04/08/2015

If/Then

“Horrible liar.”

Souji knew that, really. He didn’t need a butterfly talking in his head to tell him that. If his record hadn’t been spotless things would have gone much more poorly, but as things stood the police accepted his story of being too scared to remember anything about the attack on the train platform. Good thing no one had asked him to elaborate.

“At least they bought it,” he whispered under his breath.

“Barely.”

A gentle ding on his phone. He pulled it out. New Message: Dojima. “Guess I should answer.” He slid next to a wall and opened his phone.

Dojima: You should be out by now. What happened?

Right to the point as always.

Souji: I’m out. Just a few questions. Looks like it’s fine.

Dojima: I see. Don’t hesitate to call if you need something.

That brought a smile to his face. Having amazing friends always at his back felt great, but there was a little added joy to a family member who trusted him so completely. Someone who didn’t know or understand just giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Souji: Thanks.

He closed his phone. “Now what?”

“No more school today?”

“No.”

“Good. Aren’t you the seeker of the truth? Go looking.”

“You’re very helpful,” Souji responded dryly.

“And a parasite,” Butterfly added. “Figure we can investigate Doctor Kishitani or SEBEC.”

“Probably, but how? It’s one thing to ask around a town the size of Inaba, but this is Tokyo.” He looked at the hordes of people moving near the Shinjuku police station. “Not so likely a random person knows something.”

Butterfly appeared beside him. The sudden appearance of another young man drew some startled glances, but it passed quickly.

“Don’t do that.”

“Why not? They’re the ones who reject their own sight.”

Souji sighed. Hard to simply say it made him uncomfortable. “We can’t just hope a lead finds us.”

“Who’s waiting? I’m watching.”

“For what?”

“Butterflies.”

“That means someone’s about to die, right?”

“Yep, so find someone healthy and they’re either suicidal or about to get killed.”

“And that will help us?”

“Unlikely.”

“Then you are waiting.”

“Watching.”

“Whatever.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Butterfly tilted his and smiled slightly at Souji. Souji couldn’t help but offer a similarly small smile in return.

“You know, there was a kid there, someone I think you contacted. He always struck me as odd. Maybe he knows something?”

“Who?”

“Naoki Kashima. Not my favorite kid on the block, but he did hint about you and always carried himself proudly.”

“Reaching.”

“I know. I just don’t know where else to reach. Not like there’s a midnight channel to guide us.”

“No, but we could more actively hunt down other persona users.”

“Just contact our friends then?”

Butterfly shook his head. “Ones we don’t know.”

“Like the Doctor Kishitani and that woman.”

“Yeah.” He gazed out towards the crowd. “So many people. So many thoughts. So many desires. A feast for Shadows.

Souji gazed out as well. He supposed that was true. He’d just never thought about it. Weird they’d never attacked in Tokyo then. How could you even begin to search through a crowd like this?

“We could go back.”

“Back?”

Butterfly nodded. “To Nebula Medical.”

“There were people with guns.”

“Null pierce.”

“They’re undoubtedly ready to deal with persona users.”

“Never worked before.”

“It’s a terrible idea.”

“It’s a lead. I showed up there somehow.”

“The kid. The kid told me to call to you.”

“Pharos. Why was he there?”

“You don’t know?”

Butterfly shook his head. “The missing piece. Trapped. Wonder why.”

“Nothing ever happens purely by accident.”

“A reason. A possibility.”

“How would we even get in?”

“You just missed one session.”

“Through the front?”

Butterfly shrugged. “Or in disguise.”

“Disguise?”

“Lots of people work there.”

“We’d need the coats they wear over their regular clothes. And almost all the nurses seem to be female.”

For a moment the two of them just leaned against the wall. How much easier would this be if he just contacted Naoto or Mitsuru? Souji glanced at Butterfly. The strange being simply watched the crowd, his expression stiff and useless.

A strange cloud crossed Butterfly’s face. “Want to save someone?”

“What?”

“Come on.” He began to weave through the crowd.

“What’s going on?”

“A group of young people, all with souls fluttering away,” Butterfly whispered. “Isn’t that odd?”

“We should follow.”

Butterfly grinned. “Naturally.”


 

The group of youths, five of them, looked around nervously. They stood by an unmarked door down one of Shinjuku’s many alleyways.

The only thing that stood out was a piece of graffiti, a blue butterfly on an otherwise plain wall.

They knocked on the door. Three sharp knocks.

It cracked open.

One of them, the likely leader, spoke, “Tractatus artis bene moriendi. Memento mori.” He spoke clearly and confidently.

The door opened just wide enough for the men to enter. The quickly hurried in and the door closed silently behind them.

The butterfly flew off the wall and around the corner. There he shifted to his human form.

“Well?”

“Tractatus artis bene moriendi. Memento mori.”

“What?”

“I don’t know the first part, but the second part is about remembering your mortality.”

“Your mortality. Why would they-“

“A password. We should follow.”

“But-“

“I doubt they know each other already.”

“It doesn’t make sense. What could this place be? You said they’re all going to die soon.”

Butterfly gave a curt nod. “I think they want to.”

“Want to?”

“Suicide,” he whispered.

“We have to-“

Butterfly pulled him back. Two salarymen passed by and headed down the alleyway.

“Them to?”

A nod. A moment later they heard the sound of a sharp knock.

“No way.”

“Approximately seventy people a day commit suicide in this country.”

“Why do you know that?”

“It’s interesting.”

“No. It’s morbid.”

Butterfly glared at him. “Can we go now?”

“What if we’re wrong?”

“Then we leave. But don’t’ you think this is weird?”

Souji took a deep breath. “Alright.”

Butterfly went up to the door. Souji followed slowly behind him, wincing when his companion knocked on the door. It cracked open.

“Tractatus artis bene moriendi. Memento mori.”

The door slid open. Butterfly and Souji stepped inside. It closed immediately behind them.

A rather sickly looking man, mostly skin and bones and tiny remnants of hair, stood before them. His eyes were sunken in and, in the dim light, he looked more like a ghost than anything. He gestured down the hallway. “First door: final life. Second door: First death. Third door: Final breath.”

Butterfly nodded.

“You may no longer exit, but may stay in final life until you are ready.”

“I understand.”

The man nodded slowly, turning back to the door.

Souji and Butterfly looked at each other.

“Final life then?”

Souji nodded. How could his companion be so upbeat about this? Still, he followed. Final life, first death, final breath. It sounded almost like a chant.

They came to the first door. It seemed to almost vibrate from a bass beat on the other side.

“Ready?” Butterfly asked with a grin.

Souji shoved open the door.

He couldn’t say what he had been expecting beyond that door. It certainly wasn’t what he saw. Strobe lights flashing on and off in an otherwise black room. At least a hundred people, mostly relatively young males, filled the room. Many danced to a harsh electric beat, others stood, crouched, or lay beside walls. Everyone dressed differently, and he saw at least one person not dressed at all.

Then, he registered the smell. Incense and sweat and urine. He gagged.

Butterfly strode forward, easily moving through the crowd and towards the middle of the dance floor. Souji did his best to follow, but the aroma assaulted him and made him queasy.

His companion stopped in the middle and stared up. In the flash of the strobe lights Souji could just make out what appeared to be a viewing platform. Two security guards stood watch, clearly marked by their neat black suits and large guns.

More guns.

The beat felt contagious. He could smell tobacco. The room began to spin. How could they stand this?

Butterfly continued to stare at the platform.

Souji just had to focus on him. Focus. Focus.

Stop.

Everything just stopped. No music. No movement. The lights gone still. Just the smell.

“Final life, first death, final breath.” Everyone in the room began to chant. Or, at least it sounded like it. Souji could no longer focus enough to really tell. “Final life, first death, final breath.” He could just make out movement on the platform. “Final life, first death, final breath.”

A man stepped onto the platform. No one cheered. They just continued chanting. “Final life, first death, final breath.”

Souji couldn’t see the man clearly, but he could feel Izanagi screaming to flee or fight.

The man held up his arms, loose jacket giving the motion a sense of sharp authority. Silence.

“I understand we have reached a peak.” His voice sounded almost like a growl. He dropped his arms. “So many seeking their final life, an end to the life they led. A first death, a true end to care. The final breath, when it all ends.”

It dawned on Souji that the man used no speaker system. His voice simply felt authoritative.

“We have many new guests today. Many faces I have never seen. How do you like it so far?”

Everyone simply stared. No one moved.

“Perfect.” His hiss carried across the room. “For those who do not know I am Kyou, owner of this fine establishment and your aid to achieving the perfect gasp.” He scanned the room.

“Final life,

Remember you are mortal.

First death,

Remember you will die.

Final breath,

A last reach to sky.

Final life, first death, final breath.”

The room responded. “Final life, first death, final breath.”

The man smiled widely enough for Souji, and everyone else in the room, to see it clearly. “All of you, who understand, you are welcome here. Unfortunately, there are times we must clean house. So many of you, so hesitant to proceed to the next door.”

The lights went out.

“Now stay still. Accept your fate. The one you wished.”

The light flashed and moved, shifting around the room. Then stop. Thirteen lights. Thirteen people illuminated under the spotlight. One shone straight down on Butterfly.

“Accept the path you chose.” Others began to circle around the thirteen illuminated. Souji moved closer to Butterfly. “Move on to the next step.”

“A change?” Butterfly’s voice rang through the room. Everyone stopped. “Or an end?”

“Depends on your perspective. For is not ending a change from continuing?” All the lights moved to Butterfly. Souji closed his eyes. Too bright.

“How do you contact these people?”

“I do not.” The man swept out his arms. “They contact each other. A singular rumor floating through their minds. A place to go and end it all. Don’t even have to leave Tokyo. Have a fun time before you do it, leave with no regrets. There is no getting lost on this path.”

“Maybe sometimes we need to get lost to truly change.”

“How cute.”

“True,” Butterfly corrected.

Souji finally opened his eyes. Everyone had backed off and the light shone on both of them. He forced his gaze up to the ringleader.

“And so you finally face me. Come in with this interloper, have you?” Kyou grinned savagely. “Souji Seta, I presume.”

Souji jumped at hearing his name. Beside him, Butterfly trembled. “We were meant to see them.”

“I can’t claim I was against the idea,” Kyou admitted. “Now, about a little game? We all like games, don’t we? Playing hero and detective is so much fun. Makes you somehow better than everyone else.”

Souji stood tall, glaring up at the balcony. “How much do you know?”

“I know that you would deny these people their opportunity for peace. That you would even call yourself a hero for it. Can we really accept that?”

The attendees were beginning to look confused.

“A little butterfly has flown in, attempting to make you side with it. A spark of unwanted light, keeping you awake far past date. Crush its wings. Extinguish the light.”

The music started up again, this time slow and ominous. The lights began to slowly moved around the room.

“They will never understand you. They don’t even want to. Crush its wings. Extinguish the light.”

The circle around them tightened. “Crush its wings. Extinguish the light.”

“Final life, first death, final breath,” Kyou called.

“Final life, first death, final breath.” Hands clenched into fists. “Crush its wings. Extinguish the light.”

Butterfly pressed his back to Souji. “Seem we found the spider.”

“What do we do?”

“We fight.”

“There’s close to a hundred people in here, not to mention Kyou and his security.”

“Then let’s give them a taste. Orpheus!” The persona Orpheus appeared over them both and took the lyre off his back. “Let’s give them a funeral dirge.” The persona began to play.

“Turn up the music,” Kyou ordered.

Techno and string clashed. The attendees charged.

He really didn’t want to do this. “Izanagi no okami!” The powerful persona appeared, illuminating the whole space. The attackers recoiled.

“How cute.”

Souji glared at Kyou, but only for a moment. The entire wall behind the man seemed to wriggle with shadows. No, it didn’t seem to.

“Butterfly, look up.”

“I know.” Orpheus’ music stopped, the persona shifting into Thanatos. “You really all want to die? To leave the world behind? Not even with a bang, but a pathetic whimper?”

“There is no glory to be had in life, not even in our deaths.”

“Shut up,” Butterfly snapped. “You don’t even want to die. You’re nowhere close to wanting to die.” Thanatos roared. Several people fell. Others screamed. “Seta, if you want these people to live you’d better do something.”

“Like what?”

Some of them ran. Some of them simply began to cry. Some of them rushed forward.

A giant glyph covered the floor, familiar symbols slowly etching themselves on the dance floor.

“Oh no.”

It burst forth in purple light. The people who had come anywhere close to them dropped.

“You’re kidding.”

Kyou clapped. “Amazing. Brilliant. I knew you were something more, but this, oh this is beautiful. Glorious beyond even my imagining.”

“What did you do?”

“Do we run or fight?”

“Oh, please do stay.”

“We can’t just leave them here.”

“Then what?” Some of the people were beginning to shake off the fear effect, now cautiously approaching the pair. Another mamudoon began to etch itself on the floor.

“We have to save them.”

“How?”

“I…there has to be a way.”

“Ah yea, the age old question, how do you save someone from themselves?” Kyou mocked. “How do you save someone who doesn’t want to be saved? How do you save someone who believes they are being saved, and that you are the obstacle? Are you really a hero if you lock someone away to keep them safe?”

“Don’t listen to him, Souji.”

“I’m not the one killing people. Though, I suppose it doesn’t count if they want to die. Oh, this is so much fun. To have both of you in my company. Such a treat.”

Izanagi dissipating, leaving only the purple glow of the mamudoon glyph to illuminate the room.

“Extinguish the light.”

“Souji? What do we do? I can’t cast spells forever.” Thanatos roared again.

He took a deep breath. What could he do?

The glyph flared. He could hear more people thump to the floor.

“Souji, I’m not exactly discouraging them. They want to die.”

“Kyou, was it? Answer me. Why? Why are you doing this?”

“Final life, first death, final breath.”

“That’s not a reason!”

Another mamudoon began to rev. The music stopped. Complete silence. Not even the sound of footsteps. Souji could just hear himself breathe.

“First death,” Kyou whispered into the silence.

Souji could hear footsteps. A moment later Butterfly dropped the spell.

“They left. All of them left.”

“I didn’t even hear a door.”

“Heh. The dead tend to be silent.” A small ball of light appeared about their heads.

“What’s that?”

“A light ball.”

“Nice name.”

“Useful item.”

Souji looked around. The light was still dim, but he could just make out the shadows of bodies. Bodies. These were…He couldn’t take it anymore. Souji fell to his knees and puked.

Butterfly moved over to a wall. A moment later regular lights turned on.

Twelve bodies.

Butterfly walked up to one of them. “This man, Kyou, he really knows what he’s doing.”

“Murdering people.”

“He didn’t kill any of them.” Butterfly came over, holding out a hand. “You need to get out of here.”

Souji shook his head. “Search for clues first.”

“Can you handle it?”

“I…yeah, I think I can.” Souji forced himself to his feet. “I…I’m just…”

“Not sure about me?”

Souji slowly nodded.

“Sorry if I’m a bit much. Just remember, death isn’t an end. It’s just a change.”

“A change.” He looked over the bodies. “A change that ends in nothing?”

“Who said there’s nothing? I certainly had something.”

“I’m sorry.” Souji shook his head to try and clear it. “I forget that you’re dead too.”

“It’s fine. I’ll tend to the dead. You take a look around. We’ll want to leave an anonymous tip with the police when we’re done.”

“Agreed and thanks for dealing with that.”

“I’m not scared of death, and I don’t think it’s grand either, but their bodies carried them well and deserve some respect.”

Souji nodded. “I’ll start upstairs then.”

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