Chapter VI: The Fool Who Hungered
A Wild Card of a Different Deck:
Naoya Toudou was a regular, quiet city boy, one that would not normally stand out in a crowd as people tended to flow around him, like he was merely an unmoving blot in their world of ceaseless motion.
And yet he was far from what he seemed, and the boy so many saw was merely a mask that he wore proudly.
It hid him away as he watched the waves of innocents flow around him, glimmers of shadows merging and consuming their light as he watched patiently for the chaos to disband.
One who heard a man's voice when he made supposed friends, and a boy that couldn't understand what about him was so very different from everyone else, why when he made friends he felt only a hollowness in his chest rather than burning devotion and love.
Why was it that when he met a new acquaintance, his first thought was what they could do for him, and how far their usefulness would last before he would move onto the next friendly fool and end their pitiful show.
He had seen legions of apathetic doctors over the years, his mother having been quite concerned when Naoya had come home with a new friend almost every day, and the next she would get a call that Naoya had tricked them out of their allowance and had made off with their hard earned cash.
He had been punished, gone to therapy, taken medication, anything they thought would help correct the facade that he had become.
It wasn't that Naoya was evil, or even that he was greedy, he just didn't see people the same way others did.
He didn't see this world as hopeful and precious, couldn't understand why so many looked out with gullible eyes and far too much trust.
He didn't feel bonds in his heart the way he should, he knew that his falsified friendships were measured by use and potential rather than love or affection.
They called him a Sociopath.
He used people, tricked them into doing whatever he wanted or needed, like they were merely puppets on the strings of his fingertips.
They danced to his tune and showered him with adoration, all the while he watched them with a careful gaze and snipped their strings when they served their purpose or the show grew dull, a mound of broken puppets being his reputation as he trudged through discarded faces.
"Don't trust Toudou, he may act nice, but he'll take everything from you."
"That's Naoya Toudou over there. They call him the Puppet Master."
"He stole everything from us, please don't even look at him."
Naoya didn't want to do any of this, he didn't need or even want any of the things they gave him or that he took.
What use would he have for a rusted pocket watch that had been in a family for generations but held no real worth to any but those that treasured it?
But so long as they fell prey to his silver tongue, Naoya took and took all that they would give or could lose, and he didn't even understand why he did.
He gained nothing truly, and it filled nothing within him, yet the compulsion remained.
Every time he lured another sorry soul into his thrall, that same voice would always intrude in his thoughts, a man both furious and disappointed would speak.
He knew not the man's name, but that voice always returned when Naoya flexed his control over the children around him, that harsh tone piercing through the twisted pride that Naoya felt each time.
Why must thou pervert the nature of this Game so
Why doth only hollow remnants remain of thine heart
So long as nothing rests in thou, never shall thou find the way out of this Game alive
He never could figure out why he heard such a voice, what the man meant by his disparaging comments, but Naoya found himself learning to ignore the disappointment of the stranger inside his own mind.
There was far more wrong with him than a voice that judged him so harshly, a judgemental conscious merely set dressing as horrors began to assault his feeble mind.
There was a hole within him, he knew that, a hollowness where his heart should be where all the good inside him was sucked away. He had always had that sludge within him, an orb of evil that drained away at his light and forced him into days of darkness as his hope began to fade with each tragedy he underwent.
It was like a vortex, or perhaps a black hole in his chest, everything being dragged down into the dark abyss within him until he didn't have to think about it anymore.
Until it was gone.
He did this for most of his life, believing that if people were foolish enough to fall prey to him, that they deserved it.
That the ruins he left of them had become a monument of his sickened pride.
Of course, he hadn't always been this way, hollow perhaps, but he hadn't explored the depths of his demented ideas or began to fool others until they fell under his will.
That came later.
He had been an innocent once, like those he ruined so often.
A boy with a loving mother and father, a twin brother that had practically been his other side, the compassion and warmth to Naoya's cynicism and coldness.
He felt no connection to who he used to be however, the ashes of his old self long buried under the flames of all he ruined.
And yet, his mind always trailed back to his brother, Kazuya, who's only sin was being born.
Whereas Kazuya had been the bright day and the shining beacon of their parent's eyes, Naoya had been the night that drifted in unawareness and laid a blanket of darkness down on all around it, but they never seemed to notice the shadows that he left in his wake.
Then Kazuya had died at the age of four, a predator having stolen him away from the school and vanished with him into the great beyond as none had an idea of what had truly happened that day.
They had searched for him for ages, only for his dead brother to show up outside the Mayor's office, his little body strung up from Mayor Miza's statue, the stone hand holding the noose that choked the life from Kazuya.
It had broken Naoya, the mental connection he shared with Kazuya having been frayed and torn as he felt only a void where his bright brother had shone in his heart.
His parents had been devastated, running out of words to say and with pain and agony in their eyes, tears never far from their gazes.
Madness began to bloom in his father's eyes, but Naoya had never noticed it in the grief he too suffered, nor did his mother care to notice in her denial.
As an Officer, Katsuro Toudou had demanded to be on the case of finding his son's murderer, only to be turned away and sent to dwell on his sorrow.
Police Chief Teruya had come to their home to deliver the news that Katsuro was too close emotionally to this case, a man that would only destroy the fragile justice they hoped for.
A loose cannon they couldn't afford, but not the scalpel they needed either, as they didn't trust his father to not get revenge with a pistol rather than a badge.
Naoya knew that his father would kill the man that took Kazuya from them, and honestly he would have as well, though he understood none of this at the time, merely being a traumatized child wondering when his brother was coming home.
It had only been years later that he had read through his father's journal and case files and learned everything that had been kept from him.
The night after his father was told to take time off to spend with his family, Katsuro Toudou vanished into the night just like Kazuya.
They heard nothing from his father for six months, his mother trying to keep the faith that he was alive and Naoya having finally learned the truth that his twin brother wasn't ever coming home, that Kazuya was dead and never coming back.
His father was found at Nararoai, the district one over from them in Uramoto, his body cooling at the train station with a man standing over him with a blade soaked in his darkening blood.
Hisoka Shou had stayed there rambling and screaming, the man that had taken both Naoya's brother and father away from him, and had been arrested with such fury that one would assume he was a demon wearing a man's skin.
Naoya's father had been taken off the case, but had instead tracked down the killer himself, only to fall to the beast's hand just as Kazuya had.
Naoya and his mother had watched the news story in horror as he laid eyes on his father's slowly draining body, and the interrogation of Shou broke his mother so surely he would have thought her dead.
Perhaps it would have been better if she had died too, rather than hear those words come out of that creature's mouth.
"I got the wrong one."
"What did you say?"
"Kazuya Toudou. I had been watching that school for ages, waiting for a moment of weakness where he'd be alone. But he wasn't who I wanted. I didn't know there was a twin involved…"
"Are you saying-"
"I didn't want Kazuya, I wanted his brother Naoya. It was all a mix up. Naoya is special… it was always going to be him…"
Madoka Toudou broke inside that day, his mother going silent for the rest of the night and collapsing on her bed without any motion, Naoya having to cook for and feed his mother that night as she moved not an inch until long after the darkness had fallen.
He had worried for her, staying beside her and giving comfort as she finally fell asleep, his arms wrapped around her frozen body as he tried to give the warmth of his heart to repel the chill over her mind.
The next day his mother was gone before he woke up, a clattering from the kitchen drawing him awake as Naoya carefully made his way into the dining room like a mouse evading its warden.
His mother was in the kitchen cooking a widely spread breakfast, a bright sun dress on her like the ones she had worn before Kazuya's death, a light in her eyes that Naoya hadn't expected to be there or ever again.
He watched her pack a Bento full of his father's favorite foods, a scrap of paper reading his name on the case and a lovely little note written to his father.
But his father was dead, buried next to his brother, that box would never be opened.
Naoya accidentally made a sound then as he crept closer to read her careful handwriting, his mother turning on the spot with a wide smile that almost made Naoya think that everything was fine, that his father had just gone to the department early today and his brother would be down right after he changed.
That he had just imagined the last six months, all of it a nightmare in the careless mind of a child.
But then his mother spoke to him, and his heart plunged deeper into the dark as he realized what had happened to her, what their new normal would be from here on.
"Good morning Kazuya, how did you sleep?"
He put on a painful smile for her, and said he slept great.
From that day on, Naoya was dead in his mother's eyes, and he was Kazuya Toudou.
And it hurt every time she called him by his brother's name, but yet he still answered each and every time.
His heart had broken, just like her mind.
He found it easier to give in, and he had never understood his mother better than in that moment.
January 2nd, 1990
In the week after Naoya turned ten, his mother uprooted them and said they were moving to the Yazaki district, dragging him kicking and screaming all the while saying that his father had gotten a new job and thus they had to move to stay close to him.
Once again, Katsuro Toudou was a dead man and long buried, and yet Naoya was helpless to drag his mother out of her delusions. He would be transferring to a new school system, to Lunarvale Middle School where he would be expected to start all over from that old and familiar square one.
He was disappointed to leave after how much work he had put into his classmates and neighbors in Uramoto, but there were upsides, a silver lining hidden within the rotten flesh.
He wouldn't have a reputation in Yazaki at least, no whispers on the wind of people warning others about him, and he wouldn't have to visit his brother's grave every other day with his mother.
The grave she had had changed so it showed his real name, not his brother's, yet another monument to her delusions that he sadly couldn't dispel.
He was one of the few people that could say they had visited their own grave, and he fell into despair or at least as close to what he felt it was, every single time he read the inscription.
It was wrong.
December 24, 1979 -
April 14, 1983
Beloved son and brother, taken far too soon.
Knowing that they would be leaving in the week, and that there was a good chance they would never come back here, Naoya asked his mother for a moment alone, her simply nodding as she stepped away and left him in the shadow his brother had left him.
From his pocket came a pocket knife he had swiped from a supposed friend of his, Naoya's quick hand making work of the gravestone as he felt it was only right.
Crossing over his own name, and in his shaky writing the tombstone was finally corrected and it was made clear what had really happened.
Reality laid bare, even if his mother hadn't learned to accept it just yet.
Only one name deserved to be here.
April 17th, 1990
Naoya hadn't expected his life to take a drastic turn that day, the day he came home from his school to find his mother near comatose and despondent, a photo of his father beside her as he swore he saw a bit of reality return to her eyes, though she still said nothing as he called out to her.
Seeing that his words were impact-less, Naoya had left their house for the afternoon, finding himself wandering their new neighborhood and ending up at the saddest park he had ever seen.
Garbage littered the fields like stone as he trudged through the muck, the sign of the park long rusted over to the point that all he could read was the word 'Park', the playground more akin to a rusting skeleton than a place of joy and mirth.
And yet through the depressing gloom around him and the tattered remains of a once joyous place, he found a single girl seated at the swings, her eyes empty much like his mother's as he drew closer, the white of her shirt standing out like a diamond in the grays and browns of the abandoned lot.
And yet, Naoya felt a tug within him, a feeling he had never quite felt before, but quite similar to when he heard the voice, the voice that spoke whenever he conned a new fool, or made up a plan for each of them.
This feeling was different, and he was almost thrown aloof as he swore the afternoon brightened around them, the girl's empty eyes finding his as a small smile formed on her lips.
"Oh, I didn't know anyone else came here anymore…" Her voice was delicate and soft, her lips parting like pink waves as he found himself drawing closer to her for a reason he couldn't quite understand.
She was younger than him, and definitely wasn't outgoing or strong, so why was she a magnet to whatever existed in his mind?
Why did this sad, empty girl call out to him?
Why was she a shining light in this dark desolation?
"I've never been here… something just told me to come here." Naoya said with a shuddered breath as he scrutinized her with his eyes, trying to figure out why he was so drawn to this pathetic girl, the shaky breaths she took slowly coloring her situation in his gaze.
She was weak, fragile in health, and he could tell just from how she breathed as if every breath was a torturous experience.
And yet, as he sat on the barely hanging swing to her left, he found her looking at him as if he held the cure to whatever ailed her.
She looked at him with an undeserved hope, and it was burning him from the inside out.
Like a violent purge seeking to eject the beats that lie under his skin, her gentle voice a wicked blade carving away at the parasite that devoured his soul.
"You're new, aren't you…? Toudou-kun, right?" She whispered with a warmth growing in her cheeks as he found himself once more staring to the gravel below them, the shapes drifting as a sudden wind blew forth, her hair flying up in the breeze as his eyes fell slowly to her hairband in order to avoid the sight of her daunting eyes and what rested within them.
"Yeah, I'm Ka-Naoya. I'm Naoya Toudou." He found himself answering, despite not knowing why he did it like that, a name spilling free that he had once abandoned.
Ever since his mother had given in, he had found it easier to pretend to be his brother, as the few times a teacher or friend called him Naoya to her face, she had panicked and threatened everyone around her including him and herself.
He had spent years calling himself by Kazuya's name, wearing his face and living his life, but something inside of him broke clean at this girl's eyes, telling him that his brother's name was not the one to use here.
It told him that this girl needed help, and for once in his life, he would have to be Naoya to do it.
That a dead boy's name was not his to claim, but something within her tore away at him.
He had no idea why he even wanted to help such a sickly girl, one who seemed to have no worth to her, let alone any reason why he should even try.
She was pointless, a useless distraction, a broken pawn set aside to lure him to failure.
But as he sat there beside her in the destroyed ruins of innocence, he found himself a bit remorseful for once in his life, and wondering what would transpire if he opened up at least a little.
What if he wore his own face for a change, and not the mask forced on him?
"It's good to meet you Naoya. My name's Maki."
And that voice was back, a dark man's tone like he had heard so very often, but unlike before it held no bitter disappointment or rageful scorn.
It sounded almost pleased, like Naoya had finally done something worthy of celebrating, and had proven himself human enough to warrant praise.
Thou who hollowed thy soul to wear a mask that would never fit
Thou who have finally began to grasp the truth behind this Game
Thou who have taken the first step towards absolution and redemption
Seek the bonds that would renew thine soul.
Never again surrender thy heart to darkness
With the birth of the Priestess Arcana, thou have finally opened thine eyes
Embrace this strength, and see through the veil you have been buried in
And as the man's voice faded away, a bit of light flooded Maki's eyes as a violent cough overcame her, her frame shaking in pain as he found himself bracing her shoulder as he held her aloft.
For the first time in a long time, as he held this poor girl he barely knew… Naoya felt something.
He wasn't sure what, but he liked the feeling she awoke in him, the light he swore was bleeding from his palms into the early glow of night.
Naoya smiled at her, and he found he enjoyed smiling.
And when she smiled back at him, pained and small, it still sparked a light within him.
But what did the voice mean, by the Priestess?
What had he found in this girl?
Maki Sonomura quickly became the closest thing that Naoya could call a friend, finding himself spending as much time with her as he could, an odd aura radiating from her as despite her poor conditions she still filled him with an odd vibrancy of hope.
And then her condition worsened, his friend vanishing from their shared haven in the wastelands of children's past, and he found himself finally meeting her family.
Her mother Setsuko knew nothing of what was wrong with her daughter, merely telling him softly that Maki had always been a frail girl, even from birth. From the moment she opened her eyes to the world, she always balanced on the edge between life and the world beyond, and Naoya found it unfair that such a gentle soul would suffer so greatly with no sin warranting such treatment.
And as he watched her sleep, her eyes closed and her skin paler than even his, he felt another surge of emotion within him.
Without a word, Naoya departed the hospital with thoughts of Maki on his mind as he found himself drifting to the arcade nearby, a mob of fellow children covering his approach as the overwhelming sounds of joy drowned out his thoughts, his eyes falling on a young boy in the corner of the arcade.
A boy who stared at him with way too much understanding for a stranger, and a look in his eyes that Naoya knew would be in his as well.
"Why do you have that look in your eyes?" Naoya found himself asking the boy as he took a seat on the plush bench, the other boy merely grinning at him in turn, his eyes drawing focus to odd markings across his cheeks.
The boy looked like a character out of one of Kazuya's old manga, mischievous and wild, yet there seemed to be a kindred soul hiding within the ruffled boy beside him.
"Because I know how you're feeling. You're Naoya, right? You're friends with Maki." The boy said with a knowing smile as a sad glance began to fall into his eyes, Naoya finding that look familiar as he absent-mindedly found himself wearing a similar one when Maki slept on through his visits, his friend slowly fading before his eyes.
This boy also cared for her.
"That's correct. I'm assuming you're also friends?" Naoya said with certainty then as the boy turned his eyes to Naoya, a lazy hand extended out to shake as a dark look entered his eyes like a downpour of unexpected rainfall.
"I'm Masao, and I'll warn you right now Naoya, you'll fall in love with Maki. And I won't settle for competition." Masao said with a friendly smirk replacing the predatory look that had lingered there before, all hints of a threat vanishing suddenly as Naoya almost felt whiplash from the boy's sudden change in demeanor.
"I'm afraid I'm not looking for… love, or anything like that." Naoya said coldly as he wondered why he didn't merely leave the boy, but perhaps the fact that Masao also held a tie to Maki inside him held something of interest to Naoya.
He felt a reflection of himself shine over Masao, and he found himself greatly surprised as Masao laid an arm around his shoulders, a small grin forming as Naoya found himself growing weary of people forcing their way into his heart.
Yet he did not fight his way free from the boy's hold.
"Trust me, you won't have a choice. But stick with me, I'm confident between my dazzling good looks and charming personality, and your… serial killer vibe, that we'll manage to win her heart in no time." Masao said with an honest look as an odd warmth filled Naoya as the two sat there in camaraderie, the lights on the machines beginning to dim as the other kids began to file out for the night, the exhausted old man at the counter changing the sign to closed with tired effort. Naoya found himself looking at Masao in confusion, the other boy flipping through personas so quickly that Naoya was struggling to keep up as the boy stood so suddenly and began to walk off.
"What about what you said before? No competition?"
Masao laughed then as the boys began to be shushed out of the arcade parlor, Naoya following his new friend, or whatever this boy was soon to become.
He felt that same warmth beginning to stir in him, and he knew what would come in the fateful moments to come.
"I figure it's like this. Either you and I work together and share her love, or we risk destroying each other in the process. Better to work together, am I right?"
"Why are you so fixated on Maki? We're ten." Naoya said in observation as Masao guided them down Yazaki Crossing, the lights of the district lit up like a pinball machine as the glimmering scarlet fell upon them, their world bathed in neon.
"You'll find Maki Sonomura has a knack for changing everything, Naoya."
And with that, they fell into quiet companionship, and Naoya felt that perhaps Masao was right.
Maki did have this odd quality to her that reached out to the hearts of those around her.
And as Naoya thought about the sheer insanity of sharing a girl he barely knew with a boy that he had just met, all for some hilarious prediction that he would come to love her just as much as the boy before him… it was laughable.
But it made the feeling no less true, that familiar voice flooding his mind as Masao's grin grew by a mile.
Thou who have taken the path towards absolution and redemption
Seek the bonds that would renew thine soul.
Never again surrender thy heart to darkness
With the birth of the Chariot Arcana, thou have finally opened thine eyes
Embrace this strength, and see through the veil you have been drowned in
And as he stood there basked in light with another friend by his side, Naoya found himself wondering what exactly he had walked into, what challenge would lie at his feet should he take another step forward.
He had wanted to run from his past, from his demons, and yet now he found himself confronting things he had never imagined he would.
His own humanity.
July 17th, 1996, Mikage-cho
The years flew by in a blink, or perhaps more accurately a cruel and miserable dream, Maki slowly fading into the night and Masao replacing the void Kazuya had left inside Naoya as he found himself surrounded by more and more people that stirred such odd feelings within him.
Naoya even finding himself with an actual group of friends, despite how impossible a concept he had once considered true friendship.
Kei Nanjo had found them not long after they started at Saint Hermelin, the boy drifting loose in the wind and adrift in a destiny he disdained.
Though the older boy tended to be a pompous ass, they found themselves shadowed by the boy so often that they practically adopted him.
Kei had quickly fallen in with them as an escape from expectations forced on the young man, a bright future far too dazzling for Kei as he had remarked to them once, the heir to the elusive Nanjo Group, an enterprise that his family hadn't even created.
An empire formed of dreams and hopes of others that his family had claimed as their own, a conglomerate of stolen desires as they fueled their rise to royalty on the backs of those that fell before their twisted ambition.
Kei was the inheritor of a legacy that wasn't his to claim, and it showed when the boy spoke often of his father, a wayward glance to the outside world much too similar to the way a songbird gazes out of its cage.
Kei was controlled by his family, but what remained of the manipulator within Naoya knew that Kei was not the pawn his family passed him off as, but a Bishop poised to change the tides, the pendulum of fate hanging over the boy as Naoya only found himself interested to see where Kei would fall when the scales finally broke.
Though he acted the pinnacle of precision and grace, Kei always seemed out of place, almost as if he wished he could drop everything and take their place on the edge of society, his gaze darkening whenever people's eyes glued themselves to his form with either wanton greed or sinister desire.
Just as with Maki and Masao, Naoya found that Kei also held a tie to his heart, a bond that Naoya had researched and labored over.
For some reason the man within his mind had a fondness for the Tarot Decks of old, each person he forged such a bond with reflecting a Arcane face as each grew closer and closer to what he felt was a slowly igniting heart within him.
And despite that, Kei resembled nothing of the Arcana he was said to embody, an oddity as he seemed almost the opposite in many ways.
The man in his mind called Kei, the Hierophant, neither a guardian nor a mentor residing within Kei, but more a logical guidance echoing from the boy.
Naoya would often find himself confused and addled when Kei would throw off his expectations with ease, the boy changing faces so quickly that he might as well have been a shapeshifter at a masquerade.
The boy was elusive and ever changing, a mask on display over his features, the truth hidden beneath the painted visage.
It was a theme that they all embodied as each day seemed to trap them into a different and frightening world than the one they had fallen to rest in before, each of them losing parts of themselves.
Each bond he forged brewed new intrigue and yet sowed further discord within Naoya as he found his life becoming a disturbed and paralyzing series of dreams, or perhaps his reality had just turned to such strange shapes that it would be better thought of as fantasy.
And yet with the more friends that he made, the more Naoya found himself beginning to understand his complex fate, wondering who would be the next to steal their place within his soul.
And whether there was some truth to this Game he heard so often about, of what exactly he was meant to do, or what strategy to play in a game that eluded sense.
He would pierce the veil he had been warned of, that Naoya swore.
He would be blinded no longer.
In time another drew his way into Naoya's heart, Hidehiko Uesugi, a boy that tired Naoya out every time they met with endless confusion.
The other boy relied on cheap humor and horrific puns to endear himself to their friends, but it confused Naoya greatly as the boy would sometimes let his mask fall away, a different soul residing in that previously vibrant body.
The colored shards landed nowhere as they vanished in the winds, the true face of the boy revealed for a moment before the remnants would reform a new mask to obscure him once more.
When he first realized that Hidehiko would likely form a bond with him, Naoya took great care in trying to predict which card would represent the jokester, his mind faltering between Fool and Jester, and yet it had left Naoya dumbstruck when he ran into Hidehiko on a dark street one night.
The older boy was bruised and bloody, and yet there he sat on the curbside, his eyes adrift as scarlet ran below his sunglasses, his eyes just as clear to see through the tinted glass as Naoya felt a draw emitting from the comedian, an orbital aura that drew him further from the light.
"Who did this to you Hidehiko?" Naoya had asked at the time, Hidehiko not even glancing his way as a broken smile graced his usually jovial face, the pearly whites within staining crimson as the droplets began to leak ever down and stain more and more of the boy's flesh a dark shade of concern.
"Have you ever heard the joke… Naoya, about the man who tried to defy God?"
A joke, but none like Hidehiko had ever told before, a meaning hanging over those words like the Blades of Damocles, a weight waiting to fall over them as Naoya swore he saw a flicker of golden light at the end of the street, the form of a common owl watching them closely as it almost seemed to vanish when Naoya looked closer at the unusual oddity.
"I can't say I have, Brown." The word was easy on his tongue, the nickname that Hidehiko had claimed so long ago was truer than his own name, and the rest had merely accepted the strange title and Hidehiko had worn it proudly for as long as they knew him.
And yet, something odd floated along the usual maniac energy of his latest friend, and it frightened Naoya in ways he couldn't begin to understand.
"It's a simple joke, Naoya. The man wants to be free, but God says that Fate has a role for him to play. The man pleads, he begs, and he even threatens God to overturn Fate itself, to allow him to be the exception to destiny, for he believes that he is a pitiful choice for one so chosen by Fate." Brown said with a pained grin as Naoya found himself looking to the aged library across the way, Brown's eyes trailing the dark letters in the windows as the shadows of world beyond their own lingered through the glass, silhouettes of creatures and heroes reflecting in the moonlight as Naoya saw now what majesty of darkness had caught his friend's eye.
"God refused, and for his insolence, he struck the man down to the Earth, stripping him of free will and decreeing that the man WILL play his role, or all shall perish for his selfish desire." It was then that the blood began to dull on Brown's temple, the boy's eyes falling closed as the scarlet painted his face like some arcane priest, an otherworldly presence falling over his usually animated friend.
Naoya had no idea what had happened, but the boy next to him bore no signs of the one he had met and grown to know so slightly.
"The joke is that you can't fight Fate, Naoya. No matter how hard you push, no matter where you run, the book's already written. We're just lines on the page."
With that, the moment of revelation fell away around him, and Hidehiko stood and began to strode off out of the light, the darkness swallowing his disturbed friend as Naoya remained seated on the rough stone, his fingers finding the pool of scarlet his friend had left. in passing.
Vibrant color in a world of dullness, a reminder of reality in this quickly growing enigma he found himself in.
And he heard the voice once again as he sat there, his friend's blood staining his fingers as he watched his fingerprints seem to shimmer under the moonlight.
He felt alone in ways he couldn't understand, yet every bond within him dug their claws into his heart, he felt a cold begin to settle where there should have been warmth and brotherhood.
Naoya was afraid as he sat there in shadow, the world bellowing over him all at once, the city beginning to die down around him and silence was all that was left to him.
Silence, aside from the voice of the man he knew in his dreams but never in his ears.
Seek the bonds that would renew thine soul.
Never again surrender thy heart to darkness
With the birth of the Justice Arcana, thou have finally opened thine eyes
Embrace this revelation, and wander not the hollow path ever again
Break this illusion, and see what truly lies in the yolk of thy heart
And with that, Naoya felt that same weight return, the shadow of it hanging over him as he stood and began to walk away from Scholar's Square, the red still on his fingers as he tried to understand what he was meant to learn from all of this oddity and strife.
What Game he had been forced into, and what was truly hidden from him, one who thought himself the mastermind once upon a time… now lost in another's game.
How fitting that this would be the fate forced on him, and despite the moral he had been taught, he longed to debate God himself.
Naoya would not step back into his brother's place, would not wear that mask that his mother and so many others had expected.
He would see the truth.
Without consulting anyone, that night Naoya cut his hair in a wild and rugged style, one that the neat Kazuya would have never dreamed of, the boy wishing to kill off the afterimage he had lived for so long.
In time he found himself drifting to a meager pawn shop not far from his home, a lost and desolate place, with a kindly old woman within that greeted him with grace and charity despite the late hour.
Without a word she directed him to a small wooden shelf, glimmering jewels and trinkets catching the light as Naoya found his eyes not lingering on the gold and pearls, the woman knowing just what he needed to illuminate his soul.
No, a simple silver ring rested on the shelf, normal and dull… yet it held a vibrance in its shine that spoke to him on a level akin to those bonded to him, an unrest within him as he bought the earring without delay.
The woman, kind as she was, even helped him pierce his ear, the ring hanging from its new home almost as if it had been made for him, a glistening treasure that blessed him with an odd sense of serenity.
A symbol of his unconventional rebellion, a sign that he would no longer wear his brother's name, be the boy his mother forced him to be in her endless sorrow.
The son she had lost and had transformed him into, the life he was never meant to live, for that gift had belonged to another far more deserving than he.
He was Naoya Toudou, and he would never forsake his name again, that he swore so long as breath remained in his lungs, so long as a glimmer of hope burned in his chest when Maki smiled at him with her soft eyes, when Masao impacted some sagely wisdom that wouldn't have looked out of place in a series of mistakes, when Brown confused him more than any other had before.
Naoya had started something, when he stepped into that playground, when he felt something form in his heart that wasn't hate or malicious plots.
He found a newly forming humanity within himself, and he would not let it slip away from him again.
He would live for himself, and no other than those he chose to hold dear.
Naoya would follow the words he had heard so often, the guidance engraved in his bones, the words he knew so well by now.
He would not give into the darkness.
He knew what he was, the voice letting it slip once before, and Naoya had latched onto it with vigor, the title fitting him better than his name had ever done so.
He was the Wild Card, and he would win his game.
This is the first part of the Persona 1 arc, which will run concurrently with the modern storyline. Each Persona game will be focused on in some regard.
Reminder, I have never played Persona 1 and likely never will.
In other news, I bought Strikers yesterday, so expect that to play into the story more later on.