Persona: Beyond the Reflection [RedGuy and Ghurdrich]
The ringing of the school bells echoed through the minds of every student in Shiawase High School, bringing with it relief and excitement as they stormed out of their classrooms. Each student was ready to spend the rest of their day however they wished. Many would go to their chosen clubs and practice their favorite hobbies and sports with others, while the rest would would scatter around the city, going shopping or simply returning home.
Takeo Inukai was one of these students who had no club activities. He had never been a part of a club in his entire life, because he held a passion that he followed on his own: hairstyling. He flipped through his small, purple planner notebook as he walked through the open school gates, ignoring the cheerful schoolboys and schoolgirls as they skipped past him. He wore a tidy Shiawase High uniform like any good student: a blue blazer over a white shirt, red tie, blue pants, and brown dress shoes.
"...Nothing." he concluded with a sigh and a frown, closing his planner with one hand. "Somehow, I have a free day."
There was a pang of disappointment that struck Takeo's chest, but like always it quickly subsided, and in its place arose a swirl of energy. He decided he might as well just head home. If his new fashion magazines came in, he could spend the day learning some different styles and techniques.
Suddenly, his pocket vibrated with a sensation that Takeo knew very well. His face lit up with optimism, thinking that it could be someone who required his special vanity services. However, when he saw the name of the caller on his touch-screen phone, his smile faded away.
Oh well. Takeo shrugged as he muted the call and continued on his way back home. If it was that woman, then it couldn't have been anything too important.
"Takeo!" a familiar voice called from behind him. "Wait up!"
Takeo turned around and was greeted by the sight of Miki Honami, his childhood friend. She ran to catch up to him, her shoulder-length light brown hair swaying frantically. Like so many girls walking past them, she wore a blue blazer over a white shirt and red tie, along with a blue skirt, black stocking, and brown dress shoes. This was the Shiawase High girls' uniform, identical to the boys' in everyway except the size and the legwear.
"I was looking for you!" Miki said when she caught up. "I just wanted to make sure you were doing alright."
Despite dashing at a full sprint, nearly knocking over some students in the process, Miki was completely unaffected. This didn't surprise Takeo. The girl had been trained in martial arts since the day she could walk, after all.
"Yeah, I'm doing fine..." Takeo answered cautiously, unsure why Miki was asking.
"Great!" Miki replied with a bright smile. "Just checking up on you. God knows nobody else will."
With that, Miki's business was done, and she started to run ahead yet again, swinging the leather bag in her hand effortlessly.
"...Wait, Miki!" Takeo called after her, causing her to stop. "You wouldn't need your hair done today, would you?"
"Pfft." Miki snickered. "I'm teaching a five-hour class at the dojo today. My hair's gonna look the same afterward no matter what you do to it. Maybe this weekend or something. See ya!"
"But you have to make an appoint-" Takeo tried calling after her once again, but she was no longer listening to him.
As Miki disappeared from his sight, Takeo stopped once again. Why was she checking up on him? It did fit her personality, but something was off about the way she said it. It seemed like he was forgetting something, but once again he shrugged and continued on his way, paying it no more mind.
"Oh." Takeo remarked quietly after he opened the door to his home, a large two-story Western house surrounded by a short brick gate. "Now I remember."
"Welcome home, son." Takeo's mother greeted him, flashing a smile. "I was just about to call you again, reminding you not to dawdle on the way home. But it looks like you knew that."
Jack Lugria, Takeo's grandfather, had passed away a couple of weeks prior. His funeral had been the weekend before. It was a lively ceremony held in Shiawase City, and many people came - including Takeo's parents who had been overseas. He was a man who touched a lot of people, but Takeo couldn't recall any significant memories of him. Nevertheless, he had made it through the funeral ceremonies with a smile, and had also agreed to do something today - which was the reason why he kept his schedule blank on purpose.
"Your father's already at the mansion, sending the big things away." she explained. "We're supposed to take care of the little things. You're still coming, right?"
Takeo nodded. It was annoying, but the feeling drifted away from him as quickly as it came up. He gave an awkward, twitching smile, and nodded to his mother. Her appearance hadn't changed much since he was a kid: she was a middle-aged, full-blooded Japanese woman who hid her age behind make-up and red lipstick, and kept her short hair dyed black.
"Great." she responded flatly, noting the strangeness of Takeo's expression but ignoring it. She knew it likely had something to do with the Shiawase Effect, the mysterious aura of happiness that pervaded Shiawase City and affected all those who lived in it. Since she no longer lived inside the city, she did not feel its effects as heavily as her son, who had practically grown up with it.
The Lugria Manor was one of the largest residences in Shiawase City, fitting for a man with the fortune that Jack Lugria had. The estate was blocked off by a tall, black iron gate, and the grounds inside were tenderly cared for by an entire staff - at least until last week. Now someone could tell the manor was empty just by looking through the gate and reading the mood.
Takeo's father had been staying inside the manor for the past few days to make sure nobody broke in, so Takeo hadn't seen much of him. But now he stood in front of the main doors to the manor, waiting for his wife and son to arrive in a black, new-model car. He wore blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a simple white t-shirt that - if one looked closely - was already stained with sweat under his armpits.
"Good to see you again, son." he greeted Takeo with a smile as he stepped out of the passenger door. Takeo resembled his father, the exact same way Takeo's father resembled his. All three had light brown hair and pale blue eyes, though Takeo's father's hair had long since turned gray. He claimed it was genetic, but in reality this was likely caused due to the stress of his job. Takeo's mother could sympathize.
"Hello, father." Takeo greeted his father mechanically, giving a short bow. He accepted this stilted greeting much like his wife had accepted the twitching smile.
Quickly, the family went to work cleaning the rest of the manor out. The heavy furniture had already been hauled off, and it was now time to collect the smaller, more valuable things. Takeo's mother's plan was to sell them to a local antique shop a few blocks away, which offered a unusually-high price for any jewelry or other old items from the Lugria Manor.
It wasn't long before Takeo found himself in one of the manor's basements, which was used primarily for storage. Aided by a lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, he searched through the piles of random stuff looking for anything valuable that the antique shop might be interested in. Most of it was old pictures and documents, and some looked like they were before even his grandfather's time.
As Takeo made his way around the room, he began to have a nostalgic feeling. He recalled a few distant memories from his childhood, and found himself wondering out loud:
"Wasn't this room always locked?"
Feeling a bit concerned, but then suddenly completely at ease, Takeo dismissed his idle thoughts and continued sifting through the boxes. When he finished the box he was pawing through, he looked up and saw something that actually looked a bit valuable.
It was a mirror, propped up in the corner. There didn't seem to be anything really special about it, but it definitely stood out amongst the tattered cardboard boxes and other old containers. It was a clean, rectangular mirror with a wooden frame that was well-maintained and didn't seem to have a blemish on it. It looked so new, it was doubtful that an antique shop would even accept it.
Nevertheless, Takeo decided to leave that decision to his parents and approached the mirror. It was about as tall as he was and a foot wider. It would be awkward to carry up the stairs, but Takeo felt around on it and it seemed lighter than he would have expected. He was well aware of his lack of muscle, but he decided that even he could get the mirror up the stairs. He spread his arms out, gripped the sides of the mirror, and hoisted it up.
Unfortunately, Takeo had not taken into account the weight balance of the mirror. It was incredibly top-heavy, and it caught him off-guard. He ended up stumbling and falling backward, and when his back hit the cold, wooden ground, the last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was his own reflection closing in on his face.
He expected a thud and possibly a bloody nose, but what Takeo heard was a loud crash, and the sound of many shards of glass hitting the floor. He felt nothing. In fact, it seemed like the mirror had passed through him somehow. He opened his eyes, and froze.
He was looking into his own eyes.
"Hey." the other Takeo greeted him, standing up. "You actually made it here."
Takeo was confused. Was it a dream? Had the mirror hit him in the head so hard that it knocked him out? He looked around, and saw only the exact same basement that he had been in. There were shards of glass on the floor around him, and the wooden frame was below him, like it really did just pass through him.
"Well, this works out well for me." the other Takeo said, ignoring Takeo's confusion. "I need you to merge with me. That's the only way we can be whole."
That only made things worse. Takeo had no idea what this other him was talking about. In fact, as he looked at the copy of himself closer, he started to become restless. Although Takeo was still on the floor, there was something infuriating about the way his copy was looking down on him. His eyebrows were narrowed, and he was scowling in an impatient, entitled manner, as if his copy expected something from him that should've been obvious.
"You understand, don't you?" the copy of Takeo persisted.
Takeo picked himself off the floor and dusted himself off. There were quite a few glass shards stuck to his back, but fortunately none of them had cut him.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Takeo said, frowning. "Is this really some kind of dream? Who the hell are you supposed to be?"
As the words came out, Takeo noticed something about himself. Usually, no matter what happened, he could still smile and keep a somewhat pleasant tone. But now, that angry feeling he had felt for only split seconds at a time before was now gnawing at center of his brain. His face felt like it was pulled down into a sunken scowl, and he couldn't control his tone of voice. It was anger and frustration: things that Takeo had not truly felt for almost ten years.
"How annoying..." the other Takeo grumbled. "I will explain only once. You are me. You are here to become one with me. You are the lesser half of me. It is regrettable, but that's the only way I can become whole. It's the meaning of your life."
What kind of symbolism was this? He wanted to absorb himself? Takeo didn't understand. It didn't feel like a dream, but this had to be some kind of hallucination. It was no good to try and reason with a hallucination, and he should probably go to a hospital right away, or at least call for help. However, this hallucination's words got under his skin. He couldn't keep himself from responding.
"What kind of nonsense is that?!" Takeo roared, his face turning red. "This talk of me being the inferior half...YOU are part of ME. YOU're part of MY mind. Don't you dare speak to me like that, you rogue figment of my imagination!"
Toe words echoed off the stone basement walls, and the other Takeo didn't respond for a few moments. Suddenly, a piercing screech tore into Takeo's mind, and a burst of intense wind swept him off his feet and blew him backward. Takeo found himself on the floor again, this time against the wall that had been about fifty feet behind him. The pain of his back taking such an impact twice made him groan, and his glasses were dangling from his face. When he put them back on, his eyes opened wide at what he saw. The copy of himself was surrounded by some kind of white, mist-like energy, and the color of his eyes turned from pale blue to bright yellow. His - or its - teeth were gritting together, and its arms dissolved away, fading into the white mist.
"If iT comEs to foRce, thEn sO be It!" the twisted form of Takeo yelled, its voice turning from Takeo's flat baritone to an erratic, demonic voice that seemed to vary in pitch with each syllable.
The mist gathering around the other Takeo's changing form condensed into about twenty pointed icicles that hung in the air in front of it, and then all shot forward at once. Takeo managed to put together the attack in his head quickly, and managed to dive to the side.
When Takeo turned around, he couldn't keep a small cry from escaping his throat. The icicles had punched through the wall like large bullets. If Takeo had moved even a second later, the icicles would've pierced him through and pinned him to the wall. This realization set something off in Takeo's brain. It was something that rose above his logic, his presumptions, and even his anger. It was fear. Hallucination or not, what was in front of him seemed plenty real enough. His brain shot electricity to every single nerve in his body, and before he could think twice, he was running as fast as he could up the stairs.
"Mom! Dad!" he screamed, his voice echoing throughout the empty manor. "Where are you?!"
Takeo waited for a few moments, but he didn't hear his parents' voices. He only heard a strange swirling sound coming from below. His heart pounded in his chest, and he started running once again, heading out of the manor. He knew that thing was after him, even if he couldn't see it following him when he shot a quick glance over his shoulder. As he threw himself out the manor doors, he sprinted past his mother's car and towards the gate, which was left open. Coming out on the streets of Shiawase City, he should've felt relieved. Hell, with the Shiawase Effect, he should have never felt this kind of disturbing thing in the first place.
But this was not Shiawase City.
Sure, the buildings were the same. The streets were the same, even the cars seemed to be the same. But the people, they were different. They were in the shape of humans, and they were talking like humans, but they seemed to be radiating some kind of black, inky darkness from their eye sockets, and their very outlines were distorted like bad images from an old television set. This didn't stop Takeo, however, who ran right out into the streets and started screaming.
"Help! Someone, please!" he cried, appealing to passersby. "Someone call the police!"
However, Takeo was completely ignored. In fact, it was like he didn't even exist. The people just kept passing him by, and as Takeo glanced into the darkness that covered their eyes and the distortion of their figures, he knew that they weren't really human. There was no shelter to be found in these things.
Takeo looked behind him, and again felt the presence of the thing that attacked him, even though he could not see it. For a moment he was frozen. He feared both the aberrations in front of him and his assailant chasing him. However, he could not stay in one place. Even his instincts knew that.
So, he took a deep breath and ran across the street, avoiding the dark "people". Like before, they didn't seem to notice Takeo's presence, but he didn't try his luck and just kept running straight into a nearby alleyway he recognized. Was he safe? Probably not. If the monster that attacked him had some way to track him, he was a dead man running. And the shadowy images of people on the street seemed sinister, even if they did ignore him.
After resting in the alleyway for a few moments, Takeo continued to run, panting hard and desperate to get as far away as possible from that thing. He couldn't even think of hiding, with the images of the icicles and the feeling of the monster's presence so fresh in his mind. So, he would run blindly - like a frightened animal - until he felt safe enough to calm himself and think clearly once again.