A.N. (11/26/21) - Shorter than usual this time, so there might be another chapter coming out tomorrow.
Interlude (12) - Kirijo Group
Yakushima, Kagoshima Prefecture.
The Kirijo Ergonomics Research Laboratory was an old facility that used to be devoted to the research and development of anti-Shadow combat androids. With the last model being shut down several years ago, the building has been in a state of decline ever since then.
Late one evening, a car drove up to the facility and a man got out. His face was easily recognizable as one belonging to the current head of the Kirijo Group, Takeharu Kirijo. He waited for the driver to leave before he and the two bodyguards walking side-by-side with him entered the building.
Although the building has not been cleaned for months, Takeharu barely noticed the interior's state as he made his way to a certain room. Stopping in front of a door, he pulled out a card key and swiped at the scanner, pocketing it as he heard a small *beep* before the door unlocked.
His bodyguards remained outside, and Takeharu entered the room alone. But he wasn't alone, for already several individuals were waiting inside for him. He was the last to arrive.
Although there wasn't an official name for their group, the individuals within this room made up the inner circle that was 'in the know' regarding the Shadows and the Dark Hour. Mostly composed of former members of the disbanded ergonomics lab, everyone here was at the minimum somewhat involved in the explosion four years ago.
In other words, they were the 'Dark Side' of the Kirijo Group.
Before today, they had rarely interacted with each other in any official capacity. But they stayed connected, communicating with each other with reports and updates over any issues they discovered.
Not everyone was physically present, some only appearing on electronic monitors situated near a chair. But everyone had gathered to meet after his urgent announcement.
Takeharu nodded before he sat down at the end of the table. "Thank you for coming, everyone. Especially you, Ikutsuki-san. I know that you've been recently busy with problems concerning your division."
"Oh, not at all." Shuji Ikutsuki laughed as he tilted his glasses. "As a matter of fact, I was planning on calling a meeting myself. While I've had some issues this past month, I've also made a discovery during that time that I would like to share with everyone."
"He means we have a discovery we'd like to share," another voice said. It was a man that Takeharu recognized as Tetsuma Tsuge, a staff member of the current Robotic Research and Development Division and a recent addition to the Yagokoro Police. "If you ask me, I'd say our latest discovery ain't one we're gonna like."
Ikutsuki nodded. "Thank you, Tsuge-san. But let's not derail any further and first learn why we've all been called here." He turned to face him. "After all, I'm curious as to why myself."
"I've called you all here," Takeharu began. "Because of an irregularity. The last time we met, approximately four months ago, all of us discussed the possibility of an escalating situation regarding the Shadow outbreaks outside the territory of Tatsumi Port Island. I am here to inform you… that our fears have been realized."
There were murmurs from the others.
"Are you certain," Tsuge asked. "How big of a problem are we working with exactly?"
"Not another Tartarus," Takeharu quickly said. "But we've been noticing that the Shadow population in Tokyo has been rising over the past year. We're still trying to narrow our search range, but we've determined that there is a definite increase in Shadow concentrations within the Yamanote Line."
"That's not exactly a small area," Ikutsuki frowned. "Either this is incompetence on our part on not narrowing that field any further… or rather, the number of Shadows is simply too spread out for any feasible data-keeping."
"It's the latter," Takeharu answered. "Although, I'm surprised you haven't heard of this already. Don't you have connections with the police force within some of their prefecture police departments?"
"Ah, yes. That's actually what I've been meaning to bring up." Ikutsuki turned to face Tsuge . "I'm sure you also want to add your own opinion to this matter. Weren't you trying to coordinate with the Azumano Task Force regarding our latest subject?"
"Phantom Thief Dark," Tsuge grumbled. "Bad news, it looks like their Task Force ain't exactly too keen on the idea of our Special Forensics Division muscling in on their territory. As far as we're concerned, our hands are tied."
"Unfortunate, but not something we couldn't predict." Ikutsuki shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, we've been trying to involve ourselves in the events of that city. But we've been meeting some resistance from some of the higher-ups there. Unless we act outside any official capacity, the Kirijo Group has no jurisdiction in Azumano."
"Which we did," Tsuge said. "One of our associates, Touko Aoi, volunteered to investigate on our own. Since she's still a high schooler, she only has time to look into things during the weekends. But that's all we can ask for at the moment."
Takeharu raised a brow. "Is it wise to send one of our few Persona users out without backup? Especially one that falls into the 'non-combative' category?"
"Her ability helps with keeping her out of trouble," Ikutsuki replied. "And she'll mainly visit the other districts first. After all, we want to ascertain whether this Shadow outbreak is limited to the Azumano area or not first. If the true source lies elsewhere, we might pour our resources on the wrong problem."
"Yeah?" Tsuge let out a snort. "That sounds like bullshit. We know for certain that something's up with that place. Aren't you guys forgetting about that book written by that crazy guy? Didn't he mention something about an artifact located in that city?"
"The mad author, Kyle Endoyle? His book has been studied intensively and disputed on its accuracy." Ikutsuki sighed. "At first, we thought he knew something about the Dark Hour. But his book spoke of demons and devils, differing from what we know of Shadows. And the only copy we got is an incomplete one since the Cultural Revolution destroyed most of his copies a long time ago. How certain are we that his word is something we should take seriously?"
"If I may interject," Takeharu interrupted. "I feel as if there is something I must contribute to this topic. A while ago, I had someone set up a program to search the internet for any owners interested in selling a copy of the book. I won't go into the details, but it uses several search terms that help the program locate such sales."
"Where are you going with this?"
"These search terms are taken from what we've managed to decipher from our ruined copy. A few days ago, a user from the public Azumano library was flagged for imputing several keywords that our program noticed."
Ikutsuki looked visibly interested. "I recall now, you had me request one of my men to make that for you. Did anything else happen?"
"I tried to make contact," Takeharu said. "But for some reason, the program crashed before I could do so. Yet, I was able to pull a copy of his search history before it did so. And from that data, I learned that this person was looking into not just the Second Hand of Time, but also the Dark Hour."
"It could be a coincidence," Tsuge attempted to play devil's advocate. "Maybe he was trying to look up the phantom thief and guess whether or not that Dark was going to steal it."
"Maybe," Takeharu allowed the idea some thought. "But most likely, it's possible that someone is aware of the phenomenon we are trying to combat. If that is the case, then there is somebody in Azumano whom we have to locate."
"That's going to be tough," Tsuge grumbled. "A public library, that means anyone could have used one of their computers. This program of yours, could it have found out who was digging into things?"
"Not exactly," Takeharu shook his head. "I'm still having someone go over it. If it wasn't for the malfunction, I could have inquired further over this mystery person's intentions."
"So we have nothing to clue us in on who this unknown person might be," Tsuge sighed. "Honestly, we might as well focus on the Shadow outbreaks instead. At least we might stumble across a lead there. Focusing on this mystery person will be difficult if we're trying to discover their identity."
Takeharu nodded. "That sounds logical."
"I'll speak to my connections to see if we can get that investigation going," Ikutsuki promised. "I may have to call on some favors, but I'll try to get some results by the time we meet again."
"That is all we can ask for."
In a private room, Ikutsuki closed the door behind him before walking to the center of the room. Placing a briefcase on top of the table there, he opened it and removed a sleek laptop from it. Lifting the lid, he maneuvered the device until a conference call started.
A man appeared on the screen.
"It seems that Kirijo doesn't suspect a thing," Ikutsuki began. "Luckily, we were able to shut down the connection before he could discover the asset. But it seems that the rest of us are now aware of his existence, even if obscured by anonymity."
"Good, it is still not the time for Nagi Kujikawa's existence to be known."
"It was a stroke of luck that we were even able to acquire him," Ikutsuki continued. "To think that he would come to us before we even realized who he was. His breaking into the Ergo facility was the luckiest thing that's happened to us thus far."
"What about the lost Persona users that escaped because of him?"
"The brats?" Ikutsuki sneered. "They were failures anyway, couldn't even properly manifest a Persona properly like the younger Kirijo. And besides, we have more children in our other facilities. Not that the other test subjects are any better, barely even capable of maintaining their Personas long enough to be useful."
"Hoh? So what are your plans for them?"
"They'll be sent to explore Tartarus," Ikutsuki said heartlessly. "No doubt most of them will die, but we're hoping that they'll last long enough to get us some data before the Shadows consume them."
"A proper use of resources."
"It's more of a means to clean up after ourselves," Ikutsuki explained. "This project doesn't seem to be panning out, so we're shutting down before the others catch wind of our experiments. It appears that artificially awakening a Persona user just isn't feasible. Better to cut our losses now before we get in trouble."
"If you say so. As long as you keep everyone away from here, we can continue our plans to artificially facilitate the Fall. We will finally be able to recover from our failure four years ago. The success of the phantom thief Dark is vital to our plan, so it would be troublesome if any Suppression Weapons are deployed here."
"As far as I am aware, there aren't any active anymore. Unless one was developed in secret, all Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapons have been deactivated."
"Then the only possible opposition will be any Persona users." The voice hummed on the other end of the call. "You'll make sure that they won't enter my city?"
"Of course. The younger Kirijo will remain on Tatsumi Port Island while young Aoi will stick to investigating the other wards of Tokyo. They'll never step one foot in Azumano if I have anything to say about it." Ikutsuki smiled. "Speaking of which, what is the progress on that? How far are we from unsealing the Black Wings?"
"There is only one seal left, and our latest asset has already contributed to removing it."
Ikutsuki blinked. "Truly? Then it is quite fortunate on our part that Kujikawa fell into our hands."
"Quite. Already, he has weakened the seal when he accidentally entered the Second Hand of Time. It won't be long before the artwork's lifespan runs out."
The call ended without warning, but Ikutsuki didn't care. He couldn't help it, he laughed. A triumphant feeling ran through his body, as his grin widened.
"Soon, the Black Wings shall truly descend on our world. And once that happens, the Fall shall bring about our salvation."
And for that to happen…
...Nagi Kujikawa had to die.
Most of the characters introduced in this chapter are part of the Persona side of things, with a few originating from the Persona x Detective Naoto story. I read it about a month ago, and while it was interesting to find out about some of the former members of the Kirijo Group, the story itself was pretty 'meh' in my opinion.