One Fine Morning
Souji had kept his discussions with Butterfly to a minimum throughout the rest of the week. Butterfly had respected that. When they saw the news the evening of the event, Souji had just sat in his chair stiffly while his mother worried about the state of the country for such things to happen.
Twelve people dead in the night club. Cause of death: Unknown.
Seventy cases of apathy syndrome in the second room. All severe.
Unknown number of bodies in the third. The news didn’t describe the scene, stating only that it was grotesque.
Souji had excused himself from dinner after the report. Suddenly, those twelve Butterfly didn’t seem as big an idea. Thinking that way just made him angry. All Butterfly had asked was that they stay together in case of danger. Other than that he had investigated on his own as much as possible. Souji knew that. Butterfly had gotten on his computer, been checking out newspapers, and even wandered slightly off in human form to trail people briefly.
Last night, he’d even gone out on his own. He came back early morning.
Souji rolled over.
“Souji, we can’t hold this off forever.”
He knew that.
“Souji, I think there’s more of these places.”
Souji rolled back on his bag, staring at the ceiling.
“I went to the police station to check out missing persons.”
He didn’t want to know. He had to know.
“There’s a lot, and that’s only reported, and only those missing for at least three days. The number of people with loose souls is getting higher. Given circumstances, I suspect that well over half are suicidal. I checked out the hotlines and current numbers. The suicides this month are already at record for the worst month in history and people are going missing daily. Additionally, there’s more shadows. I can feel them. They’re everywhere.”
“Shadows?” Souji forced himself to sit up.
Butterfly nodded. “A lot of them.”
“Mitsuru hasn’t said anything.”
“No dark hour. No TV world. I think they’re part of this, but there’s no obvious attacks. Nothing that doesn’t fit in some way.”
“So just normal numbers?”
“This Kyou does seem to know what he’s doing.”
Souji sighed. “I have to tell her.”
“If the shadow operatives start pestering him he’ll lay low. He’ll become impossible to find.”
“Are you sure? Or are you just trying to keep your friends in the dark?”
“Not my friends,” Butterfly mumbled. “Get up. I think I know how to fight some of these shadows, slow things down, and while we’re at it we can figure out where they’re coming from.”
“When is the right time to tell them?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t know and I don’t know how I feel either.”
Souji sighed. “Guess I can accept that.”
“Barely, but I get that you’re worried, so I’ll tolerate it.”
Butterfly shook his head. “We leave in half an hour.”
“We leave when I’m ready.”
“Half an hour.”
Sure enough, Souji had showered, gotten dressed, and eaten breakfast within half an hour. He even managed to stick a note to his mom on the table that he was likely going to be gone all day.
Sunshine sixty viewing rooms. Souji and Butterfly looked out over the city. Strangely, he’d never come up here. It was just somewhere you went with dates, not to scope things out. Still, the view of Mt. Fuji was nice.
“Admiring,” Souji corrected.
Butterfly slowly moved around the room, scanning the crowds below, such as you could make any of them out.
“Can you really tell anything from up here?”
Butterfly nodded. “It helps me differentiate the people from the space.”
“From the space?”
“People make a city. However, there is still an inanimate space which simply is. It would not change if you lost all people. I need to scan that.”
“But aren’t shadows born from people?”
Butterfly nodded. Souji stood to walk beside him.
“There’s more than humans in the world.”
“So dogs can have shadows?”
Butterfly looked at him sharply. “They can have persona.”
“Never forget Koromaru.”
Souji smiled. Of course, Butterfly, Arisato, was fond of his friends. He’d just forgotten how to show it.
Butterfly stopped, staring across the city. “Disneyland?”
Souji came beside him. “Disneyland?”
Butterfly pointed to the castle. They could just make it out thanks to the clear day. “Does it look darker over there?”
“Maybe? Why, how, would shadows be in Disneyland?”
“It may not be there exactly, or it may be using tourists to its advantage. Either way we should check it out.”
“We’re going to Disneyland?”
“That way at least. We can keep our eyes open on the way.” Butterfly headed for the elevators. Souji moved to follow.
The sounds of shattering glass. A scream. They rushed to the sound. One of the employees, likely the one who had screamed, moved to block them.
“D-do not approach, do not approach, do not approach the, oh, the o-open window.”
The woman just shook for a moment. Poor girl must have worked the souvenirs. About five other guests and two other employees now stood nearby. Nobody else spoke.
“E-everyone just, just stay up here, please.” She looked pleadingly at one of her coworkers. Message received, the other woman moved away to call security. Seemed like a place to stop.
“I apologize for the inconvenience, but if you would all stay on this floor…” she trailed off.
Souji looked at Butterfly. “Did you know?”
For his part, he stared intently at the window. “To see what we do.”
Butterfly leaned in close and whispered, “I don’t think she’s dead, and I don’t think she planned to be.”
“Her soul wasn’t loose.”
“Not near death.”
Butterfly grinned. “Follow me!”
Bolt passed the woman by the window and out.
Follow him? Was he nuts? Or had he simply forgotten that Souji wasn’t already dead?
“Hurry.” A call to his mind, his Persona itching to follow, to find the truth.
He looked apologetically at the woman. “I am so sorry.” Then he ran too. She tried to stop him, but pushed by her and out the window.
Falling to his obvious death did not seem like a good way to start a day. Seriously, not even eleven yet. The ground was coming close awfully fast.
Souji gasped for air, heartrate accelerating. He was going to die.
“Idiot.” A horde of butterflies enveloped him. They seemed to push Izanagi out, encouraging the persona towards the flight. A familiar face appeared amid them, but it wasn’t the face of Butterfly. Similar, yes, but with black hair and a very prominent mole on his face.
“Congratulations on facing your death.” The young man chuckled. “Even if you didn’t have to.”
The butterflies swarmed, concealing the face. Then, gone, but a hand in his. Souji turned his head. Butterfly was beside him, holding his hand and with Thanatos above him. Above. Souji looked up to see Izanagi as well.
Then, it dawned on him that they were no longer falling.
“After the woman,” Butterfly announced. “I can just see a trail.”
Souji was more concerned with the buildings they seemed awfully close to running into, but when he forced himself to look more closely he could just make out a trail of shadows tuff, slowly drifting down on the city.
“Faster, truth seeker.”
He could see it now, and if you could see the truth you had to follow it. Souji had no trouble picking up the pace, while Butterfly helped keep them in balance. They rushed after the trail of darkness, carefully avoiding any contact as they soared across Tokyo.
It didn’t take very long for that trial to grow thicker as they crossed the city. Judging by the buildings they now had to dodge they had made it to Shinjuku.
“Souji,” Butterfly called, suddenly steering them steeply to the left.
Ah, the trail became more a glob than a line just ahead of them.
Souji nodded. Butterfly grinned back at him. Then, they cut through the darkness.
Well, more of ran into it. It felt like drowning in gelatin. Really disgusting, black, oily gelatin. Then the despair hit. The desire to die. The desire to lose all desire. The desire to finally not care anymore. The desire for an end.
“Death is not an end,” something growled from above him. Souji glanced up at Thanatos. The persona (it was a persona right?) seemed on edge and angry. Really angry.
They landed on the roof of Shinjuku’s clock tower. At least, Souji figured it was the clock tower. It felt good to let Izanagi go. The less direct contact with this stuff the better.
Thanatos dissipated as well.
“I can barely see,” Souji admitted.
Butterfly nodded. Souji pulled out his old glasses from Inaba. They helped, but only a little. Everything was still draped in darkness.
“Shadows,” Butterfly confirmed. “This stuff, it’s pieces of shadows.”
“Hm. Shadows which couldn’t exist on their own. Drawn into something else.”
A woman’s voice in the darkness. “Who’s there?”
Butterfly and Souji looked at one another nervously. The person who had jumped had been female, but they couldn’t be sure if this was her.
“Who are you?” Souji called out.
“How did you get here? This roof is closed off. You followed me.”
The darkness began to recede, flowing behind a small woman in a business skirt. The shadows formed a giant vulture behind her.
“What were you doing?”
She and the vulture both tilted their heads quizzically. “What was I doing? What I should do.”
“Spreading apathy syndrome?” Butterfly hissed.
She stared at him. “You do not breathe. Why don’t you breathe? Why are neither of you impacted? Are you sad too?”
Souji stepped forward. “Just tell us why.”
“Why?” She grinned. “Because I wanted to make everyone happy. They’re sad if they hurt, so I took the hurt away. While, more of bandage it up, I guess.” She bowed. “I’m Tsubame Koriasobi. You must be Butterfly. I’m supposed to avoid you.”
“Really? Then why’d you get my attention?”
“I didn’t know it was you. I just wanted to bandage everyone one up, and if you can follow me…”
“Get ready,” Butterfly hissed.
The woman nodded. “Yes, yes, very unfortunate, but I’m afraid I’ll have to send you ahead of me. So sorry.”
The vulture flapped its great wings and a burst of air came forward. Souji and Butterfly braced, but Souji could feel his feet sliding back.
“Wind wall,” Butterfly called out. Souji couldn’t make out the Persona, but the wind died down, even if he could hear it howling passed them. “We need to catch her.”
Souji nodded. “Ziodyne!” Izanagi-no-okami appeared behind him and, with a lift of his massive double bladed sword, lightning rained down on the woman. The wind stopped.
Butterfly charged forward, katana leading.
She laughed. “I want to die, you idiot.”
He turned the blade in his hand, bashing her in the head with the hilt. She reeled. Her persona disappeared.
Souji moved forward.
The woman moved back. “Final breath,” she whispered. Butterfly leapt forward.
She fell over the edge of the roof. He dove after her. Souji stopped at the edge. What was she thinking? There was no way she could summon her persona so quickly after a hit to the head like that.
Butterfly’s katana became a horde of blue butterflies, all reaching for her.
Souji saw them both jerk. The butterflies disappeared, revealing barbed wire coming from Butterfly and wrapping around the woman. The wire had managed to anchor into a window as they passed. Already down below he could see emergency vehicles arriving.
He sighed in relief. This would be hard to explain, but at least they seemed okay.
“I’ll meet you at home,” Butterfly called up. “Run.”
Souji nodded and moved to the other side of the roof. He had to have faith in his new friend.
Souji had just finished lunch when the large butterfly flew into his room, materializing into his human form once he was through.
Butterfly held up a hand. Wait, was he bleeding?
“Heavier than she looked, though I guess I can blame gravity.” He looked around the room. “I managed to get some information.”
“Is she alright?”
Butterfly shrugged. “I released her when they got close, but we were better than halfway down. She’ll have a concussion at the least, but I think she survived and the ambulance had already arrived.”
“You didn’t stick around to check then?”
“I got what I needed.”
He moved for the bed, but collapsed on the floor just in front of it.
“Just tired. I want to sleep, but I shouldn’t.” He looked up at Souji. “She worked under Kyou, and that woman we saw with Doctor Kishitani. They call themselves Armageddon.”
Souji leaned down beside Butterfly. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Don’t interrupt. They’re not persona users, at least she wasn’t. Our first instinct, it was right. They’re Shadows, but they’re not originally their Shadows.” He looked at Souji, his eyes so dull. “First death. First death is having your shadow removed. If you are deemed strong enough before then you instead receive one, to help others find their way to final breath. Her Shadow was from a child who dreamed of falling to his death every night, until he couldn’t take it anymore, but he survived. He didn’t want to.”
“And they ripped out his shadow?”
“And gave it to someone else. Those who fail have the new shadow, the one from both of them, ripped back out until it works. The stuff behind her was from people who could only form fragments, and it damages you somehow. She didn’t understand it either.”
“So those suicide clubs really are…”
“Yeah, and they’re spreading it, creating a cycle. It’s not a change, it’s just a loop.”
Butterfly didn’t respond, instead fading back to his butterfly form. Souji gently scooped it up. He could ask how his companion had gotten this information later, but right now they both needed an afternoon nap.
A long one.