Raidou stared at the doppelganger before him. “Who are you?”
“I told you. I’m you. Or, in our case, you used to be me.” He bounded off the large rock. “There’s a whole spiel I’m supposed to make here about how you’re me, and I’m you, but honestly it seems pointless. You’re happy a wandering zombie and I don’t want the job.”
He walked up to Raidou, holding out his hand. “Akira Miyagawa.”
Raidou stared, breathing growing ragged. Sure enough, that was his birth name.
“Seriously?” Akira leaned forward, grabbing Raidou’s hand. “I thought you came in prepared, all variables accounted for.” He firmly shook the forcibly grabbed hand. “But it shouldn’t be a problem, right? You threw me away after all.”
Raidou just stared. So this was his Shadow.
“Yep.” Akira stepped back. “That’d be me, Mr. Shadow. Nice little home I got here, huh? Nice and traditional. Honestly, I hate it, but so do you. Guess that’s part of the point.”
“You know what I’m thinking?”
“Not literally,” the Shadow admitted. “I just know because I know how you think. That I’m your shadow is the most likely conclusion given the situation, and you’re right.”
“What’s your goal?”
“My goal?” Akira tilted his head oddly. “That’s a good question. I’ll admit a set of clashing desires, like instinct and logic. I want to take your place. I want you to accept me. Just saying that makes me want to puke. Actually, scratch that, it just takes thinking about it. If I replaced you they’d make me be Raidou and bull on that. But, if you accept me…I still have to do it. Quite the conundrum we live.”
“You don’t want to kill me?”
“Ew. I’m not killing myself. You may be the failure version of me, but for some reason you’re the one in the real world and I’m stuck tied to you. Who knows what happens to me if you die? Ugh. Does that mean I have to rely on you? Maybe I should just lock you up.”
“Imprison me then?”
“I’d rather not,” Akira admitted.
“You’re me. Imagine talking to you for the rest of eternity.”
“Right? I’m terrible company, and you’re worse. I have a horrible sense of humor, when I have one, and am fundamentally a power-hungry vengeful piece of shit.”
Akira shrugged. “I’m not wrong. At least I admit it though. Wouldn’t it be nice to drop the whole Raidou gig and just go hunt down the idiot who murdered mom and dad? I’m sure grandfather did it already, but I’d still like to know why. Why were they killed? And who was stupid enough to do it? Come up with a pretty excuse about how I’m helping everyone, sure, but frankly if I could just do whatever the hell I want I’d be happier.”
He shrugged again. “Probably comes with being a Shadow. Odin knows you’re not honest, so I don’t get it from you. You don’t even really want to be, but when it comes to me and you, oh yeah. It takes a lot of self-awareness to be a Shadow.”
“Well, yeah. No one said I was born a mute.” He looked away. “Just sort of forced into one. I’d talk more, but it just doesn’t seem worth it. The world is filled with idiots after all. They’re either too dumb to get it no matter what you say or so smart you don’t have to say anything.”
“Where am I then?”
“Well, I’d like to say you’re an idiot, but we both know I’m not. In fact, I’m damn near genius, but no, you have to go throwing me away and for what? You hate your job.”
“See? It’s the pits, and you know it. But, if you try to pull out now you’ll get brutally murdered. Not good for either of us and I have no delusions on the outcome. Fuckin’ Kyouji’s a sniper.”
Raidou choked down a chuckle. Getting ripped into was a new experience for him, but so far, extremely accurate.
“See? I’m right, about everything. Well, not everything, but life would get really boring really fast if I were. Knowledge is great. Knowing everything would suck.”
“What to do?”
“Good question. I vote tea.”
Raidou started. Not the answer he had expected.
“Honestly,” he stepped a little closer, “I can’t force you to leave. You have to want it, and I think you’re too curious to want it. Add to that the fact you can’t accept me since that would mean denying Raidou, but I’m so right you can’t get yourself to deny me either, we’re in a bit of a mess. Given the situation,” he gestured towards a larger building, “we might as well have tea.” He paused. “I suppose getting drunk together would be an option too, but I’m not sure if that’s possible.”
“That’s okay. I don’t want to hear a drunk version of me.”
“Ugh. Right back at you. Gross. Anyway, pretty sure I can make up some awesome tea, if you’ll follow me?”
Raidou just shook his head in confusion. This wasn’t exactly what he’d thought when Souji and Butterfly had described the concept of shadows to him, but he had to admit intrigue.
Akira hadn’t been kidding. He made a good cup of tea. Not as good as Miss Narumi’s, but still. He used a nice green tea, with just a bit of sweetener and some milk. It was really quite tasty, and nowhere near as sweet as cafes liked to make.
They sat on a veranda overlooking the courtyard. Even as they’d sat there a small stream had begun to run through the area, circling the stone and allowing plants to grow.
“Does it always change like this?”
“Pretty much. I think.” Akira shrugged. “Whatever the case, it suits me.”
“Peaceful of you.”
“I am relaxing right now.”
Raidou breathed in the air. Strange how clean and beautiful it felt, even as he registered that it wasn’t quite right. “Why a shrine?”
“Don’t you recognize it? This is where we trained to become Raidou, along with that jerk and the coward.”
“And the pretty girl.”
“Never liked her much.”
“Yeah, but she wasn’t so bad, and she did take good care of us.”
“I guess. Her advances though…”
“Yeah. That was way too much. Surprised I kept my cool through all of that. I’m not just some breeder and I don’t like being treated like one either.”
Raidou smiled. The current Geirin had approached him almost immediately about the prospect of a child. Things were peaceful in her region after all.
“And then there’s the current Geirin,” Akira added.” “It’s just gross. I know she’s not really related to us, but no.”
“Weird how similar we are.”
“Be weirder if we weren’t. And don’t lie to yourself, you’re taking some comfort in knowing that the you you threw away still exists. Some of me’s still in there, just waiting to shine.”
“Shine, huh? Sounds like a good way to get in trouble.”
“Maybe sometimes that’s what you need.”
“I’m not strong enough.”
“You could be.”
Both of them knew better than to continue the conversation past that point, so Akira just let Raidou keep his thoughts internal for a bit. Besides, something had just entered his domain. He focused in on that. Two very powerful entities. No, three, but two were closely linked. He could feel the presence of something beyond him, something which simply existed on a different scale.
Should he send the weaker shadows after them? Or should he simply let them arrive? The concept of keeping Raidou around had occurred to him, but he could tell the shell wasn’t inside his domain, just the mind. The thought of the shell being destroyed, and the mind with it, bothered him more than he liked to admit. After all, he wasn’t exactly a separate being.
He ordered the shadows to simply watch. Creep them out a little, but not attack.
“I think your new allies have arrived.”
“Hmmm. One of them has done this before and the other…”
“Yes.” Akira stood. “Not sure I can resist testing my strength against this pair.”
“Do you really care that much?”
“Of course I do! In my strength lies my freedom, my ultimate joy. How could I not want to give it a go?”
“What if they win?”
“I’m in my domain,” Akira explained. “Even if they win, I won’t be destroyed. Besides, I know some fun tricks I’ve been looking forward to trying.”
“What if you win?”
“Good question. I wonder if I could kill them.”
“They’re my responsibility.”
“And yet you became theirs. Pathetic.”
“Right, right. I’m power-hungry and violent, not evil. Barely. Very barely. Would you feel better if I invited them in?”
Raidou looked away. The next layer of understanding in how surreal this really was had just stared to hit. His shadow cared about what happened, and how he felt.
“Well? You’ll have to be my captive, ew, gross. Never mind. Scratch that. You’re me and I sure as hell never want to play captive.”
“Sorry. It’s just weird. Shadows are supposed to be dangerous for the people who birth them, right?”
“You still have my face. And my basic mannerisms. Upsetting you might be fun, but I don’t really want to put you in a situation I refuse to see myself in.”
“Then I’ll watch.” Raidou sipped his tea. Curious to see how this goes. Just, don’t seriously hurt them.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll set it up like some of kind of stupid duel if it’ll make you happy.”
“Ridiculous.” Akira waved his arms out wide. A circle in the stones, completely empty on the inside. Two of the buildings separated, creating a clear path. Along that path stood shadows, of various forms, who then spread out along the edge of the circle. “Nice turnout.”
“They are your minions.”
“Yep. I think some of them are bits of me, even, but I’m not sure. Maybe the weaker ones just like to live in a stronger one’s domain? Who knows? It’d be interesting to find out though.” He provided a wolfish grin.
A moment later Souji and Butterfly cautiously stepped into the courtyard.
“Welcome,” Akira called. He grinned widely.
Butterfly looked cautiously around. Souji strode forward. “Are you Raidou’s Shadow?”
“I suppose shells do cast shadows,” Akira admitted. He strode to the middle of the ring. “But what happens when the shadow is sturdier than the shell? Unfair to think the shadow cracks alongside.”
“Who are you?”
“You already asked that with an assumption. Just because I am not a complete match does not mean you’re allowed to neglect the truth before you.”
Butterfly moved up beside Souji. “What do you want?”
“Freedom, of course. I want my freedom.” A katana appeared in his hands.
“Get ready,” Butterfly warned.
“One on one.”
“We won’t do anything that limits our ability to save Raidou,” Souji declared. Izanagi appeared above him. “Ziodyne.”
Akira shuddered slightly, but showed no other signs of damage. Most notably, the lightning failed to stun him. He charged forward with a yell. The arena itself seemed to respond, light raining down on Souji and Butterfly.
Akira got right in Souji’s face.
“Vorpal blade,” Butterfly called. Thanatos appeared, ready to launch a flurry of slashes on Akira.
Akira slid his blade into Souji’s gut.
Thanatos landed the hits. Akira pulled back.
Blood didn’t come out of the wound. Instead, the katana pulled forth a viscous black substance from Souji’s body.
Akira swung at the offending persona.
More black ooze. Souji tried to summon a persona to heal himself, but he couldn’t find it.
Thanatos leapt back, letting out a roar of anger.
Butterfly came beside Souji. “What is this?”
“I don’t know.” Souji’s knees gave out from under him.
“Does it hurt?”
“No. It’s just…”
“Empty.” He wretched then, black ooze frothing forth.
This time, it seemed not to just viscous, but almost solid. It slowly began to shape itself into a humanoid form.
Butterfly pulled Souji back. The pain of thorns cutting into his flesh returned Souji to coherence enough to stagger back with is companion.
Thanatos disappeared. Akira turned to the persona users. Despite the fight with Thanatos he had only a single gash across on arm to show for it, and even that didn’t look very serious.
He didn’t pursue though, instead tilting his head to watch the newly formed shadow as it staggered to its feet.
The ooze slowly began to slide off.
“What is this?” Souji whispered.
“Birth,” Butterfly responded. “A shadow being born.”
The first thing truly revealed was bandages. The shadow, while distinctly human in shape, was covered in bandages. Most notable were the long ones wrapped around the eyes. They flowed against the hair, a dull silver, until the two became indistinguishable. The next most notable thing was the fact that this shadow was clearly female. She wore a thin shroud, which really didn’t matter with all the bandages, but her form was still clear enough.
She seemed to look around, even though she couldn’t see.
“Souji,” Butterfly whispered.
He nodded. This then, this was his shadow. That would certainly explain why he couldn’t feel Izanagi at all, but how could this have even happened?
The arena disappeared, reverting to a more normal looking courtyard.
“I should have only caught a fragment,” Akira breathed, seemingly shocked at his own abilities. He had intended to see if he could stun the persona long enough to get at the human behind it. He certainly hadn’t intended to draw out the persona user’s shadow. He hadn’t even thought he could.
The shadow turned to him. “I’m sorry.”
Raidou came down to stand just slightly behind Akira. “What did you do?”
She shrieked. A shot of black and Raidou reeled back, mouth covered in rubbery shadow stuff.
“Wa-“ Akira clamped his mouth shut. “That’s an interesting rule.”
Souji forced himself up to her. He knew what he had to do and felt no apprehension in his approach. If this was his shadow, then so be it. “I don’t understand how this happened, but you’re my shadow. I can see that.”
She reached out her hands. He let her place them on his face.
“We have the same face. I know that. I accept you.”
Her nails dug deep into his skin. “Liar. Liarliarliarliar!” She ripped back, drawing blood as she peeled off the skin.
Akira grabbed her before she stumbled back. “Don’t push yourself. You’re still a newborn.” A powerful newborn, sure, but a newborn.
Butterfly took a look at the scratch marks. “Guess you have to mean it.”
“But I do. I don’t understand what’s wrong or how this happened.”
“No one cares,” the shadow whispered. She leaned against Akira. “No one cares.”
“Tell us your name,” Raidou pushed, hands in front of his mouth in case she decided to send more gunk. “I’d like to know what to call you.”
She whispered, “Izanami.”
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