Because we're superior to the rest of the rabble. You, of all people, should understand, Tanimoto."
"But chosen by whom?" Shou asked.
Yoshiro gave him annoyed glance, brow furrowed. "Truthfully, I hadn't thought of that. I suppose, because the answer seems obvious. The Shadow world itself chose us. What else could it be?"
Shou wasn't sure Yoshiro's reasoning fit. "Then, for what purpose?"
"I . . . I . . ." Yoshiro looked away. "Stop trying to confound me with your inane questioning," he snapped. "You're searching for meaning where there is none to be found. What does it matter why? We're among the chosen few, now. That's all that matters. We stand above all others. Isn't that enough to satisfy you?"
Shou shook his head.
Yoshiro gave Shou a strange look. "You're an odd fellow, aren't you, Tanimoto? I'm not certain I'll ever understand you. Most would be elated to have abilities such as ours, but you walk around as if you have the weight of the world on your shoulders."
Was that true? Did he really come off that way? He certainly felt that way, these days. But he couldn't begin to explain about the Velvet Room, about Igor's portents, about the catastrophe he was somehow supposed to avert. He doubted Yoshiro would understand, much less believe it. So he kept his mouth shut.
They stopped in front of A Hall—a massive dormitory, easily twice the size of G Hall, looking more like a hotel than student housing. "Shino, Tethys, and I have the top floor all to ourselves," Yoshiro said. It sounded like he was bragging, but Shou knew better. Now that he'd gotten to know Yoshiro a little bit, he had a feeling the other boy's statement was because he didn't want to come off as if he was somehow equal to the other students. He had to show that he was greater than them, likely due to some inner insecurity.
"The best accommodations on campus," Shou remarked, stroking Yoshiro's ego. Whether Yoshiro said he wanted them to be friends or not, Shou was certainly going to try, and for now that meant doing his best to form a solid relationship with the other boy.
Yoshiro nodded in appreciation. "I'm glad you comprehend."
Shou's understanding increased!
Then, Yoshiro's expression turned serious. "Remember, next time you venture into the other world, you will bring me with you. Anything less is inexcusable." With that, he turned on his heel and headed into A Hall.
Shou stood outside the dormitory for a minute, bemused. So far, he'd forged Social Links with three different members of the Hope/LESS team. Though he wasn't sure about Kageshiro Ryuu, both Kaede and Yoshiro were not so antagonistic as he had initially thought, based on first impressions. And he saw potential there to eventually bring them around to his way of thinking, to get them to use the power of Persona for good, instead of to bring about a world shrouded in darkness.
As he returned to the school, he considered Yoshiro's words about being chosen. The more he thought about it, the more unsure he felt. Yes, he knew that he, specifically, had been chosen by the Velvet Room. But what of the others? Had the power of their inner darkness, their Shadows, been so powerful as to draw them onto the Shadow Line? Or were there other forces at work? Nothing made sense anymore.
All he could do, he decided, was keep investigating.
By the time he returned to the school store, it was already closed. With nothing else to do, Shou returned to the dorm.
April 19, 2013 — Evening
After dinner, Shou decided to take a look at the next case in Crime Scene Companion for Naoto-san. It was a case involving a man who was found dead on his living room floor, knife in hand, disemboweled as if he had committed ritual seppuku. In the details surrounding the case, the man had recently lost his job, and his wife was seeking a divorce. The man also proudly traced his lineage back to an old samurai family, which is why, the police concluded, he had chosen this manner of suicide.
There were several details that stuck out, however. The knife had no fingerprints save those of the man himself, yet being that this was a two person household, Shou was surprised to find the wife's fingerprints weren't on the knife as well. Furthermore, in the case file, Shou found notes about an old hand injury the man had, which left him unable to form a strong with his dominant hand. Yet the wound was a single clean stroke, which would have been difficult for him unassisted. However, there were no signs of struggle, so if it had been done by a second party, it had to be with the man's consent, or while he was incapacitated somehow.
So, assisted suicide, or murder?
Shou went over the diagrams of the crime scene and the rest of the house. He perused the list of evidence and the dossiers of the persons of interest in the case. He found out that the man's wife, who worked as a nurse, was a diabetic. An empty syringe had been found in the garbage with blood on the tip. Oddly, however, there was no trace of insulin inside.
With a theory forming, Shou looked at the autopsy report and accompanying photographs. Though there was no mention of it in the report, Shou found in one of the photos a tiny puncture mark on the man's neck. Easy to overlook, but key.
It was, in fact, murder, Shou concluded. The man's wife had used the syringe to give her husband an air embolism, then made the cut in his belly, wiped her prints from the knife, and put it in her husband's hand.
He checked his conclusions against the guide in the back of the book.
They were correct!
His knowledge greatly increased!
April 20, 2013 — Early Morning
The following morning, Emi was in better spirits, and she joined Shou and Kouta on their walk to school. "Okay," she said, "plan of attack. I think I know how I can find out who the killer is."
"Yeah?" Kouta asked. "Let's hear it, Emi-chan."
"Well," she said, "I think the key is in the people who were targeted before this person moved on to Morigami Academy. You know?"
"How do you figure?" Kouta asked.
"Think of it like this," Emi said. "Morigami Academy has been the focus for a long time at this point. But then why were the first deaths at some random company, MoriNet telecom?" She grinned.
"Um . . ." Kouta scratched his head. "Because . . . Uh . . . I . . . dunno?"
Emi sighed. "You're hopeless." She turned to Shou. "How about you, fearless leader?"
Shou thought about it. His conclusion was that they had to be murders of convenience, somehow. If the killer was still testing his method, he would probably do it to people close to him, maybe people he had a passing bitterness toward. The obsession with Morigami seemed like a more deep-seated grudge. So, if the people at that company were the ones he targeted, then . . .
"Exactly," Emi said. "It means the killer was probably an employee there. If we can find someone who used to work at MoriNet and now works at the Academy, we've got our killer. Easy, right?"
"Well . . ." Kouta scrunched up his face. "I mean, how're you gonna get the list of employees or whatever?"
"I'm supposed to meet with Aizawa Azumi at lunch today," Emi said.
"The Hope/LESS computer girl?" Kouta asked. His face reddened.
Emi, however, was too distracted to catch it. "Rumor is she's a top notch hacker," she said. "I'm hoping she can get me those records." She glanced at Shou. "You're not the only one who can get all buddy-buddy with the opposing team."
"But ain't you gotta, you know, like . . . pay her?" Kouta asked.
Emi's face dropped. "I hadn't thought of that."
Kouta burst into laughter. "All right! Finally! I thought o' something Emi-chan didn't! Hell's freezing over!"
"Shut up," Emi said. She walloped him on the arm, but he kept right on laughing. "Maybe if I tell her there's a killer on the loose, she'll do it out of moral obligation."
"This is Hope/LESS we're talkin' about," Kouta said. "Those guys are only out for themselves."
"Then . . ." She put on her best puppy dog expression. "Can you lend it to me?"
"First you tell me to shut up, now you beg me for money," Kouta said.
"You're gonna have to beg some more, first," Kouta replied.
"I hate you," said Emi.
They walked on toward school.
Fool — Morigami Exploration Team — Rank 2
Magician — Hayabusa Kouta — Rank 2
Priestess — Sato Sayoko — Rank 1!
Emperor — Morigami Yoshiro — Rank 1!
Justice — Kazami Kaede — Rank 2
Strength — Shirogane Naoto — Rank 1
Hanged Man — Ariwa Reiko — Rank 2
Death — Kageshiro Ryuu — Rank 1
Sun — Narukami Yu — Rank 1
Courage — Rank 2 — Reliable
Knowledge — Rank 2 — Broad
Expression — Rank 2 — Eloquent
Understanding — Rank 2 — Kindly
Charm — Rank 1 — Plain