Here she was now, standing in front of the dormitory she was to stay in for the next four years of her high school life. The knowledge she was going to live all on her own, even though there was the possibility she's going to have a roommate or two or three in the room, was rattling her knees. She looked down at her hands, breath hitched like there was something lodged down her throat. Her hands were clammy, cold as ice yet sweating like a piece of pork belly inside a pot.
Now that she remembered about pork belly, she brought out her phone and checked the latest e-mail she received. Opening it up, she noticed it was from her brother and there was an attachment on it.
"Hey! Did you got there safely? Hope you had a safe trip, Hamuko! By the way, look what Auntie prepared for lunch!" she read, her voice imitating the emotions her brother's e-mail wanted to convey to her. "Huh. Let's see… Yep, knew it. Braised pork belly. Ugh, I should have stayed and left until lunch was done but…"
She was so excited to get into her dormitory. Hearing and reading countless stories online and from the her classmates and other friendly upperclassmen about the woes of getting unlucky in having an 'acceptable' dorm room or even getting the bad luck of having a very rude and unhelpful roommate, she had left early to start in settling down at her dorm. Rumors said that if one came early, they'll have a higher chance to get a really good room. Maybe even a single person type with a personal bathroom like an apartment, the Resident Assistant's (RA) Quarters were like that and from what she had learned the night before, one of the RAs had left because she had graduated already, leaving behind a vacant, spacious and well-cared for room.
The threat of letting a chance of getting a room all for herself in a dormitory for 4 years was enough for her to leave before lunch, missing the specially cooked lunch by her aunt and her brother. If she was there, she would also be one of the cooks and most likely had already taken a bite from the meal several times before serving. Sighing, she sat leaned back at the pillar of the dormitory's doorway.
It was almost lunch and while she knew she had the money to buy herself a good and filling meal at some of the restaurants at the Strip Mall nearby, she rather have the home cooked meal her brother had sent a picture of to her. Recognizing that she better start on what she had went to at an early time, she straightened herself up and pushed the door of the dormitory.
There, she was immediately assaulted by the homey feel of the lobby and the noise of the television from the entertainment area. It was almost empty, due to how it was a weekend and she had came to the place a week earlier than the date she was supposed to come. While it was quite acceptable for a prospective resident to arrive earlier than the designated date to the dormitory she would be staying at for the next couple of years, it was generally a hassle for both the prospective resident and the dormitory's staff. She had no idea why, only it was said on the online forums that it was a hassle, but other than that, she was in the dark as well as the next person coming through the doorway.
She looked around and instantly recognized the bulletin board at the right side of the lobby. Up on the wall, she approached it and noticed several postings for the upcoming events and other assemblies in the dormitory. There were also several announcements about schedules and organizations recruiting from Gekkou-kan. Made sense with how she was inside one of the dormitories sponsored by the academy. Looking for a map, she then noticed she was right behind the RA Office. There, there was a young man inside, shuffling through several papers and typing on the keyboard furiously as if he was in a hurry. Probably he was, she guessed. It was almost lunch, no, it was already lunch and if she was already drooling from the mental image of a steaming hot pork belly, then the young man inside the office must have been starving from whatever mental image of his desired meal in his head
Better get this thing over with, she decided, pushing the door of the office with a smile on her face. "Hey, um, good morning…? Good afternoon? I, uh, I'm supposed to check in next week but something came up so, uh, yeah, here I am!"
The guy across the table gave her a look and it took almost all of her willpower not to cower from the almost ridiculed look she was receiving.
That was it. She couldn't take it anymore. At first, it wasn't much of a hassle. They just changed their address to a different subdivision in the city. The next was a bit confusing, they had moved to the neighboring city instead of the district nearby. But after that, it was an cycle of district-city-subdivision. It had went on for several years and she was just glad that her grades were high enough to get the attention of the school's officials.
They gave her an opening to move at one of the dormitories sponsored by the academy and while she got used to the frequent commuting from the school to the latest den her mother called as home, she'd rather save the precious money spent on travelling and use it on something much more important. After all, her education was a bit of a problematic issue between her and her mother and it was all because of the scholarship and stipend that came with it.
Only she was privy of the money she receives from the school and the moment the school discovered it doesn't get spent by its intended recipient, they'll surely cut it off, disregarding even who had deposited all the money in the bank account. That fact also contributed to the reason why she was dragging her suitcase to the dormitory she was supposed to stay in for the rest of her high school years. Her mom was nagging her for quite some time to give her some of her money that came from her dad, intent on using it for her own reasons.
She knew where she'll use it, though. On her boyfriend of the month, that is. Aside from hiding away from the people that blamed her father, and consequentially them as well, for their family members' deaths, her mom was so keen on finding a replacement for her dad in her heart. She understood that her mom was hurting inside, she was too was hurting up to now, but she couldn't understand why her mom was trying so hard in getting the 'love' her boyfriend-of-the-month. They always end in a mess, her mom crying over spilled cans of beer and other alcoholic drinks and her man taking away whatever she deemed as his in their apartment.
It was too much for her that she's so ever grateful for the offer she received. She never realized she was suffocating there, and she also realized it wasn't quite the home she used to come back to. Maybe it slowly went away as time passed by, but she was sure it happened after her dad disappeared. Died. Passed away. Left them to greener pastures.
She shook her head and dismissed the sad thoughts. It wasn't the place and time to think such things. She was there to have a brand new start by moving out of her mom's place. The dormitory was just a simple train ride away from Gekkou-kan and it was sponsored by the school. Many people applied to get into one of the dorms under the school, but back then she never thought much about it. Now, though, she saw why they did so.
The place was grand in a nice way. When she opened the doors, the place was so clean and neat that she thought it was a lobby of a hotel she once went with her mom. Surprisingly, it was absent of people, though the fact it was a weekend and the occupants weren't yet to arrive until a week then explained much the absence.
She sat down on the sofa nearby and rummaged through her bag, producing an opened letter from the Student Housing of the academy. It was an invitation from the academy made especially for her. Presenting it to any of the dormitories under the school would allow her to be accommodated as soon as possible, free of charge. Her dad must have thought about it before he died, for it was said in the letter that a staff of the Kirijo Group had made it possible for her; her dad was an high ranking employee of the Kirijo Group at one of their research sites, hence why he has certain benefits under his name open for his family members.
It was enough for her, though. It showed that her dad loved her so much before dying, that even after his death she still benefits it up to now.
Standing up, she went to an office where the Resident Assistant was in, judging from the hanging sign on the glass walls. The letter said the RA would help her in settling down and from the way the guy was typing furiously in front of a fellow girl like her, he was certainly the one that fits the job. Seeing no point in waiting, she opened the door and announced herself.
"Good morning. Is this the Resident Assistant's Office? I'm sorry if I'm here a bit earlier but I think it's for the…"
She stopped when she noticed the look of exasperation the RA had on his face, his hands covering his entire face and his elbow on the table. It was like he surrendered over a struggle he had been in for quite some time.
"You know, you two get her room. I don't care anymore. I'll deal with it later, just… Leave. Come back here later this evening," he said, standing up and opening a display case behind him. He then took a key from one of the key hanging inside it and handed to her. "Here, go and have it duplicated before this evening. Take all your things there. Your roommate is that girl over there, even though she's earlier than you about a minute. Now go, I want to get some rest."
Before she knew it, she was pushed along with the girl he mentioned out of the Office, their bags pushed out of the door too. When she turned around, there were suddenly blinds covering the entire office and a sign saying "Come back on Monday. 8 am". Checking the door, she found it was locked.
"Huh. Did I do something bad?"
The girl beside her snickered at her question. "I don't think so. I think he's too tired already and he just gave up. Bet you were here for the old RA's room, huh?"
"What? An RA's room?" Just what the girl was implying? "No, I came here because I can't stand being at home anymore and I had a special accommodation letter from the school. Free board and lodging for the entire 4 years."
"Wow. You too? My parents did the same for my brother and I." The girl then grabbed her bag on the floor and skipped to the doorway where a "Girls Only" signboard was hanged. "Come on, let's see the room we've given. It's going to be an amazing room, you'll just love it."
"And how can you say that? I don't even have an idea that we can have an RA's room." Was that even allowed in the first place? "Besides, I don't think it's going to be our permanent room for the entire year. I heard that every year the rooms are being shuffled around."
"So? The guy gave us the key and told us to get it duplicated. It means it's ours now, he just have to fill in the documents that says it's ours . Anyway, what room and what floor is it?"
The key's tag had a 303 printed on it, meaning the room was at the 3rd floor. Also it's mostly likely it was either the 303 door or the third room on the floor. When they came to the front of the door, both her and her unnamed roommate were gasping at the weight they carried.
"I… can't… believe… this bag… would be so… heavy," her roommate complained, huffing between words she spoke. The girl then slumped by the metal railing around the stairwell, opening her slingbag and bringing out a bottle of water. "It wasn't that heavy when I carried it around but-"
"We're climbing up. Of course it's going to get heavy." But was that even correct? And why was she even complaining about it? It's too trivial. "And who are you anyway? I can't just call you my roommate forever," she asked, pulling out the key from her pockets and opening the door.
"Oh! Arisato Hamuko, transferee this opening! Nice to meet you!" the girl said behind her as she went in first into the room, dragging her bag inside. "What's yours?"
"Takeba Yukari. So... you're going to be my roommate this year? And a transferee too? I'm from the Middle School Department of Gekkou-kan, so I don't really get how transferring to another school is like.. Transferring to a different school after graduating from middle school sounds hard" She honed immediately to the nearest seat she found and crashed on it, her legs figuratively groaning out in relief. "Ah… That feels great."
"Woah, look at this! Are they sure whoever was in here really moved out?" her roommate exclaimed, making her look around her surrounding more closely. What she saw certainly needed to be questioned because the place looked to be occupied. There were already a couple of furniture placed inside, like a couple of bookshelves and drawers placed by the walls of the rooms and a small table complete with matching wooden chairs that fits to be a moderately sized study table/dining table. Curtains were also hanged by the walls and while the windows were tightly shut, she noticed it was wiped clean from the lack of dust that would normally darken any glass window.
"Oh, we also have a carpet. Is this… necessary?"
She looked down and gaped at the carpet she was currently on, startling her to get up and scramble off it. "Why didn't you say I was on it!? We still have our shoes on and I could have dirtied it bad." Good thing that there was a rug by the reception area at the first floor where she subconsciously used to wipe whatever dust or mud stuck underneath her shoes. "Maybe the occupant forgot to take it out and was going to return? I'm sure she has her own duplicated key with her, right?"
Hamuko nodded before slowly carrying her bag towards an empty bed further in the large room. As she claimed the bed as hers, she noticed it was also covered already in mattress cover and only needed a bed sheet to complete the get-up. There were also already a set of three pillows at each of the two beds, complete with matching dusty rose colored pillow cases.
"I think we should leave our things here and get some lunch outside. Besides, whoever stayed here before won't bother taking our clothes and pillows," she commented, placing down her belongings on the unoccupied bed and made a glance again over the entirety of the room. The room would still look nice even with the surprise furniture inside; they already got the space others would die for. "We passed by at the first floor a notice saying the dining hall's not open until the day they'll formally accept residents."
Her roommate paused in her attempt to unpack and turned around towards her, an expression of surprise on her face. "You're going to treat me?! For lunch!?"
"Oh my gosh, how did you know I'm new to this place? Wait, I guess it's quite obvious since I'm a transferee so there's that. Hey, you know where we can get some great lunch for the great price?" She stuffed back the clothes halfway through the zipper of her duffel bag and zipped it, grabbing her other bag as she made her way to the door. "Come on, Yukari-chan! I'm hungry!"
Before she could make a reply, the girl was already out of the door. She could hear her steps echoing down the wooden staircase of the building, pulling out a sigh out of her lips.
"I walked into that one, that's for sure."
Having Arisato Hamuko as a roommate threw her expectations out of the window within a span of a day. Of course she didn't went to a dormitory before and neither the girl too, but she had expectations of having a roommate be as troublesome as she had read from novels and numerous blogs online. Messy, cluttered and plain disaster were just the few of the things she had expected from her.
The girl wasn't any of those. In fact, she was the exact opposite of bad.
Tidy, neat, helpful, and mindful. Those were just some of the qualities that many of the complainers she had read wished to have from their roommates and sadly didn't get when the actual person arrived.
She guessed she had lucked out when Hamuko was assigned as her roommate. Though the fact that the two of them were the first two residents of the dormitory that school year wasn't anything but lucky... Now that she had thought about it, maybe it wasn't luck because both of them had gone to the dorms to get a room reserved for themselves even before reservation was available online. Then again, it was luck that allowed her and Hamuko to be assigned with the recently vacated RA's quarters.
...No, luck was out of the picture since the RA for the Boys' Side was desperate to get them out of the office, he was bound to throw anything at them just so they would leave him alone for a few hours. And the only thing that was fetching to anyone's eyes, especially an aspiring resident, was an extra large room; the RA's quarters was the only thing available at the time.
Her actual luck was having the girl as her roommate. She couldn't have a better roommate than her. If she wasn't her roommate or if somebody else was hers, then…
No, she doesn't want to think about anymore. She absolutely couldn't . Just imagining the possibility sent goosebumps across her body. Imagining the lack of order in their quite large room, the existence of a large pile of laundry at one corner, clutter of scattered plastic wrappers and papers on the floor, a suspiciously familiar stain on her bed that she knew wasn't there before, a roommate that felt she was their maid and had to follow them in cleaning up the mess they made…
Yes, she was glad and absolutely, positively, 100% thankful for the roommate she had. Arisato Hamuko. The girl was like her in almost every way: neat, tidy, organized, and liked to have wide and open space in their large room.
Each of their closets had their contents safely inside them and each of their laundry were at their respective corners of the room. The large space they had was made into a small living area, a few stuff toys there at the small table and a painting that was suspiciously tucked behind a closet was hanged back on the wall. The spare table they had found already inside was used as a centerpiece for their small living area, one that was covered with a very pleasing shade of pink as its tablemat. Chairs that were also inside their room were arranged neatly, creating a feeling of warmth to the hopeful visitors.
So far, only two visitors have arrived to their room for the past two weeks. The RA of the Girls' Side of the Dormitory and the Dorm Manager. Both were surprised that within a day she and Hamuko had been given the room, they managed to make it homey and unintentionally claimed the room as theirs. Well, the last part was said to be the feeling the Dorm Manager got about their room, which was told to the RA that gave them the key who told them later when they returned the original room's key. They didn't plan to make a statement but if that was the case, then she gladly accept it. After all, the room was larger than the regular rooms in the dormitory.
One thing that she also didn't expect from Hamuko was the pace their friendship grew. It was expected to be friends with one's roommate; human decency and respect for others were a must especially if one has to live in a residential area like a dormitory, which was just a smaller scale apartment complex. Since Hamuko was a transferee and she was a regular in the school she was going to attend, she brought on herself to help her in school; there, their friendship grew from 'just roommates' to 'classmates' and 'almost-best-friends'.
Almost-best-friends, because as far as she knew, many of her so called 'best friends' were a bunch of 'fakes' after they learned the matter of her alcoholic mother and dead father. They saw her as a potential problem, a source of unnecessary burden if people discover them being close with the girl whose father caused many deaths around a decade ago, hence becoming 'fakes' in their friendship. Her father was a very influential and well-known person who almost knew everyone, therefore making almost everyone knew him and his family.
Then again, it was back in middle school. Maybe Hamuko could be the best friend she hope she'll have. Them being classmates in the same homeroom just sweetened the situation in her favor. Nice, sweet, tidy, smart… It was like she had hit the jackpot. She's also not a slob!
Loud music echoed through their dormitory's large hallways and staircases, earning confusion from her as she climbed up the stairs to the third floor. Where in the world was the loud but surprisingly good pop music coming from? It was 4:39 in the afternoon, just a few weeks after enrollment, and she haven't joined a single club in their school yet, allowing her to come back to the door at a much earlier time than the ones that have a club already. While it wasn't disturbing anyone at the moment, since most of their fellow residents were still either at several of the club's recruitment presentations or at Paulownia Mall doing some shopping or taking advantage of the free time at the arcade, she was pretty sure volume that high wasn't allowed in the building.
When she arrived at their door, she was absolutely sure it came from their room. Only it was now slightly muffled and a bit quieter. Opening it, she was then bombarded with the loud noise, making her quickly close the door. Her ears were still ringing from the sudden bombardment when it opened again, revealing a headphoned Hamuko with an apologetic smile plastered over her face.
"W-What are you doing..?" she asked at first but when she noticed the girl hastily pulled her in and pressed a button on the remote control on her hand did she repeat herself. The question went unanswered for a moment, with Hamuko thinking or remembering what she was exactly doing, before she brightened up and went towards her side of the room. Now that she can see clearly without her vision getting blurred from the overabundance of noise, she noticed Hamuko was setting up… wallpaper.
"You know that wallpapers aren't allowed unless you asked permission first." The girl nodded at her, making a hum in reply. "Okay, so you did get permission. Then can you explain why you're playing very loud music at this time? I heard it all the way from the first floor."
"Oh, yes. Explanation?" She doesn't want to be in the same room as her when the Resident Assistant comes. Or worse, the Dorm Supervisor. That woman was a force to be reckoned with.
"I saw this new type of wallpaper that was being sold earlier by some man at the station. They say it prevents sound coming from both sides of the wall when it's placed," her roommate replied, smiling as she climbed up on top of her bed and successfully managed to reach the part where the ceiling and the wall met with her wallpaper. "I forgot that I should test it out when I completely installed it. Sorry for the music; got carried testing it with the sound system."
"Huh. Sounds like a scam to me. You sure its legit? And where did you even get that ?" There at the corner of the room, right where there's a spare electrical socket for charging or a lamp, stood an admittedly heavy-looking and bulky sound system. It wasn't there when they left for school, nor it was there when they arrived nor even when they cleaned the entire room.
"That? My brother and his best friend won some raffle last week at Akihabara. Since there wasn't any space back home nor at his guardian's place, they had it delivered here."
"Totally. I didn't knew about it until it was delivered here just an hour ago. Those two just then sent me an e-mail, apologizing for the surprise delivery and wishing me good luck in whatever plans I would make for that." Her roommate opened up her phone and showed the e-mail with a smiley face at the end. "And since I already bought these wallpapers, I thought maybe I could test it out. Oh and yeah, they knew I have a much bigger room than the normal ones so they also said I couldn't have any reason not to reject it."
Looking around the room, she couldn't deny the statement Hamuko's brother made about their room. Aside from the table, chairs and carpet that were apparently part of the room's furnishing, there wasn't anything much inside. They only just managed to get their hands on the curtains and hanged pictures of their own choosing at the walls. It was pretty much empty at the moment.
"He's not exactly wrong but…" She gestured to the sound system again before continuing, "When did you start playing music again?"
"About half an hour ago. Why?"
Resisting not to sigh, she went to sound system and pulled its cord out of the socket. "Unless that wallpaper of your actually works, we can't have this play, okay? The Dorm Supervisor hates loud noise and I don't want to be reprimanded by her."
Hamuko snickered as she sat down on her bed. "I don't hear you saying you don't want it."
She won't admit it but having a sound system in their room at certain times have its uses. Like playing her favorite songs and probably some calming tunes when the stress gets to her.
"Anyway, I'm going to get dinner at the dining hall. You?" By the rate she was installing her wallpapers, she would only cover the part of the wall where her bed was. And with the pile of rolls at the end…
She wasn't finishing anytime soon, that's for sure.
"Can you please have mine packed? My meal card is at the table, under that paperweight. Also my lunchbox's there beside it; can't miss it!"
"Please! Think of it as a favor!" Hamuko exclaimed, voice strained slightly as she tiptoed on her pillow to reach the edge of the wall and ceiling. "I'll make it up to you! I promise!"
"I'll hold on to that." She was her roommate for a year; an entire year of spending time with her. No way she won't be able to run away from that. "Huh, so that's why I can't find you at the dining hall when it's dinner for the past weeks. You had it all packed."
Then again, Hamuko wasn't in their room until curfew starts, which was just before 8 in the evening. But she noticed she stopped it so during those times she was probably finishing some things outside the dorms. Hamuko made a comment how her family had a house in the area before; she was probably checking out where she lived before.
Just when she was about to close the door of their room, she remembered something she had meant to ask to her the moment she came back to their room. "Oh yeah, before I forgot, have you already joined a sports club? I heard it's required for everyone now, ever since two years ago."
"Not yet," came Hamuko's reply. "But I'm a part of the tennis club back in my old school so I'd probably check that one out. You?"
She leaned on the doorway and inspected the wallpaper her roommate bought. "I'm not that interested on running around much, so I guess the Archery Club's for me. Do you know where the clubrooms are?" Its color seemed to complement the already-installed wallpaper on their walls but for some reason it conflicts with the curtains. The curtains may have to go just to balance the colors out.
Ignoring the almost dismissive answer to her question in favor of thinking Hamuko was too engrossed on her task, she closed the door and made her way to the dining hall. As she crossed the short concrete path connecting the main building of the dormitory to the building where the kitchens and the dining hall was found, she passed by some of their classmates, chatting underneath the trees that were scattered in the small garden between the two buildings.
"Hey, Yukari-chan! You're getting dinner already? Quite early, don't you think?"
"I want to get started on my homework early, and I have to think which club I should choose. I heard it's mandatory now," she replied to the ponytailed girl in front of her. "I'm not a very athletic person so any running is a no for me. Which means track and tennis is out of my list."
The pigtailed one laughed lightly at her admission. "And the swimming clubs are too…"
"Yeah. They're a bit…"
"Showy," all three of them spoke in unison, laughing at the end.
"I'm going for tennis. She's going for track. You?"
"Archery," she replied. "But what if you came to them and they're already full? Won't that be bad for us if that happened?"
The girl by her left answered for her ponytailed friend, who was playing with her hair while she's thinking of answer. "I think they said they'll be forced to join one of the school committees like the Library or the Health Committee."
She winced at the last part. She heard some rumors how the Nurse of their department's Clinic had a weird fascination with the occult and was often spending his time making some mumbo-jumbo tonics in the Nurse's Office. Many said it was one of the various reasons why they try and maintain a healthy lifestyle in school as to avoid getting sent to the Nurse's Office.
Effective may be the 'alternative medicines' he was giving out, the things that were used to make one could have made one sick again after getting cured.
"Okay, I think that's enough for me to do my best not to get in those Committees." The Library Committee wasn't better off too. Many claimed the teacher handling the Committee was often absent and the students were doing most of the maintaining of the Library. It wasn't something she wished to do most of her time in school. "Archery's meeting every morning and every other afternoon, so it's good for me."
Both of the girls agreed to her statement and said their goodbyes to her as they went back to their rooms. She had to agree with them too, archery was the best out of all the options. It didn't have a lot of strenuous activities like track and tennis does when there's a meet coming up nor was there a weekly training regimen needed since as far as she knew, archery's all about accuracy.
However, as she passed the lunchbox to the old lady over the counter along with her and Hamuko's meal card, she felt she had underestimated something crucial and somehow made an error she'd regret in the future.
Sneaking out of the room she shared with Yukari was much easier compared to sneaking around the hallways of their dormitory. Often, Yukari was already asleep before 11:30 hits or by chance she was up doing something school-related (she's one of those people who believed sleeping early has a correlation to beauty), Yukari wouldn't mind her going out to get some fresh air out of their room. True, their room sometimes gets a bit stuffy even though their room placement was the best one in getting the breeze coming from the sea.
Yukari wouldn't mind her going out of their room but the same wasn't the case for their Resident Assistant responsible for the Girls' Area as well as their Dorm Supervisor. Just like what she had assumed before coming to Koto-ku, and what was the custom in residences with magicals living in them for almost a decade already though it just seemed to be some sort of strict curfew mandate to others, it was unsafe to be out in the streets when midnight strikes. For almost a decade, that kind of rule was an unspoken one; for many had no concrete explanation to the people that succumbed to Apathy Syndrome, who were coincidentally out in the streets when it struck them. No one want to admit nor point out that because they were in the streets, they caught Apathy Syndrome; it was absolutely rude for the 'accuser' and shameful for the 'accused's' family.
So, because of that unspoken rule, one that was adapted by many people through various whispers by friends and keen observations by others, their dormitory's security guards were in constant patrol when curfew struck and it gets more active when midnight comes close. She bemused that even though most don't have an idea that danger actually lurks when midnight strikes, they still have that strange intuition to be on guard when the distortion happens.
On one hand, she was glad that people living inside Koto-ku were in the know despite having no actual knowledge on what they fear, while on the other, she was exasperated because she would be wasting precious time climbing down the stairwell of their building and up during the Dark Hour when she could use that time to further investigate the area of Koto-ku during the distortion. After all, she wouldn't be caught if the catcher was stuck inside their coffin when the Dark Hour hits.
Nevertheless, she snuck out of their room and successfully managed to get to the rooftop without the guards being alerted. It was also a blessing in disguise that their dormitory has no recording cameras inside the building despite it being a norm nowadays, especially with the Kirijo Group's technology running rampant in the ward. No one would know that she's out of her room and she would make sure that no one would also discover it afterwards. Hence why she's making her way down the metal emergency stairwell of the building.
Landing on the concrete sidewalk, she took in her surrounding closely. Once again, people were absent and coffins replaced the ones that used to be, puddles of blood-like liquid pooling at the gutters as well as the holes on the asphalt of the road, and the skyline stained with the ominous yellow green color of the moon and the sickly green of the night sky. Stars were absent, confusing her the first time she saw the scene but soon grew accustomed to their absence. Then again, it was the proof that the place she was in was a different dimension than just an absolute scenery change.
It was nigh impossible to remove the stars that were out in space so it was much easier to believe that the entire earth was instead 'removed' or 'displaced' than the entire universe 'removed'. It at least explained why certain magics involving or having a relation with the stars, planets and other extraterrestrial bodies failed spectacularly.
It was one thing she had learned and studied seriously before coming to Koto-ku alone. Since she was going to deal with the Dark Hour all by herself, her brother and their best friend decided to help her in studying what others had discovered about the distortion the entire world was swallowed into for almost 10 years. One, when Japan hits midnight, the entire world gets engulfed into a dimension. Not one place or two but the entire world got dragged into the weird distortion that started in the said country, hence people preparing themselves when it struck, timezones be damned.
Who cares if it was noon halfway across the world? The sun just turns darkens as if it was a solar eclipse and the daytime skyline turns hellish red, complete with black clouds to create the ideal 'demonic invasion' some people had been fantasizing before.
Second, the distortion lasted for exactly one hour. 60 minutes. The reason was still a mystery yet no one would complain about it. It could have been much longer and everyone would prefer a shorter distortion than a longer distortion, especially with its inhabitants. Which brought her to the third important topic she learned.
Third, manifestations of people's darkness appear and would try to 'consume' the mind of people around them. No one had an exact idea how or where or why they appear but countless observations on them showed that they were composed of emotions and pure energy that were, for a reason, given form and a minor degree of sentience. Enough sentience to recognize prey and predator.
Though it was hypothesized that people with high levels of emotional grief can hasten the appearance of the Shadows around them, as it was observed for many occasions, it couldn't be confirmed for the criteria of 'emotional grief' was too broad to investigate further.
Fourth, certain magics were unusable during the distortion, leaving with magically infused objects to be used in combat. Normal weaponry also failed to do any harm. Which was the discovery of 'purification'-class magics able to 'purge' the Shadows was something everyone in the know celebrated in discovering.
Fifth, certain people could fight the Shadows , either physically or doing some unknown magic, that anyone discovered to have the capacity to do so were 'requested to be involved in researching the cause personally'. She was thankful that the priests saw fit not to report her, her brother as well as their best friend to the government.
There were more for but those five were the core ideas she has to remember, especially there were many things left unknown about the phenomena. Like the case-to-case basis of Shadow appearances at certain locations and the suspicious lack of them at certain religious/spiritual areas while some have.
Still, with almost 10 years of studying the Shadows and the Dark Hour, it wasn't enough for the magicals to find out the cause of the distortion as well as the appearance of the Shadows. The suspicious barrier that also sprung up around the Koto-ku at the same time the distortion happened didn't help in stopping the rest of the world from pointing fingers in Japan's direction. What made it worse was the fact no one can get anything magical in nature from the area.
She was absolutely sure that the barrier also affecting any magical from leaving the area was found by accident. A very lethal accident, leaving only a single survivor from the Shadow onslaught who had hid himself inside a room at one of the buildings at the barrier's border. The report she had read on their venture was suspiciously sparse but from what she gathered, the monsters inside the area were numerous and with them running out of 'bomb'-type artifacts to combat them, they were unsuccessful in leaving the ward intact.
The splash of a knocked-over can of soda to the puddle of blood-like liquid broke her thoughts, reminding her to focus her thoughts and push away the stuff she had read and studied before coming to Koto-ku. If she was to investigate the area where she and her brother had luckily escaped, she better concentrate on the matter on hand.
Paper talismans on her jacket's pocket and a reserve batch on her jeans' pockets, she felt safe she could escape any of the Shadows' ambushes. But for the past three days she had started in her excursions, she noticed that the area around the Dormitory Village was empty of Shadows. It wasn't a sign for her to drop her guard though. Minato wasn't there with her, and neither Ryoji too. She was all alone on her own.
With the mental map of the area in her mind ready, she crossed the streets of the concrete jungles towards the train station. The area around the dormitories were already done and so far, she found no signs of a container in that area. Hence why she decided to expand her area of research and trudged on towards Iwatodai Station.
Arriving at the station, she noticed immediately something strange. A person was standing in front of the stations' stairs and from the stance the person was making, they were either waiting for quite some time already. It then dawned to her that probably she was the one they were waiting.
It was bad that nobody outside of the ward knew what was happening inside; the news reports being reported by the non-magical side on the number of Apathy Syndrome victims only made it worse for their hearts. To have proof that there were active people inside the area and most likely felt betrayed by the rest of society for abandoning them to the Shadows…
The person was making their way towards her, shaking off her worries and prompting her to scramble back to where she came from. Only when the unknown person spoke out that she stopped and immediately berated herself on her own stupidity.
"Arisato! Stop there!"
Of course, she had forgotten that there were people inside Koto-ku. She had met one person and two of his best friends before. She also had shared thoughts and theories with him before at the National Library on what the Dark Hour actually was and he had given her a way to escape from the Shadows in the form of a magically-infused gems. To forgot that, especially when he helped her in finalizing her papers in Gekkou-kan… That was just stupid.
Aragaki-senpai stood there in front of her, frowning at her like she just took away the last slice of cake that was inside the refrigerator. He had a beanie on his head and the coat he had on his body was shut, most likely to stop the chill of the midnight breeze to reach him. And he was holding on a large hammer that immediately morphed into a baton.
"W-What the? Senpai, where did you bought that- No, that's super expensive! How did you-" She was stopped from asking when Aragaki-senpai brought his hand in front of him, a universal sign to 'shut up'. Instead of protesting, she focused on the weapon he had. It was magical in nature, that's for sure, but find one in front of her… Those types of weapons are expensive and most were reserved for combating youkai at the countryside. Some of the guards around important infrastructures in Tokyo had those types of weapon on hand and were used in combating Shadows to stop them from doing any damage to the said buildings. And those weapons had an allotted budget by the government.
Then again, the people Aragaki-senpai must be friends with were apparently rich so… But magic was dead inside the ward so no one can enchant the said weapons. And the weapon enchanters in Tokyo and the rest of Japan were being watched and their transactions being monitored closely by the government, due to the matter of the monsters in the distortion. So… how?
"Mitsuru noticed an active person for days, circling the area of the Dormitory Village. Luckily, we already cleared that area a week before, so it's safe from the Shadows. But when she noticed the same active person making their way towards Iwatodai Station, where we still haven't cleared it completely, she felt afraid."
…Mitsuru? As in Kirijo Mitsuru-senpai? She was like them?
"And since I was already here, doing my midnight walks, I volunteered. Imagine my surprise to see you, instead of a scared civilian. Can you sense her, Mitsuru?"
…Sense? She's a scanner?
" I can. This is surprising. She has the potential, Shinjiro," came a low sounding voice that felt it passed through a speaker. Sound grainy like a cellphone call. It was also so low, she could have missed if it weren't for the lack of any noise or sound during the Dark Hour. She then noticed Aragaki-senpai brought his free hand to his ear and… An earphone? They have some sort of electricity inside the Dark Hour?
She couldn't hear anything afterwards but from the way Aragaki-senpai was making faces in front of her, deep in an argument with the one on the other side of the argument, she was sure they confused about her. Confused why Aragaki-senpai wasn't surprised to see her and probably confused why she appeared all of a sudden. She remembered Aragaki-senpai dropping a word a few weeks ago about how troublesome it was for him and the others to fight when they were only few.
Now that she connected Aragaki-senpai's allies to his friends, few was absolutely an understatement.
Noticing the wind-up wristwatch on Aragaki-senpai's wrist, she then remembered that she better hurry up and return back to her dormitory. Or else she would be caught up in the transition and people would be very confused as to how she was outside at the streets when she was just in the dorm hallways a minute ago. Well, in their perspective, that is.
"Uh, sorry but I really have to go now," she interrupted the one-sided argument in front of her. "Time's running out and I just snuck out of my dorm. The Dorm Supervisor and the guards don't allow anyone to go out past midnight and-"
"Yeah, yeah, I'll go. I'll go with her, Mitsuru. We can talk this later, okay? Focus on Aki instead. You know without us he'll just… Fine. See you later."
Aragaki-senpai then gave her a look before shaking his head in exasperation. "I should have told Mitsuru about you months ago but you just have to… Alright, where's your dorm? Was it the co-ed or the girls only?"
After that, the two of them walked quietly down the empty streets of the city, confusing her to the point she had to the break the silence and ask a question in order to break the figurative ice between them. "Um Senpai? You three are the only ones cleaning the streets here?" she asked, hoping that it would convey her confusion to the guy beside her. From their small talks at the Library weeks ago, she knew that the Aragaki-senpai had a couple of allies in fighting the Shadows inside the city. She just wanted to confirm it as well as hoping he would open up more information to her.
"Yes. Just three of us, though there are some that are active but can't fight so they're not here unless something happens that we need them."
"Ah… Oh yeah, do Kirijo-senpai belong to the Kirijos that used to live here? Here in Koto-ku?" The Kirijos were the ones responsible for the area they're standing on, but they soon disappeared from the limelight as the years passed by. They still occasionally contact the magical government, however due to their decision to withdraw from the magical society, the entire area of Koto-ku slowly but surely went off the government's radar.
Of course, everyone was suspicious if the perpetrators of the incident was the Kirijo Family but the lack of news pertaining to the Kirijo Family and the fact that the Kirijo Group famous in the non-magical world weren't violating the International Statute meant the Kirijos had no hand whatsoever in the matter. It was magical in nature and as far as everyone knew, the Kirijos had abandoned their magical heritage.
Unless they were… No, she needed more information and so far, she learned that the Kirijo Group was down to only two members, the CEO and his daughter, Mitsuru Kirijo. The situation was too complicated for her to make any assumptions and it would be much better in the long run to withhold any judgments.
"I think. She's rich and I believe her family was already rich way before her grandfather was even born. So maybe she is."
Silence returned for a minute, before Aragaki-senpai asked her a question. A question she was waiting to be asked. "So, why are you out and looking like searching Shadows? I thought you were only looking ways to keep safe, not ways to fight."
"I was just checking out the place, Senpai," she answered. "It has been years . Last time I was here, I was six? Seven? Around kindergarten?"
"I know that. What I'm asking is why you are out right now. Not why you are here. I know for a fact that you've been at the Residential District a week ago, looking at the houses. Mitsuru saw you there while we were on patrol." Aragaki-senpai then stood in front of her, stopping their walk back to the dormitory, and gave her a glare. "If we hadn't cleared this area before, you would have been Shadow Chowder, Arisato."
Grimacing, she looked down on the ground. She knew he wouldn't accept that flimsy excuse she gave to him. "I can fight them," she reasoned. "I have been in this distortion for years, Senpai. It would stupid for me and the others not to learn ways in fighting those monsters."
"You're still not answering my question, Arisato."
She didn't answer. If word got out that she and the priests at Sensouji had an idea what was the cause of the barrier, and possibly of the barrier and the Dark Hour, chaos will ensue and she would be in the center of it. Minato and Ryoji as well. All of them swore to keep it a secret until they could find more information. If they didn't, all three of them would be in danger.
And what Aragaki-senpai was asking of her… She still couldn't trust him with what she knew.
"I… I want to help," she said, picking on the most understandable answer. "I have ideas and experience about this. I also have ways to fight those monsters." She looked up to his eyes. "Is it wrong for me to do something about it, especially now that I'm here?"
Aragaki-senpai mulled over her answer and that was exactly she wanted for him to do. After all, she was a potential 'recruit' in their small team and she came outside of the barrier. While she doesn't have an entire library of information in her head, she has ideas about the Dark Hour and fighting the Shadows. And they were lacking in manpower. Aragaki-senpai couldn't afford to antagonize a potential 'recruit' in front of him.
It would also work in her favor. As far as she knew, they spent years surviving in Koto-ku where magic was all but nonexistent in it. They have ways in combating the Shadows and they're at 'ground zero' of the weird distortion.
"Alright. I'll stop. Until then, I'll wait for your answer. But if you're still going to do this every night, would you mind giving us your help?"
She couldn't help but smirk when he said it. "Are you asking me out, Senpai?" she asked wryly. "Because I'm not interested in romance at the moment."
Aragaki-senpai sputtered at her question, making him back off a bit from her. "W-What the? No! I'm asking if you would join Mitsuru, Aki and I in fighting them!" He shook his head. "I'm concerned about your safety, alright? Safety in numbers and Mitsuru has some gadgets that kept us in contact with one another."
"And honestly speaking, I can tell you're looking for something. You help us, we'll help you. Is that a deal?" he asked, bringing up his free hand.
Worked in her favor. "Deal," she answered, taking his hand and shaking it.
"I can't believe it. Tell me, now. How!?"
"It's a secret, Yukari-chan~ I can't tell you because you're not qualified to be told. Rules are rules."
"But… It's some kind of 'neighborhood patrol' group! What makes it so secretive?"
"Because it is a 'neighborhood patrol' group! You know, burglars and other creepy people in the streets at night. Besides, I'm just a new recruit. Not really allowed to go out and do what the Senpais do at the moment."
She frowned at what Hamuko just told her. It was already halfway through the school year and she just only knew about her roommate being a member of that super-exclusive club in school. No, in the entire Academy.
Everyone knew about SEES. The Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad. A club consisted only by three members, three super elusive and out of this world members. The heiress and current Student Council President of Gekkou-kan Gakuen's High School Department, Mitsuru Kirijo; the Boxing Club Vice-Captain, Akihiko Sanada; and…
In all honesty, she couldn't place what role Shinjiro Aragaki played in their school aside from being Miss Student Council President and avid boxer's best friend. She heard rumors of how Aragaki-senpai was the best in English in the entire school and how he was also the unnamed Cooking Club's President. But those were rumors and the only fact she can get was that Aragaki-senpai was their best friend and was also elusive from the rest of the student body, just like the previous two.
Sure, they could see them at the hallways but there's this weird detached feeling everyone would get just by getting near them. She felt it was only their popularity getting into everyone's mind.
And what made them more popular, aside from having positions in their school. rumored or not, was that the three of them go out and patrol the streets of Tatsumi Port Island and the nearby districts of Koto-ku. The police confirmed that the group caught several wannabe-criminals on the street and people applaud their work because of it. As such, it was a fantasy of many to be with the mysterious senpais when they do their patrols.
How do they act with one another? Why do they do it in the first place? What is the purpose of the club other than to maintain 'peace and integrity'? And what's up with the 'Execution Squad'in the club's name?
She, too, have these questions in her head and right in front of her was a person who could answer all of them in one go. But obviously, things won't go that easily.
"Fine. Just don't get in danger, okay? I don't want to be in trouble because you weren't being careful." It somewhat made sense because she heard that club was created back when those three were in middle school. And to have the club's member count stuck at three for a very long time, the reason for such thing must be a very big thing. "Anyway, I have to go now. Don't forget to lock the door. And your key too!"
"Uhuh. Sure, I still have to buy something at a shop near the mall. Meet you at class."
She then closed the door and made her way to the front doors of the dorm. There she met some of their classmates as well as fellow Archery Club members at the front desk, signing the logbook.
"Hey, good morning. Did you got that shot yesterday? Sorry if I wasn't there, I had to bail out early because of some family matters," one of her fellow club member spoke, earning a sigh from her. "Hey, what's wrong? Did something happen?"
"Not really. Club got cancelled just as you left, so you have nothing to worry. Our club advisor got into some trouble with the staff because of some problems with our budget." It was a shock to everyone there to see their club advisor be called out to the Administrative Building and having the club ended early. It was more shocking to hear afterwards that the reason why their equipment were too lousy was because of budget siphoning. "So yeah, you really didn't missed anything."
She really doesn't want to think what they're going to do at their morning meet-up. With their club advisor removed and the realization of their club's budget used by their advisor for her own personal use… It would be a wonder if there's someone waiting at the shooting range for them.
The girl who was absent the day was silent, obviously in shock, and just proceeded to sign on the logbook. She couldn't fault her, everyone was absolutely confused what they're going to do now.
Walking a block to Iwatodai Station, with the fiasco of the Archery Club in her mind, she remembered what would be the case for her roommate. Like her, Hamuko was already a member of the Library Committee and the Tennis Club. Although she only has the Archery Club as her only extracurricular activity, she fully knew the hardship of maintaining perfect attendance to a club. Only the Archery Club have a meeting every morning to counter the twice a week afterschool sessions.
Replacing her every morning routine of going to the shooting range and practicing her shots and posture with the daily afterschool attendance at the Library Committee and Tennis Club… She could see it was the same as hers, only it was afternoon instead of morning. Now with her discovery of Hamuko's apparent membership in SEES, she couldn't imagine how the perky girl would have the energy to do the midnight patrols.
Now the rumors of her being given a pass to get out of their dormitory after curfew and the suspicious disappearance of Yawn-B-Gones at the nearby convenience stores made sense to her. Yes, the large garbage bag under her roommate's table made complete sense too. No wonder she was droozy every morning, energy drinks do give that needed burst of energy but they leave one exhausted hours later. It's like they borrow the needed kick from the future and when the time came for the one who drank it, they'll be moving like sticky caramel.
As she entered the doors of the train, she wondered what could Hamuko be doing when she was with the senpais many wanted to be close when they do their nightly patrols. Could she be doing some kind heavy work like keeping track on what kind of laws one violates when they're caught? Or was she just stuck inside some dusty room, dealing with paperwork like those stories where new 'recruits' of certain jobs have to deal with their superiors' stuff?
Still beats the humiliating 'entrance exam' she did when she joined the Archery Club. How could a beginner shoot a bullseye right from the bat? And to think the 'beginners' around her were actually seniors wanting to make fun of actual beginners by showing off 'beginners' can shoot a bullseye.
"Really?! What did you do? Throw a talisman and pray to the gods?!"
"No, it more like pushing power through the paper and 'purify' whatever caught around it."
Seriously, it has been months since she joined SEES and all she had been given was an armband and a task to watch over their resident back-up member until she had been given the proper gadget to call combat Shadows in a more efficient manner. The armband was a sign that she's officially a member of the club but it was more or less a part of their uniform. She expected it at the start since SEES was apparently a nightly watch in the city, along with fighting Shadows at the streets when midnight strikes.
No, she wasn't amused the fact that she was delegated with taking care of a middle schooler that was also active like her. And to think the kid had 'seniority' over her because she was with the group before she came. Then again, she just joined just a few months ago while the kid was pushed into the situation around a year ago. Almost a year ago; it was rude to ask how he joined because the kid was an orphan and only the fact the Kirijo Group (a.k.a Mitsuru Kirijo) made the kid their ward and thus preventing him to be drifted away in their country's haphazard foster care system.
With the kid also active , he would just be eaten by the Shadows and if they could help in stopping that thought becoming into reality… Then it was the best route to follow.
She didn't begrudge the kid. It wasn't something he chose for himself. What she was feeling a peeved about was that she couldn't do anything while she was in the Iwatodai Dorm.
"Are you okay, Arisato-san?" the kid asked her slowly, focused on her while he was sitting on the seat in front of the Shadow-detecting console. "You were silent for a moment. And you were frowning too."
The kid was also very polite. So polite it hurts not to be nice too. "I'm okay, Ken-kun. I'm just mad that I'm stuck here with you when I can fight the Shadows with my talismans."
"But Arisato-san, you just said your talismans were limited and they're made with emergency in mind," Ken reasoned out, looking back to the console. "Wouldn't it be good if you use them when there's nothing else to use, like fighting with a weapon?"
Ken Amada, small kid with a good head on his shoulders. Never underestimate his apparent maturity.
"You're right. But I want to do something." She turned around and looked outside the window. "That reminds me, what do you know about that tower over there at Port Island?"
"Hmm? Tartarus? I have no idea but it's strange, right?" Turning towards her, he frowned. "Appearing over where the High School Department Building… Right in the middle of Port Island. All I know it's the reason why Kirijo-san wants to know more about it but they couldn't."
"Because they're too few and if all of us we're going to check it, who would watch out for the Shadows that appear at the streets, correct? I know. Senpai told me about it when I joined since it was the first thing I asked." A tower that mysteriously appeared right where the campus of Gekkou-kan Gakuen was found. One that appears only when midnight strikes and the Dark Hour happens. One that she and the others outside of Koto-ku knew existed. A tower tall enough to overlook the highest building in the city wouldn't be missed when they scout the area during the distortion.
But there it was, standing tall like it was meant to be there in the first place. It was infuriating at the very least. The tower was taunting them with its secrets yet to be discovered, only prevented by the fact they couldn't search its hallways. Tired of staring at the tower an island away, she looked away from the window and focused instead on the large equipment in the room.
Due to an undisclosed reason, the Kirijo Group was able to scourge up some sort of energy source that allows them to operate an electrical machine during the Dark Hour. The same secret technology enabled them to scan the entire city for any Shadow readings, which would help people capable of fighting in locating them. For now, Ken was the one watching the scanner while three seniors of the club were dispatched.
She, on the other hand, was to stay on guard and 'hold down the fort', making her the bodyguard of the middle schooler taught to handle the machine. While it was a bit unfair to her, she understood the reasoning.
If there was somebody in constant watch for Shadows, the rest could focus on fighting instead of stopping to search. Time was of the essence and the Shadows won't stop and wait for them to come. Sure, Kirijo-senpai was a scanner but she was primarily a fighter, her scanning abilities much weaker in range compared to the equipment in Iwatodai Dorm.
"So can you tell me how this machine-" She knocked on the metal body of the equipment to emphasize her point. "-can tell where the Shadows are? All I'm seeing are… waves."
"Uh, from what Kirijo-san told me, the Shadows give off an a signal similar to… uh, brain waves? Like the ones doctors look for when someone's sleeping, I think? I don't really get it, honestly."
Ah, the fact the Shadows affect the mind of their victims have a correlation with the way they're found. "They eat the 'mind' so it would make sense they give off readings related to the 'mind'. Got it." Interesting. "So how do they fight the Shadows quickly? I wasn't told how but they say they would show me so-"
"Ah! They're here! Let's go meet them!" The kid jumped from his seat and scrambled out of the room, earning a groan from her.
"Wait! Don't go ahead! I'm supposed to be your 'bodyguard' here!" she cried out, following in suit to the sound of the front door opening. Looking around, she didn't notice the Dark Hour had already passed by and it was already 2 minutes past midnight.
Making her way down to the Iwatodai Dorm's ground floor, she greeted the seniors. "Looks like I have to get back to my dorm now. I should be going now, Senpai."
The three seniors didn't answer immediately, confusing her. Usually they would thank her and apologize for the trouble and order Aragaki-senpai to accompany her to her dorm but instead, the three looked at each other before Sanada-senpai pushed Aragaki-senpai forward.
"Tomorrow," he started, looking behind him to Kirijo-senpai and Sanada-senpai nodding at him. "Could you come earlier? Around 9. Mitsuru got word earlier that your 'evoker' was ready and they'll send it here tomorrow afternoon." He paused for a moment. "Wait. That's-"
"Technically later this afternoon , Senpai." Feeling strangely elated from the news, coupled with the subsequent certainty of her doing actual 'Shadow Execution', she continued towards the front door. "Okay then, Senpai. Thank you for having me here."
Without missing a beat, Kirijo-senpai spoke immediately to her from the front desk. "Thank you for the help, Arisato. I'm sorry if it took some time but I assure you it wasn't intentional on our part. I hope you understand." She then turned around and continued. "Shinjiro, please accompany Arisato to her dorm. Akihiko, bring Amada back to his room. We still have classes tomorrow and his classes start much earlier than ours."
"You heard her, let's go," Aragaki-senpai said in a low voice beside her as he stepped up pushed the front door open. She followed in suit, waving goodbye to the middle schooler and two high schoolers in t the dorm's lobby. When they arrived about two blocks away from the dorm, Aragaki-senpai voiced out something that she wished she wouldn't think at the moment.
"So, did you find something in the papers in the Control Room?"
It was the deal she had made with them. They gave her information, she gave her aid to them. A rather simple kind of a deal. But so far, the things she found were teetering between helpful and disturbing. She doesn't want to know if the reason why they couldn't get help in and out of Koto-ku was because they were being sabotaged.
Then again, looking from an outside perspective, it seemed to be sabotaged but she doesn't know how it looked like from the perspective of somebody in their group for a long time. Everything about SEES screamed to be an off-the-table,undercover organization, complete with a single 'official' being their handler. When she heard about them protecting people under the cover of the night, she didn't expect it to be figuratively too.
"You guys trust Ikutsuki-san, Senpai?" she asked. If Aragaki-senpai has a smidgen of suspicion about-
"Mitsuru, yes. Aki, maybe. But me, no. My trust in him is about the same as my trust on my weapons; the moment it fails me, I'll find another one." He gave her a look. "You found something."
She nodded. "I don't know if Ikutsuki-san thinks storing files about the Kirijo's Group's attempts in making a group before Kirijo-san created SEES was okay, but I'm thankful that he did so." Grimacing, she looked down on the ground. "There were a lot of people listed there as participants in an experiment and only a few came out to be acceptable. I couldn't find the rest of the files though, maybe I haven't reached them yet, but I swear there were tons , Senpai."
Looking straight in his eyes, she continued, "The papers listed them being volunteers here in Koto-ku, Senpai. People in this city. People that could have help us now but they were deemed to be failures in the files. Worse, some were listed as disposed ."
"I know that the government does this too but many learned not to volunteer anymore after they reported that attempting to recreate the ability to enter the Dark Hour failed horribly. This however," she paused, shaking her head. "This… There were dates listed too. The group tasked by this operation kept on for about two to three years after the Dark Hour started. By that time, many magicals from Koto-ku left, saying they felt scared and many of their relatives disappeared in the middle of the night."
Aragaki-senpai kept silent, listening to her every word.
"Before, I thought, and probably many do, they were just unfortunate to fall under the monsters in the Dark Hour. But now… I think those that caught them weren't Shadows."
"Then it's a good thing that you checked those papers when Mitsuru wasn't there. She fully trusted Ikutsuki, mainly because he worked in the Kirijo Group before he was given the task to watch over Mitsuru's personal mission. She barred me from inquiring further, saying it wasn't my burden to bear."
"Do you think she knew about it, Senpai?"
Aragaki-senpai shook his head., "No, I don't think so. She works hard to save people. But having an idea about the Kirijo Group doing these kind of things, oh Arisato, she thought about it before. And most likely that's the reason she won't tell us, now that you told me about it."
Realization hit her hard right there. "She's to inherit the Kirijo Group, right? The same Group that did these kind of things, for the sake of having somebody do something about the Dark Hour. Why?"
"Why what? Why she's going to inherit it?"
"No, not that. Why would the Kirijo Group do this to the point of…" She couldn't say it anymore. "Why does the Dark Hour concern so much? So many questions coming up right now, not to mention that weird-"
"The tower. The school. A school owned by the Kirijo Group." Aragaki-senpai coughed lightly. "You have reached this conclusion too, Senpai?"
"It's not that hard, Arisato. Mitsuru shuts up when the discussion about the tower at Port Island comes up and Akihiko doesn't care at all, as long as he something to fight. Given that it appears right in the middle of the campus, taking in the buildings of the entire area into itself…" He laughed lightly at that, giving her the impression of a joke repeated far too long for comfort. "It's not that hard at all."
"Oh and look, we've arrived."
Her roommate wasn't there yet. She also didn't said a thing about her late back in class. Sighing, she stood up from her seat, forgoing her homework to inspect the table of her roommate behind her. It was neat, as expected from a neat-freak like Hamuko, but there was also a feel of organized chaos amidst the arranged notebooks and books. Upon further inspection, she noticed they weren't arranged in order but was placed in random order, as if Hamuko piled them just to avoid her table looking like a mess.
"Where does she keep her dictionary anyway?" she asked out loud, looking over the rows of books. Light novels to thesauri, Hamuko's desk had them; there was even a French-to-English dictionary but no ordinary English dictionary in sight. "Maybe under her desk?"
She pulled the drawer and the sight she saw was at odds with the scene above. It was a mess, an utter mess. Crumbled papers at one corner, a bunch of candy wrappers at the other, overflowed pens underneath a mass of envelopes… It was as if the drawer held all the mess that should have been above the table.
However, her eyes immediately found the thing she was looking for and grabbed it before her eyes watered at the mess. Who knew the sight of several weirdly shaped ink stains could hurt her eyes?
Back on her table, she calmly placed it beside her notebook and focused on her task. Just find the words and their meanings and it's done. Hamuko wouldn't know she used her dictionary. Prepared to start, she opened the dictionary and then immediately received a series of papers tucked in its pages.
Curiosity overcoming her sense of integrity, she opened one and read.
"Found another sealed beside the Iwatodai Dorm. Working as an assistant in the convenience store, the sealed showed signs of inhibited emotional recognition as well as an inability to create facial indications."
"What." What was it doing in a dictionary. Curious, she continued reading,
"Found several sealed in the city within the span of two weeks. The telling symptoms of a sealed was easy to distinguish amongst the ordinary people, especially with the lack of interfering signals commonly noticed outside of the barrier. In total, there are twelve sealed within the city."
"...Twelve." Sealed? What are those?
"As it was theorized, and consequently discovered to be the case in reality, the sealed hold an entity within them, consuming the emotional capabilities of its containers. Much like what the reported Apathy Syndrome is, the sealed is a more functioning Apathy Syndrome victim; capable of recognition and reaction but actions are dampened to the point of being dead to the world."
She was getting a bit unsettled about the things she read. And with how unmistakable Hamuko's handwriting was, her roommate was the only one who could have written the things she was reading.
"Relatives of the sealed I interviewed comment that the sealed started showing signs of Apathy Syndrome, albeit it a bit weaker in effect, weeks after what everyone knew as the start of the distortion. Thinking it wasn't just a case of bad flu, the symptoms grew more dire as time passed by. However they couldn't be admitted as victims of Apathy Syndrome due to how 'functional' the sealed was."
"Functional was a term they were leery of accepting. Apathy Syndrome victims were termed as 'walking corpses' but the sealed was capable of moving and following orders. They didn't seemed to differ from any person except for the blatant lack of emotional response and facial recognition and the undeniable eerie 'air' around them. The 'eerie air' can be attributed to the entity 'sealed' within them, fully maturing as time passed by."
"The mystery of the entities 'sealed' within them are still being under investigation. Hoping with the turn of the next school year, I may be able to start in my investigation to understand the mechanics of the barrier and the tower I had previously reported."
"What is this? You know what, I don't want to know." She tucked it back into the dictionary and stood up from her seat, intent on returning it back in her roommate's drawer and going out and visit her club mate's dictionary instead.
Just what was Hamuko doing to make her write those and hid it under her desk?
Kinda late, especially with having dropped off from the rest of the world for almost two months. But hey, better late than never, right?
Anyway, I'm going to update my fics in this week or within the next week. A month of RL has taken a toll on me, not gonna lie.