In movies and TV shows, they love to sugar coat the Intensive Care Unit.
The heart monitor hooked up to the patient is constantly beeping. Loved ones weep over the bodies of the main character, their faces uncovered so everyone gets to say their final goodbyes. Doctors shake their heads, unable to save the poor should. All is quiet without a single peep to disturb the fragile silence.
However, as Minako learned in the hall of Tatsumi Memorial Hospital, she realized the movies lied.
At first, all seemed at rest. It was the middle of the night, so things were supposed to be slow going. Minako sat with one of her arms bandaged, stitches on her shoulder hidden by a clean sweatshirt that had been grabbed by Mitsuru on the way to the hospital.
The change between the stillness and chaos was like flipping a switch.
Nurses with crash carts rushed around the hallways to save patients, shouting orders to move aside. Doctors hopped between rooms and only stopped to change out their bloody gloves for fresh ones. The air grew unbearable to breathe after a time as the tension continued to build.
Minako simply placed her hands over her ears to block out the noise. She prayed that her brother’s room was left alone, feeling her eyes sting from unshed tears.
“Oh God, he’s just a kid.”
Just as quickly as it came, the noise came down to the familiar hum.
Patients stopped trying to die and went back to sleep.
Minako removed her hands from her ears. She took a shaky breath and told herself everything was going to be okay.
Her brother was young and tough.
He would get through this bump in the road.
He had to.
The door beside Minako opened and a nurse came out, a mask covering her mouth and nose. She barely spared the girl a glance before going about her business. There were other people that needed help.
A doctor followed behind, stopping at the doorway. He looked to Minako and put a hand on her shoulder. “You’re the boy’s older sister, correct?” he asked.
Minako glanced up at the man.
"Is everything okay?"
The doctor nodded and kneeled down beside her chair. Taking both her hands in his own, he smiled. "I apologize for how long it took but I can assure you, everything went as planned. He'll make a full recovery."
Feeling the hours of waiting come crashing down on top of her, Minako took a deep breath. Each moment had been worth the anxiety.
“Can I see him?” she said.
The doctor nodded and helped her stand. He guided her inside the dimly lit room. “I would ask that you be quiet and not to touch anything. We have him stable, but he is still very weak from his procedure.”
Minako gulped but put herself on autopilot to answer.
The room smelled like hand sanitizer. Another door was open to show a private bathroom for the patient and visitors. Machines hummed in all corners of the open space with a curtain drawn back to show the bed.
Minato laid in bed, motionless and connected to all sorts of contraptions that Minako could only gawk at. Perhaps, if he were awake, he might show off by rattling off the names one at a time. A tube reached into his mouth to help clear out any smoke from the fire on the rooftop. She knew he would be receiving a feeding tube later if he didn’t improve. IV’s ran up into his arms and supplied him with medications to sedate the pain.
The doctor began to lead Minako back out into the hall. She could barely muster the strength to fight back, though she wanted to. All she seemed able to do was drag her feet along the slick tile to slow the doctor down.
“I can’t allow you to stay with him. You will have to come back during visiting hours in the morning.” He walked with the distraught sister to the lobby, holding her steady. “He’s young and strong, there’s no doubt he’ll pull through just fine. Go home and rest for a few hours. Come back when you’ve caught some shut-eye.”
Minako hummed in agreement, her heart sinking with her decision to comply.
The doctor sighed. “I understand this is difficult, but listen to me: we will take good care of him. If anything happens, we’ll contact the dorm to bring you here. Luckily, I don't think that will be the case.”
“. . .Thank you.” she trailed off, seeing the lobby draw closer.
“Good girl, everything will be fine." Minako felt a gentle pat on her back. "Your brother will be in good hands.”
They both entered the lobby space. Ikutsuki, Yukari, and Mitsuru all stood up and flocked to the newcomers. The doctor explained everything while Minako stood nodding along. All she seemed to hear was static as the Chairman gave final instructions. Somehow, Minako was huddled away with Yukari holding on to her. A jacket was thrown over her shoulders, as if that could block out the cold she felt in her heart.
Outside, a car was waiting to take them all back to the dorm. Minako was set between Yukari and Mitsuru.
The whole ride was spent watching the streetlights fly by in a flurry of yellow light. Although it was still too early for anyone to be up, occasionally she spotted a pedestrian roaming the sidewalks. Minako made a game out of counting the number of people she saw.
It was a lame way to take her mind off of things.
By the time they were back at the dorm, everyone was half-dead and practically sleeping on their feet. Ikutsuki told them all to take the day off tomorrow while he handled anything that needed to be sorted out. The group trudged inside and began to settle in for Sunday.
Yukari had asked Minako something, but she couldn’t remember how she responded. She simply gave a default answer and climbed the stairs to the girl’s wing of the dorm. Her eyes could barely keep themselves open for much longer. The doctor was right, she needed to rest and get better before anything else happened.
Minako dragged herself to her room and refused to speak with anyone for the rest of the night.
By the time she got into bed and closed her eyes, she felt herself drift away into a dreamless sleep.
“Let us sit down and debrief last night’s events.”
The director gave Minako a hot chocolate and sat down next to her. She had been forced to stay home instead of visiting Minato that afternoon. Much to her chagrin, she could hardly get out of bed, even finding herself unable to walk down the stairs without wheezing.
She had been promptly stopped by Yukari who promised to go in her upperclassman's place.
Instead, Minako was treated to an explanation of everything that the dorm was via Ikutsuki and Mitsuru.
At least Minako got a sugary drink to calm her down.
Mitsuru sat across from the two. On the table in front of her sat a metal briefcase. “We should start by explaining what exactly you saw on your first night. Takeba had reported your brother mentioning seeing strange things on the way to the dorm, and if I'm correct, you experienced the same thing.” She crossed her legs. “Please recount from the beginning what you know.”
Minako felt like her throat was going to shrivel up, but she needed answers now more than ever. If it wasn’t for herself, it was for Minato.
“We’ve...that night wasn’t our first rodeo, to put it bluntly.” She took a pause to sip her cocoa. “It's always the same thing, every night without fail, the sky turns green and the water turns red. People are replaced with coffins. The moon gets bigger, a lot bigger. Electricity stop working. We have to use candles to get around. . .”
“Were there ever any Shadows?” Ikutsuki asked. “That is what we call those monsters that attacked us.”
“No, that was the first time we saw Shadows.” Minako’s mind wandered to the night the siblings arrived. “But the more I think about it, we could tell something was off. We heard a screech the day we got here, but we didn’t know how to bring it up.”
Mitsuru nodded and leaned closer. “Is there anything else you can tell us before we explain? Do you know when these events began to occur?”
Minako had to think carefully but soon came up with a rough estimate. “About ten years ago, around the time. . .” she trailed off and looked into her mug. “. . . after our parents’ died.”
A pregnant pause filled the space between the three. Mitsuru pursed her lips and glanced away from Minako. The latter felt herself back away into a mental corner, shutting off the memories of that night entirely before they consumed her.
“I’m over it by now. It’s all in the past anyway.” Minako said quickly.
Ikutsuki gave her a reassuring smile. “You’re not obligated to speak about you and your brother’s past experiences. It can hurt to bring up such things, especially around strangers.” He drew his hand away, checking his watch. “I’m guessing you would believe me if I told you that there are more than twenty-four hours in a day.”
Minako sniggered under her breath. “If you said that there’s a unicorn on the roof right now, I wouldn’t be surprised at this point.” She leaned back with a yawn. “Go on.”
“Very well then.” The chairman tapped his watch, discontinuing the snarky comment. “The event you have experienced over the years is what we refer to as the Dark Hour. Every night at midnight, this phenomenon takes place and changes our world. As you can probably tell, people are unaware of such changes, staying safely tucked away in a transmogrified state. The coffins are simply a shell used to protect the soul of the human it replaces.”
Minako felt a shiver run down her spine. “So there’s no people inside?”
Mitsuru spoke up. “It’s more precise to say that the coffins are the people in question.” She laced her fingers together on her lap. “Moving forward, there are individuals that can function in the Dark Hour and do not transform. Shadows prey on those outside their coffins and feed on their minds. It reduces them to a walking corpse.”
Minako thought back to the train ride and the rumors she heard at school. She set aside her mug on the table in front of her. “Are they responsible for all those people on the news and in the rumor mill?”
“Correct, but that is also where we come in," Ikutsuki said. "There are a rare few that can harness a special power known as Persona. Those that can summon a Persona are able to stand up and fight back against the Shadows.” The chairman swept his hand to the lobby. “This dorm serves another purpose rather than overflow, it is the base of operations for the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. You can call it SEES for short.” He turned back to Minako. “I know this can be quite a bit to take in, but I need you to sleep on something before Minato rejoins us.”
Mitsuru stood up and opened the briefcase on the table. Inside was a pair of twin guns that resembled Yukari’s. “We would like you to consider fighting beside us as members of SEES.”
Minako gawked at the weapons before her before Mitsuru picked one up and plopped it into her hands. “These were made not long after you came to the dorm. If you choose to join us, you will remain here and learn to harness the power of Persona.”
Ikutsuki stood and flattened the creases in his suit. “Of course you could always refuse the offer and leave this all behind. Whatever you chose, please bare in mind that Minato and you are under no obligation to join.”
Minako held the gun a little too tightly.
It was heavier than she thought.
Walking to school was an awkward experience.
Minako had busied herself with music to pass the time, but at moments she caught herself asking the empty space beside her a question. Strangers would give her confused looks before going back to their own business.
After years of companionship, the space beside her seemed barren.
It didn’t help that she now had the knowledge of the Dark Hour and Personas on her plate. She had a choice now to fight or stand aside without being able to interfere.
Risk her life and future or dive straight into the fray, neither option sat right with her.
All Minako wanted was her brother to wake up. She already missed his dry humor and poorly concealed disgust. It wasn’t fun going to school without him.
Junpei was waiting at the gates with his thumbs looped in his belt. When he spotted Minako walking along, he grew puzzled. “Yo, where’s Minato?” he looked past her as if he’d come walking up the path. “Did he miss the train or something?”
Minako threw on a fake smile. She had to go about her business as usual.
“He’s not feeling well, so you’re stuck with me today!”
“That sucks, I hope he gets better.” Junpei fell into step beside the senior. “You’ll never believe what happened yesterday! I finally beat that level in Castlevania that I was complaining about. You HAVE to hear what I did.”
Minako gasped, feeling herself smile for real. Things were going to be rough for the next few days, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t try to cheer up.
“Tell me everything! I want a full report on our way to class.”
The two continued to chat until the first bell rung. Minako parted ways with Junpei a little less gloomy.
The day practically flew by. Soon, Minako and Junpei were already making their way out of the school. The two had exchanged phones and were preoccupied with entering their information. Once they both finished, they switched back and snapped them closed.
“Just text me if ya’ need anything, I’m never busy,” Junpei said. “Make sure to tell Minato that he needs to get his butt back in school.”
Minako stuffed her phone away. “Thanks, and sorry we can’t hang out today. I’ve gotta get back and take care of the nerd.” She glanced away, feeling sheepish inside. “God knows what kind of trouble he could’ve gotten into while I wasn’t looking.”
“Don’t sweat it, I’ve got places to be too.” Junpei checked the time on his watch before groaning. “Shit, I’ve gotta get home. See ya tomorrow!”
And with that, Minako watched as Junpei sprinted towards the station to catch the next train. She took a second to breathe and relax.
Once she collected herself, she decided to take her time walking to the hospital. There was no way Minato had woken up today. She could stand waiting a bit longer.
Besides, going to school improved her mood significantly. She couldn’t stay moping around her room all day when there were things to do. Then again, when had she ever been one to dwell on her feelings for long periods of time?
At the mention of her name, Minako turned around to see Yukari running towards her with a folder in her hands. “I’m glad I caught you before you left. Mitsuru wants you to do something for her.” She stopped in front of Minako and offered her the folder. “Akihiko-senpai is in the hospital too. He hurt his arm during the attack and had to stay for a few days. Could you get these notes to him?”
The mysterious Akihiko Sanada, the boy who had gotten rid of the fan-girls. It would be her chance to get to know her new classmate without the intervention of hungry vultures breathing down her neck.
Minako took the folder with a nod. “It’s on my way, sure. Tell Mitsuru I’m on the case!”
Yukari smiled and turned to run back towards the school. “Thanks, I gotta get going. I have archery club until five today. See you later.” She then quickly scampered away to the gym and outdoor range.
Minako kept walking towards the station with the folder under her arm.
Reading a smudged room number on her hand, Minako made her way through the hospital corridors to drop off the folder.
A nurse had quickly rattled off Akihiko’s room number before running off to attend to another patient. Knowing that her scattered brain wouldn’t remember the number, she wrote it down with one of the hospital’s many spare pens.
The extended stay section of the hospital was much more relaxed. Fewer people needed emergency attention, consisting of post-surgery and overnight patients. Minato was going to be moved there tomorrow if his condition improved tonight. Minako saw Akihiko’s room number and stopped in front of the door.
She knocked softly, just in case he was sleeping.
Minako threw on a smile and leaned closer to the door. "It’s just Minako Arisato. Mitsuru sent you the notes from class today and some homework. Can I come in?”
There was a grunt of approval so the russet-haired girl let herself inside. However, a tall individual in a red coat bumped into her, leaving the room as she came in. He looked down at the newcomer with squinted eyes.
“Excuse me. . .” he said before stepping out the room, closing the door behind him. Minako took a moment to recollect herself from the experience before turning her attention to Akihiko.
Like Minato, he was laying in a bed. The sheets had been pulled back to reveal his left arm that had been bandaged heavily and put in a sling. He wore the standard hospital gown, but somehow still seemed just as imposing as when the first met.
Minako didn’t let it hinder her from being herself.
“I’m guessing you know that guy?” she asked, approaching the bed slowly.
Akihiko gave her a curt nod. “We’re friends, he just came in for a quick visit. He may seem rough around the edges, but don’t pay attention to it. Shinji wouldn’t hurt a fly without a good reason. Just don’t provoke him.”
“I’ve got no reason to, so that shouldn’t be hard.” Minako opened her bag and took out the folder. She had gotten tired of carrying it and trying to switch between songs, so she tucked it away on the train ride over. “Good thing Mitsuru put these notes together instead of me,” she giggled and handed over the hefty folder, “I like to practice my English. Sometimes, I forget I’m even writing in it before I need to turn the page.”
Akihiko accepted the notes. “Yeah, my English is still a bit rusty. It’s my worst subject right now.” He set the notes on his bedside table. “So how’s your little brother doing? Mitsuru never tells me anything.”
Minako closed her bag back up. “He’s recovering, but he hasn’t woken up yet. The nurses are gonna move him to this section if his condition improves tonight.” She crossed her fingers. “I’m holding out on the that. God knows I’ve said enough prayers and hail Mary’s for a lifetime. Although that prayer is a bit of a downer, it kinda fits ya’ know.” She paused, thinking to herself. “Maybe I should be saying the prayer for sleep? It might be better considering the circumstances. No, the prayer is supposed to be personal and for going to bed. Why didn’t the Vatican make a prayer for sick people?”
Akihiko gave her an owlish look. “Um...you okay?”
Minako stopped talking and came to attention. “Sorry about that. I tend to get on rants all the time. Thinking in my head really isn’t my style!” She rubbed the back of her neck. “Minato can usually get me to shut up, but he’s out of commission so. . .”
“Don’t worry about it. We all have our quirks.” Akihiko picked up his folder. “Thanks for the notes. It gets boring just sitting around doing nothing.”
Minako waved him off and stepped back into the hall. “Glad I could help. See ya later!”
She left the room in high spirits. The rest of her time spent in the hospital seemed far less depressing.
Akihiko came back to school the next day, but the two never spoke unless in passing. He was busy with his club and Minako was scrambling to find something to do after school.
For the next week, she had settled into a nice routine. She would meet Junpei at the school gates and chat with him before the bell rang. During class, she would be a good student and take her notes in English. Occasionally her fellow classmates would journey over to her desk and introduce themselves. Minako could proudly say she made a few friends from her interactions.
After school was spent catching up with Junpei and getting something to eat. The two would sometimes pop by the arcade and see who could get the highest score on the DDR machine. To no one’s surprise, both sucked at it and got chewed out by the better players.
At least Minako smiled knowing she had someone to be bad at it with.
Once the two went their separate ways for the evening, she dropped by the hospital to check on Minato. His condition grew steadily better, but for some reason, he still remained unconscious.
Despite the bad things, Minako continued to pray he would wake up soon.
By the time Sunday rolled around again, she was already feeling much like her old self. Junpei and her met up for another arcade run then grabbing lunch at Wild Duck Burger. Minako barely ate on account of spending most of the money she brought on games. She simply piggy-backed off of Junpei who ordered extra fries.
The younger student had to go home after eating, but both parted ways in good spirits. Minako automatically took the train back to the hospital. She felt a pang of hunger but ignored it.
Minako checked in with the nurse on duty before heading to Minato’s room. The women greeted her with a tired smile and warm hello before returning to her paperwork. It was around this time that she would be getting off of her twelve-hour shift.
Just as he always had been, Minato was sleeping peacefully in his bed. Minako made herself at home next to him and pulled out a manuscript to a story she had been writing for some time now. She passed the time by reading it over and revising dialogue that sounded clunky or awkward.
“It is with great sorrow, I hang my head and say unto you, death is waiting. There is but a short time left until we must part. . . My life may have been all but perfect, yet I know it was a life well done. Even as the angels send themselves upon me to cast my creator’s judgment, I fear not of Heaven or Hell. This life was spent in servitude to the endless pursuit of knowledge. Even in death, I still seek such sacred notions as I always have.”
Yes, I find that I have an answer to that greatest query of man! Life is not meant for such dwellings as what could have been or what has transpired. Life is-”
There was a resounding knock on the door to the room.
Minako stopped short in her reading and collected herself. “Come in!” she called, setting her manuscript aside. She started packing her things as the door opened up. “Sorry if I lost track of time. I was just-”
Much to her surprise, instead of a nurse or doctor, Akihiko stepped inside. He wore a red sweater with tan pants, a matching jacket slung over his shoulder.
“You were what?” he asked.
Minako snapped her mouth shut and shook her head. “My bad, Minato doesn’t get a lot of visitors. I thought it was the nurse kickin’ me out for the day.” She set her things back down and took a seat again. “So, what're you doin’ here? Shouldn't you be resting?”
Akihiko shut the door behind him. “I came in for a check-up, so I thought I’d drop in.” He hung awkwardly at the door, shifting his weight from side to side. “I mean, tt’s partially my fault that he got here in the first place. The least I can do is pay my respects.”
Minako shrugged and motioned for him to come closer. “I’m pretty sure he’ll forgive you. You’d be surprised how little this nerd cares about anything other than music or studying.” She leaned back in her chair. “Besides, it’s not like you had any other choice. No one was killed so don’t stress about it.”
“R-right, thanks.” he came closer and studied Minato. “You two look completely different.”
“That’s one way to switch the conversation!” she observed. “I take more after my mom and Minato actually took after our great grandfather. Funny how that worked out, huh?”
“That far back, huh? Must’ve been a shock to your parents.” Akihiko nodded along. “Do you two have anything in common?”
“Yup, we both have the same mouth: small and thin.” She pointed to her lips. “Ya’ might not be able to see it in your lifetime, but when he smiles, it’s identical to mine. Mine might be a touch bigger since I smile more.”
Akihiko chuckled at the joke. “Can’t argue with that-”
Minako’s growling stomach interrupted the boxer before he could finish. She rolled her eyes and gave a nervous laugh.
“Ah, the hunger pains have returned with a vengeance! Another thing Minato and I have in common is a high metabolism.” She snapped her fingers and gathered up her belongings. “I think I’m gonna head back to the dorm now and find something to snack on. All I’ve had to eat today were a few fries.” Once she had everything, she began to leave. “Stay as long as ya’ like!”
“Wait a second,” he objected, “I really only planned on popping in for a second and going back to the dorm.” Akihiko threw on his jacket. “You wanna grab something on the way back?”
Minako threw her hands in front of her. “Slow down there, Tex! I spent all my extra money on arcade games so I’ll just be sitting there frothing at the mouth like some idiot.”
Akihiko shrugged and straightened his collar. “Whatever, I can pay. It’s the least I can do since you got me my notes the other day.” He opened up the door for Minako. “That and you look like you could use some cheering up.”
The girl smiled and decided to just go with the invitation. “If you really don’t mind, I can’t turn down free food.” Minako threw on her coat. “Do you have a place in mind?”
“How come I never found this place?” Minako took a deep breath of the homely beef bowl restaurant. “I smells sooo good!”
Akihiko grinned at her satisfied reaction and led the way to the counter. “I come here all the time. You can’t get stronger without hard work and a diet full of protein.” He pulled out a chair for himself then his companion. “Make yourself at home.”
Minako thanked him and sat down.
A server came to them, a jovial man with a comforting demeanor. He recognized Akihiko right away. “Welcome back, how’s the arm treatin’ ya’?”
“Better but I’m still out for the month,” Akihiko responded. “Really should’ve been on guard during that sparring match.”
The man chuckled. “You’ll be back before you know it.” He then turned to Minako who had been listening respectfully. “Well, who's this pretty little thing you got here? I’ve never seen you before, young lady.”
Minako gave him a tiny bow. “Minako Arisato, I’m new to the school so Sanada-san offered to show me the best place to eat in the city.” She gave him her award winning smile. “If the food tastes half as good as it smells, I think I’ll have my new favorite restaurant!”
“Well, you came to the right place!” He turned back to Akihiko. “The usual?”
“Yeah,” the boy motioned to his partner, “and make that a double.”
“Coming right up!” The server left to go prepare the food.
Minako leaned onto the counter. “So what exactly did ya’ get?”
“You’ll see.” Akihiko said.
The two fell into polite conversation as they waited. Akihiko took the lead and seemed more than happy to discuss how to craft a balanced workout. Minako simply listened on, throwing her two cents in when she felt like he was slowing down. Mostly, she took to scooping out what kind of person he was.
If there was anything she knew about the mysterious bot, it was the fact that he was awkward.
He would almost never look her dead on for more than half a second. There always seemed to be something that caught his attention, either that or he was too nervous to hold eye contact for long periods of time.
Akihiko also had trouble keeping still. His knee was constantly bouncing or his fingers were drumming on the wooden counter. A few times, Minako expected him to get up and go for a jog to the dorm in back. She suspected he was anxious to get back into hardcore training, but maybe it was something much deeper.
On the other hand, Akihiko was passionate. The way he talked about lifting techniques or running trails in the area made him light up like a firework. His eyes seemed to shimmer at anything pertaining to getting stronger. Nothing else caught his fancy more than being the best. At times, it seemed like all he thought was strength and training.
Even still, Minako could tell he loved to work hard and reach a little higher than the day before. It was something she could respect.
Minako broke out of her thoughts as the server came back with two large bowls stacked high with beef and noodles. The whole dish looked like it was made for a giant. He placed both bowls in front of the two with a nod.
A weight dropped in the girl’s stomach as she stared down the behemoth in front of her. She wondered to herself if she could even get halfway through the thing.
Their server placed down two pairs of chopsticks and some napkins. “Enjoy kiddos! I’ll be around if ya’ need anything.”
With that, he left to assist other customers.
Akihiko wasted no time, picking up his utensils. “Better dig in before it gets cold.” He then shut right up, barely taking the time to breathe as he practically inhaled the dish.
Minako steeled herself and faced down the beef bowl. If there was one thing that Minato and she also had in common, it was a competitive streak. She made a quick sign of the cross, brandished her weapons, and prayed she wouldn’t throw up.
The two ate in silence, demolishing their meal at an ungodly pace. Minako found it easier to digest since the food was fantastic. She didn’t know if she could survive if it tasted sub-par or worse. It was even better since she had barely a scrap of nutrition all day, leaving room in her rapidly filling gut. Maybe it was a good thing that she blew all her money on a claw machine.
It took a good twenty minutes to finally reach the end of her culinary journey. The last bite was the most triumphant moment of the day and signified herself as a true champion over the beef bowl monster. It didn’t even matter that Akihiko was already done a few minutes ahead.
Minako let out a long sigh and pushed her empty bowl away. Her stomach felt like it was going to burst, but good free food was a blessing from God. “That was the best meal I’ve had in forever! I can die happy.”
“Glad you liked it.” Akihiko peered over at her bowl. “I’m impressed, you really polished that.”
“What can I say?” Minako said with a smirked. “Arisato’s don’t leave food untouched.”
Akihiko seemed pleased. “That’s what I like to hear. Are you ready for round two then?”
Minako wavered but wanted to be polite. She did her best to hold back her disdain to eat anything else. “Ready and waiting! I could go for something else.”
She must have been lousy at concealing her pain. Akihiko raise an eyebrow at her strained answer. “You don’t have to push yourself to make me happy,” he assured. “Eating right is a big part of building up muscle, you know. Forcing yourself won’t do any good.”
Minako gave him a tiny grin. “Sorry, ya’ can’t really turn down food someone else paid for. Thanks for understanding.”
“Just don’t go overboard. That kind of thinking will make you sick.”
The server came back around and scooped up their bowls. “My stars, I’ve never seen a lady finish off the extra large bowl! What a fine girl you are!” He leaned over to Akihiko. “This one’s a keeper. Better steal her before some other chap scoops her up.”
The boxer ducked his head. “S-shut up, you’re gonna make her uncomfortable. We barely know each other yet.”
Minako poked his shoulder. “Aw, come on buddy! I think I’m quite the catch. Are you just too shy to admit your undying love for me?”
“And she’s got herself a sense of humor!” The owner of the shop gave them both a curt nod. “Treat her right, my boy. Bring her back anytime!”
Akihiko watched the man leave before leaving their dues, plus a little extra for a tip. He shook himself out of his earlier humiliation and turned to his companion. “Let’s jog back to the dorm. It’ll help the food digest faster.”
He really was a fitness nut, but at least he was an earnest young man.
Minako found herself enjoying the run, even if she was wearing a skirt.
Once again, Minako found herself in the Velvet Room that night.
Igor sat in his chair with Theodore and Elizabeth dutifully at his sides. He gave her the same wide smile he always seemed to wear. “Welcome back, young lady. The young man has already awakened to his power: Orpheus. It is quite interesting he would receive the Master of Strings.”
“I really don’t know what that means.” Minako shifted on the couch. “Um, can I ask you a question about this Persona business? I got a brief explanation, but I still don’t get it.”
“It is my job and distinct pleasure to assist in any questions you may have.” Igor shrugged. “Well, maybe not every question.”
Minako took a deep breath. “What in the world are we dealing with? Why do we have these powers? What even is a Persona?” She hung her head. “It just all seems so surreal. Nothing makes any sense ever since we got here.”
Igor made no attempt to change his expression. “Humans are limited in their knowledge of Personas. They are blameless in not understanding the complexities of power that they hold within themselves.” He motioned to the table between them. “Allow me to shed some light on the subject.”
A set of five cards appeared in front on Minako. Each one had the same face that was emblazoned on the Velvet room keys. “A Persona is a facet of one’s personality that surfaces as you react to external stimuli. You can think of it as a mask that protects you as you brave many hardships.”
Theodore stepped forward and opened his book. “As a guest of the Velvet Room, your Persona is only a fraction of your full potential. There is still a great power that dwells beneath the surface: a gift only you can control. The same goes for the young man.” He snapped the book closed “That being said, you and your brother’s powers are still weak.”
Minako leaned forward. “What do ya’ mean? Minato was able to completely demolish that Shadow the other night like it was nothing!”
The card closest to Igor flipped over to show a man carrying a bag with a dog at his heels. “When you use your Persona ability, you must channel your inner strength. The ability evolves as you develop your Social Links: your emotional ties with others. The stronger your Social Links, the more powerful your Persona ability.”
Minako felt her head begin to hurt just thinking about it all. “There’s so much I don’t know.”
“It will all be learned with time and patience, young lady.” Igor waved his hand over the cards and they vanished once again. “As you humans say: Rome wasn’t built in a single day. Fortunately, a Persona is much less complicated than building an empire.”
The girl sighed. “Why do I get the strange feeling you’re lying about that last part?”
Elizabeth chuckled into a white-gloved hand. “Humans, so skeptical of everything that is presented to them. What an interesting species.”
Theodore shot a harsh glare at the amused attendant. “Do carry yourself with a semblance of decorum, dear sister. We couldn’t let our guests think of us as an unprofessional bunch. What would Margret say if she were here to see your indecent behavior?”
“Be still, my dear Theodore. It was all in jest.” Elizabeth waved him off. “What is life in this room without a hint of fun now and then? Do relax and enjoy yourself while you can.”
Minako marveled at the two before the clock on the wall began to chime.
Igor perked up ever so slightly. “It looks as if our time has come to an end, my dear.” Igor held out his hand. “I must speak with the young man before he wakes in your world. The next we meet, it will be of your own accord.”
“Minato is gonna be here?” Minako whipped her head around. “Can I talk to him? I need to know if he’s okay.” She quickly got on her feet. “He’s had me worried sick all week! That nerd is in so much trouble when I see him!”
Igor didn’t answer but instead waved her off. Minako’s vision began to blur as if looking into a mirage. Much to her disappointment, she felt herself falling back into her reality.
All she could hear was Igor’s faint laughter echoing in her dreams.
“Until we meet again, I shall pass along your message.”
March 5th, 2010
I think back to my first night at the dorm.
I wonder, if I could go back and tell them about what I knew, would they listen?
I suppose it's too late to say.
For the last time,