Sunday, June 16, 2013

Persona x Detective Naoto: White and Black

Translated third chapter of the Persona x Detective novel.

White and Black

[In addition to referring to “complete opposites”, this is also a nod to Naoto and Sousei’s surnames -- the “shiro” in “Shirogane” means white, and the “kuro” in “Kurogami” is black.]

April 1   Yagokoro Police   Fifth Basement Floor   Special Forensics Division

The next morning at six AM, I was in the director’s office drinking the wake-up coffee that Tsuge-san had made. The coffee was perfect in the chilly air that suffused the fifth basement floor.

“Hoho... Boy, that really looks good on you!”

Tsuge-san was energetic even in the morning.

“...Haa, thank you, very much.”

On the other hand, it was only natural that I should give such an unenergetic answer. Though I was a girl, being fussed over as one was troublesome to begin with.

As was to be expected, the Yagokoro High School uniform that had been prepared for me was that of a “male student”. Of course, if a girls’ sailor uniform had been prepared, I would also have been lost. As far as the problem of my body went, my feelings were complex.

“...Tsuge-san, coffee for me too. Thanks as always.”

Touko-san entered the director’s office, languidly brushing up her glossy black hair. After throwing out a single “Good morning” in greeting, she audaciously threw her curvy body across the sofa.

“I see you’re working hard this morning, Touko-san.”

“...I didn’t sleep.”

“Was there a problem with something?”

“...The other matter. I have to devote all my time to it, so it’s really a great help that I can leave the Yagokoro High School case to Naoto.”

Incidentally, it didn’t seem that Touko-san cared at all that I was dressed as a male student.

Touko-san knew my true gender. On the contrary, when we first met and I appeared much more androgynous than I do now, she said, “...What a cute girl,” and realized my gender at first glance like few people had before.

It may have been that, because I myself was as uncertain as I looked, I was unconcerned with limiting how I acted in front of other people.

“Yes, Queen, the strong lukewarm coffee you ordered.”

“Ah, that’s right, you were drinking lukewarm coffee yesterday too, right, Touko-san? Is there a reason for that?”

I had the memory of Touko-san unhesitatingly choosing the stainless steel cup to which Tsuge-san had added the “least hot” coffee yesterday.

“…It’s so I can be ready if anything happens. The faster I can down it the sooner I can mobilize, right?”

As I looked at Touko-san, who answered with a serious expression, I nodded in admiration. “I see.” Giving deep thought to even seemingly trivial matters was just like Touko-san, and I honestly respected her for it, but:

“She’s lying, you know. She just can’t take hot food. Touko’s always been bad with hot things.”

Tsuge-san whispered into my ear as he passed right beside me. At the same time as I was surprised that even the absolutely flawless Touko Aoi had a weak point, Touko-san, who had been bluffing, laughed cutely.

While taking a cup from Tsuge-san, Touko-san said, “How is he?” and lifted her upper body from the sofa sleepily. “It’s pretty soon, but he can go,” Tsuge-san responded, and Touko-san said, “Naoto has school, so I’d like you to hurry,” downed her coffee in one go, swung both her legs like a pendulum, and sprang up from the sofa.

I also reluctantly left the director’s office to move to the adjustment room where Genesis was sleeping.

I still harbored a bit of a grudge. Touko-san had her reasons and was keeping silent, but I was skeptical about her real intentions in making Genesis and I into partners.

I would not be able to work with someone who acted like he would kill me without even harboring any ill will, even if it wasn’t on purpose. In this case, if our two-man cell encountered danger while conducting an investigation, we would not be able to each entrust our back to our partners, as would be normal, and so it would be much preferable and I would feel more at ease if I were to conduct an independent investigation.

On this floor with a good view all around, only the adjustment room was enclosed in white walls.

The twisted iron door grated as Tsuge-san opened it. The inside of the room was crowded and lined with digital machinery. In the center of the room was a leather-covered reclining chair like one might find in a dental clinic, and Genesis in question was sleeping on that chair. His sleeping face was calm, as if yesterday’s beastlike form had been a lie.

“Let’s reboot him.”

When Tsuge-san gave the signal, his subordinates in the room, the men in white lab coats, began to skillfully operate their keyboards while checking the huge display in front of them. When done, they hit the enter key so forcefully the noise was audible.

Incomprehensible character strings began to rapidly scroll across the display like a computer starting up. Then at the end, only one sentence, “ALL COMPLETE”, remained on the display.

The excessive machinery in front of me made me remember. Something like, “What was the experiment about?”

Tsuge-san had told me, “In the middle of the mind interference experiment, Genesis went berserk.” It was an explanation that I was unable to understand, as I was ignorant about robots.

I might as well try inquiring into the reason again. As I thought that, Genesis’s eyelids fluttered open as he lay stretched out on the chair in the center of the room. The light in his eyes had calmed down. His gaze wandered across his surroundings as if to ascertain the situation, until he was looking in our direction. At the same time, Genesis’s voice came forth.

“Gramps! You bastard! You screwed up again!”

The first words he spoke were swears.

“Don’t fuck with me! You crackpot scientist!”

Genesis jumped up from the chair like a spring, and the multiple colored cords connected to his body writhed like snakes and danced in the air all at once.

“Shut your trap! I warned you in the beginning there was a high chance of failure and you should give up!”

“You called yourself a top-class scientist and said you’d make it work!”

As Genesis ranted, his long legs took one stride after another in our direction.

“That’s why you’re called a crackpot, Gramps!”

“You’re the only one who calls me that!”

Genesis and Tsuge-san argued fiercely in each other’s faces and glared at each other.

“Umm, Touko-san, by any chance, could he still be berserk...?”

I asked, and, “...No, this is ‘normal’ for him.” Touko-san shook her head as she massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers.


I became seriously worried about the future.

I also thought so yesterday, but from this close, Genesis was very tall. He was slender when compared to the large Tsuge-san, but there was little difference in height. Touko-san was also tall for a woman, but even so, if the two of them stood back-to-back she would be about one head shorter than him, and as for me, there was a large height difference similar to that between an adult and a child.

The thing that surprised me most was Genesis’s “humanness.” I did not know any other Suppression Weapon that was able to use such fluent language as he. Though it wasn’t like his rude speech up until now was anything to be praised.

Touko-san moved, exasperated at the argument with no end in sight that the two of them were having.

“Both of you, be quiet.”

Touko-san declared coldly, and without wasting any movements, she grabbed their collars and spun them around. Coupled with her lack of sleep, they had put her in an unusually unpleasant mood.

The two of them stopped with their mouths half-open. It was surprising the way in which they both immediately made faces that said they were in a bad situation.

“...Che, Touko’s mad at us because you were so loud, Gramps.”

“...You too, Genesis. Don’t blame it all on me.”

“Oi! Gramps! How many times do I have to tell you not to call me by that codename ‘Genesis’! My name is Sousei! ‘Sousei Kurogami’!”

[read Genesis, written something like “Sousei Record”]

“Don’t tell me to do things I shouldn’t in the Special Forensics Division! It’s good practice to call you by codename with the researchers! Touko is the only one who knows that Sousei means you!”

“...Didn’t you hear me tell you to be quiet? We don’t have much time.”

Needless to say, the two of them instantly fell silent in the face of Touko-san’s overwhelming intensity. It seemed that not just Tsuge-san, but even Genesis regarded Touko-san as an absolute authority.

“Naoto, I’ll introduce you again. This foul-mouthed kid will be your partner, Sousei Kurogami, formerly known as Genesis.”

“Ah? Touko, who the hell is this shorty?”

Sousei Kurogami stood with his arms folded and gazed down at me condescendingly.

“I explained it to you the other day, Sousei. This is Naoto Shirogane, the detective who will be investigating the ‘Yagokoro High School student disappearance case’ with you.”

Between his current rude behavior and yesterday’s violence, I still harbored a grudge, but nevertheless I said, “I’m Naoto Shirogane,” and bowed my head deeply, so as not to show a lack of manners at our first meeting.

“Oi oi. You’re joking, right?. You’re making someone as great as me babysit?”

Sousei Kurogami laughed deep in his throat.

“Anyway, I don’t feel like cooperating with the police at all, got it? I don’t have any intention of smoldering in this place forever. I want to go back to the Kirijo research facility as soon as possible and start the mission I should be doing as a Suppression Weapon!”

Touko-san laughed indulgently.

“So? Who was it exactly that smoldered away for how many years in that research facility? Well, Tsuge-san?”

“If I remember right, it was a robot who calls himself Sousei Kurogami, right?”

In the next moment, Sousei Kurogami raised his voice.

“W-wait! That was just because my Persona was in the ‘non-combative category’ and couldn’t fight! It definitely wasn’t because I was unreliable!”

It seemed like his Persona was also a non-combative-type.

“But now I’ve even successfully summoned a new combative-type Persona that can fight!”

Sousei Kurogami wore a truly frustrated expression. I see. Putting together the fragments of information, because he did not have a combative-type Persona, Genesis was labeled a “defective product” among the Suppression Weapons.

“Sousei!” Touko-san reprimanded him. “...Face reality. The summoning messed up.”

“That’s not all. You didn’t see it, Sousei, but you caused trouble for a lot of people when you lost your senses. Especially this boy, you attacked and nearly killed him, you know?”

Wearing a bitter expression, Sousei Kurogami sent me a fleeting look.

“...How would I know?. But it’s bad for people outside the division to come to this floor during a summoning.”

That was my limit. My distrust of Sousei Kurogami could increase no further.

“Touko-san. I apologize, but I will proceed with this investigation ‘by myself’. Please excuse me.”

I swiftly informed them and turned on my heel towards the elevator.

The reason was not just that I was angry. If I thought objectively, I would not be at all able to handle self-absorbed people such as Sousei Kurogami. It was a problem on which the other being a robot or a human had no bearing.

“Naoto, wait. I didn’t want to say it like this unless I absolutely had to, but please indulge me and let me speak.”

From behind me, Touko-san’s authoritative voice flowed.

“Naoto Shirogane, this is an order. Partner with Sousei Kurogami and investigate the ‘Yagokoro High School student disappearance case’.”

Furthermore, Touko-san added in an overbearing manner, “I’ll be your supervisor within this jurisdiction. You could say I’m your direct superior. You get it, don’t you? My orders are absolute.”

“...Please tell me the reason for this.”

I looked back over my shoulder and stared straight at Touko-san.

“I don’t want to say it like this either, but you do know I was nearly killed by him? Even so, there must be some reason for making him my partner, correct? If that isn’t the case, I cannot consent.”

I declared in one breath. Everything I had kept to myself came bursting out at once.

When I saw Sousei Kurogami out of the corner of my eye, he was standing with his arms crossed, wearing a complicated expression that I thought may have been apologetic.

“I didn’t really decide this on a whim. This was my intention from the beginning. That I sent word to you so that you would come to the Special Forensics Division office was also because I wanted you to meet Sousei.”

Touko-san began speaking in a composed voice.

“It’s common knowledge that Naoto Shirogane is an excellent detective and the Shirogane lineage and the police go way back; even so, there is a deep-seated reluctance among the police to submit investigation requests to outside individuals. They’re guys who believe it’s a matter of honor.”

Touko-san snorted as if to say they were stupid.

“In the beginning, I thought that I’d leave the investigation up to your judgment as an outside contractor, Naoto. At the same time, we would use this as a practice test to determine Sousei’s capabilities. Sousei and Naoto are both unmistakably outsiders from the police. The installation of the Special Forensics Division isn’t common either. That in itself is using up some of the budget. If we don’t show some results soon, the big shots will start complaining.”

“It’s asking too much for them to give us money and keep their mouths shut. The stuff that comes out of the mouths of total amateurs is really just annoying to us researchers.”

Tsuge-san shrugged his shoulders as he rolled his eyes.

“Also, taking into account the connection between the two incidents where Sousei’s rampage was stopped and where Naoto awakened to a new Persona, anyone would believe their partnership to be extremely fortuitous.”

“I see.” I readily grasped the first reason.

Even if it was the prestigious Shirogane family, naturally a complicated situation arose between the detectives and the police with the power of the state. I was familiar with that kind of treatment from my own experience.

Touko-san heartily slapped Sousei Kurogami’s rear.

“Hey! Touko!”

Without paying any mind to his confusion, Touko-san said with an extremely serious expression, “You should get along as fellow Persona-users. For now, give each other a ‘goodwill handshake’.

“What is it? Hurry and shake hands.”

Even at Touko-san’s urging, my arm would not stretch out obediently. My reasons for wanting to escape from a partnership with Sousei Kurogami were not logical, but rather emotional.

I was not confident that I would be able to well handle an impulsive person such as him. I still had not received an apology from him concerning yesterday’s incident. In addition to my dissatisfaction with his behavior, Sousei Kurogami also seemed uninterested in shaking my hand. As the victim, I had a better reason. Even if he didn’t remember going berserk, it did not mean I had to voluntarily acquiesce. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to shake his hand.

However, Touko-san finally said, “It’s fate. Shake hands immediately,” in a tone that said she would brook no argument, and we reluctantly shook hands.

Sousei Kurogami had an unusually large hand befitting his body. It was a bit formal, but the feel of his palm did not differ from my own.

Touko-san explained the general situation of the “Yagokoro High School student disappearance case” and quickly finished with, “I want you to read the report yourselves and drill the details of the case into your heads.”

“...Whatever. The faster we finish this job, the faster I can blow this joint! So let’s go, shorty!” Sousei Kurogami moved energetically to flee the room, but I immediately called him to stop: “Wait.”

“Please don’t call me that. I’m not a ‘shorty’. My name is Naoto Shirogane.”

Besides, I was not particularly short, but rather, Sousei Kurogami was so tall he would stand out in a crowd.

“...Huh?” Sousei Kurogami looked openly annoyed, as if he did not care about my objections.

“What, it’s the truth, you know? Nothing wrong with calling a shorty a shorty.”

“In that case, what if I called you ‘Simple-Minded-san’?”

“The hell! Who are you calling simple-minded? You picking a fight?”

“Aren’t those hasty reactions of yours ‘simple-minded’?”

Though Sousei Kurogami was threatening me from so close, I responded in a calm tone without batting an eye. “...Ugh.” Sousei Kurogami let out a short noise from his throat.

“For now, since we’ll be acting together as partners, please call me by my name. Then I’ll call you by name too.”

“...Damn, you’re a cheeky bastard.”

“My name is not ‘cheeky bastard’. Don’t get it wrong, ‘Simple-Minded-san’. All right? I’ll say it again. My name is Naoto–”

“Ahh! Geez! Shut up! I got it! I get it already! It’s Naoto! Naoto! That’s fine, right? So then you call me ‘Sousei-sama’.”

“Yes, understood, ‘Sousei-san’.”


“Ah, if we don’t hurry, class will end. Hurry up, Sousei-san. Won’t Touko-san get mad again if you’re too slow?”


I was not satisfied, but I gave a sideways glance at Sousei-san, who was nodding, and allowed myself a secret smile of relief. It could be said that our first meeting was tolerable.

Truthfully, losing my temper at Sousei-san was according to plan.

“Since I wanted the investigation to go smoothly, I wanted Naoto to grasp Sousei’s hand tightly,” was the advice that I received from Touko-san, which was helpful, but seemed likely to make my head hurt.

I needed to be able to control my investigation partner, more for my own sake than anyone else’s.

Sometimes crime scene investigations required attention to detail and patience, and so if Sousei-san, who was impulsive, was left to do as he pleased, who knew what would happen. A large sigh escaped me as if in answer.

April 1   Yagokoro Police Station   Parking Lot

It was several minutes after being delayed by Sousei-san. I had come to the back of the office that had been designated when we parted, but there was no one waiting, and all that was in front of my eyes were a number of police cars and a red sports bike.

I wondered if he had been impatient and gone on to school alone.

I had not meant to make him wait. However, I was caught by the assistant chief as I was leaving the office, so I had given up. I was finally released when I had reluctantly been made to give my autograph, which I had never done before.

“...Can’t he have waited even a few minutes? Honestly, it looks like this will be tough.”

It was right after that.

“–Ah? Isn’t it obvious? I won’t forgive you for making my great self wait even one second!”

I immediately spun around and looked at my surroundings. It was only natural. That had been Sousei-san’s voice, but his body was nowhere to be seen.

“Oi! Naoto! Over here, over here!”

“...Eh?” I couldn’t help the sound of surprise that escaped me. That was because I could hear Sousei-san’s voice coming from the red bike.


In the next moment, I was struck speechless. I was so shocked I couldn’t believe it.

To explain the reason, as I watched the red bike, it changed shape, and the next thing I knew, it had assumed Sousei-san’s form. A bike had transformed into a human figure right in front of my eyes.

“So? Did that surprise you? I’m a ‘transforming robot’! So you see, I’m different from those other robots!”

It was true that I was quite shocked. I, who still loved making plans for intricate devices, said, “...Amazing... That’s amazing! Sousei-san!” and was excited. What in the world were the mechanics behind it?

“I want to take you apart sometime...”


Sousei-san was looking at me dubiously. It seemed like I had somehow inadvertently spoken my true thoughts aloud.

“I-it’s nothing...”

Without thinking, I averted my eyes. I was embarrassed that I had forgotten myself in my excitement.

“...You’re weird. Well, whatever. Anyway, get on.”

The distance was not so great that I would be opposed to going on foot, but because Sousei-san said he would take me to school, I jumped onto Sousei-san, who had once again eagerly turned into a bike.

It was a sports bike characterized by a beautiful streamlined form. It seemed to be a bike meant for racing. If I straddled it, I felt that I myself might become a bike racer, and though we had not yet set off, I found myself lost in daydreams. However, Sousei-san’s words as he continued dragged me back to reality.

“I thought you’re really tiny, but your body’s light too, Naoto. Are you really a guy?”

I wondered if Sousei-san was joking. But he had a point, and so I sighed, “Haa...” and felt upset without much reason.

“Hold on tight!”

Sousei-san started to move. At the same time, my cheeks became hot. Just now, when I became conscious of my gender, the present situation in which I was straddling him between my legs embarrassed me again.

“Well, to be honest I don’t really like letting a guy ride, but you’re my partner so I guess I gotta. You’re special, Naoto! Be grateful to me!”

It was not my intention to hide my gender. It just so happened that I was presenting myself as a male student. That I spoke as I did and conducted myself as a boy was force of habit after many years.

[technically that she calls herself “boku”]

“...Yes. Um, thank you very much.”

I could not help but feel that I had missed the moment when I should have explained the truth.

Like the downtown school that it was, Yagokoro High School faced the street, and because it was morning, there was a large volume of traffic. That was where the bike came in handy. It nimbly weaved its way through the congested vehicles and arrived in the blink of an eye in front of the main gate.

The towering gate was made of brick. The white iron fences were also of elaborate design. The school building inside was not old but it had a retro design. Much money had gone into every aspect of the building, as was typical of an affluent private school.

–Yagokoro Private High School. It was the only private school in the Yagokoro area, and the number of students in the whole school was about one hundred people in each year, or three hundred students total. It was within the prefecture but was a prominent high school focused on preparing students for university.

It seemed that many students still commuted from the suburbs. Even when I was gazing at the school, students continued to be swallowed into the solemn gate one after another. However, as could be expected, I was the only one of the students in front of the gate who had driven up on a motorbike, and so I stood out immensely.

I briefly thought that this could be bad and was just thinking that we should remove ourselves to a place with fewer people. Sousei-san, whom I had been riding, changed back into human form, causing a stir among the crowd of people going to school.

“Geez, they’re all brats!”

He was drawing attention to himself, but even so, Sousei-san did not care in the slightest. On the other hand, Sousei-san had taken human form without so much as a word to me, so I had fallen on my behind on the asphalt like a cowboy that had made a mistake during a rodeo.

“...Eh? What’s that?” “A r-robot? Is it real?” “Are they filming a movie?” “No, isn’t it the robot the principal was talking about at the school assembly?” “Wha? He said something like that?”

The students were giving Sousei-san sidelong glances and whispering among themselves. It was as if they were meeting an alien creature.

I shook my head at the ring of students around us, keeping their distance. That we had stood out like this from the very beginning made me depressed.

On the way to the staff room, I said:

“Do you understand? Will you behave yourself as much as you can while I’m in class?”

I did not forget to give Sousei-san a warning based on his actions at the gate.

Concerning the presence of the robot called Sousei Kurogami within the school, it seemed that the police’s efforts had secured approval for him from the school. The information the students had been given had been something like “A cutting-edge robot will be visiting to collect data from the classes.”

However, seeing how wary the students were, it could not be said that they really had any understanding of Sousei-san, and if he did as he wanted, the resulting disturbance would be more attention-grabbing than a fire.

“Yeah! Leave it to me! I’ll investigate perfectly until after school!”

My warning did not reach him at all. My head was starting to hurt.

“In any case, you must absolutely not cause a disturbance.”

“You’re really annoying!”

“Do you know whose fault it is that I must be annoying?”

“Huh? Don’t you just have no balls?”

“If there’s any sort of problem, I’ll report it to Touko-san, all right?”

“Hah! What a cowardly shorty, bringing up Touko’s name like that!”

That was the limit of my patience. Something snapped within me at being branded a coward.

“Did you already forget the disturbance you caused at the school gate? If so, you must be unbelievably birdbrained!”

Because I raised my voice, the students inside the classroom glanced at us simultaneously.

“What was that! Who are you calling a birdbrain! You moron! Want me to shut that cheeky mouth of yours for you?”

Agitated, Sousei-san grabbed and lifted my collar. Unusually, the blood had also rushed to my head, and I matched Sousei-san’s in-my-face glare with one of my own. It was an explosive situation.

It was at that moment. The voice of what sounded like a cute girl echoed down the hall.

“Big broooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

“N-no way! Don’t screw with me! Damn, give me a break...”

The moment the girl’s voice reached his ears, Sousei-san became depressed as if the fire in him had completely disappeared.

I glanced in the direction from which the voice had come. “Whoa! Something’s coming!” The students that had come out into the hall jumped back to the walls to the left and right as if making way for Moses with the Ten Commandments.

This was a school hallway. Even so, why was it that I could hear the sound of an engine approaching as if from far away?

The surprising answer came several seconds later. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but what was approaching was not the young girl I had imagined from the sound of the voice – it was a scooter-type motorbike. It was an unmanned bike that closely resembled the famous Italian vespa, but it ran with the brisk sound of the engine echoing through the hallway.

“Big bro! Big bro! Can you do something for me?”

Like a small dog frolicking around its master, the unmanned bike ran in circles around Sousei-san.

“Shut up! Don’t run around me! Take human form if you want to talk!”

“Ah, I forgot.”

Again, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It wasn’t the first time a motorbike had transformed right in front of me, but this time it became a “girl”, so I was unable to remain composed. “Oh!” The students who were peering timidly in our direction also raised their voices in cries of surprise.

“That girl... is a robot...?” “...Isn’t she pretty cute?” “Yeah. So cute...”

As the students’ excitement showed, she was a lovely robot with a beautiful outward appearance.

From the fact that she too was able to transform from a bike, I deduced that she must also be a robot from the same generation as Sousei-san. Most likely she originated from the Kirijo Group. She might also have been a specialized Suppression Weapon. However, she was about half Sousei-san’s size. Her physical appearance also differed from the male Sousei-san’s, as she was a girl who looked to be about twelve human years old.

That beautiful female robot planted her hands on her hips and looked up at Sousei-san.

“Umm, when you finish work, I want you to buy the things on this list from the Junes in front of the station and bring them home.”

“Huh? You should just make Gramps buy it!”

“Sheesh! You always say things like that right away, Big Bro! We’re relying on Uncle Tetsuma, so you and ‘Ai’ should at least do the shopping.”

“Then ‘Ai’ should go. Leave me out of it!”

“It’s impossible for Ai! I’m busy with my chores, so I can’t do it today! That’s why I’m leaving it to you, Big Bro. Ah, I’m out of time, I have to go. Don’t forget to go shopping. Also, don’t cause trouble for other people! Ai is the one who always has to apologize afterward! So be good! Promise!”

The beautiful girl, with her cheeks puffed out, told him in a forceful tone as if for emphasis, suddenly shoved the memo into Sousei-san’s hands, and changed into a bike again.

“Oi! Ai! Wait! Wait up!

“Hey! Get back here!” Sousei-san’s attempts to get her to stop were in vain, as she slipped between the students, and with an energetic speed, disappeared down the hallway.

The mysterious robot girl had arrived and then departed like a shot. I was dumbfounded along with everyone else in the hallway, staring at the direction in which the girl had disappeared. Sousei-san’s shoulders slumped dejectedly.

I asked Sousei-san, and as I thought, that girl was also a specialized Suppression Weapon developed by the Kirijo Group. Looking tired, he answered that her name was “Ai Kurogami” and she was his successor.

The chime that marked the beginning of class resounded through the hallway and we finally came back to ourselves.

“...Er, she’s quite an energetic little sister, isn’t she?”

“...Yeah, uh, sorry about her.”

In the face of the storm called “Ai-chan”, the turbulent seas between us were only a trivial phenomenon.

April 1   Yagokoro High School

It was not the first time I stood in front of a class as a transfer student, but no matter how many times I did, the nervousness that accompanied this moment was not something I could grow accustomed to. At the homeroom teacher’s urging, I introduced myself, but:

“...Starting today, I’ll be relying on you for a while. My name is Naoto Shirogane.”

My words rang a bit hollow. Enduring my embarrassment, I raised my bowed head. When I did, the classroom was perplexingly filled with shouting. In particular, the cheers of the female students flew around the classroom, their lovely voices fiercely calling out “Prince!”, and even at the severe remonstrations of the homeroom teacher, who could not just stand idly and watch, the noise did not quiet down.

It was true that being welcomed was far preferable to being rejected, but I really could not hide my bewilderment at such an overly warm welcome.

“I’m so happy! I’m a fan of yours, Shirogane-kun!”

The girl in the seat next to mine spoke rapidly. “I’m Takizawa!” she introduced herself, and asked with some agitation, “...Is it all right if I get a picture later?”

When I asked, “...Why?”, the girl responded with a dizzying answer. “Huh? You don’t know, Shirogane-kun? Right now, there’s a ‘Detective Prince craze’ on the Internet.”

“Look! A collection of Prince photos on the Internet!”

I saw the display on the cell phone she held out and became more and more embarrassed. No, it went so far as to be frightening.

As to why, there were countless pictures of myself which I had no memory of being taken. Furthermore, until just now when word of this reached my ears, I, the one in question, had really not known of this “Detective Prince craze”.

It was discomfiting to know that my name had been spread somewhere without my participation. It was the sort of bewilderment one might feel if told by a doctor that they were a somnambulist.

My fame this time may have been due to good will gone wrong; however, if by any chance it was ill-intentioned – just imagining it, a shiver ran down my spine.

In the next moment, Kujikawa-san’s face surfaced in my mind. How much hardship did she suffer as a famous idol? It was surely the case that every day, she was the target of much more dangerous thoughts than I was.

Even so, my apologies to Kujikawa-san, but I thought, “Ah, it isn’t just me,” and was strangely reassured.

Only one week had passed since I had last seen her, but suddenly I felt nostalgic at the thought of Kujikawa-san. She was high-handed and impudent and was always looking ahead, and I strongly wanted to hear her voice.

Of course, it wasn’t as simple as saying, “If you want to hear her voice, then call her.” I could never say such an embarrassing thing, and if I did, her triumphant reaction would be annoying.

And so I spent the remainder of the class time thinking up excuses to call her tonight.

I adhered to the precept of “do your own legwork” that was the most basic of the basics of investigating.

For example, even if it was something written in the investigation file, if one went to the actual scene and made observations, it was often the case that they would have a different impression. Many times in the past, there had been cases where I had come upon a new line of reasoning by being able to look at the situation from a different point of view. Thus, I usually wanted to visit the actual scene as far as I was able and confirm with my own eyes and ears the details of the case. I thought what people said in the past, that “Hearing a hundred times does not compare to seeing just once,” was exactly the truth.

But it could be said that the case this time was quite tough. It seemed that “my legs would become tired.” I had mixed feelings about it, but it seemed that the “Detective Prince craze” was a blessing.

“You came to investigate the disappearances, right?”

“Yeah, yeah. That’s the only reason the prince would come to a remote school like ours, isn’t it?”

From the beginning, the people around me were cooperative about the investigation. Though in particular, they were the female students and students who introduced themselves as members of the newspaper club.

During break time, my seat was surrounded by female students overflowing with curiosity. “Get mochi from mochi sellers and information from newspaper reporters!” said the wildly excited newspaper club, and though I didn’t ask, they gave me information pertaining to the disappearance case. It did feel a bit anticlimactic, but I wondered if I should be grateful for everyone’s curiosity. It was just that I was fed up with the fact that I did not even have the freedom to stand from my seat and go to the restroom.

Just as had been in Touko-san’s explanation and report, the ones who disappeared were two students of Yagokoro High School. I had heard before that it had now been approximately two weeks since the beginning of the incident.

The first one who had disappeared was a then-first-year female student, Miyuki Midorikawa (16).

The one who disappeared next was a then-second-year male student, Shirou Konno (17).

“A connection between them? I never even saw them talking to each other.”

“I never heard about it either. She’s a delinquent and he’s the student council president. There’s no way they would be involved with each other.”

According to the newspaper club’s information, it seemed that the two missing students did not have any particular connection. That was consistent with the investigation report I had received from Touko-san.

“You want to know more about them, right? Won’t you come to the newspaper club room?”

It was data on the case that they, students of this school like the missing persons, had collected themselves. I had no reason to refuse. I headed to their club room. The newspaper club was borrowing one dusty corner of the document room.

According to their data, Miyuki Midorikawa had problems with her behavior and lifestyle, her grades had slumped, and she was insulted as a “delinquent” behind her back; the male students she had relations with were an extremely far cry from honor students.

On the other hand, Shirou Konno had impeccable conduct and excellent grades, and furthermore, was so much an honor student that he served as student council president. He was popular among the female students, but there were no particular stories of frivolous behavior.

The two of them were exact opposites and had no relation. We had thought of it as a serial disappearance case, but at present it was difficult to find a connection between them, so rather, I could only think that it would be more appropriate to believe that the two had gone missing for different reasons within a similar time frame.

I had finished inspecting the data, said “You’ve been of great help,” and it was just before I exited the small room.

It was said there was always a price to pay for good information, and the students of the newspaper club entreated me, “In return for us giving you the data, we want to write a ‘Know Everything About the Prince’ interview article...” I had no reason to refuse. No, there was no way I could refuse now. I said evasively, “Sometime soon...” and left the room.

Lunch break. While eating lunch in the school cafeteria with my female classmates, another intriguing rumor was mixed into information about the disappearances. It was about a certain incident involving the death of a female student.

“Right, this isn’t related to the disappearances, but half a year ago a second-year female student at this school died.”

“...Oh, that incident? That thing with the train... wah, just thinking about it makes me feel cold...”

It seemed that, about half a year ago, there had been an accident where a then-second-year female student fell from the Yagokoro Station platform, was hit by a train, and died. It had unfortunately been a limited express train. The limbs of the girl who was hit had been scattered across the platform. It seemed the scene at the time had been exceedingly gruesome.

They had not found a suicide note or will, so the police had declared the female student’s death an “accident”. However, the students knew that the girl had been worried about the Internet slander directed at her since about two months before her death, and there were still some who whispered that it had been “suicide”. In the end, it seemed it was only on the level of a rumor and the authenticity could not be verified.

In truth, it was a very intriguing story. My detective soul ached to begin an investigation immediately. However, it was unfortunate, but right now there were a large number of other matters that took precedence.

At the end of homeroom, the teacher told me sullenly, “Shirogane. Come to the staff room.” Having no idea why I would be scolded by the teacher, I knitted my eyebrows dubiously and followed behind the teacher.

“Your ‘companion’ has been causing trouble within the school, Shirogane. Honestly, it’s still just the first day...”

These were the details. While the female students were changing clothes after physical education, a boy with clothes of black and red said “I’m coming in,” threw the door open energetically, and invaded the locker room. As the dumbfounded female students returned to their senses and began to panic: “You’re noisy! Don’t shout! Like I give a damn about naked humans!” He became angry at them for their embarrassment instead of the other way around, and in the end, when he was chased after by the teachers who came running toward the commotion, “Che,” he clicked his tongue, jumped out the window, and fled. By the way, the girls’ changing room was on the third floor of the building.

“We had no choice but to approve the presence of that strange character in the school by request of the police. It’s too late and something has already happened to the students. Shirogane, if you don’t take responsibility and keep an eye on him, there will be trouble.”

Having finished listening to my homeroom teacher’s lecture, it was inevitable that I could only let out a leaden sigh.

April 1   Yagokoro High School   Rooftop

After school, I removed myself from the public eye and visited the roof at twilight, and the first words to leave my mouth were to quietly, perhaps cruelly, tell the red and black-clothed person whose large body that was hunched over small before my eyes:

“...Just as I promised, I will tell Touko-san about this.”

I took my cell phone from the pocket of my uniform and:

“No, don’t! Wait, wait! Listen to what I have to say first!”

Sousei-san panicked and stole my cell phone from me.

“…Are you trying to say that there is any legitimate reason at all in this world for you to brazenly invade the girls’ changing room?”

I hit him with my cold gaze as with an uppercut, and:

“Ah, no, I really wasn’t thinking. I know it was wrong. But! I definitely didn’t do it because I wanted to peek or anything!”

Sousei-san stared at nothing and mussed the hair on the back of his head as if he knew he was in a bad situation.

“...In that case, what are you saying was the reason?”

I stole back my cell phone. Then Sousei-san whispered with a serious expression.

“I thought I would do my own investigation while you were in class, Naoto...”

Sousei-san quickly cast his gaze around. There were only two shadows, one long and one short, stretched out across the concrete floor. After making sure that no one else was nearby, Sousei-san called out.

“–Come out! Tsukuyomi!”

When I laid eyes on the jet-black existence that manifested behind Sousei-san, I unconsciously spoke. “Persona...” It was a Persona with a massive body, matching that of Sousei-san, and its special characteristic was a design reminiscent of an electronic marquee on its head.

“The ability of my great Tsukuyomi is the ‘power to hear the voices left behind by the dead’.”

“That old man Tsuge called my ability something like ‘Past Reading’.”

“Wow...” My admiration slipped through. It was a very interesting ability.

“Hmph, but after all it’s a silly power, just being able to detect the past conversations of dead guys and transcribe them.”

“Um, I’d just like to make sure, but are you saying you can’t transcribe the conversations of living people?”

Sousei-san nodded.

“In the end it’s only if they’re dead. Then it’s ‘transcribing’ like I said, so what I can detect isn’t a picture or voices but just ‘words’. Instead I can visualize the words and a third party can read them. Look at Tsukuyomi’s face. The words that I detected are scrolling on this black part.”

It seemed that, just as it appeared, Tsukuyomi’s head played the role of an electronic marquee.

“It’s truly an amazing ability.”

There were limits, but if we figured out how to put it to practical use, it seemed like it would be an ability that would be of great help in the investigation.

“Hmph! This ability! I can’t stand it!”

It was a compliment that I truly meant rather than flattery, but Sousei-san shook his head with a grim expression. Judging by Sousei-san’s arrogant personality, it seemed that he was not simply being modest.

“...I see. In other words, Sousei-san wandered the school in order to detect the conversations of the dead?”

“Yeah.” Sousei-san grinned as he continually nodded.

“Think about it. What if the two students who disappeared aren’t in this world anymore?”

“...Ah, you mean the possibility that you would detect and transcribe their conversations?”

“Exactly.” Sousei-san thrust out his chest proudly.

It was unfortunate, but I could only conclude that Sousei-san’s deduction was not off the mark. About two weeks had passed since the disappearance of the two students. From experience, I had to say there was a high probability that the two were no longer alive.

“Naoto, you’ve got pretty good judgment, don’t you? Doesn’t look like you’re stupid. You’re qualified to be partnered with my great self.”

“...Thank you,” was my only reply, and, “I’m also relieved that you’re not as much of a fool as I thought,” did not leave my mouth, but I kept it to myself.

“So? How is this related to the incident in which you invaded the girls’ changing room?”

If his goal had been to see if he could detect Miyuki Midorikawa’s past conversations, it would have been completely unnecessary to do so while the female students were changing clothes.

“...That’s because my ability, uh, doesn’t have a really wide range of effect, or to be more specific, it’s good for a five-meter radius around me...”

Sousei-san spoke with an expression like he was sulking.

“You’re a Persona-user too so you know, right, Naoto? You’re concentrating really hard when you’re invoking your ability...”

“...In other words, something like this? You were concentrating on using your Persona’s ability and weren’t really looking around you, so you inadvertently entered the girls’ changing room?”

“Yeah! It couldn’t be helped!”

“...You astound me,” I grumbled from my heart at the boy whose white teeth were showing in a smile.

“...I don’t think it’s the case, but you didn’t let anyone see your Persona, right?”

“Don’t say stupid things! Like I’d screw up like that! Even if I saw those brats in their underwear, I wouldn’t let them see my Persona!”

I pressed my fingers against my temples. I withdrew my previous remarks. This person may have been much more of a fool than I thought.

“So? What did you accomplish, along with causing a riot?”

“...Hey, it’s like how the sun can’t always make every day clear and bright. Things don’t always go that well, you know?”

I gave a sidelong glance at Sousei-san, who was gazing distantly at the setting sun, and let out a large sigh. I could not help but feel that I had sighed enough for a year in today alone.

“Oh, by the way, what kind of ability do you have, Naoto?”

Sousei-san asked. Because of all the commotion, I had been putting it off completely, but because it was his partner’s Persona, I should have revealed it to him sooner.

“‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’ isn’t it?”

I nodded at Sousei-san, and with the words, “–Give me power, Amatsu Mikaboshi,” I summoned my own Persona.

“...Hmm, so that’s your Persona, Naoto?”

It was a Persona with an appearance similar to that of a conductor directing an orchestra. That was my Amatsu Mikaboshi. It was non-combative and not particularly gallant, but rather, its smart appearance well pleased me.

“Well then, Sousei-san. Try using Tsukuyomi’s ability.”

“Huh? Me? Even though you haven’t shown me your own ability?”

Sousei-san’s suspicion was pointless.

“Yes, that’s why ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’”

I smiled, and Sousei-san furrowed his brow and began to concentrate. Several seconds later. Tilting his head, Sousei-san looked back over his shoulder at me.

“...Oi, oi? What’s going on?”

Sousei-san’s expression was full of surprise.

“My detection range is wider than usual... It’s doubled to ten meters... No, it covers the whole roof, could this be... My true power has finally awakened!”

Sousei-san shouted with wide eyes. Of course, when he realized my palm was resting on his back, he said, “...there’s no way, right?” and shrugged his shoulders slightly.

“I get it. That’s how it is. The reason my Tsukuyomi’s ‘Past Reading’ is powered up is because of the power of your ‘Amatsu Mikaboshi’, right?”’

“Yes.” I nodded.

“This is the ability of my ‘Amatsu Mikaboshi’ – the ‘power to tune a Persona’s ability’.”

It was something I had experienced before. In the moment I summoned my Persona, all the information about “Amatsu Mikaboshi” was within me. It was a similar, instinctual knowledge as knowing that fire was hot without having to be told. This may have been due to the fact that my Persona could be called “my other self”.

“When I talked to Tsuge-san about my ability, he named it ‘Ability Tune’.”

“...Still, it’s a pretty boring ability.”

“Is that so? I like it. This power.”

That was because the power I had wished for was the ability to support someone.

“But you know, if you’re alone you can’t count on it, right?”

“On the other hand, my ability can be more than helpful if I’m with another Persona-user like you, Sousei-san. How is it now? What is your impression, having used your strengthened Persona?”

Sousei-san sent a glance at his own Persona standing behind him. “...Well, you’re right, this is new.” He nodded, wearing a complex expression. I couldn’t help but feel proud at his reaction.

“Well then, we know each others’ abilities, so let’s work together and begin the investigation immediately.”

It was clear what we had to do.

My “Amatsu Mikaboshi” would strengthen Sousei-san’s “Tsukuyomi”. Then we would go around and do an exhaustive search of the school premises. If we did not detect anything, then that was that. On the other hand, if we detected past conversations, it would be proof that someone who had once existed at this school had died. If the conversations were those of the missing students, the contents may be related to new findings unknown to the police.

“Well, let’s go.”

There was no time to lose. Well aware of the limited time we had in which to work, I took the initiative and headed for the entrance to the roof.

“Wait! Detective Prince! Before we go somewhere else, it’s not too late to take a look at ‘the past conversations detected here on the roof’, you know?”

“...You mean–”

I stopped walking and looked back. My gaze was directed at Sousei-san, the corners of whose lips were tilted upward confidently.

“I’m saying don’t be impatient. From the conversations I’ve detected, only one person has died. But you know, I haven’t been able to figure out if it’s from one of our targets or not. In the end, all ‘Tsukuyomi’ can detect are ‘the words of dead people’.”

“Yes, please leave the detailed investigation to me. I’ll see what I can infer about the person from the contents of the conversations.”

Deducing the truth from a limited amount of information – it was the perfect opportunity to display my detective spirit.

“Got it. Then I’ll show you my skills.”

Sousei-san held his palm over his head, toward Tsukuyomi, and on the marquee on its head, words that seemed to be the contents of the conversation appeared one after another one and scrolled through. It was a dizzying but exciting experience.

“...That’s right. Please allow me to ask a basic question. As far as the conversations of the dead go, about how far back in time can you detect?”

“If it’s just me, about half a year. This time I can pick up conversations from close to a year ago ‘cause you’re supporting me, Naoto. If you feel like it, it looks like we can go back two or three years? How ‘bout it?”

I shook my head.

“No, there’s no need to go that far back this time. What we’re interested in is the contents of the conversations just before the disappearances. Most importantly, Miyuki Midorikawa would not have matriculated into Yagokoro High School before two years ago.”

Sousei-san squinted one eye and snorted. “That’s true.

“Fine, I’ll go back to the beginning.” Sousei-san flicked his finger in thin air as if he were manipulating a touch panel, and the words shown on the marquee rapidly scrolled back. “...Next, please.” At my signal, he sent out the words in turn. During those moments, my eyeballs were surely moving restlessly back and forth.

“...Me being a slut... Why is that sort of unfounded rumor on the ‘Midnight Site’...? T-that’s terrible! It’s all lies! The stuff this Uzume guy is writing is all bullshit! He’s gotta have something against me... Yeah, that’s right... Everyone will get that it’s just a misunderstanding...”

“...How could... Why... Why is everyone falling for the rumors? Why are they believing the weird things posted on the site over the words of the person herself? I really, don’t get it...”

“...That Uzume guy, he knows a lot about what I do at school... He’s definitely a student here! This is impossible, I can’t get a break... I haven’t told my brother about it... I don’t want to worry him for no reason...”

“I can’t trust anyone anymore! They say things that sound like they’re worried but they don’t get how I feel at all! I can’t take this anymore! I’d rather they insult me to my face! Give me a break! Anyone around me could really be Uzume... I’m jumping at shadows... Even you, Takizawa-san... Ah, sorry... Forget it... I’m sorry... I’m being weird...”

When the words disappeared from the marquee:

“So what’s your reaction, Mr. Detective?”

Sousei-san peered into my face critically.

“It is truly valuable information.”

I was quietly excited at the results, which were beyond my expectations.

“Oh! You mean you found a clue to the disappearance case?”

“No, I don’t know yet.”

“Huh? I don’t get it. Then what the hell is valuable?”

“That I’ve determined who the past conversation belonged to. From the speech style, we can be fairly sure she was a female student. If my logic is correct, her name should be – ‘Kaoru Hioka’.”

“Kaoru Hioka...?”

His face screwed up, Sousei-san stroked his chin. It seemed he had no idea.

“Ah, I apologize. It’s a name that wasn’t in the case file we received from Touko-san. It’s information that I myself only obtained during lunchtime today–”

I explained the “train accident” that had occurred half a year ago, in which a female student of Yagokoro High School named Kaoru Hioka had died, to Sousei-san. Sousei-san was lost in thought, his expression one of having a small bone lodged in his throat. However, he soon gave up. “...Well, whatever.” I glowered at Sousei-san.

“Sousei-san? No matter how detailed it seems, please say it without reservation. When we combine information and do a detailed investigation together, we’ll approach the truth faster.”

If we did not cooperate, there was no use in having a partner.

“Nah, I just felt like I’d heard the name Kaoru Hioka before. I’ll tell you if it comes to me.”

Sousei-san did not look embarrassed. Because of that, my throat also began to feel as if something was lodged in it.

“From the rumors of the students, it seems that Kaoru Hioka was worried about slander on the ‘Midnight Site’.”

When I heard the name “Midnight Site”, I naturally recalled the “Midnight Channel”. If it were a simple case of copying the name, that would be a relief, but if its substance was similarly suspicious, it could be nothing but trouble.

“That point is in agreement with the contents of the past conversations. In addition, when we consider that her death has already been confirmed, it fulfills the condition for your ability to detect ‘the words of the past conversations of the dead’, Sousei-san.”

“Hey, no, in that case, what do you mean, because it’s already been confirmed? What’s the good in investigating something not related to the disappearances! It’s a waste of time, right?”

Sousei-san shook his head exaggeratedly and snorted.

“I just wanna solve this case fast and concentrate on what I should’ve been doing in the first place.”

“Even if you say that, we have no other method, so it can’t be helped. Right now, we can only carefully scrutinize every piece of information before us and steadily search for clues related to the disappearance case.”

“Geez, you’re too perfectionist!” Sousei-san pouted like a child.

“They say ‘haste makes waste.’ In any case, let’s spend a little while collecting a large amount of information.”

Honestly, who was it that said at our first meeting, “You’re making someone as great as me babysit?” I completely felt like throwing those words back at him.

“It’s because we’re lucky and have ways of obtaining information that even the police couldn’t discover during their investigation.”

Could it be called a chemical reaction between fellow Persona users? Was there value in keeping with this partner even if I had to turn a blind eye to his behavior?

He may have been conflicted, but Sousei-san ruffled his hair with a grimace.

“...Yeah! I know! We’re together, so say it! Where do we go next? We’re going around the school collecting past conversations, right?”

Despite his complaints, it seemed Sousei-san respected my opinion.

“Listen up! In return, you better power up my great Tsukuyomi perfectly!”

Could it be that he was acknowledging me a little? In any case, it was a step forward. And so I smiled and answered.

“As expected, Sousei-san. I’m glad we resolved that quickly.”

My words were somewhat sarcastic.

April 1   Yagokoro Police   Special Forensics Division

I asked Sousei-san to take me to the Yagokoro police without returning to the dormitory. That was because I had business I wanted to finish at the Special Forensics Division. Since Sousei-san had the shopping errands that his little sister Ai-chan had asked of him, he let me off at the police station and promptly ran off. An unmanned bike traveling through the city at twilight was rather surreal. The people coming and going were surprised, and it was only natural that they looked twice.

The investigation at school was discontinued at sunset. We deferred the continuation until tomorrow.

When I was returning from school, Sousei-san spoke enthusiastically: “Naoto! Let’s look around the school tomorrow morning!”, but I answered, “That’s impossible.” “Why!” Sousei-san snarled, but I returned coldly, “Because a certain someone peeked into the girls’ changing room, if we go around the school while students are present, it will most definitely cause a riot!”, and the person in question said no more on the subject.

I gazed lethargically at the clock mounted on the wall. At that moment, it was passing nine PM. Alone in the director’s office, I had borrowed Tsuge-san’s desktop computer and was checking into some matters. Speaking of Tsuge-san, it seemed Ai-chan, who was in charge of cooking, was coming home late because of her job, and tonight he had to cook for himself, so with a loud “I’m going ahead!”, he returned first.

It wasn’t that there were no computers at the dormitory. It was simply that the computer here was of the latest model, and if I used a computer within the station, I had the advantage of being able to access the police database.

There were two matters which I was mainly investigating. About the train accident involving Kaoru Hioka half a year ago and about the Midnight Site.

Regarding Kaoru Hioka’s train accident, most of what I had heard from the students was accurate, or to put it another way, I did not glean any particularly new information. On the other hand, investigating the “Midnight Site” was a fountain of new information. It seemed that the origin of the name was that a user poll was held in the middle of the night, and at the end, that caused a judgment “decree” to be handed down at 12 AM. It was a so-called user-participation site, and nowadays, it seemed to be a popular topic on the Internet.

“I can’t think of it as a rational sentence… I wonder if they mean to play God…”

I gazed at the computer screen and shivered. The thick red letters of “Midnight Site” gleamed ominously against a black background. The reason for my vague, terrible fears about the “Midnight Site” was because I knew what it used as a topic.

That was “sin”.

Under the name “Judgment upon those who have sinned!”, users could vote guilty or not guilty on the sins of the people who had been chosen on the “Midnight Site”. Incidentally, the users of the “Midnight Site” were called jurors.

Those who could bring to trial the sins of the targets was a selection of five people who handled management and administration – five people known as the “Five Togakushi Judges”. They also enumerated the charges of the prospective sinners brought to trial.

[Lit. “hiding door”. “Togakushi” is the name of a shrine in Nagano which is tied into the legend about Amaterasu hiding herself and bringing darkness to the world. Also involves some of the deities that the judges have named themselves after.]

If more than half the votes tallied over a several-week interval were “guilty”, the target was recorded for eternity on the site’s “List of Sinners”. According to the jurors, it was called the “Hall of Fame”.

The people who were chosen for judgment were of all types. There was a wide range, from important politicians and performers I would only ever lay eyes on on television, to the more familiar presences of teachers and students within the schools of Yagokoro Prefecture.

The “Five Togakushi Judges” were five people whose ages and genders, as well as everything else, was kept secret, and the only thing known about the members was their usernames. The five were Omoikane, Uzume, Sarutahiko, Tajikarao, and Futodama.

[Omoikane, Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, Sarutahiko, Ame no Tajikarao, and Futodama are all Japanese deities.]

I tried accessing the police database, thinking that the police would have marked them for their extreme ideology, but they did not appear as persons of interest. There were people among the members who knew much about the Internet, so the Tokyo police’s “Anti-Cyber Crime Team” was at a loss for what to do with them.

Just like that, it seemed they had the cunning to lead the police around by the nose, which expedited their popularity, and the “Five Togakushi Judges” of the site were regaled as heroes.

And the hallmark of the “Midnight Site” was that the people who entered the “List of Sinners”, called the “Hall of Fame”, had a high mortality rate. For the performers. For the high-ranking politicians. For the schoolteachers. For Kaoru Hioka. Whether it was coincidence or inevitability was unclear, but many humans on the “List of Sinners” no longer existed in this world.

Knowing as much as I did about the “Midnight Site”, it gave off a loathsome feeling. It was not just the close resemblance in name to the “Midnight Channel”, but that its existence could be said to have a similarly suspicious subject matter.

“–Oh, you’re really getting into it.”

A voice came from behind me. On the black background of the screen, Touko-san’s reflection appeared standing in the doorway.

“I thought I’d drink some coffee. How about it, Naoto? If you want, I’ll make some for you while I’m at it?”

“…Thank you very much.”

I turned the chair and looked at Touko-san.

“How was it? Working with Sousei-san?”

Touko-san asked as she poured black liquid from the coffee maker into the cups.

“Very tiring.”

“Right?” Touko-san snorted and laughed. “Sousei’s an adult if you look at him, but inside he’s a complete kid. It’s been a long time since he first came into this world, but he’s actually only been operating these last few years. Think of him as a small child and overlook his cheekiness.”

Touko-san scrutinized me with brilliant eyes.

“You know a lot about him, don’t you?”

I had no ulterior motive. I was simply asking an innocent question.

“…Yes, well, I’m also a Persona user and I’ve had ties to the Kirijo Group since I was young, so it’s through that relationship that I’ve known about Sousei ever since he was born.”

“…I see.”

However, from Touko-san’s clouded gaze, which showed weakness for just a moment, I knew that I had asked the forbidden, and though I was interested, I refrained from asking further questions.

“Oh yeah, Naoto. If you intend to stay here longer, use the shower inside. It’s a shower exclusively for the research guys, but you don’t need to hold back.”

“That’s a little...” I was bewildered, so Touko-san calmly said to me: “Don’t worry. It’s really just like a private shower room.

“Are you worried about changing clothes? In that case, I’ll lend you my spare shirt?”

As I took the mug that Touko-san proffered with a “Here,” I gave a vague answer: “Haa...” That wasn’t the problem.

The sound of static came from the speaker. Next, a whole-building broadcast telling of a developing incident rang out across the floor.

“Incoming call from the Tokyo police. A violent incident has occurred within the jurisdiction of the Yagokoro police station, on a road of the pleasure quarter behind the train station. As this occurred within the jurisdiction, the policemen on patrol near the scene are to immediately–”

Touko-san downed her coffee in one gulp, and no sooner had the broadcast finished than she stood up from the sofa.

“There’s a nap room here too. If it gets late, you might as well stay at the station!”

Leaving behind those rapid words, she bravely left the director’s office. As I drank the lukewarm coffee, I gazed fixedly at Touko-san’s disappearing back. “...I wonder where she hides that much vitality in that slim body.”

In truth, she was a strong-willed person. With a woman’s body, Touko-san may have had to become as bold as she was in every way so that she could keep up with burly male policemen and stand up to the worst criminals without faltering. I, who consented in a way unlike me, gave in and ended up following Touko-san’s suggestion.

I was opposed to becoming exposed in an unfamiliar place. Because it was within the police station rather than a hotel, I was all the more reluctant. Even so, the feeling that I wanted to follow Touko-san’s example and become an imperturbable, strong-willed woman stirred within me. It was also true that I felt I wanted to wash away my sweat and fatigue.

Even so, at my first look at the shower room, I immediately became perturbed.

It was a small shower room that brought to mind a telephone box. That was not a particular issue. The entire surface was made of glass, though it was frosted glass. This was also in no way unbearable. However, as could be expected, I could not face the situation unflinchingly.

When I looked around for a changing room, there were only a partition left in the shape of the character コ and a single basket made of plastic. Inside the basket were a bath towel and a new white shirt.

“...It can’t be, I’m supposed to change here?”

It matched with the two conditions from before, and I was strongly intimidated. For a moment I wanted to turn back. What made me stop in my tracks were Touko-san’s words: “I often use it.”

What crossed my mind was the awe-inspiring form of Touko-san, courageously taking off and discarding her clothing and freely exposing her voluptuous body. I steeled myself, thinking that it came so naturally to Touko-san.

I looked around restlessly. There was not a single soul on the floor. There were only dim, glowing lights and the faint sound of every kind of machine operating. The inhuman silence reminded me of a hospital in the middle of the night.

I cleared my throat a little, took off my clothes one by one, folded them, and placed them in the basket. Why was it? A feeling of immorality was seething in my chest, as if I was doing something I was not supposed to.

I, who had become exposed, fled to the shower room with the vigor of a spy hiding under cover when in danger of being detected by security guards. Immediately I turned the tap. My whole body was gently covered in warm water. The temperature was perfect for my body, flushed with shame.

My tension dissolved and I started to relax several minutes after I began to shower. It was only natural that Touko-san’s way of behaving, calmly and with self-awareness, was something she could do because of who she was. I, whose eyes had been opened in various ways, decided to go back to doing my best with investigating, and as I did not want to intrude upon the nap room, I swore to return to the dormitory before the date changed.

–There was no use crying over spilt milk. It seemed I should not have relaxed and let down my guard. I had let my mind wander completely. I hadn’t thought anyone would enter the director’s office.

It was exactly at the moment when I picked up my bra from the basket. A piercing noise resounded. It was the sound of the door to the director’s office being thrown open.

“Oiiii! Naoto! You’re here, right? I need to talk to you! It’s about what we talked about at school!”

A familiar voice reached to where I was.

“Naoto? You’re not here? Weird. That Gramps, was he lying to me... No, but the lights are on–”

The voice was unmistakably Sousei-san’s. My breath caught immediately. Furthermore, I was crouched and curled up like a turtle, tightly grasping my bra. My heart, mad with impatience, was beating violently within my chest.

“...W-why is Sousei-san, didn’t he go shopping...”

My confusion was brief; more than several hours had passed since we had parted, so I realized with a feeling of despair that he must have already finished shopping. I thought that I had to hide my body as soon as possible, and I vigorously stretched out my hand to the bath towel in the basket. I was panicked, but it was no use. A noisy sound echoed inside the room.

I lost my balance and pitched forward and collapsed, and the partition in front of my eyes fell over onto the floor. Of all things to happen, the white bra I had been clutching fluttered through the air like a seagull.

“Hey! You were here!”

The sound of footsteps from long strides came closer.

“Answer me–––––––huh...?”

In that instant, Sousei-san saw me lying on my face on the floor, having lost my strength like a fish that had washed up on shore, and he scrutinized me suspiciously. However, when his gaze stopped on the bra spread out at my feet, he did a complete turnaround and his eyes grew round.

“Y-you... Naoto... this underwear...”

As he picked up the bra from the floor with his fingertips, he let out in a surprised voice.

“Um, that is...”

I averted my gaze, and, panicking, covered my breasts, which were pressed against the floor, with both arms. It was only natural that he be surprised.

“...No way... Naoto... You had this kind of hobby! What a perverted bastard!”

“That’s not it! I’m a woman!”

I shouted without thinking.

“...Huh? It’s not that you’re a perverted bastard who secretly loves women’s underwear?”

“O-of course not! Are you an idiot?”

“Who’s an idiot, you bastard! Then if you’re not a perverted bastard, show me some proof!”

“I am a genuine woman!”

With both arms still hiding my chest, I gave in to my anger and rose to my feet. I stole my bra from Sousei-san with one hand and promptly turned my back on him. I could feel a piercing gaze on my back.

“...Hm. You do have the figure of a woman. Then why were you going around as a guy?”

“...I’ll explain! I’ll explain it to you properly later! I’m getting dressed, so please look over there!”

“I told you, even if my great self sees a human woman’s naked body, I don’t feel anything from it.”

“I’m telling you I don’t like it!”

I turned only my neck to look back at Sousei-san and glared.

“Don’t yell! Or glare at me! Or pout!”

While complaining on and on, Sousei-san obediently turned his back.

I quickly got dressed. In my hurry, I was not able to put on my pants neatly. My hair was still wet, but that could not be helped. Somehow, through a combination of various factors, I was so miserable I could cry.

I straightened my posture, took repeated deep breaths, and calmed my heart before I opened my mouth.

“...The reason is simple. It’s because, as far as being a detective goes, being recognized as a man by the people around me is somewhat more convenient.”

“But you know. Touko is a woman, but she runs those guys she works with into the ground, doesn’t she?”

“That’s... Compared to Touko-san, I am still very much a child. As a child and a woman, and moreover, one who possesses a small build, disguising myself as a man was a plan born of desperation that I formulated so that the adults around me in crime scene investigations would not make light of me.”

“...Huuh, so you’re saying it’s pretty rough looking like a young detective.”

As he stroked his chin with his fingertips, Sousei-san repeatedly looked me up and down from head to toe.

“...Touko-san knows that I am a girl. It was probably just an oversight that she did not tell you. But if you’re upset about it, I apologize...”

I dropped my gaze.

“Doesn’t really matter to me!”

Sousei-san laughed scornfully.

“Well, that’s because whether you’re a guy or a girl, it doesn’t change the fact that you’re Naoto Shirogane.”

I raised my face and gazed at the person before me. Sousei-san was acting indifferent.

“I mean, I was surprised, but if you’re a big man like me, you shouldn’t let every little thing bother you.”

I wondered who exactly was speaking to me right now, but right now I did not go so far as to say anything.

“So? I’m pretty tolerant, aren’t I? It’s okay to revere me, you know?”

I thought, “Who would do anything like revere you?”, but I was smiling. I was in a good mood.

I felt happier than expected at what Sousei-san had just said. I thought that Sousei-san’s words may have come from his heart, as a robot who was also a minority in society, and his blunt speech resounded all the more in my heart.

“By the way, Sousei-san. Did you need something from me?”

I, who had completely regained my composure, remembered that Sousei-san had yelled something to that effect as soon as he entered the director’s office.

“Yeah! It hit me. The name you mentioned on the school rooftop this evening.”

“Please explain.” I nodded.

“I don’t know the girl who died either. Just that I remembered I recently heard about a man with the same surname ‘Hioka’. If I remember right, his name was – Kyouhei Hioka. He’s a detective. They were saying he’s a member of the Ashihara police in the next jurisdiction over.”

“...Their family name is the same. I see. He may have a connection to the late Kaoru Hioka. Tomorrow, we should go pay a visit to this Kyouhei Hioka-san as soon as possible.”

“No, that’s impossible.”

Sousei-san shook his head from side to side.

“Looks like that detective Kyouhei Hioka is currently ‘missing’.”

“...Missing? Why?”

Sousei-san snorted at me, who was doubtful.

“How should I know? I just coincidentally remembered that that old man Tsuge and Touko were saying something about it a couple weeks ago. I came to the station just to tell you this, so you should grovel on the ground in thanks!”

I ran to the computer and fell into the chair like I was sliding into home plate. I gripped the mouse and clicked once, then twice. When I finally reached the screen that was my goal, I quickly hit the keyboard.

“Oi! Don’t ignore me!”

On the screen which I was staring at as if to bore holes in it, the police database was shown. A summary of the “Kyouhei Hioka disappearance case” was written there.

I quickly scanned through Kyouhei Hioka’s personal data. Member of the Ashihara police department. Assistant Inspector of the Criminal Investigation Bureau. Age, thirty-five years. Height, 172 centimeters. Weight, 65 kilograms.

He had a history of winning multiple awards, including the bureau director’s award, the section head’s award, and so forth. He performed excellently in emergency situations. He had such youthful looks that one would definitely not believe him to be over thirty, and the line of his body was as slender as if he were in his teens. However, it was very clear that an agile, alert body was hidden beneath his suit. In all, he kept a neat personal appearance, and his refreshing smile also gave the impression of an agreeable young man.

Continuing on, my gaze suddenly halted on the field describing family composition.

“Lives alone. *Younger sister living with him, Kaoru Hioka, died in an accident half a year ago.”

“...They’re connected.” I felt the points coming together to form a line.

“Figured something out?” Sousei-san peered over my shoulder at the screen.

“This.” I pointed at the field on Kyouhei Hioka’s family composition, and, “Oh, his little sister! So they really were related! I’m really on the ball here!” Sousei-san sang his own praises.

“It looks like it’s not just a disappearance. It seems Assistant Inspector Kyouhei Hioka possesses a handgun, stole time bombs confiscated during the bomb mania arrests a while ago, and has concealed his whereabouts.”

What Kyouhei Hioka was carrying was a Sig Sauer P230. It was a semi-automatic Swiss model officially adopted by the Japanese police. It held eight rounds. It was a .32 caliber rapid-fire double action gun. It did not have much lethality, but the recoil was light, and its precision and accuracy were high.

As for the time bombs, there wasn’t a detailed description, but it seemed they were things remodeled from guitar amps that made use of special wiring and could not be identified as bombs at first glance.

“It’s been approximately two weeks since he disappeared. He may have become involved in a case, or there may have been another reason... They’re in the middle of an investigation, so I can’t be sure, but most likely the other case that Touko-san said she is busy with is the ‘Kyouhei Hioka disappearance case’, right?”

The resolution of a scandal involving someone connected to the police would be of the utmost priority to them. I surmised that there was a strong sense of crisis in the nearby area from the fact that they called in even the detectives of the Yagokoro police station belonging to a different jurisdiction. There was no doubt that the request that I, an outsider, take the “Yagokoro High School student disappearance case” was also related to these circumstances.

In addition, it was highly interesting that Touko Aoi’s name was written among the members taking command of the unit investigating the “Kyouhei Hioka disappearance case”.

“...Hey, Naoto.”

Sousei-san stood with his arms crossed and scowled at the screen.

“The big brother who’s got a handgun and bombs and is hiding his whereabouts, Kyouhei Hioka, and the little sister who died in a train accident half a year ago, Kaoru Hioka... Somehow, doesn’t it feel really suspicious to you?”

“Yes. It feels like a case.”

In my mind, the seven letters of the word “revenge” were dancing.

Suddenly, my cell phone’s ringtone resounded. On the screen was the name “Touko Aoi”. It could be said to be good timing, since I wanted to ask about Kyouhei Hioka. “This is Naoto.” I picked up the phone cheerfully.

However, I did not continue with my words. That was because Touko-san informed me in a heavy voice.

“In Iwato Apartments, on the outskirts of Yagokoro – we’ve discovered the remains of the girl known as ‘Miyuki Midorikawa’.”

April 1   Yagokoro Suburbs   Iwato Apartments

After the phone call from Touko-san, I rode atop Sousei-san, who had transformed into a bike, to the apartment building where Miyuki Midorikawa’s body had been found.

It took twenty minutes to reach the suburbs from the station. We left the back roads where the foliage grew thickly and ran at full speed along the country roads, and our destination was built fruitlessly in the middle of an empty lot scattered sparsely with private houses.

It may have been because there was no artificial light in the surroundings. The stars shone dazzlingly bright in the night sky, and the large, round moon was so pale it was unsettling.

An abandoned building – that was my first impression of Iwato Apartments.

It was an apartment building with five floors, deserted with no sign of being lived in, and it seemed there was no electricity and no outside lighting. If it weren’t for the headlights of the police vehicles and the balloon lights of the on-site investigators, it would have been completely dark.

I proceeded by taking careful steps among the freely growing weeds, and we silently faced the eroded concrete outer walls and exposed, rusted iron bars peeking through here and there. The entire building was eerie and could only be likened to a giant corpse.

This was something I heard from the young uniformed policeman near the entrance to the scene, but it seemed the reason for the destruction in the neighborhood of the Iwato Apartments was because of a setback in the plans to construct a new town. It seemed that, as a result of the bankruptcy of the big construction company that had been endorsing and pushing the plan forward, Iwato Apartments had been left halfway demolished for a long time.

This place was relatively well-known among the Yagokoro townspeople as a “test of courage spot”, and when summer came around, it seemed a fair number of young people came here. Right now it was out of season, but in the end the first to find the body of “Miyuki Midorikawa” was a couple that had come for the test of courage rather than an investigation.

Touko-san was absent. That was because the Yagokoro police had been called out for the incident in the pleasure district behind the Yagokoro train station.

Just as Touko-san had said before, when I gave her name: “Oh, from Yagokoro. I heard about you,” and the detective from the Ashihara police led me to the place where the body had been found.

The body had been found inside the first floor entrance. At the place of its discovery, a forensics investigation had already begun, and they strongly emphasized, “Don’t disturb the scene.”

It was not my first time at the scene of a murder. However, when there was a corpse in front of me, words still failed me. At most, I was a detective. It was not my intention to be able to protect everything in the world. Be that as it may, I was a detective. Even so, I would not say that I wasn’t tormented by my powerlessness, wondering if there was no way I could have protected her.

When I asked the nearest young, male detective, it seemed from the type of clothing, the type of body, and the personal belongings that there was no doubt the corpse was that of “Miyuki Midorikawa”.

It seemed she had been dead for nearly two weeks. The cause of death was blood loss from a bullet wound from a handgun. She had been shot a total of eight times. One particular shot to the neck had been the fatal wound. The shadows around the body were the traces of the pool of blood. During those two weeks, the blood had dried, dyed the concrete, and changed to black dust.

“...So that’s how it was.”

At the words “for two weeks”, I procured one piece of supporting evidence. The truth was that the period in which Kyouhei Hioka went missing, the period in which Miyuki Midorikawa went missing, and the body’s time of death were all incidents that had occurred about two weeks ago, and that could not be simple coincidence.

“Do you know the type of handgun that was used?”

I asked that quietly, and the expressions of the head forensics investigator and the nearby detectives all clouded simultaneously. That was a clear answer.

“It was a Sig Sauer P230, wasn’t it?”

“...Yeah.” An aged detective nodded gloomily.

From the circumstantial evidence, the scene was filled with the atmosphere of “The suspect may have been Kyouhei Hioka.”

In my mind’s eye appeared Kyouhei Hioka’s charming smile, childlike for his age, that I had seen just before coming to the scene. I could easily imagine that the adoration his colleagues felt for him went beyond just a senpai-kouhai relationship.

“We can’t know yet without checking the rifling marks. It’s not like it’s absolutely sure that ‘Kyouhei’ did it...”

The aged detective immediately denied, but his words were weak. It was a shame, but my reasoning was slowly becoming more likely.

“Would any of you happen to know the reason for Kyouhei Hioka’s disappearance?”

I posed a question that went even further, and:

“Sorry, Detective Prince. That incident is our problem. An outsider should refrain from sticking their neck into it any further.”

I was strongly refused. “...Please excuse me.” I bowed to the people around me and headed for Sousei-san, who was loitering near the wall, looking bored.

“That was over pretty fast, wasn’t it?”

“I understand how they feel.”

I wondered if it was because they had this so-called police dignity. It may also have been their frustration regarding one of their colleagues.

“It’s annoying just to look at. From where I stand, those ‘bonds’ humans have are a pain.”

“They aren’t my strong point either. I simply understand that society is an aggregation of people, and I also know that humans can by no means live alone.”

The connections between people were sometimes troublesome and it was much more comfortable to be alone. However, I knew through experience that things that were impossible alone became possible if one could join hands with someone.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say,” Sousei-san said in a teasing tone, and, “You know too, don’t you, Sousei-san? With my Persona, you were able to do things you couldn’t manage alone,” I answered with a wry smile.

“Speaking of which, it’s our turn. There is undoubtedly treasure sleeping in this place.”

“Treasure, huh. That treasure’s gotta be rusted iron. I like it better sparkling, you know?”

“For that reason. When we’ve solved everything about the case, the dazzling treasure of truth will be in our hands.”

“Fine. Feels like I’m being tricked, but it’s not like I’ve got any other choice, so I’ll go along with you.”

That I deliberately cracked jokes was because I could not help but feel that we were about to do an unsavory deed, similar to digging up a grave.

“Okay. Let’s try it out. Naoto, power up my Tsukuyomi well.”

“That goes without saying.”

However, I knew very well that this was something only we could do. We removed ourselves to the shadow of a pillar several meters away from crime scene investigators so that our Personas would not be seen.

In that way, at the murder scene – we came to detect the conversation Miyuki Midorikawa had in the moments just before her death.

“...Haa... Haa... P-please... I won’t run away anymore, so... I’ll tell you... The things I was hiding... I’ll tell you everything, so... Please... D-don’t shoot me... Please...”

“...Just like you said, I’m... “Uzume”... Kaoru Hioka... san... The one who wrote those things on the Midnight Site about her was also me...”

“B-but, I didn’t think she would die! That girl... K-Kaoru-san was... She was getting along well with Shirou, and I absolutely couldn’t forgive that... So I thought, I would her a hard time, a little... I didn’t really mean it... So I put a bunch of half-truths...”

“I-It’s not my fault! That’s right! I only wrote those things! After that I only watched! They were manipulated by lies! The ones who drove her into a corner! That was everyone else!”

“H-hey! I talked, right! Put that down! Are you listening to me? Say something! Why me! Why do you have to make me suffer! It’s the Midnight Site’s fault that girl died! And anyway she was hit by a train! She shouldn’t have just gone and fallen from the platform! You reap what you sow! Ah–––––––”

“–Well, that’s all,” Sousei-san gazed at the electric marquee on which the words had paused and muttered.

A deep sigh escaped me. The situation at that time had been picked up and conveyed through the sense of realism in the lines left behind. It weighed heavily in my heart.

My eyelids fell closed and I leaned my back against the concrete wall. From the contents of the conversation, I could put the events in order.

Miyuki Midorikawa had been running from someone. The mysterious person possessed a gun and had cornered her in the entrance hall. In the end, eight bullets had been fired at her.

“So, was there some valuable treasure buried in there?”

“...Yes. The tip of a crown is poking out of the earth.”

I was quietly excited that we had found a clue to the disappearance case.

“From the handgun that was used and the number of shots in the body, and the circumstantial evidence of two weeks having passed since death, along with Miyuki Midorikawa’s past conversation, the one who killed her – there is a high probability that it was the one who disappeared those two weeks ago, Kyouhei Hioka.”

After stroking his chin once, Sousei-san muttered.

“...I see, hm – so that’s how it is. The next important thing becomes Kyouhei Hioka’s motive for murdering Miyuki Midorikawa, right?”

“Of course, the answer as to his motive is recorded in the past conversation.”

Sousei-san stared into my eyes suspiciously. “Then let’s review the past conversation once again.” I had Sousei-san return the past conversation to the beginning and began to clarify.

“To avoid confusion, we’ll put aside the latter half of the conversation, but we can deduce from the first half that the other was her social superior, because Miyuki Midorikawa put in great effort to use a more polite speech style. In addition, the fact that Miyuki Midorikawa panicked when it came to Kaoru Hioka and added ‘san’ to her name also becomes a crucial factor.”

The part where she had started by saying “that girl” and corrected it to “Kaoru-san” carried the same kind of meaning.

“In other words, wouldn’t that be because the person who possessed the gun was – a close relative of Kaoru Hioka?”

“...You mean Kyouhei Hioka?”

“Yes. Kyouhei Hioka’s greatest motive to murder Miyuki Midorikawa was his younger sister, Kaoru Hioka.”

My gaze naturally drifted to where the police and inspectors were investigating the scene. The conclusion I had derived was cruel when I considered their feelings.

“I think this is ‘Kyouhei Hioka’s revenge tragedy’.”

From his appearance in the photo, I could not see him as a person who would do this cold-hearted deed, but from the circumstances, I could only think that this was Kyouhei Hioka’s crime.

“...Hoh. So you’re saying that Kyouhei Hioka taking a handgun and time bombs and disappearing, it was all so he could kill Miyuki Midorikawa?”

“To put it bluntly.”

I nodded slightly.

“Now, please remember one thing from Kaoru Hioka’s lingering conversation on the school rooftop. She was worried about slander on the Internet, wasn’t she? At that time, the ‘Midnight Site’ she mentioned was already the main culprit dragging her down to Hell.”

“...Midnight Site?”

I explained the matter of the Midnight Site that I had investigated on the computer at the station to Sousei-san.

“...Huh? What’s that about? I mean, those Togakushi and those guys who use the site, are they okay in the head?”

Sousei-san spat out as if amazed.

“So that gloomy site is popular on the Internet... You humans’ society is focused on death. Is it the stress? It’s the stress, right? You know, it’s better if you guys lived by being more carefree.”

I allowed myself a wry smile. I didn’t dare say, “It would be better if you lived by fussing a bit more, Sousei-san.” The world was not as simple as Sousei-san thought, but I also believed people should be able to live as he said.

“In any case, the name of the Midnight Site also appeared in Miyuki Midorikawa’s past conversation. And also, that name ‘Uzume’. That name is consistent with of one of the members of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’.”

From the past conversation, it became clear that Miyuki Midorikawa was one of the members whose age and gender and everything else was unknown. It could be said that this was a groundbreaking development.

“Miyuki Midorikawa’s past conversation also verified that the slander concerning Kaoru Hioka consisted of ‘unfounded rumors’.”

“What kind of slander was it exactly?”

Kaoru Hioka’s type of sin, her supposed relationships with men, was written on the Midnight Site. If one swallowed what had been written, Kaoru Hioka was made out to be an extraordinarily “delinquent and degenerate woman”.

“...I’m reluctant to say it. If you would like to know the details, please take a quick look at the Midnight Site yourself. But do so at your own risk.”

I shook my head, trying to clear it of the depressing memories I had suddenly recalled.

“From seeing your reaction, Naoto, it looks like I’d be better off not knowing.” Sousei-san gave a snort of laughter.

“A wise decision.”

I ducked my head just once, recovered my composure, and continued.

“Here is a rough chronological sketch of what happened concerning Kaoru Hioka’s death. Kaoru Hioka was exposed to unfounded slander, both on the Internet and at school. The cause was that her name had appeared on the ‘Midnight Site’. Finally, she died in a train accident.”

As he stroked his chin with his fingertips, Sousei-san nodded repeatedly, as if he was digesting the information.

“In truth, it’s uncertain whether it was an accident or suicide, but it’s undeniable that Kaoru Hioka was emotionally driven into a corner by the slander that originated on the ‘Midnight Site’.”

“So you mean because Kyouhei Hioka knows the truth, he’s carrying out a revenge tragedy?”

“...Yes. What you should take notice of is the number, ‘eight times’, that the victim was shot. It’s true that the Sig Sauer P230 has low lethality, but as you can imagine, there would have been no need for eight shots. Eight shots is the same as the Sig Sauer P230’s maximum number of rounds...”

The coldhearted scene played in my mind of Kyouhei Hioka silently and repeatedly pulling the trigger of the handgun aimed at Miyuki Midorikawa, who was groveling on the floor, until it reached its limit.

Most likely, even after the handgun had discharged eight shots and become empty, he had continued to pull the trigger obsessively. That man who had appeared good, Kyouhei Hioka, had gone that far. I could only think he had a deep grudge against his opponent.

“–Kyouhei Hioka reached the ‘Midnight Site’ that had driven his younger sister to die, and finally detained the perpetrator, Miyuki Midorikawa, and exacted his revenge on her.”

Sousei-san showed a complicated expression.

“...Even so, why is Kyouhei Hioka’s revenge tragedy now, when half a year’s passed since his sister Kaoru Hioka died? I kind of feel like that’s a pretty long gap there?”

“Even if there’s another side to the story, it’s an investigation he himself was conducting, so I believe timing and patience must have been necessary. Furthermore, he may have been stupefied by the shock of losing his sister...”

In cases I had come across as a detective, I had up until now come to see countless relatives of victims experience a great, crippling despondency at the loss of everyday life.

“In addition, I think ‘the peculiarities of net crimes’ also exist.”

“...Peculiarities, huh. You mean how you don’t know who wrote anything on the Internet because of widespread anonymity?”

“No. The ability to at least confirm the person who wrote it is has long been trivial for the police. When you compare the anti-cyber crime countermeasures of each prefecture’s police, led by the Toyko police, to how they were long ago, a surprising amount of progress has been made. Sousei-san, It’s likely that you have also seen incidents on the news involving the confirmation and apprehension of people who wrote advance notices of murder on anonymous bulletin boards with countless numbers of users.”

“...That’s true. Then what was the problem?”

“A problem of time. It’s different from people in town clamoring about someone killing someone else. Since the crime used the Internet as an intermediary, apprehending the criminal takes time no matter how you look at it. That would be the case even if he’s already established proof of the crime.”

More than a technical problem or anything else, the legal process would from then on be handled as a type of cyber crime.

“Naturally, the police have also marked the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ as a dangerous group. However, they are not aware of the particulars of the people involved.”

“Oi oi, Naoto. Isn’t that a bit off-topic? Weren’t you just saying a second ago that ‘The ability to at least confirm the person who wrote it is has long been trivial for the police’?”

“Yes. I did say that. However, that is if the other is ‘a normal opponent’. Somehow it seems that a brilliant hacker is among the members of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’, and even using the Tokyo police’s Anti-Cyber Crime Team, it seems they’re being pressured and fighting a difficult battle.”

Internationally, countries had openly declared war against individual skilled hackers and groups of hackers, who at present were hijacking corporate webpages, and were not suppressing the traces of cyber-terrorism. However, the situation was such that they could not control those thought of as hackers.

“What’s that about. It’s a miracle that Kyouhei Hioka managed to reach Miyuki Midorikawa with his own investigation without having special techniques like the Anti-Cyber Crime Team or special abilities like us... No, you could call it tenacity.”

“...Tenacity, huh. Well, there’s no way for us to know.”

Sousei-san muttered as he looked up at the heavens full of stars. It was a surprising reaction. I had thought he would simply dismiss it as worthless.

“Let’s be clear on what we’ll need to do starting tomorrow. First is a continuation of today’s work. Let’s put all our power into exhaustively going over the school, which we left unfinished, and detecting the past conversations. That’s because Miyuki Midorikawa’s past conversations will ‘definitely’ be there.”

Miyuki Midorikawa’s death was unfortunate, but with Sousei-san’s Persona, we would be able to shed some light on her past conversations that we could detect.

“Do we just leave aside Kyouhei Hioka? Since we’re going after the disappearance case, he’s someone we really can’t ignore, right?”

"It's true that we can’t ignore him; Kyouhei Hioka is an important person, though we’re putting him aside in our investigation for now."

The connection between Kyouhei Hioka and Miyuki Midorikawa had been verified. We would have to consider the relation with the other person who had disappeared, Shirou Konno.

“First of all, let’s prioritize the things that only we can do. The search for Kyouhei Hioka is their and Touko-san’s area.”

I looked on from afar as the detectives continued their investigation of the crime scene. From the behavior of the detective colleagues earlier, it would be better for us outsiders to restrain ourselves. It was just that I wanted to know in more detail about Kyouhei Hioka’s temperament.

“Kyouhei Hioka hasn’t been caught even though that Touko’s chasing after him, so he’s gotta be pretty good. I’m not being sarcastic, I really mean it.”

I felt the same way as Sousei-san. I also knew Touko-san’s capability well.

“It’s because Kyouhei Hioka is also a detective. It may be that he has the experience and skills to evade a net. He could be called a formidable opponent just from his knowledge of the internal affairs of the police.”

“Kyouhei Hioka wants to not get caught that much? He killed Miyuki Midorikawa and carried out his little sister’s revenge without any problems. Even though he would save us some time if he was satisfied and just let himself get caught by the police’s rope.”

Sousei-san commented in an unimpressed manner as he stared at the moon in the night sky with an unfocused gaze.

“...That is unlikely.” I shook my head immediately. “There must be a reason that he will not let himself be caught.”

“...Like what?”

“I think – it’s because Kyouhei Hioka’s revenge tragedy has only just begun.”

Sousei-san looked at me with round eyes.

“Right before he killed Miyuki Midorikawa, there was a turbulent moment when he received a confession from her that she was ‘Uzume’, one of the members of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’. That Kyouhei Hioka still continues to flee may be because he intends to exact revenge on all five members of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’.”

It was suffocating to imagine that the feelings of Kyouhei Hioka, a policeman, went so far that he was able to commit murder. Repentance, hatred, despair: whichever it was, there was clearly a dreadful resolve in Kyouhei Hioka’s actions.

“So? Is Kyouhei Hioka figuring out anyone who’s left from the other four of the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’?”

“...I don’t know that much. I simply think that Kyouhei Hioka has managed to get closer to the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ than the police or us.”

“This has turned into a pretty gruesome story. Whether the police can catch him first or Kyouhei Hioka shoots and kills the other four first: this is really a survival game!”

The crime scene investigators turned cold eyes on Sousei-san, whose laughter was echoing in the entrance.

“You’re being indiscreet, Sousei-san.”

In an instant, I pulled Sousei-san’s clothing with my fingertips and gave a small bow to the faraway investigators.

“Huh? You’re saying I shouldn’t laugh here? Even if the ‘Five Togakushi Judges’ that’re being targeted all die without a single one left, I think they deserve it. I’m cheering on Kyouhei Hioka, you know?”

“That way of thinking is mistaken.”

I objected in a strong tone.

“Geez, I don’t get you! I’m asking you! Can you say that even when he’s after bastards who aren’t worth saving?”

I squarely met Sousei-san’s strong-willed gaze as he scowled.

“That’s a foolish question.”

I did not hesitate.

“What we should do is dispel the mysteries and expose the truth of the case. It is not our place to judge the assailant.”

Of course, if in the end I could be able to be of use to many people and save people’s lives, there would be nothing that would make me happier.

“I really don’t get you at all. It being our place or our duty, that stuff’s too complicated. I don’t understand the structure of human society. It’s ‘cause I’m a ‘robot’!”

I was taken aback by the word “robot” which flew out of Sousei-san’s mouth.

Yes, he was not human. I remembered that. Since the first time I had met and confronted the existence known as Sousei Kurogami, I had intentionally made an effort not to classify him as a robot or as a person.

As for the reason, it was because my current self could not possibly derive a precise answer for the “definition of a human”.

I, who thought that it was inefficient to devote time to things I did not understand, had immediately given up pursuing what he was. I needed to concentrate everything on the case in front of me and had come to the decision that his issue would be settled with time. I had lost sight of the fact that Sousei Kurogami, who expressed plenty of emotion and used words skillfully along with having a terribly human-like personality, was a robot.

I gazed at Sousei-san. For what reason was he born, what kind of moments had he gone through, with what goal did he live? In addition, the significance of his Persona he held...

“...What? Got any complaints?”

“...Ah, no.”

I shook my head. Once again, I had begun to feel anxious about the existence called Sousei Kurogami.

“...Don’t worry and let’s cooperate on the case investigation. I’m saying don’t care what I think. Anyway, once you and I wrap up this case, that’s the end of our relationship.”

“...Haa.” I gave a half-hearted reply.

As to why, he had the same brazen demeanor as always, but Sousei-san’s gaze seemed lonely as he looked up at the starry sky.

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