“I met someone new yesterday,” Minato mentioned, casually flipping through his music for something good. “Yukari didn’t like him very much and warned him to stop bugging me.”
“That’s a poor explanation, what was he like?” Minako asked, leaning over as they walked, invading her brother’s personal space. “Did he seem like a nice guy? Bad guy? Bland guy? Don’t leave me in suspense here!”
The dark-haired junior pushed her away. “He was-well. . . Let me start from the beginning.”
[Yesterday: After School]
Baneofmyexsistance: Wanna go to the arcade? I got $$$
Me: Meet me @ the gates.
Minato knew that his sister would want to check the arcade out right away. It was all over her face once Yukari brought it up on the train ride.
In turn, it would be lying to say that Minato wasn’t a little more than excited. Without wasting any time, he began to gather his belongings in preparation for their newest raid. He tossed his phone into the main pocket of his school bag and corraled his pencils into one large cluster.
Not knowing what to do with the cluster, he simply chucked them into a random pocket to be sorted through later.
Before Minato could so much as take a step away from his desk, he found his path blocked by a much taller student. He wore a baseball cap and a smirk that spoke of fake confidence.
Minako seemed to have a male twin roaming about the school.
“S’up dude! How’s it going?”
Strike that, Minako had a male carbon copy.
Minato took a step back and shoved his hands in his pockets. “Who are you?”
The other boy flourished a hand. “The name’s Junpei Iori. Nice to meet ya’!” He extended a hand in greeting. “I transferred here in the eighth grade. I know how tough it is to bein’ the new kid, so I wanted to say hey!”
Minato took his hand. “Minato Arisato. . . thanks.”
Maybe he misjudged this Junpei too soon. Despite carrying himself like he was arrogant and reminded him of his annoying sister, he seemed nice. How many people go out of their way to welcome the new kid out of the goodness of their heart?
“See what a nice guy I am!”
No, his earlier assumption had been correct. Minato could smell the ego on this guy from ten miles away.
“Yukari came along and then we all went our separate ways.” Minato took out his headphones and draped them around his neck. They were getting closer to the school. “He said something about this year was bound to be interesting, but I pretty much zoned out after a bit. I don't plan on talking to him ever again, so that's that.”
Minako scoffed and thumped him on the head. “Just because someone is a little cocky, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss them right away. He’s probably just looking for someone to hang out with.” She sighed as they neared the school. “At least you didn’t have to deal with a pack of wild fangirls. I thought I was gonna die and rot in hell!”
They both continued to argue over which had the worst first day until they got the school gates. Some students meandered nearby, sharing the daily gossip or waiting for their other friends. Minato couldn’t help but listen in on some of the conversations, some people not even trying to be discreet about the content of their chatter. Two girls merged in front of the siblings, making a point to shout every syllable that came out of their mouths.
“Did you hear the rumor?”
A rumor? This could be interesting.
“Oh, um...something about the bathroom?”
The first girl grew embarrassed and flailed her arms comically. Minako snickered under breath, no doubt proud she wasn’t a spastic teenager.
“N-No! Not that one! I mean the one about the first-year student! Not only did she stop coming to school, she does nothing but sits and stare at the walls all day. If her mother tries to talk to her, she only mutters to herself, ‘It's coming, It's coming!’”
Minato reached over and tugged at the strap of Minako’s bag. She caught the signal and slowed down so that the two were a good distance behind the girls.
“Doesn’t that seem a bit odd?” she inquired. “First the boy who flung himself in front of the train, and now a girl who thinks something is coming to get her.”
Minato studied his shoes as they made their way into the school. “Not to mention it’s only our second day and we’ve already started noticing some strange activity.” he said. “We should keep an ear open for more of these rumors.”
The two then went their separate ways, promising to meet back at the gates after school.
Despite being a logically inclined person, most people would find it surprising that Minato enjoyed reading and writing. Although he wasn’t as fanatical as his older sister, he still got a kick out of analyzing books and explaining the use of figurative language. It was something the two of them could bond over other then arcades and video games and debating religion.
Maybe that’s the way he found his homeroom teacher quite fascinating to pay attention to while other students nodded off at their desks.
“Hakushu Kitahara is great, but I think I prefer Fuyuhiko Yoshimura. His works aren't as famous, but that's what I like about him. My personal favorite is ‘Mangekyo.’” Miss Toriumi smiled as she talked about the author. "The school doesn't have enough copies in the library, though. We'd need to share with each other if I planned a lesson for later on."
Minato may have found his newest recommendation to give a whirl. If his teacher was this enchanted, it might be worth picking up a copy at the library. He jotted down the name of the book while the teacher continued.
“I'll bring it next time so you can write an essay on it.” she decided, finishing off her miniature rant.
The class groaned at the mention of a paper to write.
Everyone except one person, sound asleep at his desk and definitely not paying attention. His cap obscured his face, but even Minato could hear the snores from where he sat.
Miss Toriumi must have noticed the student too and immediately called him out.
The boy from yesterday, Junpei jerked awake at the teacher’s stern voice. “Huh, I’m awake! I swear! I was listening!”
The crack in his voice betrayed he was certainly not.
“Were you listening? Who did I say was my favorite author?” She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a stern look. “I can wait here until the bell rings, Iori.”
The class began to whisper as Junpei sat moon faced in his chair. Many point and giggled under their breaths, waiting for him to admit that he had been sleeping instead of listening to the lecture. Yukari simply put her head in her hands, as if she could feel the second-hand embarrassment.
Minato simply watched Junpei. The boy looked scared out of his mind: knee bouncing under his desk, biting his lower lip, rubbing the back of his neck. He was obviously distressed and trying to come up with a suitable answer in his head, the teacher’s eyes burning a hole straight through the poor guy.
Although Minato told himself to just ignore him, something inside of him felt sympathy for the poor soul. With the entire class waiting for him to fail and a teacher expecting the wrong answer, school life must be tough for Junpei.
Such an expectation was never healthy for someone to bare. To be a bad student in high school meant trouble for the future. No one wanted to hire an idiot who couldn’t pay attention to anything.
At one point, Minato and this Junpei fellow were one and the same.
Minako’s words from their walk to school seemed to echo in his head.
“Just because someone is a little cocky, it doesn’t mean you should dismiss them right away. He’s probably just looking for someone to hang out with.”
Minato knew what he had to do. If he got in trouble, it wouldn’t be the first time.
He stealthy flicked his pencil off his desk so it landed right near Junpei’s feet. Minato got out of his chair and kneeled down to pick it up, catching the target's attention. Amidst the rampant gossip and chatter of his classmates, he ducked his head and spoke under the noise, just above a polite volume.
“It’s Fuyuhiko Yoshimura.”
Junpei’s expression changed. His face softened and he gave Minato a thumbs up under the desk.
The ploy had been a success.
Minato returned to his seat and watched as everything played out.
“I remember now!” Junpei lied, a casual smirk on his face. “It’s Fuyuhiko Yoshimura, right? Took me a second, but better late than never.”
The class was dead silent. Miss Toriumi looked to be a cross of shocked and ecstatic at his answer.
“That’s absolutely correct! I guess I was wrong, you were paying attention.”
Junpei simply shrugged, bashful at her praise. “Eheh, you know how I like to pay attention!”
Yukari glanced over at him, a little bit skeptical, but still just as surprised as everyone else. The class muttered amongst themselves as Miss Toriumi began to write something on the blackboard for the next lesson.
Junpei leaned over the divide between his and Minato’s desks. “Thanks, dude! You really saved my bacon there.”
Minato felt a semblance of pride at helping this boy, so he extended his hand between them. “Your welcome. . . dude,” he replied, unable to act natural.
Junpei chuckled and accepted his hand. “I have a feelin’ we’re gonna get along. Just give me a holler if someone comes pickin’ a fight, I’ll back you up!”
Maybe his sister was right for once, he really could be a nice guy.
“Say Junpei, do you like arcades?”
Me: Hey, Im bring a new person w/ us today
Baneofmyexistance: RLLY? WAT DAT NAM BOI?
Me: Remember that guy I was talking about this morning?
Baneofmyexsistance: AWWWW!!! Mina made a friend!!!
Me: I hate you
“So, what’s your sister like?” Junpei asked as they neared the school gates. “Is she cute? Funny? Single? Come on, don’t leave a bro in the dark!”
Minato was starting to rethink inviting his new companion on an arcade raid. As much as he thought Junpei was interesting and kind, there was no denying he was a hot-blooded doofus looking for a girlfriend.
“No, no, and questionable.” He sighed and shoved his hands in his pockets. “She could have an elephant in her room and I wouldn’t find out until next year.”
Junpei seemed to like the answer, clapping his hands together. “Oh, the mysterious type! I like where this is going.”
Minato scoffed at his assumption. “She’s about as mysterious as a bag of potato chips. Seriously, she’s not into dating anyone so I would just give up now.”
When they were almost to the gates, Minako was standing vigilant with perfect posture and head held high. Her brightly colored headphones were over her ears so she didn’t hear that the pair of boys talking about her.
By the time they were within arm's length, she noticed them and removed her headphones in a hurry. “So your my brother’s new friend! It’s about time he finally tried making one!” she exclaimed. “I’m the wonderfully talented Minako Arisato!” She threw him a quick wave. “Minato told me how you two met yesterday. Thanks for reaching out to him since he’s new and all.”
Junpei smiled and shook his head. “The pleasure’s all mine! He seemed a little quiet during class so I decided to reach out to him.”
“I’m always quiet,” Minato interjected, starting to walk away. “Let’s just hurry up and get to the arcade.”
The other two flanked him on either side. “Ignore him when he gets moody. Minato is actually a big nerd on the inside. He has an entire box at our dorm filled to the roof with vintage video games.” She bumped her brother’s shoulder. “When you move to the boy’s dorm, you should invite him over.”
Junpei gasped, breaking from his cool guy act. “Dude! I love vintage games! Man, I have so many at my house too! What do’ya got?”
Suffice to say, the trio spent the good part of their trip to the arcade raving over games. Minato felt like it was a good choice to invite Junpei along.
He hadn’t smiled so much in a long time.
The Arisato siblings made it back to the dorm late. They decided to walk Junpei home after messing around at the arcade for a few hours. Some of the streetlights were beginning to flicker on as the sun sank lower in the sky.
“I like Junpei,” Minako announced as they were just about to walk inside. “He seems like a good fit for you, all outgoing and friendly. We should ask him if he wants to study sometimes.” She held the door open for her brother. “What do you think?”
Minato shrugged and let himself go ahead. “Let’s not go that far, I barely know him. Today was just a test ride.”
“Whatever, nerd. You were a Chatty Cathy the whole time he was with us!”
When they were inside, they weren’t the only ones in the lobby. Yukari was taking with an older gentleman, thin glasses resting on the perch of his nose. He also seemed to like the color brown as his entire suit was composed of it, just with different shades.
The man and the student had perked up and quit talking once the siblings were inside. “Welcome back you two. I’m guessing you went to the arcade again?” Yukari asked.
Minako nodded and pointed to Minato. “This guy brought a friend from class, Junpei Iori if my memory's still working. You know him, right?”
Yukari visibly shrunk at the mention of the boy. “Unfortunately, yeah.”
The man in brown chuckled at her reaction. “I see you do not approve of your new classmate’s choice in comrades.” He then motioned for the pair to come closer. “Please sit, I would like to speak to both of you before you retire for the night.”
Both siblings took up the offer, setting their book bags next to their feet. Minako wasted no time and began to talk. “If you don’t mind me asking, who are you, sir? I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
“I like your politeness,” he commented. “My name is Shuji Ikutsuki. I'm the Chairman of the Board for your school.”
“Ikut-Ikutsu-. . .” Minako tried to pronounce his name but failed horribly. She rubbed the back of her neck with an embarrassed chuckle. “Sorry, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like Arisato or Yuki.”
Minato reminded himself to grill her later.
Ikutsuki waved her off. “Hard to say, isn't it? That's why I don't like introducing myself. Even I get tongue-tied sometimes.” He weaved his hands together, laying them neatly on his lap. “I apologize for the confusion regarding your accommodations. However, it may take a while longer before you receive a proper room assignment.”
Minako snapped her fingers in mock anger. “Rats! We have to stay in a quiet dorm where we don’t have to share a room with strangers or weirdos.” She then got serious and gave him a small bow. “In all seriousness, we don’t care where we go at this point. Please take all the time you need to sort things out.”
“I surely will.” Ikutsuki then turned to Minato. “You’ve been awfully quiet over there, do you have any questions to ask?”
Nothing came to mind other than what happened on their first night.
“When we first got here, we saw something strange.”
The Chairman looked concerned. “Strange? I can’t imagine anything strange in this neighborhood. Perhaps it was a simple fabrication of the mind.”
Yukari was silent, but she glared at Minato to stop. He simply ignored her and looked Ikutsuki in the eyes.
Minako was quick to step in and disperse the growing tension. “We were both really tired that night! Like ya’ said, I’m pretty sure it was just our minds playing tricks on us!”
Ikutsuki nodded at her. “I wouldn’t worry about anything unless someone was injured. In that case, I would gladly answer to anything of that sort. Are there any other questions?”
Minato knew that something wasn’t right, but he dropped the conversation and left his sister to clean up the mess.
“Nope! We’re both caught up on everything.” Minako pulled Minato to his feet and pointed to the clock on the wall. “It’s getting’ late so we’re gonna turn in early. We wouldn’t want to hold ya’ up!”
The man stood from his chair. “Of course, you must be tired from all the earlier excitement and I must speak to Mitsuru. Please get some sleep. As they say, the early bird catches the ‘bookworm’!”
Yukari sighed and leaned back into the couch cushions. “You’ll get used to his puns.”
Minato seriously doubted that he would.
Mitsuru and Yukari sat at a large consul. A screen displayed both Minato and Minako sleeping in their rooms, both unaware that they were experiencing the Change. Neither of them showed any signs of waking up soon.
Ikutsuki stood behind the girls and thought aloud to himself. “Hmm, they are still sleeping.” He began to pace the room as the white noise of the computer filled the silence of the room. “The Dark Hour occurs every day at 12 midnight; you could say it's the ‘hidden’ hour. During this time, an ordinary person Transmogrifies into a coffin, and is oblivious to all that occurs.”
Yukari turned around in her spot. “So that must mean...”
“As you can see, they have retained their human forms. They are asleep but definitely experiencing the Dark Hour. The only question that remains is whether or not they have the potential. Although, they must. . .”
He paused and looked out a window at the far side of the room. The green sky cast an eerie glow on the dark brown carpet. “If they didn't, they would've preyed on them by now.”
“Scary. . .” Yukari whispered.
Ikutsuki came away from the window. “In any case, we should continue to monitor them for a few more days. We’ll go from there.”
Mitsuru typed a few commands into the consul. “Yes, sir.”
Yukari turned back around and spared a glimpse at the two resting figures. Though they both acted like polar opposites during the day, she could see the family resemblance at the base level. Thin mouths that parted ever so slightly, curled up as if like cats, and eyes that occasionally twitched as if disturbed by a dream. They constantly tossed and turned under the covers; it was a wonder that they didn’t fall out of bed. Occasionally, one or the other would mumble some incoherent garble before returning to silence.
They looked almost like children as they slept.
It was creepy just to think about.
“I feel kinda bad, though, spying on them like this. . .”
Mitsuru ignored the statement and focused on monitoring their vitals.
Minato opened his eyes into a hazy dream. His mind was clouded and lights seemed to rush past him in a flurry. It almost hurt to sit up, but somehow, the junior was able to raise his head out of the stupor.
“About time you got here.”
Minato grumbled at the familiar bluster.
He scratched his previous statement. If Minako was here, it was a night terror.
The two sat side-by-side on a plush blue couch that looked more expensive than all of their belongings combined. Both of them were in the same clothes they wore coming from the train station on their first night.
Minako looked away from him and set to inspecting their surroundings. “What kind of place is this? Some kind of fancy hotel?”
He took a gander and saw he was in a large room colored in different shades of blue. The wall in front of the couch was covered in chain-link, lights flying past as if the room was moving up. A large clock with spinning hands also took up the wall and seemed to be made entirely of gold.
Minato drew his attention down from the clock and saw that he and his sister weren’t the only ones in the blue room.
Across from them was a man with a large nose, sitting in a chair much more expensive looking than the couch. Two well-dress individuals, one man and woman stood on either side. They carried large books and watched the siblings closely. The two parties of people were separated by an elaborately decorated table.
After a long stretch of silence, the man in the middle spoke.
“Welcome to the Velvet Room, my dear gentleman, and lady.”
Minako, as per her real self, sat up straighter. She had to clear her throat of any obstructions before speaking. “Um, t-thank you for having us?”
There was another stiff beat of reticence. The large-nosed man seemed to be content with the peace, leaning forward as if he were waiting for something more. Minako tugged at her collar. “If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your name?”
The man’s persistent smile grew wider. “My name is Igor. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.” Igor then motioned to the other two. “This is Elizabeth and Theodore. They are residents of this room, such as myself.”
Both of them bowed to Minato and Minako. “It is a pleasure,” Elizabeth said, voice cool and relaxed.
Theodore simply let her make the greeting, nodding to make himself known.
“Ever a man of words. I trust you, he is simply a little shy at first meetings.” Igor beguiled then focused back to the teens. “This place exists between dream and reality, mind and matter. It has been years since we have had a guest, let alone two at the same time.”
Minato yawned, finally choosing to speak up. It was a dream, after all. “I take it you guys are particular about who comes in.”
“Astute observation, young man.” Igor waved his hand and something appeared on the table in front of them. It was the red book that the boy asked them to sign. “Only those who have signed the contract can enter this place. Henceforth, you shall both be welcome here in the Velvet Room, so long as you uphold your obligations.”
Minako nodded along as he spoke. “Okay, but why are we here? There has to be a reason.”
Igor chuckled, placing the contract on the table in front of him. “You two are destined to hone your unique abilities, and you will require my help to do so. I only ask one thing in return. . . that you abide by the contract and assume responsibility for the choices that you make.”
Minato narrowed his gaze.
Something wasn’t sitting right with him.
“Is this a dream?”
“Precisely!” Igor answered, making the contract disappear as if he were a magician. “You are fast asleep in the real world as we speak. This visit of ours is merely a dream. However, you two will come here of your own accord, sooner or later.” He snapped his boney fingers. “Hold on to these. All guests must have one.”
In place of the contract, two bronze keys sat waiting in its place. Each one was identical with a mask on the head: cut in half with the two sides inverted of one another.
The only difference was that one smiled while the other frowned.
Minako took her key first, the smiling face matching her own. Minato tentatively grabbed the other, the frown seeming to mirror his own.
It was much lighter than he thought it would be.
Igor gave them a low bow.
“Until we meet again. . .”
The room vanished into a black void, leaving Minato to the darkness of sleep once more.
He still felt the cool metal of the key in his hands.
I don’t usually write in this notebook Minako gave me, but I thought I’d give it a chance. She paid for it anyway.
Today was okay. Turns out Junpei isn’t a terrible guy. Maybe a little abrasive, daft, and thick-skulled, but at least he’s honest. My face hurts from answering his questions.
The only downside is that the idiot and he are thick as thieves.
Turns out my homeroom teacher is really nice. She likes books. I think I’ll enjoy her class the most. I also have to find a book named “Mangekyo” by Fuyuhiko Yoshimura. Miss Toriumi talked a lot about him during the lesson today.
We met the Chairman of the School Board after our trip to the arcade. Something about him doesn’t seem right, but maybe that’s because he like puns.
I’ll keep an eye out.