Cutscene: No Coincidences
All her life, the act of reviewing one’s lessons for the day felt as natural to her as breathing; the feel of crisp pages between her fingertips, the smell of ink on paper, margins filled with brief but important notations and key words that enabled her to remember what she was reading more effectively. If there was anything Naomi actually excelled in, it was being an academic, more prone to intellectual pursuits than physical or artistic ones. While the propensity did not preclude her from harboring the desire to take up a niche in the latter categories, she had learned through the course of her relatively short life that the most capable of persons always, without fail, made the most out of what they have.
Raindrops heralded the onset of Spring, splashing crystalline spheres against the nearest windowpanes and leaving their smaller offspring behind on impact. The hour had grown late, the passage of time unnoticed in lieu of her rigorous preparations for the incoming finals period; that, too, would rectify itself in short order, for there was such a thing as overstudying. The mantra to work smarter, not necessarily harder, was one that the heiress lived by on a daily basis. It wasn’t long until she decided to return her books into her bag and ready herself to vacate the library of Seven Sisters High School, as well as its campus - the elusive hour between twilight and the deeper trenches of the evening had made itself known by the stark change of the colors outside. Gone were the phoenix-fire strands of the sunset that she missed viewing today.
The library itself was empty, save for herself and the librarian’s student assistant, and she appeared to be leaving as well, only to meet her wandering gaze from across the room. Her ebony eyebrows lifted at seeing the young woman lbeckon her to the front desk. No sooner did Naomi arrive, answering the call with her approach and a small, amiable smile of greeting did the other student state her reasons for wanting her attention.
“The copy of the yearbook you requested arrived this afternoon, Suzuno-san,” she said courteously. “I’m sorry for bothering you during your finals review, but I thought you should know.”
Realization flickered over the delicate lines of her face. Naomi reached for the dusty, aged yearbook that the girl passed over the worn, wooden surface of the table, fingertips absently tracing over the seven stars that made up the high school’s distinct crest. With finals crunch and everything else that had happened after Akatsuki’s rescue, she had almost forgotten about the request she put in with the library after the incident in the clocktower during Valentines Day. Her research on the events that inspired the macabre ghost-play she, Tatsuya, Chie, and Yukiko had witnessed came up empty for a while; days spent digging into the school’s yearbook archive only to realize that the library was devoid of yearbook copies of a specific year. Ignoring the curious look on the assistant’s face, the violet-eyed second-year flipped quickly through its index, her digits dragging down the list of names and references and finding what she was looking for.
The gloss had faded from the pages within, filled with technicolored photographs. Naomi’s heart stilled for a moment when she found a familiar face floating in the image before her.
Seven Sisters High School Music Club, 1999. From left to right: Ryu Sakamoto, Makoto Masumi....
“Hideaki Kuroishi,” the heiress murmured, matching a name with the face of one of the spirits she encountered in the clocktower.
Naomi’s head snapped up. “Ah, forgive me, Arisugawa-san,” she murmured. “Thank you very much for keeping my request in mind. I’d like to check this out, please.” She slid her library card forward, ignoring the suspicious stare from across the way.
With the index card stamped and filed away, she nodded her goodbyes, tucking the yearbook under her arm and slipping out the door to head down the hall. Her heart had resumed beating, the grip on the book’s leather cover tightening as she hurried towards the stairs where the shoe lockers were. A sick, twisting sensation started to permeate over her stomach, threatening to strangle her. If he had actually been a student here, if he had been a Music Club member...
She stopped, curiosity raging through her system, the tantalizing drip of adrenaline searing through her bloodstream and overtaking everything else. Leaning against the nearest wall, she flipped through the remaining pages quickly, scanning the names and captions, dismissing most of them in short order until her fingers frozen on a particular page that depicted a handsome, athletic and terribly familiar-looking young man dressed in an older version of the school’s track uniform.
Tatsuya Shirakawa, Seven Sisters High School Track Team, 1999.
His faded, reddish-brown eyes stared at her from the picture. Even the slightest, nigh-near imperceptible smile was the same. She had seen it before on his present counterpart and given he smiled so rarely, it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing she would forget so quickly.
She had been so convinced it was a trick, a ruse, so convinced that when it came to the strange events that occurred in Sumaru that there were no coincidences. At the time, she even had the moxie to say it out loud in front of the strange being with the mask and its crimson tears.
She had never had the distinct displeasure of being proven so mistaken, so wrong, in her entire life.
“It’s not a trick,” she uttered lowly, to no one in particular. “It’s not a trick. How is this possible? How....this can’t be right...!”
Hesitation filled her now. Naomi clenched her fingers against the book once, before they uncurled again. There was another thing she had to verify. Another face.
It didn’t take her long to find it, the delicate, well-formed visage comprised of her own features mingled with Yukiko Amagi’s. The smiling, dark-haired girl had her arms around two other girls that looked to be about her age. The notation below the image caused her to press her lips together, brows drawing forward.
Kasumi Natsume, Naomi Midoriyama, and Mai Saotome after home economics class, 1999.
She clapped the yearbook shut with a snap, feeling her teeth dig into one another behind closed lips, reeling mentally as what she knows warred brutally with what ought to be. What was this? A fluke? Some twisted version of reincarnation? The latter would have been impossible. Eleven years ago, she was seven years old. Tatsuya would have been eight, around the year when his father...
It couldn’t be reincarnation. They had already been born.
Her head fell heavily against the cold plaster behind her, silently wishing she had Dona’s expertise with the occult. At the moment, ideas were running empty.
Her eyes flicked over to the staircase, and while at the lower levels of the school, she knew where the steps eventually led.
“If I broke my word and went alone, would you speak to me?” she wondered quietly.
Perhaps expectedly, nothing answered her. Raking her fingers frustratedly through her hair, she shoved the yearbook into her book bag, and spun on her heel to exit the building.