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Summary: Six people have vanished near the Shirogane Tunnel in Tokyo. Finally, a desperate police officer calls in a detective who shares the tunnel's name.
Length: 3100 words
Rating: PG13?
Notes: Old fill from the original Persona 4 kink meme. In short, the prompt was, The Shirogane tunnel is a tunnel in Tokyo that is said to be the gateway to the spiritual world used by the shinigami, the god of death ... Show me something with Naoto and this tunnel ... No "I guess it was just an urban legend after all, hahaha." The myth must be real in this.


Rain falls on a moonlit Tokyo.

It is a cold, piercing rain that makes her shiver inside her thick coat. She regrets stepping out of the car even as she closes the door behind her. Even though the coat is waterproofed, it's still cloth, and she feels the rain already starting to soak through.

From under the wide brim of her hat, the street looks dark and hazy. As the cab speeds off in the distance, she notices a figure in white standing across the road, seeming somewhat ghostly in the dim light.

"You are my contact?"

The ghostly shape turns out to be a young man with an earnest face and brown hair, a little lighter than usual, in a style that reminds her of a certain other earnest-looking young man she knows. He's in uniform under an oversized white raincoat, and carrying an umbrella, which he holds out as she approaches.

"Detective Shirogane, I presume."

"Naoto Shirogane, yes. Just call me Naoto."

He gives her a discerning look. She half expects him to comment on her age or height, but he simply nods. "Kazuya Ishiba, of the local police department. I am sorry for the suspicious nature of this meeting..."

He is still holding out the umbrella. Comfort wins over pride, and she takes it, though a few moments too late, as her shoulders already feel cold and wet. "Thank you. It is of no concern. I understand that not all parts of detective work should be in the public eye... at least until the case is solved. Perhaps you could show the way."

He wastes no words as he begins to walk, adjusting his pace to her shorter legs.

"About the victim..."

"Yes, about that. There is not so much a... provable victim..."

"What?"

He gives an exasperated sigh. "This is going to sound strange, and... look, I'll spill it as soon as we get out of the rain. Some things aren't suited to a dark night."

She grunts noncommittally, lengthening her steps. They shouldn't be far from the station, and even shielded from the rain by the umbrella, she feels the biting cold through her coat.

It's not a welcoming first impression, and she can't shake the feeling that Tokyo really does not want her there.

It's not the first time she gets that feeling.

*

The station is nearly dark, with just a couple of windows lit. Ishiba brings her in through a side entrance, leads her into a dingy office and offers her a cup of watery coffee. She takes it to warm her hands.

"I had thought it to be just a myth," she says, rolling the thin plastic cup between her palms, "an urban legend."

"So did I," he says, and peers out at the rain through the blinds. "Until they started disappearing."

"It could have other causes."

"That's what they all say. Hell, that's what I'd say. If I hadn't seen it..."

She waits for him to resume, silently.

"You know the story, right?"

He looks over his shoulder, and she nods. Strange figures appearing for a fraction of a second, standing in the middle of the road. Ghostly faces silhouetted on the pillars, seeming to be screaming in rage or pain.

The tunnel is a gateway to the spirit world - at least, if the rumours are to be believed. A gateway used by shinigami, the god of death.

For someone who has studied the phenomenon, that fact alone should raise a warning flag. Shinigami is a relatively new phenomenon in Japanese culture, a concept born out of foreigners' tales of a grim reaper, a skeletal figure in a cowled robe, wielding a large scythe with which it cuts the dying from the world of the living.

If a place existed that connected the world of the living and the world of the dead - assuming it existed to begin with - it would predate the concept of shinigami.

It would be more likely to be connected to Izanami.

But that was a name mankind should no longer have reason to fear.

"Please," she says, taking an experimental sip of coffee and quickly deciding that one was enough, "continue."

Ishiba turns away from the window and paces, hands folded behind his back. "I heard through some reliable sources that you were involved with some... strange events in Inaba a few years back. Disappearing people. Deaths..."

"Those crimes were solved. The culprit confessed..."

"But not every question was answered. I have studied the case - I know what happened. That's why I turned to you. You wouldn't expect me to call you all the way out here if there weren't some special circumstances, right?"

It makes sense; there are detectives in Tokyo, some of them quite good. She keeps contact with a couple of them, friends of the family. There is no reason he couldn't have gone to someone who could show up at a moment's notice.

Instead, he had gone to her.

She nods.

"Go on."

"People have been going in. They have not come out. We have dispatched search teams. Combed the area. No signs of anything out of the ordinary. No ransom notes. No bodies. Some have disappeared from company. No one has seen how, no one knows why."

"How many?"

He sighs, turns away again. "Six. More through the years, probably, but six recently enough to be connected. The first was alone, going from point A to point B. Never seen again, not a trace. The second, same thing. Either of those could have disappeared at any point during the journey, but both passed through the tunnel. The third case was a couple, the boy says the girl lagged behind and suddenly... disappeared. They ended up taking him in on suspicion of kidnapping, but there was no evidence. The fourth was drunk, out with friends. Five went in. They didn't realize anything until they were out on the other side, minus one. By the time the fifth disappeared, people were starting to get a bit on edge. There were three people, mother and daughter and a friend. The friend disappeared somewhere halfway through. The last one disappeared from a taxi. Even the police couldn't ignore that one. They suspected the driver, but he was the one who reported it, had no motive, no nothing... just another unsolved mystery." He takes a thick folder from his desk and hands it to her; it's full of files for several different cases. "I have all the names on file, all the reports, but you can save yourself the trouble of reading it. It's a big fat nothing. Questions without answers."

She puts the file back on the desk, wraps both hands around the too-rapidly cooling coffee cup. "You mentioned personal experience." The light flickers. Ishiba seems not to notice as he stares through the blinds, out at the empty, rainy street.

"Yes. I was assigned to combing the tunnel. I saw the ghost - the shinigami, if you will. It was a flash, a clear figure... floating in the air, humanoid, with a cloak billowing about it. It seemed like the sight burned into my head - I can still see it if I close my eyes. And I felt this... this tremendously oppressive atmosphere..."

He seems to shiver and shakes his head. "I sound crazy. I know I sound crazy. But-"

She knows his anguish. After all, she has felt it herself, years back. The dread and certainty, knowing she knew things no one but a select few could understand or believe. Beings that have left marks on her body and soul, events that would land her in a mental hospital if she tried to describe them as anything more than a dream.

She still has scars from those days. As unlikely as his story seems, she can't dismiss it before she knows more.

"I understand."

Ishiba looks up at her, surprised.

"I will need to visit the tunnel."

He gives her a blank look. "I realize that it will be necessary. But please be careful."

She promises that she will.

The wind howls outside. It sounds almost as if it is screaming no.

*

She takes a taxi, letting it drop her off within walking distance, but not close enough that the driver realizes where she is going. The request was personal, and without official backing, she would rather avoid questions.

She kept Ishiba's umbrella at his insistence, and it serves her well during the brisk walk. The rain does not let up; rather, it seems to increase in intensity the closer she gets.

If she believed in omens, she might think it seemed as if something was trying to keep her away. But she does not, and so she hastens her pace, eager to get out of the rain.

The rain obscures everything, and the tunnel fades in ahead of her suddenly enough to be eerie. A sign proclaims it Shirogane Tunnel, if she needed the confirmation.

It would have been more welcoming in daylight, but there will be less people at night, making the investigation easier.

She brings out her flashlight, a powerful, durable piece specially made for police work, but it seems unnecessary. The lights are on, and though not very strong, give more than enough light for navigation.

The tunnel seems abandoned. Perhaps the rumours have spread further than she had expected, or perhaps it's just too late on a rainy night. Either way, it's good. It will let her work undisturbed.

She puts the umbrella down just inside the entrance to get her hands free and strides boldly into the tunnel, taking in every aspect. It looks ordinary. There is asphalt and concrete, black and grey. Fluorescent lamps, covers stained grey by exhaust gasses and dust, line the ceiling. The light is cold and clinical, with the usual faint, barely noticeable strobe-like quality of fluorescent tubes - not suitable for a path to the underworld at all.

The legend mentions strange figures in the middle of the road, as did Ishiba. But she can't see anything like that, and turns her attention on the pillars instead. The concrete is uneven and darkly stained, looks almost burnt. It's no wonder people see things moving here - with the shadows and these dark spots, the imagination would easily fill in the rest. Even as she circles one of the pillars, she starts making out formations that could be seen as faces - but they remain only stains, unmoving dirt.

Imagination.

If only the disappearances could be attributed to the power of imagination.

Six people. She should have gone through the files first, seen if the man is crazy after all. But she was curious, eager to see this mysterious place that shares her name.

The light flickers overhead.

She keeps walking, deeper inside. The tunnel may not be supernatural, but it does have a certain air about it, like the kind of coldly frightening dream where you keep running, never getting anywhere, while an unknown danger creeps closer and closer.

With the rain now behind her, the tunnel is silent but for the sound of her footsteps and a faint, distant noise of water dripping, dripping, ceaselessly echoing. She's thankful for that small, real sound, one she has never heard in a dream. It's like a remainder that she's dealing with the real world, with real problems, and not a dream.

The light flickers again, inexplicably. She starts, then tells herself she's stupid, that things like this happen.

She takes several more steps before she realizes that along with that flicker, the dripping noise disappeared.

The shadows seem to creep closer as she looks around paranoidly.

It stopped raining, that must be the reason. It was pouring down, so it couldn't last long. There is nothing supernatural happening in the Shirogane tunnel. Still, her hand tightens around her gun, though she can't remember reaching for it, much less drawing it.

Light glints coldly along its barrel, a small comfort. She breathes out, firmly, and holsters the weapon. There is no one here to use it on. No one but her.

So why do the walls seem closer? The shadows, the dark marks (pollution, exhaust gases, mould, water, whatever) suddenly seem to flow, positions changing.

It's ludicrous. She has faced an entirely different kind of shadows, faced a god, and she's letting ordinary shades bother her.

Shades.

Shadows.

She must be imagining the slithering noises, the clicking of claws on concrete.

She strains her eyes and ears, and there is stillness and silence.

Chiding herself, she presses on, deeper within.

She tries to ignore the fact that it seems like the shadows are crawling after her, following on the ground, the walls, even the ceiling, streaks of darkness even where the cold, electric light is shining.

She slaps her forehead, the noise echoing. This is foolish. She, a grown woman, a detective, afraid of the dark like some mere child-

The anger flaring in her chest sustains her will, allows her to march on and shrug off the encroaching dread.

At least for a while.

The light flickers again, more noticeable this time. Perhaps it's common in Tokyo - massive power grids, long cables, perhaps not made with rain like this in mind.

She barely has time to get that thought out of her head.

Then the light dies.

She manages not to scream, but the darkness is suffocating, and for a moment she panics before she realizes that she has her flashlight and switches it on, fingers fumbling.

The darkness recedes.

But the shadows don't.

As she moves, it seems the dark, solid things are fleeing the brilliant cone of light.

It's her imagination.

Must be her imagination.

Even so, the hairs at the back of her neck are standing straight up. It's cold behind her.

As she walks, the feeling of dread grows stronger, and she finally feels disturbed enough to whirl around, carving through the darkness with pure white light.

Nothing.

The feeling does not go away. She presses her back against the wall.

It seems to yield slightly, pull at her coat, and she jumps, whirls again, and it is just plain concrete, pitted and worn.

She shakes herself and turns back, heading for the exit she knows isn't that far away.

It's still too far.

She starts to run.

The pillars rush at her and fade into the darkness. The walls are long, disappearing into the distance both ahead and behind.

The sounds of her footsteps echo as if the tunnel were much wider and taller, filling it with noise, louder and louder.

She still can't see the end.

Something seems to touch her shoulder, and this time she does scream, falling headlong on the asphalt; lamp falling, rolling, clattering, flickering but thank God not going out.

As soon as she manages to come to a stop, she's on her back, gun drawn, thrust into the looming darkness.

The flashlight rolls slowly, light playing over the walls, the pillars.

There is something white, reflecting the light for a moment so short that she can't be sure it ever happened. Like a hole in space.

She scrambles for the light, scrubbed hand aching as it closes over the cold metal.

There's still an echo somewhere, a strange sound bouncing from wall to wall.

It is not dying out.

She does not holster her gun this time, holds it out, handle slick with blood, dripping darkly onto the asphalt.

The scent of it is thick and suffocating.

The echo is getting louder.

But it's not an echo.

It's voices.

Muttering, whispering, coming from the pillars, from the walls, from the rock all around her.

She strains her ears and realizes that she can understand parts of it.

Realizes that they are speaking to her specifically.

But as soon as she starts to listen, the voices begin to screech, gibbering, each one crying a different threat, some muttering ineligibly; some spouting nonsense, sound echoing in the tunnel, in her head, until it feels about to burst, leaving the only words she can make out the name that connects her and this place.

"Shirogane!"

"Shirogane!!"

And now there is a different sound, faint and distant, but drowning out the gibbering crowd.

Or rather, silencing it.

The sound of metal dragging on the asphalt. Heavy iron chains. Closer and closer. No footsteps.

Run.

Darkening walls, wraithlike images twisting within. A face, twisted in agony. A claw reaching for her heart.

If only she had her persona.

If only she had someone backing her up.

The chains sound closer. Suddenly. As if they suddenly moved the distance in the space of a heartbeat.

The bright cone from the flashlight flickers. It is only too easy to imagine the light being frightened, shying away from the approaching presence.

Run faster.

Her legs and chest ache. Her hands sting.

The exit must be close.

But now the road leads down.

Her vision clouds with tears. This is wrong. It can not be happening.

But it is.

She can feel the ground drop with each step, carrying her further below the surface.

The tunnel twists and narrows in a manner its builders never intended, pillars writhing, the silhouetted figures inside becoming darker, more substantial, more malicious.

She can swear that the shadows are reaching out for her as she passes, as the pillars fade into the darkness behind her.

But the metallic clatter slowly dies away in the distance.

And then, suddenly, the entrance looms ahead, a dark hole leading out into the rain, edges tinged with red light.

She knows she has left the approaching presence behind her.

But now it is waiting for her up ahead.

Blocking the exit. Shrouded in darkness even her halogen light bulb can not penetrate, a floating figure, vaguely humanoid with a cowled robe floating about it, as if moved by intangible winds. Sharp, ragged, rusty chains writhing like living things, caressing the figure and beckoning at the darkness.

She staggers and stops, light nearly falling from numb fingers.

Trapped.

No escape.

And the reaper sees her.

It comes closer, chains dragging across walls, floor, even the ceiling, scraping, clattering.

Death carries not a scythe, but a gun, a more modern implement of destruction. Silver glints dully on a long barrel covered with runes. The noise from the chains on the concrete and asphalt as it moves are the only sound the floating phantom makes.

Even when it cocks the gun.

Yamato-Takeru, help me!

But there is nothing within her, nothing to hear her plea.

Her own gun is in her hand, woefully inadequate.

It barks sharply, three loud bangs echoing in the closed space.

She sees holes open in the reaper's insubstantial flesh and close again.

Three bullets fired. Three bullets left.

She wonders if she should save one for herself.

It won't be necessary.

The reaper aims for the heart.

It will be swift-

-the seventh unsolved disappearance in the Shirogane Tunnel.

*

March 2016

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