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.
Last edited by RedGuy; 03-07-2013 at 10:07 AM.
Next you'll say...
"YOU SAYIN' I'M STRANGE?! HUH?!"
Makoto Kenichi pointed the end of the heavy metal bat in her hands towards the man on the ground with a pissed off expression. She wasn't actually angry, of course, but she was living her dream, and nobody could stop her now.
"N-no, I was just-"
"Just sayin' I'm a runt, yeah? I know your type, walkin' around like you're all king of the world, lookin' down on us short folk. Lookit your smile. Wipe that thing off your face, will ya? You wanna start something?!"
"Please stop! I was just having a good day, I swear!"
With a disdainful spit on the ground beside her, Makoto let up a bit, thrusting a glance at the four girls who were with her... well, they were with her in a sense. Sasami, Mio, Akiko and Shiori tagged along with her as her 'gang' but they weren't anything like the boys back home. They seemed like pretty typical schoolgirls, all about gossip and boys, and for some reason, they looked up to her like some kind of idol. Makoto didn't push them away, because there wasn't really a reason to, but it'd be great if one of them knew how to get into some trouble. Or if they'd stop staring at her every time she wasn't looking. "Creepy chicks, man..."
So went her daily life. Every few days she'd take down or shake down some random from school, just to prove a point - what point, specifically, had been long forgotten. She'd get a reprimand from the authorities and then let free, back into the cycle of her usual life. Every day she attended classes, studied late after school, and ran around to let off some steam on some poor schmuck. Sometimes the girls in her harem changed, but mostly it was these four. They were her friends, in the same way that the guy who sits behind you in class who you eat lunch with is your friend, but they weren't her comrades, like the old boys back in Okinawa. They wouldn't fight for her, take a hit for her, or even keep a secret for her.
"A damned shame... But oh well. Guess I can't complain when I can laugh like this all the time!" Makoto started to laugh involuntarily at the thought, as though on cue. Her victim had long since ran away, and her gang was looking at her like it was time to go, so it was probably time to go.
"Hey, Makochi! The four of us are gonna head to that new cafe that just opened up, how about it? Want to join us?" Mio spoke hesitantly, like she already knew the answer.
"...Nah, you chicks head on without me tonight. I gotta jet home and help Ol' Pops in the kitchen. We'll go next time, yeah? Save me some cake?" With a series of disappointed complaints, the girls filed out and disappeared down the street. "Right then, time for some good old family cuisine... coulda used some cake though." Ditching her bat in the usual spot in the backyard, Makoto buttoned up her coat to cover her almost bare chest, and pulled her visor down to hide her face a little more as she walked in the door of the restaurant.
The smells assaulted her right away. It smelled like meat and veggies, just like Momma used to make (although Momma was waiting tables and Pops was in the kitchen.) It smelled like home. She breathed a deep whiff of the nostalgic scent before scampering to her room to change. Before she had the chance to throw a proper shirt or presentable clothes on, however, she noticed a strange package propped against her doorframe. It wasnt addressed to her or anything, so what was a thing like that doing in her room? The box was open, so she felt like it was okay to look through it. Inside the tall and wide container was a large half-size mirror. It wasn't ornate in any way, just looked like a plain old mirror anybody might hang up in their house. This merited further investigation... Back down the stairs, it seemed like the place had settled down slightly, as her mother was there to greet her.
"Mako-chan, welcome back... you haven't changed yet, is something wrong? Why do you insist on wearing that silly outfit all the time anyway?" Momma wasn't from Okinawa originally, so she didn't have the strong accent that Makoto and her father shared.
"Dammit, don't you call me that, Momma, it's demeaning. I wear this stuff 'cause this is who I wanna be. Tough chick, beat the bad guys back to hell, yeah?"
"Don't swear, dear. Not in front of the customers, at the very least. Anyway, what was it you needed?"
"Ah, yeah, what's that mirror thingy in my room for? I got a mirror already. You guys buy that for me?" Her mother looked surprised for a moment, but comprehension spread over her face as she remembered what she had wanted to say.
"Oh, right, that. I'd forgotten about it since it's been busy today. Could you take that to the post office? I think it got shipped to the wrong address, and we haven't had the time to send it back."
Looked like it was errands today, rather than kitchen work. That was fine, since it meant she didn't have to change into her dull old boring clothes. Unbuttoning her coat, and grabbing the bokken stashed in her room for show, she turned her attention to the mirror. She would prefer to have her bat if she planned on getting into any fights - the wooden sword was mostly just for show - but she could strap the bokken around her waist like a sword, so it would have to do. It left her free hands after all.
"Alright you, let's get you back to where ya belong and outta my face." Wiping the sweat off her hands for traction, she picked up the box in front of her. "Oh shi-" she began, as the bottom of the box fell out, and the mirror dropped to the floor. "No no no no!" As though in slow motion, she reached her foot forward to catch it before it hit the ground. The weirdest thing happened then, and Makoto didn't think she'd ever forget what she saw in that moment. The frameless mirror passed all the way through her foot as though it wasn't even there, and hit the floor in front of her. It didn't break, thankfully, but her foot almost seemed to be...
"Stuck...? What 'n' the hell...?" Try as she might, she couldn't pull her foot out of the mirror - no wait, wasn't it strange that her foot was in the mirror in the first place? "What the- God dam- sh-" A stream of expletives left her mouth as she succeeded only in getting herself more stuck. The more leeway she gave her leg to pull harder, the more the mirror sucked her in, until she was up to her knee.
"Alright, this ain't funny anymore, where's the camera? Momma? Pops? You watchin' this? Anybody?" She called for help, but nobody came. Not about to try and walk down the stairs with a 15 pound mirror around her leg, she took a deep breath and decided on another course of action. "Maybe there's a reason I keep getting stuck?" With nothing better in mind, she decided it was time to go the full hog. Taking a deep breath, she thrust her face into the mirror to see what was going on. Blackness was all she was greeted with. "Well ain't this a kick in the teeth? There somethin' in here?" No sooner had she said that, however, that the choice was made for her, and as though she had been pushed, Makoto fell face-first into the mirror. As she fell through the black space, she watched the square of light fade into the distance above her, and with a sharp cracking noise, disappear from view. "Did... did I break it? No wait, what I should be sayin' now is... AAAAAAAAAH!"
And she fell, and fell, until surprisingly, she landed softly on something. Opening her eyes, Makoto immediately recognized the scenery around her. It was her room... or rather... it looked like her room. Strangely enough there looked to be holes in the wall in a bunch of places, like a fight had happened here. The bed was unmade, and the room was pretty barren aside from that. "This some kinda bizarro mirror world or somethin'? Where's Momma 'n' Pops?" If she had to guess... downstairs?
Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw when she ran down the stairs, however.
It was a carbon-copy of her restaurant, but... not. Shredded paper lined the ground with weird writing on it - "Who do you think you are?" "Delinquent daughter" "Horrible food, you should be ashamed" "Keep your daughter in line, foreigners!" Hateful phrases like that were everywhere. There were no customers here, and her parents were nowhere to be seen. Sitting at the counter, however, was one person. The last person she would ever have expected to see. "Izzat... No, who the hell are you?"
The figure slowly stood up from its seat and looked Makoto in the face. That action alone confirmed her fears. Makoto knew exactly who this person was. Instinctively her hand went to the bokken at her side. Seeing this, the figure sneered rudely and spat off to the side.
"Haha, that's right, ain't it?" The figure spoke with a distinctive accent. Only two people in this entire town talked like the person before her. "If'n you meet somebody like me 'n' you, first rule is you gotta fight, amirite? Huh?! Speak up, will ya, yer givin' me the willies." The still-sneering figure gave a false shiver of mock fright. "Well, ladies first, yeah? Ahahahahahaha!" Makoto locked eyes with the reflection of herself, and immediately she could sense that the girl in front of her was going to kill her.
"You..." Makoto didn't know where to begin speaking.
"Yeah? Me? What, got a problem? Cat got yer tongue? Lemme say what's on your mind, sound good? How about: 'W-wait a tick, you're me!'" Lowering her brow and raising her lips into a grin, her reflection looked even more condescending than before. "Nailed it, didn't I? Then how about this for mind reading? 'Screw this god damned yokel town! Everybody's way too nice, I just want somebody to beat up!' ...Or maybe... 'I just want somebody to beat me up.' How'd I do, girlie?"
"N-no way, I'm happy here. I have my friends here, I'm livin' the dream!" It was a feeble excuse and she knew it.
"Yeah, the dream, I know whatcha mean. But ain't it just a bunch o' horse pucky comin' outta your mouth? You wanna ride free, you wanna terrorize the town like on TV. You don't want... whatever it is you do. And you ain't. Got. Friends. You an' I both know that. You dress up all girly-like an' stop showin' off them guns like you do, those girl's will be away from you like a used underpants sale an' you know it. Nahh, you don't want that. You want me. Tell me I'm wrong."
Makoto was confused at what she meant for a moment, but suddenly everything came into view. The bodies slumped over the restaurant tables, the blood on the ground, and the bloody metal bat that her reflection was carrying. "Y-you killed them all?!" Her reflection grinned even wider than before, with a 'Bingo' type of expression. For some reason, that just flipped Makoto's switch, and she pulled the Bokken from her side and launched an overhead attack at the person in front of her.
The sound of wood hitting metal rang out through the empty room as her strike was blocked by her reflection's weapon. Blood spattered on her face from the bat, and vibrations ran up her arms from the impact. "Yeah, that's got it! Fight, fight fight! All you know is fighting, It's all you're good for! No school, no classes, no friends, no tests, no family, no life, no future! Just you an' me an' this room, and the room don't tell nobody. But you ain't got half the balls I've got, oh no. You don't even know what it's like to be me. You don't know jack. It's assholes like you that piss me off the most!" As the other Makoto raged ahead in her speech, she seemed to grow. It didn't take long for Makoto to realize that it didn't just seem that way, she -was- growing! Growing and changing into something totally different. As she grew and grew, she started to look less like Makoto and more like some kind of mythical Oni or something. The bat in her hands transformed into a great spiked club that looked to be the size of Makoto herself.
"What in blue blazes is this supposed to be? Some kinda Shonen manga? I can't believe this crap!"
"ThEre is nO BElieviNg! TheRE iS NO tAlkinG! thErE IS onLy FIGHTING!" With a roar, the creature that used to look like her swung its huge club in an arc towards Makoto. Summoning all her speed, Makoto thrust her bokken in front of her to block the chunk of metal aimed at her chest. Partial success, she wasn't dead. But with a resounding crash, she blew right through the sliding door that led to the streets outside. Her feeble sword had splintered and broken roughly in half. Taking a moment to come to her senses, she looked up in time to see the demon in front of her start to glow with some sort of power. With no weapon in the immediate vicinity, she would have to try and fight with her bare hands... though she had no idea how that could possibly work.
"ThIS neXt onE'S GoNna kiLL!" For some reason, Makoto took its words at face value.
"Time for my backup plan, yeah? Plan B: Skedaddle!" As the monster swung at where Makoto used to be standing, she used the opportunity to run through the back of the building and pick up the metal bat that she knew would be there. Bat in hand, she took off running down the street. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelash at her, which pissed her off for some reason, and when she settled down briefly on an empty stretch of road to catch her breath, she felt something she hadn't felt in a long time - Loneliness, and fear. "That thing's right. I ain't got friends... what am I even good for if I can't fight that thing back there? Ain't I supposed to be the strongest?" The crowd of people walking down the street at her didn't respond. They all just glared hatefully at her. For some reason, Makoto didn't or couldn't question it. "Yeah, maybe you're right. I'm just a bad egg with no future. I just-... Now hold a spell, who are you fellas supposed to be?"
The crowd had gotten much closer, and now that they were close and she'd caught her breath, Makoto realized something terrifying; these people had blackness in their expression, and positively radiated dark thoughts. Everyone just walked sullenly around her like they couldn't be bothered, which scared Makoto for some reason. Once they passed her, it seemed like there was nothing for it but to put some more distance between her and her attacker. She ran closer to the center of town, through streets and between buildings. She rounded one corner after another after another, until she couldn't run anymore. One more corner and-
Makoto toppled to the ground, having hit something hard. Something other than her was moving at top speed and wasn't looking where they were going. More confused than afraid, she prodded the now tender area that had suffered the brunt of the impact. "Why'n'cha watch where you're hustlin' around like that, stranger? You wanna piece of me?" Saying that, she grasped her bat firmly.
Looking at her assailant surprised her. Rather than the dull-eyed not-person she was expecting, it really was a flesh and blood person. And one she vaguely recognized, too.
"Now hold your horses... You're that guy, guy that likes hair stuff, yeah? I think I heard about you from Shiori. What in tarnation are you doin' in a place like this?"
Takeo definitely felt whatever he had run into, but since it was smaller than him, he only had to step backward to maintain his balance. His chest certainly took a blow though, and adding to it was a resurgence of the pain in his back from having been thrown against the wall earlier by that monster. He glared ahead to see what had struck him, and froze when he saw the small girl on the ground. She didn't look like the phantoms that were prowling the streets, so was it really another person? Or another monster-in-disguise? She seemed to know who he was, but he didn't remember this girl - and he knew almost every girl in the school. However, she knew Shiori, a girl who he remembered doing some highlights for a while ago. She definitely seemed to be from his school. Gazing over her outfit, he recalled hearing some rumors about a girl who dressed like a banchou at his school, but he had never met her. Was she really this small? No, now wasn't the time for such useless thoughts. Takeo had started to calm down, and he had a real predicament on his hands. He felt no hope at seeing the girl - only despair that someone else seemed to be thrown into this hell like he was.
"I-it's Inukai." he stammered his name a bit, as his voice was still weak from all the panting. "A mirror fell on me, and then the entire world changed..."
Takeo didn't have the state of mind to realize how ridiculous that statement sounded. He shot a quick glance behind his shoulder, and then instantly back to the short banchou girl. He couldn't waste time. If the thing behind him caught up with him, both he and the girl would be slaughtered. He had to cut to the point.
"I was attacked by a demon." he explained desperately, wasting no words. "Please, we have to keep moving!"
As Takeo made his exclamation, suddenly it appeared at the other end of the alley. Makoto could see it, and Takeo could sense it and turned around, expressing nothing but fear when his eyes confirmed what he had felt. The demon simply stood there, surrounded by a gray fog that slowly began to creep into the alleyway. It had reverted back to Takeo's form, but it kept the yellow eyes, which stood out amongst the gray to the point where it was if they were glowing.
"Did you really think you could escape?" the other Takeo asked. "Make the logical choice. Why try to save yourself when you could give yourself to a superior being: a genius like myself? I have the ambition that you don't! That your parents don't! Why serve under another, waiting for a lucky break, when you can take hold of your fate by force?! Why stay in school and bow your heads to your teachers when you have the talent to do whatever you want, to do what you love? And why let yourself be contaminated by the people you call friends - the neanderthals that do nothing but hold you back! By becoming a part of me, I can do everything you can't! The only thing I need is your body!"
Takeo was frozen throughout the entirety of his other self's speech. He felt fear, and he wanted to run, to keep running, and eventually free himself from this nightmare somehow. But he remained chained to his spot by the left side of his brain. Was there anything wrong with what was being said? He had always been lulled into some kind of peasant sense of security simply by going through his routine everyday. How was he ever going to get anywhere by doing that? Was this the so-called Shiawase Effect? Did it really have such a grip on his mind, on his very personality? He couldn't control these emotions that had somehow been suppressed for so long. Could this being really do more than he could with his life? This depression and self-doubt clouded his mind and judgement, as it never had done before in the emotional safety of Shiawase City.
While Takeo was momentarily stunned by his inner monologue, the demon advanced down the alleyway. However, when he got a closer look at Makoto, he stopped.
"Eh?" the other Takeo's face wrinkled with disgust, like a horsefly had just landed on his meal. "I know you... You're the midget Okinawa girl who acts like gangster trash. Imbeciles like you are why I'm needed in the world..."
Despite the demon's acidic words, he didn't get any closer. Makoto's presence was causing him to hesitate, for whatever reason.
Next you'll say...
"Oho? Looks like there's more than one o' you assholes trying to start a fight... Well, that's fine...."
The other Inukai seemed to look down on her, which she was used to by now, but he didn't approach any further. Makoto wasn't sure what that meant, but it gave her an opportunity, and she didn't intend to lose it.
"See, I don't really like it when folks call me a midget, or trash... I don't think anybody would, yeah? Maybe I'm an imbecile and whatever else, but I don't gotta take that lying down." Between her words, she glanced at her newfound ally. Not gonna be too much use if we fought him now I think. Nothing I can do about that... "I don't really know how strong you think you are, but there's no way you could even handle my plan A, not with a scrawny body like that." He's bigger than you, still... she countered in her mind. "But I hope you're ready for plan B. Hey you, get up, I'm gonna need you. Take my hand."
As she forcefully grabbed Inukai's hand, the shadow being recoiled back slightly, like it didn't know what to expect. It seemed like a cautious creature, unlike her own shadow, and for that, Makoto was thankful. "Heh, you look like you're plannin' somethin', so lemme let you in on Plan B. Goes a little something like this: Skedaddle!" Suddenly she threw her bat down the narrow alleyway at the shadow, simultaneously tightening her grip on Takeo himself and running in the opposite direction. Her charge didn't seem to offer much resistance, and picked up speed once he realized what was happening. They ran for as long as Makoto could muster, and ended up in a relatively closed area closer to the outskirts of town. There were some buildings around, but they were much more sparse than the area they'd been in before. Still, Makoto had completely lost sight of their pursuer.
"Well, I'm short a weapon again, but... this might be as good a place as any to take a break and figger things out, yea-ugh!" As she lowered herself down to the ground, her muscles contracted around a foreign object lodged in her calf - a large icicle roughly the size of a bottle of soda. "Well don't that just beat all... Now how'd that get there?" It didn't hurt all that much, probably because it was freezing the area around her leg, and she was reluctant to take it out, but she couldn't just leave it in there either... "Now's about the time I wish I had some kinda medical training. I guess I just... Tear a strip offa my coat and wrap it tight like a bandage-guh!" Makoto gasped sharply as she pulled the ice out of her leg - both because the cold hurt her hand, and because of the rush of blood that surged toward the now open hole. She tied the strip of cloth around her leg as best she could, but it didn't seem to help much... The bleeding had slowed down a little bit, and that would have to do.
"Of course an idiot like me wouldn't be able to do much about this. Where're those girls when you need 'em...? Anyway, Inukai, was it? I guess I never introduced myself. Kenichi Makoto, go ahead and call me Makoto, or whatever you want, I don't really care. What in blue blazes is this place? I fall through a mirror or something, get smacked around by myself, run through town, and now I've got a chunk o' ice in me? It ain't even all that cold out for ice. What gives?"
The more she talked, the more her confidence waned. All of her troubles had been solved by fighting before, and now she'd run away from two fights already. I must be getting pretty pathetic... Maybe I really can't do anything on my own... Those sort of thoughts overwhelmed her the more she thought about it. She'd never noticed how naturally cheery she had been before, but now it was like she was just a shell. Like all the happiness had been sucked out of her, and she was what was left. She couldn't help but feel like a victim, and she hated it. There had to be somebody to blame, somebody she could beat the crap out of... But the only person she could come up with was...
"Hey! You know somethin' don't you?" Grabbing Takeo by the collar, she thrust her face within inches of his. Her eyes burned with hatred, but mostly confusion. She was like a lost dog that didn't know where she was. "You gotta know somethin'. Spit it out already! What was that guy talking about, mergin' with ya like that? I don't get any of this!"
Takeo frowned when the delinquent-looking girl called his body scrawny. Who the hell was she to talk, being so short? But before he knew it, she grabbed his hand and pulled him away, out of the alley and onto the streets. Takeo managed to get one last glance of his other self beforehand, and it only glared at him, doing nothing to stop them. Why wasn't it attacking, or even pursuing them? Was it because of this girl? Who exactly was she, to be in this world along with him? This is what Takeo was wondering as he let the little banchou girl lead him around town by the hand. Normally he would take some kind of initiative, but he was exhausted and in an unfamiliar part of the city. It took all of his effort to keep up with the girl, and even that was only happening because his legs covered more ground than hers.
Finally, the girl stopped. It seemed they were going to take a break, but when she sat down, she suddenly cried in pain. This made an unsuspecting Takeo flinch, and his eyes were instantly drawn to the source of the cry - an icicle lodged in her leg that looked just like the icicles that had been launched at him when he first met his other self. Was that why he didn't move? He was trying to trap her with ice before he moved in for the kill? A fiendish move, but Takeo gritted his teeth when he realized it was something he himself would do in that kind of situation.
Takeo unfortunately knew as much about medicine and healing as the girl, who introduced herself as Kenichi Makoto. She didn't seem too fond of honorifics, but that didn't surprise Takeo. Listening to her take of recent events, it seemed like they were in the exact same predicament. Despite her crude behavior, he felt sympathy for her...that is, until she grabbed him by throat, and Takeo found himself on the defensive one again, this time from someone whose eyes were just short of his chest. He was not amused. He tried to pull away from Makoto's grasp, but it was no use. All it did was make his back ache even more.
"...Of course that's what someone like you would do," Takeo glared into Makoto's eyes with a straight frown, "save me, then somehow reach the absurd conclusion that I have something to do with this screwed-up world. So much for thanking you, or apologizing for your wound. I don't know a damn thing about this place, or what the hell that...thing was talking about. Now let me go."
Although his words may have been strong, his body was still shaking. He was just as much a victim as Makoto, and what's worse, he had even less power to do anything about it. If this brutish girl had an "other self" just like he had, then what kind of ungodly powers did it have? The things his imagination conjured made his own enemy seem weak in comparison, and made him realize that the girl holding him by the collar may be his only hope. This, of course, only made Takeo even more depressed about the situation.
Next you'll say...
After a moment of silence that resounded after his statement, collar still gripped tightly, Makoto sighed and roughly pushed the older boy away. Someone like you would do. That's what he said, right? It was harsh, but... Makoto couldn't find it in herself to disagree with him. She'd grabbed on to him precisely because it was all she could think to do, and that option seemed to lead to a dead end. For some reason, her mind had been running circles around itself ever since she got here. It was so much different than her daily life in Shiawase. Much closer to her old days of self-doubt, where she just railed endlessly against an unknown force with her friends. They had been a lost cause, and they knew it, so making a big fuss every day was the only way they had known how to prove that they were alive... But now, faced with enemies like these, proving that she was alive just might lead to her death.
"...My bad, Inukai." It didn't exactly sound like a convincing apology, but it was all she could muster in this state. "I guess we're on the same level, yeah? Maybe all this mouthin' off's gettin' us nowhere. I can't... I can't think straight, my mind's like a snake all twisted up. You're probably right. The other you, I mean. I ain't exactly an egghead or anything like that, all I know how to do is hit stuff. I... Damn, but ain't this hard to say... I think I'm gonna need your help to get outta here. You look like the type o' guy that can make plans and such, and you're a man, right? You should be able to take charge and find an answer." It was, at best, flimsy encouragement, but she had to say something.
"Say, speaking of... You think we're all that good at hiding? I ain't seen hide or hair o' you or me since we ran away. Those fellas seem to know what's up, so why ain't they found us yet?"
Just mentioning those creatures gave Makoto the creeps, and without a weapon in her hand, she couldn't even calm herself down. She got the impression that they'd need to fight one or the other at some point if they wanted to get out of here, but somehow it seemed like a baseball bat or a bokken wasn't going to cut it. At least not for that giant creature that the other her had turned into. And wherever that icicle had come from, the other Inukai no doubt had something to do with it, though she couldn't imagine what. Not like the other her seemed to have any powers like that.
Inukai himself seemed about as sullen as she did, which made sense. He probably thought that since Makoto was good at fighting, she was the one with the answers. But in Makoto's head, the opposite was true. Since that was all she could do, and so far it hadn't worked, they were going to need his brains. If the other Makoto got bigger and better at fighting, and was more aggressive than her, then maybe the other Inukai reflected something of himself? He seemed pretty smart to her, and cocky, too. Was that what he was like? Not only that, his other self seemed to almost admire the real one. Makoto's shadow hadn't been anything like that. She looked down on her like just another piece of meat to pummel at worst, and at best it seemed like she had wanted to be friends.
Rubbing her head, Makoto stopped herself there. Thinkin' in circles again, it's just like tryin' to do homework or jazz like that. The same frustrated feeling welled up in her, and that grounded her just a little closer to reality. Her spirits lifted just a little bit at the familiar sensation, and she almost laughed. Well, maybe I can't figure it out. But maybe I can put a little faith in the guy beside me. Just a little.
Takeo was relieved when Makoto let of him. He took a few steps back from her, to put some distance between them, and then sighed. The last thing he needed was a meaningless injury, and Takeo was glad to see that Makoto was using some reason. He didn't really care to hear an apology, but he was truly surprised to hear her ask for his help. And here he thought she was the type to cling to her pride, like some stupid protagonist in a bad yakuza movie. In fact, it seemed like she was depending on him, but to do what? She was saying that he could make plans, "be a man", and take charge. Could he?
"I don't know why you're blabbering on about being a man." Takeo replied with a frown. "Anyone with a brain could tell you that we're dead unless we find out more about who we're going up against...and yes, that means more than just 'they look like us'."
Takeo's panic had subsided, likely because the demon was no longer near them. After having a chance to catch his breath, his brain was now entirely in problem-solving mode. He put his newly-restored mental energy to work thinking about Makoto's question. It seemed that Makoto did have a demon of her own, which confirmed Takeo's fears. This just doubled the need for him to think of something, because he figured that Makoto would be next-to-useless in terms of intelligence. She would have to be his muscle. But why hadn't that ice demon followed them? Makoto's presence seemed to take it by surprise and keep it at bay, somehow.
"I can't say for sure why they haven't found us yet." Takeo admitted. "It seems that you were able to frighten that thing that looks like me, though. By freezing your leg, it was trying to weaken you before it went in for the kill. That would suggest that it wouldn't be able to kill you normally. But you have to tell me, you have a demon like that following you around too, right? Did it have some other form besides your appearance? If we want to find out more about this place, the first step is compiling what we already know."
Takeo thought back to his own demon's transformation, back in the basement. There was definitely something within it, though Takeo felt he didn't get a chance to see it in its entirety. Feeling that he wasn't being clear enough, especially for a girl like Makoto, he tried to explain it more thoroughly with an example.
"The demon resembling me back there...he had another form." Takeo said, a bit of fear finding its way into his tone. "His arms dissolved into some kind of mist that surrounded his whole body... Made it easier for him to use his ice magic. I think he could've transformed further, too, but I ran away before he could. Why it feels the need to continue looking like me, though, I have no idea."
Takeo didn't believe that the demon represented some other side of himself or something stupid like that. This was just some kind of twisted hidden dimension, maybe a spirit world of some kind, filled with demons or spirits or something that wanted to steal human bodies so that they could go back and live in the material world. Takeo wasn't very superstitious or spiritualistic, but he did believe in ghosts and spirits, though he never would've thought that this kind of thing would be possible.
Next you'll say...
Makoto smirked to see him regain his composure, if just a little. The expression only deepend upon hearing that Inukai thought that she had scared the other creature. She'd thought of that herself, but passed it off as bravado. Although his next question surprised her. He wanted to know about the other her. Come to think of it, she hadn't offered any information about it at all, since they had been busy running all the time.
"Well, t'other me, is it? Hm... Well, she was big, probably twice the size o' me, and all muscle-y. Like some kinda demon, like an Oni or something. She was swingin' a big club around. I don't really think we'd stand a chance if we got hit with something like that. Damn thing shattered my Bokken right in my hands. Her face... Was like one of them Oni masks you see at festivals. That's all I can think of, really. She was strong. Super strong. But she never did anything like that icicle stuff. Just tried to hit me a bunch. She seemed real sour about something. Like she couldn't believe I was enjoying my life, like all she could do was spite me." At that point something clicked within her, like she'd figured out a piece of the puzzle.
"Hey, y'think... Y'know how life seems so great on the outside? Like all peaches and roses and smiles... Y'ever thought about that? 'Cause I never have. Not til now. What's up with that, was I just pleased as a porcupine and couldn't be bothered? I feel like that can't be true. I got into fights every day. They had to be about something, but by the time they were done, I couldn't remember at all. Like those feelings got spirited away. And now all of a sudden we're here and I'm able to think about that, and there's this nasty chick following me around trying to fight me? Something's real fishy there, I just... I can't do the math." She was so close to a solution, but she couldn't figure it out, precisely because it was so simple. She'd always been good at the long and complicated, but when it came to adding numbers together, it was an awful pain.
After testing her leg a few times to make sure it wasn't going to buckle underneath her, Makoto stood up and stretched. Her leg was definitely going to slow her down if she had to run or jump, but it wasn't enough to affect her balance, which was important if she was going to get into a fight. "You can keep talkin' or restin' if you like, but I've got the heebie jeebies something fierce all of a sudden, and my brain's telling me that I've gotta get something heavy in my hands while I still can. I ain't going far." She was able to walk off a bit of the pain in her leg and find a weapon at the same time. There were a couple of loose fenceposts around that might do in a pinch, but they didn't look very sturdy. They'd break after one or two good hits.
Finally something caught her eye. It was an old stop sign, bent over with age. The bottom part was a bit rusty, but the top seemed in decent enough shape. With enough force, it might come loose from the ground. Thinking back to her days as a vandal, she remembered the technique she used to use to pull it out. Jiggling it back and forth and back and forth for what seemed like forever, finally she was able to snap the warped piece of metal, and with a loud crack, the heavy bar came free. Proud of herself, she gave a corny thumbs-up and a grin back to her partner before swinging the weapon over her shoulder. "Not gonna break, and I ain't gonna lose it. Maybe it means jail time, but I couldn't ask for better." Her only hope now was that her hunch was wrong, and they weren't just a step away from those demons.
Takeo listened to Makoto's description of her demon intently. It had fit in with what he imagined it to be, more or less: a gigantic power-based monstrosity. Of course it would shatter something like a bokken. Hell, he had seen Detective Honami, Miki's father, break one with his bare hands before. Takeo was more surprised that Makoto actually got close enough to hit it with a bokken and still be in one piece afterward. Takeo thought she was a reckless idiot, but in a way it reassured him a bit. If she really was brave enough to swing a wooden sword at a giant, Oni-like demon, she probably wouldn't have any objections if one of his plans called for something rough. As he contemplated this, Makoto spoke of her revelation about the effects of living in Shiawase City.
When Makoto ran off to find a weapon or something, this gave Takeo the alone-time he needed to think abut what she had said, because it was certainly something useful. What Makoto described at first was almost a textbook-example of the Shiawase Effect, something that everyone in Shiawase City - and probably the world by now - knew of but simply disregarded. There was obviously some connection to this place and Shiawase City. Did this place - and the demons who were after them - have something to do with the Shiawase Effect?
Takeo felt like he was on to something, but unfortunately his thoughts were interrupted by a jarring metallic sound. He looked around to find Makoto trying to tear a stop sign from the ground. Takeo sighed. Just like a delinquent. She managed to get it out and catch him looking at her, and gave him a stupid grin and a thumbs-up. Takeo simply shook his head, but he knew that it was a necessary act of vandalism. However, when he looked back up at Makoto, his heart almost jumped out of his throat. There was suddenly a person a few yards behind her, just standing there, seemingly staring at Makoto through its darkness-spewing eye-sockets.
"The hell...?" Takeo muttered to himself, wondering why it wasn't just moving along like the rest of the shadow people they had seen thus far. Something had changed. Takeo couldn't make out its form distinctly, but it seemed like a middle-aged man wearing some kind of suit, standing there with his head down and his form sagging. It didn't even seem to have a presence - if Takeo hadn't been looking at Makoto he never would've noticed it.
"Hey, you-" Takeo called to Makoto, but it didn't matter. Before Takeo could even get out a full sentence, the man fell to the ground on all fours, shaking and quivering. The blackness from his eyes started gushing out in a much more tangible, tar-like form that spread out to cover his entire body with sticky, spleurtching noises. Then, Takeo and Makoto heard several loud cracks as his form convulsed, its skeleton breaking apart and reforming into something resembling a dog's body with a human's head. The darkness swallowed up the man's face, and hardened into a strange gray mask with two black eye-holes and no nose or mouth. Not giving Makoto a chance to recover from the sickening sight of its transformation, it ran right at her, quickly closing the distance between them and lunging at her, trying to bring her down to the ground.
Next you'll say...
Makoto watched it all happen in a half-daze. She hadn't even sensed anybody come close, but there had been a man that close behind her? Before she could react, the man crumpled and became covered in some sort of fluid, subsequently transforming into a completely unrecognizable shape. The whole thing startled her so much that she wasn't prepared at all when the demon lunged at her. The thing slammed into her chest, above her center of balance, and she tumbled backwards, though she was able to throw the thing off of her in the process, and keep hold of her weapon. That was good. If it had gotten on top of her, Makoto would be at a major disadvantage.
As she got up, she noticed that the creature was back on its feet, and staring intently at her. That's weird, why is it concentrating on just me? Maybe it was the smell of blood? But it was almost like it couldn't really see Takeo, or that it didn't even care. "Hey kid, best grab somethin' to swing at this thing. It seems like it just wants my hide, so you're probably safe, but I might need your help, yeah?" Having said that, she focused on the beast in front of her, leaving her partner to do whatever it was that he was going to do. "Alright, beastie, I don't know what you are, but you can hit me, which means I can hit you. Y'know that's a death sentence, right?" With a dark grin, Makoto felt all the memories of the Okinawa boys come back to her. She was so young at the time, but too many times she'd had to run or fight for her life. Truthfully, a child had no business running with a gang like that, but they kept her around because of her spirit. Somehow it felt a little good to be fighting for her life again.
The creature seemed to react to her attempts to boost her own morale, shifting into a more aggressive stance. "You read my mind, little buddy? You lookin' to fight? Let's just give 'er then!" Running forward, Makoto swung sideways with the hefty weapon she'd picked up. It was way heavier and more unwieldy than her bat, but something like this was meant for killing, not just knocking people around. The dog-thing jumped over her swing and jumped at her, trying to knock her off balance, but Makoto had been prepared, leaning forward with the momentum of her still-swinging weapon and landing a solid headbutt, which knocked the beast down to the ground. They both recoiled a little, dazed, but her opponent recovered first, aiming a swipe at her injured leg.
She couldn't move in time, and with a sharp pain, her makeshift bandage was clawed off, along with several strips of cloth from her pants. Makoto cried out, but kept her balance, managing to land a hit against the creature's ribs, if it even had ribs. That drove it away, and she took the opportunity to gear up for another full swing. Determined to make this one hit, she tightened all the muscles in her arms and took a vertical swingdown at the beast. As expected, it jumped off to the side and went for a counterattack - but this time Makoto was ready. Abruptly before hitting the ground, she hardened her body and shifted to a horizontal swing at the beast, who was already in the air. With a loud thud. the thing went down, one of its legs twisted in an unnatural direction, as though it were broken.
"Yeah! Hell yeah!" Humming a little victory tune to herself, she struck a corny pose. "Get outta my face, weakling!"
As she turned away to see what Takeo had been doing, she was caught off guard by a loud crackling sound as the creature's leg seemed to reset itself. "Oh you gotta be kidding me!" Within seconds the creature was up and in battle stance yet again. "Alright, whatever you are. This is the last time we're gonna do this, you an' me." Moving one of her legs back to stabilize herself, she hefted the stop sign in front of herself, ready for whatever came next. Without any sort of creativity, the thing just went for yet another frontal attack. Expecting something like that, Makoto was ready. With all her strength, she swung the sign around in a wide arc, turning it into a full circle as she spun her body around with it as it gathered momentum. With a satisfying 'thunk' noise, the metal sunk into the beast's flesh and carried it upward with the momentum. To finish, Makoto let go of the sign with a final grunt of strength, sending it, and the creature, flying into a wall. Waiting for almost a full minute without motion, Makoto was finally sure it was defeated.
"Whew! That was a rush and a half. You alright, Inukai-" With an inexplicable crunch, Makoto fell forward, hard. Knocking her head on the pavement, she saw stars and a trickle of blood on the ground that was probably from her skull. Her weapon was way too far away, but she was able to act on instinct, spinning around quickly, and, despite her hazy thoughts, grab onto the creature. It struggled, but couldn't break out of her grip. "Inukai, I hope you managed to find somethin', 'cause now's the time to use it!"