onwards! still a couple parts I'm a bit iffy about, so might be subject to minor changes in the near future.
April 12 Yagokoro Police Special Forensics Division Director’s Office
The night stretched into the next day. A team of several hundred investigators had begun the search for Touko Aoi. Naturally, Touko Aoi’s whereabouts would not be so easily discovered, and morning came unaccompanied by even the slightest of clues.
There was no post on the Midnight Site either. It was even unclear whether Futodama was alive or dead.
Seven o’clock passed, and Tsuge-san came to work not knowing anything. I told him about Kyouhei Hioka.
“...I see. Kyouhei’s already gone… Well, I kinda thought that was it.”
In the director’s office, I spoke with Tsuge-san about all the events that had unfolded yesterday.
“T-Touko’s Kagu-tsuchi! Not just Kyouhei, but Touko too… How’d it turn out like this…”
Tsuge-san was always lewd and cheerful, but his expression twisted with pain. For Tsuge-san, who had known the two of them ever since they were lovers, the truth surely came as a huge shock. Even though I knew that it was cruel:
“In addition, my partnership with Sousei-san has been dissolved…”
Right now, there was no one I could count on besides Tsuge-san.
“...Gah! Something happened to you guys too? Even though you’re our only hope now…”
Tsuge-san drew his thick eyebrows together and sighed.
“...I apologize. I’m the one at fault. Everything was due to my incompetence, with Touko-san and with Sousei-san…”
Immediately after our separation with Touko-san, Sousei-san told me that he was dissolving our partnership.
After Touko-san left us behind, a period of heavy, empty silence descended between Sousei-san and me. At last, Sousei-san muttered.
“...I quit this case.”
I asked. I vaguely understood his reasons, but I wanted to hear them straight from his mouth.
“I don’t wanna do something as much of a pain as catching Touko…”
Sousei-san revealed, sounding lonely.
“...And I don’t get it, you know? I’ve got so many questions. Why’d Touko do it? I don’t get it at all and it’s annoying!”
Sousei-san gave an exaggerated shrug of his shoulders.
“But! More importantly, I’m torn! I dunno what to do. You saw it , right? The look in Touko’s eyes? Could you stop her, seeing that look? You couldn’t, right? Those were the eyes of someone ready for the worst. Touko’s already so sure of herself normally, so seeing her so prepared, I really dunno what to do!”
Sousei-san hit the iron fence with his fist, and the entire gate vibrated like a tuning fork.
“...And, Naoto, sorry, but I don’t wanna see your face for a while.”
Just as he said, Sousei-san averted his gaze from me.
“Feels like you betrayed me. No… you really did lie to me. You know exactly what I’m talking about, right, with that perfect fucking memory of yours?”
It did not require a particularly good memory to recall what had transpired a few hours ago.
“You’re too fucking distant! Why didn’t you tell me!? If you suspected Touko and thought she was Kagu-tsuchi, why didn’t you tell me a damn word of it!? Weren’t we supposed to be partners? That means you shouldn’t lie or anything! I’m so fucking pissed off you didn’t trust me at all!”
Sousei-san’s shout resounded and tore through the silence. I was at a loss for words and stood stock-still, silent. His torrent of words stung like thorns.
“...I’m breaking off our partnership. Bye.”
Sousei-san disappeared without giving me a second glance. I felt as if I would shed tears of misery at the departures of first Touko-san, then Sousei-san, due to my mistakes.
However, if I cried here, I would probably not hate myself completely, and so I ground my teeth forcefully as I looked up at the deep blue sky.
I hit the table with the sides of my fists. The teacup containing coffee shook and rattled.
“If only I had been more composed! If only I had had more courage!”
Looking back on the events of yesterday once again, I was disgusted by my own timidity.
“Oi oi, don’t blame yourself like that. In that case, what was Tetsuma Tsuge doing? I know Kyouhei and Touko’s personalities well and I still I couldn’t do anything. You’ll make me want to blame myself.”
In a sudden change from before, Tsuge-san spoke in a lighthearted tone.
“We shouldn’t be focusing on regrets now, right? We can do whatever we want later. Now’s the time to rack our brains and figure out how to stop Touko. And ya know, isn’t it your job as a detective to rack your brains?”
Tsuge-san showed his teeth in a smirk.
“I’ll help if there’s anything I can do, kay? Shouldn’t we fight together to stop Touko?”
Surely this was also painful for Tsuge-san. Even so, he was doing his best to act cheerful and console me through my discouragement. Sousei-san and Ai-chan, and then Touko-san. I believed it was only natural that Tsuge-san missed everyone.
“...Thank you very much,” I murmured softly.
Tsuge-san was a large man. In both appearance and spirit. I had to respond to his consideration.
“I’ve cheered up thanks to you, Tsuge-san. That is the last time you will hear me complain. I’ll try to come up with a method.”
Though it was stiff, I gave him a smile.
“That’s what I’m saying! Don’t try to do it all yourself. You and Touko are both like that. Why do our women try to handle everything themselves? Maybe the men around you are flakes, but it’s better than worrying ‘bout it alone, right?”
I calmed down as he spoke. What a bad habit. I had completely forgotten.
The reassurance from having friends I could count on. I should have already known: if I was with my friends, we would be able to overcome any difficulty we faced, and yet I was becoming embarrassed at my haughtiness in thinking that I would make do alone.
“Anyway, want me to wallop that idiot Sousei and drag him back here? He’s got a mouth on him, but you can more or less count on him.”
I hesitated for a moment and shook my head slightly.
“...No, that is, I don’t know how to face him. I did something extremely discourteous to him.”
I myself insisted that trust was the most essential facet of any partnership, but I had not trusted my partner, Sousei-san.
I had covered up the fact that I suspected Touko-san to be the criminal because I believed that, to him, I was nothing compared to Touko-san.
“That’s, uh, don’t be too hard on yourself. Touko is special to Sousei. He sees his dead mother in her…”
Tsuge-san’s eyes were a bit lonely, and yet they also held nostalgia and fondness.
“Is it weird for a robot like him to have a mother? Well, think about it. Isn’t it also weird for a robot like him to have a human-like name like ‘Sousei Kurogami’?”
“–Ah. I didn’t think much of it in the beginning, but it’s true, now that you mention it.”
Sousei-san’s formal designation was – Number R-00, codename “GENESIS”.
“Like Touko said before, the completed Genesis didn’t live up to our Kirijo robot research team’s expectations. To put it bluntly, he was a failed product. You’re a regular kid, but I don’t have to tell you what happens to a failed product, right?”
“...They are disposed of?”
“...Right. Sousei was at a higher level than all the other robots at the time, and if his existence was announced to the world, he’d probably be admired. But we weren’t trying to make just a high-level robot. We were aiming for something that could fight Shadows, an Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapon with a Persona.”
I swallowed deeply, hearing Tsuge-san divulge this inside story full of corporate secrets.
“D’ya remember the basic idea behind Personas I explained before?”
“...Er, if I remember correctly – Personas are a rare power that can be used only by those chosen. There are various theories and phases of study, but one theory is that Personas are an ‘embodiment of the user’s psyche’, called ‘one’s other self’. In addition, they say the ability to call forth a Persona is a latent power only liberated in an extreme situation – is that right?”
“Yeah, yeah! Good job! I heard from Sousei, but you’ve really got a good memory! You’re not famous as a young detective for nothing!”
Tsuge-san’s admiration was so exaggerated that I felt embarrassed.
“That idea was originally proposed by our robot research team like this. ‘If they successfully cultivate the same kind of soul as humans, shouldn’t they awaken as Persona users even if they’re robots?’”
“...Eh? Please wait. Sousei-san is a Persona user, isn’t he? Then doesn’t that count as a success?”
“Now it does. At the time, six years ago, it didn’t look like Genesis would awaken to a Persona. In the first place, it was a mistake to make him a male type; no, maybe the basic structure of the soul was wrong. Anyway, everyone in the research team wanted to give up, but there was one person who proposed we wait before disposing of him. She was the young genius in charge of Genesis’s design – Yuuri Kurogami.”
“Kurogami? Could she be…”
Naturally, I knew the family name, but I had also heard that given name, “Yuuri”. It was a name that Sousei-san had inadvertently mentioned before.
“Yeah, that’s right. Sousei got his last name from Yuuri.”
Tsuge-san nodded emphatically.
“Yuuri suggested we give her Genesis for a year. Genesis’d just been born, so he was innocent as a baby and still mentally a minor. She’d let him live as part of human society, would plant a buncha knowledge into him and let him mature, and try stimulating the birth of a Persona. The Kirijo brass agreed, under a lot of pressure from Yuuri, and gave Genesis a one-year grace period. By the way, Yuuri was the one who started calling him by the name you know, Sousei. That’s how much Yuuri thought of Sousei as her kid.”
“Genesis”, as in the “Book of Genesis”. It seemed his name had been borrowed from there.
[Book of Genesis: 創世記, or “Souseiki”. “Sousei” is Japanese for “Genesis”.]
“...I see, so this Yuuri Kurogami-san took care of Sousei-san for a year. And then Sousei-san started thinking of Yuuri-san as a mother.”
“Yeah. But don’t get me wrong. Sousei’s rude attitude and mouth aren’t because of Yuuri. Yuuri’s heart was in the right place, but she was really a gentle airhead. If I had to say, Sousei was influenced more by TV and Touko, who had a worse mouth then than she does now.”
I thought that Tsuge-san’s blunt personality may also have had a strong influence. Also fascinating was that Touko-san’s name had come up in this context.
“You’ve known Touko-san for six years, haven’t you?”
“Nah, right now it’s closer to ten years. As a Persona user, Touko’s been comin’ and goin’ from the Kirijo Group’s research labs since she was a high schooler. Touko and Yuuri were best friends. They were about the same age and complete opposites, but maybe they got along better ‘cause of it. So naturally, I met Touko. Follows that I met Kyouhei Hioka too, since he was Touko’s friend.”
Tsuge-san snorted slightly.
“Six years ago, Touko’d just become a detective and was colder than she is now, but in front of Kyouhei, she tried her damn hardest to be strong. It was really fun watching the two of them really starting to trust each other, Touko not holdin’ back her words and Kyouhei just smilin’ wryly and taking it.”
Tsuge-san’s face broke into a smile, as if remembering that time. “...That was a pretty lively year.” I caught a glimpse of those happy days within Tsuge-san’s broad grin.
“So, what is Yuuri-san doing now?”
I asked a casual question. I thought she could tell me many stories about Sousei-san and Touko-san.
However, Tsuge-san wore an uncomfortable expression. “Yuuri died five years ago…” His shoulders slumped heavily.
“There was an explosion during an experiment. The accident happened a few days before the deadline to dispose of Genesis. It happened because Yuuri made an unthinkable amateur mistake in connecting machinery, even though she was a genius.”
Tsuge-san’s gaze was like that of a father recalling a daughter who had married and now lived somewhere far away.
“Like Yuuri planned, Genesis matured mentally to a surprising extent over one year. But most importantly, he hadn’t awakened to a Persona, unfortunately. Maybe Yuuri was getting impatient…”
I noticed that Tsuge-san’s fists had clenched tightly on his lap.
“...So then, he’d lived under the same roof with someone like a parent to him, and ‘cause he was a robot and it was job, he couldn’t just roll over and give up on her. He had the human feeling of wanting to save her no matter what…”
I knew well that Tsuge-san was reflecting on his own powerlessness; I had had the same feeling just yesterday.
“Ironic, right! Sousei’s Persona awakened ‘cause of his strong sense of loss from Yuuri’s death! But! Reality is cruel! What the research team really wanted was a combat-type Persona, so they wouldn’t take it!”
It was a dramatic past that made my heart clench just hearing it.
“When you first met Sousei, we said he’d gone wild ‘cause of a mess-up in an experiment, right?”
“...Yes. I remember.”
“That was an instinctive reaction to a huge burden on his soul. We were trying to artificially make him awaken to a combat-type Persona. The same experiment Yuuri was trying when the accident happened. I was carryin’ on Yuuri’s will. But it’s an unprecedented test. T’be honest, there was pretty much no chance it would work…”
Tsuge-san heaved out a huge sigh, like heavy machinery expelling steam.
“Even so! I knew how Sousei felt! It was so Yuuri would be recognized too, even though she was dead! I know he thought if everyone acknowledged him, who was made and raised by Yuuri, they’d praise Yuuri Kurogami, the one who created Genesis, and say she really was a genius! Even if I knew the experiment would fail! I had to help him out!”
Tsuge-san yelled in a loud voice. He laughed feebly for a while, then finally sank deep into the sofa and fell silent, staring up at the white ceiling.
I could not find the words to respond. No matter what I said, I thought the words of an outsider like me would not satisfy Tsuge-san.
“...Here.” At the very least, I could pour him a warm cup of coffee as thanks.
“...Oh, thanks.” I was slightly relieved to see Tsuge-san hungrily drinking the coffee.
“...Thank you very much, Tsuge-san. I’m glad I could hear about Sousei-san’s early life.”
Sousei-san’s past, which I had always wanted to know but did not want to bring up. Our partnership had been hastily arranged, and I knew that we had not pried into each other’s business because we would soon part ways.
However, hearing it like this, I felt regret at my own timidity up until now. It may have been better to know sooner.
“...Well, he’s rude and cheeky and acts all tough, but he’s definitely not a bad kid. Take care of Sousei.”
Tsuge-san finished drinking the coffee and spoke in a calmer voice.
“That’s right. I’ll start by bowing my head to Sousei-san and asking if we can’t be partners again.”
“Ah, no, wait a sec. I’d be happy if you guys let me help patch things up, kinda like a dad, but don’t tell Sousei I told you about the past! He’ll definitely get really mad! You can imagine, right? You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Sousei’s pretty shy!”
In the next moment, Tsuge-san snorted as if enjoying himself. I found myself smiling naturally in response. I had been caught up in the mood, and as a result, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
“...Now that I think about it, it’s not just Sousei-san. I don’t know anything about Touko-san either.”
Now that the situation with Sousei-san was looking up, it was inevitable that my thoughts turned to Touko-san.
“I only know who she is as a detective. I know there’s nothing I can do about it, but I can’t help but feel that things could have turned out differently had I understood Touko-san better.”
I had said myself that I would no longer complain, and I was going against that. I could not help but feel self-deprecating.
“...Geez, there’s nothing you can do.”
Tsuge-san shook his head in a huge motion that matched his body.
“Well, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blamin’ you. I just mean it’s unavoidable. Humans don’t really know much about themselves, an’ there’s no way they’d understand other people. Now, I’m just makin’ excuses, but Touko’s not the kinda woman who’d just wear her heart on her sleeve. I see her all year round and there are still sides of Touko Aoi I don’t know about.”
“...Tsuge-san, do you not know her ‘criminal motive’ either?”
“...T’be honest, no. This is just a pearl of wisdom from an old man, but I can give you an idea. To put it simply, I think it’s got to do with Kyouhei. Can’t really say it’s the main reason for her motive, though.”
However, I had high hopes for this, seeing as it came from Tsuge-san. Why was that?
“If you wanna know about Touko, it would’ve been best to ask Kyouhei. It really is too bad… Ah! No, no! Gotta stop bein’ depressing! Well, let’s see, other than that, all you can do is ask her yourself!”
In the next moment, I stood from the sofa energetically. It was as if I had been electrocuted.
Thanks to Tsuge-san’s words, I could clearly see the steps I should take.
“Hold on, hold on! You’re sayin’ ‘That’s it’, but I was just desperate when I said that, y’know? Isn’t there a lot wrong with tryin’ to ask her yourself?”
Tsuge-san was completely confused.
“Of course we can’t.”
Tsuge-san’s flustered behavior was funny, and the corner of my mouth twitched upward.
“Touko-san herself told me that ‘discovering her criminal motive is my homework’. For her to use that wording specifically means that there is some significance in searching for her motive.”
Tsuge-san rubbed his jaw with his fingertips as he waited for my next words.
“I think Touko means we should hear it from ‘Kyouhei Hioka-san’.”
There was something only we could do–
In the next moment, Tsuge-san cried, “Oh, I get it! That’s what you mean!” and smacked his palm. The strong “whump”, rather than a “whack”, was rather like Tsuge-san.
“Sousei’s ‘Past Reading’, huh. Right, right. He’s pretty reliable, huh?”
“I don’t know about reliable, but he is indispensible. Without Sousei-san, we wouldn’t have been able to corner Touko-san in this case.”
“Yeah! Okay, let me handle things from here. Just wait a bit. Lemme think of places special to Kyouhei and Touko…”
Tsuge-san slapped his cheeks with his hands and began to mumble. I was glad he was so quick to understand.
It was unlikely that we would be able to hear directly from Touko-san herself. In addition, Kyouhei Hioka, who knew the most about her past, was no longer of this world. In that case, there was no other recourse remaining than to detect Kyouhei Hioka’s past conversation in a place special to them when they were intimate.
“Please.” I reseated myself on the sofa and quietly drank coffee so as not to distract Tsuge-san as he searched his memories.
“...Hmm, their favorite bar is in the red light district behind Yagokoro Station, but even if they drank there, in the end it’s a public place and I dunno if Touko would speak her mind there… If they were gonna have a serious conversation ‘bout Touko’s motive, there might be a better chance it was at the apartment they lived in together ‘till five years ago… Ahh, damn, I hate growin’ old, can’t remember the name of the place…”
I waited several dozen more seconds as Tsuge-san muttered.
“–Ah, that was it! Right, right! It was ‘Iwato Apartments’!”
In contrast to Tsuge-san, who looked overjoyed at having picked out that fragment of memory, my expression reflexively stiffened.
“Oh yeah, and I kinda remember hearin’ their place in Iwato Apartments was on a floor with a good view. What was the address again…”
“It’s all right. I know where Iwato Apartments is.”
I answered immediately, and Tsuge-san’s eyes grew round. “Whoa, as expected of the Detective Prince! You don’t miss a thing!” Tsuge-san praised me, nodding. Of course, it was a misunderstanding.
Iwato Apartments was where the body of Miyuki Midorikawa, known as Uzume, had been found.
At that time, an abandoned apartment building outside the city had seemed a suitable place for a murder scene and I had considered no other reason, but in reality, it seemed it was a place Kyouhei Hioka was familiar with and had ties to.
“At that time, if I and Sousei-san had gone over every inch of the mansion, not just the entrance hall where the body was discovered…”
I knew there was no changing what had already happened, even if I regretted it, and yet I could not help but worry at my lower lip.
“Tsuge-san! Thank you for all your help! I’m going to the scene immediately!”
I stood up, meaning to strike while the iron was hot. Then, as soon as I stood, I remembered there was nothing I could do alone. “...That’s right.
“...Er, Tsuge-san, do you know where Sousei-san is now?”
I felt that I owed him an apology. It was irrefutable that I needed him. However, a large part of me felt quite awkward.
When I spoke, Tsuge-san’s shoulders shook hugely and he laughed. I inclined my head to the side, as if to ask why, and Tsuge-san jerked his chin toward the entrance of the director’s office, still grinning. I turned around like he indicated and a person’s silhouette was visible beyond the frosted glass of the door. The person was quite large.
“Ahahaha! He thought back and figured he said too much. But now he’s too scared to show his face and can’t open the door!”
In the next moment, Tsuge-san’s intentionally provocative words echoed loudly through the room.
“Man, he’s really just a big chicken!”
“W-Who the hell are you calling a chicken, Gramps!?”
In the next moment, the door was thrown open forcefully and a tall man in red and black clothes stormed into the room. I was already very familiar with his voice and figure.
“...Ah.” Sousei-san’s eyes met mine and his expression became one of chagrin.
“...Ah.” I had not been able to emotionally prepare myself, and so I also let out a foolish sound.
“Oi! You two! Here’s your chance! Both of you bow and make up!”
Tsuge-san spoke in a booming voice. Perhaps he took in the situation and was trying to encourage us as we stood silent and unmoving, but it evidently had the opposite effect.
“...Geez! You’re hopeless, Naoto! If you haven’t got this Sousei Kurogami with you, you can’t do anything alone! Well, I guess the great me just has to pair up with you again!”
His arms crossed, Sousei-san declared in an overbearing manner.
“...What? You’re much too presumptuous. I’ve worked alone as a detective up until now and solved countless cases by myself. To put it simply, it’s easier for me to work alone. Sousei-san, if you must insist on aiding me, I won’t refuse you.”
I returned his words and his behavior tit for tat.
“...Oi oi, are you guys in preschool!? Why’re you actin’ like this? Stop this weird competition and talk seriously!”
It was only natural that Tsuge-san be shocked. I was more dumbfounded than anyone that my actions were in direct opposition to my feelings. However, when the person facing me acted so arrogant, for some reason my hackles raised unconsciously.
“...Um, I’m in a hurry. If your large body continues to block the entrance, it will only hinder me. Please move.”
“Why you! Naoto! You’re so! Dammit, what an uncute woman! This would all be over if you just apologized! Weren’t you just telling Gramps you’d bow to me!?”
“...You were eavesdropping? Ah, scary.”
“W-what’s with that ‘Ah, scary’!? Don’t fuck with me! You’re trying my fucking patience here!”
“Ah! Dammit! Are you idiots!? The two of you’re idiots together! No, it’s ‘cause you’re together that you’re idiots! This isn’t the time for you to act stupid and fight!”
At Tsuge-san’s roar, both of us closed our open mouths.
Most likely, not only I, but also the person in front of me whose eyes darted around, understood that Tsuge-san’s assertion was absolutely right.
“...It can’t be helped. If you say so, Tsuge-san. I suppose I’ll have to bear with it.”
“...Yeah, can’t be helped. I’ll let you get away with it just for today ‘cause of Gramps.”
Both of us knew. This was far from over.
Seeing our awkward exchange, Tsuge-san threw himself down on the sofa and clutched at his sides, laughing. “Damn, you two! You just can’t be honest!”
“...Shall we go?”
The two of us exchanged words uncomfortably as if embarrassed and left the room, the atmosphere between us complicated.
“No matter what you guys say, you make a good combination!”
Tsuge-san’s powerful yell resounded at our backs.
April 12 Iwato Apartments
“...I’ll say this first. It’s not like I’ve completely forgiven you or anything. But like Gramps said, we shouldn’t be fighting right now. It’s just a temporary truce for Touko’s sake.”
“...I will not make excuses. Trust is something you win with actions, not words.”
“Then we agree. And also. We’re bringing back that stubborn Touko, even if we have to drag her by the scruff of her neck.”
“Yes, of course.”
We would definitely not leave Touko-san alone. I nodded, reflecting on yesterday’s regret.
“We’ll pick up this fight after that!”
I responded to Sousei-san’s harsh, refreshing words with a bitter smile. “...Yes, please prepare yourself for when this is over.”
I hadn’t realized it inside the director’s office on the fifth basement floor, but from the look of the sky, it unfortunately seemed likely to rain.
We reached our destination for the second time faster than I had expected. Luckily, and thanks to that, we succeeded in just avoiding the light drizzle that began to fall.
We ducked under the yellow “KEEP OUT” tape at the front door and headed for the apartment’s entrance hall, which was devoid of any presence. The gray building against the gray sky was suggestive of the “finale”, and my footsteps naturally grew heavier.
Though it was our second time here, the previous time was in the middle of the night, and this time, in the afternoon, it looked like a completely different place. I wondered if that was because of the difference in my mood. Naturally, the desertion and lack of life characteristic of an abandoned building was unchanged.
“...Five stories, huh? Should we go around detecting on that floor?”
Sousei-san asked as he looked up at the impersonal ceiling.
I gazed around at the crumbling outer walls, the pillars with protruding rebar, the broken window glass, and the damaged concrete floor and answered.
“...I feel that recklessly walking around such a worn-down building is dangerous, but there’s no other way.”
“But you know? Is it gonna be okay?”
“If I’m alone, the limit to my detection range is about five meters. Even if you power it up with ‘Ability Tune’, it’s barely wide enough to cover the school roof. This apartment’s lot is way bigger than the school roof. And even if we go around all the floors, worst case is we’ll be using our Personas five times. I’m asking if you’ve got the stamina for it.”
Sousei-san looked doubtful, and I pursed my lips.
“...It’s true that unlike you, a robot, I have a living body and repeatedly using my Persona will soon tire me out. Using a Persona causes great physical and mental exhaustion.”
To use an example, I felt fatigue similar to that following exercise of a rarely used muscle.
“...So, what do we do today? Give up before you fall on your face?”
Sousei-san asked, feigning ignorance. From his reckless grin, he already knew my answer when he asked.
“A foolish question. I do not care about appearances. I may or may not collapse, but I will do it.”
I declared firmly, just as he expected.
“...However, if I really do collapse, I’ll be counting on you, Sousei-san. It will take little effort for you just to carry me and return, right? You’re stupidly strong, after all.”
I insulted him in a lighthearted tone. Sousei-san snorted with laughter. “...Shut up. Who’s stupidly strong, stupid?”
As expected, the entrance yielded the same results as last time. I was correct in thinking that Kyouhei Hioka had not uttered a single word here.
Continuing on, we changed locations to the second floor. There, we tried using “Past Reading” and “Ability Tune” at the same time to see if we could detect anything. I could only encompass the floor, so I maintained that detection range and tuned Tsukuyomi’s ability so that it went back months and years.
There was no way I would say it, but it was physically rather trying. That was also true in general for using my Persona, but carefully scrutinizing a large volume of past conversations was backbreaking labor.
At present, this was an abandoned building, but at one time, it had been a flourishing apartment. At its peak, a wide range of people of varying ages had lived here. There were so many “deceased” here that my school, comprised mostly of young people, paled in comparison. The volume of conversations increased in proportion to the number of those deceased.
I scanned over all those conversations so as not to overlook anything. Whenever the contents seemed to be relevant to the case, I focused my attention and scrutinized them carefully. It was a repetition of simple work, but the time it took was not insignificant. In addition, the conversations were not always savory, and I found my mental state worsening.
Would I really be able to bear it, physically and mentally, until the fifth floor? It was only the second floor and already I was feeling uneasy. In the end, all of the various conversations detected on the second and third floors were unrelated to the case. The feeling that our efforts were in vain took its toll on me. Sousei-san, who did not have the problem of endurance, became irritated as we wasted more and more time.
We silently proceeded to the fourth floor. Over two hours had already passed since we started working.
“...H-Hey… I screwed up… Maybe I’m too soft… R-Right, nothing I can say to that… Don’t get mad, Touko… You’ll mess up those good looks, you know?”
As soon as we began the detection on the fourth floor, we picked up lines from someone who seemed to be Kyouhei Hioka among the numerous past conversations. We found the word “Touko” in the lines and nodded at each other.
–It was a conversation between Kyouhei Hioka and Touko Aoi.
“...You know, this is the first time I realized… G-Getting shot by a gun hurts a lot more than I thought… Hey, c’mon, laugh… You warned me, and this’s what I get for not listening to you… Gimme a break… You know too, Touko… This is the end for me.”
Presumably, this was the conversation he had had in his final moments. From the words “shot by a gun”, we knew this conversation happened after he was shot by Shirou Konno. Then it became clear that Touko-san had been the last person to meet Kyouhei Hioka.
“I won’t ask you to understand, but at least know how I feel… I couldn’t forgive them at all! I couldn’t forgive those guys! Those ‘Five Togakushi Judges’! Why are those guys alive when Kaoru is dead!? It’s ridiculous!”
“...It’s hard to prosecute cyber crimes, and even if you could, I gotta say the punishment would be really light compared to their real sins… And on top of that, some of the perps are minors and won’t get the sentence the victims’ families hope for…”
“I know, I know. I hate crime and would risk my life if it meant one less crime in this city, remember? I’m the detective of justice everyone acknowledged, remember? Haha, don’t say it myself? It’s funny… Even so, I decided to dirty my hands with crime… I’ve gotta be crazy…”
“...Right, I broke when I lost Kaoru… My heart broke from losing my precious little sister, the only one I had, and the powerlessness from not being able to protect the person closest to me from crime, even though I’m a detective… But Kaoru died! And those guys who made my sister die with their false slander wouldn’t be judged and didn’t understand their sins! No reflecting! Living without a care in the world! Knowing that drove me crazy! Someone! Anyone is fine! I don’t care if it’s God or the devil! Someone pass judgment on them! But! My wish wasn’t granted… So I decided to become an avenging demon myself…”
“...Hahaha, it’s like you said, Touko… Might’ve been better if I’d never known… I knew, so I couldn’t stay calm… It’s ironic… It used to be the other way around… Even though it was my job to warn you, Touko, the vigorous one who absolutely loathed criminals, who didn’t have a shred of sympathy for them… It’s been years since then, and for me to be warned by you… I couldn’t have imagined it…”
“...Will you listen to my last request?... Stop it, don’t say things like that. Don’t say such stupid things like you’ll take over from me, even if you’re joking… You know, I want you to be happy… With me, if we can… Ah, no, it’s nothing… Right, right… My request… Well, my request is easy...”
“–Hey, Touko, will you kill me?”
“...See? Easy, isn’t it? An easy job, all you gotta do is pull the trigger… You’re not surprised, huh. As expected of you… Or do you get how I feel… It’s stupid pride. If I die, I’ll hate being killed by the Five Togakushi Judges… But it’ll still feel like I lost if I kill myself, right? ...So, I think I wanna die by your hand, Touko.”
“...So this is how my life, Kyouhei Hioka’s life, ends… Pretty sloppy, huh… But you know, no matter how many times I redo my life, next time I’ll die in the same sloppy way again… E-Even if you tell me not to talk anymore… There’s still a ton of stuff I wanna tell you, Touko… If I think this is the last time I talk to you, the words just keep on coming… Right, normally this is where I say the things I’ve wanted to say…. T-Thanks for going along with my selfishness in the end… Ah, if I'm reborn, one more time, with you–”
–His lines were interrupted there.
Both Sousei-san and I stood stock still, gazing at the past conversation shining on Tsukuyomi’s marquee.
His magnificent last moments. My chest tightened just seeing his words. How had Touko-san felt, she who happened to be present and who had been very close to Kyouhei Hioka? It was an extremely heavy thought and I was afraid to even imagine it.
What came as the greatest shock to us was that, from the contents of the conversation and the the actual situation, we had deduced that Shirou Konno, known as Sarutahiko, had shot Kyouhei Hioka, but the one who had ultimately killed him – was Touko-san.
In the next instant, I fell face-first into the inverted triangle of Sousei-san’s back, overcome with dizziness.
I made to straighten my posture, but there was no strength in my legs. My knees would not stop shaking. Amatsu-Mikaboshi’s form was disappearing. I was amazed that I had exhausted so much of my strength that I could no longer maintain my Persona.
“Oi, you okay? Aren’t you exhausted?”
Sousei-san looked back and narrowed his eyes.
“...No, I’m fine. I’m just a little tired. I’ll recover soon enough.”
There was no basis for it. It was the first time I had put all my strength into using Amatsu-Mikaboshi. I could not imagine what would happen to me after this.
“Okay, let’s go to the fifth floor.”
However, this was no time to stop. Even so, Sousei-san did not move.
“...Hey, Naoto. Shouldn’t we regroup for now? We got Kyouhei Hioka’s conversation right before he died. Isn’t that good enough for today?”
Sousei-san gazed at me reproachfully. I took several deep breaths, straightened my back, looked Sousei-san straight in the eye, and shook my head.
“Postponing the problem cannot end well. I want to reach Touko-san as soon as possible.”
“I get how you feel, but what the hell do you think’ll happen to you!? If you go up against Touko as weak as you are now, there’s no way you’ll win!”
Sousei-san’s warning was right on the mark. I had always respected the detective known as Touko Aoi, and there was no way I would underestimate her. However, I shook my head firmly and refused.
“...I don’t want to leave her alone for one more second.”
We could not back down now. Unless I was mistaken, Touko-san was surely awaiting our arrival.
Wasn’t this “homework” a message for us from Touko-san? In other words, searching for her motive was a “problem” to lead us to her, and once we determined her motive, the “solution” would be awaiting us.
No, the truth was that I had nothing else to believe. From the very beginning, Touko-san had had us in the palm of her hand.
“...Dammit! Do what you want! In exchange! Go all out, Naoto! If you collapse I’m never gonna accept you! I’ll call you incompetent forever!”
Sousei-san said haughtily, and with long strides, he passed me and climbed to the fifth floor.
He really was a tactless person. Who in the world would fall for that kind of obvious provocation? I shook my head in exasperation and told him.
“The same holds for you! Don’t get in my way!”
In the next instant, I walked quickly and overtook Sousei-san.
Most likely, it only applied to me. Would I lose to him? When I thought that, strength sprang up from the bottom of my heart. Thanks to that, it seemed I could continue on for a little longer.
And so, racing neck-and-neck and wasting strength for no reason, we competed until we leapt out onto the fifth floor.
“–Huh. Pretty good view.”
Sousei-san stopped in his tracks at the scenery just when we reached the fifth floor. Fortunately, there were no tall buildings in the area, and the beautiful scenery of Yagokoro City spread out uninterrupted before our eyes. If the weather had been good, it would certainly have been a refreshing view.
In the next moment, the words Tsuge-san had previously spoken in the director’s office replayed themselves in the back of my mind.
“Sousei-san! Call forth Tsukuyomi! Please use ‘Past Reading’!”
“The hell? What’s with you? I’d do it even if you didn’t tell me to!”
Sousei-san summoned his Persona as he complained.
“Go back and detect conversations from more than five years ago! I’ll support you with all my strength!”
There was a reason I was impatient. I believed this to be the floor where Touko-san and Kyouhei Hioka lived when they lived together six years ago.
Of course, if that was the case, it raised the question of why Kyouhei Hioka’s conversation on the brink of death was detected one floor below, on the fourth floor.
In the end, this was just my hypothesis, but originally, Kyouhei Hioka had intended to breathe his last on the fifth floor, where he shared many memories with Touko-san. However, as he was dying after taking a bullet, perhaps he did not have the energy to climb up to the fifth floor and had used up all his strength getting to the fourth floor.
When I imagined Kyouhei Hioka down on his hands and knees, mustering his strength and desperately climbing to the fifth floor, I felt a deep sense of sadness.
“You don’t mind killing criminals if it’ll solve a case? Touko, your way of thinking is too extreme!”
A little while after we began the detection, we found a conversation we could not overlook.
Several factors matched, the time frame of five years ago and the name Touko, and they convinced me this was an exchange from when the two of them had been living together.
“You should hate the crime, not the criminal! ...No, don’t call me a softy. That’s not it. Us police have gotta carry out a police officer’s duty. Our duty is to apprehend criminals. It’s not the police’s place to judge them!”
“...Even I’m human, and I’ve got feelings too. I’ve experienced a lot of unreasonable things. I’ve seen the worst kind of criminals, the ones you wouldn’t feel a shred of sympathy for even if they died. But our power as police isn’t for getting emotional and wiping out criminals. It’s the power to protect the people of the city, right?”
“If you don’t get what I’m saying, that’s a problem with your emotions, Touko! Don’t you hate criminals so much because your parents were killed by them a long time ago!? Now! I want you to tell me clearly. Touko, why did you become a police officer?”
“...Revenge on all criminals, huh… That’s kind of futile… But even if you got rid of all the criminals in the world, your parents still wouldn’t come back!”
“I’m not saying it’s pointless! Just by dirtying your own hands, you might be able to save unfortunate kids like yourself… But then who’s gonna save you?”
“...There's no way I’m just gonna sit back and watch you fall, Touko. I definitely won’t let you do anything that ridiculous as long as I live. If you try, I’ll risk my own life to stop you.”
What a strange feeling. Kyouhei Hioka six years ago and Kyouhei Hioka on the verge of death. They should have been the same person, and yet their claims were complete opposites. We could not detect her because she was still alive, but the position of his conversational partner, Touko-san, may also have been the exact opposite six years ago compared to now.
“...Well, that’s how it is.”
We took a few dozen minutes more and finished reading the remainder of Kyouhei Hioka’s conversations. Within the past conversations were happy conversations between lovers, conversations between lovers which were embarrassing to read, and the interesting fact that the pendant Touko-san wore around her neck had been a birthday present from Kyouhei Hioka. We only perceived Kyouhei Hioka’s lines, but even so, their intimacy was very clearly conveyed.
We reached a good stopping point and I sat down. I was made aware of my own exhaustion by my ragged breathing and the countless beads of sweat on my forehead.
“So, did you figure something out?”
Sousei-san asked from above me. Enviably, he looked completely composed.
“...Right. I now have some idea of Touko-san’s criminal motive.”
“Hmm. But for all that, you don’t look or sound too good, you know?”
Fatigue was not the only cause. I had reached the end of my reasoning.
We had come here in accordance with Touko-san’s hint, but I had still not figured out the crucial answer informing us of her whereabouts. There had been a vital hint to the resolution of the case on the fifth floor of Iwato Apartments, which held Touko-san and Kyouhei Hioka’s most precious memories, but she was not here.
What place would she possibly choose as the final stage to complete her revenge other than here?
However, I could not allow Sousei-san to become anxious, and so I pretended to be fine.
“No, well, it’s nothi-”
I began to speak and then swallowed my words. Tsuge-san’s words replayed in my mind and I remembered the faces of those important to me. I let out a single breath and asked Sousei-san.
“–Er, to tell the truth, I’ve reached the end of my rope. I cannot begin to guess where Touko-san has taken Futodama and gone into hiding.”
I could not forget. I was not alone. I was not fighting by myself.
“What would you do in this situation, Sousei-san?”
When I spoke, Sousei-san blinked at me, his expression wild.
“...What’s wrong? Your face has always been strange, but it just grew stranger?”
“...Ugh, gross. Naoto being honest is gross.”
Sousei-san screwed up his face.
“...How rude. It’s not so unusual. We’re partners. It’s important for partners to have a trusting relationship where they can consult with each other on anything.”
“Hey, who the hell are you and what’ve you done with Naoto?”
Sousei-san’s shoulders slumped in an exaggerated action.
“...Well, anyway, I’d just act.”
Sousei-san said whatever he wanted but answered the question honestly. He really did have a good heart, just as Tsuge-san said.
“I’ve got great physical strength and mobility as a bike. And I don’t really like thinking hard about things like you, Naoto.”
“That’s just like you, Sousei-san.”
“Huh? You looking down on me?”
“No, I’m not. Though I don’t respect you, either.”
“You really are an asshole!”
“I’m joking. You’ve been a great help.”
I regained my cheer as I exchanged lighthearted banter with Sousei-san and stood heavily. It was no use sitting idle here. Perhaps we would have luck following the suggestion of my partner. In any case, we would return to the station and investigate Touko-san’s early life.
It was right when I turned toward the stairs to the lower floors.
“Hey, what do we do?”
“Hm? About what?”
I asked in return, not understanding Sousei-san’s question. When I looked over, Sousei-san was gazing up at the impersonal concrete ceiling.
“I’m asking what we do about up there? We haven’t checked out the roof yet, right?”
In the next moment, I was off like a shot, starting to run.
“O-Oi! Naoto! What’re you doing?”
In front of me was the emergency staircase leading to the roof.
“Hurry, Sousei-san! Touko-san may be on the roof!”
I had remembered. This time too, without fail – this scenario was just as Touko Aoi, who knew the future, had planned.
In that case, it was fate that we would be led to Iwato Apartments, following the hint she had given us. When I thought that, I realized that the remaining place, the roof, would be the stage for the finale of this case.
We ran up the spiral-shaped emergency staircase. As we ascended, the smell of dampness became more strongly pronounced. At last, when we took our first steps onto the roof with a savagery appropriate for an abandoned building, before our eyes was a light curtain of rain – and a familiar voice that assaulted our eardrums.
“All right. Stop right there, you two.”
The way the voice’s owner ordered us in that moment was as if she had “known beforehand” that we would come to the roof. As far as I knew, there was only one person in the world who could manage that feat.
Sousei-san and I cried out at the same time. Our voices echoed across the gloomy roof sprinkled with light rain.
Touko Aoi was here. She was sitting leisurely with her legs crossed atop a rectangular black box like a guitar amp in the center of the roof.
Perhaps it was because she had been exposed to the rain for a long while, but Touko-san’s deep blue shirt was dyed almost black. Drops of water followed the lines of her white neck, flowed along the surface of the pendant at her chest, and finally dripped from the pointed tip of the pendant’s crystal and fell to the concrete floor.
Touko-san was seductive with her hair wet. Coupled with her daring expression, she was bewitching and beautiful.
At this development, just as she had imagined, goosebumps stood up all over my body. I hesitated, at a loss for words. Everything had gone just as she thought it would. I felt an indescribable fear at having been made to act under someone else’s will, like a puppet.
Would I really be able to stop Touko Aoi? She could see the future; would I be able to oppose her? Even though we had finally reached her, what spread ripple-like through my heart was not hope, but overwhelming despair.