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The World Is Ours

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----4/9 SATURDAY, AFTERNOON, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

Shujin Academy was hailed all over Tokyo as one of the best schools to attend. Any who graduate from here was almost guaranteed an accepted college application. The teachers were highly acclaimed, and even an accomplished olympic medalist as the gym teacher, heading the national winning volleyball team. Or so they all say.

It's April 9th, the first week of school in the new year. Kimisawa Airi was beginning to doubt this school was as dignified as they claimed.

Looking at the bruises and defeated demeanor of Mishima Yuuki from her seat, her wine colored eyes narrowed in suspicion and worry. Who gave him those bruises? Why did everyone on the volleyball team dread practice? Why did they have practice everyday? All these questions swam in her mind, distracting her from the lesson. It was a good thing Kawakami-sensei didn't really seem to care, though her occasional glances implied that she knew her top student wasn't paying attention.

'I don't remember the lesson, but it's all right.' She grimaced, fidgeting with her mechanical pencil. 'It's only the first week. More importantly, why hasn't any teacher done anything?'

The bell rung, signalling the end of classes for the day. Most of the students as well as the teacher left the class, swarming the halls as they got ready to go home.

Deciding to confront the situation, Airi stood up from her desk. Shouldering her bag, she walked up to her bruised classmate who didn't notice her approach, too distracted while packing his books away.

"Mishima-kun?" She called out gently.

His head shot up, a startled expression on his face.

The smile on her face dimmed slightly at the glint of fear in his brown eyes. 'Why is he so afraid..?'

"A-Ah yes, Kimisawa-senpai?" Mishima stammered quietly.

She tucked a strand of rose colored hair behind her ear. "May I ask how your day was? You seemed rather depressed during the last class."

He blinked. "Um, it was all right. I was just um, thinking...of future exams..?" His voice trailed off, as if he wasn't sure himself.

Airi tilted her head slightly, her braid falling over her shoulder. "Those are pretty far off, I don't think you need to worry about them now. Is something else bothering you?" She pressed further.

His breath hitched at the question, the fear in his eyes that dimmed at the start of the conversation coming back in full force.

Airi's brow furrowed in worry. 'Could this be more serious than it seems?' She fretted mentally. 'He's hiding something, something big.'

Mishima snapped up from his seat, his body rigid. His blue hair shadowed his eyes. "No, nothing's wrong!" He bit his lip. "Please excuse me, practice will start soon and I can't afford to be late again, he might..." He stopped himself. "Ah n-nevermind, see you tomorrow, senpai!" With that, he rushed out of the room.

She was glued to her spot, still standing where Mishima left her. '"He"? Did he mean Kamoshida-sensei? Is he...' She clenched her hands, and with a look of worry on her face, grabbed her bag and went down the same way.

The closer she got to the gym, the more Airi was starting to think her suspicions were correct. No other teacher or staff member was present near the gym, and thinking back on last year, they weren't here then either. They swarmed the other buildings though, practically at every corner. She gripped her bag, and quietly made her way to the side entrance.

Luckily, the door was unlocked. Already the sounds of practice could be heard, the squeaking of sneakers and volleyballs hitting the lacquered floor. From what she knew, the volleyball team had mandatory practices every day, even during breaks. She slowly and quietly inched the door open. The bright lights inside the gymnasium blinded her for a moment in comparison to the orange overcast from the sunset sky.

When her vision returned, she froze. Her blood ran cold.

Some members were diligently hitting volleyballs at the wall, constantly smacking as hard as they could. It would have been perfectly innocuous if not for the bags under their eyes and the bruises around their wrists and knees. Others were standing with their back against their teammates who threw volleyballs at them with all of their strength.

Airi trembled, in fear or anger, she couldn't tell. Why was this happening?

She looked around a little further and gasped. There was Kamoshida-sensei near the back of the courts, and in front of him was a shivering Mishima, head down. She couldn't hear anything due to the distance, but her eyes couldn't deceive her. Her classmate had gotten a new bruise on his face since she last saw him a half hour ago. Kamoshida-sen-. No. Her eyes hardened. Kamoshida stood there with his hands on his hips, looking down at him with a sneer on his face, clearly berating the downtrodden teen.

She clenched her fists, her eyes narrowed with fury. 'How dare he! I can't believe how he's gotten away with this for so long!' She seethed in her mind. She dug into her bag, looking for her phone. She needed to photograph evidence to show to Principal Kobayakawa about this. There was no way she would let this go on any longer. She groaned silently when she grasped nothing.

'I probably left it in my desk.' She thought sullenly. 'I should at least go tell the principal. He needs to know.'

With one last decisive look, she slowly closed the door and power walked across the courtyard. Passing by the occasional student who waved to her, she arrived at the intended office on the third floor. Straightening out her blazer and skirt, she took a deep breath and knocked, mentally scolding herself to calm down. "Yes, who is it?" She heard.

Sliding the door open, she walked into the office, and closed the door behind her. She walked up to the desk and bowed. "Principal Kobayakawa, I am Kimisawa Airi from class 2-D. I would like to speak to you about something."

The principal, a rather grotesquely rotund man in a mustard yellow suit that barely buttoned, looked up from his paper work and gleamed a blinding smile.
"Ah!" He exclaimed, "If it isn't one of the top students in the school! I saw your end of the year report earlier, and I must say, you definitely have what it takes to get into the best Universities!" He laughed jovially, his bald head shining from the window behind his chair.

Airi straightened from her bow and blinked. "Ah um. Yes thank you, Principal," She stammered. It was rather embarrassing to be praised like that.

He shuffled his papers. "Now what is it that you want to speak to me about? Is it about a future letter of recommendation?" Kobayakawa grinned. "I can certainly arrange for one next year, as long as your grades continue to be so wonderful!"

Airi shuffled her feet, "No sir, though I thank you for thinking so." She answered. "It's about Kamoshida-sensei."

His smile dimmed slightly at the mention of the gym teacher. "Oh? Did you want his autograph?" He joked. "I 'm sorry but you'll have to gather the courage to ask him yourself for one!"

"No, sir." She said firmly. She had to say it. She couldn't let him get away with this. "This may sound ridiculous, but... I think Kamoshida-sensei is abusing the volleyball team."

His smile disappeared in an instant. "Now why would you say that? Those are rather serious accusations there, Kimisawa-san." He frowned. "Kamoshida-sensei is an esteemed teacher, the best in this academy! I'm sure whatever you may think of him, it is unfounded." He waved her away. "I don't want to hear any more of this. Now please, school has ended for the day and I'm sure you have better things to do than to bother me with your nonsense!" He voiced his displeasure.

Airi stood there in shock. How could her principal say such things? She bit her lip and hurriedly walked out of the room, heading down the hall.

'He didn't even listen to me!' She sulked. 'If he just heard me out...!' Biting her lip, she clenched her eyes. The bruises on Mishima stood out in her mind, and a sharp tinge of guilt hit her. She couldn't even do something as little as this...

Arriving at her class, she walked in and grabbed her phone. Passing by all the other students, she started walking out of the building, face wiped of all emotion. She can't let anyone else know that there was a problem.

Walking a block away and into the empty vending machine alcove, she leaned on a wall and sighed in frustration. What could she do? She didn't want to see anyone hurt. 'I'm so sorry, Mishima-kun...' She thought sullenly, 'He's enduring all of this. The entire team is. Don't their parents notice?'

She stilled.

'Or they do notice...and aren't doing anything...' She covered her mouth in horror. Was that really it..? They couldn't bring themselves to care for their kids, even when they were coming home with bruises and split lips every day?

The hand that wasn't covering her mouth gripped her phone tightly. 'I have to do something...I need to protect them.' Airi thought resolutely. ‘No one else is doing anything...They don’t deserve this. No one does!’

-Beep!-

Startled at the noise, Airi looked down at her phone where the sound emanated from. On the screen was a bright red logo of an eyeball. She raised a brow, giving it a weird look.

Kind of creepy.

She hesitantly tapped it, and a search box appeared. "Please enter a name, a location, and a keyword." The app stated in a feminine tone.

She tilted her head in confusion. 'What is all this? Where did it come from?' She wondered. 'I know I never downloaded an app like this.' She tapped on the map function a couple of times, curious to what it would do. It has a map, so was it some sort of GPS?

Her thumb hit the school's location, and it updated with a ping. "There is a hit."

Chapter Text

-BA-BUMP-

Everything turned purple and...distorted?

Airi looked around, scrunching up her brow in distress as her surroundings warped. Her breath hitched. There was a weird nauseous feeling, and a split second where her feet wasn't touching anything. When she felt the ground appear underneath her feet, she stumbled, hitting the ground with her hands and knees.

'What just happened?!' She screamed in her mind. Looking around for clues as to what she had just went through, she noticed something else.

"Huh?!" She gasped.

The surroundings completely changed. What was once an orange sunset sky was now a reddish purple hue that clouded the heavens. Everything was dark except for the building in front of her that glowed ominously. What was once Shujin Academy had turned into a large and looming stone castle, the stained windows glowing red like freshly spilled blood.

She turned her head from side to side. What was going on?! She looked down at her phone. On the marker stated, "Kamoshida's Palace." She furrowed her brow and looked up, seeing the telltale signs. There were banners with Kamoshida's face on it everywhere around this castle; on the walls, on flag poles, even statues of him on the high balconies. The only thing that stayed the same was the sign out front spelling out, "Shujin Academy."

This is the same place? Slowly putting one foot in front of the other, Airi walked in, cautious of her surroundings. Everywhere she looked, there were statues and signs dedicated to Kamoshida. What was this place exactly? Was this real? Did she hit her head...?

She slowed to a stop in the foyer, the red carpet plush underneath her oxfords. The marble floors were polished to a point that she could see her own reflection mirrored back. To her sides were double doors, leading to who knows where. There was no one around and not a sound was heard. The entire keep seemed empty of all life. The most noticeable thing in the room was the giant portrait of Kamoshida, fully dressed in armor in front of the grand staircase.

Airi shuddered. 'I can't unsee that.'

With a nervous gulp, she headed toward the only open door to the right. 'Wherever I am, hopefully I can find someone who can help.'

As she descended further into the deeper levels of the castle, her nerves began to fray more and more as she encountered not a single soul. Opening another door, her ears picked up a sound that wasn't her own echoing footsteps. 'Is that rushing water?'

Turning a corner, she was confronted with cells upon cells, a rapid river running right in the middle of the corridor.

She paled. Actual dungeons?!

Hesitantly, she continued down into the cells, looking inside each one to see if there were any people. There were none. She hit the end of the corridor and sighed. So much for that.

"Huh? H-hey! You there!"

Airi looked around, eyes darting from empty corridor to empty corridor. "Who said that?" She asked warily. Where was that voice coming from?

"Down here!"

She looked down and saw...a cat? inside the last cell. Eyebrows raised in bewilderment, she crouched down to speak to the cat thing. It had a large round head and a smaller body, small cat ears twitching at her voice. Its large blue eyes looked up at her with an expression of surprise, the upper half of its face concealed with what seemed to be a black bandana and under its chin a yellow handkerchief. A black jumpsuit covered its body aside from its hands and feet, which were cat paws. It stood up on its hind legs with no problem, implying that it was a bipedal creature.

"Hello? My name is Airi, can you help me?" Airi whispered. There was no one else around. If it could understand her, maybe it could help...

The cat thing-what was it?- looked up at her with a mischievous smile on its face and exclaimed, "Oh beautiful lady! It is an honor to meet you! My name is Morgana!" It puffed up its chest with its paws on its hips.

She smiled. Whatever it was, it was still super cute. "Hello Morgana, it's a pleasure to meet you, although I'd rather it was somewhere more pleasant." She paused. "Um, I'm sorry if I offend, but what are you?"

It huffed. "I'm human!..." It slumped. "I think."

Airi blinked. A human? "I'm sorry but to me, you look more like a cat."

"Don't call me that!" Morgana exclaimed indignantly, glaring up at her with its big blue eyes. "I'm not a cat! I'm a human!"

Airi raised her hands placatingly. "OK, I'm sorry for upsetting you." She soothed.

It deflated. "Ah my apologies...I'm taking my frustrations out on you since I'm stuck in this cell." It perked up. "Oh! Do you think you can get me out of here, Lady Airi?"

She looked around to see if anything could break the lock. It was rusty enough that it could be broken, but it would've been easier if she could pick it. The one time she didn't have a lock pick on her...

Her eyes glimpsed at a small rock nearby and she reached to grab it. Throwing it a little in her hand, it seemed sturdy enough. 'Hopefully this works,' she thought as she raised her arm. With a deep breath, she struck down.

-CLANK-

The lock broke off and noisily fell to the stone floor. Standing up, she opened the door with a loud creak, and the feline waddled out.

"Ahh! At last, freedom!" It exclaimed in joy.

Airi smiled at the glee in its eyes. At least she could help one person today...

"Hey! Who's down there making that ruckus?!"

She stiffened, fear filling her limbs like a shock. Someone else was here?! Turning around, her eyes widened as three suits of armor rushed up to them, spears in hand. 'Are they hostile?!’ She thought apprehensively. What was going to happen to them? Those spears were awfully sharp...

Morgana turned around at the noise. Narrowing its eyes, It took a step forward, brandishing a scimitar from who knows where. "Hey! You're not going to capture her or me!"

The guards ran in front of them, blocking their only way out. "Tch! A prisoner escaped," One guard said.

"And an intruder?!" Another exclaimed. They raised their spears at the two.

She trembled, taking a step back. 'We’re going to die!' She teared. All she could hear was the blood pounding in her ears. Was this really how she was going to go..? After everything she went through?

"You'll have to get through me first!" Morgana shouted valiantly, crouching in front of its savior. It rushed to attack and took one of them down with a swing of its blade, before another guard swatted it away with its spear.

"Ack!" It yelped as it smacked against the cold stone wall, before falling into a slumped position on the ground. It winced, gritting its fangs in pain.

Airi turned to look at it, gripping her hands in front of her, knuckles white with the pressure. "Morgana!" She yelled. "Are you OK?!"

Morgana slowly sat up, flinching as its tail was crushed from the impact. "I'm OK! But...I won't be able to fend them off. I'm too weak from being captured earlier." Its ears fell. "Lady Airi...you're going to have to fight!"

She hugged herself, anxiety and fear creeping up her spine. "B-but how? I don't have any weapons or fighting ability..." She stammered, her eyes wet with unshed tears. She was such a coward. Another person was protecting her again, and she just stood here like some useless doll..!

"You probably have a Persona!" Morgana gritted. "You're in a Palace after all. You have to summon it and fight!"

She furrowed her brow. "A Persona..? I don't know what that is!" She argued, her breath shaky now with her heart pounding so quickly.

It coughed. "You have to!"

One of the guards then grabbed Morgana by its neck and slammed it against the wall, holding it up with its grip. Raising its other hand, It aimed its spear at the feline. "Enough with your chit chatting!" The guard yelled. "Kamoshida-sama wants any and all intruders dead, including you!"

Morgana struggled against its grip. "You can try all you want!" It wheezed, paws scratching at the gauntlet. "I'll never...bow down...to the likes of him..!"

The other guard raised its spear at her, prepared to strike her down.

Standing there motionlessly, a tear slowly fell down her cheek as she watched with wide eyes. Why was she so useless?! She breathed shakily, feeling frustration and self hate well up inside her. All she wanted was to help, to protect the people who couldn't protect themselves. She just wanted to live up to her legacy...Why couldn't she do one thing right?!

-BA-BUMP-

Her eyes widened, mouth opened in a silent scream. She gripped her head, nails digging into her scalp. What was this..?! Within a second, her head began hurting. She gritted her teeth as the pain increased with each pulse.

‘You wanted to protect those who couldn't protect themselves...’

This voice...who is it? Airi wondered, even as her mind felt like it was being torn in half. She flailed her head from side to side, trying to ease the splitting pressure but to no avail. She choked on her saliva as the pain now overrode the rest of her body. She couldn't feel anything except the excruciating pain of her soul tearing in half.

‘You love so strongly...even those you barely know...your kindness knows no bounds, if only so they don't end up like her...’

She hunched into herself, nails starting to claw her skin off her scalp with the force she was gripping her head, staining the tips in red. 'Make it stop!' Airi screamed.

‘You stand here now, completely useless...What is it that you desire most? You have the choice to grasp it, but you don't!’

Tears streamed down her face, from the pain or the truth in those words, she couldn't tell. It was true. It was all true. She did nothing then, and she didn't do anything now. Even when someone who defended her was now in danger of dying. Nothing mattered anymore...Nothing except for the need to prove to herself that she can do this.

Just take a step forward...prove it to Morgana who depended on her. Prove it to the soldiers who were going to kill them. Prove it to herself that she could stand up and fight. Prove it to her...

‘Will you accept the contract? Doom your soul to uncertainty in the face of reaching for what you desire most?’

"YES!"

Chapter Text

Airi screamed, her head snapping up into the air.

The guards turned at her outburst, even Morgana who was still held up against the stone wall.

Blinking, she couldn't hear anything but the rushing of water from the river. Her brain registered that the pain had stopped a moment later, and something cold and bright was on her face. Slowly reaching up, her calloused fingertips felt metal instead of skin. What..?

She gripped at whatever it was, and flinched as her skin underneath moved with it, as if it was apart of her. Beginning to hyperventilate, she gripped the sides weakly, the sharp edges cutting into her fingers. It hurt, oh it hurt so much, but the itch..! With a screech, she pulled.

The mask tore off in a gush of blood, and a blaze of power surrounded her, hiding her from the rest of the world. White flames encased her body, changing her, making her stronger.

For the first time since the incident, she felt free, as if she finally realized what she was holding back. She took a deep breath, as if the air was from a crisp mountain range and not a moldy dungeon. Was this her real self..?

As she focused on the change inside of her, she didn't notice the change on the outside, nor the being that slowly gained corporeality behind her.

Swathed in white and purple silks was a woman, her skin so light that it seemed to glow. It almost hid the long tendrils of hair behind her, the strands so close to the same shade. A golden diadem was sat on top of the silver locks, holding back most of it to show off her cold expression. Her sleeveless gown flowed down below where her feet should be, layers upon layers of silk and chiffon fluttering around her, the pieces from her back acting as if they were wings. A corset made of what seemed to be gold laced her dress, showing off her impressive curves. Golden cuffs encircled the top of her arms, shackling her from unleashing her true power from her golden staff.

Gazing down with a look of disdain, she lifted her weapon in the air, chanting to herself. With a scream, the guards were destroyed by beams of light, penetrating through their armor and into their cores.

Morgana had hit the ground for the second time today, and looked up in awe. "A new Persona..!"

"I AM THOU, THOU ART I. THOU WHO DESIRE BEYOND HER STATION, WHO ART WILLING TO FORSAKE ALL SHE BELIEVES TO PROTECT WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO THINE OWN SELF."

"I AM JEANNE, COMTESSE OF RADIANCE, ONE WHO SHINES HER OWN JUSTICE. NONE SHALL DARKEN MY PATH."

As she faded from reality, Airi exhaled. So that was a Persona...She clenched her hands at the new power within her, feeling her nails bite through her gloves. Wait, gloves? Confused at the new sensation, she looked down at herself and gasped in shock.

Her clothes changed from her Shujin uniform into a sleeveless deep purple and silver embroidered vest coat that hugged her figure, leaving the chest open. Long dark purple gloves sheathed her arms up to her shoulders, covering a silver embroidered high collared blouse. Shifting her legs, she felt the skin tight leather pants move with her, black knee high boots encompassing her feet instead of her usual oxfords. A large silver pendant hung from her neck, nestled in her cleavage, with a gold belt, hanging on her hips. The last new addition was the silver embroidered scarf she had loosely wrapped around her neck, the ends fluttering like dainty wings.

She scrunched up her face in confusion, and felt it again. The mask was back. It wasn't itchy like before, when something inside screamed at her to tear it off. Now it felt like it really was a part of her.

Taking a few steps to the river, she looked down at her reflection. The mask was of opera-esque design, the silver sterling lacing around her eyes as well as her right cheek. Holding up a hand to brush her hair out of the mask's way, she blinked as she noticed her usual braided tail was held up in a bun.

"What is going on..." She wondered quietly.

"You awakened your Persona!" Morgana proclaimed, waddling up to her. Its eyes shined with amazement as it looked up at her.

"You keep saying Persona, but..." She hesitated. "I've never heard of it as a term for power before. Only with people and...masks..." Her eyes widened with realization. Was this what the term actually meant? Personas were a literal thing, and not just a part of a person's mental need to hide themselves?

"It's your inner self rebelling against the injustices done to you!" Morgana explained eagerly, its chest puffing up at its knowledge. "You rip off the mask that you wear in your heart to become your true self that breaks free and fights."

Airi's eyes widened in surprise. "My true self...? The me who wants to protect..." she muttered, looking down pensively. She did it then. She finally took that first step.

In a burst of white, her ostentatious clothes disappeared and in its place was her school uniform. "Whoa!" She uttered in surprise. "My new clothes disappeared! Is that supposed to happen...?" She looked down at her body, lifting her hands as she tried to see how it did that.

Morgana hummed. "You're probably still adjusting to your new powers, so it's a little unstable."

She nodded her head in understanding. "Oh, OK. That makes sense."

Morgana shook its head. "But never mind all that! We have to move, there may be more guards coming."

"I can take them!" Airi said confidently. "With this new power, my Persona, I can protect both of us!" She pumped her fist, a smirk on her face.

"Be that as it may," Morgana frowned reluctantly. "You're still new at this, we shouldn't provoke any more guards!"

It ran down the corridor and stopped near the stairs, the same one she took earlier. Turning around, it gestured at her. "C'mon, this way, Lady Airi! I'll show you a way out!" Morgana grinned.

Airi followed it, and both of them ended up going through the large foyer and down another corridor. They dodged into a room on the left and came to a stop.

Morgana then jumped onto the bookcase where there was a barred access way, and ripped the grate off. "Here!" It gestured. "You can leave the Palace through this and return to the real world!"

She held her hands out in a stop motion. "Wait. Before that, can you explain to me where exactly are we? What kind of world is this?" She pleaded. "This isn't a dream, right..?"

"This is a Palace, a place where one's distorted desires have taken shape." Morgana explained quickly. "A Palace is how a distorted person sees a location. To you, this is your school, but to the ruler, this is his castle."

Airi crossed her arms. "So this is all cognitive?" She wondered out loud. "This is how Kamoshida sees the school through his eyes?"

Morgana smiled. "Yes! You get it!" It said happily. "I knew you were intelligent, Lady Airi!"

A thought dawned on her. "Is Kamoshida here as well?" Airi questioned fervently. "Or another version of him? And does it affect him in the real world?"

"Yes, there is a Shadow version of him somewhere." It stated grimly, glancing at the door. "If you steal his Treasure, then you irrevocably change him and cleanse his desires. He turns into a new person and would confess his crimes."

Airi took a step back at its statement. "Wait, really? He’ll confess his crimes?" She asked faintly. Could she help the students this way? The principal wouldn't listen to her, and Kawakami-sensei wouldn't be able to help...

Morgana nodded, before shaking its head. "Anyway, you should get going before more guards come!"

"But wait," She interjected hurriedly, brows furrowing in worry. "What about you?"

Morgana grinned and gave her a thumbs up with its paw. "Don't worry about me!" It exclaimed. "And since you've come here once, you can probably do it again!"

 

"Who's there?!" Shouted someone from beyond the door.

 

Straightening its shoulder, Morgana walked to the door. "I'll provide a distraction while you escape, Lady Airi!" It stated determinedly, its back facing toward her.

Airi bit her lip, but acquiesced to its decision. "OK, be careful Morgana! I'll come back for you!"

Morgana flashed her a smile before running out the door. "Hey, numbskulls!" It taunted, running through another door. Metal clanked as soldiers ran after it.

Airi jumped up the bookcase, and started crawling through the vent. Behind her, she could hear Morgana yowl. A guard most likely caught up to it and was dragging it back to the dungeon. She closed her eyes in guilt. 'I'm sorry..!'

It took a couple moments, but when light shined through the tunnel, she picked up the pace and finally reached outside.

 

"You have returned to the real world." Her phone stated.

Airi blinked. What? She looked around. She was back in normal Aoyama-Itchome. There were even students walking toward the train station, chatting to each other, not knowing their fellow student just traveled through dimensions.

'I was just crawling through...' She furrowed her brow. Looking down at her phone, that red eye from before had turned into an app, now nestled between her music and her schedule. She shook her head slowly. 'That was real...That was really real!' She thought to herself hysterically. How could a person just travel into someone's mind like that? What was Morgana? Did Personas exist in everyone..?

All these questions swam in her mind, and she sighed tiredly. Putting her phone away, Airi headed toward the station and boarded a train to Shibuya. Gripping a safety rail, she looked out the window, the blackness of the tunnel speeding past in a blur.

There was no way she could do anything now, not with how exhausted she felt. Seemed like tearing one's soul in half to reveal its true self took a lot out of a person.

"This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 5:48PM, the next stop is..."

Leaving the train through the crowd of people, she headed toward her transfer, intent on going home. Swiping her wallet at the turnstile, she left the Ginza line and headed toward the train when someone bumped into her. "Ow!" She squeaked in pain.

"Sorry!" The guy said.

That voice sounded familiar.

Airi turned around to look at the person who pushed her.

"Oh!" He uttered in surprise. "H-hey Senpai, sorry about that!"

It was Sakamoto Ryuji.

"Oh, Sakamoto-kun. It's alright." Airi smiled gently.

She had always had a soft spot for him ever since middle school, especially after what happened last year. It must have been hard for him to break his leg right before the track tournament, then the disbandment of the track team itself, replaced by the volleyball team. Kamoshida just couldn't help himself, she pursed her lips. While a nice young man in general, Ryuji was much too brash and loud for Airi to have ever talked to him for longer than a couple moments, with the exception of that school project they did together with another classmate.

“I thought I told you before, you don’t have to call me senpai. We're the same age.” She scolded.

Ryuji rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Ah, you goin’ home now?"

She nodded. "Yes, it's been...a long day." She grimaced. That was the understatement of the century.

Ryuji nodded in agreement. "Yeah I get ya. Thank god it's the weekend!" He groaned, stretching his arms up in the air. He slumped, exhaling a big sigh. "School is such a pain. Especially since I have to see Kamoshida's big ugly face."

Airi giggled, amused at his ire towards the gym teacher. "I can sympathize. Kamoshida is rather egotistical, huh?" She joked.

He looked up at her in surprise. "Uh, yeah...sorry," He blinked. "You're the first person I know who's agreed with me..." He trailed off.

Her face softened, understanding why. Kamoshida was such a respected figure in the school that no one said a bad thing about him. To the staff and other students, he was the ideal and most desirable teacher. No one ever went against him, even now. Except for Ryuji. Couple that with terrible grades and a somewhat rough demeanor, and it had him labeled as the school delinquent and outcast.

"I know, and I'm sorry it has taken so long for me to see." Airi answered, ducking her head in apology. "I should've asked sooner, especially after your leg..."

Ryuji furrowed his brows and looked away. "...Don't worry 'bout it." He grinned weakly. "It's all healed up now. Besides, lots of people can't see past his stupid act." He glanced at the time on a nearby pillar. "Shit, I gotta go! I'll see ya on Monday!" He waved as he ran past to his train.

Airi sighed. 'Still so overwhelming.' She thought, then smiled fondly.

It was a good look on him.

 

How I envision Jeanne as

Chapter Text

Arriving at Yongenjaya, Airi got off the train and walked out of the station, swiping her wallet at the turnstile. She walked down the familiar streets, turning the corner into the alleyways. Back here were small bars and shops, along with a supermarket and a closed down movie theater. This area of Yongenjaya never saw as many people as it deserved, but it was how the locals liked it. It was quiet compared to the bustling streets outside, making it a perfect place for a lot of elderly people.

She rubbed an eye, getting rid of the crust. There was no way she could finish her homework with how tired she was. Time for some coffee. Turning into the alley in front of the second hand shop, she headed into Cafe Leblanc.

Opening the french door, she closed her eyes, inhaled, and slowly exhaled. The smell of coffee and exquisite curry could always calmed her down, leaving her with a smile on her face. The decor of the cafe was rustic but warm, giving off a feeling of home.

Opening her eyes, Airi walked up to the bar where Sakura Sojiro, owner and barista of Cafe Leblanc, was slowly wiping the counter. This was her home away from home, a place where she could relax and re-energize after a tiring day, just like today.

Sojiro lazily looked up at her. "Oh, hey Airi. just got out of school, huh?"

Sitting down on one of the bar stools, she smiled tiredly. "Yeah, it's been a long day." She sat her bag down on the floor next to her.

"Hmph. Not easy being class president and working, it seems." He muttered, putting a cup away. "What would you like?"

She hummed, glancing at the shelves upon shelves of coffee beans behind him. She had been here often enough that she had tried almost every kind he had to offer, but decided to go simple today. "One cup of Colombian, please." She clapped her hands in front of her in anticipation. "And a plate of katsu Curry!"

"Comin' right up." Sojiro said, moving around to prepare the ordered items.

While he got the food ready, there were thumping sounds heard from above. She looked up curiously at the wooden ceiling, but put it out of her mind once her food arrived in front of her.

Taking one last bite of her curry, Airi washed it down with her coffee. She sighed contently. It was nice to be able to splurge on a good plate of curry and coffee once in a while. "Gochisousama deshita." She clapped her hands. "It was delicious as always."

Sojiro grunted in answer, not looking up from his newspaper.

She tilted her head, observing his tense posture. He seemed off today, as if something was bothering him. "Is something wrong?" Airi inquired softly.

He sighed heavily. "No, nothing's wrong per say. Just got someone new."

"Oh?" She voiced, curiosity winning over her. "Who is it?"

"It doesn't concern you." He answered gruffly, raising his newspaper above his eyes to block her from his view.

She exhaled. She couldn't help him if he didn't want it. Reaching down for her bag, she pulled out the appropriate amount of money to pay for the meal and left it on the counter. Getting up, she waved to Sojiro. "I'll be off now! Have a good night!"

"Night." He muttered, still not looking at her.

Leaving the cafe, the cool breeze of a spring evening chilled her. The school uniform blazer was not good for such cold temperatures. Rubbing her arms, she quickly walked a couple blocks down to a small house, sequestered away from the shops. Taking her keys out of her bag, she inserted and twisted it into the lock, opening the front door.

Her house was nothing special, a bit big for one person. There were small knick knacks and simple paintings lining the walls, filling in the empty spaces. Some were old family photos at the rink, recital, and other such memoirs of better times. Dark wooden floors lead from the cement foyer into the building, branching out into the different rooms. To her right was a tatami room, a kotatsu and a small wooden cabinet occupying the space. To her left was the staircase leading to the second floor where she spent most of her time.

The living room was modestly furnished, with two light beige chaises, a dark wooden coffee table, and a TV mounted on the wall. She had saved up so much just to buy it, and couldn't really afford cable to go along with it. At the very least, it came with the news channels and a select few other channels, making it a still worthy buy. Across from it was the first floor bathroom, with only a sink and a toilet inside.

The dining room was to her left behind the staircase, consisting of a dark wooden table with eight complimenting chairs surrounding it, a simple chandelier brightly lighting the room. Behind it was the kitchen, a partition separating the two. With its dark wooden cabinets and white limestone surfaces, she could still remember her mother cooking her favorite omurice at the stove...

Walking up the steps, Airi left her bag in front of the study and moved toward the bathroom to wash up. The second floor consisted of two rooms and a full bathroom. Only one was a bedroom, and the other used as a study. The furnishings were simple but tasteful, giving a lived in and warm vibe to the house. A lot of it was new, bought with her own finances, but some from her childhood still existed inside the house, giving her a sense of nostalgia.

After a relaxing bath to soothe her aching muscles, she grabbed her bag and brought it into the study. Flicking the light switch, she went and sat down in front of the desk. The room consisted of several bookcases, filled with now useless encyclopedias, as well as a dark wooden desk that housed her laptop. That piece of technology had cost her so many hours of work to pay for. She still had a couple months left before she completely paid it off from Yodobashi. The one thing she avoided in this room were all the photo albums, memories of better days hidden within.

After about two hours, Airi closed the last book and sighed in relief. "I'm done!" She groaned, stretching her arms.

She put her books back in her bag before leaving the study and entering her bedroom. She had work tomorrow, after all.

The room had all the necessary amenities; a large but low framed bed with a purple comforter, two dark wood armoires, and a dark wood vanity where all her accessories and makeup laid. The only thing out of place was a beautiful cello leaning against its stand, the cool rosewood still gleaming softly under a layer of dust.

Ignoring it with a sharp tug of guilt, she flung herself on top of her bed with an exhale. It's been a little over a year, but she still can't believe she had this house again...

'Let go! Leave us alone!'

'Give me all your money, bitch!'

'Hey! That's my wife and daughter! I'll call the police!'

'Mommy! Dad!!'

-BANG-BANG-

Airi clenched her eyes as the memories assaulted her once again, the gunshots still ringing in her ears. A tear slipped down her cheek, wetting the fabric of her pillow. Though this house was her's again, it felt all too empty without them.

The loneliness crept up, and she took a deep breath, trying to calm down. 'He's already behind bars, Airi. Let it go.' She rationalized. There was no point in agonizing over this again...

She could never regret her years in the orphanages, making sure the younger kids were healthy and happy. She met her best friend there, after all...Even if she regretted her parents' deaths at the hands of that man.

She sniffed, wiping her tears with the back of her hand."I have my home again." Airi whispered. "I just need to create my future, the way they wanted it for me..."

Eyelids growing heavy, she slowly descended into slumber, letting the quiet sounds of the neighborhood lull her to sleep.

 

 

----4/10, SUNDAY, DAYTIME, SHUJIN ACADEMY, PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE.

 

"To reiterate," The principal began, "Just so we're clear, you will immediately be expelled if you cause any problems. Honestly, I hesitated on accepting someone like you, but there were some circumstances on our side..." He paused. "You might have done a variety of things hiding in your hometown, but you WILL behave yourself here. If you are thrown out from our school, there will be no place for you to go." He warned the student. "Keep that in mind."

He gestured to his left, where a woman wearing a yellow striped shirt and jean skirt stood. "This is the teacher in charge of your class."

She stepped forward, an exasperated expression on her face. "I'm Kawakami Sadayo. Here's your student ID." She stated, placing the card on the table. "Be sure to read the school rules. Any violations will send you straight to the guidance office. And, if by chance you cause any problems, I won't be able to protect you at all." She paused, tucking a strand of short wavy brown hair behind an ear. "That is your promise, yes, Principal Kobayakawa?" She eyed her boss skeptically.

Kobayakawa nodded in agreement. "He is responsible for all his actions."

She sighed, clearly irritated. "But really though, why me...? There should've been better candidates." She complained sullenly.

"It was a sudden transfer," He answered flusteredly. "And your class was the only one that had an opening."

At this point, Sojiro interrupted. "If you're done explaining things, mind if we get going?" He asked tiredly. "I have a store to get back to."

The principal nodded. "Sakura-san, please keep a close eye on him. Don't let him cause any trouble outside..." He warned.

Sojiro rubbed his neck. "Well, I'll be sure to have a serious talk about the situation he's in."

Kawakami sighed and looked at her new student, a hint of fear and wariness in her dark brown eyes. "Come to the faculty office when you arrive at school tomorrow. I'll show you to your classroom."

The student who was the topic of the conversation nodded silently and took his new ID card. Examining it in his hand, it read, "Shujin Academy 2nd year, Kurusu Akira." Next to it was a portrait of himself, a blank expression on his face. 'This is my new school...' He thought emotionlessly.

Sojiro turned and walked out, his charge silently following him out.

 

 

Two people stood across from another in the walkway in the school courtyard. The woman clearly looked done with her life, while the male seemed befuddled.

"What a troublesome situation." Kamoshida remarked, crossing his arms. He was a tall man in his 20s, a mop of curly hair sitting atop of his rectangular face. Dressed in a white shirt and red pants, he was always ready for the gym.

Kawakami sighed heavily, putting a hand on one hip. "I can't believe they pushed someone with a record on ME." She whined. "A male teacher would be better suited for this..."

"Why in the world was someone like that admitted here?" He rested his hands on his hips.

"Who knows?" She retorted. "It was the principal's decision. I was told that it's for the school's reputation..." She trailed off.

"Hmph." He crossed his arms. "I would've thought that my volleyball team has contributed more than enough to cover that."

Kawakami nodded tiredly in agreement. "That's certainly true."

"Be careful, OK?" Kamoshida urged, doing some stretches with his arms. "Then again, if anything were to happen, I'd kick out a student like that right away."

Kawakami ran a hand through her hair. "I keep wishing that he'd just end up not coming to school. Still, that isn't something I should be saying as a teacher..." She trailed off, pursing her lips in exasperation. It wasn't that she didn't want to teach him, but...he has a criminal record. How could she not be scared?

"Well," Kamoshida began, interrupting her thoughts. "I should be returning to practice."

"Oh right." Kawakami blinked. "The tournament's coming up, isn't it?"

"Hehe." Kamoshita forcefully grinned, pumping his fist. "Having such high expectations placed on you by others is quite a problem in itself. We'll have to work hard to make up for the track team too." He ended smugly.

"Yes...that's true." She replied distractedly.

Kamoshida headed down the courtyard towards the gym, leaving Kawakami where she was standing.

She sighed heavily once again. "Why'd it have to be MY class..."

Chapter Text

----4/11, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Making sure the door was properly locked, Airi turned around and started walking down the road to the station. Being so early in the morning, many of the shops had yet to open aside from the supermarket. Looking up at the dark skies, the clouds a muddy gray, she hurried up a bit. The news had said it would rain today. Thankfully, she brought an umbrella in her bag.

Looking down at the time on her phone, she pursed her lips and began power-walking. It was getting a bit late, and no doubt the train was going to get crowded.

Once reaching the gates, she swiped her wallet on top of the ticket scanner before walking down the stairs toward the platform for her train. Already, she could hear the telltale rumbling that indicated one was about to pull up. Hitting the platform, she walked up to the indicated boarding markers. When the train pulled up and opened its doors, she walked in amidst the sea of people getting out, grabbing a seat.

As the doors started to close, a young man hurriedly ran in, just making it through the gap. He slumped at his spot and sighed in relief.

Airi tilted her head at the scene. 'He's wearing a Shujin uniform,' She observed. 'I've never seen him around though. I could have sworn I was the only Shujin student from Yongenjaya...' Deciding that it wasn't her business, she pulled a book out of her bag to read. The train ride was going to take a while, after all...

After reading a couple of chapters, the announcement finally spoke out the desired destination. "This is Shibuya Station. I repeat, this is Shibuya Station. Transfers are available for..." It continued to list several connecting lines while the train pulled to a stop.

Airi put her book away and got up to the doors. Walking out as soon as they slid open, she leisurely strolled toward the Ginza Line.

He got off the train and looked around. 'The next train to take is the Ginza Line...' He repeated to himself. A little unsure of where to go, he started walking off the platform and up the escalator. Once he was at the Underground Walkway however, he was a little overwhelmed with all the bright colors and multitude of signs.

An older man bumped into him from behind. "Hey, don't just stand there and block the way!" He said angrily, before power walking away to his destination.

He hurriedly moved to the side, flusteredly ruffling his black hair. Leaning against the wall, he crossed both his arms and legs. 'People are so unfriendly here..." He somberly thought, frowning a little.

Adjusting his blocky glasses, he swerved his head left and right, trying to find an indicator of where to go. A familiar pattern caught his eye. A girl wearing what seemed to be the Shujin Academy uniform was walking towards the stairs leading out of the station.

'Yes! If I follow her, she can lead me to school.' He thought determinedly. Uncrossing his legs, he hurriedly followed after her up the stairs. Not really paying attention to anything else, he tracked the girl to another station platform, one that read 'Ginza Line'.

He exhaled, glad that his idea worked, and waited for the approaching train. As soon as the doors opened, he walked in to take a spot. It was packed with more students from Shujin, as well as businessmen and women on their way to work.

'Why is it so crowded...' He sulked to himself, hugging his bag close to him to avoid taking up more space. There was barely any room to move what with how packed the train car was. Thankfully the school was only a few stops away. He wouldn't be able to take this for much longer.

"This is Aoyama-Itchome, I repeat, this is Aoyama-Itchome, the time is now 7:24AM. The next stop is..."

He perked up. He can finally get out of here! He along with many other students pushed out of the train. He sighed in relief from getting out of such a tight space. It took some time, but he finally made it.

Walking toward the exit, he overheard two other Shujin students talking in an alcove near the staircase. "There was another one of those strange accidents..." One girl said. "This time, it happened on a subway. If it weren't a Sunday, I might have been on it." She griped.

"That's really scary..." Her friend answered her. "How much longer do you think this sort of thing will happen?"

'Accidents, huh...' He pondered. Putting it out of his mind, he walked up the stairs, passed the gates, and out of the station. He stopped just outside, closing his eyes, and taking a deep breath of fresh air.

Drip.

Water hit his nose. He flinched, opening his eyes to look at the gloomy sky. It was beginning to rain. He grimaced and rushed to the nearest awning, a shop named "Jeunesse et Beaute", to wait it out. He idly looked down at his phone, unsure of what to do.

BEEP.

His phone rang out. That strange creepy app was back again. He sighed. How many times did he have to delete it for it to go away? 'I might have to reboot my phone...'

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another pair of shoes walking up next to him to also take shelter from the rain. He turned his head to see who it was, and his breath hitched.

It was the girl he followed. He hadn't gotten a good look at her earlier, what with how determined he was to get to the right train, but now with her so close, he studied her person. His hands started to feel a little clammy.

She sighed. Of course it rained once she took a few steps out of the station.

'At least I didn't have to deal with a wet train ride.' She thought, a little thankful about that. It's gross to be packed in like sardines on a wet train, the heat blasting the humidity to ridiculous heights.

She walked over to an awning of the store "Jeunesse et Beaute," for a dry place to dig for her umbrella. Another person was already taking shelter, a boy in the Shujin Academy uniform. While she sighed in relief from being out of the rain, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him looking at her. She turned to meet his gaze.

He was rather tall with a slim build, fluffy black hair almost hindering his dark gray eyes that were accentuated with the most beautiful lashes she had ever seen on a male. She almost felt jealous, though the large glasses he wore hid them from the world. He continued to stare at her with his mouth slightly open.

Airi gave him a smile. "What a terrible day to start the week, huh?" She joked. It was a little weird how he kept staring at her...

He blinked, closing his mouth. "Uh, yeah...I didn't bring an umbrella..." He replied, looking away from her.

'His voice is really smooth.' She reflected, smiling at him sympathetically. "I'd offer to share, but unfortunately my umbrella can barely fit me as it is." Airi apologized sheepishly, idly caressing her braid that was pulled to the left.

He stiffened at her statement, a slight flush appearing in his cheeks. "It's alright." He replied quietly, giving her a shy smile.

She wondered why he was blushing, but then it hit her.

In Japan, only couples shared umbrellas.

Now it was her turn to blush at her faux pas. She looked down at her oxfords, her cheeks heating up.

They both stood there awkwardly, not knowing what to say to each other. Splattering footsteps interrupted their awkward moment, and they both looked up when another person joined them under the awning.

The girl, and it was clearly a girl with how short her skirt was, pulled down her white hoodie, freeing her bundles of blonde hair. She looked toward the sky, seeming to wonder when the rain will lighten up.

Airi blinked. It was Takamaki Ann.

Half Japanese and half Finnish, the blonde haired girl was regarded with both envy and suspicion as the only foreigner in the school. She was a gorgeous yet rather closed off individual, most likely due to people judging her as aforementioned. Airi never had a problem with her at middle school, except maybe her grades. She was quick witted, but school didn't seem to hold the amateur model's attention. It was honestly a shock when she heard that both Ann and Ryuji made it into Shujin.

"Takamaki-chan, good morning." Airi spoke, a friendly smile on her face.

Ann turned in surprise, seeming to forget there were other people within the vicinity next to her. "Oh! Senpai! Good morning." Ann answered, giving her a small smile.

The black haired boy looked on, observing the two beautiful girls next to him.

BEEP BEEP

A honk interrupted any sort of conversation they could have had, and all three looked out at the road. A white car had pulled up in front of them, the window pulling down revealing Kamoshida. He looked out the car window toward Ann, a smile on his rectangular face. "Good morning! You want me to give you a ride to school? You're gonna be late." He asked jovially.

Ann smiled a little. "Um, sure. Thank you." She answered quietly, walking towards the car.

He looked over to the other two still standing. "How about you two?" He offered, still smiling. "Kimisawa?"

Both Airi and the black haired boy waved their hands with a polite smile on their faces, rejecting the offer.

Once Ann got in the car, she pulled her seat belt on. As the window rolled up though, her expression turned into one of trepidation and slight fear before disappearing under the tinted glass, and the car drove away.

A silence took over, and Airi decided it had been a long enough delay and pulled out her umbrella. Opening it up, she turned to the boy and offered him a small smile. "See you at school." She said, bowing slightly, before walking towards Shujin.

The boy was now alone, staring after the girl. What to do now, he wondered, with the rain still pouring.

"Dammit! Screw that pervy teacher."

Turning his gaze away from the small back of the retreating girl, he saw a blond boy with his hands on his knees, panting. His bleached hair was styled into a short mullet, face pulled into a sneer. He wore what should be the Shujin academy uniform, but had a yellow graphic t-shirt instead of the usual white turtleneck. His pants were rolled up to show off his ankles, and wore converse sneakers at his feet. His suspenders were left to hang around his legs as he straightened up with a sigh.

"Pervy teacher...?" He wondered out loud, staring curiously.

The blond boy turned and looked over at him with a sneer on his face.

Chapter Text

----4/11, MONDAY, AFTERNOON, SHUJIN ACADEMY, CLASS 2-D

 

It was only fourth period, but Kawakami-sensei seemed to get moodier and moodier. Airi wondered what could be troubling her like this. Hopefully it wasn't anything serious. She leaned her head against her palm, idly looking at the board, inspecting for anything she missed. She was sat at the second row closest to the window, and one desk before the back of the room. It wasn't an ideal seat, but it honestly didn't matter in the long run. The teachers spoke more than they wrote on the board anyway.

The bell rang then, signaling break had begun. "Alright class, it's lunch time. I'll be off in the staff room." Kawakami stated languidly, her face pulled into a worried frown. She promptly left the class without a look back.

Airi sat up and started organizing her notes. Since the desk next to her wasn't occupied, she used it as another surface for her books when eating lunch. Most of her classmates left for the cafeteria, with only a few lingering in the room to chat.

She pulled out her meal, a simple spicy chicken mayo onigiri and a green tea bottle, and started munching away while scrolling through her phone.

"Hmm..." She muttered. The only thing on the news were reports of the accidents. All of them had the perpetrators suddenly having a mental breakdown while at work, harming dozens of passengers. Airi frowned. Mental breakdowns...why did that strike her so oddly?

Her eyes widen.

The Palace! She covered her mouth in horror. 'I forgot about Morgana!' She thought guiltily. Biting her lip, Airi promised to go to the palace today after school to help it out.

"I heard there's a new student transferring," She overheard a classmate saying to their friend. "And they have a criminal record!"

"Oh my god, why would the principal allow a criminal in the school?!" The classmate's friend yelped. "What if he pulls a weapon on us? Or, or...kills someone!" They paled.

Airi furrowed her brows. A new student? And one with a criminal record? 'No one told me anything about this.' She thought pensively. 'But...Takase was a juvenile and he was still a great older brother...'

Back at the orphanage that she moved to, most of the staff were too busy to really care for the children, so it fell to the eldest kids to take care of the younger ones. She tried her best to help out, especially when the older kids would go out to forage. She was in charge of making lock picks and distributing food to the kids, making sure everyone was fed and clothed properly. It was what she would want her to do. She wasn't the only one though.

With short spiky brown hair and a loud personality, Takase was the older brother who brought back toys and knick knacks for the others from his little joints out in the city. There wasn't a single person who hated him because he was the one who would comfort them in the middle of the night, patting their backs as they cried from their nightmares. He was the real kind one.

A year later however, he was taken out of the orphanage by his relatives. Airi heard one of the caretakers whisper about how "that unruly one was already causing trouble for his new family." They were clearly referring to him. 'But he's not a bad person.' She thought back then, ten years old. ‘He’s just trying his best..’

To then attend this school and hear from Kawakami-sensei what had happened to him...it hurt. It hurt to know she was left behind again.

Returning to the present, she blinked and shook her head. She shouldn't remind herself too often of that. The new transfer student was probably misunderstood as well. She'd reserve her judgement.

She cleaned up her mess and decided to go to the restroom. Quickly relieving herself, she washed her hands and left. Walking back to the classroom, passing by other students, she saw Kawakami-sensei was talking with someone. She couldn't get a good look at them, but shrugged. Did it really matter? Deciding it wasn't her business, she kept her head down until she got back to her class.

As class president, it was her duty to get the board ready for the next teacher, as well as help out with any of her classmates' concerns regarding schoolwork and the like. Walking up to the front of the board, she erased the previous lecture.

The bell rang, signalling that the lunch period was over, and she clapped her hands free of chalk. Taking a seat at her desk, she took back her books from the other table and opened her notes.

Kawakami-sensei walked in. Airi furrowed her brows at her expression. 'She seems even more done.'

Just after finishing that thought, another person followed the teacher in.

It was the boy from this morning.

Airi blinked in surprise. He was the transfer student? 'No wonder I didn't recognize him earlier. He's new.' A thought struck her then. 'Wait, if he's the transfer, then he's the one with the criminal record?' Looking him over, she really couldn't see him as someone who would commit a crime. She would just have to get to know him first.

Kawakami clapped her hands, gaining the attention of the class. Immediately, the classroom broke out into loud whispers, recognizing the new student for who he was.

"Being super late on his first day? He really is insane..."

"He looks normal though..."

"But he might slug us if we look him in the eye..."

Clearing her throat, the teacher persuaded the class to focus. "Settle down." She scolded, shifting a bit. "...Well, I'd like to introduce a transfer student: Kurusu Akira. Today, we..." Kawakami glanced away. "Had him attend from the afternoon on since he wasn't feeling well." She turned to the new student. "All right, please say something to the class."

He nodded and turned back to look at his new fellow classmates. Bowing, he looked ahead with a steady gaze. "My name is Kurusu Akira. Nice to meet all of you." An appropriate and average introduction.

"He seems quiet...but I bet when he loses it..."

"I mean, he was arrested for assault, right...?"

Kawakami fidgeted apprehensively. "Uhh...So..." Her eyes darted around at the awkward tension in the room. "Your seat will be...hmm." Looking around the room, her eyes landed on the empty desk, right next to Airi. "There." She pointed. "The open seat. Sorry, but can the people nearby please share your textbooks with him for today?" The teacher asked awkwardly.

"This sucks..." Someone from behind Airi's seat muttered irritatedly.

"Also," Kawakami interjected, looking at Akira. "While I am your homeroom teacher, I'll be far too busy to take care of any concerns. If you have questions, you can direct them to the class president."

Akira nodded again in understanding, but tilted his head at the mention of the latter.

Kawakami then directed her gaze at Airi. "Kimisawa-chan, please stand up."

Airi perked up, and did as she was told. She clasped her hands in front of her politely, looking toward the new student.

"This is the class president of 2-D, Kimisawa Airi. Please come to her if you're unsure of anything." Kawakami introduced, her lips twitching into a frown. A glimpse of worry flashed in her eyes at the thought of them sitting so close together.

Airi bowed. "I'm Kimisawa Airi, pleased to meet you, Kurusu-san. I hope you have a good time here at our school." She said with a pleasant smile.

Akira blinked in surprise. It was the girl from earlier, under the awning. He realized he was staring and quickly bowed, then maneuvered toward his new desk. Walking down the aisle, he noticed that the other girl from the awning was in his class too.

She looked at him with an accusing look. "Lies." Ann whispered.

He looked at her questioningly, but she avoided his gaze and stared out the window. Settling in his seat, he unpacked his bag before putting it down, and got a notebook ready.

"Did you catch that?" A brown haired girl sitting further away whispered. "Do those two know each other? Does that mean he hit on her before transferring here?"

"That means she's cheating on him with Kamoshida-sensei." Her friend gossiped. "Then again, this is Takamaki-san we're talking about..."

"For real." The brunette snipped. "That side of the room is totally awful."

Airi grimaced. It seems the gossip never ended for them. 'Poor Takamaki-chan.' She thought, glancing at the model sympathetically. She could try to address this to the class, but Ann might not appreciate even more attention. It would count as favoritism as well, and might backfire horribly.

"Oh right!" Kawakami clapped her hands. " The volleyball rally is in two days. Everyone's just changed classes so make sure you use that time to get to know each other." She subtly rolled her eyes. "Well then, let's get class started."

At that, Airi took out the textbook for the next class and offered it to Akira with a smile.

He blinked, slowly reaching out to accept it. Their fingers brushed ever so slightly, bringing a small blush to both their cheeks. Airi gave him another quick smile before averting her attention to the front of the classroom, where the teacher began writing the new material on the board.

The girl who was whispering earlier began turned to her desk mate. "Kimisawa-senpai is too kind.."

Her desk mate nodded in agreement. "Un. She even smiled at him! He might target her first..."

"Who's on duty today?" Kawakami asked the class, turning back with a piece of chalk in hand.

Mishima grimaced and stood up. It was him. "Everyone...please rise..." He said dejectedly.

 

 

School finally ended.

Airi sighed, organizing her notes. She was so tired of listening to Chouno-sensei drone on and on about how the rain messed with her hair. A shadow loomed over her, and she looked up.

It was Akira. He was holding out the textbook that she had lent to him earlier.

She took it back and shot him a smile, thanking him. "So, how was your first day, Kurusu-san?"

Akira shifted his glasses with one hand, the other in his pocket. "It was fine. Thank you for lending me your textbook. You're..." He quietly started then paused. "You're the first person to be kind to me in a long while." He gave her a small smile.

Her eyes widened slightly. The first person to be kind to him? Studying his eyes, she could see a glimmer of pain swimming in his gray orbs. It looked old. It made him look wearier than he was supposed to be at this age. She frowned. 'He must have gone through something horrible...'

"I'm glad that I could help." She replied after a moment. Standing up from her seat, she grabbed her bag, flashing him another smile. "So!" She chirped. "Any questions so far? Do you think you'll be all right adjusting?"

He tapped a finger on his chin, shouldering his bag as they started walking out of the class together. "I think so. Aside from all the rumors about me, I should be fine..." He grimaced, looking away.

Airi furrowed her brows in worry, sympathizing with his situation. "I'm sorry you have to go through that. The school is just scared. They don't know you yet."

They both stopped in the hallway right after exiting the classroom. He looked down and met her eyes, keeping her glued to her spot. "And you?" He tentatively whispered.

“Huh?” She voiced, confused, tilting her head to one side. “What do you mean?”

He glanced away for a moment, before refocusing his gaze on her. “What do you think of me?” Akira questioned, a little apprehensive.

Airi looked down, gripping the handle of her bag with both hands. His stare was rather intense, and heavy as well. “I think...you did something that you thought was right, and was punished for it.” She answered quietly. "At least...I hope that's the case. "

His eyes widened at her bold statement, and he gazed down at her in astonishment. No one else had stood up for him. Not his friends, not his family. Yet this girl who barely knew him, treated him like...a normal person.

Lips twitching, Akira let out a small laugh, the sound slightly bittersweet. “An accurate guess.” He regarded her coolly. “Thank you again, Kimisawa-senpai. I’ll be going now.” He waved goodbye at her, and turned to walk away.

She sweatdropped. "You don't have to call me Senpai..."

Taking a few steps, he flinched, gripping his head that had suddenly started hurting. The corridor seemed to waver in front of his eyes, turning into a stone hall with red carpeting, before changing back to normal.

Noticing that he stopped, Airi walked up to him. “Is something wrong, Kurusu-san?” She asked concernedly.

He loosened his grip on his head, straightening his back. “Is this...a castle?” He muttered to himself, shaking his head. He didn’t notice Airi standing right next to him, who heard what he said and looked at him inquisitively.

“Kurusu-kun!”

They both turned toward the voice. Kawakami walked up to the both of them, crossing her arms with a frown. “Are you sure you’re okay?” She inquired. “Also...it seems like people are already talking about you, but I wasn’t the one who told them.” She tousled her messy brown hair aggravatedly.

Akira looked down resignedly, but nodded to acknowledge the teacher’s statement.

“I can’t even catch a break, why do I have to deal with this?” She scowled, before looking up at the black haired student. “You should head straight home without stopping by anywhere. Sakura-san sounded pretty angry.” She stated. She looked down for a moment, before snapping her head up, a thought hitting her just then. “Oh,” She continued. “About Sakamoto-kun, don’t get involved-”

The boy in question walked up, cutting her off. “Speak of the devil.” She muttered, crossing her arms. “What do you want?” She snapped tiredly. “ I heard the police caught you cutting classes today.”

“Ugh...it was nothin’.” Ryuji grunted, gazing at her with a challenging stare.

Kawakami sighed exasperatedly. “And you haven’t even dyed your hair back to black either…”

“Sorry.” He replied curtly, before turning to Akira. Leaning close, he whispered. “I’ll be waitin’ on the rooftop.” Leaning back, he gave Airi a quick smile and walked away.

The homeroom teacher observed this with a tired frown on her face. “See? That’s why I don’t want you getting involved. Understood?” She said, before also walking away.

Closing his eyes, Akira let out a heavy sigh.

Airi gazed timidly up at him from the corner of her eyes. It seemed there will be no end to the prejudice against him. Ryuji wasn't a bad person either, but her teacher still treated them like this. She gently placed a hand on his arm, trying to comfort him.

He opened his eyes and tried to smile at her, half succeeding, soundlessly thanking her for the support. They turned around, about to leave but stopped.

Kamoshida and Principal Kobayakawa stepped off the stairwell, chatting all the while. They hadn't noticed the two students standing behind them.

“Why did you allow a student like him to transfer here? He’s already started associating with Sakamoto.” Kamoshida complained. “A student with a criminal record, and a culprit of an assault case.” He sighed. “At this rate, it’d be pointless how much I contribute to the school.” Kamoshida placed his hands on his hips.

Kobayakawa held his hands up placatingly. “Now don’t be like that…” He consoled. “This school counts on you, Kamoshida-kun. You are our star.” He smiled, pride shining on his pudgy face. He shook his head. “Still, a steady build-up is necessary behind such brilliance as well.”

Kamoshida sighed, closing his eyes in displeasure. “Your troubles never seem to end, do they, Principal Kobayakawa?” He forcefully grinned. “All right, I understand. I’ll continue to do my best to answer your expectations of me.”

They both turned and walked toward the faculty offices.

Airi frowned, watching the two staff members. ‘No wonder all the students were already talking about Kurusu-san if the teachers just walked around talking about it so loudly...’ She thought angrily.

“I guess I’ll head to the roof to see what Sakamoto-san wants.” Akira began, watching the two staff leave with a blank expression. It wasn't as if he could stop them. “...How do I get there?”

She pointed at the stairs next to them. “Just go up these stairs and you’ll see the door. Be careful though, no one’s supposed to be allowed.” She winked, a playful smile on her face. “I won’t ask why Sakamoto-kun wanted you, but please stay out of trouble, both of you.” Airi said, smile softening. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good day, Kurusu-san.” With that, she headed down the corridor.

Akira watched her leave, a slight smile on his face, before walking up the stairs to the roof.

As Airi headed toward her locker, she saw Mishima standing around morosely, his back hunched over.

‘Shit!’ She scolded herself. ‘I forgot to ask Mishima-kun about Kamoshida.’ With a frown, she walked up behind him and tapped his shoulder. “Mishima-kun?” She softly called out.

Mishima jumped, turning quickly to look at her, fear prominent in his eyes. “O-Oh, Senpai.” He exhaled. The relief emanating from him was palpable.

Her eyes however, were focused on his right elbow where a new bruise was turning purple. Airi stared icily at it, now knowing Kamoshida had place it on him. “Are you alright, Mishima-kun?” She quietly asked, concern shining through her eyes. “Do you need to go to the nurse? I’m sure she’ll still be there right now.” Hopefully he’d accept, and the nurse will question his injuries.

His eyes darted around and he shook his head. With stiff shoulders, he bypassed her and quickly walked away, avoiding her attempts to call him back.

Airi gazed sadly after his retreat. ‘I'm so sorry, Mishima-kun...' She clenched her hands around the straps of her bag. She had to do something. At this rate, he would...

With a sharp exhale, she walked out of the building and to the empty vending machine alcove from a few days ago. Pulling her phone out, she quickly looked around, making sure no one would see her next trick. Her thumb tapped on the app, activating the power.

As the air distorted around her, Airi disappeared from reality, leaving no trace of her presence.

Chapter Text

-AKIRA POV-

Walking up the stairs, he opened the door to the roof, ignoring the “DO NOT ENTER” sign. First day of school and he was already breaking rules.

Ryuji was already there waiting for him, sitting on a discarded folding chair. He looked up at the sound of the door opening, and regarded him with a heavy stare. “...There you are.” He stated the obvious. “Sorry for callin’ you up like this, especially since you were chattin’ with Senpai.” He apologized. “I bet Kawakami already told you stuff like “don’t get involved with him,” huh?” Ryuji snorted.

“She said you were trouble.” Akira replied quietly. He knew though, that the person in front of him was a good guy. His actions back in that castle proved it when Ryuji distracted the ruler away from him, taking a couple hits to the abdomen. Did that really happen to them...?

“Heh,” Ryuji snickered. “We’re pretty much in the same boat.” He crossed a leg over another. “I heard you got a criminal record. Everyone’s talkin’ about it.” He paused. “No wonder you were so gutsy.”

Akira rolled his eyes, exasperated at the constant mentions about his offense, and went to lean on one of the desks. He was so sick and tired of people automatically labeling him negatively once they heard he had a record. He clenched a hand inside a pocket. He knew he didn't do anything wrong. Even if...even if everyone told him he was.

A silence came over both of them, each wanting to ask the same question, but not wanting to acknowledge it.

Ryuji sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “...What was all that that happened? You know, how we almost got killed in a castle...” He quietly asked. “It wasn’t a dream...right? You remember it too, right?” He asked, almost desperately.

He nodded, a grim expression on his face. “Yeah, it happened.” He had no idea how, but they met some weird version of that ugly gym teacher who proceeded to kick the shit out of them. He felt so much pain from that voice that called out to him, that once he took off his mask, it was like he was breathing for the first time in his life. 'Arsene...right?'

He felt an answering pulse in his chest, and he gasped silently. So it was real. It wasn't some horrific nightmare.

The blond looked away, gazing at the skyline. “Well, just cause we both remember doesn’t mean much though...” He quietly stated. Sitting back, he crossed his arms and legs, looking over at him with a troubled expression. “I mean, even if it was a dream, you still saved me from Kamoshida...” Ryuji grinned. “So yeah...thanks, Akira.”

Akira’s lips quirked. “You’re welcome.”

The punk replaced his smile with an angry frown. “But man, that Kamoshida we saw there...” He fidgeted. “You prolly don’t know about it, but there are some rumors about him.”

“Kamoshida…” Akira muttered, furrowing his brow. So that's his name.

“Yeah.” Ryuji nodded. “That ripped mophead.” He sneered. “That asshole who was all full of himself at the castle. No one says anything to him ‘cause he’s some medalist who took the volleyball team to Nationals.” He ranted frustratedly. “The way Kamoshida was king of that castle felt crazy real ‘cause of that...”

They both leaned back, exhaling heavy sighs.

“...I wonder if we can go back to that castle again.” Ryuji thought out loud, scrunching up his face. With a loud grunt, he shot up from his seat. “Ugh, forget it. Must’ve been all a dream! It has to be!” He rubbed his head hysterically.

Akira looked on silently, unsure of what to say at the moment. Honestly, he didn’t know what to believe either. That response from within him confirmed that it happened, but could they go back? What was that place really? What was going on?! ‘It felt so real, but...’

Ryuji turned to look at him apologetically. “Sorry to drag you out here like this. That’s all I had to say.” He paused. “You know, we might be pretty similar. I feel like we’re gonna get along just fine as “troublemakers.”” He grinned. “I’m Sakamoto Ryuji. I’ll come talk if I see you around. Don’t ignore me, all right?”

Akira nodded, smiling slightly. "Kurusu Akira. It's nice to officially meet you."

Ryuji beamed. “Seeya!” With that, he walked off, leaving the roof.

The ebony haired boy sighed. What a long day. ‘It’ll be even longer when I get back to the cafe.’ He thought sullenly, knowing Sakura-san was going to give him an earful. He began his walk toward the station.

Hopefully he took the right trains, since last time it was Kimisawa-senpai unknowingly showing him the way.

With one last scream, the shadow dissipated into thin air. Airi relaxed the grip she had on her weapon, panting.

‘It’s a bit weird, I’ve never held a scythe before.’ She pondered, examining the weapon closely. It was finely detailed, with elegant vine-like detailing swirling up the silver staff, and a purple clothed grip. The blade itself was a gleaming silver, with a razor fine edge on both ends. A sharp tip erupted at the top where the blade and staff met, allowing her to stab forward if need be. All in all, it was a graceful weapon to be used in battle.

‘I’ll have to practice, but it feels really natural so far.’ She complimented herself. It felt good to be able to fight. For the first time in her life, she was standing up on her own two feet, fighting for herself.

Looking around, she noticed she ended up passed the kitchens. Examining the empty room, she wondered where Morgana was. ‘I hope it’s okay…’ She thought worriedly. The only thing she could hear was the crackling of fire from the oven pit.

Airi bit her lip. The castle was huge, and she was all alone. Was it a good idea to keep going? ‘I am pretty tired...maybe I should go back.’ She bleakly thought to herself.

Allowing the weapon to disappear, she walked toward the way she came from. There weren’t any new guards, so she safely made it all the way out.

“You have returned to the real world from Kamoshida's Palace. Thank you for your hard work.” Her phone stated.

Thank you for your hard work? Her brows furrowed. Maybe this app was as insidious as it looked. She bit her lip. Was it a good idea to keep using it when she didn't even know why she had it? Who downloaded this into her phone? She would check, but she had never had much experience with technology, so she can't trace it... Sighing, she pocketed her phone and headed home.

She laid down on her bed, bringing the covers up to her chin. ‘I’m so exhausted…’ She thought tiredly, her eyes boring into her ceiling. ‘Summoning my Persona and infiltrating a castle really takes the energy out of me...’ As she slipped into slumber, one last thought floated through her mind.

‘I should get some coffee tomorrow in the morning..’
……..


-BEEP BEEP BEEP-

Her eyes snapped open. Airi lazily sat up in bed and turned to shut her alarm off. She yawned, stretching her arms up in the air. She hooded her bloodshot eyes, bags prominent under her wine colored irises. Even after sleeping a full nine hours, she still felt exhausted.

‘Definitely need that coffee.’ She thought grimly.

Slowly getting out of bed, wincing from the way her body screamed at her in pain, she made her way to the bathroom to get ready for the day. After an extremely hot shower to loosen her aching muscles, she changed into her school uniform, grabbed her bag, and left the house.

Lethargically, she walked down the backstreets of Yongenjaya. It was a gloomy and rainy day today, and it only made her feel more tired. Gripping her umbrella tightly, Airi finally made it to Cafe Leblanc. Checking the time on her phone, she still had a good half hour before she fell behind schedule.

The bell on the door rang as she walked in, signalling a new customer, and after closing her umbrella, she collapsed onto the nearest bar stool, leaning on the counter.

Sojiro, who was stirring a pot of curry in the kitchen, looked up and raised an eyebrow. It was rare to see Airi so exhausted. “What can I get ya?” He inquired.

Airi held up one finger. “Your strongest brew, please.” She requested, voice muffled from resting her head on her arms. “And a sandwich.”

“Sure thing.” He replied, getting what she requested.

The clinking of the coffee jars and pots lulled her into a state of calm relaxation. ‘I could fall asleep right now...’

The wood creaked underneath feet as someone came down the stairs from the attic, breaking her zen, and she looked up in curiosity. Sojiro was the cafe’s only inhabitant, she recalled.

Her eyes locked with gray ones, concealed behind a giant pair of glasses.

Airi blinked.

It was Akira.

Akira, who stared back at her with a surprised expression on his face. He wasn’t expecting to see her here.

Airi gave him a tired smile. “Good morning, Kurusu-san.” She greeted warmly.

He walked up to the bar stool next to her’s, taking a seat. “Good morning, Kimisawa-senpai.” He replied with a small smile.

“You two know each other?” Sojiro asked brusquely, raising his eyebrows as he placed both her order as well as a plate of curry down in front of the two students.

“Yes, we’re in the same class.” Airi replied, picking up her sandwich. “You know, you don’t have to call me Senpai, we're the same age.” She said, looking at the ebony haired boy next to her.

He shrugged in response, picking up his spoon. “Itadakimasu.” They both said quietly, and started eating.

After finishing her sandwich, she grasped the handle of her cup. Swirling the coffee, Airi took a long swig. The heat hit her first, followed by a rich bitter taste that coated her throat as she swallowed. Downing her drink, she placed the cup down on its saucer before dabbing her mouth with a napkin. Already she could feel the effects of the caffeine, which means she’ll have enough energy to get through the day. “The coffee was a godsend. Thank you, Sojiro-san.” She complimented.

“You’re welcome.” Sojiro answered with a slightly fond smile, before taking the dirty dishes to wash.

Airi let out a sigh of content before turning to Akira. “So, you live here then?” She chirped.

He nodded. “Sakura-san is my new guardian until I’m off probation.” He replied calmly. "I'll be living here for the next year."

The older man grunted in agreement, washing the dishes.

She giggled at their somewhat rough interaction.“I’m glad that out of all the potential candidates, you got Sojiro-san.” She said, fondness bleeding into her voice. “Hey may seem rough, but he's a genuinely good man.”

They both could see Sojiro hunch his back from the statement, as if not wanting to accept the compliment.

Akira observed his guardian with a thoughtful look. He didn’t treat him badly, he supposed. He turned back to the class president. “So you live in Yongenjaya, Senpai?” He politely inquired.

Airi nodded. “Yes, for the past year now, and in my childhood.” Her smile dimmed, eyes darkened as she was lost in her memories.

Akira observed her curiously. What was she remembering? His thought was interrupted when he heard his companion get up, and he blinked questioningly.

Shouldering her bag, Airi offered him a smile. “We should get going or we’ll be late.” She stated.

He nodded in agreement, getting up. They both walked out of the cafe and opened their umbrellas. It was really terrible weather, he admitted. A lot of the older generation in Yongenjaya that usually walked around at this hour were nowhere to be seen.

The two students strolled peacefully down to the station, not feeling the need to speak. The rain filled the silence, after all. They swiped their wallets at the scanner, and headed down toward the train platform.

While riding the train, they both chatted quietly to each other about nothing in particular. “No way!” Airi laughed, covering her mouth with one hand. “You’re really from Mishima? We have a classmate named Mishima.”

Akira nodded with a smile. “Yeah, I met him yesterday when he bumped into me.” He frowned. “I don’t think he’s OK...He was covered in bruises and bandages.”

Airi nodded sadly in agreement. “Yeah.” She whispered. “I noticed too. I-I tried to ask him yesterday, and before then as well, but he kept avoiding me.” She looked down dejectedly. "I want to help him, but..."

He looked at her, frowning softly. He didn’t like seeing her so down, especially since she’s treated him so well. He placed his hand on her shoulder. “We’ll look into it together.” He reassured.

Airi looked up at him, surprised at his offer. She then smiled sadly at him. “Thank you, but you’ve just transferred. I don’t think I should be bothering you with this...”

Akira shook his head. “No, I’m already involved. You remember Sakamoto-san asking to meet with me yesterday?”

Airi nodded at his question.

“We had met Kamoshida earlier yesterday because we were..." He glanced away. He couldn't mention they were in some weird castle. "Delayed in getting to school. He threatened me with expulsion if I got in his way.”

Her eyes widened. “Already?” She whispered.

He looked at her questioningly.

She pursed her lips. “I was looking into the volleyball team and their various injuries because of Mishima-kun.” She said reluctantly. “They’re required to have practice every day, which is insane if you ask me. I got suspicious, so I sneaked into the gym after school to observe.” Looking away, she continued quietly. “He’s been physically abusing the team, driving them like slaves. The entire school is enamored with him though, and even the principal didn’t believe me when I told him.” She sighed heavily. "No one would say anything..."

Silence took over, both of them trying to figure out what the best course of action was.

“This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 7:15AM...,” The announcement blared.

The train doors slid open, and they both got off the train, heading toward their transfer. They chatted amicably the whole way to school, unaware of the other Shujin students traveling along with them, their eyes glued to the two with avid attention.

“Hey, isn’t that the transfer with the criminal record?” One girl whispered to her friend.

“Yeah that’s him...don’t talk to him or he might kill you.” She whispered back fearfully.

“Who’s the chick with him?” A male student questioned rudely.

“That’s the class president of 2-D, Kimisawa. I hear she’s super nice.” Another murmured.

“Tch, trying to leech off success, I see. Didn’t I hear that he and Sakamoto already started hanging out?” A guy remarked offhandedly.

“Hey, don’t say that about her! She’s my class president. She’s probably taking pity on him, fat load of good that’ll do though...”

Chapter Text

----4/12, TUESDAY, MORNING, SHUJIN ACADEMY, CLASS 2-D

 

The teacher in front of the classroom sneered, age lines wrinkling at the action. He was a tall, older man with graying hair and a pair of square glasses in front of his stern eyes. His suspenders highlighted his stocky build as he adjusted his belt. “I’m the social studies teacher, Ushimaru. I’ll be teaching you the rules of society this year.” He stated. “Hmph...you all look like you’ve been spoiled growing up.”

Airi grimaced at how he was addressing the class. It wasn't proper for teachers to be insulting their students, but it was his first class with them. Perhaps it'll be fine later on.

Most of the students weren’t paying attention though, either distracted by the rain outside, or passing notes to each other discreetly. Akira was one of the former, lost in thought, leaning his head on his palm, watching the droplets slide down the glass.

“Before we learn society’s rules,” Ushimaru-sensei continued. “Maybe I should start with the rules of being a decent human being.” He frowned. Looking around the room and the faces of the students, his eyes stopped on one person. “Hey, new kid.” He called out.

Akira snapped out of his daydream, turning to pay attention. Clearly he was calling him.

“The greek philosopher Plato divided the human soul into three parts. A soul is composed of appetite, spirit, and what else?” Ushimaru-sensei asked, crossing his arms expectantly.

Akira furrowed his brows slightly at the off-topic question. “Logic.” He answered with certainty. It was a good thing he was reading that tidbit off a website.

The teacher’s eyebrow raised. “Correct.” Ushimaru replied. “So you knew that, huh?” He remarked before returning his attention to the entire class. “Plato’s teacher, Socrates, said that evil is born from ignorance. People who’ve been babied, taught that evil is due to individuality, can only become society’s scum.”

The class erupted into furious whispers.

“Wow, he got it right...is he really a delinquent?”

“He seems like a punk, but maybe he’s actually serious about studying?”

Airi beamed with pride, turning to Akira to give him a thumbs up.

Akira smiled back, rubbing his neck bashfully, before they turned their attention to the teacher who continued his lecture. “Bizarre incidents have been occurring frequently. Those are but the action of scum. We don’t need crude people like that in this school. Understand?” He stated grimly, before starting the lesson.

 

----4/12, TUESDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

The classroom was already empty by the time they packed their bags, and both Akira and Airi started walking out of the class, chatting about the material they learned. Just passing through the door, they saw Takamaki Ann in front of them, checking her phone.

Airi was about to say hi to her old middle school classmate when she saw a certain teacher walk up the stairs and stop in front of the amateur model.

Kamoshida called out a greeting with a grin on his face, not knowing he had an audience. “Hey there, Takamaki! You looking for a ride home? Things have been pretty dangerous lately with all those accidents.” He offered.

Ann turned to look at him, giving him a polite smile. “Sorry, I have a photoshoot today. It’s for the summer issue, so I can’t afford to miss it…” She said, rejecting his offer.

A frown now replacing his smile, Kamoshida sighed. “Hey, now...being a model’s fine and dandy, but don’t work your pretty little self to the bone.” He lectured, placing his hands on his hips. “You mentioned you weren’t feeling well, right? Something about appendicitis?”

Ann nodded, confirming what he said. “Yes. I keep planning to go to the hospital, but I’ve been too busy...sorry to worry you.” She voiced meekly, eyes downcast.

He shifted in place. “You must feel lonely too. I feel bad for keeping your best friend at practice so often. That’s why I asked you out in the first place,” He paused, a thought hitting him. “Oh, and...be careful around that transfer student. He’s got a criminal record after all, if something were to happen to you…” He warned. "Watch out for your class president too. She's forced to deal with him, after all.

“...Right. Thank you.” Ann replied, still not looking at him directly. “Please excuse me.” She said quietly, before walking away.

Kamoshida stared at her retreating backside, drinking in the curvaceous girl with desire in his eyes, before his face twisted into an ugly sneer. “Tch.” He angrily muttered, before walking off too.

 

Airi watched what happened, worry painting her face. She bit her lip. Sexual harassment as well? To a minor at that. The list of crimes just kept getting longer. Why didn't she look into this sooner?

Akira nudged her, trying to get her attention. She snapped out of it, and gave him a reassuring smile. The two then started walking out of the building.

Just passing the gate, they were stopped by Ryuji. “Yo.” The punk greeted Akira, giving Airi a nod in her direction.

She smiled back, waving a hand in greeting.

Akira raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”

Ryuji looked at the class president with hesitation, before walking up to Akira. “I wanna talk about that castle from yesterday.” He whispered, covering his mouth. “I tried tellin’ myself that it was just a dream...but I couldn’t do it.” He leaned back. “I can’t act like nothing happened. It’s all connected to that bastard Kamoshida, after all.” He said, crossing his arms, a frown marring his lips.

Airi looked on at their conversation, curious to what they were discussing.

Akira shoved his hands into his pockets, a thoughtful frown on his face. "Right..."

“I wanna find out what’s up with that place, no matter what.” Ryuji stated in a normal volume, his eyes silently pleading with him. “And, y’know, you’re the only person I can rely on for this stuff. So, you in?”

He looked down pensively, thinking of his options. He did want to know what was up with the Palace, and his Persona. He pursed his lips. ‘And that jail room in my dreams.’

Looking up at the punk, he nodded in agreement. “Sure, I’m in. What next?”

Ryuji pumped his fist in excitement. “Yes! I knew I could talk some sense into you.” He grinned. “I think we should just try retracing our steps from yesterday. In the meantime, you’re walkin’ to the station, right? We’ll go together.” He offered. “Lemme know if you see any other weird buildings on the way.”

Akira observed the punk, adjusting his glasses. ‘I should probably just go along with this. Maybe they could go back to that place...’

Airi, a little frustrated at being ignored for so long, interrupted. “Um, what are you two talking about?” She asked, crossing her arms.

Ryuji looked at her in surprise, as if he forgot she was there the entire time. “Senpai!” He yelped. “Uh nothin’, nothin’. Just uh...guy stuff. Yeah.” He said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

She raised an eyebrow. Did he think she was going to believe that? “Guy stuff, huh?” She repeated. “What’s this about Kamoshida and thinking it was a dream?” Airi inquired. ‘Did they also appear at Kamoshida’s Palace..?’

Ryuji broke out in a cold sweat. “Uhhh...” He stammered. “We uh, saw him yesterday at this weird place! So...We wanted to see if he was gonna be there again!” He finished, fidgeting in place and his eyes looking everywhere but her.

Airi lifted her eyebrows. “Well, if that’s true, you won’t mind me tagging along, will you? I also need dirt on Kamoshida to officially report him.” She stated calmly, testing her old middle school classmate.

His nerves getting the best of him, Ryuji’s teeth chattered. “Uh, it’s in a really dangerous place! A girl like you shouldn’t be going anywhere near it!” He yelled, desperately trying to get her to drop it.

Airi deadpanned. She opened her mouth to retort when a hand fell on her shoulder, interrupting her. She looked up at Akira, who shook his head. She pouted but conceded. “Fine. I’ll just leave now then since I’m in the way. See you tomorrow, Kurusu-san. Sakamoto-kun.” She said curtly, before turning on her heel and walking away.

Ryuji and Akira stared after her retreating back, the former slumping down and letting out a big sigh. “Jeez, I thought she was never gonna leave.” He groaned, rolling his shoulders as if he just went through a huge ordeal.

Akira sweatdropped, and began walking toward the station, Ryuji following after him. “How do you know Kimisawa-senpai?” he inquired after walking for a couple of minutes, curious at their relationship. For all their interactions these past two days, he barely knew anything about his class president. All he could really tell was that she was kind to everyone.

Ryuji hummed. “I knew her since middle school. We used to be in the same class. I didn’t really talk to her too much...” He replied, trying to recall. “Even back then, she was class president. She’s really responsible, y’know? Always tryin’ to take care of people.” Ryuji smiled faintly. “I remember this one time,” He began with a grin. “A kid in our class got a pair of scissors super glued to his hand and started freakin’ out. I thought it was hilarious, like who does that?" He snickered. "But she walked right up to him and calmed him down, and escorted him to the nurse’s office. Senpai is just...super nice like that.”

They both stopped in front of the train station. Akira looked on thoughtfully, the new information swimming in his mind. It certainly cemented the first impression he had of her as a kind and beautiful individual. ‘A rarity in this world.’ he thought bitterly.

Ryuji spoke up. “Alright, if a huge castle like that really exists, I’m sure we’ll find it in no time.” He paused. “...When’d they build something like that, though?” The delinquent looked around, trying to figure out where to go. “We walked that way from here, right?” He pointed at an alley.

Akira shrugged halfheartedly. “Maybe.”

His face fell. “When you put it that way, I’m not so sure anymore...” Ryuji pursed his lips. Straightening up, he squared his shoulders. “All right, this way. Lemme know if you see something.” He said, heading down the alley way.

Akira turned to follow him, disappearing behind the corner.


Airi looked out from behind a nearby building, narrowing her eyes at the two, overhearing their entire conversation.

“What are you two hiding?” She whispered to herself. Are they trying to get into the Palace? Her mouth tightened and she moved to follow them, making sure they wouldn't see her.

‘I’m glad that Sakamoto-kun views me in such a positive light though.’ She thought fondly as she dodged behind another corner, observing their journey.

That story was pretty old, after all.


“Huh?” Ryuji uttered bewilderedly. They were in front of the school gates, the occasional student walking out. "We’re at school...There wasn’t anything out of place on the way, right? I didn’t see no castle either...” Ruffling his hair, he turned to face Akira. “We must’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. Let’s try again.” He stated.

The ebony haired boy looked at his companion with an expression of exasperation. “Again..?” He asked, rubbing the back of his neck.

“Don’t worry.” Ryuji reassured. “I won’t mess up this time. Let’s go.”

With that, he turned around to try a different route, the bespectacled boy trailing after him silently.

Airi watched on as the two walked away, unimpressed. They had been circling back and forth from the station to the school over and over. Straightening up from her crouch, she leaned against the wall.

‘Are they looking for the Palace? I can’t even tell anymore.’ She thought tiredly. She would just have to wait here for them. If they really are trying to access the Palace, sooner or later, they’ll end up back here. Again. ‘I just have to be patient and wait for them to catch up. Don't they have the app..?’

“For real?...” Ryuji groaned. They were back at the school again. He leaned against the gate. “Is it smaller than we think it is? What do you think?” He asked, looking over at his companion.

Akira put his hands in his pockets, trying to remember what had happened exactly. ‘I was holding my phone when we arrived...’ He thought pensively. He then looked at Ryuji, “Check on your phone.”

He sighed. “I already did that. I didn’t see anything like that around here...” His voice trailed off. ”Phone, huh..." An idea hit him then. “Hey, that reminds me-didn’t you have a navigation app thingy on, back then?” He straightened up from the wall.

Akira blinked. “Navigation app…?” He murmured, adjusting his glasses.

Ryuji kicked his shoe against the pavement. “I dunno if it was or not, but I heard stuff that sounded like one comin’ from your phone.” He stated, furrowing his eyebrows. “Y’know, didn’t it say stuff like “returned to the real world” or something like that? Lemme see your phone for a bit.” He demanded, making grabby gestures with his hands.

He hesitated, but slowly took out his phone. Ryuji snapped it up and started searching, while Akira looked at him with an unimpressed face, hand still outstretched.

“What’s this eyeball lookin’ thing?” Ryuji asked curiously, pointing at a certain app.

“Not sure.” Akira shrugged. “I can’t delete it, it just keeps coming back…”

He looked up at him with disbelief. “Wait, what?” Looking back down at the phone, he frowned. “What a weird app...Oh wait! This is it!” Ryuji exclaimed, turning the phone over to show to his companion. “This IS a navigation app! There’s even your search history! Oh man, I’m such a genius!” He praised himself, a smirk on his face.

Akira squinted his eyes at the screen, suspicious of what was dwelling in his phone. He didn’t remember typing anything. The app showed the map of their location (he didn't turn on location tracker though.) as well as the search bar. To the side was his search history and preferences.

“Let’s try it out.” Ryuji suggested excitedly. "I'm so sick of walkin' back and forth to the school."

His companion looked at him skeptically. “I dunno about this.” He said flatly. Were they going to tamper with something that couldn't be deleted?

“I’ll do it.” The punk offered, already tinkering with the app.

“Kamoshida...Shujin Academy...Pervert...Castle...” The automated voice listed. “Beginning navigation.”

“There we go!” Ryuji pumped excitedly. “Then, we just go in a certain direction, and-”

-BA-BUMP-

Chapter Text

The air around them turned purple and wavered.

Startled, Akira looked up. What was going on? Had this happened the first time around..?

Ryuji saw him move in the corner of his vision and looked up from the phone, not noticing anything else. “Hey, what’re you-huh?” He stopped, as reality around them warped. “What the hell?!” He yelped, looking back down at the phone.

The red eye on the screen wavered, sending out pulses of energy. The scenery changed from Shujin Academy to a castle that loomed over them menacingly. The usual cement building was now a stone built castle, looking as if it belonged in old European movies. The sky changed from orange to a purple-ish red, the clouds glowing ominously. A drawbridge was in front of them, inviting them in as kind as a Venus flytrap.

They stared at the building, completely mystified before Ryuji whooped. “Look! It’s the castle from yesterday!”

He ran a couple feet forward, the darkly clad boy following right behind him. He came to a stop right outside the front door, observing his surroundings. “We made it back...That means what happened yesterday was for real too...” He said, turning to look at his friend, before taking a step back in shock. “Yeargh! Those clothes..!”

Akira looked at him questioningly, then directed his gaze down on himself. Letting out a sound of surprise, he brought his right hand, clothed in a red glove, out of his pocket and examined his outfit. His clothes changed again, and he didn’t even notice.

Like the last time they were here, he was clad in a black trench coat that split into three tails, red gloves, and a turtleneck with line details. Enshrouding his legs were a pair of black cargo pants that tucked into his pointed boots.

“That happened last time too, huh?!” Ryuji asked, freaked out. “What’s with that outfit?!”

Akira shook his head. “I don’t know.” He replied hesitantly, putting his hand back in his pocket. “You jelly?” He nudged jokingly.

He sputtered in indignation. “I-I aint jealous!” Ryuji yelled. “What’s goin’ on here?! This makes no fuckin’ sense at all...”

“Hey!”

Caught off guard, the two males turned to look at who had called out at them.

A small bipedal feline with a yellow scarf on came out from behind the corner, waving at them. It waddled up to the duo, looking at them with an unimpressed expression. “Stop making a commotion.” It scolded sternly.

Ryuji took a step back. “A-ah...You?!” He sputtered.

The feline shook its head in exasperation. “The shadows started acting up, so I came here wondering what it could be. To think you guys would come back to the entrance when you barely managed to escape.” It tutted in its boyish voice, scouting the perimeter with its large blue eyes.

“What is this place? Is this the school?” Ryuji questioned, scrunching up his face in confusion.

The cat, Morgana, nodded. “That’s right.” He confirmed.

“But it’s a castle!” He shouted, stomping one foot in front of him.

“This castle IS the school.” It lectured. “But only to the castle’s ruler.”

“The castle’s ruler..?” Ryuji repeated hesitantly.

“I think you called him Kamoshida?” The cat asked, not waiting for an answer. “It’s how his distorted heart views the school.”

Akira leaned on one foot, trying to make sense of the situation with all the information their new companion gave them. Honestly, he had forgotten all about the feline in the midst of their escape. They had busted it out of a cell and it showed them the way out, so they were at least thankful for that.

“Kamoshida...distorted?” Ryuji muttered. He rubbed his head, not comprehending the situation. “Explain it in a way that makes sense!”

Morgana sighed irritatedly. “I shouldn’t have expected a moron to get it...” It said, aiming an unimpressed look toward the punk.

“What’d you say?!” Ryuji shouted angrily, sneering down at the cat burglar.

“AAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!”

Their heads shot up, turning their gaze to the direction of the sound. Akira bent his knees, prepared for any approaching enemies. He didn't have much experience in fighting, but with Arsene at his side, he could at least stand a chance.

“W-what was that?” Ryuji questioned softly, his eyes wide from the pain heard from that outburst.

Morgana looked at them grimly. “It must be the slaves captured here.”

“For real?!” He yelped. “Oh shit...it’s for real!” He muttered to himself, taking a shaky breath. “We saw other guys captive here yesterday...I’m pretty sure they’re from our school.”

Akira looked on grimly. The news wasn’t surprising, but not welcomed. That Mishima guy from his class was probably one of them.

“Most likely on Kamoshida’s orders.” The feline stated firmly. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary; it’s like that every day here.” It turned to look at Akira. “What’s more, you two escaped yesterday. He must have lost his temper quite a bit.” It remarked grimly.

“That son of a bitch..!” Ryuji growled, his hands balling into fists. He looked downward away from the other two, his face twisted in anguish.

“Ryuji..?” Morgana questioned quietly.

Tightening his fists, the punk exploded. “This is bullshit!” Ryuji snarled. He sprinted toward the front door and slammed his shoulder into it, trying to break in. “You hear me, Kamoshida?!” He yelled out.

Morgana looked at the punk sadly. “Doing that isn’t going to open it, y’know...Still, it seems you have your reasons.”

Ryuji turned to look at the cat. “Hey, Monamona!” He said loudly.

The feline bristled, glaring at him. “It’s Morgana!” It corrected angrily.

“Do you know where those voices are comin’ from?” He questioned impatiently.

Morgana looked at him apprehensively. “You want me to take you to them?” It looked over to Akira who nodded. Kamoshida will pay for what he’s doing. “Well...I guess I could guide you there. But only if he comes with us.” It gestured to the darkly clad male.

“Let’s go.” Akira commanded.

Morgana jumped up excitedly. “It’s settled then!”

“For real?!” Ryuji grinned at the fellow teenager. “...Thanks, man.”

Morgana focused on the two of them, and gave them a smirk. “All right, let’s do this. Follow me!”

The three ran off, infiltrating the castle.

A figure walked up to where the three were just standing, placing a hand on one hip, and the other holding a scythe.

“Knew it.” Airi said smugly, her scarf fluttering a bit.

She quickly followed after them, making sure they didn’t see or hear her. ‘I’m glad Morgana is alright. I’ll have to apologize to it later for not coming back sooner.’ She thought to herself, crawling through the vent.

Hiding behind chairs, corners, and walls, she silently tailed them. She wouldn’t have lost them anyway, all she had to do was following the trail of dissipating Shadows that Morgana and Akira killed.

‘Ryuji doesn’t have a Persona?’ She questioned, still observing them from a distance. It was strange that he was here if he couldn't fight back. Could the app be messing with them? Following them further, they ended up in the dungeons where the slaves were kept.

Airi grimaced. She hated this place so much. ‘I bet a shadow version of Mishima-kun is here as well...'

She watched as the trio made their way to the Safe Room to hide from the oncoming guards. Bypassing the door, they continued on...straight to where she was.

‘Shit.’ She cursed, dodging back a hallway. When a Shadow came close, she ambushed and killed it. Walking back to the Safe Room, she heard the door open and their foot steps getting farther, and she quickened her pace.

They finally reached the training hall, she mused sadly. Ryuji’s going to be heartbroken. He had endured just like them, but he got out of it at the price of being ostracized at school.

Observing from behind a corner, she watched as Akira shot a imitation gun, knocking a Shadow onto the ground.

She hummed in amazement. ‘I should get a gun...’

Airi frowned morosely as Ryuji tried to free the slaves, but Morgana scolded him and told him that nothing here is real, and they’re all apart of Kamoshida’s cognition. Akira listened with a grim face, not saying anything. They couldn’t do anything anyway. There was no point in freeing the sports slaves, but she could see Ryuji was having a tough time admitting it himself.

 

Deciding that they were fine, Airi turned back and made her way to the foyer to wait for them. ‘I want to see the look on their faces when they realize another thief is here.’ She thought impishly, wearing a mischievous smile.

Finding a good hiding spot on the second floor on top of a bookcase, she sat and waited to make her entrance.

Instead of soft footsteps however, she heard the familiar but unwelcome sound of armor clanking. Looking down, Airi sees some shadow soldiers marching in the foyer, in the direction of the dungeon. Furrowing her brows in worry, she slowly got up.

‘Did they get caught?’ She wondered, gnawing on her bottom lip.

Chapter Text

-AKIRA POV-

“The watch post near the training hall has ceased reporting! Chances of intruder activity is extremely high! All personnel, increase security measures!”

He silently groaned. So much for sneaking out.

He readied his dagger next to Morgana, who also readied its scimitar as they waited for opposition.

Ryuji cursed, completely weaponless at this point. “Dammit!”

They snuck their way back to the entrance way, only fighting one Shadow in the process. Opening up the door, they ran up the winding staircase. “The exit’s this way! Let’s hurry!” Morgana urged, quickening their pace.

As they ran out into the foyer, they were suddenly stopped by the appearance of Kamoshida and a contingent of soldiers.

Kamoshida, clad in a giant gold crown, a white fur trimmed red cape decorated with hearts, and a neon green speedo, frowned at them. “You knaves again?” He sneered. “To think you’d make the same mistake again. You’re hopeless!”

Ryuji stepped forward. “The school aint your castle!” He exclaimed boldly. “I’ve memorized their faces real good. You’re goin’ down!”

Kamoshida smirked evilly. “It seems it’s true when they say “barking dogs seldom bite.” How far the star runner of the track team has fallen.”

“The hell are you gettin’ at?!” Ryuji glared.

The evil king started chuckling. “I speak of the “Track Traitor” who acted in violence, ending his teammates’ dreams.” He purred. “Oh, I can only imagine the pain of the others who were dragged under with your...selfish act.”

Flinching, he took a step back. “Tch..!” He grunted, frustrated that his guilt ridden memories were being brought up. Of course this piece of shit would mention that.

Akira glared at the Palace ruler. “Violence?” He asked his companion. It must’ve been due to the unfair treatment. Ryuji was a brash guy, he’d seen it plenty of times today, but he’d never pull a fist on someone unless they deserved it.

Kamoshida tsk'ed. “What a surprise. So you’re accompanying him without knowing anything at all?” He questioned smugly. “He betrayed his teammates and crushed their hopes, yet he still carries on as carefree as ever.”

“That’s not true!” Ryuji argued, anger lighting his eyes.

“You’ve come a long way with this fool and are now going to end up dead...How unlucky of you.” Kamoshida said mockingly. He gestured to the soldiers behind him. “Go. Kill them all. Don’t sully my castle with garbage.”

The shadows stepped forward in their suits of metal, before transforming into their real forms as Demon Horses. They slowly circled them in.

Ryuji narrowed his eyes in frustration. “Goddammit.” He spat, clenching his fists. He had nothing to fight with. Like always, he had to rely on others to help him. He gritted his teeth. If only he had a Persona too.

Morgana and Akira moved to shield him. “Ryuji, move!” The feline commanded, readying its weapon.

Akira dove straight in, slicing his opponent before back flipping out of an incoming attack. He stumbled back though, when he saw his attack had done little to no damage on the enemy. Another shadow sneaked up behind him and knocked him down with its horns.

He gritted his teeth, struggling to get up. Move, dammit! He yelled at his body.

“Agh!” Morgana yelped, landing in front of him in a painful heap. Kamoshida then stomped on its back, holding it in place. “Rgh...you piece of-”

Leaning on his elbows, Akira tried to get up when a soldier came up and stepped on his back, holding him down. “Ugh!” He grunted out, his face now pressed against the lush carpeting. What could he do?!

Ryuji sat where he stood, hopeless, his companions being beaten so easily in front of him. He stared defeatedly. Even with two Persona users, they couldn't beat him...

“I bet you simply came here on a whim and ended up like this, am I right?” Kamoshida sneered at the ex-track member.

“No...” Ryuji whispered, not having the strength to deny harder.

He shook his head in amusement. “What a worthless piece of trash, getting emotional so quickly.” Kamoshida smirked. “How dare you raise your hand at me. Though it was only temporary, have you forgotten my kindness in supervising the track team?”

With a twisted expression on his face, Ryuji beat the floor with his fist, the carpet absorbing the blow without a sound. “Wasn’t no practice- it was physical abuse! You just didn’t like our team!” He gritted his teeth.

Kamoshida sneered. “It was only an eyesore! The only one who needs to achieve results is me!” He declared, holding a fist up. “That coach who got fired was hopeless too. Had he not opposed me with a sound argument, I would’ve settled it with only breaking his star’s leg.” He gloated, smirking down at the punk who looked at him in shock.

Up above on one of the chandeliers, Airi looked on in disgust. ‘I can’t believe that’s what Kamoshida is wearing in his heart. Ugh...’ She cringed. Hearing him talk about what he did to the track team made her grimace, fueling her determination to help her friends.

She looked sadly down at Ryuji, who was standing there, stunned in silence. ‘So that’s what happened...’ She thought morosely. She had wondered what had exactly gone down with the track team, but had been too distracted by her own problems. Now that she knew what at happened though, maybe she could do something about it...

Snapping out of her thoughts, she stood up from her crouched position. Furrowing her brows, she readied her scythe to intervene.

Kamoshida laughed. “Do you need me to deal with your other leg too? The school will call it self-defense anyway!”

Ryuji clenched his eyes. “Dammit...Am I going to lose again?” He whispered to himself. ‘Not only can I not run anymore...the track team is gone too ‘cause of this asshole!’ He berated himself angrily. 'He broke my leg just so he could get the position! He..!'

Morgana looked at the punk sadly. “So that’s why...” It murmured.

Shifting his foot on the feline’s back, Kamoshida gestured to a soldier. “Once I’ve dealt with these two, you’re next.” He stated, looking directly at Ryuji. His expression twisted, madness seeping into his eyes as he laughed in triumph.

“Ryuji!” Morgana struggled underneath the foot.

“Stand up for yourself!” Akira yelled, still pinned underneath a suit of armor. "You're just gonna let him get away with this?!"

“...You’re right.” Ryuji whispered, getting up from his position on the floor. “Everything that was important to me was taken by him...I’ll never get ‘em back..!”

Ignoring the delinquent’s words, Kamoshida straightened. “Stay there and watch.” He smirked. “Look on as these hopeless scum die for nothing because they sided with trash like you.”

Standing up, Ryuji matched his steely gaze with acid yellow ones. “No...That’s what you are.” He declared. “All you think about is using people...You’re the real scumbag, Kamoshida!” Shakily, he took a couple of steps forward.

Unsettled, the ruler yelled out, “What are you doing? Silence him!”

Stopping, he pointed his finger at the distorted king, glaring hatefully at the reason why his dreams were stolen from him. “Stop lookin’ down on me with that stupid smile on your face!”

‘You made me wait quite a while.’

-BA-BUMP-

Eyes widening, Ryuji gripped his scalp as immense pain tore at him. Shaking from side to side, he trembled, trying to contain the pressure in his head. Something was pulsing, the beats coming faster. He couldn't tell if it was inside or outside of his body.

‘You seek power, correct? Then let us form a pact.’

He choked, saliva spitting from his mouth. Now on all fours, he violently convulsed on the carpet. Even though his eyes were wide open, he couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, couldn’t feel anything except for the soul wrenching pain.

‘Since your name has been disgraced already, why not hoist the flag and wreak havoc?’

He gritted his teeth, his blunt nails digging into his scalp.

‘The “other you” who exists within desires it thus…’

Trembling now, he panted. What was breathing, what was thinking, whatwasbeing.

‘I AM THOU...THOU ART I…’

Ryuji screamed, feeling like his head was being split open.

‘There is no turning back...The skull of rebellion is your flag henceforth!’

With one final screech, Ryuji stilled. Silence reigned as everyone stared at him with bated breath.

Snapping his head up, a metal mask in the shape of a skull, appeared in a flash of blue fire, covering the whole upper half of his face. Gripping the sides as he shakily stood up, he pulled with all his might.

“ARRGHHHH!” He screamed, the mask coming off in a burst of blood.

Airi was worried. She didn’t know whether or not Ryuji was going to discover his Persona, especially in this hopeless situation, but, with great reluctance, she decided to wait it out even though Morgana and Akira were being threatened at sword point. It was difficult to stand back and watch, but she knew first hand that a person needed to confront themselves to take off that mask.

Seeing Ryuji begin to convulse on the ground though, she perked up. ‘Yes! It’s happening!’ Bending her knees, she was ready at any moment to jump down and intervene.

Airi was excited. With four Persona users, they could easily storm the castle.

In a blazing stream of blue fire, Ryuji’s power erupted, blowing away the guards and Kamoshida.

Seeing as they were now unpinned, Morgana and Akira quickly got up, readying their weapons while looking on at the power in awe.

The initial burst died down, revealing Ryuji who was now covered head to toe in a new outfit, complimenting the skull on his face. His black leather jacket fit snug around his torso, the metal spines on his back giving him extra protection from sneak attacks. Black belts crisscrossed over his black pants, elbow and knee pads at his joints. His steel toed boots stomped onto the carpet, the force leaving a lasting print. Clenching his yellow gloved hands, he grinned viciously.

A being floated behind him, using an old ship with a war head face painted on as a skateboard. With two swords crossed on its chest, a golden canon grafted on its right hand, and an eyepatch, the pirate cackled, its teeth making a clacking sound. Its blue admiral coat hugged its skeletal frame, enhancing its ribs and hip bones. Its black and red cape billowed behind it, the flames fanning the damaged fabric. Adjusting its admiral hat, it aimed the cannon toward the enemies.

Lifting his head, Ryuji gave an animalistic grin, eyes red from his awakened power.

Kamoshida shielded his face from the fierce winds. “Ugh, this one as well?!”

The newly awakened Persona user looked down at his hands, admiring his new abilities. “Right on...wassup, Persona.” He grinned gleefully. “Now that I’ve got this power...it’s time for some payback.” Cracking his knuckles, he stared down at Kamoshida. “Yo, I’m ready…”

“BRING IT!” All three Persona users got into position, ready to fight again. The guards stepped forward, transforming into Demon Horses and one Bereth, a suit of armor sitting atop of a horse.

Ryuji called out, “Captain Kidd!!” His Persona appearing behind him in a sea of blue flame. “Let’s light em up!” He said, calling down a lightning strike at his opponent.

Akira went and took out one of the minions with a stroke of his blade.

Morgana followed up with a strike, dealing more damage to the Berith. They quickly took down the enemies.
Holding himself up on his knees, Ryuji panted. “How ‘bout that?!” He yelled, snarling at Kamoshida.

Morgana gazed at him in awe. “Woah...so Ryuji had potential too..” It murmured.

Slashing his hand out, the pirate gestured at the corrupted gym teacher. “Even if you apologize now...I ain’t forgiving you!”

Kamoshida looked at him in amusement as he took a few steps forward, his heart decorated cape fluttering. “I told you, this is my castle. It seems you still don’t understand…” Snapping his fingers, more soldiers appeared, and a lieutenant at that.

Just then, a woman calmly walked up to Kamoshida, turning to look at the enemies.

“Wha-” Ryuji sputtered. “Takamaki?!”

Chapter Text

Indeed, it was Takamaki Ann. However, she was dressed in a purple leopard print bikini, wearing cat ears on the top of her head.

Morgana sighed dreamily. “Oh...what a meow-velous and beautiful girl..!” It purred, infatuated with the newest person in the room.

The woman in question wrapped her arms around Kamoshida’s, cuddling him.

Shocked, Ryuji could barely comprehend what was happening in front of his eyes. “What’s goin’ on…?!”

Akira watched the scene with a confused frown. Though he had little interaction with the model, Takamaki did not seem like she was one to do something so sickeningly submissive. “Something seems off.” He declared.

Ryuji turned his head toward him. “Yeah, now that you mention it...But why is she even here?!” He shouted incredulously.

Kamoshida then caressed the Not-Ann’s jaw lustfully.

He flinched. “Hey! Let go of her, you perv!” He shouted.

Turning his head to look at him, the evil lord smirked. “How many times must I tell you until you understand? This is MY castle- a place where I can do whatever I want. Everyone wishes to be loved by me.” He gloated. He turned to face the three thieves directly, letting go of the girl’s face. “That is, everyone besides slow-witted thieves like you.”

Ryuji turned to Not-Ann. “Takamaki! Say somethin’!” He begged.

Morgana rolled its eyes exasperatedly. “Calm down, Ryuji! It seems that girl isn’t the real one. She’s the same as those slaves- a being from Kamoshida’s cognition of her!”

Kamoshida smirked. “Are you jealous?” He asked smugly. “Well I’m not surprised. Women aren’t drawn to problematic punks like you. Not Takamaki, not Kimisawa, none of them.”

Akira furrowed his brows, frowning when Airi’s name was mentioned. He didn’t like that this disgusting pig thought of his class president like that.

“Now,” Kamoshida started. “Clean them up this instant!” He declared, walking away with Not-Ann attached to his side.
The guards that had been standing idle since summoned started approaching them, swords raised.

Morgana took a step back. “We’re outnumbered!” It shouted, trembling in exhaustion.

“Dammit, what do we do…?!” Ryuji angrily panted, gripping his bat tighter.

Akira gritted his teeth. At this rate, it seemed there was only one way out. Taking a deep breath, he readjusted his dagger. If he was going to die here, he wasn’t going down without a fight!

“It seems this is where I make my entrance.” A voice called out.

Everyone stopped and looked around, not knowing where that voice came from.

A figure suddenly fell from above, landing in front of the thieves in a stretched out position, before straightening up, their back facing them. The woman-and it was clearly a woman with those curves, turned her head to the left, looking at the three behind her.

‘Those eyes look familiar...’ Akira thought, watching avidly.

With a wink and a quirk of the lips, she turned to face the front, giving the enemies a serene smile.

“Another intruder!” A guard shouted. “Kill them all! For Kamoshida-sama!” They shouted in unison. They convulsed, turning into Demon Horses.

She smirked. With a wave of her hand, caressing her mask, a regal figure bathed in light appeared behind her. Its excess fabric billowed behind it, imitating wings, covering the exhausted group from the Shadows' eyes.

“No way! Another Persona user!?” Ryuji shouted in shock.

With a twist of her heels, the newcomer spun in place and snapped her fingers, unleashing an all out attack. The shadows screamed in agony as white light pierced their bodies, dissipating into nothing. Seeing that the threat was gone, she relaxed her stance.

The elegant lady then turned to look at her new companions with a warm smile. “Sorry I took so long.” She apologized softly. “Let’s hurry and leave.”

Taken aback after that display, Ryuji sputtered. “Wait, who the hell are you?!”

Morgana ran up to the elegantly dressed lady, eyes shining with infatuation. “My lady! You came back for me!” It purred excitedly.

Akira tilted his head. “You know her?” He asked, questions running through his mind.

The woman in question shook her head. “C’mon, before more guards come!” And with that, she ran off, heading toward the escape route.

The skull adorned punk furiously rubbed his head. “Man…!”

The three Persona users then followed after the newcomer.

Once outside, they all came to a stop, safe for the time being. Ryuji had his hands on his knees, panting. Morgana kneeled on the ground, tired, thankful to be out of the castle for the first time in a while. Akira breathed in deeply, and with his hands resting on his hips, turned to look at the woman who saved them. He didn’t get a good look earlier, but she was dressed rather richly.

She had on a long sleeveless purple and silver embroidered vest coat, a silver embroidered blouse underneath, and long deep plum silk gloves reaching up to her shoulders. Her rose colored hair was twisted into an elegant and complicated braided bun, her mask a lacy silver that gleamed in the torchlight. With black leather pants, a silver embroidered scarf, and a large diamond pendant resting on her bosom, she made an impressive vision.

“Anyways,” Ryuji panted out. “I don’t remember changin’ into this!” He gestured at his outfit.

Akira looked him over and smirked. “It looks good on you.”

He looked away, slightly embarrassed at being complimented. “Well, it ain’t as bad as your’s!”

The ebony haired male gave him an unimpressed look, offended.

Remembering they had an extra member, the pirate turned toward the mysterious woman. “And just who exactly are you?!” He interrogated, pointing a finger at the lady.

Said female raised her eyebrows. “You don’t recognize me?” She asked.

Furrowing his eyebrows, Ryuji let out a “huh?!” and turned to look at Akira, silently asking him if he knew who it was.

He shook his head. He had never seen her before, but there was something about her that was familiar.

The woman sighed, exasperated at her companions’ inattentiveness. “Watch.” She commanded

The two males stared at her questioningly.

Slowly reaching up, the woman cupped the right side of her mask and pushed it upward, exposing the left side of her face. Her wine colored eyes stared at them expectantly, waiting for them to get it.

Ryuji squinted his eyes. “Um...you DO look familiar.”

Akira blinked, examining her face closer. ‘She does seem familiar,’ He thought to himself. ‘Where have I seen eyes like those before?’

A memory flashed in his mind. A beautiful girl turned to look at him in the rain, and gave him a smile. The same girl who silently offered her textbook to him. The same girl who he talked to for hours this morning on the train ride to school. The same girl who Ryuji tried to ditch earlier.

His breath hitched. “Senpai..?” He asked softly, surprise written all over his expression.

Chapter Text

Airi gave him a warm smile, happy that he finally got it. “Yep! Took you long enough, Kurusu-san.” She said teasingly, sliding her mask back down in its rightful place.

“HUH?!” Ryuji exclaimed. He walked closer, looking at her up and down, trying to correlate the person in front of him with his usually uniform clad acquaintance. “Airi-senpai? Is that really you?” He questioned hesitantly.

She nodded happily, holding a finger in front of her lips in a secretive manner, winking at him.

Ryuji blushed at the motion, awkwardly rubbing the back of his head.

Morgana ran up to her and jumped, trusting her to catch it. "Lady Airi, you kept your promise!" The feline then nuzzled its face into her neck.

She reciprocated happily, rubbing her cheek on top of its head. "Of course, Morgana!"

Looking at the two snuggling in front of him, Akira frowned slightly. What was going on anymore. His class president and neighbor was also a Persona user? And she knew the feline?


“Did you find them?!”


The four persona users snapped to attention, looking in the direction the voice was coming from.


“No. Search that way!”


The sound of the soldiers faded away, searching elsewhere from their current location. “Soo...” Ryuji began, rubbing the back of his head. “What just happened..?”

Morgana jumped back down onto the ground and crossed its arms. “I told you before. When a Persona-user opposes a palace’s ruler and becomes a threat to them, this happens." It lectured." It’s to prevent you from being affected by distortions.”

Holding up his hands to touch his new mask, Ryuji brushed his fingertips against the cool metal. “Is this...a skull?”

“Your appearance reflects your inner self. It’s the rebel that slumbers within...Not that you’ll get it.” Morgana ribbed, a smirk on its face.

The pirate let out a big sigh, slumping his shoulders. “Nope..” He said, closing his eyes.

It jumped up, a serious expression on its face. “Then stop asking questions and accept what you see for what it is.”

Ryuji huffed. “Easy for you to say.” He retorted, then jumped as a thought hit him. “Wait, we’re in deep shit!!” He yelled out.

“Be quiet!” Airi shushed him, holding up a finger in front of her lips.

“We might’ve gotten away here, but we’re still screwed with Kamoshida at the real school...” Ryuji panicked, scrunching up his face at the thought of punishment.

“That’s quite sharp of you!...For being an idiot.” Morgana commended mockingly. “Relax. The Kamoshida in reality can’t possibly know what happens here.” It reassured. “A shadow is the true self that’s repressed-a side of one’s personality they don’t want to see.”

“So...we’re OK?” Ryuji asked slowly.

Morgana rolled its eyes. “Did the real Kamoshida remember about the execution?”

The pirate blinked and shook his head no, realization slowly dawning on him.

“There you have it.” The cat said smugly.

Slowly, a grin spread across Ryuji’s face. “Alright, now that we know that, all we gotta do is-” “Wait.” Morgana interrupted the punk. “I guided you as promised. It’s your turn to cooperate with me.”

Airi looked at it, confused. Cooperate? “Morgana?” She softly said. The two boys next to her looked at the feline with questioning looks, not expecting anything else.

“That’s why I was being super nice about teaching you idiots everything.“ It said, looking irritated, then quickly turning to Airi. “Not you though, Lady Airi! I’m glad to help you!” It interjected, smiling at her dreamily.

Sweatdropping, she smiled back.

Ryuji scratched his head. “Uh, cooperate?”

Morgana looked out to the courtyard with a serious expression. “Don’t you remember? I originally came here for an investigation.” It stated. “I told you before, Lady Airi. I’m human! I need to erase the distortion from my body and regain my real form!” It exclaimed. “That’s why we must delve into Mementos and-” “Whoa, hold up. What’re you goin’ on and on about?” Ryuji interrupted, scratching his head. “We never said anything about helpin’ you out.” He looked over at Akira, who nodded in agreement.

The feline looked at them, shocked. “Huh? Don’t tell me...Are you not going to repay the hospitality I showed you?” It turned to focus its eyes on Akira. “Especially you! You’re going to up and leave, even though you’re already part of my master plan?!”

Shoving his hands in his pockets, Akira looked at the feline questioningly. “I never promised. What plan are you talking about?” He asked.

Narrowing its eyes, Morgana exploded. “Is it because I’m not human..? Because I’m like a cat..? Is that why you’re making a fool of me?!” It then shifted its gaze at the only female, silently pleading.

Airi crouched down, gently placing a hand on its giant head. “Of course I’ll help you, Morgana.” She consoled. “You helped me out too.” She said, giving it an affectionate smile.

It gave her a hopeful look, before turning to the two males with a frown, challenging them to say something.

Ryuji rubbed his face tiredly. “We’re busy!” He complained, then walked up in front of Morgana and crouched, patting its head patronizingly. “Thanks for everything, cat. You’ve got guts, bein’ a cat and all!” He grinned. “See you around!” With that, he got up and started jogging out.

Hesitantly looking at the cat, Akira followed after him, leaving Morgana standing there with its mouth hanging open in shock.

“Hey! What the hell?! Ugh, seriously!” It shouted indignantly. “Why’re you wrapping this up like everything’s all hunky-dory?!” It narrowed its eyes in anger. Pursing its lips, the feline made to follow them. “Oh hell no! Get back here! GRAHHH!” It roared after them, leaving Airi the last person standing in the courtyard.

Holding a hand to her temple, she shook her head and sighed. ‘Boys.’ She thought exasperatedly, calmly walking after them.

 

 

“You have returned to the real world. Welcome back.” The phone stated.

Ryuji panted, straightening his back. “...Thank god. We’re back.” He sighed in relief.

Akira, who was breathing deeply with his hands resting on his hips, nodded in agreement. They breathed silently, the sounds of students leaving school filling in the background.

The punk looked up at his fellow Persona user. “I dragged you around a lot, huh?...Sorry, man.” He apologized quietly, a somber look in his eyes. He groaned, stretching his arms into the air. “Ugh, I’m dead tired. How are you holdin’ up?”

Akira shrugged. “I’m exhausted.” He replied quietly, remembering that he got his ass handed to him at the Palace. Good thing Kimisawa-senpai intervened, he thought absentmindedly, before stiffening.

Kimisawa-senpai! He hurriedly turned his head side to side, looking for the compassionate class president. 'She didn’t follow after us.' He thought, stricken.

Ryuji, not noticing his companion panicking, nodded. “Me too...Man, I’m gonna sleep like a rock when I get home.” He groaned, then grinned, looking up at the bespectacled boy. “But damn, if what we saw was for real, this is gonna get good! I totally remember the faces of the guys Kamoshida was treatin’ like slaves. Once we make ‘em fess up to any physical abuse, Kamoshida will be done.” He declared triumphantly. His expression turned into one of confusion when he saw the ebony haired student looking around frantically. “Wassup?”

Akira focused at his companion, eyes wide. “We left Kimisawa-senpai back at the Palace.” He stated bleakly.

Ryuji blanched. “Shit!” He yelped.

The two delinquents squirmed in place, unsure of what to do next.

Chapter Text

“It warms my heart that you’re both so worried for my well being.” A voice called out.

They turned to look at who it was. Walking out of the shadows was Airi, smiling at them.

Akira breathed out in relief, glad that his classmate made it out safely.

Groaning out in relief, Ryuji slumped. “You scared us, yo.”

“Sorry.” She apologized sheepishly. “But you do remember it wasn’t my first time there, right?”

The two averted their eyes, not wanting to admit they actually had forgotten.

Airi looked on at the two of them, amused at their avoidance. “Anyway, you said you remembered their faces, Sakamoto-kun?” She inquired after a moment.

Said blond nodded with a frown. “Yep. They were all members of the volleyball team. One of them’s in my class.” He replied grimly. “And it’s Ryuji, Senpai.” He added as an afterthought.

She rolled her eyes. “And it’s Airi to you. You don't have to call me Senpai.” She retorted, before turning to Akira. “You too, Kurusu-san. Please just call me Airi.” She added, looking at him hopefully.

The ebony haired student gave a small smile back, adjusting his glasses with one hand. “Then it’s Akira, Airi-chan.” He conceded. “I’ll help as well.”

She blushed a bit at the more familiar suffix.

Ryuji pumped his fist. “Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talkin’ bout!”

A thought hit her, and Airi looked up at the ebony haired teen with a worried expression. “Akira-san, if you wanted the rumors about you to dissipate, I don’t think this will help...” On one hand, having an extra person help their investigation would help move it along faster, but on the other hand, this will undoubtedly blow up in the end. If they were caught, there was no doubt he would be sent away...

Ryuji turned to his fellow male and nodded, agreeing with the class president. “Yeah, everyone already knows about you. They’ve got you pegged as a criminal...” He crossed his arms pensively.

Akira smirked slightly, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “Don’t worry about me.” He stated confidently, reassuring her. It was kind of fun to skirt around authority, especially one where they were clearly abusing their power. “How did that happen though? Kawakami-sensei and Principal Kobayakawa assured me that it was going to kept from the other students.” He asked, shoving his hands in his pockets, frowning slightly.

“Kamoshida opened his damn mouth, that’s how!” Ryuji scowled, crossing his arms angrily.

“Seriously? A teacher did that?” Akira asked, raising an eyebrow.

Airi nodded. “No one else but a teacher could have known, and we already know he doesn’t like you.” She frowned.

Balling his fists, Ryuji turned and kicked the brick wall behind him. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a student or a club; that asshole just wrecks things he doesn’t agree with.” He growled. “Just like he did with me…! No one’ll take anything I say seriously.”

Airi looked at the punk sympathetically. She straightened her shoulders, a look of determination replacing her previous expression. “Still, we need to talk with the volleyball team, maybe get them to confess. After seeing Kamoshida’s heart, there’s no way we can just ignore this.”

Akira looked at her pensively for a moment, then nodded. “Of course.” Guess he'll have to talk to the other students at some point...

Ryuji whooped and pumped his fist in excitement. “I’m countin’ on you guys! Don’t worry; I’m hyped about this too!” A loud growl suddenly erupted, emanating from his stomach. He slumped. “Oh right I forgot, I haven’t eaten anything since lunch...” He muttered. “It’d be weird to split off now, so why don’t we all grab a bite somewhere?”

The Yongenjaya residents looked at each other, silently questioning their counterpart, before nodding in acquiescence.

“All right! Follow me!” He declared excitedly, grabbing his bag. “I mean, I gotta hear all about your past, dude!”

Rolling his eyes in exasperation, Akira moved to follow him, Airi falling into step next to him as they walked to the station.

“WHAT?!” Ryuji sputtered, rice splattering out of his mouth.

All three Shujin students were sat at the counter of a gyudon restaurant on Central Street. It wasn't too crowded considering the late afternoon hour, but it was enough that they were huddled together in the corner. The one employee rushed to and from the back, doling out the meals to the patrons. Other than a few quick glances from other customers, they were mostly ignored.

Akira nodded while taking another bite of his beef bowl, confirming what he just said was all true.

“The hell, man! How much shittier can that asshole get?!” Ryuji yelled, scrunching up his face in disgust.

Sitting to the left of the bespectacled boy, Airi held a hand up, covering her mouth in horror. “I’m so sorry, Akira-san...” She said quietly, her heart breaking from hearing his story. She dolefully pushed her empty bowl away. ‘He really did try to do the right thing. By saving that woman, the would-be rapist sued him for injuring him.’ What a terrible world they lived in, where doing what was considered the right thing can be punished under the law.

She frowned bitterly. It honestly wasn't that surprising these days...

Akira waved his chopsticks dismissively. “Calm down, Sakamoto-san. It’s all in the past...”

The punk tch'ed. “It’s Ryuji. And for real? If it was me, I wouldn’t calm down until I punched that dick in the face.” He declared, angry on his friend’s behalf. He continued to stuff his face with his beef bowl. “So...you left your hometown, and...you’re livin’ here now, huh?” Ryuji asked rhetorically, voice slightly muffled by all the food he was chewing. Swallowing, he paused. “We might be more alike than I originally thought.”

The bespectacled student raised a brow. “You may be right.” Akira replied, slightly quirking his lips. They both weren't well liked, either in school or in public in general.

Ryuji looked at him in surprise. “You’re the first guy who made me think that.” He grinned. His face fell, a frown marring his lips. “ I guess it’s how we’re treated like a pain in the ass by the people around us, like we don’t belong. I did something stupid at school before, too.” He finished dejectedly, continuing digging into his meal.

“Hey,” Airi interjected softly. Both boys turned to look at her questioningly. “Not anymore, OK? I fully support you two.” She stated firmly, smiling assuredly at them. "I heard earlier in the Palace what had happened, Ryuji-kun..." She looked down at her lap. "I'm really sorry I never asked how you broke your leg..."

Akira gave her a small but warm smile. “Thank you, Airi-chan.” He said quietly.

Ryuji waved her away. "Don't worry about it, it's all healed up now!" He grinned weakly. “But you know...” He looked away nostalgically, pursing his lips. “ I always thought you were too good for me, y’know? Like, you were super kind, and smart, and pretty. Everyone liked you in middle school, and they like you here at Shujin!” Ryuji explained, smile slightly bitter.

Airi’s eyes widened at his explanation.

“You worked harder than anyone else. Why should a "troublemaker" like me come up to steal your time?” He shrugged his shoulders as if it wasn’t a big deal.

The self deprecating look in his eyes gave him away though. How long did he think like this? Him not being worth her time? She pursed her lips. “As someone who I care greatly about, you can come to me anytime. I’m not worth more than anyone else, including you.” Airi stated sharply, before softening her frown. “We’re friends, right?” She asked, a smile slowly curling her lips.

Ryuji stared at her, before giving her a bright grin. “Right! Friends.” He answered, slightly tearing up. Wiping his eyes with a sleeve, he turned to Akira. “You both live in...Yongen, right?”

He nodded.

“It’s rush hour on the subways right now. I suggest you kill some time before headin’ home.” Ryuji shrugged. He looked down at the table, noticing his neighbor’s bowl. “What the hell, man. You barely touched your food.” he scolded, grabbing more ginger from the nearby container and placing it in his companion’s bowl.

Akira gave him an odd look. “What are you doing?”

He nudged him, giving him a grin. “Just lemme do it. I gotta thank you for helpin’ me.” He answered, grabbing more ginger. “Anyways, I got your back like you got mine from tomorrow on.” The punk promised, giving him a smirk.

Airi looked at the beef bowl in front of Akira with a revolted face. ‘That’s a lot of ginger..,’ She sweatdropped.

“As long as we do something about Kamoshida, I’m sure we’ll both feel better at school.” Ryuji declared. “Oh yeah! Tell me your number and chat ID. You too, Airi!”

The three Persona users pulled out their respective phones, exchanging contact information with each other.

Putting his phone away, Ryuji muttered darkly. “Just you wait, Kamoshida…”

“We should start tomorrow then. The sooner the better.” Akira proposed, checking his schedule on his mobile.

Airi nodded in agreement. “Right. First, we should find and question the people who were kept as slaves.”

“The volleyball rally’s tomorrow, huh? Shit’s recommended by Kamoshida. Makes me wanna gag.” Ryuji complained, wrinkling his nose. “But thanks to that, we got no classes in the afternoon, and we can walk around unnoticed.” He finished, a serious expression on his face.

The other two nodded in understanding.

A grin overtaking his face, Ruji grabbed the tongs and piled on more ginger on Akira’s beef bowl. “C’mon, you gotta eat more. There’s tons of ginger here.”

Sweat dropping, he slowly pushed the other boy’s arm away from his bowl, which was now completely covered in ginger.

Airi stretched and got up from her bar stool, grabbing her bag. “You two enjoy yourselves, now.” She patted her black thigh highs. “Unfortunately, I have work to get to, so I have to cut this short.” She said apologetically. “I’ll see you tomorrow!”

Akira blinked. “Where do you work?”

“I work at the flower shop down in the Underground Mall here.” She smiled. “You should come visit if you need any flowers! I work there four days a week.”

Ryuji’s eyes widened. “Whoa, you work that much? Talk about spending money.” He sighed jealously.

Airi giggled. “No, silly, it’s so I can afford groceries. Food isn’t cheap, you know.” She jokingly lectured. "How else would I eat?"

He furrowed his brows.. “Don’t your parents buy the groceries?”

At that, she averted her eyes, smile dimming slightly. “No. Just me.” She answered softly. Giving them a halfhearted wave, Airi turned and left the restaurant.

Akira stared after her retreating back, wondering what had triggered the change in her mood, before reluctantly digging into his -now mostly ginger- beef bowl.

Chapter Text

----4/12, TUESDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY, COURTYARD.

 

Two girls sat next to each other in the vending machine alcove that was out in the school courtyard, idly talking about their day. “How are you doing, Shiho? You look really tired.” Ann asked, worry shining in her eyes.

The dark brown haired girl sighed shakily. “...I haven’t been sleeping very well.” Shiho admitted reluctantly. “Every time I close my eyes, I keep thinking about too many things.” Her dark brown eyes were blankly staring at the ground. “Nationals are coming up soon, so I keep thinking...” She paused, closing her eyes. “Should someone like me really be on the starting lineup..?”

She stared at her friend with a look of sadness. “Shiho...” Ann murmured. Forcing a grin on, she pumped her arm. “Don’t worry. Just be confident in yourself!” She reassured. “Your skills have been recognized. It’s all because you work harder than anyone else!”

Shiho slowly turned to look at her best friend, face still blank. “Yeah...Volleyball’s all I have, after all...” She answered bleakly, dark eyes looking away.

Coughing awkwardly, the model switched the subject. “More importantly, was that injury OK? It looked really swollen.” Ann inquired, looking at her companion questioningly. Her eyes slid down to the bruise on the volleyball player's elbow, just barely in view underneath her sleeve. She hadn't seen that yesterday, which meant it was new...

Shiho shook her head. “No, it’s nothing. It’s normal...Especially since a meet is coming up...”

Ann looked pensively at her, not knowing how to respond. Why was it normal for them to have so many bruises? Back in middle school, Shiho had attended the volleyball meets then too, and never got this many injuries. A bruised wrist here and a scraped knee there was all she ever got. Since the middle of last year when she had joined their high school's team, her injuries had more than tripled in less than a year../

Just then, a blue haired student came up to them, eyes downtrodden. “Sorry to interrupt, Suzui.” Mishima apologized quietly. “Um...Kamoshida-sensei told me to get you.”

"Huh?" Shiho gasped, her head shooting up with wide eyes. “ What does he want..?” She asked, fear slowly creeping into her dark irises.

He looked away. “He didn’t say...” He answered meekly, rubbing a bruised arm.

The dark haired girl looked down, gripping the end of her plaid skirt in trepidation. “Ann, I...”

Said girl grimaced. “It’ll be fine! I bet it’s a meeting about the starting lineup or something.” Ann assured, trying to cheer her friend up. She knew she was lying, but what could she do? As long as she held Kamoshida's attention, Shiho wouldn't be hurt. Even if it sickened her to her core to let that man even come near her.

Shiho looked up at the half foreigner, debating with herself, before smiling. “..Yeah.” She answered softly, before getting up. “Well...I better go...” Shiho stated bleakly, following Mishima to the sports office.

“Good luck!” Ann called out after her, pumping a fist. Once the two volleyball team members left her sight, her smile dropped. “Hang in there, Shiho..!” She muttered fiercely, running a hand through a ponytail in agitation.

 

----4/12, TUESDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS, CAFE LEBLANC.

 

-AKIRA POV-

Arriving back at the cafe early in the evening, Akira walked in to see Sojiro sitting on one of the bar stools, reading a newspaper.

The cafe owner looked up once he heard the bell on the door ring. “...You’re home.” Sojiro stated after a moment. “I take it you actually went to school today since Airi personally escorted you?” He asked sarcastically, raising an eyebrow at the youth.

Akira frowned slightly, resigned to the fact that his guardian would be so skeptical of him. “Of course.” He answered quietly.

The older man hmphed. “I guess you learned your lesson from yesterday. Eh, as long as you aren’t getting into any trouble, it’s fine by me.” He stated apathetically, before narrowing his eyes at the student. “I don’t know what you’ve been up to, but trust me, you’ll be gone if you start causing problems.” Sojiro warned. “In case you forget, your life is not a free one right now.”

Akira nodded with a blank expression. ‘Just be patient.’ He told himself. It was something he had repeated in his mind for months since the court decision.

His phone rang.

Taking it out of his pocket, he wondered who it was. On the screen, it read, “Sakamoto Ryuji,” and it was a group text message. It read, R: Hey! I decided to message you guys.
R: Can you see this?

Akira mentally rolled his eyes. Of course he could see it. He dexterously typed in “Yep” and sent it. He got a reply within a few seconds.

R: I’m counting on you tomorrow, OK?
Ak: Got it.
R: You’re a bro, man…
R: Airi, you gonna be at the rally? Wanna meet up with us?
Ai: -typing-
Ai: Yes and yes. I’ll walk with Akira-kun.
R: Gotcha. Seeya guys tomorrow!
R: Let’s save those guys who’ve been getting abused. All three of us.

He blinked. Akira-kun? Slightly blushing at the more affectionate term, he typed in a confirmation before putting his phone back in his pocket.

“Sheesh, are you even listening to me?” Sojiro grumbled, unimpressed at seeing his ward fiddle with his mobile. “Just stay away from bad influences, OK?”

Akira nodded. ‘Too late.’ He thought, bemused, before walking toward the stairs.

Setting his newspaper down, Sojiro got up and called out. “Hey, I’m gonna head home for the night.”

Akira nodded.

“I’ll lock the store up. Don’t go wandering out.”

Nodding again, the ebony haired student ventured up the stairs and put his bag down on the table. Hearing his guardian leave via the bell ringing, he let out a sigh and collapsed on the couch, closing his eyes in exhaustion. What a long and exhausting day.

Opening his eyes, he examined his room. There were still cobwebs hanging on the ceiling in front of him, trailing down and encompassing the jam packed bookcase, an old dusty blue fan sitting haphazardly at the top just threatening to fall off. To his left was a stacked work desk covered with a transparent white sheet, the tools buried under more books.

‘I should clear that soon so I can use it for work...’ He thought absentmindedly.

On his right was an empty table, and next to that was his “closet”, which consisted of a large cardboard box sent from home. It was shifted into another rack, one which held bags of coffee beans he didn’t dare to touch. His bed, the only good thing about this room, was pushed to a corner right against the windows, a beige comforter carelessly pushed to one side of the mattress.

Reluctantly getting up, he took his school books out of his bag and began his homework.

The room still wasn’t clean enough to go without shoes, making it really awkward when he finally got up to change and get into bed. Laying down on the box spring, his phone rang. Quietly grumbling, he checked to see who messaged him. It was Ryuji again.

R: That thingy on your phone was some red eyeball icon, right?
Ak: Right..?
R: We ended up at that weird place when we used this nav app, right?
R: I found it on my phone too…
R: I don’t even remember installing it!
Ak: That’s creepy. You probably can’t delete it either.
R: For real. What is this thing..?
R: Think it’s being downloaded on its own somehow?
Ai: When you’re a Persona user, your powers automatically change your phone, making it into a doorway to the Metaverse.
Ai: Or that’s how I think it is.
Ai: Sorry for the late reply btw, just got off work.
Ak: So late? It’s almost 23:00.
R: Whoa, really? So you have it too, Airi?
Ai: Yep. It’s kind of creepy.
R: It’s dangerous to use something without knowing what it is...
R:But with it, we can go to that weird place, right?
Ak: Seems like it.
Ai: We’ll have to use it cautiously. There might be more to it than just as a portal.
R: I’m counting on you two, alright? Akira, don’t go ditching school on me!
Ai: Of course! Let’s do our best and help the students!
Ai: I gtg, It’s the last train and it’s packed.
Ak: Right. Get home safely.

Flopping his arm down on the bed after holding it up for several minutes, he placed the phone on the window ledge. Putting one arm underneath his head, Akira looked through the window at the night sky, the quiet neighborhood sounds slowly lulling him to sleep.

Pulling his comforter to cover him, his last thoughts were of his new friends. ‘I wonder which house is Airi-chan’s…’ before his eyes slid shut.

Drip. Drip.

His eyes shot open and looked around.

He was back in the cell.

He sat up, holding a hand to his head, getting on his feet. The chains dragged behind him as he walked to the bars, clutching them as he stared out. The two young parole officers wearing identical outfits, Justine and Caroline, stood at attention next to his door. Their yellow eye looked straight ahead, their silver hair hidden by law enforcement caps.

“Welcome to the velvet room.” The beak nosed man greeted with a large grin, his bloodshot pupils the size of pinpricks.

“To reiterate, I am Igor.”

Chapter Text

----4/13, WEDNESDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

Like the day prior, both Airi and Akira met up at Cafe Leblanc to travel to school together. Chatting amicably on the train, they agreed to do this every school day to keep each other company on the long journey. Leaving the train station at Aoyama-Itchome, the two walked toward school, surrounded by other journeying students.

“How annoying- we’ve barely started high school, and already they’re making us play at a volleyball rally?” A first year student complained. “And why are they pitching us against the teacher team? Kamoshida’s gonna crush us.”

“We get to see his technique live and in person, though. We should totally get spiked on!” His friend exclaimed excitedly.

“Yeah, okay. You’re gonna get your face smashed in.” The first year replied irritably. “Just look at how banged up the volleyball team is. What the hell goes on in practices?”

Walking behind them were Akira and Airi, who frowned at each other. People knew that the volleyball team was in bad shape and no one was doing anything.

They walked silently the rest of the way.


“OK, listen up, everyone.” Kawakami-sensei announced. It was during what would have been considered first period. Standing in front of the class was the homeroom teacher, wearing a bored expression. “As you all know, the volleyball rally is today. Head to the gymnasium once you’ve changed. Got it?” With that, she left the room.

The room broke out in excited murmurs.

“I can’t wait to see Kamoshida-sensei! Sometimes, I still can’t believe we got an Olympic medalist as our gym teacher!” A female student gushed.

“I know right! I’m so jealous of Takamaki-san. It’s clear that she hogs him.” Another quipped.

The students congregated and left, heading to the locker rooms to change. The Yongenjaya residents waited for the class to empty before getting up, shouldering their bags, and headed toward the gym.

“How should we do this?” Airi whispered with a vague smile.

“We’ll have to wait until after some of the matches.” Akira replied with an even expression.

To anyone else looking, they would have appeared as normal students that weren’t trying to sniff out the biggest scandal of the school.

The bespectacled student separated from the class president and entered the boy’s locker room. He changed into the mandatory gym uniform for Shujin, a bright red track suit with white trim and arrow marks on the side. Leaving the jacket unzipped, showing the white t-shirt underneath, he left and headed into the gymnasium.

It was packed with students clamoring to see the medalist in action. Trying to squeeze past a couple of girls, Akira spotted Ryuji, his sleeves rolled up to his shoulders, sitting on the side near the stage. No one else sat around him, staying as far as they could from the delinquent.

Akira made his way over, giving him a nod in greeting.

“Yo.” Ryuji greeted. “Where’s Airi?”

He sat down next to his friend. “Still in the locker room, I think.” Akira replied, looking at the court, disinterested.

The two then watched boredly as Kamoshida and the staff beat every team of students that went up against them.

Yawning, Ryuji stretched his arms up. “Pretty boring, right?” He grinned.

Akira smirked in amusement. It was pretty dull to keep watching the gym teacher annihilate his students, the other teachers not really participating.

“Sorry I took so long!”

Airi jogged over and stopped, slightly out of breath. Her regular low ponytail was put up into a braided bun, similar to the one she had as a thief. Her red shorts showed off her pale skin, enhancing her long slim legs. She left her jacket unzipped with a white shirt on display, hugging her shapely curves.

Evening her breath, she sat down next to the boys. “I was held up in the locker room because I was talking to one of the girls on the volleyball team.” She whispered with an apologetic smile, hugging her knees.

Akira stared.

Why would he do anything else at this moment, he wondered distractedly, as his eyes drank in the sight in front of him. He knew that his class president was beautiful, but seeing her now out of her regular uniform and in more conforming clothes really cemented the fact in his mind.

“Did you get anything out of her?” Ryuji questioned, not noticing his companion’s silence.

Airi shook her head sadly. “No, she barely said anything.” She replied, softly frowning. “But I know abuse when I see it...”

A whistle blew, signalling that someone had scored. Looking around the gym, Airi saw Ann sitting by herself, not really paying attention to the game.

Ryuji, following where her eyes were looking, snorted. “Still sticks out...She hasn’t changed a bit.”

An idea hit her. “I’m going to go over to Takamaki-chan. She’s friends with the girl I cornered. Hopefully she knows something.” Airi informed the two, before straightening up and walking over to Ann.

The ebony haired boy continued to stare after her, mouth slightly open, his gray orbs glued to her backside. Damn. He watched the class president sit next to the model, giving her a greeting. The two chatted for a bit.

The crowd gasped, and Airi turned to see what had happened. One of the students participating in the game was on the floor, the volleyball rolling away from his face. She covered her mouth in horror.

it was Mishima.

Kamoshida stood there for a moment, staring down at the blue haired student with a frown, before crossing the court. “Hey! Are you all right?” He called out, kneeling next to the boy, pulling him up into a sitting position. He looked out towards the students. “Someone! Take him to the nurse’s office!”

Another student came up and dragged Mishima’s unconscious body away, out of the building. The students whispered to each other, uncertain of what to do.

“All right, let’s keep playing!” Kamoshida grinned, continuing the game.

Airi watched as her teammate was taken out of the building, a stab of guilt in her gut. Again, he was hurt right in front of her and she couldn't do anything. How many injuries did this make..?

Glaring at the gym teacher who brushed it off without a care in the world, she turned back to Ann with a guilty expression. “Sorry Takamaki-chan, but...I have to go make sure Mishima-kun is OK.” She apologized, getting up from her seat.

The model gave the class president a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry about me. I understand!”

Airi shot her a grateful smile, before running out of the building.

Akira watched as she sprinted out of the building after Mishima. He frowned slightly. A student gets seriously injured and the teacher responsible for it just brushed it off. ‘Isn’t there anyone else in the room other than us who thought that was messed up?’ He wondered darkly.

“Hey.” Ryuji nudged him. “Let’s go.” He gestured to the doors.

He nodded and stood up, the two delinquents leaving the gym and headed to the vending machine alcove. Most of the students were still at the rally, leaving the courtyard mostly empty with only a few stragglers here and there.

Arriving at the corner, Ryuji turned to look at his friend. “That asshole’s actin’ like a king over here too...” He frowned. “Get to know each other better, my ass. It’s just a one-man show to stroke his ego." He ranted angrily. "And how he acted like he was worried over Mishima? What an abusive douche bag!”

Akira nodded in agreement, a grim look on his face. “It was messed up.” He replied, putting his hands in his pockets. The man seemed to think it wasn't a big deal that he smashed the ball right into the student's face, and none of the students other than Airi had went to help.

Ryuji sighed, slumping from his outburst. “...Anyway, now’s our chance to go look for the guys we saw were slaves yesterday. Let’s look for the faces we saw at the castle.” Curling his fists, the faux blond looked at his friend with a determined face. “I’ll be sure to find to spill about Kamoshida’s physical abuse. Just you wait, asshole...” He muttered to himself.

“Where are you searching?” Akira asked, leaning against a vending machine.

He scratched his head thoughtfully. “Hmm...The first one that popped out in my mind was a guy from Class D, so let’s start from there.” He suggested. “That’s your class. Hopefully, you can get him to talk without any issues. People have been avoidin’ me lately, so...” He paused awkwardly. “Oh wait, you’re in the same boat, huh...”

Adjusting his glasses, he nodded. “I’m probably not the best person to, yeah. The entire class except for Airi-chan avoids me.” He stated, pursing his lips. “We should probably ask her to go in with us...She’d be able to get it out of them.” Akira suggested, knowing that their chances of success were low.

“Sure, OK. She’s at the nurse’s office, yeah?” Ryuji questioned, the two of them heading off.

Chapter Text

Airi sat stiffly next to the still figure on the bed, worried out of her mind.

Mishima was still knocked out cold. His nose had bled earlier due to the force of the volleyball hitting his face, though thankfully it had just stopped. The nurse had examined him as soon as he was brought in, and she declared that he would be fine in a few hours, before leaving. The student who carried him here had also left, his job done.

She reached out and softly clasped a limp hand, mentally praying that he would wake up soon. She couldn't do anything, or rather...didn't do anything. How many injuries did this make now? She didn't even know how long this has been going on...

The office door slid open, interrupting her thoughts. She looked up and blinked in surprise when she saw it was her two fellow Persona users. She tried to give them a smile as a greeting, but ended up grimacing.

They walked up to the bed, giving Mishima pitying looks. “How is he?” Ryuji asked quietly.

Airi shook her head. “The nurse said he’ll be fine in a couple of hours, but I’m worried...” She replied, biting her lip. “Mishima-kun has been part of the volleyball team since last year. He might not last much longer like this...” She gazed down sadly, taking her hand back and placing them on her lap.

Clenching his fists, he gritted his teeth. “Fucking Kamoshida.” He spat. He turned on his heel and headed to the door.

She blinked. "Where are you going..?"

“I’m gonna go find those guys. I’ll text you when I got one.” He stated, before sliding the door open and walking out, sealing the room behind him.

The two classmates were now alone, barring Mishima who was still unconscious.

The bespectacled student turned back to his class president. “Are you OK?” Akira asked quietly.

Biting her lip, Airi shrugged halfheartedly. “I don’t know. I wish I could do more for him...” She trailed off. "I feel so guilty..."

Dragging another stool up, Akira sat down next to her, offering his company. “Do you know him well?” He inquired curiously.

“Not exactly...”She replied uncertainly. “This might sound kind of patronizing, but he's pretty innocent for a teenager, and undeserving of this. Seeing him injured is like seeing someone kick a puppy for fun.” She explained, her face scrunching up in disgust at the thought.

Akira chuckled at the explanation, amusement dancing across his features.

They sat in silence for a brief moment.

Slowly lifting his hand, he placed his on top of her's.

Blinking in surprise, she looked up at him quizzically.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Akira reassured, giving her a soft smile.

She stared at him for a moment, before relaxing. Giving him a watery smile, she uttered a soft “thank you”, before averting her gaze, lost in her thoughts.

They sat together in silence, him never removing his hand from her’s.

“Ngh…”

Snapping their heads up, two pairs of eyes focused on the bedridden patient, who was starting to twitch. With a groan, dark brown eyes slid open, gradually regaining clarity. Mishima Yuuki regained consciousness.

Airi breathed out a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad you’re alright, Mishima-kun.”

The blue haired boy slowly turned his head to look at her. “Kimisawa-senpai..?” He breathed out, taking a long blink.

She smiled and nodded, eyes moist with relief. "How are you feeling? Does anything hurt? I can get you some ice..."

Shakily pushing his arms, Mishima sat up on the bed. “What happened?...” He asked, holding a hand to his head, wincing as it throbbed painfully under his palm.

“You were knocked out by Kamoshida.” Akira answered, retrieving his hand and standing up. He put his hands in his pockets, observing his classmate for any more signs of injury.

Mishima jumped. “Kurusu! You’re here too...?!” He shouted, looking at him with wide eyes before groaning, holding his head in pain.

Airi grabbed the painkillers and the cup of water from the side table, offering them to the bedridden teen. “Here, this will help.” She offered gently.

He took the items gingerly, before washing down the pills. He exhaled, placing the empty cup back onto the side table.

She glanced at Akira, silently questioning if she should continue. He nodded. Turning back to their bedridden classmate, Airi softly called for his attention. “Mishima-kun, please be honest with me.” She requested firmly. He looked up at her questioningly. “Is Kamoshida abusing you and the volleyball team?”

Dark brown eyes widened at the question, and he waved his hands frantically in objection. “No! No. N-Nothing’s wrong. I got hurt because I wasn’t paying attention, and...” Mishima stammered, then stopped. He clenched his eyes, gritting his teeth. "He isn't..."

Airi grasped his hand with her own, brow furrowed. “Please, Mishima-kun.” She pleaded. “We can help.”

Gripping the bed sheets with the other hand, he bit his lip, and jerkily nodded. “OK.” He whispered.

Letting out a sigh in relief, she gave him a grateful smile. “Thank you. I'm sorry if we're making you uncomfortable...Does anyone else outside of the volleyball team know about this?”

He nodded. “All the parents and faculty know.” He answered curtly, his eyes staring ahead blankly.

Her eyes widened. “All of them..?” She asked shakily.

He nodded again. “Mine does. They don’t care.” He added quietly.

Airi let out a trembling sigh, unsettled by what he confessed. So it was true. The parents all knew. Why haven't they done anything? Did they not care at all..?

A hand landed on her shoulder. She looked up at Akira, who’s hardened gaze bore into their bedridden classmate. “Is there anything you could tell us that could definitely incriminate him?”

Mishima slumped, a scowl marring his lips. “What would it matter? Everyone sees us with these injuries and brushes it off. They don’t care. He can’t get caught.” He answered defeatedly. "We'll be stuck like this until we graduate..."

Just then, a phone rang out, the shrill noise penetrating the tense atmosphere in the room. Taking it out of his pocket, Akira answered. “Yeah?” He said into it.“Yo. I found the guy, he’s in your classroom. Hurry up here!” Ryuji replied. “Got it.” He answered, before ending the call. He moved to leave the room, Airi getting up to go with him.

“Wait!” Mishima called out. The two Persona users turned to look at him. “Please...don’t tell anyone that I told you all of this.” He pleaded, his shoulders trembling in fear.

Airi softened her eyes and gave him a warm smile. “Don’t worry,” She reassured him. “He’ll pay for this.” Akira nodded in agreement.

The two then left, sliding the door behind them. Dark brown eyes stared after them, a small glimmer of hope flashing before disappearing behind the smog of despair. "How can you be so sure..?" He asked the empty room.

The school outcast and the class president quickly made their way back to their classroom, crossing through the courtyard and up a flight of stairs. Ryuji was leaning against the wall next to the entrance, tapping his feet impatiently. Straightening up, he pointed into the room at a heavily bandaged up student. “Him. He was the first one we saw.” He stated quietly.

The three entered the room and made a beeline to the specified person.

Hearing footsteps coming up to him, the volleyball team member turned around to see who it was. He jumped in shock. “Ack! A-Are you skipping out on the volleyball rally? I guess I expected it from you, Transfer, Sakamoto.” He remarked rudely, looking at the two outcasts.

Said transfer looked back with slightly narrowed eyes, annoyed at the minor slur.

The injured student then turned to Airi and looked at her in shock. “You too, Senpai?” br />

She directed a polite smile at him. “Please don’t tell on us, Tsukishima-kun."

Said male looked back at them, suspicious clouding his eyes. “What do you guys want..?” He asked slowly, inching backwards.

Taking a step forward, Akira’s eyes focused on his bandaged head. “How did you get injured?” He inquired.

Tsukishima scrunched up his face. “It’s from practice! What does that have to do with anything?” He asked defensively, eyes starting to dart around nervously.

“Kamoshida did that to you, right?” Ryuji interjected, also taking a step forward. “Look, we ain’t gonna tell anyone you squealed.” He reassured. “Just tell us about how Kamoshida’s abusin’ you.”

The brown haired student took a step back, away from the intimidating delinquents. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about!” He exclaimed shakily, a bead of sweat rolling down his face and hitting his bandages.

Airi stepped forward, clasping her hands in front of her. “Please, Tsukishima-san. We need you to testify.” She pleaded softly. "We know."

“You...you know? You have proof?” Tsukishima squawked, face slacken at the information. He shook his head furiously, glaring at them. “This is ridiculous. Please, leave me alone. You’re really bothering me!” The volleyball member snapped, clearly done with the interrogation. He turned away, letting them see his back.

Rubbing his head in frustration, Ryuji turned to his friends. “Alright, let’s just go.”

The three walked out into the hallway. “Crap. If we keep goin’ at this pace, the ball game’s gonna end.” Ryuji cursed.

Adjusting his glasses, Akira shifted in place. “Let’s split up.” He offered. “It’ll be faster.”

The punk grinned. “Right. I’ll check the Practice Building for people before clubs start. You handle the Classroom Building.” He declared.

“I’ll check the courtyard as well as the girl’s bathrooms and locker room.” Airi added with a determined look.

The three nodded to each other and split up.

Heading toward the courtyard, Airi walked down the flight of stairs to the first floor. Turning the corner, she quickly took a step back, seeing Ann with the girl she questioned earlier, Suzui Shiho, standing near some lockers.

It wasn't an unusual sight to see the two together since they were best friends. The model clung to the volleyball player like a safety net, always sticking close to her one and only companion in the school. While Airi and her were on good terms, the class president had been much too busy to really reconnect with her old middle school classmate, leaving the half foreigner with only one real friend to talk to. She felt bad about it, but hopefully once this Kamoshida issue was solved, they could hang out once in a while.

Peeking out from the corner, Airi watched as the two conversed to each other.

“Everyone’s saying a lot of bad stuff about that transfer in your class, Ann...” Shiho remarked, tucking a few black strands behind her ear.

Her companion grunted in agreement. “I know. I hate rumors already, but they’re only getting more and more complex as time goes on.” Ann replied, twirling her ponytail agitatedly.

“I wonder if he’s alright...I hope he’s not letting it get to him too much.” The volleyball member murmured, lips pursed in worry.

She sighed. “That’s just like you, Shiho. Always worrying about others before yourself.” Ann shook her head exasperatedly before grinning. “Don’t worry, I’ve seen him around with Airi-senpai. She’ll make sure he’s OK.”

Shiho blinked. “"Airi-senpai"? You mean Kimisawa-san, right?”

She nodded. “Yep. Don’t you remember her?” Ann asked curiously, tilting her head to the side.

Hesitantly, the black haired girl nodded. “Yeah. She asked me how I was when we were both changing in the locker room...She said she was worried about me.”

Ann giggled. “That’s just like Senpai. She probably saw you looking down and thought, "I have to cheer her up!"”

Shiho looked at her in surprise. “But she doesn’t even know me! We weren’t in the same class in middle school..!” She exclaimed. "Why would she care so much..?"

“Well...” Ann drawled. “It’s a lot like how you were for me, remember?” She grinned warmly.

Smiling fondly, Airi continued on her way out the courtyard, taking another route. ‘Takamaki-chan still thinks so highly of me...’ She thought happily. ‘And Suzui-san, now..! She’s just like…’ She shook her head. ‘Don’t think about it.’

Chapter Text

“Attention...Attention...All matches have concluded. Please get ready to go home for today...”

Akira bit back a curse. He had only just started questioning a first year volleyball member when the announcement rang out.

The first year ran away down the hall, , taking the opportunity to escape from the scary transfer student.

His phone buzzed. Turning around the corner, he leaned against a wall next to the stairwell and unlocked his phone.

R: Dammit, we’re outta time. How’d it go?
Ak: No good.
R: So you didn’t have any luck, either…
Ai: Sorry. I almost got something, but the girl ran away.
R: Let’s regroup for now. See you in the courtyard?
Ak: Sure.
Ai: Already here.

He put his phone away and pushed himself off the wall. Yet another failure.

Walking down the stairs, he crossed the courtyard into the vending machine alcove. He saw Airi sitting on one of the benches with a drink in hand, looking morose with herself. 'She changed back into the regular uniform.' He thought, slightly disappointed.

He walked up next to her and sat down, taking a breather after their wild goose chase. They had spent the rest of the day trying to corner their fellow students, and it all ended in failure. How was it that no one wanted to bust the teacher that was physically and verbally abusing people?

They sat in silence for a bit, but it was broken by the arrival of Takamaki Ann who walked up to them, still in her gym uniform. “Hey. Can I talk to you guys for a sec..?” She asked hesitantly.

Akira tilted his head, looking at her. “What is it?”

Airi looked at her curiously.

The model crossed her arms. “It’ll be quick.” She assured them. “What was up with you? Like, how you were late the other day and all.” Ann grilled. “We both saw you in the morning, on the way to school.” She gestured to Airi and herself. “So you should’ve gotten here on time...And there’s that rumor about you, too.”

“Whaddya want with him?” A voice snapped. The three members of Class 2-D turned around to see Ryuji stomping up to them, glaring at the blonde.

Ann glared back at him, irritated at the interruption. “Right back at you. You’re not even in our class.”

Ryuji looked away. “...We just happened to get to know each other.” He answered awkwardly.

Putting her drink down, Airi walked up to the two with her hands out. “Please, let’s not fight.” She soothed the two. She had had enough of this back in middle school, especially during that project. That argument had went on for hours...

Ann looked at her guiltily, but held her stance, crossing her arms. “What are you guys planning on doing to Kamoshida-sensei?”

“Oh I see, I getcha.” Ryuji narrowed his eyes, glaring at her. “You’re all buddy-buddy with Kamoshida after all.”

“This has nothing to do with you, Sakamoto!” She scowled/

He hmphed. “If you found out what he’s been doing behind your back, you’d dump him right away.” Ryuji declared, clenching his fists.

Taken aback, Ann flinched. “Behind my back..? What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked, looking at the three curiously.

The two boys glanced at each other, silently questioning each other. Akira shook his head. They shouldn't involve anyone else.

Ryuji nodded before turning back to the half foreigner. “You wouldn’t get it.” He said shortly.

Airi closed her eyes and sighed. Boys.

“Well, whatever.” Ann retorted. “I don’t know what you guys are trying to pull, but no one is gonna help you." She looked down dejectedly. "I’m warning you, just in case.” She finished quietly, before turning to leave.


Furrowing her eyebrows, Airi followed after her, calling out her name. “Takamaki-chan! Wait!”

Ann turned around, blinking in surprise. “Senpai?”

Biting her lip, Airi leaned in close while covering her mouth from any onlookers. “Please, keep a close eye on Suzui-chan...I saw several bruises on her earlier in the locker room.”

She flinched back. “What?”

Airi nodded. “The one on her lower back looked suspiciously like a hand print... A large male one.” She bit her lip, her eyes pleading at Ann to understand.

The blonde took a step back, staring at her with wide eyes before nodding faintly. "Right..."

Airi sighed in relief. “And it’s just Airi, Takamaki-chan. We’ve known each other for four years, after all.” She added, shooting her a fond smile.

The model pursed her lip and shook her head. “I don’t know if I believe you, but I’ll keep a closer eye on her." She smiled impishly. "And it’s Ann to you then, Airi-senpai.”

They both giggled.

“Well, I’m off then. I have a shoot to get to.” She stated apologetically.

Airi waved her off. “Don’t worry about it. Good luck.” And with that, they parted.

Airi walked back to the alcove where Akira and Ryuji were waiting, shooting them a sheepish look, before sitting down and grabbing her drink.

Gray eyes darting between the two, his brow furrowed. “How do you know her?” Akira asked them both.

With a roll of his eyes, Ryuji opened his mouth. “We all went to the same middle school.” He replied curtly, taking a seat next to the class president. Akira made to sit down as well, the three occupying the bench. Now that school was over, not a lot of people stuck around, so only one or two students wandered the courtyard.

“Anyway, I had no luck.” Ryuji began, leaning back against the seat. “Did anythin' like someone’s name turn up?”

He nodded. “A first year mentioned that Mishima was getting special coaching from Kamoshida.” Akira stated.

Airi grasped her chin thoughtfully. “So what he said earlier was true...”

Ryuji looked at her questioningly. "Who?"

“After you left the nurse’s office, Mishima-kun woke up.” Airi explained, taking a swig of her drink. “I begged him to tell me what was going on, and he told us that all the parents and faculty know about this.” She finished, eyes darkened. "They aren't doing anything..."

He stared at her incredulously. “Are you fucking serious?!” He growled, clenching his fists.

Akira looked at him sharply. “Hey!” He admonished the punk.

Ryuji flinched. “Right... Sorry, Airi.” He apologized, rubbing the back of his head guiltily. "Didn't mean ta curse at ya."

Shaking her head, she gave him an understanding smile. “Don’t worry about it. I’m angry as well.” Airi replied. Getting up, she threw away her finished drink and turned to the two males. “We should go see if Mishima-kun is OK. He’s our only lead right now.”

The two delinquents nodded in agreement, and the three walked around searching for their bruised classmate.

They finally found him near the snack store, preparing to leave school. He seemed downtrodden, his head held down as he dejectedly walked toward the entrance. There was the occasional student leaving as well, the school building slowly emptying out.

“Mishima-kun!” Airi called out, running up to him, the two outcasts following behind her.

The blue haired boy turned to look at her. “Oh, senpai.” He greeted quietly, giving her a minuscule smile.

“Are you feeling better?” She inquired softly, her concern for the injured classmate welling up. He didn't look any better, in fact, there were now bags under his eyes from being knocked out earlier.

“Did Kamoshida give you all those other injuries?” Ryuji asked brusquely, looking him up and down.

Eyes darting around, looking at all the people still in the building, Mishima shook his head. “They’re from practice..! I’m just not very good at volleyball.”

The three looked at him disbelievingly. They didn't believe a single word he said, especially when he had already confessed in the nurse's office. Why was he still denying it?

“What’s going on here?”

The four students stiffened, turning to the new voice.

Kamoshida walked up to them, looking down at Mishima disapprovingly. “Mishima, isn’t it time for practice?”

Said boy took a step back, looking away. “I-I’m not feeling well today...” He answered meekly, his hands trembling around the handle of his bag.

Resting his hands on his hips, Kamoshida frowned. “What? Maybe you’re better off quitting then. You’re never going to improve that crappy form unless you show up to practice.” He remarked callously.

Ryuji glared at the teacher, walking up to him with clenched fists. “Didn’t ya hear? He ain’t feelin’ well!”

Kamoshida ignored him. “Well, Mishima? Are you coming to practice or not?”

“...I’ll go.” He reluctantly acquiesced, hanging is head defeatedly.

Airi looked at him worriedly. “Mishima-kun, are you sure?” She whispered to him. Was he really going to willingly walk back into that hellish nightmare?

He didn’t respond, his dark eyes staring blankly at the floor.

“As for you.” Kamoshida began, looming over the punk. “Any more trouble and you’ll be gone from this school for sure.” He threatened, glaring down at him past his nose.

“Tch, bastard...”Ryuji muttered angrily, reluctantly taking a step back.

The gym teacher’s eyes zeroed down at Akira. "Same goes for you. Didn’t the principal tell you to keep in line?”

Said male placed his hands in his pockets, face unreadable. ”I was just leaving.” He replied shortly.

He sneered. “Well, just don’t get in the way of my practice. All these unsettling rumors are making the students anxious, after all.”

The punk narrowed his eyes at the remark. “That’s your own goddamn fault.” Ryuji muttered.

Turning to face the only girl in the group, Kamoshida gave her a grin. “Kimisawa, you shouldn’t be hanging around these delinquents.”

She blinked, taken aback by the 180 in his attitude. Was he...flirting with her?

“If you want, you can come watch the practice!” He offered, grinning down at her in a playful manner.

She glanced over at her friends, unsure of how to respond. How do you reject a teacher who could technically be sexually harassing you..?

Ryuji looked at the teacher disgustedly. Akira furrowed his brows, anger flashing in his dark stormy eyes.

“Um...” Airi began, eyes darting around. “Thank you for the offer, Sensei, but my shift starts soon.” She replied apologetically, giving him a polite smile. There, that should be fine, right..?

“Another time then.” Kamoshida sighed, leaning back. “Let’s go, Mishima.” He turned to walk away, but paused. “Shujin Academy is a place where those with aspirations come to learn. Unworthy students like you, don’t have any right to be here. Get with the program!” Kamoshida declared, glaring at the three males.

“Yes, sir.” Mishima replied quietly, keeping his head down.

Narrowing his eyes, the teacher left, walking back to the gym.

Ryuji clenched his fists. “That asshole’s gonna pay for this..!” He declared quietly.

“It’s no use...” Mishima interjected. “Proving that he’s physically abusing us...is meaningless. Everybody knows. The principal, our parents...They all know, and they all keep quiet about it,” He finished quietly.

“But Mishima-kun, if we can get more people to prove he’s doing this, we can go to the authorities.” Airi protested, furrowing her brow. "Don't you want this to stop?"

He clenched his bag tighter, glaring at the three in front of him. “...Don’t be a pain. You don’t understand what I’m going through.” Mishima argued, locking his eyes with Ryuji’s. “Shouldn’t you of all people know that nothing’s going to help..!?”

Taken aback, the punk flinched.

Taking the opportunity, Mishima fled, running toward the gym. A drop splashed against the wooden floors, a tear streaming down his face as he furiously rubbed his eye.

Biting his lip, Ryuji lifted his hands in a strangling motion, before letting it go limp. “Dammit...” He muttered, watching the volleyball player run away.

Akira turned to look sympathetically at him. "What now..?"

Slumping, the punk looked down. “...I’ll try one more time to persuade the other guys. That’s...all I can do.” Ryuji replied quietly.

The three Persona users stood in the hall silently, each trying to figure out a way to help the situation.

How could the adults, the ones children were supposed to trust, allow this to happen?

Chapter Text

----4/13, WEDNESDAY, EVENING, CAFE LEBLANC.

After finishing his school work for the day, Akira changed into his sleepwear and got into bed. Shujin Academy was a lot tougher than his old high school, most likely because it's in Tokyo and that it was an elite institution. Why did this place accept him? All the rumors about him would only drag their reputation down...

Just as he closed his eyes, his phone rang. His eyes snapped open, laying there for a moment with a blank face, before he reluctantly reached out and grabbed his mobile. This was going to happen everyday, wasn't it...

R: This doesn’t make sense.
R: The principal and even the parents know about the abuse.
R: But why ain’t anybody speaking up?!
Ak: They don’t care that it’s happening.
Ai: I don’t like thinking like that, but it’s most likely true...
R: That can’t be true!
R: It’s basically because Kamoshida made the volleyball team famous, yeah?
R: Even so, that don’t give him the right to do what he wants!
R: He’s beating kids up, and all they’re allowed to do is endure!
R: And that follower of his doesn’t give a single shit...
Ak: Who are you talking about?
Ai: Are you referring to Ann-chan?
R: Yeah.
R: Wait, you call her Ann now?
R: When did this happen?
Ai: Today, but Ryuji-kun, I think you’ve got it all wrong.
Ai: Akira-kun, do you remember when you first met her?
Ak: Yeah, under the awning. Kamoshida picked her up.
R: See? She’s just so in love, she can’t see the real him.
Ai:No. She isn’t. If she was really in love, she wouldn’t have looked scared about getting in the car with him.
R: ...Whatever. I’m gonna try to find someone who knows about what’s going on with Kamoshida during break tomorrow.
R: Just you watch, I ain’t giving up!
Ai: Good luck, Ryuji-kun.
Ak: Tell us how it goes.

Flopping his arm on the bed, he stared tiredly at the wooden ceiling, his eyes burning for relief. He felt like he had seen too much today, like a gym teacher spiking a student right in the face and no one but them cared.

Pulling up his comforter, he laid on his side. ‘I still don’t know where Airi-chan lives…’ He thought absentmindedly, drifting off to sleep.

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, EARLY MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Akira waited outside the cafe, fiddling with his phone. It was a little earlier than they had scheduled, so he wasn’t surprised to see that Airi hadn’t arrived yet. The early morning sunlight shined gently onto the streets, reflecting off his glasses. The older folk who lived in Yongenjaya were strolling about, basking in it.

Following their example, he lifted his head up and closed his eyes. Feeling the warm rays on his face, he let out a content sigh. It was nice to feel the sun since they were stuck in a classroom for hours. At least one thing stayed constant.

“Good morning, Akira-kun! You look well today.”

Opening his eyes, he turned his head to smile at the arrival of his classmate and friend. "Good morning."

Airi smiled back, walking up to him. The two then headed toward the station to go on their way to school.

Walking on the streets of Aoyama-Itchome, they overheard two students who were ahead of them.

“Did you see Kamoshida-sensei play yesterday? He was so awesome!” A female student gushed. “I think I might ask for his autograph after school.”

“I dunno if that’s such a good idea...I hear you shouldn’t go near the P.E. office.” Her friend replied nervously. “People say you can hear weird sounds, like screaming, even though no one’s there…”

“What? That’s probably just a rumor spread by fans to scare the competition.” The female student dismissed.

Akira and Airi glanced at each other, stunned from what they were hearing.

The entire school really did know then, they just hadn't realized it.

During Ushimaru-sensei’s lecture, two phones buzzed. Discreetly taking them out, the two Yongenjaya residents looked at their screens.

R: So about witnesses…
Ai: Pay attention to class, Ryuji-kun.
R: I can’t, OK. All I can think about is socking Kamoshida in the jaw.
R: Did you get anything out of Takamaki yesterday?
Ai: No, she was busy. Why?
R: I was wondering if we can get something out of her.
Ak: Because she’s with Kamoshida?
AI: Is it because she’s friends with Suzui-san?
R: Yes to both!
R: Since she’s best friends with someone on the volleyball team, she probably knows something.
R: I tried to talk to that girl during break, but got nothing.
Ai: She doesn’t really…
Ak: How so?
Ai: The girl who I was talking to in the locker room yesterday was Suzui-san.
Ai: I had to tell Ann-chan that she had a giant bruise in the shape of a hand on her back.
Ai: She almost didn’t believe me. So I don’t think she knows anything.
R: A giant bruise?...
R: Maybe we could ask Takamaki to ask her?
Ak: It’s certainly possible.
R: Then again, I guess it’d be hard getting her to help us.
Ai: Should I try?
R: Not yet, lemme try finding something else.

The two put their phones away, locking eyes for a moment, before turning back to the lesson. What could they do?

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY COURTYARD.

 

“Shouldn’t you be heading to volleyball?” Ann inquired, looking at her friend. They were in the courtyard again, sitting on a bench in the vending machine alcove. ‘If what Airi-senpai said is true, then...I don’t know what to do.’ She thought despondently. She didn't want to face it. It would mean that her friend had been suffering for over half a year, and hadn't told her about it. Even worse was that she hadn't done anything to help other than to try to distract the gym teacher with the thought of her body. The thought still sent a shiver down her spine. She hated him so much...

The volleyball member nodded dispiritedly. “Uh-huh...”

Blue eyes narrowed, observing the black haired girl closely. “That bruise above your eye...Is that from practice, too?” Ann asked hesitantly. It was definitely new.

Dark eyes darting around, Shiho nodded jerkily. “Y-yeah...”

Ann's eyes widened and looked at her friend in worry. “Are you sure you’re not pushing yourself too hard?” She pressed further. Please, just say it. Let me help.

“I’m OK...Volleyball’s the only thing I can do right...” Shiho stated defeatedly.

Just then, Ann’s phone rang out. Glancing at her pocket, she ignored it, knowing exactly who it was. She had assigned a specific ringtone to his number so that she could ignore it.

“Shouldn’t you answer that?” Shiho asked confusedly.

“It’s probably just my part-time job...I think.” Ann dismissed.

They sat there quietly for a bit. “I...should get going.” The black haired girl said reluctantly.

Her friend stared at her worriedly. “Shiho...” Ann whispered. Say it. Just say it. “...Are you sure you’re OK?”

The volleyball member nodded. “Uh-huh.” Shiho replied blankly, before getting up and walking away.

Ann stared at her retreating back, concern shining in her eyes. “She lied to me...” She whispered to herself. She wasn't going to tell her...

Her phone rang again. With a groan, she picked up the call. “Hello?” She said. “Today won’t work...I’m...I’m not feeling so good. “ She replied bleakly. “Sorry...bye.” Hanging up, she gripped her phone. She was so sick of this. How long did she have to play the bimbo...

Taking a deep breath, she typed in a text message.

An: I believe you.
Ai: Did something happen to Suzui-san?
An: No...Yes. I don’t know anymore.
Ai: Can we meet up soon?
An: Sure.

 

Walking toward the courtyard to meet up with Ryuji and Airi, he spotted a lone girl in Shujin gym clothes. ‘That looks like Volleyball gear.’ He contemplated, before walking up to her.

She was staring at her phone blankly, not moving from her spot in front of the doors. She seemed to be contemplating something.

He stood nearby with his hands in his pockets, waiting for her to notice him.

Blank eyes glanced up. “...What?” She said quietly. “Oh...I’m in the way, aren’t I? Sorry...”

Gray eyes narrowed slightly behind glass, focused on the large purple bruise on her eyebrow. “Are you hurt?” Akira asked softly. Was she also being abused? Or was it even worse...

Flinching, the girl hugged herself. “Um, well...” She stammered, looking away, before looking back at him. “Hm? You don’t look familiar...” She tilted her head. “Could you be that transfer student from 2-D?”

He nodded, noticing the subject change but had let it slide.

“Um, this might not be any of my business, but don’t let the rumors get to you, OK..?” She quietly bolstered. "I know you're friends with Kimisawa-senpai, sop hopefully they'll die down soon..."

Giving her a small smile, he nodded again. “Yeah. They don’t bother me."

The girl nervously tucked her hair behind an ear. “I’ve helped with this situation before...My best friend is often misunderstood too, because of her looks.” She paused. “Ah. Sorry, I didn’t mean to drag on like that. Anyway, I have to go to practice...I’ll see you around.” Giving him a slight bow, she sidestepped him and walked away.

He stared after her pensively, before resuming his walk out. She seemed OK for someone who seemed beaten down, but he shouldn't think that. He didn't really know her, but he appreciated her kindness.

Arriving at the alcove, he saw that Ryuji was already there, furiously pacing back and forth.

“Dammit. What the hell...” He muttered, scrunching up his face in frustration.

Already knowing the answer, Akira walked up to him. “Did you find someone?”

He sighed. “Is that what it looks like?” Ryuji retorted sarcastically. Slamming his fist into the vending machine, he ducked his head, glaring at the ground. “All of them kept sayin’ the same shit that Mishima talked about..!” He gritted his teeth. “Kamoshida had to have told ‘em something!”

Slumping, he looked over at the transfer student. “At this rate… it looks like we’ll have to go to him directly.” Ryuji stated grimly.

Akira gave him a pitying look. They wouldn't be able to win. “There’s no point.”

“I know...” He replied softly, furrowing his brows in frustration. “But isn’t there something we could do? No way am I gonna leave it like this!” He declared desperately. “Can you think of anything?”

Tapping his chin, the bespectacled student thought of what they could do now. “Have we asked Airi-chan?”

The punk perked up. “Oh yeah! Where is she, anyway?” Ryuji asked, looking around to try to find the class president.

Shrugging, Akira checked his phone to see if he had any new messages from her. He did. Opening up the text, he read it out loud.

Ai: I’m really sorry but I’m going to be late.”
Ai: Kawakami-sensei had to talk to me.”

“What?” Ryuji sputtered. “Well,let’s just wait for her. Any other ideas?”

He bit his lip. Should they? Nothing else was working. Akira looked up at his friend with a serious expression. “Let’s punish the king.” He declared.

“The king..? You mean that other world’s Kamoshida?” Ryuji questioned, eyes wide with shock. “I didn’t think of that..,” He trailed off. “Is there any meaning to-”

“I finally found you...”

Chapter Text

Confused, the two outcasts looked around.

“Uh, did you say something?” Ryuji questioned. Akira shook his head.

A black and white cat, wearing a yellow collar, walked up and jumped on the table in front of them. “Don’t think you can get away without paying me back for helping you.” It declared, slowly waving its tail.

Staring wide-eyed at the strange scene in front of them, they took a step back in shock.

“That voice...Is that you, Morgana?!” Ryuji yelped, gazing at it incredulously.

The cat shook its head at them disapprovingly. “How dare you, up and leaving me the other day!” It chastised, glaring up at the two boys.

“The cat’s talkin’!” Ryuji exclaimed hysterically.

Akira just stared, his mouth slightly open. He was kind of speechless.

“I am NOT a cat!” Morgana yelled. “This is just what happened when I came to this world!” Settling down, the feline twitched its whiskers. “It was a lot of trouble to find you two.”

Yep, definitely not a cat, Akira thought slightly sarcastically, sweatdropping.

“Wait...” Ryuji began. “You came to our world?! Does that mean you’ve got a phone?” He asked curiously, taking a few steps closer to examine the feline.

Morgana hmphed, grooming itself. “You don’t need one when you’re at my level.” It said cockily. “Though I did get pretty lost making my escape...” It trailed off.

Shaking his head, Ryuji raised his fist. “That aside, how can you talk?! You’re a cat!” He argued.

Scratching its ear with its hind leg, Morgana glared. “How should I know?!” It snapped.

The faux blond looked up at his companion, eyes slightly neurotic. “You hearin’ this, too..?” He asked faintly, barely coping.

Smirking, Akira turned to his friend. “Meow?” He said jokingly.

“Arrgh!” Ryuji growled, furiously rubbing his head. “Don’t do that! This is no time to be jokin’ around!”

Morgana looked on in amusement. “You guys are having a rough time of this, hm? I heard you mention something about witnesses.” It said haughtily.

“Oh shuddup.” Ryuji retorted irritatedly.

The feline slowly grinned. “You know,” It began. “I could tell you a thing or two about what to do with Kamoshida.” Morgana offered to the two. It looked up at the bespectacled boy. “You were pretty close just a moment ago.” It complimented, slightly impressed.

Rolling his eyes, Ryuji crossed his arms. “God, that condescendin’ attitude! This thing’s gotta be Morgana!” He proclaimed, scowling.

Said cat looked up at him, affronted. “You were still doubting me?!” It yelled, its voice reverberating through the alcove.

Panicking, Ryuji shushed it. “Quiet down!” He hissed.


“We really have to be looking for a cat in a busy time like this..?”


The three Persona users looked out. Two teachers walking side by side were complaining to each other.


“I just heard a meow somewhere near here. Didn’t you hear it?” One teacher said.

“Make sure you check every nook and cranny around.” The other ordered.

They walked away.


Ryuji furrowed his brows. “Meow..?” He murmured. “Does that mean only us three can understand what you’re sayin’?” He questioned.

Said cat licked its paw. “Looks like it.” It stated calmly.

Grabbing his head, the punk let out a sigh. “What the hell’s goin’ on..?” He complained exasperatedly. “Anyways, what you were talkin’ about earlier...Is it for real?” Ryuji asked quietly, wary of eavesdroppers.

Akira moved in closer as well. They didn’t need anyone coming up to them and seeing them talk to a cat.

“You’re quite the skeptic for being an idiot.” Morgana replied, giving the punk an exasperated look.

“This probably isn’t the best place to continue this.” Akira interjected quietly. “We should go somewhere else, and tell Airi-chan about this.”

Its eyes glowed when he mentioned her name. “Oh yes! Lady Airi is here somewhere, right?” It asked excitedly.

At that moment, Ryuji grabbed Morgana by the scruff, holding it out to his ebony haired friend. “Here, stick it in your bag for now! It should be just small enough to fit!” He exclaimed.

“Hey!” Morgana yelped. “How dare you treat me like-”

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, SHUJIN ACADEMY ROOFTOP

 

Quickly sending a text to Airi informing her where they were, Akira put his wriggling bag down and unzipped it. A black blur escaped the confines, shaking its body.

“Don’t be so rough with me!” Morgana yowled.

“Enough of that!” Ryuji exclaimed irritatedly. “You said you know how we can do something about Kamoshida, right?”

Giving them a feline smile, it nodded. “It has to do with what this guy was talking about earlier.” It gestured at Akira, who put his hands in his pockets. “You’ll need to attack his castle.”

The blond scratched his head in confusion. “What do you mean?” Ryuji asked.

Morgana sat down, prepared to give them a lecture. “That castle is how Kamoshida views this school.” It began, lazily waving its tail. “He doesn’t realize what happens in there, but it’s deeply connected to the depths of his heart. Thus, if the castle disappears, it would naturally impact the real Kamoshida.” It finished, flicking its ears.

Ryuji crossed his arms. “What’d happen?” He asked contemplatively. It sounded good so far.

“A Palace is a manifestation of a person’s distorted desires. So, if that castle were no more….” Morgana trailed off, smiling.

“His desires would be no more.” Akira finished, frowning thoughtfully.

It purred happily. “Precisely! You sure pick up things fast!” Morgana remarked, impressed.

“For real?! H-He’s gonna turn good?!” Ryuji sputtered, then paused. “But...is that really gettin’ back at him?” He questioned quietly, face drawn.

Morgana flicked its ears. “Erasing a Palace essentially means forcing the owner to have a change of heart.” It lectured. “However, even though their warped wants disappear, the crimes they committed remain. Kamoshida will become unable to bear the weight of those crimes, and he’ll confess them himself!” Morgana proclaimed, grinning at its own intelligence.

Ryuji exhaled, giddy. “You for real?! That’s possible?!” He asked excitedly.

Morgana nodded its head. “And since the palace will no longer exist, he’ll forget what we did there as well.” It added. “Not only will we be able to bring Kamoshida down, but there won’t even be a trace of our involvement.” It purred smugly.

Ryuji let out a laugh, smiling for the first time today. “That’s amazing! You are one incredible cat!” He proclaimed.

“True, except for the cat part!” Morgana snapped, but its expression showed that it was joking.

“So?” Ryuji asked excitedly. “How do we get rid of a Palace?!”

“You have to steal its Treasure.” Airi stated, closing the rooftop door behind her. She gave them a sheepish smile. “Sorry I’m so late, I had to call my boss after I finished my duties.” She apologized, before looking down at Morgana with a happy smile. “Morgana! I’m so glad you’re OK.” She stated, relief in her voice.

Blue eyes shining, the feline jumped on the female. “Lady Airi!” It purred happily, rubbing its head against her jaw.

Airi giggled at the affection, scratching behind its ears.

Akira looked at the scene before him, slightly smiling, even though part of him silently wished that the cat would stop.

Ryuji scratched his head. “Steal the treasure..?” He questioned, confused.

Morgana, still nestled in the rosette’s arms, turned its head. “I’ll tell you more once you agree to go ahead with this. It’s my most valuable, secret plan, after all.” It stated coolly. “If you want to help me out. I’ll gladly teach you. What’s your call?”

The punk turned to his fellow male. “Our luck’s runnin’ dry lookin’ for witnesses. Guess we have no choice but to go along..,” He trailed off.

The bespectacled boy looked over to the only female. She was silently pleading him with her dark red eyes.

He nodded. “You’re right.” Akira answered.

Airi awarded him a grateful smile in response.

“...Good.” Morgana purred. “Oh, there’s one more thing I should tell you three.” It said, jumping out of the girl’s arms and sat down on the floor. “If we erase a Palace, there is no doubt that the person’s distorted desires will be erased as well.” It lectured. “But desires are what we all need in order to survive. The will to sleep, eat, fall in love--those sorts of things.”

The rosette furrowed her brows. “Are you saying...If we do this, Kamoshida will lose his will to live?” She asked quietly, biting her lip.

Ryuji looked at her questioningly. “What does that mean?” He asked.

Flicking its ears, Morgana licked a paw. “If all those yearnings were to vanish, they’d be no different than someone who has shut down entirely. They may even die if they’re not given proper care.” It stated factually. “So…”It trailed off, glancing away.

Taken aback, Ryuji stiffened. “They might die..?!” He shouted.

Morgana gave him an irritated look. “Will you listen to everything I have to say first?” It retorted.

The faux blond looked around hesitantly at his companions. “Would their death be our fault..?” He asked quietly.

“Aren’t you determined enough to face those kinds of risks?” Morgana inquired, giving him a sharp glare.

Ryuji turned to his fellow students. “Hey...What do you guys think?” He asked morosely.

The bespectacled male pursed his lips. He didn’t want to commit murder, but.. “We’ll have to risk it.” He replied with a grave expression. They had to help their fellow students.

Ryuji turned to look at Airi. The class president gnawed on her lip. “I...have to agree with Akira-kun. There’s nothing we can do on this side.” She began hesitantly. “No one else is going to do anything. This is our only chance.” She finished, closing her eyes sorrowfully.

“Sheesh,” Morgana groaned. “I come all this way, and this is what I get. It’s not like anyone will ever find out.” It remarked, flicking its tail.

Facepalming, Ryuji glared down at it. “That’s not the point! If we just go around secretly doin’ whatever we want, we’d be no better than that fucking Kamoshida..,” He finished cynically.

The feline rolled its eyes. “Isn’t this your only option?” It retorted. Morgana got up and walked over to the door before looking back at them. “I’ll come back later. Make sure you’ve made your decision by then.” With that, the cat left.

The three humans sighed. Airi made her way over to a nearby chair and sat down. Akira moved close by, leaning against a desk.

Ryuji crouched in place, putting his head in his arms. “What do we do?” He asked morosely, his voice muffled by fabric.

The other two didn’t respond. Airi bit her lip, looking down at her lap guiltily. She hadn’t even done anything yet but she still felt terrible.

“I’ll try and see if I can figure out another way...” Ryuji stated defeatedly. “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

They walked down the stairs and split, Ryuji going one way and the two from class 2-D going another.

Chapter Text

Taking the train at Aoyama-Itchome, the two didn’t say anything, too lost in thought. Phone buzzing, Akira took it out of his pocket. It was from Ryuji, and it was a direct message.

Glancing over at Airi who stared ahead blankly, not paying attention, he opened the message.

R: Hey, I heard something that got my attention.
Ak: ?
R: About that Suzui girl...Looks like rumors are going around about her and Kamoshida.
R: If they’re true, it’s no wonder I couldn’t get her to talk.
R: Still, something doesn’t seem right…
Ak: What do you mean?
R: It’s just impossible.
R: Me and Airi have known Takamaki and Suzui since middle school.
R: There’s just no way Kamoshida’s their type, y’know?
R: So I gotta wonder where those rumors came from.
R: I’m starting to think Airi was right…
Ak: You think he’s a sexual predator?
R: It’s not impossible. We did see him hit on Airi like, yesterday.

He gripped his phone a little tighter.

Ak: Right.
R: Hope she’s not gonna end up his next victim…
R: Anyway, I’m gonna keep asking around. Don’t tell Airi about this, K?
R: I don’t want her to worry even more.

He put his phone away, and pursed his lips. Not telling the rosette seemed wrong, but...He glanced at her depressed expression. He shouldn't burden her with this.


Getting off at Shibuya station, the two walked up the stairs to the station square. Walking through the throngs of people, they overheard shouting.

“Will you please give it a rest?! I told you, I’m not feeling up to it…”

They turned their heads curiously. There was Ann, glaring angrily at the air while talking on her phone.

“Wait, what?!” She gasped. “That’s not what you promised! And you call yourself a teacher?!” The blonde model remarked indignantly. “This has nothing to do with Shiho!” Flinching, she moved her phone away. “Ah...he hung up on me.” She crouched, hiding her face in her arms. “Shiho’s...starting position..” Ann quietly sobbed.

Covering her mouth, Airi looked at the girl with concern. She walked up to the female curled up in a fetal position. “Ann-chan, are you OK?” She asked quietly, Akira standing behind her.

Flinching, Ann quickly stood up and looked at the two with wide eyes. “Wait...Were you two listening?” She asked.

Putting his hands in his pockets, the bespectacled male shook his head. “Not on purpose.” Akira replied.

Ann looked at them indignantly. “Haven’t you heard of privacy?” She snapped, before slumping. “...No, I was out of line. Sorry.” She muttered apologetically, wiping her eyes.

Airi moved to comfort her, putting her arms around the downtrodden female. “C’mon, Ann-chan, let’s go somewhere more quiet.” She consoled softly, subtly guiding her toward Central street.


Sitting in a booth at Big Bang Burger, the three Shujin students silently drank their waters. There weren’t too many customers around, so they were left alone.

Staring blankly at the table, Ann twirled her straw absent mindedly. “I shouldn’t tell you guys anything...It was just an argument.” She declared sullenly.

“...With Kamoshida?” Akira asked quietly, sitting across from the two females.

The blonde model sighed heavily and slumped. Resting her head on her palm, she idly fidgeted with her napkin. “You’ve heard the rumors, haven’t you? About Kamoshida-sensei.” Ann began, avoiding both their gazes. “Everyone says we’re getting it on but...That’s so not true!” She proclaimed, frustrated.

Airi scooted closer, wrapping an arm around the female.

Ann rested her head on the rosette’s shoulder, a tear falling. “That was him on the other line.” She muttered quietly.

Airi stroked her arm silently, trying to give her some comfort.

“I avoided giving him my number...for the longest time...” Ann paused, taking a deep breath. “He told me to go to his place after this.” She gritted her teeth. “You know what that means.” She spat. “If I turn him down, he said he’d take Shiho off as a regular on the team.”

She clenched her eyes, tears slowly spilling down her face. “I’ve been telling myself this is all for Shiho’s sake...But I can’t take it anymore.” Ann whispered, voice cracking. “I’ve had enough of this...I hate him!!” Breaking down, she pushed her face into Airi’s neck, sobbing quietly.

The class president wrapped her arms tighter, leaning her cheek on top of Ann’s head, letting her cry.

Akira averted his eyes, slightly uncomfortable. He was never good at dealing with crying women.

Leaning back, Ann wiped her eyes. “But still...Shiho’s my best friend. She’s all I have left at that sorry excuse of a school!” She cried out, fresh tears spilling from her blue orbs. “What should I do..?” She asked quietly, sniffling.

Akira gripped his knees, clenching his jaw. He had no good answers for her.

Sighing defeatedly, the model looked away. “Sorry...I shouldn’t have asked. It’s not your problem.” Ann stated forlornly. “What am I saying..? I’ve barely even talked to you before...” She muttered sullenly, before turning to her neighbor. "Sorry, senpai..." She sniffed.

Airi shook her head and hugged her tighter.

“It’s fine.” Akira declared. “Maybe that’s why? Since I don’t know you very well.”

Blue eyes stared at him incredulously, before scoffing. “...You’re so weird. Usually everyone just ignores me except for senpai.” Ann stated. “Are you really a bad person as the rumor says..? You just don’t seem like it...” She asked hesitantly.

The ebony haired male crossed his arms, leaning back against his chair. “I’m bad to the bone.” He joked, a faint smirk on his face, quickly dropping it when he noticed her glaring. “What do the rumors say about me?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I kinda had a feeling they were all just exaggerations.” She replied. “You seemed lonely. It was almost like you didn’t belong anywhere until Airi-senpai talked to you...” Ann stated.

She locked gazes with Akira’s. “We’re the same in that regard. Maybe that’s why it was so easy for me to talk to you.” She observed. “Is there really no way for me to help Shiho..?” Ann whispered, looking down at the table.

“Don’t go.” Airi said firmly. “Don’t...Don’t let him touch you unless you want it.” She tightened her jaw.

The blonde sighed. “I know...I just wish he would forget me, forget everything...” She pursed her lips. “As if something like that would ever happen.” She said sardonically.

Akira and Airi looked at each other, communicating with their eyes silently. Akira nodded slightly. “It could happen.” He suggested.

Airi glanced away for a second, trying to fight a smile.

Ann giggled. “I wasn’t looking for a serious response.” She sighed. “But I do feel a bit better now...Thanks, guys.” She smiled gratefully.

“...I’m going home.” She declared. “Don’t tell anyone else what we talked about, OK? I’ll try and think of a way to persuade Kamoshida.”

Airi looked at her classmate fondly, pride shining in her eyes. “Ann-chan, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you before. I should have noticed sooner." She looked down guiltily. "If you need anything, you can always come to me, OK?” She smiled gently. “Don’t let that scumbag win.”

Smiling back, Ann stood up and grabbed her bag. “Thanks, you two.” She said quietly, before leaving. The two Yongenjaya residents watched her leave, before looking worriedly to each other.

Airi sighed. “I hope everything will turn out OK.” She looked down at her phone dejectedly. “I have to buy something before I go to work. I’ll see you tomorrow, Akira-kun?” She asked her companion.

He nodded. “Don’t work too hard.” He smiled slightly.

 

----4/14, THURSDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

-AIRI- POV

Sitting alone in a dark empty house with the lights turned off, her eyes bore into the dusty instrument. She felt the brushes of strings against her slightly calloused fingertips, the phantom whispers of practice from years ago. Biting her lip, she reached out to grab it.

“That was beautiful, honey!”

“Thanks mom!”

“How about we get some cake to celebrate your recital?”

“Really, dad?!”

“Let’s go, my little hime-sama!”*

“Hey, be careful with our daughter!”

"You don't deserve to play the Lord's instrument!"

The memories flashed relentlessly before her eyes. She flinched, her hand faltering mid-air. Sighing, she hugged her knees. She still couldn’t do it. Every time she felt the itch and gathered the courage to play the cello, her mind couldn’t help but flashback to when her parents were still alive. Her mother and father would smile so gently at her...then it flashed to that matron's face, glaring coldly. She wished she could avoid it, but it held so many fond memories.

Flopping back on her bed, she let out a bone weary sigh. ‘When can this cycle of reach-and-fail end?’ She asked herself bitterly. At least she got her gun today. Luckily her boss didn’t notice it. Her phone rang. Curious, she picked it up and slid it open.

R: What do you think about what Morgana told us?
R: I dunno if I get all that stuff about stealing desires…
R: And Kamoshida’s gonna turn like, brain dead if we mess up, right?
R: I mean, sure I’m pissed at him…
R: But I dunno if I really wanna kill the guy.
Ak: Yeah that’s a bit too much.

Frowning sympathetically, she typed in a reply.

Ai: Basically, you steal his heart.
Ai: It consists of his twisted desires and thoughts.
Ak: So if you take out the bad from a person, they’re no longer bad.
Ai: Yep, although it doesn’t excuse their actions when they WERE bad.
R: I’m probably just freaking out, but I don’t wanna end up a murderer because of this shit.
R: Oh well…
R: I’ll try and see if I can come up with some other way tonight.
Ai: We might not be able to. Kamoshida sexually threatened Ann-chan today.
R: Whoa, what?!
Ak: She said that he’d kick Suzui out of the team if she doesn’t sleep with him.
Ai: He better keep his filthy hands away from either of them…
R: That motherfucker. I’ll keep an eye on Suzui.
Ai: You’re in the same class, right? Thank you, Ryuji-kun.
R: np.

Placing her phone under her pillow, she snuggled under her blankets.

Her eyes snapped open. ‘I forgot to tell them my birthday is this Saturday.’ She thought frantically. I’ll tell them tomorrow, she promised herself, closing her eyes again.

Chapter Text

----4/15, FRIDAY, MORNING, AOYAMA-ITCHOME

 

“I can’t believe Suzui-senpai missed such an important meeting. I wonder what happened.” A first year volleyball member mentioned.

“Kamoshida-sensei asked to see her...” Her fellow volleyball player added. “You know, I’ve been hearing rumors about how Kamoshida-sensei and Suzui-senpai stay late...She always shows up to meetings though. It’s weird she wasn’t at the one yesterday...” The first year remarked.

Airi blinked in surprise. ‘Suzui-san didn’t go?’ She mused. ‘Hopefully Ann-chan told her to stay away from him.’ She frowned softly to herself. ‘I don’t want her to end up broken too…’


----

“So, I assume all of you know about the separation of powers? There are three branches in our government.” Ushimaru-sensei lectured. “The National Diet is legislative, the Cabinet is executive, and the Supreme Court is judiciary. This division of power provides checks and balances, which ensures no one branch becomes unstoppable.”

Airi raised her hand.

“Yes, Kimisawa?” Ushimaru questioned. The rosette lowered her arm, taking a deep breath.

“Is there a possibility of all three becoming corrupt from the inside of each branch? If they were all corrupt, then no one would stop them from passing unfair laws or running this country into the ground simultaneously.” She questioned, curiosity burning in her eyes.

The class broke into whispers.

“Whoa, I never thought of that...”

“Kimisawa-senpai is so smart!”

“Ugh, politicians don’t do anything right.”

Ushimaru-sensei raised his eyebrows. “Good question, Kimisawa.” He remarked. “Unfortunately, that is a real possibility within our country. If the citizens are lazy about voting and don’t pay attention to the lawmakers, several politicians would slack off and forget that they serve the people.”

Airi nodded in understanding, a faint frown on her face.

Ushimaru went back to his lecture.

Akira raised his eyebrows. That was a question he had thought about as well, especially when...he was incarcerated. His eyes darkened at the memory.

“Have you made up your mind?” A voice whispered.

Startled, Akira looked down at his desk. A cat popped its head out of his desk, giving him a lazy smile. “No matter how much thinking you do, there’s only one option. You’d be better off just listening to me.” Morgana stated, licking a paw.

Akira glanced over to Airi, who was staring at his desk with wide eyes before quickly turning back to the lesson. She leaned closer though to hear the conversation.

The bespectacled student glanced back down at the cat in his desk. “Why are you in there?” He whispered.

“Hm? Did I hear a cat just now?” Ushimaru thought out loud, scrutinizing around the room with narrowed eyes. Some of the students started looking around as well, curious if there actually is a cat.

Akira and Airi tensed in their seats, grimacing. Airi made quick tiny motions with her hand under her desk, trying to signal to Morgana.

Frantically, the feline hid back inside. “M-Meow!” It let out.

Akira glanced down at it incredulously. That’s not going to help!

“Could that rumored cat be somewhere nearby…?” Ushimaru muttered, suspicious. He looked around the room again, trying to find his intended target. “Settle down! We’re in the middle of an important lecture!” He yelled out to wherever the meowing was coming from.

Akira and Airi sweatdropped. Their phones buzzed. Discreetly, they took them out.

R: It’s no use...I can’t think of any other way…
Ai: Concentrate on class, please.
R: I can’t deal with that shit right now. I mean, what’re we gonna do about Kamoshida?
Ak: Honestly, I would rather do that than let Kamoshida walk free.
R: Do we just gotta go along with what that cat says?
R: Urgh, that damn furball…

“If he only knew I’m reading this too.” Morgana whispered, slightly hurt.


A chair skidded harshly.

Everyone turned to look at the student who had stood up suddenly, looking out the window. “Hey...What’s that..?” He asked.

“Enough! This is a classroom!” Ushimaru scolded.

“Wait...She’s going to jump..!” A girl screamed. The class broke out into fervent chatter.

Mishima stood up. “Suzui..?” He whispered, eyes wide.

Hearing that, Ann snapped her head up. “Shiho?” She whispered fearfully, before running out of the classroom, pressing against the hallway windows.

Akira slowly got up, tense, and walked out behind Ann. Some of the other students followed their example, noisily getting out of their spots.

“Hey! Stay in your seats! Do not step foot outside of this room!” Ushimaru yelled, but it was no use. The entire class moved out into the hallway, along with every other class. The hallways were packed with students, all looking through the windows, wondering what was going to happen.


-AIRI- POV

Airi stood frozen, her eyes wide with horror, before bolting.

She ran out of the class and up the stairs, passing the hordes of students clammering in the hallway. No one noticed as she sprinted all the way to the rooftop, taking two steps at a time. Slamming the door open, she saw Shiho standing at the ledge limply, with her head down. Her entire posture screamed defeat.

“Suzui-chan...” Airi began softly. “Please step away from the edge. It’s dangerous.” She pleaded, quietly and slowly taking a step closer.

Shiho didn’t answer her, but inched her feet closer to the drop.

“Suzui-chan...no. Shiho-chan.” Airi paused, licking her lips nervously. Her heart was pounding. “Please, Shiho-chan... Don’t do this.”

“...I can’t take it anymore.” The black haired girl whispered, still not looking at the class president. “He...took it from me.” Tears streamed down her face, hitting the ground far away.

Airi took another step closer. “What did he take from you?” She asked softly.

Beginning to tremble, the volleyball member hugged herself, her nails digging into her arms. “Kamoshida-sensei... touched me...he hit me...he r-r-raped me!” Shiho bit out, sobbing. “All I had left was volleyball!” She screamed. “And he took it from me!”

Now standing behind her, Airi slowly reached out with her arms, encircling the poor girl who was wailing her heart out.

“I can’t -hic- take it anymore...No one cares that -hic- he’s hurting us, hurting me...” Shiho blubbered hysterically.

“That’s not true,” Airi soothed, staring at the broken girl in anguish. “We do care. I care. Ann-chan cares so much for you.” She consoled, rubbing the black haired girl’s back comfortingly. “You know, Akira-kun and I bumped into Ann-chan yesterday at Shibuya. She told me how much she loved you. How all she wanted was for you, her best friend, to be happy. She was trying so hard for Kamoshida to focus on her and not you.” Airi proclaimed quietly, fibbing a little. Anything to help her state of mind right now, she reasoned to herself, slightly guilty.

Sniffling, Shiho looked up at her with tear filled eyes. “Really?” She whimpered.

Airi nodded, giving her a warm smile. “That’s right. Ann only wanted to protect you.”

Shiho looked down again, covering her face with her palms. “And I wanted to protect her.” She whispered, her voice muffled against her skin.

Lowering her hands from her embrace, Airi placed her hands lightly on the other girl’s arms. “I won’t let Kamoshida get away with this.” She swore. “You’ll have to tell what you went through to the authorities, but he’ll be put behind bars for this.”

The black haired girl’s trembling which had subsided a bit, came back in full force. “N-No..,” Shiho whispered shakily, eyes dilated with fear. “No more...I can’t..,” Her breath hitched. “Don’t make me remember...He..!” Her breathing quickened, Shiho started hyperventilating.

She struggled against the class president, breaking free from her grip, and leaped off the building.

“No!” Airi screamed, quickly leaning over the edge and reached out. Her hand snatched the suicidal girl’s wrist, leaving both of them hanging over the ledge.

“Shiho-chan, please!” Airi gritted, tears glossing her eyes. “Please don’t!” She yelled, trying hard to pull the other girl up, her other hand balancing her upper body on the rim.

The black haired girl struggled against the grip on her wrist. “Just let me die!!!” Shiho wailed, sobbing hysterically.

The girl’s violent movements caused Airi’s grip to slip a little. “Shit.” The rosette spat, trying to tighten her grip, sweat dripping from her forehead. Their damp skin didn’t help, as the other girl started to slip more.

Clenching her jaw, Airi used her other hand, the one she used to balance herself so she didn’t fall over, to grip over her clenched hand. She then secured her knees under the railing to balance herself and began pulling the panic-stricken student up slowly, her muscles straining.

“No!” Shiho screamed, distraught, and used her other hand to lash out. Her nails cut deep into flesh.

Airi cried out in pain, accidentally releasing her grip. The black haired girl fell three stories, her body rebounding up from the impact, before laying brokenly on the ground, unmoving.

Frozen, red eyes stared widely at the still body below her, arms still reached out. “No…Not again….” Airi whispered, trembling. “SHIHO!” She screamed down, tears spilling.

There were a large gathering of students shrieking in the courtyard, surrounding the body, while teachers tried to herd them away.

“Someone!” She screamed frantically down at the mass. “Check her pulse! Call an ambulance!”

Feeling faint, her body gave out on her, and she slowly leaned back from the edge, sliding down onto the floor defeatedly. Her eyes stared blankly at her bleeding hands, tears still running down her face.

NotAgainNotAgainNotAgainNotAgain.

Suddenly, arms wrapped around her, pulling her into a warm chest.

Trembling, Airi pushed her face into their shirt, and broke down.

Chapter Text

-AKIRA- POV

The hallway was packed with students from all the classes, staring out the windows with wide eyes, whispering to each other.

“Shiho...” Ann whispered, clasping her hands tightly in a praying motion, her nails digging into her skin. “Don’t do it...”

Gray eyes observed the scene tensely, and Akira clenched his fists. ‘This is because of Kamoshida, isn’t it.’ He thought to himself, narrowing his eyes. He’s going to pay.

“What the fuck is goin’ on?!” He heard being yelled.

He turned to look. Ryuji ran up to them, eyes wide. "Is that Suzui...?" He asked. Akira nodded solemnly. "What the fuck..." The punk furiously rubbed his head, exhaling sharply. "What the fuck can we do?"

“Hey, she’s moving back!” Someone remarked.

He looked up through the window. Shiho had taken a step back, away from the edge. A hand was outstretched to her. Narrowing his eyes, he tried to make out who it was, but all he knew was that it was another student based on the blazer sleeve. After a moment, they both disappeared from view.

“Thank god! How scary was that!”

“Is someone up there talking to her?”

“She’s gonna be in so much trouble.”

“I wonder why she wanted to jump?”

Ann sighed out in relief. “Shiho...” She whispered, slumping her shoulders. She gripped her hands near her chest. "Why would you even think of...?"

Ryuji exhaled, slumping beside him. "Thank god...Can't believe Suzui even felt like that, though..." He muttered.

Akira nodded in agreement. Someone almost killed herself because of a teacher. He looked around the hall, noting that none of the teachers were absent. 'Not one staff went up to check..?' He scowled. At least it didn't happen.

He turned away, about to head back to his desk. “Get back to your classes!” The teachers yelled, trying to direct the students’ attentions away from the windows.

“Hey wait...”

“She jumped!”

“Holy shit!”

“Someone grabbed her!”

“Is that senpai?!”

“Ah, I can’t look! This is so scary!!”

Quickly turning back to the window, his breath hitched. It was Airi. Airi, who was struggling to pull up the suicidal girl.

After a tense moment, everyone saw the dangling girl claw at the grip on her wrist. She fell and hit the ground, body stilling.

Ann cried out, “Shiho!” before frantically running down the stairs, as did Ryuji and the majority of students.

Akira however, ran up. Pushing past the crowd of students all clamoring for the stairs leading down, he was the only one to go up. No one noticed as they rushed to the scene. Making it up to the now empty third floor, he heard a voice shout, “Someone! Check her pulse! Call an ambulance!” He sprinted up the last steps up to the roof, opening the door. Looking out across the roof, he spotted a crumpled figure on the floor.

‘She’s OK.’ He thought, relieved. Slowly, he walked over, stopping behind her. She hadn't noticed. Frowning sorrowfully at her back, he crouched on his knees and gently wrapped his arms around the rosette, pulling her into his chest.

She pushed her face into his jacket. He felt her shoulders tremble underneath his palms, and a blossoming wetness in the front of his blazer.

‘Her hands are bleeding.’ He observed worriedly. ‘And her tights are ripped.’ Akira rocked back and forth slowly, trying to comfort the sobbing girl. He wished he could help more than this.

“Why...” he heard. He looked down, and locked with red rimmed eyes, still flowing with tears.

“Why did she have to do that?” Airi whispered. “Why couldn’t I save her too…”

He furrowed his brows, embracing her tighter. “It wasn’t your fault.” He replied firmly. “This is all because of Kamoshida.”

She slumped tiredly, resting her head on his chest. “We’ll make him pay.” She whispered. He nodded solemnly. ‘I sense a strong urge to protect…’ He leaned his cheek on top of her head, slowly stroking her hair, and they sat together in silence.

-GENERAL- POV

Pushing past the crowds, Ann and Ryuji made it out to the courtyard where Shiho fell. The ambulance had already arrived, the paramedics gingerly placing the unmoving student on top of a stretcher.

“Shiho...” Ann teared, her breath shaking from the force of her tremors.

Ryuji grimaced in anguish and looked away. Around him were fellow students out in the courtyard with their phones out, taking pictures and recording the scene before them. “What the hell is wrong with these people?!” He muttered angrily.

“Class is still in session!” A teacher yelled out to no avail.

A paramedic got up and walked over to the crowd. “We need someone to go with her...Are there any teachers around?” He asked.

None of the teachers present stepped forward. “I-I’m not in charge of her class..,” One teacher panicked.

“We should leave this to Principal Kobayakawa..,” Another teacher stated hesitantly.

Ann looked at the teachers frustratedly, before turning back to the paramedic. “I’ll go!” She insisted.

“Please hurry!” The paramedic urged, turning back to create a pathway for the other personnel.

She ran up and kneeled next to the near unconscious girl. “Shiho...why?” Ann whispered, tears clouding her vision.

The injured girl slowly tilted her head to look at her. “Ann..? I’m sorry...I-I can’t take this...anymore.” Shiho whispered, wincing in pain. “Please...t-tell Airi-senpai...I’m sorry...Kamoshida made me do..this...ngh.” She breathed, before falling unconscious.

Ann cried out in panic, gripping onto the stretcher. The paramedics moved to carry the stretcher out of the school, Ann following closely behind.

Mishima stood frozen in the same spot, his eyes not moving from where Shiho fell. Trembling, he clenched his fists. “Hah...ah...” He uttered, terrified. He ran away inside the building.

Dark brown eyes followed the blunet. “He knows something.” Ryuji muttered.

The students around him gossiped to each other, still on their phones with the recorded evidence. “Return to your classrooms at once!” A teacher yelled.

Ryuji stood still in his spot, clenching his fists. “Volleyball team..,” He muttered. He stared up pensively at the spot where Shiho fell from. “Wasn’t there someone else up there?” He wondered to himself, and decided to head up to check. Running into the building, he passed the principal.

“Teachers, return to your classrooms for the time being! Please do not let any students go home yet!” Kobayakawa announced, slightly sweating. Grumbling, the students started walking back to their respective rooms, the school staff that were present herding them into the buildings.

-AIRI- POV

Sniffling, she leaned back from Akira’s embrace. Wiping her tears away, she gave him a watery smile. “Thank you, Akira-kun.” Airi bit her lip. “I’m sorry I got your jacket wet.” She looked at him guiltily.

Akira shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. Your well being is more important.” He reassured, giving her a sympathetic smile.

Blinking, she stared him, stunned.

No one had been there for her since her parents and her. At the orphanage, she had to stay strong for herself and the younger kids, as well as in school for her classmates. At this moment, Akira had been the first person since to really care about her. Blushing slightly, the rosette looked away in embarrassment.

Her gaze fell on the roof ledge, and she stared at it despiritedly. “I hope Shiho-chan is OK...” Airi whispered.

“Don’t worry.” Akira placed his hand on her shoulder, comforting her more. “She’ll be fine. The ambulance got here by the time I arrived.” He consoled. She nodded automatically, not really listening to his words of comfort. It won't change the fact that she failed.

The door slammed open and Ryuji walked out, looking around. His eyes landed on the two.

“Hey!” He greeted. “Uh...am I interrupting something?” He asked, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly.

Confused, Airi looked over at her classmate and noticed how close he was, their faces only inches apart. Blushing brightly, she scooted back a bit.

Akira noticed as well and glanced away uncomfortably, a slight rosy hue in his cheeks.

“So it was you who tried to stop Suzui, Airi?” Ryuji asked, walking up to the two.

“Yeah, not that it made any difference...” Airi answered bitterly. “She told me why before...before she...” She trailed off, biting her lip.

“What did she say?” Ryuji asked quietly. Akira tilted his head, curious as well.

Her hands trembling, she took a deep breath. “She told me...that Kamoshida had raped her.” Airi whispered, tears filling her eyes again.

The two boys flinched at the news, looking at her with wide eyes. “That...That fucking bastard!” Ryuji spat, angrily making strangling motions in the air with his hands.

Airi flinched a little at the action.

Akira glared sharply ahead, clenching his knees. “We’re going to make him pay.” He promised darkly. His two fellow Persona users nodded grimly.

“Oh yeah.” Ryuji perked up. “I saw Mishima at the courtyard a few minutes ago. He looked like he definitely knew something.” The blond explained to his friends.

Grasping his chin, Akira hummed thoughtfully. “We should corner him then.” He stated firmly.

“I’ll come with.” Airi added, wiping her crusted eyes with the back of her hand.

Akira shook his head. “No. You should go to the nurse’s office and get your hands and legs checked.” He admonished softly.

Blinking, the rosette looked down at herself. Her hands and knees were scraped, bleeding, and raw, the tights ripped. “I don’t even feel it...” She murmured blankly.

The two boys glanced at each other worryingly, before escorting her to the medical office.

The two delinquents then went back to their classrooms to grab their bags (and Morgana, who scolded them for leaving it behind) and set off to find Mishima.

Looking all over the school, the only place they hadn’t checked was the boy’s locker room.

Chapter Text

-GENERAL- POV

The two boys entered the locker room, looking around. It was empty, save for a small corner. Morgana darted out of Akira’s bag and jumped on a locker nearby, watching the proceedings.

Quickly stomping over, Ryuji pushed the meek student into the corner. “Ow! That hurts!” Mishima exclaimed, wincing.

“Why’d you run like that earlier?! Huh?!” Ryuji interrogated, scowling.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets, grimly gazing at the blunet.

“I didn’t run...” Mishima muttered, eyes darting away.

“She jumped and tried to kill herself!” Ryuji exploded, clenching his fist at the downtrodden male.

He cowered away from the punk. “L-Leave me alone...” Mishima whimpered.

Akira put his hand in front of his friend, stopping him in place. Cool eyes gazed at the pitiful sight in front of him. “You know something, don’t you? We’re not going to hurt you.” He asked quietly but firmly.

Behind him, Ryuji nodded in agreement. “He’s right! We ain’t tryin’ to get you busted. We won’t say you talked either!” He added.

Looking down at the floor, the blunet slumped. “Suzui...” He whispered.

Akira took a step forward. “I just had to help Airi-chan who tried her best to save Suzui. She’s injured now. You owe them this much.” He stated forcefully.

Dark eyes widened. “Senpai did that…? She...” Mishima asked despairingly and grabbed his head. They glared at the blunet as he fought with himself. “She was called out by Kamoshida-sensei!!” He confessed.

Shocked, the two Persona users stared at him. “Wait, what?” Ryuji uttered, eyes wide.

Sighing heavily, the bluenet continued. “I was called by him a number of times too...to the teacher’s room.” He uttered defeatedly. “It wasn’t just me or Suzui either. He’d nominate someone when he was in a bad mood...and hit them.” Mishima finished, silently grieving for his teammates and himself.

“So the physical punishment thing was for real...” Ryuji muttered, clenching his jaw.

“But yesterday, he called Suzui out of the blue. She didn’t make any mistakes or anything...” Mishima lamented, eyes downcast. “Kamoshida-sensei seemed really irritated that day, so it must’ve been...worse than usual...” He trailed off.

Ryuji started. “So that’s when he...That son of a bitch!” He gritted, running out of the room.

The two boys (and one cat) stared after him in surprise. Looking at each other, Akira ran after him, Morgana stealthily jumping onto his bag. Clenching his fists, Mishima followed.


They ran passed a bandaged Airi who looked up in surprise. “Don’t follow us!” Akira shouted at her. He had an inkling they were going to see Kamoshida, and he didn’t want her anywhere near him.

“I bet...Sakamoto’s going to find Kamoshida-sensei...” Mishima panted. “He’ll probably be in the P.E Faculty office on the second floor.” They ran down the hallway, flying up the stairs. Turning the corner, they just caught Ryuji slamming the office door open. Hurrying, they entered the office to see the punk confront the gym teacher.

Kamoshida sat at his desk, idly doing paperwork. “Huh?” He muttered distractedly.

Ryuji brazenly pointed his finger at him. “You bastard! How dare you do that to Suzui!” He shouted angrily.

Akira stood slightly behind him, ready to help his friend. Mishima stayed in the background, trembling.

Turning around, Kamoshida turned to look at them irritatedly. “What are you talking about?” He questioned, idly stretching his arms, turning back to his desk.

“Don’t play dumb with me!” Ryuji snapped, kicking a nearby chair over.

It fell noisily, setting the gym teacher off. “That is enough!” Kamoshida yelled, glaring at the punk.

With trembling shoulders, Mishima stepped forward. “What you did...wasn’t coaching..!” He uttered, eyes downcast.

Slowly turning his head, Kamoshida glared harshly in their direction. “What did you say?” He questioned ominously, clenching his teeth.

Mishima gripped his head, distraught. “You...You ordered me to call Suzui here...I can only imagine what you did to her!” He exclaimed, nervously swallowing.

Getting up from his chair, Kamoshida crossed his arms. “You’re going on and on about things you have no proof of...” He sneered at them. “Basically, you’re simply making these claims up because you can’t be a regular on the team, right?” He spat.

Lifting his head to glare at the coach, Mishima glared at him defiantly. “That’s not what this is about!” He shouted.

The tall man hmphed, resting his hands on his hips. “Even if it is exactly as you imagine it to be, hypothetically speaking...what can you do?” Kamoshida taunted. “We just received a call from the hospital. Suzui’s in a coma, and her chances of recovery are slim. How would someone like that make a statement?” He finished smugly.

The three students looked at him in with wide eyes, shocked that even a terrible teacher that he is, would say such a callous thing.

Akira glared at him darkly, hiding his clenched fists in his pockets.

Dramatically placing the back of his hand on his forehead, Kamoshida mockingly lamented. “There’s no chance of her getting better, I hear...The poor girl.” He stated sarcastically.

The bluenet took a step back. “No...That can’t be..." Mishima despaired.

His arms trembling with the force he clenched his fists with, Ryuji took a step forward threateningly. “You goddamn..!” He spat.

Kamoshida scowled down at the punk. “This again? Does this mean we need to have yet another case of “self-defense”?” He threatened.

“You shut your mouth, you son of a bitch!” Ryuji growled, his dark brown eyes burning with rage. He moved to throw a punch, but Akira grabbed his wrist, stopping him. The blond looked back at his friend. “Why’re you stoppin’ me?!” He complained.

Akira looked at him coolly, trying to communicate with his eyes. “Calm down. Don’t let him get to you.” He replied. We can get him later at the Palace.

Yanking his arm out of the bespectacled student’s hand, Ryuji stomped his feet. “But still..!” He gritted.

Feinting surprise, Kamoshida turned to look at the ebony haired student. “Oh? You’re stopping him? What a surprise.” He remarked, laughing out loud. “There’s no need to hold back. Why not attack me?” He grinned maliciously. “Ohh but you can’t. Hahaha, but of course you can’t!” Turning back to his desk, the gym teacher sat down in his chair. “Everyone present right now...Will be expelled. I’m reporting all of you at the next board meeting.” Kamoshida stated coldly.

Taken aback, the two students of class 2-D stared at him in shock. This is how it was going to end?
“Wha-” Ryuji flinched. Mishima stepped forward, more confident in himself since he was with like minded company. “You can’t make a decision like that!” He argued firmly.

Scoffing, the coach turned back to them. “Who would seriously consider what scum like you say?” He remarked ruthlessly. “You threatened me too, Mishima, so you’re equally responsible.”

Stepping back, the blunet let out a confused sound. “To think you didn’t know why I kept someone as talentless as you on the team. You act like you’re a victim, but you leaked his criminal records, didn’t you?” Kamoshida interrogated, jutting his square chin at Akira. “It’s all over the internet, correct? How terrible.” He taunted.

The two delinquents turned to look at their companion. “Mishima..?” Ryuji whispered, silently hoping it wasn’t true.

Akira stared at the volleyball member, resigned. Getting upset now would be pointless.

Trembling, the bruised teen got on his hands and knees, begging forgiveness. “He told me to do it...I had no choice.” He uttered, folding into himself.

Kamoshida turned away disinterestedly. “Now, are we finished here? You’re all expelled!” He announced. “You’re done for; your futures are mine to take. Now get out of my sight.”

Clenching his jaw, Ryuji turned to his fellow students. “Dammit...” He muttered angrily.

“We’ve got another way to deal with him.” Akira replied emotionlessly.

Hearing the outcasts still in his office, Kamoshida turned to scowl at them. “I don’t know what you’re planning, but go ahead and try. All you can do is wait for your disposal though...” the gym teacher stated coldly.

Glaring darkly at the gym teacher, the three students and cat left the office.

Airi was waiting outside, worried out of her mind. She gripped her bandaged hands together, splotches of red blooming on the cotton. Today had been too stressful. Seeing them leave the room, she walked up to them. “Thank goodness! Are you guys OK? Did he...” She trailed off uncomfortably.

Ryuji stomped over and slammed his fist against the wall. “I can’t believe that asshole’s gettin’ away with this..!” He gritted, glaring down.

Blinking, she looked at them with concern. “What happened in there?” Airi asked quietly.

Behind Akira, Mishima quietly answered her. “We’re being expelled.” He replied defeatedly, his eyes blank.

“What?” She gasped, looking over at Akira for confirmation.

He nodded, frowning. “He said he’ll expel us by the next board meeting.” Akira stated, adjusting his glasses irritatedly.

“The next board meeting? That’s on May 2nd.” Airi murmured. “What are we going to do?” She asked worriedly.

The ebony haired male casually placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, Airi-chan.” He reassured. “He’ll eat his words.” He remarked darkly, smirking.

She stared at him, slightly blushing at this new side of him, before perking up with realization. “You mean...” Airi trailed off, looking at him hopefully.

He nodded, still smirking.

“What’re you two talkin’ about?” Ryuji asked, coming up to them with his hands resting behind his head.

Shaking his head, Akira eyed Mishima. “You should go back to class, Mishima-san. We’ll take care of this.” He reassured calmly.

Still in shock, the blunet nodded blankly and slowly walked away, a slight limp in his steps.

The bespectacled student signaled to the other two to move to the courtyard.

Chapter Text

“We gotta hurry up and go to that world and beat the shit outta that asshole!” Ryuji yelled, slamming his fist against the vending machine. Now that it was after school, most of the building had emptied, students going back home to text about what happened earlier. The group of thieves sat at the alcove in the courtyard, no other students in sight.

Morgana got up from its spot on the table. “We’re not beating him up. We’re simply stealing his distorted desires.” It corrected.

“And beating him up if he gets in our way.” Airi smiled serenely. The boys and cat turned to look at her in surprise. “What? I can’t wish violence on someone as terrible as Kamoshida?” She asked, blinking.

“U-Uh no, I mean yes! I mean no-yes!” Ryuji sputtered.

Giving the rosette one last odd look, the feline continued. “Can I assume that you’ve made up your minds about this- about how he might suffer a mental shutdown?” It asked seriously.

Ryuji turned to look at it. “...I have.” He replied firmly, a grim expression on his face. “Someone almost died because of him! I don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to him anymore!” Morgana nodded and turned to look at the other two. “And you guys?” It asked, a firm expression on its feline features.

Akira nodded. “I agree. There’s no other way.” He replied coldly.

Airi nodded as well. “He’s going to pay for what he’s done.” She replied resolutely.

Purring, the feline swished its tail. “Then it’s settled.” Morgana stated, smiling.

“By the way, is gettin’ rid of a Palace hard..?” Ryuji inquired curiously. “You’ve tried it before, right?” He scratched the back of his head.

Morgana looked at the blond in amusement. “When did I ever say that?” It asked, smiling innocently.

Airi tilted her head. “You’ve never done it then?” She asked curiously.

“WHAT?! Were you just pretendin’ to know?!” Ryuji bellowed in disbelief. Akira shushed him, glaring slightly.


“Is it true that you’re both getting expelled?”


The four Persona users turned in surprise.

Ann walked up to them slowly, her slumped posture exuding depression. “Everyone’s talking about it...” She muttered.

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “That asshole’s at it again with the rumors..!” He exclaimed irritatedly.

Airi slowly got up from her seat, and went up to the model’s side. “Ann-chan...I’m so sorry.” She teared, looking down at herself guiltily. “I...I couldn’t save Shiho-chan, even though I was right there!” The rosette confessed, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“It’s OK...” The half foreigner attempted to smile. “I saw, you know...You did your best. Shiho even told me...to tell you she was sorry. She’s stabilized now but...” Ann trailed off, shoulders weighed down. “At least she’s still alive. Thank you...for trying.” With that, she pulled the other girl into a hug, both of them letting tears slip from their eyes.

The boys looked away, uncomfortable at seeing such vulnerable expressions on the two strong females.

Sniffling, the girls let go and wiped their eyes. “If you’re going to deal with Kamoshida...let me in on it too.” Ann stated determinedly.

Taken aback, the three thieves looked at her in shock.

“I can’t just sit back and do nothing after what happened to Shiho! I’m her best friend, but I wasn’t even the one who was trying to stop her from j-jumping earlier!” The blonde model confessed, anger and self-loathing swirling in her red rimmed irises.

“Ann-chan...” Airi whispered, watching her worriedly. She had no idea what she was asking.

“This has nothing to do with you...Don’t butt your head into this...” Ryuji said gruffly, looking away.

“But it does! It has everything to do with me!” Ann argued, stomping her foot forward.

“I said don’t get in our way!” Ryuji yelled, glaring harshly at her.

Flinching, the model glowered, before running away.

A moment of silence passed as Ryuji let out a heavy sigh. “That was harsh.” Morgana remarked, staring sadly at where Ann had stood.

Airi looked down, clenching her eyes. “I’m sorry.” She whispered, guilt lacing into her voice.

Akira wrapped an arm around her shoulders, comforting her for the third time today. She leaned into his half embrace somberly.

“We can’t take her somewhere like that...” Ryuji muttered, looking away guiltily.

Sighing, the feline sat down. “I hope that she doesn’t torment herself over this.” Morgana stated sadly. “When it comes down to it, women don’t hesitate.”

Airi nodded in agreement. “She might do something drastic…” She fretted.

“Let’s go to the Palace.” Akira suggested, straightening his lips. “And get this over with.”

The other three nodded. “We just gotta hurry up and deal with Kamoshida.” Ryuji remarked firmly.

They walked back to the alley where they first transitioned to the Metaverse. Glancing outward to the school gate, where some students were still going home, Ryuji turned to the others. “Ready?” He asked. The three other Persona users nodded firmly.

“The moment we cross over, we’ll treat each other like phantom thieves, so I hope you’re ready.” Morgana informed them.

Turning to look at the cat, they tilted their heads in confusion. “Huh? Phantom thieves?” Ryuji questioned.

The feline snickered mischievously. “Those who covertly sneak in and stylishly steal Treasure-that is what we become!” Morgana proclaimed happily.

Akira smirked faintly. “Not bad.” He said, idly tweaking a strand of hair.

Airi giggled. “Sounds like fun, like we're secret agents.” Airi remarked amusedly.

“Yeah, that sounds kinda cool!” Ryuji said exuberantly. “So we just gotta say the school, Kamoshida’s name, and...castle? Then we end up in bizarro world.” He checked with the others excitedly, pulling his phone out. A thought hit him then. “...How the hell’s all this work? Someone make it?” He questioned out loud, looking at the app confusedly.

Shrugging, the ebony haired male shook his head. “I dunno. Does it matter right now?” Akira said nonchalantly.

Ryuji looked at him weirdly, putting his phone in his pocket. “That’s kinda creepy, but eh,” He shrugged.” It seems useful enough. We’ll show that fucking Kamoshida!” He exclaimed, rolling his shoulder in preparation.

“Let's make him pay!” Airi declared determinedly.

Akira pulled out his phone, ready to tap on the marker “Kamoshida’s Palace”.

Morgana jumped up, ready to pounce. “Let’s go!” It declared confidently.


“They really are going to do something..,” Ann whispered, looking at the group from behind the corner. She squinted, trying to see closer but not wanting them to notice.

“They’re doing something on their phone? A name..School..?” She muttered. She watched as Akira tapped on his phone.

“Huh?!” She gasped, looking around in disbelief.

She felt something pulse around her. The air turned purple and wavered, TV static filling her eardrums. Her skin tingled as some unknown energy filled the air, a floating sensation in the pit of her stomach.

What was going on?!

Chapter Text

The four observed the castle closely, checking to see if the coast was clear. The skull wearing blond turned to his friends. “All right! Time to bust on through!” Ryuji declared, pumping a fist excitedly.

“What is this?!”

The Persona users turned in surprise. Ann walked up to them, completely bewildered.

Taking a step back, Ryuji looked at her incredulously. “T-Takamaki?!” He sputtered.

Covering her mouth, Airi looked away awkwardly. “Oh no...” She cringed. How were they going to explain this.

“That voice...Sakamoto?!” Ann screeched, blue eyes wide, darting to examine the other two. “And Airi-senpai...and Kurusu-kun?!”

Furiously rubbing his head, Ryuji tried to contain his shock. “W-Why are you here?!” He gritted, looking at the blonde suspiciously.

“How should I know?!” She snapped back. She turned around to observe their surroundings. “What’s going on? Hey, where are we…?! Isn’t this the school?!” She remarked, disbelief written all over her face.

Morgana looked at the blonde dreamily, hearts floating above its head.

Akira saw this and sweatdropped, giving the feline an unimpressed look.

The cat shook itself from its stupor and turned to its fellow thieves. “I see. Perhaps she was dragged in because of that app thing.” Morgana contemplated. “If multiple people can enter with the person who uses it, it stands to reason it’ll pull anyone nearby.” It reasoned.

“For real..?” Ryuji commented, rattled at the revelation.

Airi tilted her head. “Would that mean that Ann-chan has the potential as a Persona user as well?” She inquired softly.

“Maybe. We’d have to see.” Morgana answered vaguely, shrugging.

Ann, finished with looking around the surroundings, snapped her head to look at them. “Wait, so THIS is related to Kamoshida?!” She squeaked, still completely lost.

Biting her lip, Airi stepped forward, her embroidered scarf fluttering behind her. “Ann-chan, you should leave. This place is dangerous.” The rosette warned softly, trying to convince the other girl.

“No!” Ann refused vehemently.

“The Shadows are going to find us if you make a scene.” Morgana scolded slightly.

Ann flinched, taking a step back. “No way! It talked!? Oh my god, it’s a monster cat..!” She babbled hysterically.

Taken aback, Morgana gawked at her. “Monster..?” It murmured, slightly hurt. Airi winced, and patted the cat’s head comfortingly.

Frustrated, Ann marched up to the group. “You better explain what’s going on! I won’t leave until you do!” She demanded, glaring at them.

They looked at each other at a loss at what to do.

“Looks like we gotta force her.” Ryuji remarked, frowning softly. “But...how’re we supposed to do that?” He questioned, looking at Morgana expectantly.

“Just take her back to where we came in. That’s how it worked last time, right?” The cat shrugged.

Taken aback, Ryuji blinked confusedly. “O-Oh, yeah.” He uttered, surprised that the solution was so simple.

He looked over at Akira. “Can you lend me a hand?”

Glancing at their female teammate, who shrugged back at him, the black haired thief looked back at the skull adorned companion. “I feel bad...but yeah, got it.” He answered resignedly.

“We can’t deal with Kamoshida if she’s here.” Ryuji mentioned.

The two males turned to look at the blonde model.

Noticing them staring at her, Ann took a step back. “What’re you-” “We’ll explain after everything’s over!” Ryuji interrupted her, pushing her back.

“Hey! And just where are you touching?!” Ann yelled out indignantly.

“Whoa, sorry, I didn’t mean-” Ryuji sweated, then interrupted himself. “That’s not important!” They dragged her toward the other end of the bridge.

“You guys seriously- Ugh, Airi-senpai, say something!” She screamed at the other female.

“I’m really sorry, Ann-chan!” Airi yelled after her, waving a gloved hand sheepishly.

“Ah?!” Ann squawked, tripping out of the Metaverse.

 
 

Walking back to the entrance of the castle, the four stopped to organize. “We better be careful from now on when we use that app,” Ryuji winced, his arms aching from Ann’s struggling.

Morgana squinted at the punk. “You should’ve checked the tools you used!” It yelled, clearly defending the blonde female. “Why do I-the one who was just watching-know more about it than you three?!” It groaned, glaring at the boys.

Akira looked down at it, unimpressed. As if they were supposed to know. They weren't the ones with enhanced hearing like a certain animal's.

“Sh-Shuddup!” Ryuji sputtered, awkwardly looking away.

Airi held her hands up placatingly. She seemed to do a lot of that. “Let’s focus on the Palace.” She reminded.

The faux blond let out an irritated sigh. “Geez, Takamaki found out right when we were startin’ off...We gotta deal with this fast!” Ryuji declared.

Letting out little purrs, Morgana looked back at where they entered. “That girl’s name is Takamaki Ann, right?” It asked, eyes shining. “Lady Ann...” The cat sighed dreamily.

Sweatdropping, Airi herded them closer to the castle, where they staked it out.

 

Turning back from its observation, Morgana looked at the three humans firmly in the eye. “The Shadows have noticed us. You better brace yourselves, got it?” It asked intensely.

The three nodded.

The feline turned to Akira. “We’re counting on you, Joker!” It proclaimed, jumping in the air.

Ryuji frowned in confusion. “Joker? That a nickname?” He asked.

“Don’t refer to it in such a lame way. It’s a code name.” Morgana chided. “What kind of stupid phantom thief would use their real name?! I’m not down for that!” It complained, shaking its head. “And there’s no telling what kind of effect yelling our real names will have on the Palace. It’s just a precaution.” It crossed its arms.

Airi nodded in understanding. “So why is he Joker?” She inquired curiously.

Morgana turned to the ebony haired boy with a sly smile. “Because he’s our trump card when it comes to fighting strength.” It declared.

Akira smirked confidently. “Nice. I’m game for it.” He remarked.

Ryuji grinned at him. “It ain’t too bad, yeah? What should I be?” He asked excitedly.

Morgana crossed its arms, analyzing the punk’s appearance. “You’ll be...Let’s see...”It hummed. “Thug.”

The delinquent stomped his foot. “Are you pickin’ a fight with me?! I’ll choose it myself!” Ryuji huffed. Resting his hands on his hips, he hummed. “Hm...When it comes to me, it’s gotta be this mask. Honestly, I actually kinda like it. What if we named me after this?” He suggested eagerly.

Airi nodded in agreement. “You’ll be Skull then!” She declared happily.

“Ooh! That sounds awesome! I’m Skull!” Ryuji, now Skull, proclaimed.

Akira, now Joker, nodded, agreeing with the blond.

Skull gestured at the cat with his foot. “What do we do about this one’s code name?” He asked.

Tapping his chin, Joker shrugged. “What do you think?” He rebuked.

“How ‘bout “Mona”?” Ryuji suggested with a grin.

It nodded. “Well, if Joker thinks it’s easier to call me that, then I’ll go with it.” Morgana, now Mona, stated firmly.

The three then turned to look at the only female, humming thoughtfully.

Airi grimaced, slightly uncomfortable at how their eyes roamed her body up and down.

“She’s super regal lookin’. How about Empress?” Skull suggested, looking at the other two.

“No, that’s too cold.” Mona replied, looking at her with dreamy eyes. “How about Princess?” It countered, hopping up and down. “That’s way too girly!” Skull argued.

Airi sweatdropped. 'Is this going to be a regular thing..?' She sighed.

 

Joker observed the girl closely. She was more woman than girl, if he was being honest. The way she acted made it seem like she was of high status, but how she treated everyone made her come off as motherly. Her clothes were rich looking, with its embroidered silks and lace mask, so perhaps Princess would have worked, but her full figure complemented it by seeming more mature and dignified. It all came together really-”Elegantly.” He murmured, his mouth dry.

The three looked at him curiously, not hearing what he said.

Taking a deep breath, he repeated himself. “Elegant. That should be your name.” Joker stated, heart beating a bit faster.

Humming, Skull nodded his head. “I like it! Works for our class prez!” He remarked, grinning widely.

Mona jumped in agreement. “That works perfectly!” It purred.

Airi blinked in surprise, and blushed. Hearing her friends, her mostly male friends, call her elegant was flattering, if a bit embarrassing. “Well...if it’s fine with you guys. I’ll be called Elegant.” Airi, now Elegant, stated, smiling cheerfully.

Mona looked at the three seriously. “All right. From here on out, we’re Joker, Skull, Elegant, and Mona. We need to be absolutely thorough about using those code names from now on!” It declared firmly.

Everyone nodded in agreement.

“All right! Let’s go nab this Treasure thing!” Skull exclaimed, grinning viciously.

They set off into the Palace.

 

So I wanted to let you guys really visualize how I see Airi, and I drew her! The caricatures are based off of the P5 artwork faces. I haven't drawn in years so I tried my best, and fixed them up in photoshop orz The second photo is her thief outfit! I took the base outfit from FF13 Lightning Returns (I love FF hehe) the weapon is from FFTYPE-0, and the mask is just something I found on google that fit my image of it. I have another photo of her various outfits later on but I'll hold onto those for a future chapter!

Chapter Text

They crawled through the vent, emerging into the infiltration point. Jumping down from the bookcases, they cautiously opened the door leading out into the short hallway. Looking around the coast, they turned to open the door across when they heard clanking. They turned their heads in the direction of the sounds.

 

“Praise be to King Kamoshida! Death to the intruders!”

 

“W-What the hell?!” Skull sputtered, looking down the hallway out into the foyer.

There was a contingent of soldiers gathered in the main hall. At the top of the stairs, was Shadow Kamoshida.

“Those intruders the other day were quite entertaining.” Kamoshida began. “However, I can’t allow that trash to ransack my castle!” He declared, striking out in the air. “Strengthen the security! KIll them on sight! I’ll reward whoever brings me their heads.” He commanded.

“Praise be to King Kamoshida! Death to the intruders!” The soldiers shouted in unison.

Hiding behind the doors were the thieves, listening in on the announcement with a frown. “Hey, Mona. Can’t we just beat the crap outta him and call it a day?” Skull grilled, sneering toward the warped king.

“Look at all those soldiers, idiot! It’d be suicide. And I’m sure you don’t want a repeat of last time.” Mona snapped quietly. “Besides, don’t you want him to confess his sins?”

Elegant nodded. “We need him to pay, for Shiho-chan, and everyone on the volleyball team.” She stated coldly. “The Treasure is more important.”

Skull rolled his eyes. “Fiiiine. So, where is it?” He questioned the feline.

“It has to be somewhere in the depths of this castle. Let’s infiltrate further in while he’s out here!” It suggested, moving back from the open doorway.

They opened a door further down the hall, revealing a guard standing with its back against them. Quickly retreating, they hid behind the corners.

“Dammit, there’s a guard over here too...” Skull gritted his teeth. “Whaddya wanna do? Should we kick its ass?” He asked Joker.

The black haired thief nodded. “We have to, this is the only way forward.” He stated, readying his dagger.

“Hold on.” Mona interrupted, stopping them. “This might be a good opportunity to teach you something. All right, let’s go!”

They snuck up on the guard, Joker jumping on its back and tearing off its mask. "Show me your true form!" He yelled. It convulsed, turning into a fairy. The four stood ready with their weapons.

“Remember how I taught you Hold Ups and All-Out Attacks? I’ll teach you their practical use now.” Mona explained. “There’s another use for Hold Ups besides simply defeating enemies. Shadows are beings born from people’s hearts, so naturally, they can talk too. In other words, you can communicate with them. Get it?” It lectured the others. “If you talk to them when they’re cornered, they might offer money or items since they don’t want to die. In fact, talking has a better chance of scoring something great, as opposed to just offing them.”

“Wait.” Elegant interrupted. “They can give you money? Legitimate Japanese yen? I thought they were fake.” She asked, befuddled at the concept.

“Yep! Well then, let’s do the first step: Knock all enemies down, and do a Hold Up!” Mona declared.

Joker reached into his belt, pulling out his 9mm and shot one bullet, knocking the fairy down onto the floor. They rushed in to surround it, pointing their firearms at the vulnerable enemy.

“Seriously?! You guys are the intruders that king Kamoshida was talking about..?” The fairy complained, leaning on her hands. “It can’t get worse than this...What’re you going to do with me?!”

Joker cocked his gun, glaring at the Shadow. “Give me some money.” He demanded.

“For real?! You’ll let me live if I give you something?” The shadow sputtered, looking at him hopefully.

Mona shrugged. “Well, something along those lines...Now let it be money or items. Just cough it up!” It demanded, pointing its slingshot at the enemy.

The fairy sweated. “But, this happened so suddenly...I actually don’t have anything on me...” It stammered. “I-I usually do though, you know?!”

Taken aback, Mona looked at it bewilderedly. “W-Wait, what? Oh...This isn’t how I was planning this to go.” It sweatdropped. “Uh...Anyway, it can’t be helped if that’s the case. Time for you to go to hell.” It declared.

“W-Wait!” The fairy shouted frantically.

“Sorry, but we’re in a hurry.” Elegant stated apologetically, readying her sniper rifle.

“Can’t we work something out? Don’t kill me, please! Won’t you let me go?” The Shadow begged.

Joker shook his head. “You chose the wrong enemy.” He affirmed.

“Wow...You’re really confident. But I’m the same way. In any other situation, we’d get along really well.” The Pixie reminisced, before glowing. “Whoa, I feel different! Something’s happening!” It exclaimed confusedly.

“What the..?! What’s going on?!” Mona yelped, watching with wide eyes.

The fairy flew up in the air, a sheen of light surrounding it. “Oh yeah, I remember now! I don’t belong just to King Kamoshida...I’m an existence that drifts about in the sea of humanity’s souls...My real name is “Pixie”!” It proclaimed. “I am thou, thou art I. From now on, I’ll live on inside your heart!” It finished, before bright blue light enveloped it. In its place was a mask, a perfect replica of Joker’s. It flew to Joker and merged with his own in a sea of shimmer.

He smirked triumphantly, feeling the new power within him.

The rest of the group ran up to him in awe. “What was that just now..? What happened?!” Mona questioned quickly.

Skull turned to look at his feline companion. “Wh-What the hell was that about? The enemy got sucked into Joker’s mask!” He asked, completely shocked.

Elegant moved a little closer to the ebony haired teammate, examining his mask. “That was amazing.” She breathed, looking at him in awe.

He smirked at faintly for the compliment.

“I-I have no idea!” Mona stammered. “I wasn’t expecting that either.”

 

“Intruders?! Halt!”

 

A guard appeared in the doorway. The four thieves turned around quickly.

“Shit, they noticed us!” Skull gritted.

The guard convulsed, darkness spilling out of its armor, before turning into two Demon Horses.

‘I sense a new possibility within me stemming from the previous battle....’ Joker thought, slicing three times with his dagger, backflipping away, and brought up a hand to clench his mask. He spun in place, summoning Pixie, and struck out with a Zio. It shocked one Demon Horse, knocking it down on its feet.

Mona looked at him in shock. “Is that the Shadow from earlier?! Don’t tell me...Did you take in the Shadow’s appearance and powers as a Persona?!” It sputtered.

“Hey!” Elegant called out. “Want me to finish it off?”

Joker looked at the female and nodded in acquiesce.

The richly dressed thief rushed up to the demon and spun in an arch with her scythe, slicing into the Demon Horse several times, before jumping into the air and stabbing down with the sharp tip. It halved the Shadow, screaming out in pain as it dissipated.

Skull yelled out, “Captain Kidd!”, summoning his Persona, and sending out a bolt of lightning to the other Shadow. They rushed up to surround the enemy.

“Ow, ow, ow...Whaddya think yer doin?!” It groaned.

“Lend me your power.” Joker commanded, pointing his gun. The horse cocked its head. “So that’s yer move?...Then I guess I’ll talk first. I’ll decide if I’m gonna help you after. I was just passin’ by, and you roughed me up real bad. Hey, what’s yer deal? Somethin’ bad happen in yer life or somethin’, sonny?” It asked gruffly.

The ebony haired thief glared at it. “You’re getting on my nerves.” Joker warned.

“Y’know, let’s just drop all this dangerous stuff and go fer a drink. Whaddya say?” The horse suggested nervously. “Humans talk over drinks, right? How ‘bout it? Hell, let me buy you a round, sonny.” It offered.

“Quit messing around.” Joker threatened it.

“Heh, you don’t like jokes, huh? Reminds me of when-Oh!” The Shadow got up on its hooves, standing confidently. “I remember now. My name is Demon Horse. I’ll go with ya.” It stated, before turning into a mask and flying to merge with Joker’s.

He smirked. Another Persona acquired!

Mona gazed up at its leader in awe. “No way...Does that mean you can wield multiple Personas?!” It gawked.

Skull looked around confusedly. “H-Hey, Mona! What was that about?! What did Joker do?” He asked.

The feline circled their current team leader, observing him. “He sealed the enemy’s appearance and powers into his mask, and made it his new Persona.” It rationalized. “I’ve never seen anyone do that before...didn’t even know it was possible!” It exclaimed, amazed at what it just witnessed.

Elegant hummed. “Perhaps it’s purely unique to Joker then? We don’t seem to have the same ability.” She remarked, tapping her chin. “So a person can only have one Persona each. Joker now has three, which means that he could absorb different Personas with different strengths and weaknesses, making it so he can always have the advantage!” The rosette cheered. “Really living up to your name as the wild card!”

Joker smirked, pleased at hearing so many compliments. “Sounds useful.” He remarked, clenching and unclenching his hand experimentally, feeling the power humming beneath his skin. “Let’s keep going.” He ordered.

Mona’s eyes shined with excitement. “Hehe, I like you even more now! I really do have someone special on my hands!” It snickered, a grin on its cartoonish face.

They moved through the next door, passing through the guard armory and fighting Shadows along the way. Joker acquired two new Personas in the meantime, a Jack-O-Lantern and a Mandrake.

“Oh!” Elegant gasped. “A treasure chest! Let’s check it out!” She suggested excitedly to her companions, gesturing to the box that was at a corner. The ebony haired thief walked up to the chest, opening it. They all peered curiously over his shoulder. He pulled out a silver dagger.

“Nice! It looks stronger than your current one, you should use that.” Mona suggested.

Nodding, Joker switched out his rebel knife with the silver dagger, testing the grip. ‘It does seem a little sturdier.’ He observed.

Advancing through the next corridor, they passed by a gated hallway and detected a door that was different from the others. It slightly wavered the closer they got to it.

“Oooh, it’s another hazy-lookin’ door! This that thing! Uhh, what was it called..?” Skull exclaimed, scratching his head.

“A safe room, perfect.” Elegant sighed in relief.

“We can discuss our strategy inside. There are a lot of places even I don’t know about in here.” Mona added, pushing the door open. The room shuddered, turning into an empty classroom, before fluctuating back into an abandoned armory.

 

The blonde model walked up to the castle, looking around cautiously. “This is that place from earlier..!” She muttered. She gazed around the empty courtyard, not seeing her fellow students. 'Why were they dressed so weirdly..?' Pulling out her phone, she looked at it perplexedly. “...What’s up with this app? I just said the words Sakamoto said, and I ended up-”

“Princess?!”
Taken offguard by the shouting, she shot her head up. “Huh?” She uttered. She took a step back in bewilderment when she saw some three suits of armor run up to her. "Princess, you must come with us!" A guard demanded. Another picked her up, carrying her on their shoulder.

“Aaaaaaaah!” She screamed fearfully as she was forcefully taken into the castle.

‘Someone help me!’ She prayed fervently.


Super thank you to LadyMiittens for the fantastic fanart!! I'm so honored and happy to receive this, thank you so much for your love and support!!!

Chapter Text

Sitting on one of the chairs in the safe room, Skull sighed. “Aren’t there even more Shadows here than before?” He remarked. “Just gettin’ this far’s been a real pain in my ass!” He groaned, stretching his arms in the air.

“It’s all because you guys provoked Kamoshida, you know.” Mona chided, waving its paws. “Still...he seems to be awfully on guard.” It remarked solemnly, glaring at the door in suspicion.

“The entire castle must be mobilized right now.” Elegant added, sitting calmly in her chair, her hands placed on her leather clad lap. “We need to be as careful as possible.”

“So how are we supposed to steal the Treasure then?” Skull questioned, looking at their feline teammate.

Mona glanced at him warningly. “Don’t be so hasty.” It chided. “First, we’ll need to secure an infiltration route.”

The male in question crossed his arms. “The what..?” Skull asked, confused.

“Basically, we need to find a safe way to get to the Treasure quickly. I doubt we can defeat the Palace in one day, which means we have to come back.” Elegant explained clearly, making sure Skull can follow. “So we need to find a clear passage from the starting point to the end.” The rosette finished.

The blond punk oohed and nodded his head in understanding.

“Since we have four members, I think we can definitely accomplish this!” Mona proclaimed confidently, jumping onto the table.

A thought hitting the pirate, Skull turned to look at it. “Hey, you say you don’t have your memories and all, but somehow you still know about that kinda stuff?” He asked, slightly perplexed, turning to his ebony haired companion. “Do you think this thing’s really got amnesia?” Skull whispered.

“I believe in Mona.” Joker replied evenly. “He hasn’t led us wrong yet.”

Mona smiled happily up at its leader. “At least you’re a step above that moron.” It cheerfully commented, ignoring Skull’s shout of indignation.

“You sure talk big, but what if it turns out you’re just some stray cat in the end?” Skull frowned suspiciously.

Mona shook its head. “That can’t be...” It muttered morosely.


“Still, why was the princess in such an odd place..?”


Turning toward the door, the four pressed against it, listening in on the passing conversation.

“Princess?” Elegant murmured, frowning in confusion.

The other three shrugged, also confused. They could have sworn it was only Kamoshida around.

“I could have sworn we were pursuing the readings of an intruder…”

“It doesn’t matter now. We must take her back to King Kamoshida!”

Hearing the clanking of metal getting farther away from their room, they relaxed their guards.

“Who’s this princess they’re talkin’ about..?” Skull asked, trying to remember if someone else was supposed to be here.

Joker shrugged, not knowing either.

Furrowing her brows at a thought, Elegant turned to the others. “Could they mean Ann-chan? She was the only other female around...” She frowned worryingly. “But we sent her home, didn’t we?” The thieves looked at each other, confused.

Mona pushed the door ajar, peeking out. “I should probably look into this!” It declared, sprinting down the hallway. The three Shujin students looked at each other exasperatedly.

“And yet another question goes unanswered...” Skull remarked sullenly. “Stuff like the castle and that navigation app are mysterious...but Morgana’s got ‘em both beat.”

“Mona.” Joker corrected him.

“Crap, sorry!” Skull winced. “Who am I again?...Oh yeah, Skull!”

Elegant frowned. "Mona's taught us a lot about this world. We can trust them enough. Even if they haven't told us their origins..." She trailed off uncomfortably. "I'm sure they'll tell us when they're ready."

They stood there awkwardly for a moment, before it was interrupted by Mona’s reappearance. “Guys, this is bad!” It exclaimed, blue eyes wide. “It’s Lady Ann! She’s been taken by the Shadows...!” It yelled out.

Alarmed, the three humans looked at each other apprehensively.

“I hate when I’m right.” Elegant commented, wincing. “She must have the app on her phone now.”

Skull furiously rubbed his head. “Dammit! We let her out for her own safety, and she just came back in by herself..!” He gritted. “Dammit, we don’t got time to be takin’ a break! We gotta go save her ass!”

They exited the room and ran down the hallway. Going back the way they came, they noticed the barred corridor was now open, the carpet slightly scuffled as if someone had dragged their feet. It was decorated with red walls and hearts, two rows of armor lining the entire corridor. Rose petals spread all over the ground dramatically.


“Get off!”


“Let’s hurry!” Elegant urged, running down the hallway toward the closed black doors. They followed her, passing a knocked down suit of metal.


“Look, I’ll apologize for touching the armor without permission!”


“She totally doesn’t get what’s goin’ on...” Skull groaned, arriving at the doors.

“Let’s hurry and save her!” Mona exclaimed.

They pushed the doors open, the sight that greeted them had them all biting back a swear.



Ann was shackled to an “X” shaped cross, two guards standing in front of her. The room was showered with flower petals and candles, a horrific portrait of a shirtless Kamoshida hung right in the center.

“What’s all this about?! Seriously, I’m gonna call the cops!” Ann yelled, frantically trying to break free.

“So, this is the intruder.” A sinister voice announced. Kamoshida walked up to observe the blonde model with his glowing yellow eyes.

“Kamoshida?!” Ann yelped in surprise, her blue eyes staring at the cape-clad teacher incredulously. A perfect copy of her walked up next to him, clad in a purple leopard print bikini and cat ears.

“Who is that..?” Ann whispered, her eyes not leaving her copycat. “More importantly, what is this place?! Why’s the school turned into something like this?!” She demanded, wanting an answer.

Smirking amusedly, the Shadow king turned to his soldiers. “I can’t believe you mistook my Ann for someone like her.” He chuckled. “Are you afraid?” He asked, looking menacingly at the student.

She looked back at him warily. “What is that outfit..? Have you lost your mind?” She asked skeptically, fear starting to creep in.

The king flared his arms out, showcasing the room. He gave her a large grin, madness in his eyes. “I do as I please here. After all, this is my castle...The world of my desires.” He declared loudly.

Ann stared at him in disbelief, her eyes darting around the room. “What the-?! Is this some kind of red light district?!” She screeched, struggling against the cross.

Kamoshida frowned. “What a lively slave.” He remarked.

“This isn’t funny! Enough of the bullshit, Kamoshida!” Ann yelled, angry at her situation.

The evil king’s eyes narrowed at the insult. He turned to Not-Ann. “The girl’s decided to tell me off. What do you think of that?” He asked amusedly.

She smiled back at him seductively. “Talking back is, like...totally unforgivable...” Not-Ann replied back slowly, as if drugged.

He turned back to the school girl. “In that case...she should be executed.” He declared, sneering at his prisoner. “Now then, how should I play with you? Shall I tear you into little pieces?” Kamoshida taunted, a mad grin spreading across his rectangular face.

Ann looked at the approaching soldier, fear slowly creeping into her expression. “Are you kidding me..?” She whispered, scrunching up her face.

“This is fucked up.” Skull spat out. “Is that what he thinks of the girls on the volleyball team?!”

In front of the phantom thieves were topless girls, mewling and sprawled out seductively on the carpet. They all wore the volleyball team underwear.

Joker tch’ed in disgust, looking away from the indecent females. To think a male teacher would go this far.

Staring at the sexualized girls in horror, Elegant clenched her fists. ‘That’s Watanabe...Nakamura...Harada....and Tanaka.’ She listed to herself coldly, remembering their names and faces for later.

“Hey, that’s..!” Mona yelped, staring off to the right of the room.

The three humans looked in the same direction, seeing Ann strapped down on a cross and surrounded by Shadows, including Kamoshida and Not-Ann. The four rushed forward.

“Takamaki!” Skull shouted, clenching his fists.

“Just when I was about to start enjoying myself...” Kamoshida scowled, turning to look at the new arrivals.

Struggling against her bonds, Ann looked incredulously at her school mates. “What’s the deal with this guy?!” She cried out.

“You little..!” Skull growled, glaring at the distorted king.

“...How many times are you gonna come back?” Kamoshida asked, sneering at them, when his eyes landed on Elegant. “Oh? What a beautiful young woman you have there.” He licked his lips salaciously, yellow eyes roaming up and down her body. “I wouldn’t mind having a taste…”

Disgusted, Elegant took a step back. Her three teammates moved in front of her, shielding her from the king’s roaming gaze. They glared at him hatefully.

Shrugging, the distorted teacher turned back to his prisoner. “I bet you’re just like those thieves. You came because you’re pissed at me, huh?” Kamoshida asked mockingly. “But ah...I forget that chick’s name, but it’s your fault she jumped, you know.”

“Huh?” Ann breathed, looking at him with wide eyes.

He chuckled. “You were so reluctant to throw yourself onto me that I had her take your place.” Kamoshida stated to the room.

Narrowing her light blue eyes in anger, Ann struggled harder. “You bastard!” She roared at him. She gasped when a guard moved closer.

“No!” Skull shouted, taking a step to intercept the guard but was stopped when Kamoshida raised his hand. “Take one more step and I’ll kill her on the spot.” He threatened, sneering at the intruders.

The blond punk flinched. “Dammit..!” He gritted his teeth in frustration.

The king chuckled darkly. “Just sit back and enjoy the dismantlement show.”

Ann gasped and pulled at her cuffs. “No! Don’t!” She objected profusely.

“Maybe I’ll start with her clothes.” Kamoshida giggled pervertedly, nostrils flaring. Not-Ann giggled, shaking her bikini-clad breasts. “You’re such a perv!” She purred.


“Dammit, what are we gonna do?!” Skull gritted his teeth. They stood there, uncertain of what they can do to get out of this situation.

Joker bit back a curse. What could they do? Guns? His eyes darted from his own, to his teammates’. It won’t kill all the enemies. But...His eyes landed on Elegant. That might work.

He made a small gesture with his chin, trying to signal the female thief.

Her tense eyes darted to him, awaiting orders.

Joker put his pointer and middle finger together, mimicking a gun.

Her eyes lit up with realization and nodded, discreetly readying her rifle.


“Is this...my punishment for what happened to Shiho..?” Ann whispered, looking down defeatedly as the soldiers moved closer.

The shadow king chuckled in amusement. “That’s more like it. You should’ve looked like this from the start.” He remarked darkly.

Light blue eyes teared, staring blankly at nothing. “Shiho...I’m so sorry..” Ann whispered, clenching her eyes.

“You’re just going to listen?” Joker questioned his classmate, a serious look on his face. “Don’t give in!”

Lifting her head, Ann looked at the ebony haired teen. “Huh..?” She breathed, surprise written on her face.

“Ann-chan, this is the man who raped Shiho.” Elegant stated grimly. “Are you going to let this disgusting piece of shit get away with it?!”

Biting her lip, the model nodded. “...You’re right.” She replied resolutely, a determined expression overcoming her moment of weakness. “Letting this piece of shit toy with me..,” Ann struggled in her bindings. “What was I thinking..?!” She yelled at herself, her anger rising.

Kamoshida frowned. “It’s like I always say. Slaves should just behave and-” “Shut up!” Ann interrupted. “I’ve had enough of this...” She declared, glaring at the teacher. “You’ve pissed me off, you son of a bitch!”

‘My...it’s taken far too long.’

Chapter Text

Gasping, Ann convulsed in her chains, pain wracking through her body. She felt something pulse, something within her. Deep inside, it has awakened from its slumber.

‘Tell me...who is going to avenge her if you don’t?’

Clenching her eyes, she let out little gasps of pain. ‘My body feels like it’s on fire!’ She jerked around, trembling.

‘Forgiving him was never the option…Such is the scream of the other you that dwells within...’

Sweat drenching her forehead, hair sticking to her face, she screamed out in anguish. She tensed, her upper body thrust in the air, before slumping down, exhausted.

‘We can finally forge a contract…’

Head down, tears streaming down her face with saliva dribbling from the side of her mouth, she answered. “I hear you...Carmen.” Ann whispered.

She flung her head back, revealing a red feline mask covering the entire upper half of her face, her eyes glowing yellow with untapped power. “You’re right. No more holding back..!” She declared loudly.

Kamoshida gasped at the mask, taking a step back.

‘There you go...Nothing can be solved by restraining yourself.’

Body flaring with blue flames, Ann broke through her shackles in bursts of shrapnel. Taking her right hand, she clenched her mask.

‘Understand? Then I’ll gladly lend you my strength.’

Ripping it off with a splatter of blood, she screamed, a funnel of power enshrouding her from everyone else.

When the energy dispersed a little, it revealed a slim young woman with two curly pigtails, clad in a layered red dress, roses and thorns encircling her torso. In one hand she held a doll resembling a lovesick man, another beneath her stiletto clad foot. Staring predatorily through her feline mask, Carmen floated behind Ann.

Ann, whose school uniform was replaced with a red leather catsuit with zippers, clinging to her every curve. It left open a large window of her cleavage, showing satin smooth skin and the top curves of her breasts. A leather whip-like tail was attached to her backside, simulating a feline predator. Her hands were encased in pink leather gloves, and her darker red boots encircling her upper thighs.

Opening her eyes, she stared defiantly at the enemies around her. Rushing up to one, she launched an upper kick to its hand, making it release its sword into the air. Jumping up, she grabbed it by the handle, and with a loud cry, swung down at the Not-Ann. The fake screamed, dissipating into nothing.

Kamoshida stared wide eyed at the red clad woman. A shot rang out, hitting in front of him, and he frantically scooted back. A soldier moved to shield him, but another bullet shot it into a wisp.

Done with her job, Elegant put her rifle away, taking her scythe out.

Sweating bullets now, the distorted ruler moved away even more, tripping and landing on his backside.

“You know what?” Ann began, standing up from her landing crouch. She glared at the disgusting man in front of her. “I’m not some cheap girl you can toy with, you scumbag.” She declared.

Gritting his teeth, Kamoshida glared up at her. “Bitch..!” He muttered angrily.

The new Persona user took a step forward, her comrades backing her up. They all glared down at him. “You stole everything from Shiho...You destroyed her...Now it’s your turn!” Ann yelled. Pointing a finger at the despicable teacher, an inferno lighting her eyes. “I will rob you of everything!” She declared. A whip appeared in her hand, and she cracked it experimentally.

“How dare you!” A lieutenant shouted, more soldiers backing him up. “Enough of your insolence!” They convulsed, and merged into one being. The black shadows creeped back, showing a horrid looking demon with large horns and a beard, sitting on a toilet.

Ann glared at it. “No. I’ve had enough of you!” She retorted, clenching her fist at it. “No one’s gonna stop me now!” The blonde crouched into a feline battle position. “Let’s go, Carmen!”

“How dare you deny King Kamoshida’s love, you selfish lass?! Pay for this insolence with your life!” The demon exclaimed angrily.

Ann snorted derisively. “That dirtbag just sees women as sexual outlets! Don’t make me laugh with that “love” bullshit!” She rebuked. Holding a hand to her face, her red feline mask appeared in a flash of flames. “C’mon, Carmen! Let’s give ‘em hell!” Cracking her whip, the red clad woman moved in and whipped the Shadow several times.

Joker moved in after, slicing it with his dagger.

Skull sent a Zio at their opponent, paralyzing it. He ran back to Elegant, high-fiving her.

“Jeanne!” She yelled out, the finely clad Persona in purple and white appearing behind her. “Kouga!” She snapped her fingers, sending a beaming white light into the opponent, knocking it down. The four rushed in to attack it all at once. Moving back, they observed the heavily injured Shadow.

Ann called out, “Carmen!” The fiery woman appeared behind her, dragging her boytoy around callously. “Agi!” Ann commanded. A burst of fire encased the enemy, burning it into nothing.


The red clad female panted, body hunched over. The thieves stood protectively in front of her, glaring at their only opponent.

“Oh shit..!” Kamoshida cursed, sweat dripping down his face. He moved to dash out of the room, running away from the five thieves.

Elegant quickly held up her sniper rifle and aimed, pulling the trigger. Just at the last second, he turned the corner, the bullet lodging into the wall.

“Wait!” Ann called out, moving to go after him, but collapsed onto her knees in exhaustion.

The rosette quickly moved to kneel beside her, handing her a Recov-R. “Here, this will help.” The rosette advised.

The blonde swallowed it, instantly feeling better.

The others relaxed now that there were no enemies around, and Skull walked up to the newest Persona user. “Why’d you come here, man?! And more importantly, how?!” He shouted.

Mona glared up at the punk. “Hey! Is that how you speak to a woman?!” It chided firmly, before turning back to the half foreigner. “Are you alright, Lady Ann?” It asked softly.

Ann looked up at the cat in confusion. “Lady Ann..? Wait, what is this thing? Is it alive..? How can it talk?” She shot off, wondering what was standing in front of her.

Mona flinched, rejected.

“And...where in the world are we?!” Ann yelled.

“J-Just calm down.” Mona pleaded, panicking at her distress. “Everything’s going to be OK; don’t worry.”

Ann swiped her hand on its giant head, making it wobble in place. “How am I supposed to calm down?!” She yelled, before stiffening with surprise. “Huh?!” She looked down at her pink leather clad hands, and the body suit she was wearing, with disbelief. “Why am I dressed like this?! When did I-” She covered her body with her arms, face red with embarrassment.

Sweatdropping, Elegant interrupted. “Let’s move to a safe room so we can explain it to her. Kamoshida might send more guards.” She suggested, looking at Joker for confirmation.

He nodded, agreeing with what she said. “Let’s go.” He commanded, gesturing with a red clad hand. The others followed after him, Elegant gently guiding Ann who was still in shock. Joker opened the safe room, letting his teammates enter, before closing the door behind him.


“What is going on?! Can someone explain to me?” Ann pleaded, brows furrowed in confusion.

The thieves looked at each other, wondering who should explain, before three pairs of eyes landed on the other female in the room.

Noticing their silent volunteering, Elegant sighed and stepped forward. “All right, I’ll explain.”

Chapter Text

She spun their tale that began with her on April 9th, to meeting the three behind her earlier this week, until the moment they barged into the chamber where she was held. “And then you gained your Persona. Meaning, you now also have the power to take down this Palace.” Elegant finished, wetting her dry lips after talking so much.

“So...I have a Persona I can fight with? And it’s only in this “Metaverse” which I can access with the red eyeball app on my phone?” Ann repeated hesitantly, getting a nod from the four in front of her.

“Yep! Cool shit, huh?” Skull grinned, lacing his hands behind his head.

She nodded. “And I’m a fire user..?”

“Which means you’re weak to ice.” Elegant informed.

Ann scrunched up her face. “OK..? I’m a fire user, so I’m weak to ice...What about you guys?”

Skull leaned back in his seat. “I’m a lightning user, and I hate wind attacks. Mona there’s a wind user, and he’s weak to lightning. Got that?”

Joker leaned against the table. “I’m weak to bless and ice right now, but I can change with other Personas.”

Ann looked at him in surprise. “Wait, you can have multiple Personas? Do I have to go through that pain again?!” She grimaced.

Mona shook its head. “Not at all! Joker here is the only phantom thief who can hold more than one. Elegant there is null to bless and weak to curse, so we all balance out pretty well.”

Ann nodded in understanding. “OK, I think I get it.”

Skull gestured to the black haired male next to him. “If you need any help, you can always ask Joker.”

“Joker..Elegant? Are those some kind of nicknames?” Ann inquired curiously.

Mona shook its head. “They’re codenames because we’re phantom thieves, Lady Ann! Plus, who knows what would happen if we said our real names in a Palace.” It replied, smiling at her. “I’m Mona! He’s Skull, and she’s Elegant!” It stated, pointing to them respectively.

Ann looked down at her leather clad legs pensively. “So if we get Kamoshida’s Treasure, he’ll have a change of heart and confess his crimes?” She whispered.

Joker nodded. “That’s the plan.” He replied evenly.

“If guys like us try and complain at school, they’re just gonna shoot us down. Goin’ all in on this plan is the only choice we got.” Skull growled, clenching his fists.

Elegant idly grasped her arm. "No one else is going to do anything. The volleyball team is too scared to act, and the school looks the other way..." She frowned.

Biting her lip, she looked up at the four thieves. “Let me join you!” Ann declared. “I need to make him pay for what he did to Shiho!” She held up a clenched fist, determination roaring in her eyes.

“Wait, what?” Skull sputtered. “Did I just hear you say “Let me join you”? As in you want us to take you along?”

Ann glared at him, slightly hurt. “Don’t act like I’m going to drag you down. Weren’t you watching? I can fight too.” She argued.

Joker watched her contemplatively. “Are you sure? It’s dangerous work.” He asked his classmate, raising an eyebrow. “No one can know we did this either. Suzui-san will never know.” He stated quietly.

“That doesn’t matter!” Ann argued. “Shiho...Shiho might never wake up again. He just keeps going like nothing happened, even after what he did to her...I’ll never forgive him!”

Elegant nodded approvingly at her speech, scowling darkly at the mention of the teacher.

The ebony haired leader stared at her, before smirking. “Welcome aboard.” He awarded.

Skull turned to him in disbelief. “You serious, man..?” He whispered.

He nodded affirmingly.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect her.” Mona stated firmly, jumping on the table.

“Even if you say no, I’m just gonna go alone.” Ann added, crossing her arms.

Huffing, the punk relented. “Alright, fine. You better keep up, Takamaki!” He snarked, looking at the blonde with a frown.

Ann stuck her tongue out at him in response. “Then it’s decided. Well, I hope we get along!” She stated determinedly. “I’m going to make Kamoshida atone for what he did. Not just for Shiho’s sake...but for everything he’s done. I won’t let any more people suffer because of him. I’ll do whatever it takes!”

Joker nodded. ‘I sense a strong will from her…’

Mona stared at her with glimmering eyes, infatuated. “What a kind girl...Such admirable consideration for others.” It commented dreamily. “She cares about her friends, and she’s beautiful to boot...What a girl! She’s captured my heart...”

Elegant crossed her arms. “Since she’s our new member, what should her codename be?” She asked the room. “We can’t keep calling her her name in this realm.”

They turned to the other female in the room, scrutinizing her. “But daaamn…” Skull whistled in appreciation.

Ann, not realizing his ogling, looked at the others. “Hm? What’s up?” She asked confusingly, playing with one ponytail.

“N-nothing. I mean, she’s got that tail and stuff, so...how about Sexy Cat?” Skull grinned pervertedly.

Recoiling, she looked at him in disgust. “Wait! Is that what you’re going to call me from now on?! I am SO not down with this!” She rebuked harshly, cringing at the suggestion.

“What do you wanna be called then?” He asked.

She placed a hand under her chin. “Um, something better than just a little cat...” She replied sullenly. “Maybe…”Panther”?” She suggested, looking at the others hopefully. “That sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it?”

Skull scratched his head. “Huh? Why?” He asked, befuddled.

“‘Cause it sounds more...ferocious?” Ann replied, sounding it more like a question as if she wasn’t sure herself.

They nodded in agreement. Mona smiled dreamily. “She’s a cougar..!” It murmured happily at its fellow feline.

Ann stomped her foot. “Don’t call me that!” She yelled, blushing slightly in embarrassment. She turned to her fellow classmates. “More importantly, Kamoshida..!”

“Oh, right.” Skull sputtered, before glaring determinedly. “Let’s go!” He pumped his fist.


They set out into the den of monsters. They made their way through the various hallways, checking rooms and corners for hidden treasures and enemies. Walking into a large room, they noticed a glowing chest.

“Huh, it’s locked.” Mona remarked. “It needs a lockpick to open. Do we have any?” It asked the others. They shook their heads.

“Oh!” Elegant perked up. “I have a bobby pin on me. Give me a second.” She said, fishing out said bobby pin from her braided bun, letting it fall down in tails. She twisted the thin metal, inserting it into the lock and fidgeting for a second, before they heard a “click” sound. The lock snapped off, and she opened the lid, taking out a plate of gold and a piece of onyx. She turned back to her friends, putting her bun up again, and stopped.

They all looked at her with wide eyes. “Dude, where’d you learn to pick a lock?” Skull whistled, impressed at her skill.

“Uh...places.” Elegant replied, eyes darting away uncomfortably. “Let’s just keep going.” She insisted, walking down the hall.

Joker stared at her contemplatively before following. ‘I’ll ask her later.’ He noted.

Chapter Text

Making it through the maze of hallways, they arrived on the second floor of the foyer. They looked down from the railing, noticing the main hall was filled with enemies.

“This way!” Joker whispered, gesturing at the nearby bookcase. He jumped up on it, before walking down an arch.

They followed him, jumping from chandelier to chandelier, until they made it to the other side of the main hall. Opening up the nearest door, they ran up the spiraling staircase to the third floor. Sneaking and attacking Shadows along the way, the thieves acquired a lot of money and items. Stopping at the next safe room, some of them changed their weapons to better ones, keeping the old ones to sell later.

Hopping back out, they snuck around a grand dining hall, filled with patrolling guards. The next room seemed to be a cellar, with no way out.

Looking around, Joker noticed a vent that they could go through. Heading into it, they emerged into the adjacent room, heading out from its door. The intruders went up to the next floor, arriving at a new hallway. Opening a nearby door, they noticed that it was a study.

Walking in, a particular book caught the leader’s eyes, and he took it with him.

“The Slave Book, huh..? That sounds kind of important..” Mona remarked.

They moved on, facing a gated door. Next to it was a black ram’s head, in its mouth a handle.

“Hey,” Skull began. “This is just like the one we saw before! If I’m rememberin’ right, we just gotta pull this...” He gestured to the handle, before pulling it. Nothing happened.

“There’s a round indentation underneath.” Elegant pointed. “It looks like it won’t activate unless we fill that.”

“So we need a key...I wonder where it could be.” Panther mused.

“Most likely with an enemy.” Joker sighed, turning back to look for more soldiers to kill.

They turned down a hallway with large white arches separating the corridor, two guards patrolling. They snuck up on one and killed it, before dodging into the room it was blocking. It was another library.

“Whoa, it’s so musty...” Panther coughed, trying to disperse all the dust particles in the air.

“A library, huh? This definitely seems fishy.” Mona remarked, before perusing the room.

“Whaddya mean?” Skull asked.

“Come on, it’s a library in a castle. There has to be some kind of secret mechanism in here.” Mona snarked.

The others followed its example, looking around the bookcases and tables.

One book caught Joker’s eyes. He picked it up, examining it. “It looks familiar...” He mused, taking out the other two he grabbed in earlier rooms.

Skull walked up, looking over his shoulder at the open book, before recoiling. “These’re the names of the volleyball team members!” He shouted. He looked at the other books still on the bookcases. “Wait, what the hell?! All of the titles are boys from our school!” He exclaimed.

“”Sakamoto Ryuji: The Vulgar Ape.” There’s one here for Skull.” Mona commented, peering at the book.

The punk gritted his teeth, “That bastard! Who the hell does he think he is?!” Skull growled.

“What about the book from earlier? Are they connected?” Elegant asked, frowning at the shelves.

“Maybe I should put it on the shelf.” Joker mused, pursing his lips.

“Yeah,” Panther agreed. “Maybe something will change.”

The leader inserted “The Slaves Book” into the slot, hearing a click.

Skull peered closer at a nearby bookcase. “”Tracing Kamoshida’s Steps”...”Kamoshida’s Heroisms”...”Kamoshida’s Law”..?” He squinted. “What the hell?! All these goddamn books are about Kamoshida!” He exclaimed incredulously.

Joker placed “The King’s Book” in the empty spot on the shelf. It clicked.

They moved onto a new shelf. “There are all sorts of books here. “Panther remarked, perusing the spines. “The titles don’t have any rhyme or reason to them.”

“Wait.” Elegant interjected, eyes wide. “That book has Shiho-chan’s name on it...and my name...All of the books on this shelf are about female students..!” She stated, looking at it in horror.

“Takamaki Ann: The Charming Doll.”... “Kimisawa Airi: The Lovely Rose.”..holy shit.” Skull winced, backing away from both the books and the women they talked about.

“What the heck is this?!” Ann yelled, glaring disgustedly at the bookcase.

Joker inserted “The Queen’s Book” in, hearing an answering click.

Hearing a rumbling, they turned to look. A wall separated and slid back, revealing another altar room similar to the one Panther was held in.

“Whoa, it opened up!” Skull gaped.

Mona jumped up in glee. “Yes! Let’s take a look around.” It suggested. They slowly walked in and looked around with wide eyes.

Next to the cross shaped shackle were two stocks, handcuffs dangling. The floor was lit by candles, illuminating the rose petals on the carpet. Plastered all over the walls were pictures of Shiho in various poses and locations, focusing on her face, breasts, and posterior.

“Ugh...The hell is this room? There’re only pictures of Suzui in here!” Skull exclaimed, cringing while he looked around.

Panther looked at them in despair, not saying anything.

Elegant silently placed a hand on the other female’s shoulder, comforting her. This was hard for her too. To think Kamoshida would create an altar for the girl he abused...Her lips tightened. Disgusting.

“We’ll make him pay for this.” Joker growled.

“Yeah...Definitely.” Panther replied determinedly. “I feel even more motivated to do this now.” She clenched her leather clad hand.

Mona looked at her sympathetically. “I’m sure it’ll feel awful, but we should search this room. There has to be something in here if he was hiding it with such an elaborate trick.” It suggested. They spread out to investigate, looking around the room in its corners and surfaces.

“Hm?” Elegant hummed, inspecting a small bookcase. Her eyes lit up when she spied a golden round medal. “Guys, I found the insignia for the door!” She called the others. She handed it over to her leader, who pocketed it.

“Hey, there’s a piece of paper there.” Panther pointed out, grabbing it. It was a map.

“Oh! It’s a different map from the one we have!” Mona remarked happily. “This is lucky...Let’s take it with us!”

Joker took out their old map and pieced them together, making one large map of the castle.

“Aha! Our map’s complete now!” Mona grinned.

“So is it gonna tell us where the Treasure is?” Skull asked.

Mona nodded, pointing to a far away point on the map. “Yeah, look. It has to be here.” It replied, frowning faintly.

“It’s a rather unique shape for a building.” Elegant remarked thoughtfully. “Is it a tower?”

“Considering our current position...I’d say we’re about halfway there.” Mona declared, crossing its arms satisfactorily.

“All right! Let’s hurry over there!” Skull proclaimed, pumping a fist in excitement.

“No. Now that we know how much we have left, we can calculate the best way to pace ourselves.” Mona shook its head.

“Let’s keep exploring.” Elegant suggested. “But if anyone is tired, speak up so we can take a break. Time doesn’t really pass in this world, after all.” The others nodded, hope blooming in them with the knowledge that they were getting close.

They sped back to the barred door. Joker placed the medal into the indentation, and with a click, the ram head lowered. He pulled the handle, and the bars slid into the floor, opening a new path.

“Sweet! Looks like it worked.” Skull grinned.

“Now we can keep going!” Panther cheered.

They went through the door, walking down a short set of stairs.

“Hm?” Mona peered at the nearby door. “It’s a safe room!” It announced.

They went in to take a short breather. Elegant did her rounds to check for any injuries that needed treatment.

Panther sighed heavily.

“Wassup?” Skull asked the red clad female.

“My mind just keeps coming back to what Shiho must have been through..” She whispered.

Elegant frowned. “Panther…” She looked down guiltily.

The punk sat back in his seat. “We’re ‘bout halfway, so we just gotta go the other half and then we can get revenge for her!” He reassured.

Panther looked at him, and nodded. “Yeah...You’re right. Sorry for being such a downer. I’ll do my best from now on!” She declared determinedly. Refreshed, they left and continued on.

The next room was a grandiose chapel, rose petals falling and disappearing from the air. The archways were covered in rose bushes, in a parody of wedding halls. At the very end of the chapel stood a large statue of Kamoshida with his arms held out benevolently, light shining on it from the glass stained windows.

As they walked in, the entire church wavered, turning into the Shujin Academy gym, before changing back.

“Wait, was that...the gym?” Panther gasped.

“I get it...The gym’s some kinda holy place for him. He’s a god there.” Skull grunted, glaring at the statue disdainfully.

“How disgusting of an ego can he have?” Elegant murmured.

Joker didn’t say anything, gray orbs darting around to check for enemies and escape routes. They walked up closer to the statue, peering up at it with animosity.

“I can’t believe he can think like that...especially after what he did to Shiho...” Panther gritted her teeth angrily.

Skull nodded in agreement. “God, that bastard makes me so freakin’ sick! Just you wait, Kamoshida..!” He swore, clenching a fist.

“I see...So you’re the ones who tampered with the library. It seems my time waiting here has paid off...”

Chapter Text

The five thieves turned their heads, looking for whoever said that.

In a splatter of black and red, a golden suit of armor appeared in front of them. “Just as that ape there said,” the guard captain gestured to Skull. “This place is a holy ground for our great King Kamoshida. It is preposterous for miscreants like yourselves to come waltzing in like this.” It declared sternly.

“There’s nothing holy about this place! He’s a perverted rapist who should rot in hell!” Elegant retorted, twirling her scythe in her hand.

Convulsing, the Shadow changed into a Heavenly Punisher. “How dare you...You will pay for foolishly defying King Kamoshida...with your lives!” It shouted, as it raised its sword, striking at them.

They dodged the attack, and readied their weapons. “I knew this would happen! Well, we don’t have a choice! Let’s take it down!” Mona ordered.

The feline rushed in and sliced the Shadow with its scimitar, before backing away for Joker to add a few slashes.The Shadow shook them away, before charging up.

“Watch out! Make sure you guard!” Mona advised.

The infiltrators guarded themselves in preparation. The Heavenly Punisher sent a Cleave at Skull, tearing his arms up a bit, but otherwise he was fine.

“Persona!” Panther called out, Carmen appearing behind her. “Agi!” She sent a burst of flames, only slightly damaging the suit of armor. Elegant pulled out her sniper rifle, and shot it, knocking it down.

“Let’s rush it!” They surrounded it and performed an All-Out Attack, everyone taking a strike.

“Arsene!” Joker called out, the gentleman thief appearing. “Eiga!” He sent a curse attack at the enemy, knocking it down once more, and the thieves rushed in. Landing from his attack, Joker adjusted his gloves before smirking, as the Shadow behind him dissipated into nothing.

They lowered their weapons. “Didn’t realize those things could be that tough...” Skull panted, coughing a bit from the exhaustion.

“Yeah,” Mona nodded. “It looks like he’s making a concerted effort to stop us now.” It turned to its leader. “Joker, I’ve helped you learn a few different things so far, but there’s no more time for lessons.” It stated. “We’ll have to do our best from here on out!”

Joker nodded in understanding.

Suddenly, four guards appeared in a burst of meta energy, and began patrolling the chapel.

Alarmed, the thieves hid. “Crap, more of ‘em...” Skull grunted.

“What should we do? Head back?” Panther asked worriedly.

“No.” Elegant shook her head, observing the Shadows. “The Treasure is up ahead, and there’s most likely a path to it somewhere. We just need to be smart about this.” She stated, looking over at Joker. He looked around, his eyes catching a balcony close by. Gesturing to the others to follow him, he ran and jumped, flipping onto the next platform.They followed, making sure the guards didn’t notice them. They tried entering the nearby door, but to no avail.

“There has to be another way.” Elegant insisted, biting her lip, looking around the room. “There!” She pointed to a nearby balcony with a treasure chest. “If the layout is correct, there should be another balcony on the other side of the room.” She stated, pointing to the metal walkway filled with Kamoshida statues. “We can get across by walking on that.”

Joker nodded. “Good eye.” He complimented.

They jumped on the pillars, platforming to the chest. Grabbing whatever was inside, they made their way over the grate, crossing the room. There was one guard patrolling the balcony, and they ambushed it. Brushing themselves off, they headed toward the door, swinging it open.

Sneaking through the hallway, the checked the rooms for treasure and whatnot. Opening one, they realize it was the locked door they couldn’t open in the chapel.

“Now we have a quicker way.” Joker mused, before continuing on.

Walking up the spiraling stairs, they opened the door, revealing a rooftop.

“Hey, take a look at that!” Skull pointed. Next to the rooftop was a large circular tower, piercing high into the dark red sky.

“Oh! That matches up with the map. There’s no doubt that’s the tower we’re headed for.” Mona proclaimed.

“So the Treasure’s up there!” Panther cheered, their goal fast approaching.

“Hell yeah, we did it! So...where’s the entrance?” Skull asked, looking around. They noticed a door on the other side of the roof. “All the way there?” He muttered.

As soon as he said that, four guards spawned, an aura of intimidation surrounding them.

They slipped back into the doorway. “Dammit...” Skull groaned, glaring out at the patrol unit.

“It’s no surprise that security would be tight around here.” Mona remarked, observing the enemies. “But as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Let’s go, Joker!”

They snuck around the guards, ambushing them one by one. Clearing the rooftop of any enemies, they walked up to the door and tried to open it. Tried.

“Are you fucking serious..?” Skull groaned irritatedly.

“Maybe we can go up on the ledges?” Panther suggested, pointing up.

They jumped up on the stacked boxes before flipping onto the ledge, running toward the looming point. They circled the platform, up around the tower, and into an open window. They jumped down into the empty room, and opened the door cautiously. The room had a purple tint to the atmosphere, the checkered floors jutted at different heights haphazardly.

“Wh-What’s going on?!” Panther asked, looking around with wide eyes.

“The distortion is getting stronger...The Treasure has got to be nearby!” Mona stated firmly.

They cautiously crossed the room, jumping back when parts of the floor would rise up unexpectedly. Joker slammed his shoulder against the door, but it didn’t open. The five sighed, crossing to the other door. The hallway was lined with female upper body mannequins, their breasts jutting out of the wall. Walking through slowly, they avoided touching the statues, grimacing. The next room they came across had much larger upper body female statues, acting as pillars. Cringing, they opened the door closest. It revealed a platform with four female statues.

“Huh...What’s this?” Panther inquired, looking at it curiously.

“It looks like some kind of elevator.” Elegant mused, walking up to the control.

The four got on after her, and she pulled the mechanism. With a start, the platform descended all the way to the bottom, stopping. They got off and looked around. Down the hallway was a large portrait of Kamoshida topless, grinning “handsomely”, and down the other path was another elevator.

Joker narrowed his eyes at the portrait. Why would it be here? He walked up to the large frame and pushed, revealing the foyer.

“Hm, this place looks familiar.” Skull commented.

Mona looked at him incredulously.“It’s the entrance hall! Have you already forgotten?!”

“I didn’t realize we would end up here...” Panther mused, looking amazed at the castle’s design.

“Hey, look!” Skull pointed out. “There used to be tons of soldiers wanderin’ around, but I don’t see any of ‘em now...”

“The other elevator probably leads to the dungeons then.” Elegant concluded.

Walking to the second elevator, they pressed the button, but a Shadow appeared instead. Killing it, they took the items from the treasure chest it was guarding, and left back up into the tower. The next door opened into another cavernous room, a single guard patrolling. They quickly took it out, and walked into the safe room for a breather.

Standing next to the table, Joker looked at his teammates. “How’s our progress?” He asked.

Skull sighed, stretching his arms out. “We finally got in the tower...It’s startin’ to feel like we’re closin’ in on the end...” He commented.

Mona nodded. “Yeah, the distortion in here is particularly strong. We should be getting close to the Treasure.” It explained to its fellow thieves.

“But that means the enemies will be stronger too, right..? We better be prepared for that.” Panther warned, pursing her lips worriedly.

Joker nodded. “How is everyone, then?” He asked.

“I’m good to go!” Skull replied, grinning.

“Me, too! I want to finish this.” Panther nodded determinedly.

“I’m feeling pretty good!” Mona added, jumping on the table.

“I’m a little sore but I can continue.” Elegant smiled.

“Alright then, let’s go.” Joker commanded.

“Hold on.” Mona interrupted, holding out a paw. “We have five members now, and it’ll be hard to sneak around with so many people. Joker should decide who should be in the advance group, while the last one should stay as backup.”

Panther tilted her head. “So we should have four people in the advance group?”

Mona nodded. “That’s right. We should have four people as the first line of attack. I’ll volunteer as support for now, since you’ll need my guidance.” The teenagers nodded in understanding.

They left the safe room, immediately darting behind a pillar to ambush a nearby Shadow. After taking care of it, they went up to the locked treasure chest. Joker gestured to Elegant, who stepped forward and unlocked it, taking out a new accessory and handed it to him. Looking around, they noticed what should have been stairs, but most of the steps were laying on the stone floor. Hesitantly taking a step, the pieces flew up, completing the stairs underneath their feet.

They walked up to the next floor. It was filled with naked female statues, obstructing most of the rotund room. The spaces that were open had Shadows patrolling back and forth. Hiding behind one of the statues, they ambushed the Shadows, killing them. There were two staircases leading up to an upper platform, but one was barred with golden spikes. Taking the other way, the thieves moved up to another staircase.

Opening the door, they traveled up the stairway that circled, leading to a flat hallway, a red carpet covering the stone floor. To their left was a large open room, missing a floor. Instead, there were metal grates held up with chains from the ceiling. To the side of the entrance was a large bust of Kamoshida, grinning widely.

“Ugh, seein’ this face pisses me off every time...” Skull grumbled.

Joker started walking into the room, the others moved to follow him. He suddenly jumped back, a giant blade swinging down at where he just was.

“Whoa, that was close..!” Panther gasped, taking a couple more steps back.

“Are you OK, Joker?!” Elegant asked worriedly.

He nodded ”Yeah, I’m fine.” Joker breathed, heart pounding at the close call.

The entire walkway now had axes blocking the path, swinging ominously above the grates. There was no way they could go through here.

“It’s a classic security measure.” Mona explained. “My tail might be in danger if we try to force our way through.” It shook its head dejectedly.

“Oh yeah, same for Panther’s. So...what do we do? No way we’re gettin’ through here as is.” Skull questioned, furrowing his brows at the new obstacle.

“What about down the hall?” Elegant suggested. They tried walking, but a few feet away from the trap corridor, the ground erupted, too high for them to climb over. Sighing, the phantom thieves walked back to the entrance of the trap room. Joker tapped his chin, his eyes observing the giant bust.

“Oh, you think that thing’s controllin’ it?” Skull asked, resting his thumbs in his pockets.

He nodded, walking up to the statue and tugging on the jaw handle a couple of times. ‘There’s no reaction..’ He thought, frowning faintly.

“I didn’t think it would be that easy.” Mona crossed its arms. “We’ll probably need some kind of key for it...”

"We gotta look for a key again? What a pain in the ass...” Skull groaned, slumping.

“Where would it be though? There weren’t any suspicious rooms on the way here.” Panther mused, trying to think.

“Probably a special enemy.” Elegant suggested, peering at the statue with a frown. “Let’s go back down and take a look?”

Joker nodded, crossing his arms. “Agreed. If there aren’t any special rooms, then it has to be an enemy that has it.”

“Then we just need to look for Shadows like that and defeat them!” Panther replied cheerfully.

They all nodded and went down the stairs again, arriving on one of the lower floors. The room was filled again with more soldiers, with one of them dressed in gold. Killing all of them, they found a gem that was named “The Randy Right Eye”.

“H-Hey, that Shadow did have something...But what the hell is this? An eye?” Skull scrutinized the object in Joker’s hand.

“That’s it!” Elegant exclaimed, snapping her fingers in realization. “The bust was missing its eyes! If we put them in, it’ll activate the mechanism and we can cross the bridge!” She said hopefully.

“You’re right! Now that I think about it, it didn’t have eyes…” Panther agreed.

Skull scowled. “Ugh, how much grosser can he get? So this is gonna stop those things, huh?” He commented exasperatedly.

“Well, we’ll need one more.” Mona stated. “Another guard captain probably has it. Let’s try checking the other floors, Joker!”

Going down one more flight, they noticed from the top of the stairs, there were three golden suits of armor patrolling.

“Crap...They all look like high-rankin’ soldiers! Are we gonna have to beat all of ‘em?!” Skull whispered fervently.

“That would work, but there should only be one actual guard captain among them.” Mona replied quietly, observing the enemies. “Do you have any way to tell them apart, Joker?”

He nodded. His “third eye” sense could see one was much stronger than the other two. “That one.” Joker pointed. “The one that’s patrolling through the door and back.”

They snuck around the other two, ignoring them, and ambushed the guard captain. Killing it, it dropped a “Lusty Left Eye.”

“That’s it!” Skull whispered. “Let’s go stop those scythes!”

Rushing back to the trap corridor, Joker inserted the gems into the empty eye holes in the bust. The gems glowed, powering up the mechanism, and he pulled down the jaw. After a couple of swings, the scythes slowed to a stop, sheathing into the ceiling.

“All right! We can get across!” Skull pumped his fist in victory.

They ran down the metal grates, grabbing the treasure on the side, before continuing up another staircase. They entered a hall that was filled with Kamoshida busts lining the dividers, parts of the floor having eroded away due to the distortion. Looking around, they spotted the same floating stairs mechanism and walked up to it. The stairs didn’t appear.

“Huh?” Skull uttered, scratching the back of his head.

“Hmph. You are gravely mistaken if you think stairs will appear for you whenever you’d like.”

Chapter Text

Startled, the five thieves looked behind them. A guard captain had spawned, glaring directly at them.

“So this guy’s stopping them.” Mona remarked, smirking slightly.

The captained turned to Elegant. “Oh..? Aren’t you the new princess?” He remarked.

She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Excuse me? I’m not anyone’s princess, least of all Kamoshida’s.” She refuted coldly.

He hmphed. “So it seems. It was foolish of me to think you were her. This majestic tower penetrating the sky represents the admirable King Kamoshida’s most sacred place.” The Shadow droned. “It is nowhere for children like yourselves! Prepare for your punishment!”

“What kind of selfish reasoning is that?!” Panther argued, glaring at the enemy. “The only one who needs to be punished is-” She didn’t finish, for the enemy had convulsed and turned into a green horrific phallus shaped monster. “A-Ahhhhhhhh!” She screamed in disgust.

Cringing, Elegant looked away from the vulgar sight in front of her. “It’s coming!” Mona warned, jumping back.

The Shadow, Torn King of Desire, stared at Panther. Disgusted, Panther shrieked. “Carmen!” The beauticious Persona appearing. “Agi!” It damaged the enemy slightly, but didn’t affect it much.

Skull ran up and attacked it with his bat. “W-What the?! I missed!” He gritted his teeth.

“Let me!” Elegant shouted, summoning her Persona. “Kouha!” She snapped her fingers, sending a ray of light at the enemy, damaging it greatly.

Joker followed up with a couple of slashes with his dagger, knocking it down. They rushed in and killed it.

“OK! We can keep movin’ now!” Skull grinned, running for the stairs.

“I-I’m so done with this place...” Panther cringed.

“Same.” Elegant agreed fervently, equally rattled. “That was gross...Who did he think he was, calling me “princess”?” She grimaced.

“Hang in there, Panther, Elegant. We’re almost at the Treasure.” Mona reassured the females.

The thieves continued on, running upwards. At the very top of the tower, next to the stairs, was a large ornate door, guarded with two female statues. Joker tried opening it, but it was locked. Shrugging, they continued on to the end of the hallway where a Safe Room was.

Entering, they sat down tiredly. “Aren’t we gettin’ pretty close to the top of the tower?” Skull asked excitedly.

Mona nodded. “Yeah, the Treasure’s presence is very near now. We should be just about there!” It proclaimed.

“It’s almost time...My heart’s starting to beat a little faster.” Panther murmured, clenching her fists on her lap.

“We’ve gotten close, but...” Elegant paused. “I doubt we can just steal the Treasure without Kamoshida noticing. It’s his most valuable object, there’s no way he wouldn’t know.” She looked at Mona, who nodded in confirmation. ”We should prepare as much as we can.” She stated grimly.

The others nodded, frowning determinedly. “How is everyone?” Joker asked.

“I overestimated myself, but we’re close enough I can push on.” Mona replied awkwardly.

Skull leaned back in his seat, propping his feet on the table. "I'm good to go!"

Panther nodded. "I'm a little tired, but I can keep going!"

“...My hands are starting to hurt again.” Elegant grimaced, experimentally clenching her fingers.

“From earlier?” Joker asked worriedly.

She nodded. “...I don’t regret it, though. We should keep going.” She replied resolutely.

“Elegant...” Panther whispered, staring at her with gratitude. “Thank you again, for trying to save Shiho. Let’s keep going, Joker!” She looked at their leader determinedly.

He nodded, smirking slightly. Elegant flinched, looking away.

They left the safe room, and observed the giant doors once more for a way in. A glimmer of light caught his eye, and Joker looked up to the left. There was a windowless square above one of the statues. Jumping on the female statue, he gripped the next platform and flipped himself up, then flipped through the opening. The thieves jumped down on the balcony, now inside the large hall at the top of the tower.

“All right, we’re in!” Skull grinned.

“Quiet down, you idiot!” Mona shushed him.

They peered over the railing, seeing the distorted king at his throne, a contingent of soldiers lined up before him.

“Oh shit, it’s Kamoshida..!” Skull exclaimed quietly. “And a ton of soldiers...” Panther added, biting her lips worryingly.

“How have you not captured the intruders yet?!” Kamoshida yelled, angrily glaring at his guards.

“I apologize, my liege!” A soldier got on his hands and knees, bowing for forgiveness.

He turned to the other guards, who also quickly got on their knees.

“I bet he’d never imagine we’re in the same room as him. Come on, let’s keep moving.” Mona urged.

They snuck around the balcony, all the way into the two doors at the very end of the hall. They emerged into a dark stone hall, another large door at the end.

“This sturdy-lookin’ door’s pretty promisin’. Let’s head inside!” Skull insisted, opening the door.

It revealed a large room that was filled to the brim with gold. The floor wasn’t even visible under all the shine and glimmer of wealth. In the very middle of the room floated a glowing white ball of energy, wavering in place.

“Whoa, what is this place?! Holy shit!” Skull exclaimed, looking at all the treasure with wide eyes. “That Treasure thing’s gotta be in here!” He grinned, making grabby motions with his hands.

Elegant eyed the glowing ball curiously. “What is that?” She asked.

They all walked up to examine it. “It’s...floating in the air.” Panther observed.

Mona jumped up on a golden grail, grinning happily. “Hehe...That’s the Treasure. We finally found it!” It cheered.

“Are you sure?” Joker questioned, looking at it dubiously. “That cloudy thing..?”

Mona turned to the humans. “Just hold on a second. I was planning on telling you more once we made it this far.” It stated, twitching its ears. “Simply finding the Treasure isn’t enough. We’ll need to make it materialize before we can steal it.” .

The looked at it curiously. “Whaddya mean?” Skull asked, leaning against a large chalice.

Mona crossed its arms. “Desires have no physical form by nature. Hence, we’ll first need to make the real person aware that their desires are in fact a Treasure. Once they’re conscious that their desires might be stolen, the Treasure will finally show itself.” It finished.

Panther crossed her arms and tilted her head. “But how do we do that?” She asked.

Mona let out a purring grin. “We warn them. Tell them, “We’re going to steal your heart.””

“So we’re gonna send a calling card?! That’s totally what a phantom thief would do!” Skull exclaimed excitedly, pumping a fist.

Mona nodded its head, equally excited. “Once we do that, the Treasure will appear for certain!” It proclaimed. “..I think.”

Skull looked at the cat, unimpressed. “That again..?” He muttered, shaking his head. “Either way, sounds like it’s worth givin’ it a shot!”

The feline jumped in place and looked over at their leader. “Our infiltration route is secure. All that’s left now is to pump out a calling card in reality, then come back to take the Treasure!” It announced.

“This is it, then.” Elegant stated, a determined expression on her covered face.

“It took so long, but we’re finally here. Let’s do this.” Joker declared, looking at his teammates. They all nodded.

“Once we send out the calling card, there will be no turning back.” Mona mentioned. “Just let me know when you’re ready. We’ll head back to the roof and send out that calling card!” It pumped its paw.

“We should leave now that we’ve gotten here. We’re all pretty tired, and we need to prepare.” Elegant stated, idly grasping her arm.

“Let’s head back.” Joker commanded.

They snuck out of the throne room and into the safe room, taking the app to transport them back to the entrance of the castle via the app. “So the app remembers the Safe Rooms and we can move back and forth between them? That’s pretty neat.” Panther marveled.

“Yeah, saves us time and energy when we come back.” Mona grinned. They walked out of the courtyard and passed the bridge.


“You have returned from Kamoshida’s Palace. Thank you for your hard work.”

The four humans and one cat appeared back in the real world, still in the same alley they disappeared from. Looking at each other, Ryuji gestured up to the top of the school. They silently moved up to the rooftop. Sitting down, they suddenly felt all the exhaustion piling on them.

“I didn’t know we could still come up here.” Ann remarked, looking around.

“All we gotta do now is steal the Treasure that shows up, yeah?” Ryuji sighed.

“But we need to send the calling card first. When should we do it?” Ann twirled a ponytail, looking at their leader.

Akira shook his head. “Not yet. First, we need to prepare ourselves. Like Airi-chan said before, we might have to fight the Shadow version of Kamoshida if we can’t move the Treasure.” He idly twisted a lock of hair .

Airi nodded. “First, we’ll need to find better firearms for all of us. What we have is all right for now, but our basic guns won’t do much against stronger enemies.” She bit her lip worriedly.

Ryuji perked up. “Oh, you talkin’ about guns? I know a kick-ass place!” He exclaimed, grinning at the others.

“In that case, you can handle that side of things.” Mona announced approvingly. “The only other thing would be stocking up on medicine. Fatigue is unavoidable in a Palace.”

Airi nodded in agreement. “You’re right. We also used up all our medication today, so we have nothing left.” She stated grimly.

“Where can we get medicine, then?” Ann asked worriedly.

“Don’t worry, I know just the place. Dr. Takemi has a clinic in Yongenjaya.” She smiled. “I’ll take you today, Akira-kun.”

He nodded in acquiesce, satisfied. “Then it’s settled.” Akira announced. “I’ll let you guys know when we should send the calling card.”

Ryuji rubbed his chin. “What should it look like?” He asked. “I’ll make it something cool!” He rubbed his hands excitedly.

“You can all come over to my house to plan this.” Airi offered. “I...actually forgot to ask, would you guys be free tomorrow after school?” She asked a little shyly, a slight blush on her cheeks.

The three humans and cat looked at each other questioningly. “Yeah, of course. Wassup?” Ryuji asked, lacing his hands behind his head.

Biting her lip embarrassedly, she looked away. “It’s my birthday tomorrow.” Airi blushed.

“Huh?!” They all gasped, staring at her in shock.

Ryuji quickly stood up, knocking his chair back. “Shit! You’re right! I can’t believe I forgot…!” He gaped. “Of course I’m gonna come!” He pumped his fist excitedly.

Airi smiled at him happily.

“Oh wow, with all that happened, it completely slipped my mind.” Ann covered her mouth in surprise. “I remember back in middle school, I gave you a dress as a present. Do you still have that?” She grinned teasingly, her eyes slightly nostalgic.

“Of course I do, Ann-chan!” Airi exclaimed. “It’s still in perfect condition.” She grinned. "Not that I can fit it anymore..."

She looked over at Akira. “Would you be free, Akira-kun?” She asked hesitantly, smiling hopefully at him.

He smiled back. “Of course. It’s your birthday, after all.” Akira replied lightheartedly.

The class president clapped her bandaged hands together in bliss. “Then it’s settled!” She cheered. “My house, tomorrow after school!”

“Should we bring anything, Lady Airi?” Morgana purred, looking at her adoringly.

She shook her head. “Nope. Just your appetites.” She winked.

Its ears perked up. “Are you cooking for us?” It asked excitedly, swishing its tail back and forth.

She nodded happily. “Let me know if any of you have allergies!”

Ann blinked. “But wait, it’s your birthday. Why are you cooking for us?” She asked confusedly.

“I just want to, OK?” Airi answered softly. “It would be a great present from you guys if you would enjoy my cooking.” She finished, blushing a bit from that confession.

“Don’t mind if I do, then!” Ryuji grinned excitedly. “I can’t wait to try your food!” The others nodded in agreement.

Morgana jumped on one of the tables, sitting down. “Since we've decided for tomorrow, I should let you know I can’t contact you guys from inside a Palace, so I’ll stay in this world.” It announced to its human teammates. “That being said, I’ll need someone to take care of me. I’m personally nominating Lady Ann!” It purred happily.

“Wait, what?!” Ann yelped in surprise. “There’s no way I can house you, I’m never home!”

The feline’s ears drooped. “Then...Lady Airi?” It looked over to her hopefully.

She smiled sadly. “I would, Morgana. Unfortunately, I’m also never home for half the week. It wouldn’t be fair to you.” Airi stated reluctantly.

The cat sighed. “Then fine, I’ll stay with Akira. You should feel honored.”

Stiffening in surprise, Akira looked at the cat hesitantly. “Me?” He sputtered, glancing over at Ryuji.

Said punk shrugged. “This’s all you. There’s no way I can have him at my place.” He stated, giving him a look of pity.

Akira sweatdropped and sighed. “All right, fine.” He muttered. “Let’s all exchange contact info with Takamaki-san.” He suggested.

They all took out their phones and sent each other their numbers. “See you two tomorrow, then?” Akira asked, putting his hands in his pockets.

“Yep! Tomorrow after school.” Ryuji confirmed.

“See you guys then!” Ann waved.

Chapter Text

----4/15, FRIDAY, AFTER SCHOOL, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS.

 

“Dr. Takemi’s office is actually a couple meters away from Leblanc.” Airi explained to Akira, the two students walking out of the station. “A lot of people in the neighborhood say that she doesn’t really do her job, and that she sells illegal drugs, but that’s not true.” She shook her head irritatedly. “She’s a competent doctor and takes her job seriously, even if it doesn’t seem so. I’ve volunteered there once.”

Akira tilted his head, his hand in his pockets. “How was it, working for her?”

“It was very interesting.” Airi smiled nostalgically. “I learned a lot from her in just one day, like dressing cuts and burns. She's pretty no nonsense.”

They arrived at the entrance of the building, the clinic being on the third floor. “Should I go in with you?” Airi asked.

Akira nodded. “If you don’t mind.” He replied, adjusting his glasses nervously.

Morgana popped its head out of his bag. “Now, how can we get her to give us some medicine..?” It asked quietly.

“We’ll have to make something up.” Akira pursed his lips.

They called the elevator and went up to the third floor. Getting out into the dim hallway, there were two doors on either side. One listed, “Takemi Medical Clinic” and the other was blank. Opening the clinic door, they entered a small brightly lit waiting room, a small bathroom at the end. Next to the door was the receptionist window, where a blue haired lady in a lab coat sat. She was decorated in a spiked collar with several hanging chains, a short dress, and black high stiletto heels.

The doctor languidly dragged her eyes away from the monitor in front of her. “..Is this your first visit?” She asked Akira boredly.

He nodded.

“Hello, Dr. Takemi.” Airi greeted the older woman.

“Oh, Kimisawa-chan. It’s been a while.” Takemi’s face softened. “Have you come to volunteer again?”

Airi shook her head. “I’m here just for him, if you don’t mind.” She gestured at her classmate.

The doctor lifted an eyebrow. “Oh? Just for him, huh.” She repeated, making the class president blush a bit at the wording. “So, what are you here for today?” The woman asked, looking at Akira.

He adjusted his glasses awkwardly. “My body feels lethargic.”

She stared at him with hooded eyes. “...Fine. Please head to the exam room.” She relented, getting out of her chair.

The three sat in the examination room, Akira describing his symptoms, and Takemi occasionally writing on her clipboard. Airi stared concernedly at a poster on the wall, showing a happy teddy bear stabbed with vaccines.

“...In a case like your’s, it’s usually just due to stress. I’m going to prescribe you some pain relievers, OK?” Takemi theorized, looking at her patient.

Akira nodded, relieved that he can get supplies so easily. That took care of their medicine in the Metaverse.

The doctor paused, glancing at her screen. “Actually, I still need to restock those...” She mused. “So let’s go with sleeping pills instead. Sleep is the best medicine anyway.” She turned to the male student. “Which type of pill do you want, a sweet-tasting one or a bitter one?”

He pursed his lips. “I want painkillers.” He stated firmly.

Airi fidgeted slightly.

Takemi looked at the two, unimpressed. “All right, why don’t we stop beating around the bush. You’re not sick at all, are you? I’m not as dumb as I look, you know.” She commented, slightly narrowing her brown eyes at them.

Taken aback, the bespectacled boy frantically searched his mind for an excuse.

The doctor sighed. “...I’m guessing you’re here because you heard the rumors about me, huh?” She closed her eyes tiredly.

He blinked. “...Are the rumors true?” He asked quietly.

“Yep. I’m the quack.” She replied flatly. “I have so many new patients with ulterior motives, so I knew you had one, too.”

He looked away, slightly embarrassed at being caught.

“I guess high school kids have it tough nowadays too, huh?” Takemi sighed. “Fine. I’ll prescribe you some medication.”

Blinking, Akira looked at the woman in surprise.

“But only medication that will help you recover your health.” She added, scribbling something on her clipboard. “I guess it’s fine. You seem pretty earnest, and you don’t look like you’ll be any trouble.” The doctor shrugged. “This is my private practice. All the medicine I dispense is original.”

“Her medicine is the best.” Airi butted in. “They’re more effective than the mass produced drugs at pharmacies, and they work almost instantly.” She grinned proudly.

Takemi gave her a smirk in response, pleased at the compliments. “Yes, I have a license to make my own formulas. You’ve likely seen them being sold at various hospitals.” The doctor paused and gave the male a stern look. “It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself. So,” She softened. “If that’s OK with you, stop by anytime.”

“That’ll really help.” Akira nodded, smiling slightly.

“Great. It’s nice that you’re so quick on the uptake...Saves me the hassle.” Takemi commented, waving her clipboard around. She peered closer at the two students. “You’re a pretty weird kid, you know?” She mused. “I wonder what you’re going to use the medicine for.” She looked at them suspiciously.

Akira sweatdropped, squirming slightly in his seat.

“Make meth, of course.” Airi stated with a straight face.

He turned to look at her incredulously.

Noticing his look, she grinned sheepishly. “I’m joking.”

Raising an eyebrow at her old volunteer, Takemi shrugged. “Well, as long as you don’t cause me any trouble, it’s not my problem...Here,” She handed him a list. “This is all I’ve got right now. Come back in a week once I’ve restocked.”

Gray eyes roamed the list, not really knowing what any of the medications were.

Airi scooted closer, peering over his shoulder. “I’d recommend the 100mg of Recov-R, it speeds up recovery better than the 50mg.” She advised, pointing to the specific medication.

Akira nodded, letting her take over. They pooled their designated team budget together, and bought as many of each as they could, mostly Recov-R's and Revivadrins.

Takemi nodded, handing them the plastic bag full of drugs. “...Take care.” She murmured languidly.

Airi waved bye, and the two students walked out. Standing in the waiting room was a middle aged man in a suit, tapping his feet impatiently. They moved out of the way, and he pushed the door open and closed it behind him.

The two Persona users glanced at each other, not really knowing how to respond to what just happened. “...What’s the reason for your visit?” They heard through the door. “Do you have a cold? Stomachache? Athlete’s foot? Whatever it is, you’ll need to take a number…” Takemi droned on.

“Enough of this!” The man shouted.

They stared wide-eyed at the door. After a moment, they leaned in closer to eavesdrop. “You’re the only one who could have developed that type of medicine.” The male exclaimed forcefully.

“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about...” The doctor responded boredly.

“Don’t play dumb with me. Rumor has it, it’s a drug so potent it can give a person unlimited power.” The man stated.


Airi raised her eyebrows. Unlimited power? What kind of video games has this guy been playing?

“Really? That’s news to me.” Takemi retorted.

They pressed closer to the door. “Developing experimental drugs, medicine, and herbal remedies violates all health regulations. Are you attempting to create a super-stimulant? A drug like that will only become a social issue.” The man taunted.

“You’re really persistent, you know that? I’m just a quack…” Takemi replied quietly.

“The police may not be taking action, but I imagine the media will soon pick up on it. You intend to ruin my reputation again, huh? You’re a disgrace to the medical community.” The male yelled condescendingly.


Wide eyed, the two students looked at each other.

“What’s with the look? That was your mistake, was it not?” The man asked mockingly. “I won’t be responsible for your criminal actions. Dispose of that “medicine” immediately and resign.” He stated resolutely.


Airi glared at the door. How dare he! Coming in here to threaten a doctor who's just trying to do her job.


“The name “Takemi Tae” will never-Hey, is somebody there?!” The man yelled toward the door, the handle turning.

Panicking, the two young adults quickly left the office, running to the elevator. They stopped once they were outside the building, sighing in relief. “Geez, they almost caught us.” Morgana sweatdropped. “Sounded like they were talking about something dangerous. Could that woman be hiding some extra strong medicine?”

Akira adjusted his glasses. “We should use that.” If it could help them take Kamoshida's Treasure, then it'd be useful to have.

“I agree. If it’s that strong, it might come in handy at the Palace.” Morgana cheered, tail swishing back and forth.

“We don’t have access to that medicine yet, remember?” Airi chided. As if the good doctor was going to let them buy it from her, when she barely let them buy pain killers. “I hope Dr. Takemi is OK...That man seemed really aggressive.” She pursed her lips worriedly. “What did he mean, though? About her ruining his reputation “again”? I only know she makes her own medicine...”

Shrugging, Akira placed his hands in his pockets. “Let’s ask the next time we visit.” He suggested. His phone rang. Taking it out, he saw it was from Ryuji.

R: You know there’s a shop in Shibuya that sells model guns.
R: I’d be glad to take you if you want!
Ak: Now?
R: Yeah! If you’re busy, we can go Sunday or something.
R: Not tomorrow since it’s Airi’s bday.
R: You gonna bring a present?
Ak: All right, I’ll meet you at in front of the station.
Ak: I hope so.
R: Let’s try to find something while we’re out in Shibuya!

Putting his phone away, he gave the her an apologetic smile. “Ryuji just asked to meet me at Shibuya, so I’ll be going now.” He explained.

“OK then, I’ll see you tomorrow!” Airi smiled, waving his apology. “I need to do some shopping, anyway. Is there anything you would like to eat?” She tilted her head curiously.

He grasped his chin, humming thoughtfully. His eyes slid to the side, looking away. “Maybe...something you enjoy a lot?” He smiled a bit shyly, shrugging.

“Oh.” Airi breathed, blinking in surprise. “W-Well, OK! I’ll be sure to make it extra special for you, then.” She smiled, a slight hue in her cheeks.

“I want fatty tuna!” Morgana exclaimed loudly, breaking the slight awkwardness in the air.

Airi blinked, then laughed. “OK then, quality sashimi for Morgana!” She gave the feline some scritches behind its ears. “I’ll do my best to live up to expectations.” She smiled softly.

Morgana purred, happy to get some attention, before going back into the bag.

Akira smiled back, giving her a wave of goodbye, before turning to walk back to the station.

Chapter Text

Airi stared after the bespectacled male’s back as he walked further away, before clapping her hands together. “Well, let’s get ingredients.” She told herself determinedly, walking over to the supermarket.

Grabbing a basket, she perused the vegetable section first. “Hmm...maybe some string beans?” She murmured, inspecting some greens. Selecting a large bunch, she moved on to the baking aisle, grabbing packets of flour, cream, and icing sugar. She walked to the meat section, grabbing several packets of thinly sliced beef.

“Oh!” She blinked, remembering the earlier conversation. “Fatty tuna for Morgana, right right right.”

She moved over to the fish section, looking for choice fishes. “Excuse me!” She called out to one of the fish market employees. “Four black throat sea perches and this one chunk of tuna, please.” She requested politely, pointing at the fishes she wanted.

“Sure!” The employee replied jovially. “The best way to cook sea perches is with some salt and grilling it!” They advised, wrapping up the fish and putting them into styrofoam boxes to keep fresh, before handing it over to her.

“Thank you!” Airi gave them the appropriate amount of money, about ¥2500, and got in line at the cash register.

“¥3450, please.” The cashier stated.

She winced. There goes yesterday’s paycheck. Resigned, Airi handed it over, and grabbed her groceries.

“Thank you very much! Have a nice day!” The cashier called out as she walked out of the supermarket.

Getting to her front door, she struggled to get her keys out while holding so many bags. After a couple of minutes, she finally gained entry into her house. Quickly taking off her shoes, Airi hurriedly walked to the kitchen counter and dropped her bags next to her herb plants.

“Phew.” She sighed heavily, rotating her shoulders.

Rustling through her bags, she took all the meat and fish products and stored them in her stainless steel fridge. Putting on an apron and washing her hands, she started preparing some of the ingredients for tomorrow’s meal. She whipped the cream, soaked the beef in a sugar sesame oil marinade, and cleaned the guts from the fishes, before storing them all back in the fridge.

Taking out a couple of eggs, she quickly whipped herself an omurice for dinner, hungry after such a long day. The only sounds heard were from the clinking of her chopsticks against the bowl, echoing through the empty home.

After taking a long hot shower, she completed her homework in the study before reluctantly turning her laptop on. She stared bleakly at the new bills emailed to her from the electricity and water companies.

She clenched her hands, her nails starting to cut into the bandages. ‘There’s no end to them.’ She thought resignedly. Entering her credit information from a special account, she paid them off for another month. Sighing heavily, she leaned back into her chair, closing her eyes. ‘My body feels like lead…’

Getting up to move to her bedroom, she took a recov-R gel from her dresser. Sitting down on the bed, she unwrapped her hands and knees gingerly, showing scabbed cuts and bruises from when she had scraped them on the school roof. They had healed inside the Palace, but not out here. Slowly rubbing the medicine into her injuries, they quickly dissipated, the skin knitting together, leaving it slightly red and sensitive.

“I can’t -hic- take it anymore...No one cares that -hic- he’s hurting us, hurting me...”

She flinched at the memory of earlier, her hands gripping the sides of her head. "No..." She whispered. "I'm sorry..." Her nails dug into her scalp. She clenched her eyes, trying to stop the tears, but all she could see behind her eyelids were Shiho's terrified face, her eyes filled with hysteria. Her cries for death rung in Airi's ears, her need to get rid of herself because someone they were supposed to trust violated her in the worst ways possible. When Shiho's shirt had ridden up from dangling at the wrist, Airi had glimpsed at the lingering bruises of hand prints at the waistband of her skirt. Her heart felt heavy at the memory. It wasn't supposed to end like this...Not again.

"Just let me die!!!"

Shiho's cries were slowly replaced with the sound of wood cracking. The matron yelled at her, holding a hammer in one hand.

"You deserve this! The Lord will not accept a sinner like you!"

Flesh met flesh as he backhanded her, anger and hurt in his eyes, tears spilling down his chubby cheeks.

"Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up shut up! God will choose me! He'll come back for me!"

His screams of rage melted into blissful silence as the brunette knelt next to her, holding out an ice pack.

"Hey...Are you OK?"

The sound of hitting the floor assaulted her ears, her shoulder bruising from the impact.

"You dumb bitch! I’m going to kill you!"

A spray of crimson spewed out like a water fountain, her chokes sounding louder than the blood pounding in her ears.

"Airi! RUN!"

 

Tears slipped down her face, wetting the discarded bandages in her lap. Of course those memories would come back too. The police had told her it wasn't her fault, but wasn't it? Takase had told her it wasn't during those nights when she woke up screaming, comforting her while she cried on his old baseball shirt. It had helped, but...She had to remind herself that he wasn't here to do that anymore. Never again. “I’m sorry, Shiho-chan...” Airi cried. “I’m sorry, Takase....I'm sorry, Rui…I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry...” Her quiet sobs echoed throughout the dark and empty house, with nobody around to come and comfort her.



Stepping off the train, Akira walked up the stairs, swiping his card at the gates. He looked around, searching for blond in a sea of black and brown. He checked his phone to see if he had any new messages from his friend, but got nothing.

“Looks like you made it.”

He looked up. Ryuji walked up, waving a greeting. He changed out of his uniform and into a 777 sweater, a graphic tee, and some dark jeans.

The punk grinned at him. “Mmkay, let’s get goin’. The shop’s over this way!” He gestured toward Central Street. Nodding, Akira followed him. The two chatted a bit while walking out of the station.


“Everyone, wake up! This country is twisted! Strange incidents are occurring. What is the cause of them all? The runaway-train incident, the mysterious psychotic breakdown phenomenon. These are all signs of the end of our once peaceful days. Now is the time for our politicians to show their strength, and yet...”


The two students turned to look. An older man in a suit with a politician’s sash shouted from atop his podium box. People of all ages walked past, not bothering to listen to his message.

Morgana popped its head out of his bag. “This politician’s actually saying some decent things, but not many people are stopping to listen.” It remarked, looking around curiously.

“Eh, people give speeches all the time. Plus, politics are pretty boring, anyways.” Ryuji shrugged. “We’re almost there. Just don’t get lost in the crowd.”

Listening to the politician for a little longer, Akira turned back to his friend. ‘What he was saying sounded right...I should come back and listen sometime.’ He thought idly, squeezing past crowds of people. Walking into central street, his eyes roamed the shops, curious to what can be bought here.

“This way.” Ryuji gestured with a hand. “The shop can be pretty confusin’ to find sometimes.”

They walked into the alley next to the crepe shop, a man staring after them fearfully. Turning the corner, he saw a shop that had heavily barred windows, camouflage coats on display. The awning read “Untouchable.” There were no other stores in the alley aside from this one, the road barred with multiple bicycles parked haphazardly.

“This is it! Pretty legit, huh?” Ryuji grinned. “Oh yeah, now that we’re here...you know anything about military stuff?” He asked, scratching his head sheepishly.

“Not really...” Akira replied hesitantly, adjusting his glasses.

“I guess worst comes to worst we can just ask the shopkeep what they recommend. C’mon, let’s go.” Ryuji shrugged, opening the door.

Walking in, the first thing to greet them was the cool air conditioning. The second thing was that the entire store was crammed with militia-esque clothing, supplies, and models. There were different cleaning and polishing products in the glass counter, as well as a selection of blades and bludgeons. Behind the stand was a model of a rifle, amidst several ropes and straps. The third thing they saw was who they assumed to be the owner, an older man in a moss green jacket, with a gecko tattoo on his neck, lounging in a chair and reading a hunting magazine.

His eyes glanced over at the new arrivals from under his bucket hat, a dangerous glint shining for a second, before turning back to his read, ignoring them.

Hesitant, they walked up to the counter in front of the manager. Ryuji perused the bat selection excitedly.

Aged gray eyes looked up at them. “You know what you want yet?” The manager gruffed, chewing a toothpick.

“Not sure.” Akira replied, still looking around the mysterious shop.

“...You lookin’ for recommendations?” The man asked, raising a brow at the two teenagers.

He nodded silently, not trusting himself to not say the wrong thing.

The manager turned back to his magazine. “..I dunno, just buy whatever looks interestin’ to you.” He shrugged dismissively.

Ryuji rolled his eyes. “Ugh, some customer service...”

The man turned to look at him with a look of irritation. “Fine, whaddya want? An automatic? A revolver?” He relented.

The two students looked at each other questioningly. “Uh, automatic..?” Ryuji replied, phrasing it more like a question in his confusion. “Dude, why’re you talkin’ about cars now?!” He scrunched up his face in confusion.

He narrowed his eyes. “Listen, this here’s an enthusiast shop. My regulars’ll be mad if I let a casual like you hang around.” He explained slowly.

Ryuji scowled, stomping his foot. “I’m not a freakin’ casual! I bought shit from here like, last week!”

The manager harrumphed. “Can’t remember you.” He retorted.

The delinquent sighed, slumping. “You bastard..,” Ryuji muttered.

The owner turned to look at Akira. “And you? Lookin’ for somethin’?” He asked.

He rested his hands in his pockets. “Something that looks real.” He answered coolly.

Gray eyes narrowed at his answer. “...Oh? You guys plannin’ a nice big bank robbery or somethin’?” He interrogated.

Panicking, Ryuji frantically waved his hands. “Th-That ain’t it! We just like how they look, is all!”

The manager stared at them for a moment before shaking his head exasperatedly. “You shoulda said before you two’re enthusiasts. I’m always up for helpin’ fresh faces.” He stated, closing his magazine and throwing it on the table. Straightening up in his chair, he gave them a stern glare. “Some precautions first though.” He began. “Don’t go ‘round pointing ‘em at other people. Keep’em in a bag or somethin’ if you’re outside. Oh, and don’t let the fuzz catch wind of you having ‘em. I don’t need them comin’ around here.”.

“We’ll be careful, promise.” Akira swore, adjusting his glasses, Ryuji nodding behind him.

“You damn well better be.” The manager snapped, before pointing into the glass counter. “Now, if you look close, you’ll be able to tell these’re models. Real guns feel...different.” He explained. “Maybe someday I’ll show you the real good stuff though...if you got the guts for it, of course.” He challenged the two teens with a smirk, before getting up from his seat. “...But for now, you get the beginner selection. Just sit tight, I’ll bring ‘em out.” With that, he walked toward the back storage.

Akira and Ryuji looked at each other, full of relief.

“We did it, dude.” Ryuji grinned, giving his friend a thumbs up. “We totally gotta go for some fancy shit, right? I want ‘em to shine!” He exclaimed excitedly. He dug into his pocket, pulling out a wad of cash. “Oh, and here’s the cash for mine. Pick me out something good!”

Hesitant, Akira took the money and added it in his wallet. “Are you sure?”

He nodded with a grin. “I trust you, bro!” Ryuji stated.

He stood still, stunned at his teammate’s declaration. ‘We’ve only known each other for a week, and yet…’ He adjusted his glasses, the glare reflected from the light hiding his moist eyes.

None of his so-called friends back in Mishima stayed once they heard he was arrested. No one had wanted to even be associated with him. His parents couldn’t have sent him away fast enough. Yet here he was, surrounded by two new friends who knew what really happened that night, and two more friends who supported him without knowing about it. His lips twitched, fighting back a full blown smile. Life was just getting good.

“Here’s all the basics I got available. Let me know if you wanna buy any.” The owner came back, placing a large case on the counter and showing off a selection of different firearm models.

Blinking the moisture away, Akira moved closer to examine the multiple kinds of weapons. Interestingly, they even had a slingshot available. Picking up the 9mm pistol, he noticed that the trigger pulled a little easier than his current one, and was more balanced as well.

“Huh, they’ve got all sorts of shit here, don’t they?” Ryuji commented, looking around the shop.

Akira nodded, eyeing the ad stand next to him. ‘This looks like an ad for a model gun. There are all these terms that I don’t recognize...I should study up on them.’

“You interested in that revolver?” The surly man asked from his chair. “It’s equipped with a full barrel shroud, and the effect of the stabilizer is outstanding. The spring is stainless steel. If you’re just collecting, I can put in a dummy cartridge.” He offered, chewing his toothpick.

Darting his eyes from side to side awkwardly, Akira shrugged. “OK, sure.” He replied hesitantly, not really understanding all the technicalities the manager listed.

The older man eyed him for a moment. “...Izzat right? Guess you must be the careful type.” He remarked nonchalantly, returning to his magazine.

Shrugging, Akira bought one of each firearm for him and his team mates, including Airi’s rather large sniper rifle, leaving their budget ¥12,910 less. He switched out their current gear and sold it off. The manager lifted an eyebrow at him for it, but didn’t say anything. Wincing slightly at his much lighter wallet, he took the large disguised bag.

The two phantom thieves left the store, idly walking down the alley. “So, now that we’ve got our team shit done, should we look for presents?” Ryuji questioned, lacing his hands behind his head.

Akira hummed. “Yeah, this is the best time. Where is a good place to shop, though?”

The punk grinned, and pointed a thumb toward a subway station entrance. “The underground mall is the perfect place! It’s got all sorts of things for sale.” Ryuji exclaimed, taking his arm and dragging him.

Chapter Text

As soon as they arrived at the underground mall which was one floor above the train tracks, Ryuji let go of his elbow. Stumbling for a second, Akira righted himself, glaring slightly at the punk, before looking around. There were a bunch of different shops, such as a music store, jewelry stores, several clothing stores, and even a supermarket.

A memory hit him then. “Didn’t Airi-chan mention that she worked in the flower shop here?” Akira pondered.

Ryuji perked up. “You’re right! She did! Back at the gyudon restaurant a couple days ago. I don’t think we should buy her flowers, though... She works around those all the time.” Ryuji remarked sheepishly.

“How about we split up?” He suggested, already eyeing some of the products.

The two teens separated, doing their own perusing. Walking around, Akira looked for things that would make an appropriate gift. "What are you going to buy?" Morgana whispered. He shrugged. ‘What does she like?’ He wondered, a bit distressed at finding something so last minute. ‘Clothes? No, I don’t know her size or preference. CDs? Don’t know what kind of music she likes. Skin care? Maybe...’

Sighing, he stopped. Was there anything that he could buy for her with so little time?

“Excuse me, sir?”

Surprised, he turned around. A female employee from one of the shops was giving him a polite smile. “Do you need any help?” She asked, her hands held formally in front of her.

“Uh...” He stammered, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “I need a gift for a friend. It’s her birthday tomorrow...” He trailed off.

She nodded. “Alright, a female friend. Is she someone special to you?” She inquired politely.

He grasped his chin, thinking deeply for a moment, before nodding hesitantly.

She gave him a smile. “Then how about some accessories? Every girl needs an accessory to compliment them.” She suggested, directing him to the jewelry shop she worked for.

Pursing his lips, he shrugged and followed her. Gray eyes scanned the jewelry, ranging from rings, to bracelets, to watches. Since this was one of the lower tier jewelry shops, the prices weren’t so outrageous that he couldn’t afford anything, but he’d definitely need a part time job after this.

“So! Can you describe this lady friend of yours to me?” The attendant chirped. “Maybe if I know her physical features, I can help you choose the perfect gift!”

Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “She has long light pink hair and eyes that are red, kinda like wine. She’s about this tall.” He held his hand out around his chin.

The employee hummed, raising an eyebrow. “And what is she like? Is she nice?” She asked.

“Very.” He answered instantly. “She does her best to be there for everyone. She was also the first one in a long while to be kind to me...I want to repay her for that.” He admitted quietly, not really knowing why he was exposing himself to a complete stranger.

She blinked, slightly overwhelmed by all the information her customer provided, but gave him a warm smile. “She must be really special to you then.” She winked, before moving behind the counter.

He adjusted his glasses, a slight red hue coloring his cheeks in embarrassment. “I’ve only known her for a week…” He argued weakly.

She looked at him knowingly. “Don’t worry, I think I have the perfect gift for her then.” The employee declared, unlocking the drawer and taking out a hair barrette.

His breath hitched. The barrette had a looping silver base, resembling branches. Beige and pink porcelain flowers embellished the clip, giving off a mature but sweet image. It fit his impression of Airi perfectly. “I’ll take it.” He declared. “How much?” He took out his wallet.

The salesperson watched him for several moments, her face unreadable. “The original price is ¥18,000.” She announced evenly.

He winced. That was almost his entire wallet, leaving him with only a couple of yen. Pursing his lips, he relented, taking out the exact amount.

She held up her hand, palm outward, stopping him.

He blinked, looking at her confusedly.

She gave him an understanding smile. “For you, sir,” She began. “I’ll give you a discount. Your total will be ¥10,000.”

Akira stared at her with wide eyes. That was almost 50%! “A-Are you sure?” He stammered. “I have the money...” He argued quietly, furrowing his brows warily, wondering if this was a joke.

The employee shook her head amusedly. “I can’t in good conscience charge you so much when I can see how much you care about this.” She gave him an understanding look. “I also had someone I cared about, but I left him to fend for himself..." She glanced away for a second. "Plus, it’s been sitting in the store for months. Go on,” She gestured to the barrette. “It’s now ¥10,000. Would you like to buy it?”

Scrutinizing her, he nodded, taking out ¥10,000 from his wallet.

She then placed the item into a black velvet box, wrapping it in purple tissue paper, and placing it gently into a white paper bag. She gave him the receipt and handed the gift bag with a warm smile.

Akira smiled back, gratefulness shining in his eyes. Grabbing the bag, he turned and left the store. "Wow..." Morgana mewled. "You spent a lot on your present for her." He tilted his head at the bag. "Are you getting anything for her? I'll buy it for you." The feline shook its head, ears slumping. "It's OK, I don't want my gift to have come from you. I'll figure something out..."

Walking back to the entrance of the mall, he spotted Ryuji already waiting for him, a large gift bag hung around his wrist while he played on his phone. “I’m finished.” Akira announced, walking up to his friend.

The punk looked up from his phone, giving him a grin. “Hey! You found somethin’?” He asked, looking at the white bag curiously.

He nodded, smiling slightly. “I think she’ll really like it.” He replied earnestly. ‘I hope.’

Ryuji held up his own bag. “I got her somethin’ from the toy store. I saw somethin' in there that would be perfect.” He grinned mischievously. “Plus…” His face fell. “I got Suzui a plush too. It’s small but…” He shrugged helplessly. “Maybe It’ll help her out a bit, y’know. Cheer her up when she wakes up.”

Akira blinked. With a wince, he realized he had forgotten about the volleyball player, being swamped with infiltrating the Palace and whatnot. She had been the third person to be kind to him at school, so he should probably get her a get well gift too. Maybe flowers..?

Lowering his arm, Ryuji looked at the time on his phone. “It’s gettin’ pretty late, I’m gonna head home then.” He stated. “I’ll see you tomorrow after school?”

Akira nodded, adjusting his grip on the bags. They separated again, each heading home.

 

Arriving back at Leblanc, he was about to open the cafe door when Morgana popped out of his bag. “So this is where you live? In a cafe?” It asked, looking around the store front.

Akira nodded, sweatdropping. ‘How to explain this to Boss…’

The feline sat hidden in his bag, and he opened the door, bell ringing.

Sojiro looked up from the sink. “The store’s still open. Go upstairs.” He stated shortly.

Akira nodded silently, noticing there was a customer.

She looked up with hooded eyes, crossing her legs clad in ripped jeans. “Oh, you’re that kid from earlier...Kurusu, right?” Takemi commented, sipping her mostly finished coffee.

He slightly bowed in greeting.

“Hey.” Sojiro called out. “Lay off the customers.” The guardian looked at him warningly. “Sorry if he was rude, Doctor.”

She waved her hand. “...I don’t mind.” Takemi replied, sitting languidly in the booth.

Sojiro gestured with his hands. “Come on, you’re getting in the way. Go upstairs.” He stated, exasperated at his ward.

Akira nodded obediently, walking toward the stairs. Behind him, he heard the doctor get up from her seat. “...Thanks. I’ll see you later.” He heard her say to his guardian.

“Come back again.” Sojiro replied nonchalantly, the bell ringing a moment later, signalling that she left the shop. “Phew, that’s it for today.” He sighed, grabbing a wet rag and moving to clean the booth.

Akira turned around, hands resting in his pockets, waiting patiently for the cafe owner to notice him.

“Hm?” He looked up from cleaning. “Oh, right. You seemed to know each other. How’d that happen?” Sojiro inquired, idly moving about.

“Airi-chan got hurt today." He answered evenly, adjusting his glasses with one hand. "We went to Dr. Takemi’s clinic to get her injuries checked out.”

The older man’s head shot up. “What?” He uttered, turning to look at his ward incredulously. “You mean Airi got injured? How? And hold up," He raised a brow. "You call her “Airi-chan” now?”

Akira held his hands placatingly. “There was an incident and she got her hands and knees scraped. She’s fine now.” He paused. “And...since yesterday, I guess.” He looked away awkwardly. This wasn't something he wanted to talk to his guardian about.

“Hey, are we there yet?” Morgana whispered, muffled by the fabric.

Akira stiffened, tilting himself so that his bag was out of his guardian’s line of sight.

Sojiro eyed him for a moment, not saying anything. “Well,” He began. “I’ve got to get home and start making dinner...” He stated slowly, narrowing his eyes slightly behind his round glasses.

Sweating a bit, Akira nodded and went up the stairs. He placed his bag on his bed and unzipped it.

Morgana jumped out, shaking its body, before settling down. It observed the dusty and crammed surroundings with wide eyes. “What the?! What is this place?!” It yelped incredulously. “Is this some kind of abandoned house?!”

Akira gave the cat a flat expression. He opened his mouth to reply but snapped it shut when he heard approaching footsteps. Calmly placing his hands in his pockets, he turned around, Morgana trying to hide by shrinking into itself on the bed.

Sojiro walked up to the two, frowning slightly. “Hey, are you-” He began, then stopped once he caught sight of the cat. He sighed, rubbing the back of his head aggravatingly. “I was wondering why I heard meowing. What did you bring it here for?!” He demanded, glaring at the teen.

Lowering his head slightly, Akira looked at the guardian pleadingly. “It was abandoned.” He replied quietly. ‘You owe me, Morgana.’

“That’s…” Sojiro deflated. “That’s a shame.” He sighed heavily, shoulders slumping. “Look, this place is a restaurant. Animals are a no-go...Though I guess you might stay on good behavior if you’ve got a pet to take care of...” The older man crossed his arms and thought for a moment before sighing again. “Fine.” He relented. “But keep it quiet when we’re open for business. And don’t let it roam downstairs, or I’ll toss it out. Oh, and I’m not gonna take care of it. That’s all on you.”

Akira nodded, relieved.

The cafe owner turned and left, going back downstairs.

“Was that the ruler of this place?” Morgana asked, licking a paw.

He nodded again.

The feline sat down. “He seemed pretty understanding for someone who keeps you cramped up in this dump.” Morgana remarked merrily. “Then again, I suppose to normal people I just sound like a meowing cat.”

Footsteps interrupted their conversation, and they turned.

Sojiro came back up to the attic, holding a plate of boiled chicken. “Seriously,” He sighed disheartenedly. “It had to keep calling out in that cute little voice...” He placed the plate down in front of the cat. He then turned to Akira. “Make sure you wash that dish.” He warned, then paused. “By the way...have you decided on a name?”

Akira nodded, running a hand through his mop of slight curls. “It’s name is Morgana.”

“Morgana? Huh...I was hoping I’d get to name it...” Sojiro sighed wistfully, hands resting on his waist, before turning away to leave.

As soon as they heard the front door close, Morgana purred. “Looks like the chief likes me better than you.” It stated teasingly, swishing its tail.

Sighing, Akira twisted a strand of hair, exasperated with the whole situation.

“And to be honest, this place is heaven compared to Kamoshida’s cells.” It continued, taking a few steps closer to the offered meal. Turning to its fellow thief, its ears drooped. “...Remember how you guys asked me before about what I am?” Morgana asked quietly. “To be honest...I don’t remember anything about my birth.” It reluctantly confessed, looking away morosely. “I think the Metaverse’s distortions made me lose both my memories and my true form.”

Akira looked at his teammate sympathetically. “Is that form a human..?” He asked hesitantly.

“It has to be!” Morgana shouted, almost desperately. “I mean, why else would a cat be able to talk like this? There’s no other possible explanation.” Slumping, the feline sat down dejectedly. “There’s no doubt that the distortions were what caused me to lose my real self. I’m sure that once they’re purged, I’ll finally be able to get that self back." It explained. "And I have a pretty good idea on how to do it too. That’s why I was in the castle in the first place.”

The bespectacled student pursed his lips and sighed silently. What a complicated situation, but...His eyes landed on the cat and quirked his lips. ‘I owe him that much.’

Morgana sniffed curiously at the boiled chicken. “Come to think of it, I didn’t get hungry over in that world.” It mused, before digging into its meal. After a few minutes, the plate was completely empty of even crumbs, and Morgana licked its paw satisfactorily.

Grooming its ear, it turned to the teen. “Let me make myself clear: Your taking care of me won’t be for nothing. It’ll be give and take.” It proclaimed, giving him a smile. “Due to my knowledgeable and dexterous nature, I have a lot of intel on infiltration tools.”

Fine dark eyebrows shot up. “Really?” Akira asked dubiously. How does a cat make tools with no thumbs?

The feline took a seat, observing him. “I can’t tell you more unless we settle on a deal. In exchange for you keeping me here, I’ll teach you about these tools. How does that sound?” Morgana asked, languidly swishing its tail back and forth.

“Let’s do this.” Akira answered, a slight smirk on his face. This will be useful in the future, as Airi had shown in the Palace.

The feline purred. “I like that answer.” Morgana jumped up cheerfully. “Hehehe...Then it’s a deal.” It declared.

He nodded. ‘Morgana seems rather happy...’ Akira observed.

“I’ll lecture you about the infiltration tools over time. I assume that Lady Airi can also teach you some basics as well, since she had picked all the locks today.” Morgana paused. “By the way, the power you used in the Palace was seriously amazing. The stronger that power gets, the more reliable it’ll be as a trump card.” It scratched its ears with a hind leg. “All right, I’m gonna stick with you wherever you go from today on!” It announced, not noticing Akira’s slightly crestfallen expression.

‘There goes any privacy.’ He mourned silently.

“Personas are the strength born from one’s heart.” Morgana lectured. “Depending on what kind of life experience you gain, I bet it’ll affect that power as well!” It remarked cheerfully.

Akira blinked in surprise. His powers depended on his life experience?

“And if you become acquainted with capable people, you might learn various, useful skills too. This is all part of our deal, got it?” Morgana smiled at him expectantly.

Sweatdropping at the unbalanced terms, he nodded resignedly.

“I expect great things from you. Don’t let me down, OK?” The feline grinned.

He nodded again, taking the dirty dish to wash before doing his nightly schedule.

 

While doing his homework, Morgana jumped up next to him on the couch. “Also, I’ll accompany you when you go out. Don’t worry, it’s free of charge. Getting around in cat form sounds pretty inconvenient, though...Well, it is what it is. I’ll just have to deal with being carried in that bag of your’s.” It stated stubbornly. A phone rang out.
Taking it out of his pocket, Akira noticed that it was from Ann and it was directed to both him and Airi.

An: Thanks for everything today.
An: You guys saved me, and I didn’t even thank you properly.
Ak: It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.
An: I can’t not worry about it.
An: What happened today really opened my eyes.
An: I really can’t thank you enough, Airi-chan.
An: For explaining this to me, for guiding me.
An: And especially for trying to save Shiho.
An: Airi-chan?
Ak: Maybe she’s asleep.
An: I hope so...
An: Anyway, I wanted to let you know at least.
An: See you tomorrow.

Closing his phone, Akira frowned softly. It was weird that Airi hadn’t responded at all. ‘Hopefully she’s just asleep and didn’t hear her phone.’

“You guys send messages to each other with that thing, right?” Morgana meowed. “I want in too, so I’m gonna have to ask you to type for me.” It requested, before taking another look around the room. “At any rate...is this really a place for someone to live in?” It cringed, eyeing the spider webs.

“Nope.” Akira replied, popping his lips at the “p”. “I’ll clean it on Sunday.” He sighed, putting his books away.

“I’m all for teaching you how to make infiltration tools, but you really need to clean your room first…” Morgana sweatdropped. “Let’s just call it a day and go to sleep.”

Now that he wasn’t the only one in the room, he went down into the bathroom to change into his sleepwear before going back up and getting into his bed.

Morgana jumped up on top of his comforter. “Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day. Keep it together, all right?” It laid down to sleep at the corner of the mattress.

Closing the lights, Akira snuggled into his bed, falling asleep.

 

At some point during the night, Morgana had migrated from the corner of the bed to right on top of him, a heavy weight pinning him down.

Akira struggled in place, still dreaming. ‘I feel a strange weight pressing down on my body…’ He clawed at the blanket, turning his head side to side, unconsciously scrunching up his face. ‘Is this the stress of Kamoshida’s threat weighing on me…?’

He had a restless sleep that night.

Chapter Text

----4/16, EARLY MORNING, SATURDAY, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

Sighing at the loud alarm blaring in her ears, Airi reached over for her phone, turning it off. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, feeling the puffy bags underneath. She had a fitful sleep last night. Images of Shiho crying, her matron's cold face, that man, Takase giving her a sunny grin, and Rui's kind smile...

Covering her mouth as she yawned, she left the bed to get ready for school. She shouldn't dwell on the past any longer, or else the whole day would be ruined.

Rinsing her mouth of any toothpaste, she put on her school uniform and went downstairs into the tatami room, phantom strings at her fingertips.

She usually avoided this part of the house, but it wouldn't feel right today of all days. Kneeling down onto the soft straws, she opened a small cabinet, a portrait of her parents smiling back at her.

Her father was a typical salary man, thinning auburn hair at the top of his head, a slight pot belly from company parties, and a jolly expression always present. Her mother was a beautiful light brown, almost blonde, haired woman, standing much shorter than her husband. Her face always had a kind smile ready as she reached out with calloused fingers. In her arms was a two year old Airi, grinning at the camera in a sundress, one knee bandaged up. The sun shone down on her light pink hair, which baffled her family for years. The only person who had hair like her's had been her great great grandmother on her mother's side, and she was the only one to receive it.

Her heart ached as she gazed at the portrait. If only they could have stayed. If only they hadn't left her by herself...But. She shook her head. It wasn't their faults. "Hi Mom, Dad..." She whispered, lighting some incense and placing it in the holder. "Today's my birthday...I'm sixteen now." She smiled slightly. "Time flies, huh...I wish you were here. So badly...My friend tried to commit suicide yesterday...I'm so glad she's alive and that she didn't join you..." She bit her lip as her eyes clouded with moisture. "I love you..." She sniffed, clapping her hands twice in a prayer motion. Wiping a tear away, she smiled to herself. "All right, let's dance."

Grabbing her bag and keys, she put on her oxfords and left the house to Leblanc.

With a gasp, his eyes snapped open. Slowly, he sat up on his elbows, rubbing his shadowed lids. ‘I could barely sleep.’ Akira thought sullenly. He glared tiredly at the reason why.

Morgana breathed softly on top of his abdomen, occasional purrs escaping it. The additional weight had pinned him into the bed, barely letting him move or breathe.

Yawning, he lifted the cat off of him, waking it in the process with a yowl, and flipped back the comforter to get ready for the day. He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and changed into his uniform.

Hearing Sojiro’s movements at the bar, Akira grabbed his bag and placed the present within. ‘I hope she likes it.’ He prayed. Making sure Morgana won’t crush it when it sits inside, he gestured to the feline who was grooming itself awake.

“Morning, Akira.” It yawned, jumping into the bag.

Shouldering the bag, he put on his glasses and went downstairs, where a plate of fresh curry awaited him at the bar counter. Sitting down, he greeted his guardian with a quiet “good morning”, grabbing a can of cat food on the side for Morgana to eat.

Quickly finishing his food, he clapped his hands and muttered, “gochisousama deshita.” before getting up to wash his dishes. “Thank you for the food.” He expressed to the older man, who grunted in response.

“You better get going or you’ll be late.” Sojiro stated nonchalantly, shaking his newspaper.

Nodding, Akira dried his hands, grabbed his bag, and left the shop.

Just arriving at the cafe was Airi, idly brushing out her bangs with one hand. She perked up once she saw her bespectacled classmate. “Good morning, Akira-kun!” She called out, giving him a smile.

Akira smiled back. “Good morning, Airi-chan. Happy Birthday.” He congratulated.

“Happy Birthday, Lady Airi!” Morgana meowed loudly, jumping out of his bag and into her arms.

Airi blushed, hugging the feline. “Thank you.” She murmured graciously, giving it a kiss on top of its head.

It purred at the affectionate gesture, before jumping back into Akira's bag.

The two then went on their journey to school, walking to the station. In a rare occurrence, they both got seats on the train. Airi covered her mouth as she yawned, tears clouding her eyes.

“Did you not sleep well?” Akira asked quietly.

Wiping the moisture away, she shook her head. “Not really. After what happened yesterday, I...couldn’t.” She whispered, looking down morosely.

He stared at her concernedly, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure Suzui-san will be fine. Takamaki-san had said she was stable.” He reassured. “Maybe you can go visit with her?”

A little flushed from the close contact, she nodded. “Yeah, I can do that…” She smiled hopefully. “Thank you, Akira-kun. You always know what to say.”

He blushed slightly at the compliment. “You didn’t answer your phone last night.” He reminded.

Blinking, she checked her phone. “Oh! I’m so sorry.” She apologized. “Let me text Ann-chan now.”

While she was engrossed into her phone, Morgana subtly popped its head out of his bag. “Even though it’s so crowded, looks like you can still grab a seat if you’re lucky enough...” It remarked quietly over the roaring sounds of the train tracks. “While we’re riding the train, we’ve got some downtime. I wonder if we could put it to good use...” It mused, shifting back inside.

Akira hummed. Maybe he could read a book?

 

 

Walking into class, Airi was greeted with several wishes of happy birthday from her classmates. She happily accepted them, along with small gifts of chocolates and snacks, thanking them for their kindness. With a blush, Mishima handed over a gift wrapped book, stammering a “Happy Birthday” to her.

Touched, she drew him into a gentle hug, making sure not to aggravate his injuries. "Thank you so much, Mishima-kun!"

With a feverish face, he bowed shakily. "You-You're welcome, Senpai..." He looked down shyly, and went back to his desk.

An idea came to her, and she took out a new tube of Recov-R Gel, placing it in front of him.

He looked up at her quizzically.

She smiled. "It's for the bruises...I hope it helps, at least a little..." She looked down. She wished she could do more, but until they sent the calling card, this will have to do.

He stared at the tube blankly, his lips tightening. "Thank you, Senpai...You're so kind." He subtly wiped a tear away. "I'll make sure to use it." He gave her a watery smile.

She smiled back and walked up to the board to prepare it for the first class.

Coming into the room, Kawakami-sensei gave her a pat on her shoulder, congratulating her. “You’re getting closer to not needing me…” She smiled wistfully.

Airi shook her head. “No, Sensei. I wouldn’t be here without you.” She beamed gratefully. "Thank you again...you really saved me."

The teacher snorted. “I only signed my name because of him, I didn’t really do anything worthy of your praise…” She shrugged nonchalantly. “But I don’t regret it, OK?” She put her books down on a stand.

The students took their seats and the school day began.


Phones buzzed in the midst of Ushimaru-sensei’s lecture about Japanese law and three students discreetly pulled them out.

R: Hey, we’re meeting up at the hideout after school, right?
An: Don’t text now. We’re in class.
R: Whoa! You mean you’re actually listening to all this crap?
Ai: Yes, please pay attention to class, Ryuji-kun.
Ai: You need to improve your grades.
R: Ugh, you had to say that.
An: Nothing’s really sticking though.
An: I’m too excited for later.
R: Hell yeah! Anyways, hideout after school?
R: Or straight to Airi’s house?
Ai:My house!
Ai: I’m sure we’re all hungry now since lunch was about two hours ago.
R: Shit, you’re right.
Ak: Got it.

“Hey, Kurusu!”

Startled, said student’s head shot up with wide eyes, putting his phone away.

“Pay attention! Is that how you listen to someone who’s talking to you?!” Ushimaru sneered.

Akira paled. ‘I feel a murderous intent..!’

With a large sweep of his arm, the teacher threw his piece of chalk at the student, hitting him square in the forehead.

Head snapping back at the force, Akira rubbed the spot gingerly and hunched over himself, sweatdropping at his slow reflexes.

Ann covered her mouth incredulously, turning away.

Airi winced; that had to hurt. Discreetly, she took out a small tube of Recov-R gel from her bag and handed it out to the injured male.

He took it, giving her a grateful smile.

“Ooh..That looked like it hurt.”

“He hit him right in the forehead...”

“That’s what you get for daydreaming!” Ushimaru-sensei hmphed, before turning back to the board. “Kids these days have no respect for their elders.” He grumbled, taking out a new piece of chalk and continuing the lesson.

Morgana popped its head out of Akira’s desk and looked at him pityingly. “Good grief...Looks like you need more proficiency to completely dodge that.” It remarked.

He grimaced in response.

“Man, I am so excited!” Ryuji grinned, rubbing his stomach. The four (five if you count Morgana) walked out of the station and into the backstreets. “Lunch was forever ago! I can’t wait to eat your food, Airi!” The punk proclaimed, walking backwards with his hands behind his head.

She laughed as they walked past the closed movie theater. “I’ll make sure not to disappoint.” She smiled. The group arrived at a small but well maintained house, some vines climbing up the side.

“Well...This is my place.” Airi stated awkwardly, unlocking the door. They walked in, the non-residents looking around curiously.

“It’s so nice and clean.” Ann marveled while taking off her shoes and placing them on the shoe rack.

“Hehe, I try.” Airi smiled sheepishly, before leading them to the living room. “Anyway, make yourselves at home! You can watch TV if you’d like, or maybe do your homework...” She suggested, looking at the delinquent specifically. “...Ryuji-kun.”

“Hey!” He pouted indignantly. “We’re not here to torture ourselves, we’re here to celebrate!” He flopped down on one of the chaises, grabbing the remote and turning the TV on.

“In other news, we have yet to figure out what is triggering the mental breakdowns. The cause is still unknown. However, many citizens still take public transportation while citing they are in fear of future incidents. Reporting live from-” “Boring.” Ryuji groaned, changing the channel.

Akira sat down as well, unzipping his bag for Morgana. The cat jumped out of the bag and landed on the coffee table, looking around curiously. “Wow, Lady Airi. Your place is so nice! Way nicer than Akira’s room.” It purred cheerfully, before jumping down on the floor and exploring the room.

“Yeah, Airi-chan.” Ann sat down on the other chaise. “My house is bigger, but your’s has such a nice atmosphere. I’m kind of jealous.” She confessed with a smile.

Airi smiled. “Thanks, guys.” She took off her blazer, draping it on one of the couches. “I’m going to start cooking, OK?” With that, she moved to the kitchen to begin.

Once she walked out of the living room, the four guests huddled together. “All right, did you guys get presents for her?” Ann whispered fervently.

“Hell yeah I did!” Ryuji grinned, giving her a thumbs up.

Morgana took out some lockpicks from its scarf. "I can't buy anything since I don't have money, so I made some lockpicks."

Akira gave him an odd look. "When?"

It purred. "When you were sleeping, of course. It was cold when I was done so I slept on top of you."

He deadpanned. He almost died last night from suffocation. He shook his head. “When should we give them to her?”

Ryuji rubbed his chin pensively. “How about after dinner?”

They nodded in agreement. “Sooo...What did you guys get?” Ann inquired, taking her’s out. “I got her a all day coupon at the spa!” She grinned happily, showing them the envelope.

Ryuji looked at her incredulously. “Are you serious?!” He groaned, leaning back on the chaise. “I just got her a giant plush.” He sighed defeatedly, then perked up. “Oh yeah, I didn’t ask yesterday, but what did you buy?” He turned to Akira.

He shrugged. “You’ll see later.” He replied shortly, a bit nervous. He flexed his hands, heart beating quicker with anticipation.

Off in the distance, they heard the ventilation hood in the kitchen turn on. Curious, the four quietly snuck over to the dining room. Beyond the dining table was the kitchen, where Airi was currently cooking. She expertly tossed the beef with her spatula, adding a bit of mirin to it, making the wok explode in flames.

“Whoa!” Ryuji gaped, gawking at the fire show.

The four looked on in amazement as the class president moved from the stove, to the grill, to the fridge, and back to the stove. “She’s amazing.” Morgana purred, eyes shining with awe.

Taking out several plates and bowls, Airi killed the heat on the stove. Piling rice from the cooker, she set them on the table before bringing over the main courses. She divided the portions for four individuals, placing them on separate plates. Dowsing the dirty dishes in the sink, she wiped her forehead, sighing in relief.

‘Just gotta make sure the cake is decorated.’ She reminded herself.

Taking the finished cake out of the fridge, Airi shook some icing sugar on top, before going to the mint plant and slicing off several leaves, decorating the top.

She placed the cake back into the fridge and took off her apron. “Food is ready!” She called out.

Getting up from their crouched positions behind the doorway, the four walked into the dining room, gazing at the food with admiration. There was finely grilled black perch, korean marinated beef, and spiced legumes. A simple miso soup was served for each seat except for Morgana’s, who had a wide selection of tuna cuts. Slowly taking their seats, they inhaled the aromas of the freshly cooked meal.

“This smells so good!” Ryuji sighed in appreciation, mouth watering at the scents.

“I can’t wait to dig in!” Ann cheered, taking a photo of her meal.

Looking at his set, Akira noticed his perch was a bit bigger than the other’s. He blinked and looked over at Airi questioningly.

She smiled mysteriously in response. “I want to thank you guys again for coming over.” Airi began, giving them all a grateful look. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to cook for someone else other than myself. ” She laughed sheepishly. "I hope it all tastes OK. Maybe I've gotten too used to my own cooking..."

“Airi-chan…” Ann bit her lip, looking at their host. “...Can I ask where your parents are? It-It’s just that...I haven’t heard you mention them ever, even in middle school.”

“Yeah, plus you haven’t cooked for someone in a long time? Where are they?” Ryuji piped, looking around the room, not noticing the class president’s face grimacing.

Akira stared at her with concern, not saying anything.

Airi took a deep breath. “...They’re gone.” She whispered, not looking up. The room fell silent at the news. “They’ve been gone for years, almost a decade now.” She smiled wryly.

Ann covered her mouth in horror. “Oh...Airi-chan...” She whispered, tears clouding her eyes. "I'm sorry for asking..."

She sighed. “It’s all right, Ann-chan. It’s old news.” She bowed her head.

Clenching his fists, Ryuji bowed his head. “Sorry, Airi. I...didn’t know...”

Gray eyes glanced at her sorrowfully. “Airi-chan…” Akira whispered.

Shaking her head, tearful eyes looked up at her guests. “Thank you.” She closed her eyes. “I’m happy that I have such good friends who care so much...” Wiping the moisture from her eyes, she clapped her hands together. “Enough talking about sad stuff, It’s my birthday! The meal’s getting cold and I worked hard on it, so you guys better eat up!”

Swishing its tail back and forth, Morgana gazed at her affectionately. “Thank you, Lady Airi!”

“Itadakimasu!” The group dug into their meals. “Oh man, this is sooo good!” Ryuji moaned in appreciation, chewing on the korean beef. “It’s so sweet and juicy!”

Ann chewed happily. “The fish is so soft, it's falling off my chopsticks! You have to teach me how to cook.” She proclaimed, pointing her utensils at Airi.

Morgana devoured the sashimi on its plate. “Meeoooow!” It sang blissfully. "Real fooood!"

Savoring the meal, Akira closed his eyes in pleasure. He hadn’t had a real meal like this since he left home, and even then, his mother's cooking couldn't compare. All he had lately was curry and ramen.

‘I could get used to this.’ He thought blissfully. Taking another bite of the black perch, he blinked, tasting a new flavor. He looked closer at the fish, and saw it had garlic and mushrooms stuffed inside. He quirked his lips. ‘Something she enjoys a lot, huh.’ He thought fondly to himself.

Finishing their meals in a matter of minutes, the teenagers and one cat sighed in bliss. “That,” Ryuji began, pointing at his empty dishes. “Was the best meal of my life.” He declared dramatically, leaning back in his seat. "My Ma ain't ever cook this good."

“Agreed!” Ann stretched in her chair languidly with a smile.

Morgana was laid on its back, stomach distended from all the food.

Wiping his mouth with a napkin, Akira muttered a “gochisousama deshita,” before getting up from his seat and gathering the dirty dishes.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Akira-kun!” Airi piped, hurriedly getting up from her seat to help.

He shook his head. “You did all the work, this is the least I can do.” He smiled.

Deflating, She smiled and acquiesced, heading into the kitchen. “You can just leave them in the sink, I’ll do them later.” She ordered, opening the fridge. “I hope you guys aren’t too full because I also made cake.” She pulled it out and laid it on the dining table.

It was a light matcha cheesecake, sprinkled with icing sugar and topped with a few buds of mint. She also grabbed a carton of vanilla ice cream. “Shall we eat?” Airi asked, brandishing a knife.

“Wait!” Ryuji stopped, holding a hand out. “You gotta make a wish! It’s your birthday!”

“Oh, right right!” Airi laughed sheepishly, sweatdropping at her forgetfulness. Taking candles out from a drawer, she inserted them into the cake, lighting them with a match. Closing her eyes, she clasped her hands together. Several moments later, she blew the candles, extinguishing the flames.

“Happy Birthday, Airi!” The guests cheered, clapping their hands in celebration. “Alright, cake time!” Ann cheered, jumping in place happily.

Cutting the cake into several pieces, Airi handed them out on porcelain plates, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

They dug into the dessert with relish. “Oh my god, this is amazing!” Ann marveled, eyes sparkling at the cake in front of her.

“Thank you, Ann-chan!” Airi smiled. Her cheeks were stained red, blushing from all the compliments. "I wasn't sure since I'm the only one who usually eats my cooking..."

After the meal by the birthday girl, they relocated back to the living room. Airi had went and prepared tea for everyone, and now they sat in peaceful silence, nursing a steaming cup.

“Sooo…” Ryuji began, the others looking at him curiously. “Present time?” He suggested to his fellow guests, wiggling his eyebrows. They nodded.

“Wait- presents?” Airi repeated. “You guys didn’t have to! I only told you yesterday...” She blubbered flusteredly, waving her hands in front of her.

“Of course we had to!” Ann argued, sitting across. “You’ve done a lot for us, for me especially.” She looked down at her lap. “You told me earlier in our texts that you’re sorry for not being able to save Shiho, and you’ve kept on saying that. But,” Ann looked up resolutely. “...You tried. That’s more than anyone else had done, more than...what I had done. So thank you, Airi-chan.” She smiled gently. “She's probably alive right now because you went up there, so stop blaming yourself! We’ll go visit her tomorrow.”

Airi stared at her with wide eyes, before looking down at her lap, her bangs shadowing her face. Tiny droplets hit the back of her clenched hands. “...Every time I close my eyes,” She began quietly. “All I see is Shiho-chan’s face. When I went to bed last night, I...kept hearing her body hit the ground.” She covered her face with her hands. “I know, I did all I could...but it wasn’t enough, though, was it? I didn’t make any difference...” She sobbed quietly. “I had her! If I was stronger, I could have pulled her up...”

Akira scooted closer and put an arm around her shoulders. Ann flinched at the description, reaching out and placing a comforting hand on Airi’s leg, Ryuji reaching over Akira’s arm to also half hug her. Morgana jumped and curled up on her lap. They comforted the crying girl for however long she needed.

Sniffing, Airi wiped the tears from her face, embarrassed from crying so much over these past two days. “Sorry...” She bit her lip, blushing. “I keep ruining the mood with all my crying...”

“Don’t apologize, Lady Airi.” Mona shook its head, ears twitching. “It’s OK to cry.” It gave her an understanding smile, jumping onto the table.

She gave a watery smile back. She was so fortunate to have such good friends, even if she didn't deserve them.

“Alright, enough with the crying!” Ryuji persuaded, taking out his shoddily wrapped present. “We gotta think on the bright side! It’s your birthday, we’re gonna bag Kamoshida’s Treasure! Suzui’s stable!” He listed off, grinning excitedly, doing his best to lift the mood.

“Yeah!” Ann chimed in, pumping a fist. “Everything’s gonna be fine! You have to open our presents now!” She took her’s out and shoved it into Airi's hands.

Startled, she looked down curiously. She slowly unwrapped the envelope, the paper giving way to an all expenses paid coupon at the local spa. She laughed delightedly. “Thank you, Ann-chan! I need this so bad after this week.” She smiled gratefully. “Maybe we can go together sometime?”

Ann nodded gleefully.

Ryuji shoved his large wrapped package at her as well. “Open mine next!” He demanded happily, bouncing in his seat.

With a laugh, she did as she was told, unwrapping all the newspaper covering the object. “Oh!” She blinked, taking out a large plush of a cat. It was mostly black with white tips, easily resembling a certain dexterous feline.

“Is that supposed to be me?!” Morgana yelled incredulously, glaring at the punk.

“It’s way better than you!” Ryuji glared back.

She burst into laughter, hugging the plush close to her. “I love it!” She brightened up. “I’m gonna call it Mona!”

Morgana turned and gave her a look of betrayal. “Lady Airi..,” It teared up. “Aren’t I good enough?!” Airi gave the feline a gentle smile, rubbing its ears. “Of course you are, Morgana.” She reassured softly. “But you’re always going to be with Akira-kun. I just get my own Mona to hug and snuggle with.” She grinned.

Morgana stopped mid-purr. ”Snuggle with…?” It breathed, blushing heavily at the thought, before shaking itself. “OK, fine.” It relented, trying to sound nonchalant, but the blush still present on its face gave it away. "Here's my present." It handed a couple of lockpicks with its mouth. "I can't really wrap them..."

She accepted the gift, placing it next to her on the couch. "Thank you! Now I won't have to use my bobby pin each time."

Akira smiled amusedly at the feline’s dramatic actions, before resigning himself. ‘My turn.’ He thought with trepidation. He pulled the still wrapped box out of his bag, and silently handed it over.

Airi blinked, before accepting the bundle of tissue paper. She slowly unwrapped it layer by layer, unveiling a black velvet box. Her eyes widened, and looked at the ebony haired male in astonishment. “Did you...get me jewelry?” She breathed, her fingers slightly caressing the box.

He smiled a tad nervously. “Open it.” He instructed quietly. He glanced away for a moment, and met wide light blue eyes.

Ann stared at him in disbelief, before smirking knowingly at him.

He gave her a confused frown, not understanding why she was giving him that look.

Airi slowly opened the velvet box, gasping at what was inside. She gently took out the silver barrette, the delicate pink petals gleaming in the light, and placed it in her palm, admiring it. “Akira-kun.” She breathed. “This must have been expensive. You didn’t have to.” She objected quietly, frowning guiltily at the gift.

He shook his head. “I wanted to.” He corrected, smiling softly.

She looked at him, searching his face, before acquiescing with a shy curl of her lips. She untied her braid, letting her peachy locks fall freely. Braiding the tendrils in a different pattern, she pulled it up into a bun, clipping her new gift in. She pulled out her phone and used the front camera as a mirror, appreciating how the flowers complimented her hair.

Airi turned back to Akira, who watched her with his mouth slightly open just like when they had met. “Thank you, Akira-kun. This is wonderful!” She smiled warmly.

He swallowed, wetting his dry throat. His eyes rested on the visage in front of him, not wanting to blink or look away. She looked...really beautiful with his gift. Unconsciously wetting his lips, he looked away, feeling his face heat up. “You’re welcome. You deserve it.” He replied shortly, not trusting himself to not stutter with how fast his heart was beating. ‘Calm down.’ He scolded himself silently. ‘But...I can feel her appreciation…’

Whistling, Ryuji admired the barrette in her hair. “Damn, bro. How much did you spend?”

Akira pursed his lips. “I’m not telling.” He dramatically coiffed his hair.

They burst into laughter at the display.

“Thank you all for the gifts.” Airi spoke, a shy smile decorating her lips. “It means so much to me coming from you guys.” She hugged the Mona plush close to her, holding the spa coupon in one hand.

“Well,” Morgana began, jumping onto the coffee table. “Since we’re done with celebrations, we should hold our meeting about the calling card.” It suggested, laying down, tucking its legs underneath itself.

Akira nodded. “Right. Let’s begin then.”

The five huddled together above the coffee table. “Since we’ve got an infiltration route, we can send a calling card, right?” He asked the cat, who nodded in response.

“Why couldn’t we send it in the first place..?” Ryuji asked confusedly.

“It’s not that easy.” Morgana frowned. “A Treasure won’t stay materialized forever. Once the impression is gone, the Treasure will disappear. I think it’ll last around a day, at most.”

“The hell..? That’s like no time at all...” He groaned, ruffling his hair.

“When should we send it?” Akira asked the group.

“As soon as possible. We’ve waited too long.” Ann replied instantly, frowning. “We’re going to pull this off, no matter what!” She clenched her fists angrily.

Airi nodded firmly. “He needs to pay for what he did. I’ll never forgive him.” She stated coldly.

“I’m with ya.” Ryuji frowned, sitting forward. “Plus, we don’t wanna get expelled. The earlier the better.”

“Alright then, Monday it is.” Akira declared.

Everyone nodded in agreement. “Once we send the card, we have to infiltrate the Palace immediately for the Treasure.” Morgana advised, ears twitching in anticipation.

“So we send the calling card in the morning...and carry out the plan by the end of the day, right?” Ann inquired.

“We’ll have to do this quickly then.” Airi mediated.

Akira nodded in understanding. “So, who’s going to write the card?” He crossed his arms, leaning back on the chaise.

“Oh! Oh!” Ryuji perked up. “Leave it to me!”

Ann gave him an odd look. “Why?” She asked dubiously.

“Why..? Why wouldn’t it be me?!” He asked, offended.

The model tutted. “This is important. Are you sure you can handle the pressure?” She pressed, furrowing her brows at him.

“I must agree.” Morgana added, scratching an ear.

“I really wanna get him good!” Ryuji exclaimed, holding up a fist. “Lemme write it...C’mon, please?” He pleaded at their leader.

Pursing his lips, Akira nodded. “All right.” He relented.

He pumped a fist. “Yeah, I got this!” Ryuji grinned.

Ann cringed. “Hey, are you sure about this..? If they find out our identities, all this work will be for nothing..."

“I know, I know!” Ryuji waved away her concerns.

Morgana stood up. “All right! Monday it is! You’d better not slack off on this.”

Yawning, Ryuji stretched his arms and got up. “It’s gettin’ late. We should go.” He noted, looking at the clock on the wall which read “7 P.M.”

Ann got up as well, straightening her skirt. “Yeah, same here. Gotta get up early to visit Shiho tomorrow. Want to meet me at Shibuya station, Airi-chan?” She asked the birthday girl.

Said girl nodded. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She replied with a calm smile.

“I’ll walk wit’ ya.” Ryuji offered the model, grabbing their bags and heading toward the front door. “Thanks so much for the food, Airi! It was awesome!”

“Happy Birthday!” Ann congratulated once more, putting on her boots.

“Thanks for coming over! You’ll always be welcome.” Airi grinned at the two blonds. “Get home safely!”

With a wave, the two left, leaving Airi, Akira, and Morgana in the house.

Airi turned to her classmate. “You can stay as long as you’d like, Akira-kun, Morgana. You live around the corner anyway.” She smiled jokingly.

He inclined his head. “If you don’t mind. Maybe we can do our homework together?” He suggested, lips quirking.

She agreed, and they moved their bags into the tatami room to study.

He blinked, noticing the small shrine in the corner, incense lit in front of a family portrait.

Coming back into the room with two cups of hot tea, Airi stilled, noticing Akira bowing his head in front of her parents' shrine, his hands clapped together in a prayer motion. She quietly placed the cups on the table and sat down, waiting for him to finish. With an exhale, he opened his eyes, letting his arms fall to his lap.

"Thank you." She said quietly, smiling softly at him. She was so touched that he bothered to give her parents a prayer, especially since he had never known them. He was so thoughtful.

He shook his head. "It's the least I could do. I'm sure they were amazing people." He smiled, moving back to the table. They spent a quiet evening together, mostly her correcting his answers, while Morgana napped under the kotatsu.

Two hours later, Airi waved farewell to the two Persona users as they left for Cafe Leblanc. Closing the door, she went about cleaning the mess left behind from the party, humming happily. Today had been a good day. Better than good, it was great. Her friends enjoyed her cooking, her classmates wished her happy birthday, and even got presents! Not that she didn't appreciate the chocolates and snacks, but they didn't really mean anything. Her team of thieves had thought out their presents, and she was going to cherish them.

After her bath, she unclasped her new barrette and admired it. ‘I can’t believe Akira-kun really bought me something so beautiful and expensive.’ She thought, still in disbelief at the gorgeous clip. They had only known each other for a week, less than a week actually. Did he really think of her so kindly to buy her something like this?

She placed it gently on her vanity, swearing to wear it only on special occasions, before getting up. Going to her school bag, she took out all the gifts she received from her fellow classmates, including the book from Mishima.

Unwrapping it, she blinked. It was a book on Psychology. ‘How thoughtful of him, and just what I need, too.’ She smiled fondly.

Turning around, she gazed at the dusty instrument with trepidation. She was at war with herself. On one hand, the cello only reminded her of her of that time.

“Stupid child! This is what you deserve!”

Her eyes darkened at the memories. She could still hear the wood creaking in her ears. But...on the other hand, it also contained happy memories with her mother and father, and the itch to play was getting unbearable. Her hands would twitch every so often, steel strings under her fingertips.

“Aw, honey you look so cute and tiny next to it!”

“You play really nicely, Airi!”

“Let’s get you a cello so you can play for your big bro!”

Clenching her now uninjured hands, she nodded to herself, coming to a decision. Reaching out with a trembling hand, her heart pounding in her ears, she dusted off the instrument.

"I wish...for my parents to be in peace, watching over me. I wish they could tell me they were proud of me, that they love me. I wish Takase and Rui were here, smiling happily at my side. I wish I can help more people. I wish that our team would stay together even after we take Kamoshida's Treasure. I wish..."

Chapter Text

----4/17, SUNDAY, MORNING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

Picking out a long sleeve peach colored blouse and a short black skirt with sheer gray tights, Airi got changed and readied her bag. She placed a stack of colorful paper inside along with her keys. Putting on a pair of black heels, she set off for the train. Her phone rang and she stopped, taking it out.

Ak: You're going to the hospital today, right?
Ak: Can you meet me at Leblanc for a second?
Ai: Sure.

She turned the corner instead, seeing Akira stand in front of the cafe. He was dressed in a black sports jacket, white shirt, and blue jeans, holding a small bouquet in his hand.

She blinked. Those were daisies. Was he..? "Hey." She greeted quietly, walking up to him.

He turned to her with a small smile. "Hey. Sorry for calling you out here so suddenly." He held up the bouquet up to her. "I wanted to ask if you were willing to give these to Suzui-san for me."

Her eyes widened. She was right. Daisies were gifted to wish a person to get well, after all. "Eh..? Why don't you give them yourself? I think she'd be happy to know you cared enough to give flowers." She tilted her head.

He shook his head. "I don't really know her, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to visit...But." He paused, looking away. "She talked to me once a couple days ago, telling me not to worry about the rumors....I want to thank her for that, at the very least."

Smiling softly, she accepted the bouquet. "Got it...Shiho-chan sure is a nice girl, isn't she?"

He nodded. "She didn't even know me but she supported me anyway. I guess it's because Takamaki-san goes through the same thing with rumors..." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Anyway, thanks for doing this for me. I'll see you tomorrow?"

Airi smiled. "Of course. See ya." She waved as she walked past him to the station.

She traveled to Shibuya in silence, gazing ahead somberly, gripping the bouquet carefully in her hands. It was really kind of Akira to get a gift for Shiho, even though he didn't really know her. A passing comment like that had impacted him enough to wish her a speedy recovery. Her eyes darkened. What had she done? Nothing. It all only ended in failure with her. She didn't even deserve to be visiting her in the hospital like this.

"This is Shibuya. I repeat, this is Shibuya. The time is now 11:12AM, the next stop is..."

Getting out of the station, she called Ann. After a couple of rings, the call went through. “Ann-chan? It’s Airi. I’m here in the station square. Where are you?”

“Here!” She heard from behind her.

Turning around, she saw the model walk up to her. She was wearing a red and white sports jacket on top of a lavender button up and a white skirt. Her long legs were clad in black tights, ending with red converses. She had a small plastic bag around her wrist, holding something round.

“Ready to go?” Ann asked quietly, a depressed expression painting her features.

Airi nodded, putting her phone away, and the two walked in silence through the bustling crowds of Tokyo.

A few minutes later, they arrived at Ito Hospital. Walking through the automatic doors, the smell of antiseptic burned their noses. “Welcome to Ito Hospital. How may I help you?” The receptionist asked monotonously, looking at the two through her round glasses with blank eyes.

“We’re here for Suzui Shiho.” Ann answered quietly, looking uncomfortably around at the waiting room filled with sick patients. Nurses walked around mechanically, writing on their clipboards and hooking some on IVs. Not a single person other than the receptionist spoke.

Typing on her computer, the receptionist nodded. “She is in room 203. Visiting hours end at 8 P.M.” She droned, directing them to the nearby elevators lethargically.

“Thank you.” Airi nodded politely, and the two students rode the elevator up to the second floor.

Slowly walking out into the somewhat bare hallways, she felt the dread creeping up her back. She didn’t want to see the results of her failure. To see with her own eyes, that she couldn’t save her. She might as well have pushed Shiho off herself, she thought grimly.

They stopped in front of the door of 203. Taking a deep breath, Ann turned to her companion. “Are you ready?” She asked quietly.

Airi tightened her grip around the strap of her bag. Was she ready? No. She would never be ready to see the broken body of another friend. “Yes.” She lied, sliding the door open.

The sunlight shone through the open window, white curtains fluttering from the cool breeze. A slow consistent beep echoed throughout the room, emanating from the ECG monitor. A faint hiss could be heard from the ventilator, hooked up through a series of tubes connected to the patient tucked in the bed. Silently, they walked up to the cot where Suzui Shiho laid, unable to wake up.

Biting her lip, Ann grasped a limp hand, the only appendage that wasn’t bandaged, and sat next to the comatose girl. Airi stayed near the foot of the bed, refusing to gaze further than the report on the bed frame. She placed Akira's flowers in a nearby vase, already filled with water.

“Hi, Shiho.” Ann breathed, voice shaky.

The black haired girl remained silent, the only sound she made came from her faint breaths, her chest rising up and down slowly. Most of her face was wrapped in white gauze, some having splotches of red.

Gulping, Ann trembled as she drank in the array of bruises and bandages. A drop fell, then another, as tears streamed down her face, hitting the back of her hand. She cried silently, never letting go of her grip on her friend, afraid that if she did, she would slip away.

Her heart wrenched at the sobs emitted from her friend, and Airi closed her eyes, trying to keep tears at bay. Tightening her grip on the clipboard, crinkling the paper, she inhaled shakily. Opening her eyes, she blinked away the moisture, and reread the report again. Broken femur, fractured ulna, a fractured clavicle, and three cracked ribs. Her left shoulder had dislocated, however the hospital already took care of it. Her spine was a little more worrying. The report said two discs had been pushed out of alignment, and was fixed in surgery. All injuries have been set and bandaged, and the only thing left was to wait.

“Is she going to be OK..?” Ann asked hesitantly, turning her tear filled eyes at her.

Airi sighed heavily. “Physically, someday. Mentally...I don’t know.” She shook her head, guilt marring her features. No one can tell when a coma patient would wake up, if they ever would wake...

She let out a shaky sigh, closing her eyes in anguish. “Why won’t she wake up…?” Ann whispered, a scowl growing on her lips. “Why didn’t she tell me?!” She shouted, a fresh wave of tears dripping onto the linoleum floor. “Shiho, you idiot!” Ann spat venomously. “You didn’t have to take your life over that asshole! You selfish bitch! You...” She choked, shoulders trembling. “...Don’t leave me.” Her voice hitched, face twisted in agony.

Taking a shaky breath, Airi turned to look, and her heart broke. She mourned for the unresponsive person who laid brokenly in bed, she mourned for the sound mind of a beautiful girl, she mourned for the shattered soul who continued to stay silent. She mourned for another friend.

Her strength left her, and she collapsed on her knees. Clenching the cold sheets with her hands, she buried her face in them to hide her sobs. ‘She’s still alive she’s still alive she’s still alive...’ She repeated to herself. The two girls cried, praying for their friend’s health, and more importantly, her regaining consciousness

Sighing heavily, Airi collapsed on a chaise, an arm shielding her eyes from the light of the chandelier.

Today had been a long day. Too long. After crying their hearts out, Ann had taken out a small duck plush from the plastic bag. She told her that it was from Ryuji, who gave it to her last night when they went home. That he hoped it would brighten Shiho's day when she would wake up. Placing it on the night stand, she clapped her hands twice. She then spoke of how this all started last year, when Shiho got onto the volleyball team. She was so happy that Ann would go and watch her play. That was how Kamoshida had noticed her.

Airi had told the model about what had happened up on the rooftop, and the reasoning for it. She told her how Shiho had broke down, confessing that the teacher had been touching her, beating her, and finally raped her. How Shiho endured all that for Ann, until that last act finally broke her.

Ann had been so angry that a nurse had come in to warn them about the noise level, or else they’d be kicked out. Quieting down after being reprimanded by the staff, Airi silently pulled out a stack of colorful paper, and began to fold. Seeing what she was doing, Ann joined in, and the two folded paper cranes together for several hours, keeping Shiho company. They hoped to finish a thousand of them soon.

They finally parted an hour later, unable to stand being in the room, and Airi went straight to work. Her boss noticed her bloodshot eyes, but didn’t say anything, only handing over a bouquet of daisies and peonies with an understanding smile at the end of the shift. Tearing up from the gesture, she thanked her boss profusely, quickly walking back to the hospital to put them by Shiho’s bedside. Her boss had given her a way to apologize, even if it was such a small gesture.

Her mother was there when she entered the room, and Airi was overcome with shame and guilt. This woman in front of her had almost lost her daughter because of her. Placing the flowers into the vase, she got on her knees and prostrated on the floor, asking for forgiveness for not being able to save her daughter. More tears dripped as she explained how she had Shiho in her hands and she was too weak to pull her up, too weak to handle the scratches her daughter put on her wrists and palms. If she was stronger, her daughter wouldn't be here right now, unresponsive.

Suzui-san looked at her silently, her face unreadable, before she got on her hands and knees as well. She asked for forgiveness, for not saying anything when her daughter became more depressed, for when she saw the bruises but didn’t ask, and when she saw the light extinguish in her eyes. The older woman broke down, saying she may as well have killed her daughter herself. She didn't deserve to be called a mother when she couldn't even help her baby.

Airi looked at her in shock. It was the exact same thing she accused herself of. She realized that everyone that had looked on at Shiho’s deterioration without doing anything, had really thought of themselves as the noose around her neck. Her lips trembled, and she hugged the sobbing woman. In the end, she comforted the mother with her reasoning, and that instead crying about it, they should instead do their best to make sure Shiho was comfortable, healthy, and happy, even if the black haired girl herself might never reach the latter. They owed her that much.

With one final bow, the class president left the mother and daughter, and headed home. Though many people had looked on curiously at her red puffy eyes, no one cared enough to ask. She made it home alone. Crying so much in a span of a few hours had thrown her emotions on a roller coaster, going up and down over and over again.

She sighed tiredly, her head throbbing from the excess hormones, eyes burning from all the tears shed earlier. ‘School’s tomorrow, as well as Kamoshida’s Treasure.’ She reminded herself, groaning.

Reluctantly, she got up to take a bath, her muscles screaming at her. Turning off the faucet, she submerged herself in the hot water, sighing in relief as her migraine dissipated.

After her bath, she put on her pajamas, and with a hesitant hand, picked up the dark cherry wood cello. Taking a deep breath, she slid the bow against the strings shakily, her fingers now unused to the grips.

“You used to play? Why don’t you play now?”

“Why would they do that?! They’re so mean to you, Airi…”

She softly played G. Faure’s Elegie, releasing her anger and sorrow through the deep melody, one shaky note at a time.

It was all she could do to not break down again.

Chapter Text

Getting back home after his first shift at the convenience store, Akira entered Cafe Leblanc. There was only one customer, an older brown haired male sitting in one of the booths, talking to the cafe owner.

“Boss, did you hear?” The haughty regular asked. “Apparently that subway driver from the accident was acting really odd during his testimony hearing.” He gossiped smugly, taking a sip from his cup, one pinky sticking out.

Akira looked on silently from the entrance, interested at the information.

Sojiro crossed his arms. “You talking about that psychotic whatever thing people’re going on about?” He asked reluctantly.

“Yeah, I heard it completely alters your personality. The news is saying the driver couldn’t even speak when they tried asking him questions.” The customer prattled on.

He sighed exasperatedly. “There’s no way a preposterous story like that could be true.” Sojiro commented shortly. “Oh, and sorry, but we’re closing soon.”

The haughty regular, offended, cleared his throat. “Hmph, how rude. This must be why you don’t get many customers.” He remarked, looking down at his cup. “Your coffee’s actually not half bad. The beans must be lamenting the sorry state of this store..."

Glaring at the customer now, Sojiro gestured to the door. “Thanks for stopping in. Please come again.” He gritted.

“Hmph. I only say this out of politeness, but...thanks for the coffee.” The man pursed his lips, before leaving some bills on the table, and walking out of the store.

Akira looked on uncomfortably at the blatant rudeness of the customer.

Sojiro rubbed the back of his head. “Sheesh, what a pain...” He groaned, going over to pick up the dirty dish and cash. He looked up at his charge. “Oh...What do you want? If you’re bored, go wash some dishes or something.”

Akira blinked. “How’s business?” He asked lightly, not wanting to set the other man off.

“Doesn’t concern you.” Sojiro replied curtly before sighing. “It’s all good as long as the shop doesn’t fail. I’m not gonna go wearing a fake smile.” He explained, his tone a bit softer than before.

“But what if it does fail?” Akira asked, furrowing his brows slightly in concern.

He shrugged. “As long as I’m here, the world leaves me be. No annoyances or troublesome people to deal with. It’s like my own personal hideaway. I’d be kinda screwed if I lost it, but I guess you would be too.” He stated nonchalantly. “So, you better at least try and be useful around here.” He sighed, taking off his apron. “Anyway, I’m leaving now. Don’t cause any trouble.” He warned halfheartedly before eyeing the student. “You seem different...Have you always had a scowl on your face? Nothing goes your way in life. You’ll end up failing if you tense up like that.”

Akira nodded, and walked up the stairs to his room. Putting his bag down, Morgana jumped out and began grooming itself. Sitting down on the couch, his phone rang.

An: So, I went to see Shiho today at the hospital with Airi…
Ak: How was she?
An: Her condition is still stable.
An: They don’t know when she’ll regain consciousness though…
Ak: I’m sure she’ll be OK.
An: Yeah.
An: Airi and I began making paper cranes for her.
Ak: That’s really thoughtful.
An: She’ll get better, I know it.
An: We just need to believe in her.
An: But...I’ll never forgive Kamoshida. He’s going to pay for what he did, no matter what.

He put his phone away and sighed. So much had happened, and he’d barely been here a week.

Morgana jumped up next to him, sitting down on the couch. “We’re going into the Palace tomorrow.” It stated firmly. “We should assemble some infiltration tools. Clean off that desk back there so we can use it.” It gestured to the covered work desk, languidly waving its tail.

Nodding, Akira got up, putting on a face mask, and began cleaning. An explosion of dust flew in the air as he took off the transparent sheet, and cleared the stacks of books covering the counter.

With a final wipe of the rag, he took off his mask with a sigh.

“Great! Now you can make things whenever you want!” Morgana cheered, sneezing a bit from all the dust particles.

Exhaling softly, he looked around the rest of the dirty room. Pursing his lips at the conditions, he put his mask back on and cleaned the rest, dusting off the cramped bookcase and moving the bicycle and bags behind the stairs, leaving the barely alive plant next to the case. Walking back into his room, he smacked his hands satisfactorily.

“OK, let’s make something!” Morgana suggested, jumping onto the desk and relaxing on its back.

Akira went over and sat down, looking to the cat for guidance.

“I’ll provide the materials this time. Shadows in the Metaverse usually drop them when you kill them. Try making a lockpick.” The feline dropped a tin clasp and some silk yarn in front of the bespectacled student.

He looked down at the materials blankly. ‘How do I even…?’ He furrowed his brows in confusion.

“Don’t think too hard on it. You’ll get the hang of it.” Morgana reassured, grooming a paw. “Everyone starts off a little clumsy. Don’t be sad if it doesn’t turn out well, OK?”

Akira glanced at the cat incredulously behind his glasses, hesitantly grabbing the metal and pliers. A couple minutes of fumbling and silent cursing at the new cuts on his fingers, he held up one lockpick victoriously.

“Did you finish?” The feline looked curiously at the finished product in the teenager’s hand.

He held out the newly created object closer to the cat.

Morgana hummed, scrutinizing the lockpick. “Great! We should be able to use this.” It complimented, giving the boy an impressed look.

“All right!” He pumped his fist with a smirk, feeling confident. Taking some materials from his own pocket, he made two more, clumsily shaping the metal. By the end of it, his hands were covered in small scratches and cuts, the injuries mild but annoying.

Morgana stood up on its paws and looked at him sternly. “We’re heading into the Palace tomorrow. Let’s get some sleep.” It jumped dexterously to the bed.

Changing into his sleepwear in the bathroom, Akira snuggled into his bed, this time making sure Morgana would stay on the edge instead of on top of him. He breathed out, staring intently at the wooden beams that were lit with the midnight moon.

‘Tomorrow’s the day.’ He thought pensively. He was going to steal someone's heart. If they were caught, there was no doubt that he would be taken away, and his friends would be with him. They would be stuck in juvenile hall before being transferred to prison, and they wouldn't be able to get out. They would be released after a while, but him? With his existing record? Freedom would be snatched away from his fingertips.

His phone rang. Groaning softly, he reached over for his mobile.

R: Man, there’s so much I wanna write on the calling card. It’s kinda tough figuring out what to say.
An: Are you sure you’re really capable of this?!
R: Don’t worry, I got it. I even made a logo for us.
An: ...A logo?
R: Yep, you’ll get to see it tomorrow.
An: Well that’s worrying…
R: Anyway, you guys should rest up.
R: If we screw up tomorrow, we’re totally done for.
Ai: You should get some rest too, Ryuji-kun.
Ai: We need to be in tip top shape.
Ai: Let’s go in right after school?
Ak: Sounds good.
Ak: I’m counting on you guys.
An: Yep. I’m sure we can do this.
R: Just remember, we can’t trust any shitty adults.
R: That’s why we gotta do this ourselves.
R: Anyways, let’s pull this off and surprise everyone!

 

----4/18, MONDAY, EARLY MORNING, SHUJIN ACADEMY

 

“Good morning!” Kamoshida greeted, standing in front of the school gates, grinning at the students. “C’mon, hurry up and get to class!” He laughed lightheartedly.

Slowly walking up to the entrance, Akira and Airi glanced at each other in apprehension. He seemed more and more enthusiastic the closer it got to the board meeting. No doubt he was looking forward to expelling both outcasts from the school.

The gym teacher then turned and smiled at the class president. “Good morning, Kimisawa! You better get your cute self going or you’ll be late!” He winked.

Airi gave him a polite bow in return, not saying anything at the inappropriate comment, and walked past.

Watching her back side with a lazy smile, he turned to the bespectacled student, face smoothing out into a blank canvas. “Good morning.” Kamoshida greeted flatly, looking at Akira with barely concealed contempt.

Composed gray eyes stared back evenly. “Good morning.” He replied smoothly, not a hint of emotion seeping through. He moved to walk past the taller man, but stopped when he spoke again.

“...That admirable behavior won’t do you any good once you’re expelled.” Kamoshida rested his hands on his hips, peering at the student derisively.

Akira turned his head slightly, glancing at the gym teacher from the corner of his eye, before his gaze slid away and he continued walking into the school, hands in his pockets.


Entering the building, he spotted Airi next to the trophy cases with her back turned in his direction, talking to a couple of their classmates. Their worried expressions turned into one of fear as they saw him walk up behind her, and they hurried away with a bow.

“What was that about?” He blinked.

Startled, she turned around with wide eyes. “Oh! Akira-kun.” She sighed in relief, relaxing her shoulders. “It was nothing. They had seen us talk everyday and they were worried.”

“Yeah?” He commented, lips quirking. “And what did you say?”

“I told them there’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re like a harmless puppy.” She cracked a grin, before breaking out into laughter, smothering it with one hand.

He gave her a flat expression, but the twitching of his lips gave him away. “Yep. I’m the very picture of innocence.” He smirked, casually combing his hair with a hand.

Airi giggled at the action. “But to be serious, I did tell them they didn’t have to worry. I’m perfectly safe with you.” She smiled gently. “Hopefully, they'll stop feeding the rumors about you to the rest of the school.”

Taken aback by the casual statement, Akira looked away. He swallowed, wetting his dry lips, as he felt the heat rise up in his face.

He made her feel safe? When had anyone felt safe near him? For so long, people had treated him as someone dangerous, and before that, a nuisance. His classmates avoided him, the school avoided him, his parents...

After so many insults and derogatory remarks thrown at him...he started to believe it. He accepted that no one should come near him, or else he’ll hurt them just like he had hurt that man. His eyes hardened at the hazy memory. Now that he had the power of Personas, he really was dangerous. But...

His eyes slid back to his class president. Not to his teammates. Not to his friends. Not to her.

Turning back to her, his lips quirked, before transforming into a full blown grin. “Yeah.” Akira whispered, his grin softening to a tender smile. “I’ll make sure you never think otherwise.” He promised softly. ‘I can feel her trust in me…’ It was too early to tell, but...


Ruby eyes widened at the heartfelt grin directed at her, and she felt her cheeks flush. Airi had never seen him smile fully before. Every one of his expressions in the past week had been mild at best. He really was very handsome when he let his guard down. ‘Not that he wasn’t handsome before...’ She thought distractedly, before realizing what she thought and shook her head.

“A-Anyway, we should head to class.” She stammered, looking away shyly.


The two walked in further past the trophy cases when they saw a crowd of students surrounding the announcement boards. Curious, they stopped a little a ways near the practice building entrance to listen in. Ryuji was already there, gesturing them over with a grin. They walked over, observing the spectacle just as Ann walked into the school. The boards were covered in red cards, stating “The Phantom Thieves Of Hearts.” A bunch of students were standing near, reading the cards and whispering to each other.

“A calling card..?” A student muttered.

“I heard it was already posted by the time everyone got here this morning.” Another student gossiped excitedly.

Walking up to the board, Ann examined a card. “Sir Kamoshida Suguru, the utter bastard of lust.” She read, furrowing her brows. “We know how shitty you are, and that you put your twisted desires on students that can’t fight back. That’s why we have decided to steal away those desires and make you confess your sins. This will be done tomorrow, so we hope you will be ready. From, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts...” She trailed off, squinting at it incredulously. “...Wow.” She turned around to leave, but noticed the gang of Persona users standing a couple feet away. She joined them in the corner.

Ryuji grinned at her. “Not bad, eh?” He nudged eagerly. “I looked up a bunch of similar stuff online for reference.” He stated proudly, leaning against a desk.

Airi smiled sheepishly, sweatdropping. The message sounded rather...unrefined.

“Um...Yeah...” Ann glanced away awkwardly. “I know what you wanted to say, but it sounded like an idiot trying to be an adult.” She confessed flatly.

Sneaking its head out, Morgana agreed. “Your logo’s a little lacking, too.” It added disappointedly, glancing over at the swamped hallway.

Taken aback by the criticism, Ryuji’s brown eyes darted around uncomfortably. “OK, y’know what? Th-That ain’t true!” He argued weakly.

Nodding slightly, Airi joined in. “It’s fine as long as it does its job, right?"

The group quieted down when a couple of students passed by. “Did Kamoshida-sensei do something wrong..?” A shy girl whispered. “Does this mean the rumors are true?!” Her friend gasped.

Scrutinizing the board, a junior turned to his classmate. “Wait a sec...Is someone gonna take something from Kamoshida-sensei…?” He asked apprehensively.

“What’s with this weird logo?” Another student commented, looking at the cards with an unimpressed face. “And who’re these Phantom Thieves of Hearts people..?”

Tapping a foot, Ryuji fidgeted at the comments. “...It got everyone excited, so it’s all good, yeah?” He said timidly, looking up at the bespectacled student with hopeful eyes.

Akira nodded, giving him a reassuring look.

The group turned when they noticed Kamoshida stomping angrily toward the announcement boards. The students crowding around backed away slowly from the gym teacher.

“Who’s responsible for this..?!” Kamoshida gritted, glaring at the messages.

Morgana purred in delight, watching the medalist snap. “...Look at that. A predictable reaction for someone who knows what we mean by distorted desires.”

“I think it’s hittin’ him pretty hard.” Ryuji commented, grinning viciously.

Airi exhaled sharply. “Let’s see if it works.”

A couple of feet away from them, Kamoshida turned sharply at a nearby student. “Did you do this?! Or was it you?!” He yelled, turning to another student. The crowd of students quickly dispersed, running away in fear.

Turning around, the older man’s eyes landed on the group, specifically the two males. “...Was it you two?!” He gritted, marching up to them threateningly. The girls looked away, not acknowledging the towering figure. Subtly, the Ryuji and Akira moved to cover them, staring at the teacher challengingly.

Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “What’re you talking about?” He blinked his eyes innocently.

Dark eyes narrowed at the question. “So, you’re playing dumb..?” Kamoshida whispered threateningly. He snorted. “Eh, it’s not a problem. You’ll soon be expelled soon enough anyway.”

The air fizzed, flashing purple. The students snapped their heads in his direction. Where Kamoshida was now stood the Shadow version from the Metaverse. “Come...Steal it, if you can!” The corrupt king goaded, yellow eyes glowing madly. The Shadow turned back to the real Kamoshida, who pivoted and walked away.

“This is it.” Airi whispered firmly. “Once classes end, we’re going straight to the top.” She looked at her companions, determination burning in her eyes.

The group of thieves nodded, before going about their classes.

Getting through the periods were stressful, all five of them waiting anxiously for the last bell to ring. Fidgeting in her chair, Ann glared at the clock, mentally shouting for time to pass faster. During lunch, the group congregated in their class, Ryuji joining them, and they discussed quietly about what their plan of attack was, and what they should do if Plan A failed.

The bell rang, signalling the end of the day. At this point, they were so tense that they were relaxed, calmly walking out of class and up to the rooftop.

Standing ready, Akira swiped his phone and activated the app, transporting them to the Metaverse.

Holding it in his hand, Joker walked forward, his company of thieves following him steadfastly.

Chapter Text

The air pulsed red around them, as if the very Palace itself was boiling over with anger.

“Let’s go! Don’t let your guards down!” Mona advised, readying its scimitar.

Joker accessed the app and teleported them to the throne hall’s Safe Room. They exited and headed down the corridor, looking around cautiously. Arriving back at the throne room, they noticed it was bare of any life. Not a single soldier was around, nor was Kamoshida's Shadow.

“What the hell’s goin’ on here?” Skull muttered, looking around suspiciously. “The door’s just sittin’ open, and there aren’t any soldiers around…”

They walked in cautiously. “This place is probably undermanned now that they all got assigned elsewhere.” Mona explained, purring happily. “Either way, we win as long as we can steal the Treasure! Let’s keep going!” It declared firmly.

Carefully, they crossed the hall, swatting away the raining rose petals. Going through the large double doors, they opened the treasure room. What used to be a wavering ball of light was now a comically large gem encrusted crown, gleaming in its own light. They stopped in front of it, looking at Treasure with wide eyes.

“Aww yeeeaaaaah!” Mona cheered, jumping gleefully. “The Treasure has appeared!” Its eyes shined, reflecting the crown in its eyes.

“Man, it’s huge!” Skull yelped, staring at it incredulously.

“What do you think?! It’s just as I said! Now we can steal it!” The feline stated smugly.

“How...do we move it?” Elegant asked hesitantly, holding her arm.

“Ahh...this shine brings tears to my eyes…” The cat breathed dreamily, not hearing the question.

Crossing her arms, Panther frowned. “...It kinda pisses me off.” She spoke shortly. “Why’s it so pretty..? Isn’t this Kamoshida’s desires?”

Mona stared hypnotized with a dopey grin. “T-Treasure…” It drooled.

The humans looked down at the feline with odd looks. “Uh, the cat’s actin’ awfully excited.” Skull remarked uneasily, scratching his head.

Panther tilted her head, observing their non-human teammate. “What’s wrong? Is something-?”

She was cut off when the black and white cat jumped high in the air, and landed on the giant crown, nuzzling it. “Meeeeeoooooow!” It purred ecstatically, oblivious to the others.

Covering her cheeks, Elegant blushed at the sight. ‘Mona is so cute !’ She squealed internally.

“Mrrrrrowoooow!” Mona rumbled, the purring kicking up a notch.

The other three looked at each other awkwardly. “That’s not catnip…” Joker sweatdropped.

It turned to look at its leader, eyes still glazed with infatuation. “...Meow, meow! Mewwww!” It replied, mewling animatedly.

Rubbing his head frustratedly, Skull snapped. “Alright, that’s enough, you stupid cat!”

It froze, quickly detaching itself and walking back to the group with its head down. “Oh, um, yeah…” Mona started, rubbing its arm embarrassingly. “Forgive me for displaying such an insolent sight in front of the ladies..,” It mumbled apologetically, looking to the side.

“You were completely out of character too. What was that about?” Panther asked, looking at it curiously.

Mona cringed and shook its head. “I couldn’t stop it either...To think I’d be drawn to human desires this much…” It frowned, but then perked up. “Doesn’t that prove that I’m human?!”

Skull looked at it disbelievingly. “How should we know?!”

Elegant held up her hands in a placating manner. “Guys, c’mon.” She began, a little peeved with them just standing around arguing. Who knows when the Shadows would emerge. “We should grab it and get moving before we get caught.”

Mona quickly nodded, agreeing with her. “A-Anyway, you guys need to carry it!” It stammered, looking at the four expectantly.

Rolling his eyes, Skull moved to grasp the Treasure. “All you do is bark orders...” He muttered, then grinned lightheartedly. “Still, that was easier than I thought! I thought for sure there’d be some insane trap or something.”

“Don’t jinx it.” Joker replied exasperatedly.

Panther walked closer as well. “His Palace will disappear if we take this back, right?” She asked.” And Kamoshida will change too…”

“That should be the case...” Mona replied, oval eyes darting around.

Skull rolled his shoulders. “Good. Now’s our chance then.”

The four humans reached out to grasp the edge of the crown. Once their fingers touched the cool metal, it fell into their grasps, weighing down their arms. They grunted, muscles straining, and slowly crab walked out, one step at a time.

“It’s heavy…!” Panther winced.

“We gotta keep moving.” Elegant groaned, inhaling sharply.

Mona looked at the group with pride, watching as they slowly left the Treasure room. “To think it’d go so well...I’ve even found four Persona users in the process...” It whispered gleefully, jumping in place. “My judgement was correct. I made the right choice in making a deal with you!” It announced enthusiastically toward Joker.

Grimacing, he gestured with his head for the cat to move.

“Nyahaha!” It laughed triumphantly, opening the door for them. Making sweeping motions with its stubby arms, It directed them on where to keep going. Slowly, they made their way down the steps, and halfway through the throne room.

“Go, go! Let’s go! Ka-mo-shida!”

They craned their necks to see who had said that, trying to see over the blindingly bright Treasure.

“Nngh!” With a grunt, the corrupted king appeared and jumped, spiking a volleyball at the crown. It knocked it out of their hands and tumbled noisily onto the carpet.

“Uwa-!” Skull yelped, moving back.

Majestically sailing through the air, Kamoshida landed smoothly in front of his throne. Straightening up from his crouch, he stretched out one hand, palm facing outward. The large crown on the floor slowly began to roll in his direction, before flying into his palm, now much smaller than it was originally. Not-Ann in her purple leopard print bikini ran up and hugged him enthusiastically, rubbing her barely covered breasts on his arm as she smirked lazily at them.

“I won’t let anyone take this!” Kamoshida declared, casually tossing the crown in his hand, glaring down at the thieves. He held the Treasure out toward the Persona users. “This proves that I am the king of this castle; it is the core of this world!”

Clenching her gloved hands, Panther glared at him darkly. “That rat bastard...” She whispered. Her eyes slid from the king to his princess. “That’s how he sees me, isn’t it?!”

“That’s how he sees all us girls.” Elegant glared coldly.

Skull took a step forward menacingly. “Yo, pervert.” He greeted. “Were you waitin’ to ambush us?”

“As if our king would need to. You fools fell into our trap.”

They turned their heads to where the voice came from. Slowly walking down the steps in high heels, was Airi.

“Huh?!” Elegant gasped.

The group stared with wide eyes as Not-Airi descended to the throne. Adorning a curly messy bun was a diadem, draped over the top of her head. Hugging her curvaceous figure was a peach and lavender ruffle corset, laced so tightly that the boning pushed the tops of her breasts out in full view. Her long slim legs were left bare, showing off the lacy underwear. Icey eyes stared at them impassively, latching onto Kamoshida’s other arm. Not-Ann purred seductively, reaching out a clawed hand to stroke the other princess' arm. Together, they created the perfect perverted fantasy as they pressed their breasts against their king's arms, his hands kneading the soft flesh of their scantily clad butts.

“...Daaamnnn.” Skull whistled, eyes roaming up and down the fake’s body. “...Y’know, I was kinda wonderin’ if there was a fake Elegant too, since that bastard up there’s been pervin’ on her lately, but...wow.”

Panther smacked him on the back of the head, huffing at his chauvinism.

Opening her mouth, then closing it, Elegant pursed her lips. “...I don’t even know what to say.” She stated flatly, glaring darkly at her copy that stared blankly back. This was how Kamoshida saw her. Anger coursing through her veins, she clenched her hand around her scythe. ‘Another disgusting man...’

Gray eyes stared unblinkingly at the new addition of the room. He drank in the figure, eyes roaming up and down as he digested the lingerie, the exposed top of her breasts, the panties. ‘Damn, indeed.’ Joker thought distractedly, feeling his face heat up. Clearing his throat awkwardly, he tore his eyes away, trying to dispel those thoughts about his teammate.

His eyes met Skull’s, who grinned at him pervertedly, raising his eyebrows up and down behind his mask. Joker gave him an incredulous look. Now was not the time to be perverts!

Huffing, Kamoshida wrapped an arm around each girl’s shoulders with a smirk. “Meet my newest princess. She’s a little more uppity than my Ann here. I haven’t had the chance to taste her yet…” He licked his lips salaciously, Not-Airi leaning into his embrace.

"Whenever you like, my king." She murmured, resting her head on his shoulder. "I was so blind to not notice your growing affections for me. I thought you only had eyes for Ann..." She pouted shyly. "I'm so glad you chose me too."

Not-Ann giggled. “You’re such a perv!” She said playfully, lightly tracing her finger on his abdomen. "Don't worry, Ai-Ai. We'll have lots of fun..."

Elegant recoiled at the dialogue, glaring disgustedly at the teacher. A shiver crawled up her spine, seeing her double just submit to that. That could have really been her if Joker had never transferred to their school. This man would've had his pick of the students, and no one would've said anything...

“I just made it easier to find you. I’ll dispose of you myself, right here, right now.” He declared flippantly, his hands stroking his dolls' hips.

“That’s our line, you sexually-harassin’ douche bag!” Skull retorted angrily, stomping a foot. "You're so fuckin' gross!"

Shaking his head in amusement, Kamoshida stared down at them pityingly. “What a selfish misunderstanding.”

Glaring at him, Panther stepped forward. “How is it a misunderstanding?! You were doing things that you kept in secret from others!”

Tossing his crown again, he smirked. “The people around me were the ones who kept it secret.” Kamoshida corrected. “Adults who want to share in my accomplishments, students who have the drive to become winners...They willingly protect me so that we all may profit from it.”

Taken back, Skull looked at his teammates. “Profit?!” He yelped, uncertain at what he meant.

“That’s not true at all! All you’ve done with your “success” is abuse people who trusted you!” Elegant argued, staring at him coldly. “No one asked to be hit. No one asked to be sexually harassed...” Her eyes narrowed. “And no one asked to be raped!”

The corrupt ruler sneered. “There are too many imbeciles who don’t understand! Including naive brats like you and that girl who tried to kill herself!”

Letting her arms fall limp, Panther bowed her head. “True, she’s a total idiot...” She began. “Letting you manipulate her, trying to commit suicide..”

Elegant stared at her in shock. What was she saying?

The dominatrix clenched her hands, glaring up at the king. “And I’m even more of a dumbass for not realizing that..!” She crouched, readying her whip. “But no matter what kind of fool someone might be...They don’t need your permission to live their lives!” She declared firmly.

“Drop the attitude, you mediocre peasant! There’s no wrong in using my gifts for my gain!” Kamoshida scowled, looking down at them condescendingly. “I’m a cut above all other humans!”

Panther glared. “Above..?” She whispered, her voice raising in volume with each word. “You mean beneath. You’re a goddamn demon obsessed with your sick desires!”

Chuckling, he lowered his head, the fake girls moving to the side. A red aura began to envelop him, and he swept his arms wide open with a large grin on his square jaw. “That’s right. I’m not like you…” Kamoshida grabbed the girls under his arms, staring at his crown lustfully. “I am a demon who rules this world!”

Black ooze swallowed the three up, merging them together, growing larger. Large drops of saliva fell from his gaping mouth, a permanent demented grin on his maw.

The group took a step back, Mona stumbling. “Wh-What the hell..?!” Skull sputtered, staring wide eyed at the transformation.

What used to be Kamoshida was now a looming demonic being with four arms, each holding onto a wine glass, a knife, a crop whip, and a fork. Its purple tongue hung out grotesquely, saliva dripping from the appendage. His yellow eyes rolled around their sockets aimlessly, not focusing on any one subject. Sitting in front of the fuchsia skinned demon was a chalice, filled with the naked lower bodies of females. In the wine glass, they spotted both Not-Ann and Not-Airi swimming motionlessly in the liquid.

“Gahahahaha!” Kamoshida laughed, his voice distorted in its new form. “I’m allowed to do whatever the hell I want!” He declared, swiping his drenched tongue at them.

Gray eyes glared behind a white mask. “You’re wrong.” Joker stated, pointing a red finger at it rebelliously, signalling his team. “We're not gonna let you do this any longer. For us, for the students you abused, and for Suzui-san.” He twirled his dagger in his hand. "Let's finish this."

The demon roared, spitting globs of saliva around them. “You goddamn, no-good, shitty brats! Haven’t you been taught not to point at people?! Huh?!”

Mona pointed a paw out. “Look! The Treasure’s over there on his head!” It gestured to the crown on top of the demon’s head. “We should catch him off guard and steal it! Let’s attack him and wait for that opportunity!”

Glaring at the distorted teacher in abhorrence, Elegant took out her sniper rifle and aimed straight at him.

“Nnnnnngh! I need healin’!” Kamoshida shouted in pain, his tongue wrapping around one of the legs inside the grail. Its legs spread open submissively, offering him its most private region. Sucking it into his mouth, his adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, his wounds disappearing as if he was never hit.

Furrowing his brows at that, Joker cried out, “Silky!” The green milk maid appearing behind him. He sent out a Bufula, the ice stabbing through the demon.

Again, Kamoshida devoured a pair of legs, and the injury dissipated, the skin healing in a flash of white sparks. “Come at me, you pieces of shit! I ain’t lettin’ you sleep tonight!” He roared at the thieves.

“He healed himself..?” Mona whispered. “Is it because he ate those inside there..?”

Kamoshida raised his crop whip, the chained slaves spiking volleyballs at them. Skull got hit, but was hardly fazed. Elegant yelped as a ball hit her in the cheek, but she shook it off, not minding the small bruise forming.

“Attack the cup!” Joker commanded, slicing the grail a couple of times. He backflipped away as their enemy swiped at him.

“Hey!” The demon gasped, moving his arms to shield it. “You don’t know what this is worth, so stop touching it! Don’t do it again anymore, got it? I’ve warned you!”

“Captain Kidd!” Skull shouted, the ghostly pirate hovering on its ship. He sent a Zio at the chalice, damaging it.

“Carmen!” Panther called out, sending an Agi.

“Let me!” Elegant joined in, pirouetting with her scythe held out, slashing it several times until it exploded.

“Ack!” The demon flinched, slumping down. “No way...This was from when I won the national...” It cried out. The thieves rushed in for a hold up. “You think you can get away with doing such a thing? Do you realize who I am?!” Kamoshida yelled, glaring at them as his eyeballs spun wildly in their bulging sockets. “...I am Kamoshida! Don’t you get it?!”

Joker cocked his pistol at the demon. “So what?” He asked boredly.

“Like I keep saying! I am Kamoshida! I’m the king!” The distorted gym teacher argued.

“You look down on everyone...but you’re seriously lame right now.” Skull commented, cocking his shotgun.

“There’s a reason why democracy exists and monarchies fell.” Elegant knelt with her rifle.

“We came all this way to steal that!” Panther gestured at the crown with her TMP. “Will you just give it up and hand it over?!”

“Silence!” The demon flailed, the items held in his arms coming close to their persons. “I won’t let the likes of you have this!”

“You still have the energy to say things like that?!” Mona yelled exasperatedly, standing behind the team on a partition.“Then we’re going to up our game as well!”

The four teenagers jumped back and launched their all out attack, damaging the Palace Ruler several times with their weapons.

Flinching back, the demon stared at them, uncomprehending their reasoning. “I’m the king..! If I’m not, then who is?!”

Mona hummed, scrutinizing their surroundings. “We won’t get anywhere with brute force...” It whispered to its teammates.

Joker glanced up, the shine of the crown drawing his eye. An idea came to his mind. “Let’s go for the crown.”

The cat looked at him in surprise. “I see...In that case, time for Plan B!” Mona declared. “Look over at that terrace!” It gestured to the second floor landing. “While the others are drawing Kamoshida’s attention, have someone go there! Let’s steal the Treasure without him noticing!”

Swirling his cup, the demon drank the wine, letting the fake girls hit his tongue. Salivating, he violated the dolls with the appendage before spitting them back out into the glass.

“Ugh.” Elegant cringed, the disgust and anger at being treated like that building up within her. Even if it wasn't exactly her, it was her image that was being defiled. That man's face peered down at her, lips spread in a grin. Clenching her teeth, she took up her rifle again, and shot a bullet.

Flying through the air, it broke the champagne glass, shattering it into a million pieces. The shards rained down onto the carpet, the wine spilling over the volleyball slaves in a fountain of red. Falling to the ground, the dolls laid there motionlessly, their usefulness ruined.

The demon roared in anger, swiping at them with his sword. "My princesses...!"

Dodging the swing, Panther ran up to the dolls and in a fit of righteous fury, smashed the point of her heel into them. "Die, dammit!" Straightening her whip, she flogged the fakes until they dissipated into nothing. Jumping back, she dusted off her outfit with a satisfied exhale. "I wanted to do that since I saw them."

Elegant smirked, cold pleasure in her eyes. "Ditto. Thanks, Panther."

Looking at each teammate speculatively, gray eyes zeroed in on the finely dressed thief. “Elegant, go steal the crown.” Joker ordered, spinning the knife in his hand idly as he went in for another attack, jumping away from the giant red hand that reached out to grab him.

She nodded. “Cover me.” She winked, before dodging back behind her team, and moving toward a nearby pillar.

Kamoshida, not noticing that he had one less enemy now in the midst of his rage, launched another volleyball assault at Skull.

While the team launched their attacks, distracting their enemy, Elegant dexterously climbed the pillar and swung herself over the railing. Running down the terrace, she stood up on one of the platforms, ready to jump at the signal.


“Now listen up.” Kamoshida began. “This school exists because I’m around. You’re the only ones who don’t respect me, you know!” He scowled his jagged oral cavity at them. “You’re misunderstanding it all! I haven’t sexually harassed anyone! They came on to me because they wanted to get on my good side!”


Glaring coldly, Elegant jumped into the air, curling her body before aiming down. With one leg outstretched, she kicked the crown off the corrupted king. Landing near her comrades, she straightened up and twirled her scythe, ready to fight once more.

The distorted Shadow flailed his arms, desperately reaching for his now missing crown, items dropping from his open palms. “Nooo! My...my precious…!” He wailed. He slumped at his loss, his posture now nowhere as confident.

“Good, Kamoshida’s shaken up!” Mona grinned.

Pointing her TMP at the demon, Panther smiled hopefully. “I think we can do this..!”

With renewed confidence, they rushed up, slashing and attacking him several times, knowing the battle would be over soon.

The demon tried to defend himself, but without his most precious possession, his actions were halfhearted at best. With one last incision, Elegant twirled and mockingly blew him a kiss, two fingers outstretched. “Rest in peace.” She murmured with a serene smile.

With a cry, Kamoshida toppled over to the ground, changing back into his human form. He dropped ¥8000 in the process, which Joker picked up with a satisfied smirk. Now that the battle was over, Skull made his way to pick up the Treasure, when the defeated king launched himself at it, rolling across the carpet and running away.

“Hey!” The pirate yelled, the group chasing after him. Taking out her sniper rifle, Elegant knelt on the carpet and aimed. The shot rang out and hit the pillar next to him, causing him to stumble back toward the open balcony.

“Nngh...” He gulped, frantically trying to find another escape route.

“What’s wrong? Not running away?” Panther asked mockingly, fingering her whip. “Why don’t you run? Aren’t you a great athlete?”

Shaking, he glared. “It’s always been like this...” He began, teeth chattering under the nerves. “All those goddamn hyenas forcing their expectations on me..! I’m doing this all for them! What’s wrong about demanding a reward for that?!” He shouted hysterically, his hands clenching the crown.

Scrunching his face in disgust, Skull shook his head. “Now you’re makin’ excuses..?” He scoffed. “We’ll do something about that distorted heart of yours.”

Elegant stepped forward, a stony expression set on her features. “Even if you think your actions were justified, that doesn’t mean it was for everyone that you had hurt.” She stated matter a factly. “Instead of doing what was right, you went and forced your expectations on others.” She glared darkly. “...You’re disgusting.”

Rooted in his spot, the gym teacher grunted in frustration.

“Scared?” Panther asked flippantly, brushing a ponytail. “Right now, you’re seeing the same view that Shiho did.” She slowly stepped closer. “I’m sure she was scared too...except she had no choice but to jump...” She continued quietly as she advanced threateningly on the volleyball medalist, who grew more panicked by the moment.
She stopped, a couple feet away from the sweating man. “What will you do?” She whispered, her hardened gaze drilling into the pathetic sight in front of her. “Will you jump?...Or would you rather die here?” She took off her mask, Carmen hovering behind her, fireballs in her hands.

Kamoshida took a step back, hugging his crown closely, watching them with fear.

Elegant reloaded her rifle, handling it casually. “...I wonder if you even have the courage to take your life to salvage your non-existent honor." She whispered ominously. "Shiho-chan felt that she had to...after you had violated her body and her mind with your disgusting dick." Her eyes slid to him. "...Maybe I should shoot it off before the next bullet enters your head."

Behind them, their teammates winced at the threat. Slightly adjusting their stances, Skull and Joker instinctively moved their hands to shield the front of their crotches.

Sweating profusely, the defeated king begged. “No, please wait! I beg you...Just forgive meee!”

“Shut up.” Ann whispered, glaring at the man hatefully. “I bet everyone told you the same. But you…” She clenched her eyes painfully, before snapping them open. “You took everything from them!” She exclaimed, sending a fireball in his direction. "You took everything from her!...From me! I'll never forgive you!"

He shrieked and cowered, covering himself. The fire hit the awning next to him, charring the stone. Trembling, the corrupt king got on his knees. “I accept defeat...You want this? Take it.” He bowed his head defeatedly, and threw the crown.

Joker reached out and caught it with one hand, examining the crown. This wasn't how they thought the outcome would turn out, but as long as they got their goal in one piece, he was fine with it.

“Go ahead and finish me off...” Kamoshida whispered, closing his eyes, a tear rolling down a cheek. “You do that...and my real self will go down too...” He bowed his head.

Skull rubbed the back of his head uncomfortably, while Joker looked on silently. Mona crossed its arms, staring pensively at the defeated Ruler. They didn't have as much of a say as the girls in front of them.

Pursing her lips, Elegant took a step behind Ann, silently supporting her decision. It wasn't her that he wronged the most.

“You have that right since you’ve won…” The king whispered.

Exhaling sharply, Ann clenched her hands, glaring at him murderously. Arching a hand, she sent a large ball of fire at the man. Startled, the others cried out in surprise. It exploded next to the kneeling man, blowing back his cape. He looked up at her slowly, eyes wide, surprised that he was still alive and in one piece.

With a flash of blue, her feline mask appeared, concealing her face once again. “If his mind shuts down, he can’t admit his crimes.” Panther stated resolutely.

Sighing, Elegant smiled at her back, pride shining in her eyes. Death was never a good solution, after all. It was too easy of an escape.

“You’re kind, Lady Ann...” Mona smirked, scratching its cheek.

Kamoshida bent his neck. “I’ve lost.” He shook his head. “You’re through when you lose...” He despaired. “What am I- What am I supposed to do now..?” He asked hesitantly, tears streaming down his face.

Joker stepped forward. “Atone for your sins.” He commanded, staring at the pathetic man calmly.

After a moment, the king nodded. “All right...” He whispered, looking up at them with a hopeful smile. “I will leave now and return to my real self...” His body began to glow in a white light. “I’ll make certain that I-” With a flash, he disappeared.

They felt their shoulders slump once he left, feeling the stress of the week leave them. They did it. They actually did it!


As soon as the Ruler left though, the castle began to rumble. The teenagers looked around, alarmed at the sudden movement.

“Hey, just so you know, we don’t have time to waste.” Mona warned idly. “This place is about to collapse!” It sat on the floor, languidly grooming a paw.

The ceiling began to crumble, stone smashing against the carpet. With a start, the thieves began their escape. They desperately ran through the hallways, dodging the falling debris that dogged their trail.

“We’re gonna die! We’re so gonna die!” Panther cried, looking behind her at the rubble fearfully.

“Don’t look back!” Elegant shouted, a piece of rubble cutting her cheek.

Mona, now in its real cat form, jumped up onto Panther’s head. “Hey, what the-?!” She started, as it then jumped onto Skull’s head, then finally onto Joker’s shoulder.

“No fair, you jerk!” Skull grunted, trying to keep up the grueling pace.

“Mroowww!” Mona replied, looking back at them innocently.

Elegant stared. Mona changed back?

With a wince, Skull gripped his thigh, before tripping onto the floor. “Gah!” He flinched, holding his knee as jolts of pain laced up his leg.

The others stopped and turned at his collapse. “Ryuji!” Panther shouted in worry.

He waved her away. “Heh...It’s been a while, so I just tripped, is all!” He grinned reassuringly, eye twitching as his leg spasmed underneath.

Elegant ran back to him, pulling on his arm. “Get up or we’ll get crushed!” She cried.

"Ryuji!" Joker urged, furrowing his brow at their situation.

The ceiling began to collapse above them, and they scrambled to keep moving. They ran and ran until they made it to the end, transported back to the school.

Chapter Text

They panted in exhaustion. They were back in the alley, facing the open gates of the school. The sun set against the buildings, casting an orange flame upon the cement and concrete. It was late enough that there weren't any other students walking around, fortunately leaving them alone.

“That sucked...” Ann winced, taking a deep breath.

Resting his hands on his hips, Akira nodded in agreement, getting his breath back.

Exhaling softly, Airi straightened up and stretched, wincing at her sore muscles. Her face stung for some reason, but it didn't really matter in the long run.

“Look at the Nav!” Ryuji shouted, phone in hand. They all pulled out their phones. “The destination has been deleted.”

“...It’s true. We can’t go there anymore.” Ann whispered, staring wide eyed at the screen.

“So we succeeded..?” Airi asked hesitantly, looking at the others with uncertainty.

“What about the Treasure?!” Morgana yowled, dodging between their legs in anticipation.

Akira pulled it out of his pocket, showing it to the group.

They looked at it curiously. It was an Olympic gold medal, the date listed it was from almost a decade ago. The shine reflecting off of the metal showed that it was well cared for, the lanyard in pristine condition. “What the..?” Ryuji scratched the back of his head.

Ann crossed her arms, tapping her chin. “..A medal? Wait, where’d that crown go?”

“What is goin’ on..?” Ryuji asked quietly.

“It means, that was the source of Kamoshida’s desires.” Morgana explained, looking at the medal pensively. “To him, this medal is worth as much as that crown we saw in the Palace.”

Ryuji moved closer, scrutinizing the object in the ebony haired student’s hand. “An Olympic medal...” He whispered, grimacing. “So that perv kept clingin’ to his past glory and couldn’t let it go…"

She tightened her lips. "So he wanted to feel important and loved again by asserting himself..." Airi frowned and shook her head, disillusioned by the thought. ""How the mighty have fallen...""

The group looked at each other uncomfortably. “But...this means that Kamoshida’s heart might have changed, right?” Ann questioned hesitantly.

Shaking its fur, Morgana stood up on its four legs. “...Probably.” It shrugged.

Ryuji looked at it incredulously. “Our expulsion’s on the line here!”

“This is the first successful example for me too.” The feline argued weakly, looking away. “However, there’s no doubt that this has affected Kamoshida’s personality quite a lot. The entire Palace disappeared, after all.”

He rubbed his hair furiously. “Ugh, I feel all antsy! Ain’t there a way to check now?”

Putting the medal back, Akira rested his hands in his pockets. “We’ll know soon enough.” He shrugged helplessly.

“Right...” Ann whispered, fidgeting with her hair.

Sighing, Airi shouldered her bag. “We’ll know by tomorrow at the earliest.” She added, nervously fiddling with the hem of her skirt.

Looking back and forth between the humans, Morgana snapped. “Come on, why the gloomy faces? Be happy! We completed this with great success, you know.” It proclaimed, trying to reassure the students.

Ryuji slumped. “We just don’t know if everything’s OK yet…”

Stretching its body out, It sighed. “I’m pretty sure it’ll be fine.” It smiled. “Remember how Kamoshida’s Shadow said that he’s returning to his self in reality?” It reminded, sitting down. “Kamoshida Suguru was a scum. Still...He did seem to regain his conscience somewhat at the end.”

“It seemed so...” Akira remarked, adjusting his glasses.

“There are definitely those who have been saved thanks to what you’ve done.” Morgana smiled at them.

Ann nodded, a smile growing on her lips. “Yeah…"

Crossing his arms, Ryuji leaned against the brick wall. “Anyways, I guess we gotta wait. It all boils down to what’s gonna happen to Kamoshida..." He frowned awkwardly. "Or if we’re gettin’ expelled for real...”

“Let’s just go home for now.” Akira suggested, picking up his bag. “We’ll have to be patient...” He pursed his lips slightly.

Huffing, the punk slumped his shoulders. “..Right. C’mon, let’s go home.” Ryuji relented.

The teens and one cat traveled to Shibuya, where they went their separate ways. Covering her mouth as she yawned, Airi leaned back in her seat on the train, rubbing her eyelids.

Akira glanced over at her. “Is everything all right?” He asked quietly, the roaring of the train tracks muffling him to other passengers. His eyes narrowed slightly at the red line marring her cheek. He reached out, stopping just before his fingers touched her skin. “You have a cut.” He stated concernedly.

Reaching up to prod the injury, Airi tried to give him a reassuring smile. “I’m OK...Just...really tired...” She blinked slowly, trying to stay awake.

Furrowing his brows, he contemplated with himself before hesitantly reaching out and tugging her into his chest. “Sleep. It’ll be a while until we’re h-home.” He stated clumsily, feeling his face flush against the cool plastic of his glasses. ‘Maybe this is too forward..?’ He glanced away, feeling insecure in his actions.

Her eyes widened at the intimate contact. ‘This is really close..!’ She screamed in her mind, a blush staining her cheeks. “A-Are you sure, Akira-kun?” Airi whispered anxiously, biting her lip. “I don’t want to be a bothe-” She covered her mouth as she yawned again.

She wiped the tears from her eyes, pouting a bit.

Chuckling slightly at the sight, he nodded. “I’m sure.” Akira replied reassuringly.

“OK...” She breathed out, eyelids already heavy with sleep. She rested her head on his chest, letting his heartbeat and steady breathing lull her. After a few moments, her breathing evened out, her body relaxed against his.

Biting his lip nervously, he wrapped his arm tighter, and hesitantly rested his cheek on top of her head. ‘This feels nice…’ He thought shyly. His heart pounded in his chest, his breathing just a little faster than normal.

He was lucky that Morgana was napping in his bag. He didn't need any comments about how he was touching Its "Lady Airi." Had he ever held a girl like this..? No one back in Mishima had touched him on purpose, usually just bumping into him or brushing past. Maybe when he was younger, his mother used to hug him, though he could barely remember...

He breathed, his nose smelling a calm scent that reminded him of mint but better. 'What is that?...' He idly thought, feeling himself relax, the scent carrying away his worries and troubles, if only for a little bit. Adjusting his grip on her slim shoulder, he closed his eyes, feeling the dream world call for him as well. They spent the rest of the train ride like this, close together....
...
...

“The next stop is Yongenjaya. I repeat, the next stop is Yongenjaya. The time is now 6:25PM….”

Startled from his trance, Akira straightened up in his seat. A heavy weight rested against his chest and he looked down, observing the peaceful expression on the class president’s face with a slight tug on his lips. He gently shook her. “Airi-chan, we’re almost home.”

Groaning in her sleep, she snuggled deeper into his chest, not wanting to wake up.

He blushed feverishly, stiffening from the very intimate contact in a public area. Gulping, he shook her again. “Airi-chan.” He called out a little louder.

Scrunching her face in displeasure, she looked up at him in sleepy confusion, eyes open half lid.

“We’re almost home.” He repeated, the blush still apparent against his milky skin tone.

“Oh.” She whispered, rubbing her eyes. Yawning, she stretched her arms up in the air.

His eyes zoomed in at the sight, resting on her chest where the white Shujin Academy turtleneck conformed to the round shapes, before quickly looking away, embarrassed and slightly ashamed of himself. ‘Stop being a pervert..!’

His mind flashbacked to earlier when the fake walked down in that outfit...He clenched his eyes shut, his face heating up again.

“This is Yongenjaya. I repeat, this is Yongenjaya. The time is now 6:28PM…”

Getting up from their seats, the two students got off the train and left the station. Walking down road, Airi yawned again, trying to wake herself up. “I’m going to follow you to Leblanc, if you don’t mind... I need a coffee.” She spoke quietly, blinking rapidly.

Akira nodded. “Sure. We can do our homework together?” He offered.

“OK.” She smiled. “You need all the help.” She winked playfully.

He deadpanned, and she burst into laughter.

The bell rung when they walked into the cafe, and Sojiro looked up from his washing. “...You sure look satisfied...Something good happen?” He asked nonchalantly.

Airi waved from behind Akira. “Hello, Sojiro-san! One house blend and katsu curry, please.” She requested, holding up a finger.

The older man blinked in surprise. “Oh, Airi. I heard from this guy,” He gestured to the ebony haired student. “That you got injured. You all right?” He asked, a bit of concern shining through his usual apathetic gaze.

“Yep, I’m all healed up.” She reassured, taking a seat at a booth, Akira sitting across from her.

Feeling the bag stop moving, Morgana nestled its face through the opening, yawning from its nap. There weren't any other customers, so there was no need for it to hide inside.

Sojiro came up and placed two plates of curry in front of them, along with a cup of steaming hot coffee. “Doesn’t look like it.” He gestured to the cut on her cheek with a jerk of a thumb, the lines on his face deepening into a frown.

She blinked and covered her cheek. “Don’t worry, it’s not even bleeding!” Airi smiled.

Eyeing her for a moment, he nodded and went back to the counter, opening his newspaper.

The two students dug into their meal, hungry after a long day’s worth of exercise. The blend of intricate spices invigorated them, and they spent a while doing their homework together. While Airi was correcting one of Akira’s math problems, their phones rang out.

An: Thanks. I finally got to avenge Shiho because of you guys…
An: I’m pretty sure there was no way I’d have been able to do anything on my own.
Ai: That’s not true. You would have found a way.
An: Still, thank you. I owe you two so much.
Ak: No need to thank me. Both you and Ryuji helped as well.
An: You think? I’m glad to hear that…
An: Anyway, that cognitive world sure was crazy, huh?
An: What a mysterious place. I can’t believe we actually stole someone’s heart...
An: Speaking of mysterious, there’s also the matter of Morgana’s transformation.
An: When we were escaping, didn’t he turn back into a cat even though we were still in the Palace?

“Oh yeah!” Airi gasped, looking at the yawning feline. “I noticed when we were running that Morgana changed back into a cat..."

Akira blinked, remembering when the cat had jumped onto his shoulder. He looked down at it, the question in his eyes.

Ears twitching, Morgana smiled. “Lady Ann and Lady Airi sure are sharp! I’m impressed.” It purred. “Basically, the Treasure changes the shape of things. Once that’s gone, that power no longer works. Though the real reason I changed quickly back then was because I’m so incredibly skilled!” It puffed up its chest. “How’s that? Isn’t that amazing?!”

Covering her amused smile, she nodded. “So you changed back because there was no longer a distortion?” She whispered, making sure Sojiro didn’t hear her.

Morgana nodded, purring. Akira typed in a reply.

Ak: He said he’s amazing.
An: Oh yeah, I forgot Morgana is reading these messages too.
An: I think I feel a little better after talking to you. Thanks.
An: We still haven’t seen any results but it feels like a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders.
Ai: At the very least, we know we did something right.
An: Yeah.
An: I hope you don’t mind talking to me too much.
An: Well, see you two tomorrow.

Akira put his phone away and continued his homework, trying out the new method that Airi demonstrated on a particular math problem. Keeping her phone out, Airi started a chat with only Ann, her cup of coffee slowly cooling down.

Ai: Would you like to go visit Shiho tomorrow?
Ai: We can make more paper cranes.
An: Yeah. After classes end?
Ai: Sure.
An: I heard from Shiho’s mom last night.
An: She said you came in with flowers and asked for her forgiveness.
An: Airi-chan…
Ai: ...Yeah. I did.
Ai: She bowed back to me, saying she was also guilty.
Ai: Don’t worry.
Ai: I know it wasn’t just my fault...
Ai: We all failed Shiho in our own ways.
An: Yeah...we did.
An: But we’re going to make up for it.

Sighing, she put her phone away. Could they ever make up for it? Shiho had almost died...

Twirling his pencil, the bespectacled teen looked at her curiously. “What’s up?”

Airi shook her head. “I’ll be going to the hospital again with Ann-chan tomorrow.” She smiled wryly. “She scolded me for crying so much.” She grasped the handle of the now lukewarm coffee, finishing it in one go.

Pursing his lips, he locked eyes with her. “It wasn’t your fault.” He stated firmly.

Huffing, she avoided his steely gaze. “You all say that...” She whispered.

“Because it’s true.” He replied calmly. “You can’t control someone else’s actions. Suzui-san jumped. You didn’t force her to.” His eyes hardened. “Kamoshida did.”

Biting her lip, she nodded. “It was Kamoshida’s fault.” She repeated hesitantly. "Not mine..."

“Right.” He nodded, giving her a small encouraging smile.

She gave him a wistful smile. “You’re always trying to make me feel better. I should be the one comforting you, Mr. Transfer.”

He smirked. “I’m just that good.” He bragged, dramatically combing his hair.

She burst into giggles. "So cool!" She mocked, grinning playfully at the action.

“He’s really not.” Morgana piped in, jumping out of the bag. “You should hear him at night. Definitely not cool.” It smiled mischievously.

She gasped, covering her mouth and looking at her classmate with wide eyes.

Panicked, Akira quickly shoved the cat back into the bag, muffling its mouth. “Err…” He sputtered, sweating slightly. "That's not..."

Airi gave him a look of amusement. “I don’t want to know.” She spoke, packing her books back into her bag.

He held out a hand, some of his notes scattering. “W-Wait, it’s not what you think!”

Placing some bills on the table, she shouldered her bag and covered her ears. “Don’t need to hear it!” She sang. “Good night, Akira-kun, Sojiro-san!” and left the cafe.

Letting his arm fall limp, he rested his forehead against his notes and sighed.

“I only meant that you snored.” Morgana snickered, pushing the hand away with a paw.

Lifting his head, he glared tiredly at the feline. It made it sound like all he did at night was fool around. Now she would think he was a weirdo...

“I’m surprised that your first friend here is a girl.” Sojiro remarked casually from the counter, straightening his newspaper. “But I’m not surprised that it’s Airi. You better not do anything to hurt her...” He warned, eyeing the teenager. “She’s a good girl and doesn’t need any more trouble.”

Sitting up in his seat, Akira nodded in understanding. "I wouldn't." He already swore to himself that he would never hurt her or any of his friends.

He packed his books up as well, and did the dirty dishes. It was the least he could do since he ate for free.

He spent the rest of the night making more lockpicks, Morgana giving him advice at times, and then went to bed.

He breathed deeply. ‘Tomorrow, we’ll see if it worked.’

Chapter Text

----4/19, TUESDAY, EARLY MORNING, AOYAMA-ITCHOME

 

Today, Akira was walking by himself. Airi was called in to the school early to help with something which she informed him of via text.

Sighing silently, he walked along the other students on the road to school. It was a little lonely without her, even with Morgana. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been alone since the first day of school. He had been surrounded by other people who were in terrible situations as well. He snorted silently. How did that even happen? It’s as if they were meant to know one another...

“I skipped breakfast, so now I’m hungry...”

He turned his head. There were two girls talking loudly to each other at the vending machines. Other students walked passed him without a glance. Morgana stuck its ear out, listening in as well.

“Have you ever tried the Nostalgic Steak at the diner in Shibuya?” The hungry girl asked her friend.

Her friend nodded. “Yeah, it’s good! It kinda makes me think of my childhood.” She sighed dreamily. “I get this warm feeling inside whenever I eat it that reminds me of my mom...”

The hungry girl perked up. “Yeah, if comfort had a taste, that’d be it! Just thinking about it is making me hungrier...” She drooled.

Not wanting to be late, Akira continued on, pondering on the information he gleamed from the conversation.

“A comforting flavor, huh...” Morgana mused, sticking its face out. “Hey, what does the chief’s curry taste like?”

He hummed. “It’s good. The spices are perfect.”

Morgana sighed in yearning. “I’m jealous. I can always smell a faint hint of it on you.” It confessed. “When I’m human again, I’m going to eat so much of that curry...” It started wriggling in excitement, the bag shuffling against his shoulder. “Then I’ll decide which is better: the curry or the Nostalgic Steak! Or even Lady Airi's cooking!”

He smiled slightly at its enthusiasm, and continued to school. It was nice to hear what his pseudo-roommate liked. Morgana was still much of a mystery to him and the others.

 

“I was reading the essays you turned in the other day, and everyone’s writing is so sloppy!” Kawakami-sensei bemoaned. “”I could care less” indicates that you still have some cares left to give! It’s “I COULDN’T care less”!” She corrected, writing it on the board.

Resting his cheek against his palm, Akira glanced over at Airi who was diligently writing notes. There were bags under her eyes today, and her brows were furrowed in concentration. She hadn’t told them why she was called in so early, but it must be because of Kamoshida.

“I’ve seen this a lot these days, where people are using a phrase differently from its real meaning.” Kawakami-sensei continued. “One word I often hear misused is the phrase, “kakushinhan,” used now to mean a crime done in cold blood. Like the word “literally,” the real meaning of kakushinhan is pretty much the opposite of how it’s used.” Her brown eyes roamed the room, checking to see if the students were listening. Her eyes landed on Akira. “Do you know what it is, Kurusu-kun?” She called out.

Startled, he sat up in his seat and blinked.

Airi glanced over, gnawing her lip in worry. She didn’t know if he knew the answer. It was a tough question to be asked, especially when the meaning of words constantly shifted.

Morgana stuck its head out of his desk, just enough for Akira to notice. “The true meaning of kakushinhan, huh...This seems tough.” It remarked quietly. “I’ll help you out, so let’s think this through.” It yawned.

The ebony haired student nodded slightly.

“What’s the common usage of kakushinhan again, regarding an action you take?” Morgana asked.

“Knowing your actions are wrong.” Akira answered.

The cat nodded. “Right. When people say something’s a kakushinhan, they usually mean the culprit did it knowing it was wrong. But the real kakushinhan is the opposite, right? So the opposite means…” It trailed off.

“Conviction that you’re right.” Akira answered loudly.

The teacher clapped her hands. “That’s right.” Kawakami-sensei approved. “A kakushinhan is when someone takes an action, believing that it’s right. So if someone “raised their hand against another in kakushinhan,” they thought it was right to do so.” She explained to the class.

“He’s pretty smart!” A classmate whispered.

“I didn’t expect that.”

"He might not be too bad...”

“You’re on a roll today!” Morgana cheered, purring quietly.

Airi sent him a tired but approving smile, discreetly giving him a thumbs up.

He rubbed the back of his neck bashfully, a little proud of answering it correctly.

Kawakami-sensei cleared her throat. “Kakushinhan was originally a term that referred to a crime driven by moral or political conviction. These days it seems like the wrong usage is becoming more commonly accepted though.” She lectured.

Morgana swished its tail. “Taking action with a conviction that what you’re doing is right, huh...Think that applies to us too?” It asked.

Akira pursed his lips. It was pretty accurate.

The lesson continued on.

 

When lunchtime hit, the class emptied except for Ann, Akira, and Airi.

Peeking in through the door, Ryuji stalked in, walking straight to their desks. “Have you seen Kamoshida?” He whispered.

The ebony haired male shook his head.

He hummed at the answer. “You really think he changed?” He asked, uncertainty coloring his words.

“I hope so.” Akira confessed, pursing his lips.

“He has.” Airi sighed, crossing her arms and leaning back in her chair. “It’s why me and every other class representative was called in.” She stated quietly, closing her eyes tiredly.

Ann blinked. “Really? Wait, called in? What for?” She asked curiously.

She opened her mouth to reply but was cut off by Kawakami-sensei coming up to them. “Oh, perfect timing.” She sighed in relief. “Study hall will be held instead of PE today. I’m letting you know just in case you haven’t heard.” She announced to the four students. “Kamoshida-sensei has taken the day off.”

Airi nodded. “That’s why.” She whispered.

The others stared in surprise. “He ain’t here..?” Ryuji breathed, eyebrows raised in surprise.

The older woman crossed her arms, gripping her yellow striped sleeves. “Don’t tell anyone that you heard this from me...” She whispered. “But we received word that Kamoshida-sensei is placing himself under suspension.” She chewed on her lip. “It’s such an important time before the tournament too…Principal Kobayakawa went to talk to him about it, but he supposedly wasn’t making any sense...” She trailed off.

Ryuji jerked back. “Wait, a suspension?!” He yelped, staring at the teacher in shock.

Kawakami-sensei shushed him, holding a finger in front of her lips. “Not so loud!” She hissed. “The talks about your expulsions may be put on hold too...I don’t know too much about it though...” She looked away uncomfortably. “Anyway, I’ve relayed what’s going on to you.”

Exhaling softly, Airi nodded. “Thank you for letting us know, Sensei.” She smiled thankfully.

She gave her a fond smile. "Of course, Airi. I'll talk to you about that thing some other time." She stated before walking away.

Slumping against her chair, Ann slapped the table. “I can’t believe it…” She breathed, eyes staring blankly ahead.

Ryuji crossed his arms and leaned against Akira’s desk. “Looks like something happened...At least it sounds different from a mental shutdown.” He frowned contemplatively. “I guess all we can do is wait...”

Jumping out of the desk, Morgana stretched, letting out a yawn. “We did all we can. Now we wait.”

Ann nodded dejectedly. “Yeah…Oh!” She perked up, looking over at Airi. “What did you have to do earlier?” She inquired, turning in her chair to face the group.

“Well...” Airi tilted her head back, her braid falling off her shoulder. “Niijima-senpai, the student council president,” She looked over at Akira, who nodded in understanding. “...called us all in to help delegate the gym period. Today, all the classes will have Study Hall in their rooms, but for as long as Kamoshida is out, we’ll have to rotate the use of the gymnasium." She explained quietly. "I’ll be overseeing our class during our regular gym periods.”

The others blinked in surprise. “Soo...you’re our gym teacher now?” Ryuji asked, scratching the back of his head.

Airi smirked. “That’s right. You better listen to me, or I’ll give you detention.” She joked, snapping her fingers.

Akira chuckled. “We won’t disappoint you then, coach.” He joked right back, adjusting his glasses.

Since it was still lunch period, they all took out their food to eat. Akira was about to get up with his usual cup noodles when a box was placed on his desk. Blinking, he looked over at the class president who had her own box.

“I noticed you don’t eat anything except curry and ramen.” Airi looked at him in amusement. “So I made you a bento. It’s really not healthy to be eating only carbs like that, so...”

He slowly looked down at his new lunch, and moved to open it. It was a simple chicken omurice with lots of vegetables, complete with a Morgana face drawn on with ketchup. He laughed at the doodle. “Thank you.” He smiled gratefully. No one but his mother had ever made him a bento, and he hated his mother's cooking. "You didn't have to..."

She smiled back. “I wanted to. I know what it's like to be eating on a budget." She took out a small box and opening it in front of Morgana. "And here’s some tuna. I had some left over from the party so I hope you don't mind.”

The feline looked at the meal with shining eyes. “Thank you, Lady Airi!” It meowed as it dug into its meal.

“You’re welcome, Morgana." She grinned. "I hope Akira-kun is feeding you.” She lifted an eyebrow at the bespectacled male.

He looked away awkwardly, not answering. Technically, he has been.

Ryuji looked over jealously, munching on his convenience store bought salmon onigiri. “I wish I could get a bento...” He pouted, giving the rosette puppy dog eyes.

Airi laughed, mixing her egg and rice. “I’ll make one for you too, Ryuji-kun.” She promised. “In fact, why don’t I just make us lunch every day? You too, Ann-chan.” She looked over at the model.

Ann blinked in surprise. “Oh, it’s OK! I already paid for lunch in the cafeteria for this year.” She waved her hands in front of her.

“Oh, OK.” Airi shrugged, before eating her lunch. “Let me know if you do want one.”

They spent the rest of the period chatting before the bell rang.

 

How I envision Jeanne de Valoi Saint Remy to be. To be honest, not my first choice, but I couldn't find any artworks that fit all the criteria, so this is the closest we'd get lol Please add in more fabric flying behind her back with your imagination! I know it may seem confusing because I had described her much differently the first time, but I've revised a lot of things to how I want them to be. Really sorry for the confusion!

Chapter Text

Once the last bell rang, both his female friends waved to him before leaving together, most likely to the hospital.

Sighing silently, Akira packed his bag, subtly urging Morgana to jump in. Guess it was just him today. About to head out, he felt his phone buzz in his pocket.

R: Hey, where are you right now?
Ak: I’m still in the classroom.
R: I’m still at school too. I’m by the staircase next to your classroom.

“So what do you plan on doing? Want to hang out with Ryuji?” Morgana asked, reading the messages on the screen.

Shrugging, he walked out of the class and up to the bleached blond lounging next to the stairs.

“Yo.” Ryuji greeted. “Let’s do some warm ups behind the gym then.”

Nodding, Akira followed him to the locker room where they both changed into their gym uniforms.

Walking out into the courtyard, Ryuji stretched his arms in the air. “Man, this place brings back memories...” He grinned nostalgically, recalling past memories. “This is my secret trainin’ spot. Er,” He grimaced. “Was. Back when I was on the track team.”

Akira looked at him curiously, resting his hands in his pockets. Was?

“Actually, I’ve been thinkin’ about tryin’ to run again.” Ryuji admitted quietly, rolling a shoulder.

The ebony haired student blinked. “Again?” He asked, adjusting his glasses.

“Fightin’ in that other world was a total shock. I couldn’t move like I used to. It just felt...lame.” Ryuji frowned dispassionately. “Especially when I fell during our escape. That was...embarrassing.” He looked away uncomfortably.

Looking back at him, he grinned. “So I started thinkin’, maybe I need to build up my muscles again. Anything’s gotta be better than this flimsy body, right?” He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. “Plus, maybe then I’ll be able to help out a little more."

Akira smiled. “You seem pretty excited.” He remarked casually. “I’m counting on you.”

Rubbing his nose, Ryuji beamed. “Heheh. I’m totally gonna wreck your expectations!” He promised.

The ebony haired male raised a brow at that. That sounded wrong in so many ways.

“...U-Uh, I mean that in a good way!” Ryuji stammered sheepishly before wiping his expression. “Anyways, you act like it’s only me who’s gonna be doin’ this, but you’re gettin’ in on it too.” He pointed out.

Akira stared at him incredulously. Him too? Didn’t they do enough running in the Palace?

Ryuji frowned at him. “Whoa, don’t look so surprised! Why’d you think I had you go and change into that?” He jerked his chin at the gym uniform. “It’d be pointless if I was the only one gettin’ super fast, right?” He sighed before pumping a fist. “All right, I’m gonna do some knee lift sprints. You’re stuck with the normal ones!”

Exhaling through his nostrils, Akira nodded, and the two set off, running for as long as they could.

They did a couple of laps around the school grounds before winding up back at the courtyard. They slowed to a stop, Ryuji resting his hands on his knees as he panted. Inhaling then exhaling, Akira rested his hands in his pockets, looking at the blond with some concern.

“Ughhh…” Ryuji groaned. “Damn, my legs’re all tight…” He grimaced, bending down on one knee and massaging his other leg. He frowned, looking down morosely, as if he was debating with himself.

Sighing, he straightened up and turned to his friend. “Before Kamoshida came along, the track team was the biggest thing this school had goin’ for it.” He began, a dark look in his eyes. “But it all changed after he got our coach fired and took over as the sub.” He clenched his jaw.

Akira listened closely, brows furrowed at the story.

“That bastard..." Ryuji crossed his arms, a dark look in his eyes. “Right from the very start he was tryin’ to get rid of us. He’d give us crazy workouts, then when we couldn’t do ‘em, he’d add even more on top of that...” He clenched his eyes painfully. “Day after day was nothing but that bullshit...He was goin’ after me especially.”

He slumped. “He knew...He knew I was the kinda guy who’d fight back.” He kicked the dirt. “If my time dropped even a little, he’d cuss me out. Then on top of that, he brought up my parents…”

“And then you punched him?” Akira asked quietly.

The delinquent rubbed his head furiously, looking away. “Truth is, my mom’s the only one I got.” He confessed. “All my dad did when he was still around was drink. Sometimes he’d even beat me, or my mom.” His eyes darkened at the memories. “I dunno how that bastard Kamoshida found out, but he told the whole goddamn team…”

He sighed, shaking his head. “And as you can guess, I lost it and hit him.” He glowered. “It was like he wanted me to do it though. He called it an “act of violence,” and shut the team down…” He slumped. “Thanks to that, the other guys on the team treat me like some kinda traitor…”

Akira frowned. Teammates who knew about his terrible home life just condemned him like that? Sounded too familiar.

Ryuji stared up at the orange sky morosely. “And they ain’t wrong. ‘Cause of me, they all lost their shot at the championship.” He murmured. "I feel bad, but..."

Hesitantly, Akira reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Do you want to go back?” He asked calmly.

Looking at his friend, he shook his head. “To the track team? Nah...How could I after that?” He furrowed his brows, glaring awkwardly at the black haired boy. “C’mon, don’t ask me tough questions like that. I’m not very smart, y’know!” He pouted. “Anyways, it doesn’t matter now. That’s all in the past!” He exclaimed. “I’m only thinkin’ about the future now! That’s what we’re gonna do-build the future!” He grinned excitedly. “We gotta think positive thoughts, brother!” He raised his hand, palm out.

Sweatdropping, Akira gave him a lopsided smirk and held up his hand. They high fived, him stumbling from the force. ‘I feel like my bond with Ryuji is growing deeper…’

Rolling his shoulder, Ryuji gave him a lighthearted smirk. “C’mon, we’re all warmed up, right? How ‘bout another run?” He challenged. “By the way, you’re actually pretty good at runnin’. Not as good as me though!”

Akira snorted. “You couldn’t tell when we were in the Palace?” He asked rhetorically.

They ran another couple of laps, except this time they were already exhausted and was about to fall on the ground.

“Holy...crap...” Ryuji panted, gasping for air. “My legs’re shakin’...Don’t collapse on your way home, man...Later.” He waved weakly as they parted ways in their regular uniforms.

Walking unsteadily toward the station, Morgana popped out of his bag. “So how was your run?” It asked innocently. Akira only groaned in response.

 

 

Walking through the now familiar doors, the two Shujin students walked past the blank faced receptionist and into the elevator. Silently, they made their way back to room 203, and slid open the door. The room was still quiet with the exception of the ECG monitor. The nurses had removed the ventilator from the patient, letting her breathe on her own.

They walked in, closing the door behind them, and took their seats next to the bed.

Airi observed the unconscious girl. There were less bandages on her face, and most of the bruises had faded into a dark yellow. Her leg and arm was still in a cast, and would stay that way for some time.

Silently, she took out a bundle of colorful paper, handed half of them to Ann, and began folding. Their phones rang out then. Sighing, they took them out.

R: Man, all this waiting’s got me so antsy.
R: We should go on a trip or something, Whaddya think?
An: Sorry, I’m going to have to pass.
R: You busy?
Ai: Same. We’re at the hospital right now.
An: I’m going to be visiting Shiho after school for the next few days.
An: I can’t do much to help her, but it’ll be nice to at least see her face.
R: Gotcha...I hope she wakes up soon.
Ak: I’m sure she’ll be OK.
Ak: Go cheer her up.
An: Yeah, thanks.
R: You also gonna keep visiting, Airi?
Ai: After today, only for a short while.
Ai: I have a full week of work.
R: Yikes…
An: I’m totally down to go somewhere once things have calmed down though.
Ai: Same. Hopefully it’ll be soon.
Ak: Be safe.

Ann exhaled and put away her phone. “Hey, Shiho.” She whispered, grasping a limp hand, the pulse underneath her fingers slow but steady. “How are you? Your face looks better... Too bad they took off the bandages, it hid your ugly mug.” She joked weakly.

She took a deep breath. “We went into Kamoshida’s Palace yesterday. His mind. We stole his Treasure to change him. He didn’t show up to school today, and Kawakami-sensei told us he put himself under suspension.”

She bit her lip, a tear sliding down her cheek. “We did it, Shiho... We avenged you. I fought for you.” She choked. “You would laugh if you could see me in my thief outfit...of course it had to be leather, right?” She sniffed. “And I use a whip...you would totally just call me a wannabe dominatrix.” She chuckled, wiping her eyes.

Airi smiled softly at the two. It was good to see Ann trying her best to be strong for Shiho. She continued folding, putting another crane on top of the pile. So far, they had made 140 in total, and they needed 860 more to make a wish.

Sighing, she reached out and gently combed the unconscious girl’s hair, making sure she was comfortable. Whether or not Shiho was awake to notice, she would do her best to accommodate her. It was the least she could do.

The door slid open, and they both turned. Closing the door behind her was Shiho’s mother, her face burdened with new stress lines. “Oh.” She uttered, dark eyes widening slightly. “Hello, girls.” She smiled tiredly.

“It’s nice to see you again, Suzui-san.” Airi bowed her head.

Ann waved. “Hi, Suzui-kaachan.” She greeted halfheartedly, a small smile growing on her lips.

The older woman walked over, grabbing a stool and sitting next to the model. “What are you kids doing?” She asked curiously, brushing her long black hair.

“We’re making paper cranes to make a wish for Shiho-chan’s recovery.” Airi smiled shyly, holding up the half finished crane in her hand.

The mother covered her mouth. “Oh...” She teared up. “How sweet of you two...Would you mind if I joined as well?” She asked quietly, gazing wistfully at her injured daughter.

Ann handed over some paper from her bundle, and the three quietly folded until visiting hours were over.

When the nurse came in to ask them to leave, they had made 419 cranes.

 

----4/19, TUESDAY, EVENING, YONGENJAYA BACKSTREETS

 

Dragging the bow against the chords once more, Airi winced. It still sounded off. Exhaling softly, she sat down and tuned the cello again.

Today had been such a long day. She had to wake up early to attend an hour long council session with Niijima-senpai, then figure out her schedule, and finally visiting Shiho. Even though her body protested, her mind wouldn’t let her sleep, and so here she was, fiddling with the instrument that still made her heart pound in apprehension. It was a strange sensation, to be so mind numbingly tired but energetic at the same time.

Her phone pinged with a new e-mail, and she picked it up to read it. Her shoulders slumped. It was a warning from her credit card, saying she had to pay soon or else she'd suffer the late fee. Was this really what being an adult was like? Making enough money just to meet deadlines? With a heavy heart, she paid it off with her special account.

Clenching her teeth, she threw the phone on the bed. She sighed frustratedly, leaning back in her seat. What she would give to be a normal teenager who didn't have to care about these things. She was so sick of paying bills, of barely meeting her quota because she could only work part time, of living.

She stilled. No, don't say that. You have to live you have to live youhavetolive- 'You have to live, Airi! RUN!'

She clenched her eyes, hugging the cello between her legs. She had to live.

Flicking a C major, she listened deeply and nodded. This week was going to be long, but at least she could vent her frustrations.

Swallowing nervously, she took a deep breath and played. She poured her heart out into the notes, letting the music fly into the air. Each note represented a tear she had shed this week. Every note would be a symbol of herself, leaving its own imprint in the minds of her nonexistent listeners. ‘Mom, Dad...Shiho-chan…Takase...Rui…’

She didn’t notice her phone buzzing on the bed, too withdrawn inside the mess that was her mind.

Chapter Text

Arriving back at the cafe in the evening after training with Ryuji, Akira's phone rang out.

An: I told Shiho we settled things with Kamoshida.
An: She still hasn’t regained consciousness...but I had to go make amends.
R: Whaddya mean? You didn’t do anything wrong, Ann.
R: Right, Akira?
Ak: It’s not your fault, Takamaki-san.
Ak: This is Kamoshida’s doing.
An: It’s Ann, Akira.
Ak: Then it’s Akira, Ann-san.
An: I wasn’t there when she needed help. I’m a failure as a friend…
An: Airi, who barely even talked to Shiho, did more than me.
An: I just stood there like an idiot…
An: I have to do all I can to make up for that, starting now.
An: Otherwise I don’t think I’ll be able to move on.
R: Man, I didn’t know you were so passionate.
R: I totally didn’t notice that back in middle school.
An: I think it’s because of you guys, Airi especially. I’m a little embarrassed though…
An: Anyway, Ryuji, Akira, Airi...I hope we can keep helping each other from now on too.
An: Airi’s not answering..?
An: I guess she must have crashed...she’s been really tired lately.
R: Yeah. I noticed today she wasn’t as energetic.
Ak: She’s working herself too hard.
An: Yeah, she barely said a thing today at the hospital.
An: I hope she’ll be OK.

Putting his phone away, he bowed slightly to his caretaker. Sojiro stared at him for a moment. “Just ‘cause you seem to be takin’ school seriously don’t mean I’m not keepin’ an eye on you, got it?” He warned. “I’ll know what’s what as soon as I see your grades. Wanna prove you’re turnin’ over a new leaf? Make studying a habit as second nature as breathing." He narrowed his eyes. "You can’t always count on Airi tutorin’ you forever. If you’re going to study, you can use the booth. Just remember to clean it afterward, OK?” The older man sighed heavily and left the cafe, locking the door behind him.

Akira stared after him for a bit, before turning and going up to his room. He already knew that. There was always a stab of guilt whenever she had to help him with a problem, as if he wasn't smart enough to get it. He had never put much effort into school, always distracted with other things. His parents had always admonished him for it, wanting him to aim higher, but the pressure really only discouraged him even further. He stayed right below average back home, and he was even lower here at Shujin.

He put his bag down, letting Morgana jump out to groom itself.

Sitting down on the couch, he began his homework. The work seemed a little easier after yesterday’s study session with Airi. At least that proved he could be smart too. Maybe he could score higher here so the other students wouldn't be so afraid of him. Knowing he was too busy studying would help his terrible image, right..?

He sighed in relief when he was finished, and changed for bed.

 

The next few days passed by quickly, each of the Persona users using the time to take care of their duties. Ann spent every day after school visiting Shiho, diligently folding paper cranes, hoping that her best friend would wake up soon. She had even canceled any upcoming shoots to spend more time with the comatose girl.

Ryuji spent the time working on his stamina again, feeling the strain in his legs beginning to lessen little by little. When he wasn’t running, he was at the arcade, playing games to pass the time.

Airi was practically swarmed with work, having to oversee the gym period for her class, visiting Shiho with paper cranes, and working right after at the flower shop. The credit card company continued to send her e-mails to warn her about late fees, even when she had already paid, and she was stressed out of her mind trying to solve this. The customer support agent had confirmed that she had paid for her monthly statement, but because she wasn't of age, she had to get an adult to verify.

Reluctantly, she called Kawakami-sensei to help her out of this situation. The teacher grumbled about it, but offered her assistance as soon as possible as it would reflect badly on her record. Once that was resolved, the plumbing in the kitchen malfunctioned. With a cry of frustration, Airi spent thousands of yen on a Plumber to come fix it, and took more shifts to cover the loss of funds. She barely had time to eat and sleep, and was exhausted.

The only time Akira saw her outside of school was in the morning at Leblanc, downing shots of espresso, bags under her blank eyes. He asked if he could help, but she just shook her head and smiled tiredly at him.

Akira himself spent the time juggling his studies both at the diner and at the cafe, exploring Shibuya, and running with Ryuji. Morgana accompanied him everywhere he went, not really doing much other than observing him and providing commentary.

On Sunday, he ended up going to the clinic again, and asking about the strong drug. Now he had to participate in under-the-table clinical trials for it. He sighed. At least the team had access to stronger medicine now. Plus, he still wanted to know why that man was there...Leaving the clinic, he stopped in front of the second hand store.

Brushing his black sports jacket, he walked in. “Welcome...” The elderly owner greeted, sitting near the front of the store.

Akira bowed and looked around. There were a bunch of old antiques lying around, and some beaten up electronics. The old CRTV caught his eye. ‘I could get that...’ He thought to himself, taking out his wallet. His room was pretty boring, and the only TV in the building was on the first floor where customers came and went. It wouldn't be appropriate if he watched his own channels or wanted to play games, especially when the boss would definitely yell at him for disturbing the customers. “Excuse me, I’ll take the old TV.” He requested politely.

The old man looked at him in surprise. “That old thing? Sure...tell you what, I’ll throw in a VCR player as well.” He slowly moved to box it up, knees creaking from the action. “You live at Leblanc, right? I’ll have it delivered soon.”

Thanking the elderly man, Akira handed over ¥3800 and left the store. He had a form of entertainment now. This was one of the rare times he missed his own flat screen TV back in his old room. He sighed. Even though his living situation right now wasn't as stellar, the company he kept more than made up for it. Besides, why miss expensive electronics when he had actual friends here? His phone buzzed in his pocket.

R: You heard anything about stuff happening to Kamoshida?
R: Except what Airi told us.
Ak: Nope.
R: I see.
Ak: Did something happen?
R: I dunno. I’m just feeling kinda anxious.
R: I keep thinking about how even with all you did...we might still end up getting expelled.
R: My mom’s totally gonna suffer if that happens…
R: Plus, if we couldn’t even help Ann or Suzui…
Ak: We have to believe.
Ak: If it happens, we’ll deal if we need to.
R: Sorry, I guess now’s not really the time to be getting all down in the dumps.
R: Anyways, I’m feeling a little better now that I’ve talked to you about this. Thanks, man.
Ak: Anytime.
R: Oh, and don’t tell Ann or Airi I was doubting us, mkay?
R: I don’t want them to not rely on us if we’re getting all worried about this shit.
R: Well, seeya!

He slipped his phone back in his jeans, and headed back to the cafe. Walking in through the door, he blinked.

Airi was there, a cold cup of coffee in front of her. Out of her regular school uniform, she wore a peach blouse and a black skirt, her beige trench coat folded to the side in the booth. She was asleep against the table, head on her arms and his comforter on her back.

“She’s been working herself to the bone this past week.” Sojiro murmured wistfully, cleaning a cup. He gave the slumbering teenager a look of barely concealed concern, before sighing heavily.

Akira walked closer and looked at her.

Her makeup was fading after a long day, revealing heavy purple bruising underneath her eyes. Rose strands were braided into a bun, messily pinned on the top of her head, half of it falling out. Her mouth was tilted downward, frowning even in her sleep from what seemed to be a stressful week.

He slowly reached out with a hand, gently smoothing out her creased brow. He sighed silently, moving the comforter to cover her shoulders. He didn't know why she had to work so hard, but was it worth it when her health was clearly suffering? She could let them help out too. They were friends, right?

He sat across from her, and quietly began his homework.

Unzipping his bag fully, Morgana jumped out onto the table, looking closely at the slumbering girl with concern in its eyes. “Poor Lady Airi...” It mewled sadly, ears flat against its scalp. It jumped onto the seat, and slowly crawled onto her lap, curling up with her.

Smiling slightly at the sight, Akira started on his homework, letting the quiet sounds of clinking cups and utensils help his concentration. The ceiling fan turned lazily, a barely there wind slightly blowing his curly hair.

From behind the counter, Sojiro sighed, placing the cup down. “...So. Gettin’ used to the city?” He asked leisurely, making sure his voice was kept at a low volume.

Turning his head slightly in his direction, Akira nodded. “A little.” He confessed. It was very different to his hometown. There weren’t so many buses or trains, and no where near the massive amounts of people who power walked everywhere. It was true about what they say about the city; there’s never a moment of peace the closer you are to the metropolis.

The older man inspected him. “...I see.” He said after a moment. “You’re the only one here at night, so I’m not gonna bother setting a curfew or anything like that. So long as you’re taking school seriously, I don’t mind if you stroll the streets at night.” He declared quietly, rubbing his chin. “But only around these parts, got it? You go back on your word, I’ll kick you right out.” He warned, pointing a finger menacingly. “If you’re gonna stay over at Airi’s, you tell me beforehand. “He narrowed his eyes. ”...and keep your hands to yourself.”

Blinking in surprise, Akira nodded, giving the older man a grateful look, blushing slightly at the last part. He’d been driving himself crazy at nights, especially since Morgana never let him stay up late. Anytime he wanted to do anything, it was “Let’s not do that today,” or “Aren’t you tired?”

He grumbled to himself silently. There wasn’t even any time or privacy to do...other things.

Like bathing.

A whimper broke him from his train of thought, and he looked over at the sleeping girl.

Face scrunching up, her eyes slowly cracked open. “Mmgh...” She groaned, slowly sitting up and rubbing her eyes.

“Good morning.” Akira cracked a small grin.

She looked at him blankly, eyes still blurry with sleep, before his greeting registered in her exhausted brain. “Huh?!” She gasped, scrambling for her phone in her trench coat.

Morgana yowled at the sudden movement, but stayed where it was.

Grasping the thin plastic, she quickly pulled it out and looked at the time, which read, “8:12PM SUNDAY.” She sagged, exhaling heavily, and laid her head in her arms again. “Don’t do that.” She complained, voice muffled in her sleeves.

“Sorry.” He smiled apologetically.

Sighing, she sat up in her seat, the comforter falling off her shoulders. “Huh? Oh...” She grasped the blanket, pulling it in front of her and folded it. “I must have fallen asleep...” She murmured. “Did you put this blanket on me?”

He shook his head. “No, it was boss.” He gestured over to the older man.

She blinked in surprise and gave the barista with a gentle smile. “Thank you, Sojiro-san.”

He waved her away. “Don’t worry about it. More importantly, how are you feelin’?” He asked her, a tinge of concern in his voice. “You’ve been asleep for five hours.”

“Five hours..?” She breathed, closing her eyes tiredly. How much time had she wasted just sleeping away here? Had she inconvenienced the older man who was like an uncle to her, by driving away his customers? Why wasn't there more time...

Akira looked at her worriedly. “Airi-chan...” He began. “You need to stop and take a break... I’ve barely talked to you this whole week." He pleaded quietly. "Ryuji and Ann are worried as well.”

She looked at him, struggling with herself, before she acquiesced. “Yeah.” She agreed, loosening her bun and running a hand through her limp hair. “I pushed myself too hard. I need to work, but I also want to be there for Shiho-chan...” She whispered morosely. “I’m just so tired…”

Contemplating with himself, he took a deep breath. “...Why do you need to work so much?” He asked hesitantly, brow furrowed in concern.

She locked eyes with him, staring deeply, before tilting her head away, boring into the ceiling. Should she tell him? How she was only a few bucks away from poverty? How she worked as many shifts as she could because otherwise she would be starving...

He waited patiently, not wanting to rush or pressure her. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea for him to ask this. They’ve only known each other for less than a month. He opened his mouth to apologize, but stopped when he noticed her lips moving.

“...You know my parents are dead.” She began quietly, dark eyes idly counting the wooden beams. “I didn’t have any other family, so...after the funeral, I was sent to an orphanage...” She clenched her jaw. “It...wasn’t a great place to be. I had a really tough time there that they transferred me to another one.” She took a deep breath, swallowing restlessly.

“Long story short, I applied for emancipation last year to claim my parents’ inheritance and property. I was denied of course...it’s just not possible to be an emancipated minor in Japan." She smiled bitterly, ducking her head. "The only way I could move back home was to have an adult sign on as my guardian..."

He furrowed his brow. "But you're clearly living in your house now, so someone did sign off?"

She nodded. “The only adults I knew were the teachers, so...Kawakami-sensei signed on."

His eyebrows raised up. Their teacher hadn't seemed like someone who would take on such a responsibility, especially for someone who wasn't related to her. "Really?"

Airi smiled slightly. "Only on paper. I don’t have any relatives, and she knew what I was going through because we had a friend in common, so... I finally went home after so many years...” Idly petting the feline on her lap, she stared off into space, her eyes focused on nothing in particular. “...I have enough money to pay property tax and the bills, but for anything else like groceries and clothes, I have to pay out of pocket.” She stated matter of factly, shrugging. “At the very least, because I’m an orphan, I’m exempted from paying taxes in my paychecks…”

“Airi…” He breathed, gazing at her with worry. His friend was literally an adult in all but age. She was class president, a part time employee, a phantom thief, and a good friend. She was practically stretched thin in every direction. He pursed his lips. It was admirable and a little unsettling. He saw how exhausted she was, and that was from just one week. Was this what they had to look forward to when they became adults...?

She gave him a small smile. “It’s all right...I don’t regret this. I have my home, I have a good job, and I have good friends.” She said tenderly, scratching Morgana behind its ears.

It purred, turning into goo in her lap. “You’re so strong, Lady Airi…” The cat meowed, looking up at her with large blue eyes.

She chuckled. “I try my best. If I give it my all, maybe..." She bit her lip, looking away. " Maybe I can live with no regrets.”

His lips twitched, growing into a delicate smile. “I really admire you, Airi.” Akira spoke softly. "You're such a hard worker. I'm kind of jealous of how tenacious you are."

She blushed. “I-I...” Airi stammered. "It's not because I want to work so much..."

He packed his books back into his bag and stood up.

Blinking, she looked up at him curiously.

“It’s late. I’ll walk you home.” He stated shyly.

“Oh! Ok.” She gently patted Morgana to get off, who then ran upstairs. Taking out her wallet, she was about to place some bills on the table when Sojiro interrupted her. “Don’t worry about it.” He called out, lazily looking up from his newspaper.

She hesitated. “But…”

He shook his head. “It’s on the house.” He gave her an exasperated smile.

Biting her lip, she nodded, putting her wallet back in her bag. “Thank you, boss.” She smiled gratefully.

Waving goodbye, the two teenagers left the cafe and into the chilly streets. Shivering a bit, she buttoned up her trench coat and stepped closer to Akira. The two walked together in comfortable silence, traveling down the slightly deserted roads.

Arriving at the Kimisawa residence after a few minutes, Airi turned to Akira with a smile. “Thank you, Akira-kun. I would invite you in for tea, but I’m still really tired...” She bowed her head apologetically.

He waved her away. “Don’t worry about it, just get some proper rest. I’ll see you tomorrow?” He asked, resting his hands in his pockets.

She nodded with a smile, opening her front door. Walking in, she turned and waved as he left.